Category Archive: The Blogs

This is where we write the words to inform and entertain you instead of putting them in your ears.

Oct 14 2015

Misdirected Mark Productions Podcast Recap

Lot’s of episodes were released this week on MMP so here’s your podcast recap.

The Lounge

Game designer Natalia KN Granger joined me to talk about her games, LARP, and Read A Loud text adventures.

Down with D&D

Myself and the Mad Wizard Merwin chat about prestige classes and the first chapter of Out of the Abyss.

Geekin’ Out

Me and my girl Friday Jessie chat about Arrow, Flash, and Agents of Shield.

The TKV Team Podcast

The TKV Team gets going about the Star Wars Battle Front Beta, Disney Infinity 3.0, and confuse 90’s-era science fiction titles.

The Misdirected Mark Podcast

The podcasters for hire (that’s a heroes for hire reference) talk about player agency after getting into the extra dimentional social media depository.

The Threats from Mirkwood

Garret’s Patreon has funded to the point where he’s running games for people on line, recording them, and posting them. Right now they’re playing the One Ring and there 3rd episode is the most recent post.

Jun 29 2015

Join Garrett at a Free Online Gaming Convention


Garrett Crowe proudly supports Aethercon, a free online gaming convention. Not only are there tons of online games via roll20, but the industry’s leaders drop by to answer the viewers’ questions about their product lines or various gaming topics.  Misdirected Mark’s Christopher Sniezak and Phil Vecchione will moderate several of the panels November 13-15th.

During the summer, Garrett leads a team of podcasters to record sit down interviews with our favorite game designers. Watch Garrett chat with Paranoia’s Greg Costikyan and James Wallis… or ask them questions. Thursday, 6/29, 6pm… CLICK HERE.

Apr 28 2015

The Paranet Papers

Paranet papers coverSo Carrie Harris from over at Evil Hat was kind enough to send me over a copy of the Paranet Papers, the next book in their Dresden Files RPG line. As I read through it I thought I’d post my thoughts.

Graphic Design

First off this book, like the others in the series, is beautiful. I’ve been studying graphic design for the last few years and the original Dresden Files book is pretty but the Evil Hat team took it up a notch when they put this one together.

The background pages look like an unlined spiral notebook with some sections as pages pasted in from other sources. It uses a two column layout for the primary information but as in the previous books there’s commentary in the margins, white spaces – and in this book – on sticky notes. Speaking of the commentary, in Volume one & two the commentary didn’t really flow into the text of the book, which to me was fine, I just enjoyed reading it. In this volume it’s more a part of the text. Highlighter is used to point at and color coordinate when and where the reader should go to the commentary. The character stat blocks are on white file folders which is a nice little touch. To finish up the graphic design commentary the book is busy on the page but it’s still easy to follow the different kinds of information resulting in something pleasant to look at and easy to read.


Because of the book representing an unlined spiral bound notebook the art looks pasted, taped, drawn, or paper clipped in and is what you would expect from a Dresden/Evil Hat product. If you don’t know the Hat that means the art is of a high quality and matches each chapter along with the theme of the book over all.


The book is presented as a draft in an unlined spiral notebook written by William Borden of the Alpha’s. Sections written by people other than Will are pasted into the book and have a different look. It’s a clever way to differentiate the sections of the book.

The first two-thirds of the book cover several locations in the Dresdenverse: Las Vegas, Historic Russia, The Neverglades, Las Tierras Rojas, and The Ways Between. The last third has a sections on Spellcasting, Monsters, and NPCs in the Dresdenverse and updates a number of those people from the previous volumes.

I haven’t read the whole thing yet and as I do I’ll be posting more pieces of this review. So far I’ve gotten through Las Vegas which is written from the point of view of Herbert C Plainfield. It tells the story of the city of sin, why it’s like it is from a supernatural perspective, and gives the reader all the problems and NPCs you need to have the foundation of a campaign set in Las Vegas. In brief Vegas has always been a delicate social and criminal ecosystem based on sin and hope. A Red Court Vampire called Dragon helped keep this balance to the purpose of feeding a seal which is keeping some great apocalyptic evil underneath sin city. Harry kills the Red Court, Dragon dies, now the delicate ecosystem is starting to unravel which is not good to say the least.

I’m a good way through the Russia chapter too which is a historical perspective of Russian in 1918. For the Dresden fans out there this section is great because it tells a story of Simon Pietrovich, his involvement with the Russian Tsar’s, Rasputin, and the fallout/trouble it caused Russia in the long run. There are also a series of excerpts of letters between him and Ebenezer McCoy in the section. So good.

Last thing I want to talk about before I end this first part is the commentary in the margins and on the sticky notes throughout the book. The comments are between Karin Murphy, Will Borden, and Waldo Butters. They are great. The characters voices feel right and their commentary is worth the read for a Dresden fan. So after I read another hundred or so pages I’ll let you folks know some more about this book but my first impressions are to give this an A+.

You can pick up the book by clicking here.

Feb 23 2015

Things you may have missed for the week of Feb 16th 2015

iIPNV9aqUYrGsSo lets just recap what happened on Misdirected Mark Productions last week. First we had Down with D&D #9 all about the Monk and putting some story into your leveling. Second there was a TKV Team show about the horrors of retail. Third we had the MM Podcast chatting about interpersonal and Knowledge skills. Fourth and finally we had an Episode of Threats from Galifrey covering news, character death, and a round table on how to do some Lord of the Rings and make it feel like Middle Earth. Man were we busy.

Shows List

DwD&D #9
TKV Team #17
MMP #144
Threats from Galifrey: Middle Earth Edition pt. 1
Threats from Galifrey: Middle Earth Edition pt. 2


Jan 26 2015

TKV-Team Podcast 14 (Beta) | The Half-Cast

      1. Recording Test A of Wallstreet

Direct Download: MP3 Format [35mb, 38:25)

A TKV-Team half-cast special, culled from test-audio during an extended mic filter test on some new equipment in a new recording setting. Topics ranging from the Halo Master Chief Collection to how old Leonardo DiCaprio really looks, all set to a (mostly silent) background of Wolf of Wall Street. Bonus asides on arcade machine ownership and airline terrorism in the 1970s.

A “gaming” podcast, mostly in name, for your aural pleasure. As you can imagine, recent changes have necessitated format changes, so feedback and/or recommendations are particularly encouraged.

Dec 08 2014

Around the Bar #4

Hey folks. So it’s that time of the year again. The time for Evil Hats to decorate tree’s and Atomic Robo’s to dance merrily under mistletoe. In other words it’s Street Team Time. What does this mean? It means Evil Hat is giving back to everything those Evil Hat lovers do all year. They have a list of tasks and if you’ve completed any of them during 2014, or complete them before Tuesday December 23rd, then you’ll be entered into a drawing for some pretty cool prizes. Check out the whole areticle with the link below.

So you could just buy Eureka form Engine Publishing but I was having a conversation on the Misdirected Mark G+ community about places to find information on storytelling and here’s another one I came across over at the Ginger Goat website. 20 Master Plots and how to build them is fantastic Inspiration for Plot Driven Games. Just use the plot as plot points, story beats to be checked off in your games, or the plot as a time table or structure for what the villains of your games are trying to accomplish.

Worlds Without Master is an Enzine who’s overseer is Epidiah Ravachol, creator of Dread, Swords Without Master, and other amazing games. Issue six is out and contains a couple of stories: “From Salted Earth,” a tale of necromancy and redemption by Evan Dicken, and “The Pebble Ballad,” an epistolary tale of century-spanning sorcery by Master Epidiah Ravachol himself. The continuing comic “Oh, the Beating Drum!” by Bryant Paul Johnson, A Scoundrel in the Deep, a game of darkness and fire by Renato Ramonda and developed by Flavio Mortarino, plus some illustrations and a miscellany of experiences unseen. If you’re interested in getting this issue, any of the previous issues, or becoming a patron of this project the link below will lead you to a page which you can follow to any of those desires.

There’s a pretty solid review of the DMG for the newest edition of D&D up over on Critical Hits. Dave Chalker throws some solid words down about what’s in there so you can understand what you’re getting.

I know Phil is the co-host of the show and linking to his blog posts over at the Gnome Stew is sort of like insider trading which is why I don’t do it very often. It’s also so when I do it that means it matters. This post is pretty much how I feel on the whole “What are RPGs really?” question. I’d love for you to go read it and comment on it.

Since I was catching up on eating my stew I also came across this post by guest author MJ Alishah called 4 Bizarre Sources of Truth Perfect for Fiction. It talks about some sources to acquire true tales and adapt them to adventures. It’s pretty brilliant.

I’m a fan of things in the realm of the crawling chaos and this kickstarter is just awesome. If you’ve ever thought about or wanted to run Masks of Nyarlathotep this is at the very least a must look see. Every handout for Masks done up in beautiful detail for you to hand to your players. It’s like a Call of Cthulhu player’s and keeper’s wet dream. Of course that dream probably involved the cyclopean ruins of an impossible city within the watery depths of a black sea. In any case you should check this out.

I’ll see you all next week to let you in on everything else I’ve heard around  the bar.

Dec 02 2014

Around Bar #3

Hey Folks. Chris here and yes I’m back or at least a version of me is back. I have this three sixths number tattooed on my arm but I’m not quite sure what it means. Anyways lets get back to the chatter that I’ve heard around the bar this week.

Ryan Macklin, you know, that Fate conversion and Fate Core guy, has been designing the Eclipse Phase Fate version, or Transhuman Fate, and it’s now out for play testing. For those who don’t know Eclipse Phase is a Transhuman setting and game created by Posthuman Studio’s and is widely thought of as an excellent game.

Mortaine, AKA Stephanie Bryant, has a couple of excellent blog posts on one, being a woman and trying to make games, and two, a follow up with a bunch of great resources for making games. You might have already seen them since they were originally posted at the end of October and beginning of November but if you haven’t then check them out. They’re really great reads.

So I had a conversation with Rob Heinsoo you’ll be hearing sometime soon. We mostly talked about 13th Age and a product called Eyes of the Stone Thief was mentioned. You can pre-order it now. What’s Eyes of the Stone Thief you ask? Fine. I shall answer you. 13th Age has living dungeons which slither up from the underworld and invade the surface lands. The Stone Thief is the most ancient of these dungeons and swallows cities. That means it’s adventurers v. dungeon except the dungeon is sentient and wants you dead. Also it’s written by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan who is the co-author of the Dracula Dossier which I will talk about in a bit.

Crowd Funding

If you didn’t notice I have a link to Post World Games on the right over there because I think Jim Pinto is a pretty creative game designer with some nifty stuff to offer the hobby and he’s back with fifteen more games for his protocol game series. The protocol games all use the same basic mechanic but the different games, which clock in at 32 pages, provide different experiences and focus on the storytelling aspects of the TTRPG hobby. You can check out the kickstarter at the link below.

Mark Diaz Truman and Magpie Games is crushing it with the Fate Codex which is pretty much the Dungeon Magazine of Fate. That Patreon project just hit 1,500 dollars an issue which means the Quick Start section will be expanded to a full 5,000+ words plus more art and two fully stated out NPCs to drop into your sessions. Now is the best time to get in on the codex.

So I’m forgetting something. let me go see what I wrote earlier. Oh Yeah. The Dracula Dossier. It’s just about over. There’s 48 hours to go as I’m typing this. I’ve said so much about this already I don’t know what else to say except you should back it. Nevermind. I know what else to say. Even if you’ll never play it you should back it for Dracula Unredacted. A retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that turns the Gothic Horror novel into a Gothic Horror Spy Thriller Novel. How cool is that. Click the link below and throw some money their way.

Nov 24 2014

Around the Bar #2

Hey folks. Back again with the second installment of around the bar. A place where you can find some of the more happening things going on in the world of RPGs. First up is the Numenera Box set from Monte Cook Games. This gorgeous looking box set comes with four soft cover books which hold all the games material, some character sheets, a poster map, and a character creation guide sheet. There’s an even more deluxe version of this box set but if you want all the nitty gritty details you can check out the article here or just go over to the kickstarter here.

Over at Kobold Press there’s a new supplement for 13th Age called Deep Magic which contains:

  • 555 wizard spells ranging from clever tricks to summoning the World Serpent itself to wreak havoc
  • 4 new class talents that put wizard spells within the grasp of every class—play an arcane ranger, a spirit-calling barbarian, a time-warping commander, or face-stealing trickster druid
  • 30 new schools of magic including the Cult of Ouroboros, the Red Inquisition, and the Scholars of Dust, with guidelines for creating your own magical tradition
  • 5 magical campaign options: post-apocalyptic vril magic, the mysteries of the ley lines, a class-warfare arcanopunk campaign option, and more!

To check out more about this book click on the link here.

Let’s jump back a sec to Monte Cook Games. Yes, yes. I know I already talked about them but a bit of out of orderness can be Strange and since that’s what I’m bringing up next I figured it’d be appropriate. So the Strange is the second cypher system game from MCG and their Strange Bestiary just came out along with the Strange Creature Deck, a deck of cards with all of the monsters relevant and some flavorful text on it including the art. You can check those out or pick them up using the previous links.
Next up is something I’ve been sort of keeping an eye out for because I think it’s just that cool. Sinister is a Post Apocalyptic Monster Battle RPG. If that doesn’t make too much sense I get the feeling it’s Fallout mashed up with Pokemon. If that peaks your interest as much as it did mine then you can pick up the playtest docs and read a bit more about Sinister here.

The rest of the stuff I got is all Kickstarter.

The Dracula Dossier is still tearing through stretch goals and I will have an interview up about this project with the master of horror himself, Kenneth Hite, very soon. In the mean time go and check out this improvisational campaign for Nights Black Agents if you haven’t already. What do I mean by improvisational? I mean the 280+ page directors handbook will give you all the tools you need to facilitate a group of burnt spies trying to deal with Dracula since the British governments three previous attempts to deal with the Iconic vampire didn’t go so well. Did I mention there is also a really cool new version of the classic novel with this called Dracula Unredacted. Stokers original was actually the redacted after action report of the first attempt to utilize Dracula as a British military asset. Dracula Unredacted tells the whole truth. If that doesn’t get your blood dripping and fangs protruding I don’t know what will. Check it out here.

Shotguns & Sorcery is something I mentioned last week but in but here’s a bit more about this fantasy noir campaign setting powered by the cypher system.

Shotguns & Sorcery is set in Dragon City, a grim and gritty fantasy metropolis built on top of and inside of a walled-off mountain and ruled over by the Dragon Emperor. Legions of zombies scratch at the cut stones of the Great Circle every hour of the night, trying to tear the wall down for their mysterious necromantic commander, the Ruler of the Dead.
Inside the wall, the people work and scheme to find an edge and get ahead on the city’s dark alleys and magically lit streets. The green-skinned folk squat down in Goblintown, stacked right up against the wall, where they can hear the constant moaning of the dead all night long. Above them, the rest of the survivors live in neighborhoods of their own, each stratified by their longevity and social standing, which make for the kind of barriers no hack on an enchanted carpet can fly you past.
Robbing the ruins that lay outside the Great Circle is illegal, but it’s the best way for people with questionable talents with rune-laced shotguns to keep the gold flowing. And most days it beats selling dragon essence to the addicts who use it to fuel their magics, or hiring out as muscle for the dwarven gangs. As long as you keep your nose clean and give a wide berth to the Imperial Guard, there’s a fortune to be made in Dragon City.
Just hope you live long enough to enjoy it.

If you’re diggin on that then click on this link and check out the rest of the kickstarter.

If new isn’t your thing then there’s always a classic around somewhere and there’s not much out there more classic than Paranoia and friend computer. That’s right, the new version of Paranoia is still kickstarting and crushing it. If you want to get in on all the Ultravoilet ROY-G-BIV goodness then you should get on over to the site and buddy on up with friend computer with your pledge. Your clones will appreciate it. I promise. The computer told me so. What. Wait. You told me to say that. Oh no. I’m not a communist traitor. Don’t…




Nov 17 2014

Around the Bar #1

Hey Folks. So this is isn’t audio I’m hanging at the bar chatting up folks in the MMP house and getting all the information you can hopefully use to know about some of the things happening in the table top RPG gaming world.

So WotC announced they’re going to be running one or two storylines a year similar to the Rise of Tiamat storyline going on right now. Starting on March 17th we’re going to get a storyline about Elemental Evil The storyline adventure books are The Elemental Evil Adventurer’s Handbook and Princes of the Apocalypse, which will be produced by Sasquatch Game Studio. They had the Primeval Thule Swords & Sandals game and their team has Richard Baker, David Noonan, and Stephen Schubert who all have a very deep D&D background. I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ll bring out for the game.

To delve a little deeper The Elemental Evil Adventurer’s Handbook is a splat book with skills, abilities, spells, background, setting, and story information for the storyline. It’s gonna cost forty bucks. The Princes of the Apocalypse is a super adventure like Rise and Horde of the Dragon Queen. It’ll surround the machinations of four corrupt prophets of the Elder Elemental Eye. That means four dungeons for you to explore and four beat downs to give to these baddies. This can all be yours for fifty American dollars. I suggest if you’re running a gaming group with four players get everyone to chip in 10 bucks. It’s only fair after all.

Ok, enough D&D for now. On to Monte Cook Games who have announced they’re making a Cypher System Rule Book. The Cypher system is the engine which powers the Strange and Numenera. Monte and company have gotten so many requests to create games using the system in different settings they decided to give you the core kit with a bunch of tools to make your own cypher system game. I’m guessing this product will look a lot like Fate Core or The Cortex + Hackers Guide. This product will be out next summer which I’m guessing means GenCon.

Evil Hat’s Worlds of Adventure Patron project just keeps chugging along with the Aether Sea.  I could wax on about it but I think the Drive Thru description does a pretty good job of describing it:

One tiny ship.
One huge expanse of aetherspace.
Maneuver your ship through the vast aether in The Aether Sea, a Fate world and adventure by Ed Turner. A thousand years of war on Homeworld left it a magically-blighted wasteland, so the elves and dwarves stopped fighting for five minutes and figured out how to leave it behind. Soon everyone took to the vast, empty aether sea. The Royal Hegemony keeps a tight rein on the Spellcaster’s Union, and the magic that makes aether travel possible. Play the crew of a little aethercraft out in the deep sea. But you’ve got bad blood with the Royals, so take jobs carefully and make do with the best magic unofficial channels can provide. Keeping the ship afloat won’t be easy. The sea’s a dark and lonely place, and secondhand magic is… fussy. When it works at all.

The Aether Sea requires Fate Core or Fate Accelerated to play. This 44-page supplement contains:

* New species creation rules using Fate Accelerated style approaches.

* A simple, easy-to-use magic system, including systems for dabbling in magic, using cantrips for specific magical tasks, and spells and artifacts.

* Ideas for aethercraft, including aspects, combat, and maneuvering through space.

* A full starter adventure: It’s Only an Elven Moon.

The Aether Sea. Batten down the hatches and get ready for liftoff!–A-World-of-Adventure-for-Fate-Core?affiliate_id=24139

The Five Fires Hip Hop RPG is something I saw up on the Story Games news letter and it’s one of the more unique game idea’s I’ve ever come across. The designer, Quinn Murphy, wants to show the revolutionary and loving side of this music with this game. It’s in Beta right now and by following the link you can see some of the designers thoughts about the game and get your hands on the Beta.

Dave Chalker, of Critical Hits fame and the designer of Get Bit, is working on an Ax and Star Trek inspired game with Strange New Worlds. I don’t think I need to say anymore than go check it out at the link below. I guess I could say some more. Chalker is an excellent writer and designer and I would strongly encourage you to take a look at this game, especially if your a fan of space exploration fiction and want a game that can help simulate that experience.


Kickstarter Stuff

To go along with the Cypher System stuff from above Outland Entertainment is about to and may be in the midst of running a Kickstarter called Shotguns & Sorcery based on Matt Forbeck’s series of the same name. I’m not familiar with the series but anything that is Fantasy Noir is right up my alley. The line up working on this game is also quite impressive with Rob Schwalb of Schwalb Entertainment and Shadow of the Demon Lord helping to integrate the Cypher System and the excellent Jeremy Mohler on for art. By the by he’s the guy behind Outland Entertainment. Learn more about the Kickstarter from the link below.

The Dracula Dossier is also kickstarting right now. It is an improvisational campaign for Nights Black Agents by Kenneth Hite using Robin Laws Gumshoe engine and it let the players be burnt spies facing off against the forces of a vampire conspiracy in all the spy thriller goodness you can imagine. The Dracula Dossier itself puts the famous or infamous Dracula at the center of this conspiracy as Bram Stokers novel is actually the redacted after action report of the first time the British government tried to acquire Dracula as an assets. Within the dossier is Stokers underacted and thrice annotated report from the times when Britian thought it might be a  good idea to try and use Dracula to solve their problems. Because using monsters to solve your problems always goes well.

Friend computer is back with a new edition of Paranoia. If you’d like to have the newest version, and if you don’t want it I don’t think friend computer will find that acceptable, you can now go an back the classic dark humor dystopian RPG being re-released by Mongoose Publishing.

Last but certainly not least is Erasable Gaming Paper. That’s right, if you’ve ever seen gaming paper at cons or your FLGS this is that but with a waxy surface that can be erased four or five times with dry erase markers before it should be tossed. Something I saw that I thought was kind of cool.


So there actually is one more kickstarter and it’s by Joe Loveric from Collectors Inn. This project is to allay some of the costs of acquiring more gaming room in the space above the shop. It used to be a dance studio, now its available, and Joe would like to turn it into a space for people to play and for him to expand his store. There’s some cool rewards and I hope you click on the link and check it out.

Last Thing

Last thing and as of this writing it’s pretty interesting news. Asmodee is merging with Fantasy Flight Games. This is kind of a thing and maybe in the future when we look back to a place to note when hobby gaming became more of a mainstream thing in the worlds view this might be the start of it. Some of the biggest reasons is FFG makes tons of games based on their own IPs and licensed IPs and they tend to be good to excellent. Asmodee recently acquired Day of Wonder (they make Ticket to Ride and other great games) and have excellent games themselves as well as an excellent distribution network in Europe and China. So together they have a bevy of excellent games and products they can make and distribute all over the world with less difficulty because they have business interests, locations, and distribution channels all over the world.

Well that’s what I got this week. Can’t wait to see what happens next.

Nov 10 2014

MMP November Edition

Hey Folks, Chris here. A few things happened near the end of last week that I wanted to talk about and what’s coming for the rest of the month.

First. The Misdirected Mark Podcast released Episode 135 – Sanity and Nights Black Agents which featured the secret weapon of the show Drew Smith. We talked about Sanity as a mechanic in games and then went In Depth on NBA. By the way the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter for NBA is running right now. I would suggest checking it out.

Second. Threat Detected has release the next part in their epic Star Wars AP C is for Chewbacca. Check out the crew as they help out Exovar (the Star Wars Indiana Jones) in his fight against the arms dealer Thasca, who’s put together a lethal squad of mercenaries to conquer Exovar’s Emporium.

Last. I am part of Encoded Designs, Phil’s game company, and we’ve just finished up the Alpha for Part Time Gods of Fate and will be going to play test soon. If you’re interested in play testing hit us up on G+ or me over on Facebook and we’ll put you on the list of potential playtesters. Here’s the cover:PtGoF

Soon. I’ve chatted with Rob Schwalb of Schwalb Entertainment about game design and his upcoming Shadow of the Demon Lord in the Lounge which I hope to have out early this week. Rob Heinsoo of 13th Age and 4th edition fame and Writer, Editor, Leximaven, Game Girl, Vorpal Blonde, Midas’s Touch, and Schrödinger’s Brat Shanna Germain will also be on the feed this month along with an In Depth on 13th Age around Thanksgiving time.

That’s everything and you’ll be hearing from me very soon.

Chris Sniezak

Sep 18 2014

Things Coming in the Future – September 2014 edition

Hey Folks. Chris here from the Misdirected Mark Productions. I just wanted to throw info your way on what the next couple of months has in store for the network.

The Misdirected Mark Podcast has been going through some changes. Phil is now in charge of more of the shows operation allowing me to focus on things like growing the audience, advertising, and managing things like the Patreon project and to that we’ve already had our patreon’s who are at certain levels respond with what they’d like to see in the future of the show. There will be a Workshop Segment in October about something called The Magic Circle which if you’d like a preview of that you can watch it right here.

The RPG Review

In October the RPG review will continue as I go through Tremulus from Reality Blurs, an Ax inspired game using the idea’s from the stories of H.P. Lovecraft. Sean Preston wanted to get away from the Cthulhu mythos a bit and go for a more traditional Lovecraft feel with this one.

In November the RPG review will be looking at 13th Age. Rob Dorgan has been asking for a while for me to talk about 13th Age and I can finally say November is the month I can get to it. I’ll also be looking into getting Rob Heinsoo, Johnathan Tweet, or both on the show then. Right now there is a kickstarter going on for 13th Age in Glorantha by Rob Heinsoo Games. Check that out here.

In October we will be looking at a bunch of scary things. In the Garage we’ll be taking a look at Doom Tracks and Sanity as as a mechanic. In the Workshop there will be a discussion of the Magic Circle but we’ll also be talking about how to deal with the idea’s of insanity and horror at the game table. We’ll also hit an In-Depth on Eldritch Horror, the board game from Fantasy Flight.

Down with D&D & The TKV Team

Both of these shows will continue to put out episodes bi-weekly of both D&D goodness and dropping Video Game knowledge. The D&D crew will continue it’s adventures and to pour through the players handbook. The format will stay the same with three segments a show and keep to around a 45 minute long show. The TKV Team has informed me they plan on just keepin on with their conversation based format covering their backlogs of games played, news in the industry segments, and opinions on games from a variety of angles from game play to visual aesthetics.

I’d love to hear from you about how we’re doing with our shows and what we might be able to do better to inform and entertain you.

Chris Sniezak
Head of Operations at Misdirected Mark Productions

Jul 18 2014

D&D – Inspiration

So Drew Smith, the MMP’s secret weapon, mentioned he liked the Inspiration mechanic and I wanted to talk about it with you guys a little more. I’m a fan of it but for those who haven’t read it I’ll throw it up here.

Inspiration is a rule the Dungeon Master can use to reward you for playing your character in a way that’s true to his or her personality traits, ideal, bond, and flaw. By using inspiration, you can draw on your personality trait of compassion for the downtrodden to give you an edge in negotiating with the Beggar Prince. Or inspiration can let you call on your bond to the defense of your home village to push past the effect of a spell that has been laid on you.

Gaining Inspiration
Your DM can choose to give you inspiration for a variety of reasons. Typically, DM’s award it when you play out your personality traits, give in to the drawbacks presented by a flaw or bond, and otherwise portray your character in a compelling way. Your DM will tell you how you can earn inspiration in the game.

You either have inspiration or you don’t – you can’t stockpile mulltiple “inspirations” for later use.

Additionally, if you have inspiration, you can reward another player for good roleplaying, clever thinking, or simply doing something exciting in the game. When another player character does something that really contributes to the story in a fun and interesting way, you can give up your inspiration to give that character inspiration

Now I want to look at what this does a little bit. “Inspiration is a reward for roleplaying.

I can get behind that. I like games that push people to play towards their characters, both the positive and negative aspects of them. I’m a fan of games like Fate and Cortex+. Savage Worlds has the benny which can be implemented this way which is cool. Other games have this too, so not original, but I’m more interested in playability than originality, so I think the idea is a positive one.

Your DM will tell you how you can earn inspiration in the game.

I like this. This means a conversation must be had to determine what is going to be important to the game. It provides modularity and customization. The thing I like less about it is it says “the DM will tell you”. I think, and would suggest to the people playing, that you should collectively decide what will garner inspiration at your table.

You either have inspiration or you don’t – you can’t stockpile mulltiple “inspirations” for later use.

Awesome. That means people should use it and then work towards gaining it again. In play this should mean that Roleplaying will move to the forefront because there is a tangible reward for doing it and the reward doesn’t suck and yet is not “game breaking”

Additionally, if you have inspiration, you can reward another player for good roleplaying, clever thinking, or simply doing something exciting in the game

Awesome once again. It’s a mechanic that encourages us to not just be engaged in the game but to help engage others in what is happening at the table. It looks like a simple mechanic but it could be a powerful tool for play for all the players at the table (I’m including the DM as a player here)

In total I’m a pretty big fan of the Inspiration mechanic and can’t wait to see how it works at the table. It should help promote a storytelling environment and make the bits on your character sheet come to the forefront more often. More important, if you don’t want it in your game just leave it out. That’s what this new version of D&D is all about. So those are my thoughts on Inspiration. What are yours?

We’re having a discussion over on the Misdirected Mark Facebook page about this right now. Want to be a part of it. Just come on over and ask to join the group.


Jun 06 2014

Directed Questions

Last time mentioned I would get into directed questions as a the next part of my foundational improvisation so let us begin.

Directed question are questions that are loaded to provide the player who answers them a connection to something you want to explore in the game. Say you have a problem with a dragon cult then you can turn to our virtual player Jim and ask him,

“How is your characters family connected to the Dragon Cult?”

This question has offered Jim’s characters the idea that his family has something to do with the dragon cult and lets Jim know the dragon cult will be important to the game to come. If Jim wants his character to be more pivotal to the experience the game is going to create then he should accept the offer and build on it by saying how the cult is tied to his family. What you’ve done here is create investment for Jim in the game because he’s created something for the experience making him an active participant instead of just along for the ride. You’ve also taken the burden off yourself for creating some NPCs because Jim’s characters family will now be there for you to use. To make things even easier for yourself you can now follow up that question with other questions based on the answer you received to help you flesh out the pieces of the setting for you to use.

These questions are easy to construct too. They’re just the who, what, where, when, why, and how type questions using the parts of the game you know you want in the game to tie the PCs to them. The best thing about this is once you’ve asked all your players one or two of these questions each then you have enough of a foundation to start playing if you’re comfortable enough with improvising scenarios. If you’re not then soon we’ll talk about improvised scenario building but next time we need to talk about the rest of the foundation and why it’s so important.

Talk to you soon,


Jun 04 2014

Foundational Improv

Last time I mentioned it’s been over a decade since I ran a game that was a story I laid out. Since then I’ve developed what I call foundational prep which gives me the tools I need to improvise sessions.

First off, if I have a location I know what’s going on there. I hate static dungeons, towers, spaceships, warzones, whatever. There needs to be something going on in the place that the PCs need to deal with. It also needs to be something that has a real conclusion if the PCs don’t mess with anything in it. If you’re not running a location based scenario then come up with some solid motivation and goals along with an understanding of why the bad guys or gals want to achieve it, and how they go about doing it. For longer games I drop in more locations within the place, have a few more threads of events going on, and mix up the previous two ideas. A great example of this is in the beginning of Masks of Nyarlathotep. The final and most important piece to this is to make sure the characters are tied to the troubles that are about to happen or build your adversary faction with pieces the PCs want to interact with. There are tons of ways to do this but directed questions work pretty well for me which is where I’ll pick up next time.

Talk to you then,


Jun 03 2014

Why I Think Improvisational is Better than Story

Last time I said,

“I wish the gaming norm was collaborative when everyone seems pretty content with the dictatorship of the GM.”

So I think that might be a little out there but then again it’s not. Now this is all anecdotal evidence from the games I’ve played in over the last 20+ years. When an indoctrinated player sits at a game table they defer to the GM and wait to be spoon feed what they’re supposed to do. When a player joins a group and is more willing to be involved I find they either leave the game or conform and that bugs me as a norm for most traditional game tables. I work pretty hard to include players into the process of crafting our experience with a Role Playing Game, traditional or not. It matters to me because I don’t want to tell a story. I want to be part of the experience; sometimes facilitator, sometimes active spectator, sometimes active participant. We use storytelling ideas because we’re comfortable with them, and improvisation acting games and techniques when we know them. Heck, sometimes we use them even when we don’t. Sort of a discovering or inventing of something that already exists and we just didn’t know about it. Either way, having learned more about improv, how it works, its principals, and usable improv techniques at the table, I can say my favorite gaming moments in RPGs are a direct result of improv, second to the drama of the dice, and almost never because a story played out the way the GM thought it should, including when I was the GM. I love those games from the last category but looking back I know they were forced. Even if the players had fun with the experience I laid out their choices and when they made their own that conflicted with the story didn’t really have an impact. It cheapened their and my experience.

It’s been over a decade since I ran a game like that and next time I’ll talk about how I set myself to be able to use those improv techniques with something called foundational improv.

Talk you you then,


Jun 02 2014

Introductions to Words from Chris

I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess I’m not an atypical gamer. I like playing D&D just as much as I like playing Dungeon World. I’m into everything about Pathfinder except Pathfinder itself. I think Savage Worlds is one of the most GM dependent games in existence. That mean’s I’d rather GM it than be a player. I dig games like Marvel Dice Masters but I don’t like Magic the Gathering. I love Puerto Rico and Alhambra but not Power Grid. I think Munchkin is cute about twice but really like Cut Throat Caverns. I like match three games like Marvel Puzzle Quest but I’m not so into farmcrushquest or whatever that game is on face book that people are playing at the moment. I equate a lot of games, from video to table top, to storytelling experiences when really the story isn’t even there until we finish the game. I find words we use to describe things in games meaningless because everyone thinks they have a meaning when in reality none of us can agree on a definition. I wish the gaming norm was collaborative when everyone seems pretty content with the dictatorship of the GM. I’m just kinda weird and I’m letting you know. You might agree with me. I’m going to guess you won’t. I have things on my mind that I want to say, like, to quote myself,

“I wish the gaming norm was collaborative when everyone seems pretty content with the dictatorship of the GM.”

Next time I’ll talk about why I wish gaming was normally collaborative. See you then.


Jan 31 2014

Plot, Character, Player, or Story Driven?

This post is based on a comment concerning Episode 98 Talking About Adventures:

What do you mean when you say “story-driven” adventure/game? Are you trying to say “character-driven”? Can a “dungeon-crawl” adventure ever be story-driven? Is a story-driven adventure “plot-specific”? How would you describe the characteristics of a “non story-driven” adventure?

First, after considering the terms for a while and what they mean I don’t think character driven or story driven are the right phrases to use. I think it should be player-driven and plot driven. I also think character-driven is a tool GMs can use to promote Plot driven games.

Plot-driven: The plot of the game and moving the characters through the plot so they can experience the elements of the module or the GMs plot is king. I don’t think this kind of game is bad or good it’s just a style of playing. A lot of LFR adventures have this feel to them as do a lot of published adventures.

Player-Driven: The characters are truly the center of the story being told and their individuality and the players choices with those characters create plot points and scenarios in the adventure being played and can create future adventures. Once again I don’t think this is a bad or good way to play, just a way.

Character-driven: A character is not a player. A character is the avatar used to interact with the game being played. That means the character is a resource that is useable by the GM and the Player to make things happen.

On the player-driven side of things the player can use the character to create plot points and scenarios through their actions as the GM decides to work off the player’s choices for the characters. Then the GM can have the setting react to them. Example time:

A player is a paladin and chooses to heal his fallen enemy instead of smiting him out of existence. This gives the GM an NPC to use later and create a plot point from. Now the Paladin has an enemy who turns into an ally, or the enemy is angry and confused and acts like a wild card in the background with the players never knowing if he’s going to help or hinder their actions.

Maybe a character with the greedy hindrance stole a gem during a heist only to find out the gem belongs to a powerful crime boss who politely asks for it back. Now the players choice will inform the GM how the setting will react to them. Maybe the boss will be impressed with the greedy characters skill if the character returns the gem. Maybe it’ll be all out war to get the gem back if the character is rude or refuses to return it.

On the Plot-Driven side of things a character can be used by the GM to prompt the players to make certain choices in a very Schrodinger plot point way. This is providing the illusion of choice. Some quick examples:

The paladin is going to help the good people of the town because they’re a paladin so its easy to hook them. The character with the greedy hindered is more apt to take the job if the reward is substantial.

Moving on I also think these styles of games aren’t exclusive. In episode 96 I was part of a discussion that talked about Story, Character, and Game. I mentioned these weren’t on/off switches but most game groups use parts of all three aspects when playing. I think plot and player driven work the same way, sometimes you’re more plot driven and sometimes your more player driven with an ebb and flow during a campaigns and even sessions. It depends on group make up and the game being played.

Dungeon Crawls
Dungeon crawls can be plot driven if the location is given a story. Exploring a dungeon can be just as much about learning the story of what happened to the place but if the players decide to not explore the dungeon and the GM says, “well, I guess I don’t have anything else for us to do” the game really isn’t player driven.

Plot Driven Adventures
I feel plot driven adventures are very plot specific and those plots are GM driven or module driven if the module has a specified start point and end point.

Non Plot Driven Adventures
Some modules/adventures have no plot associated with them. The Temple of Elemental evil doesn’t really have an end. It’s just a place to explore and you can see the story at the end of play as it emerged from the players choices. That’s probably the primary trait of a non plot driven adventure. There isn’t a defined probable ending so it’s on the players around the table, and make no mistake, the GM is a player, to create an ending.

Well that was a large amount of words to try and get some terms strait. I feel it was worth the effort. I’m curious to hear what anyone might think about the things I’ve said and if I’m missing something from my descriptions or just off base and if so what is a better way to look at these terms, their meanings, and their uses?

Your Friendly Neighborhood Podcaster and GM,


Jul 25 2013

Ambiance is all about Presenation

So this post is my friend A.G. Smith’s post from over on the pinnacle forums. You can see the original post here. It’s a prefect example of how to use presentation to create the ambiance you want in your game. It’s also a great lesson on how the GM is the eyes into the world surrounding the players, ala Vincent Baker saying Vomit forth Apocalyptica. Thanks for giving me permission to re-post this.

My group is just recently returning to our Deadlands campaign (which is not entirely unlike The Flood). Up until this point, I had not fully utilized Fear Levels. Our campaign was mostly gunfights and weird science, not many Fear modified Guts checks being made.

After getting some cool creepy background tracks from the Plate Mail Games kickstarter, I was inspired to do a heavy horror session and really ham it up with a soundtrack. So last nights session the players tracked down an escaped “freak” from a carnival sideshow. The freak was sort of like an ever-consuming Faminite or Hunger Spirit, which had been caged displayed to horrified customers. It got out in ShanFan, and the players followed it’s trail deep into Stinktown where it broke into a slaughterhouse and started devouring the slabs of meat. 

I hadn’t really used Fear Levels in my Deadlands games because I couldn’t really conceptualize how they worked in play. I understood mechanically, but never really though on how to narrate them.

So as the PCs closed in on the abattoir, I started making comments to the Priest PC, and the Huckster PC, about how things felt “different”. Started just using the book examples (longer shadows, queezy feeling), and as they went inside closer to the monster, I upped it locally to Lv4. More Guts checks followed. Fear started changing Reality in a very obvious way then (seeing things in shadows, air grew cold, etc). As they went deeper, lanterns began to dim to near darkness, and the hallway stretched (like a vertigo camera zoom). In the final encounter, which of course took place on the slaughterhouse killing floor, I upped the immediate Fear Level to 5, with Guts checks to reveal the Monster. By this point, it was full on horror show. In the near darkness, The hanging slabs of meat where bleeding, others saw hallucinations of them breathing, or covered in maggots, or even mistaking them for a more sapien-like species. It wasn’t a very tough combat, but there were new things to roll Fear checks for almost every round while avoiding meat-hooks that swung wildly around. The Faminite was crawling on the ceiling like in a Japanese horror film. It was an excellent time. Eventually the PCs got it together and whomped it dead in a single round (like they do). Immediately, the local Fear Level washed back like the tide, and they were left in a damp and naturally smelly meat-packing plant.

So that was my attempt to dig into Fear Levels in my campaign. Creepy music and lots of nightmarish details that escalated until it was hideously clear how important it is to push back Fear and servitors. My enjoyment of Deadlands just doubled tonight, I can’t wait to ramp up the horror again soon.

So how do you folks at home use presentation to ramp up your games? Do you make the game you’re trying to go for obvious to your players and if so how do you do it? What makes your game Epic Fantasy? Steampunk? Noir?


May 28 2013

Fate Core, a primer and review

Fate Primer

I just want to hit a few thing before I get into my review because there’s some jargon in Fate that non Fate players might not be familiar with. If you are familiar with the game feel free to skip down to the review.

Basic Procedure of Play – Fate is played using fudge dice. They’re 6 sided dice with +, -, and blanks on two sides. You roll four of these dice, total the modifiers, and then add the total to your skill which will be usually be somewhere between 0 and 4, compare that to the target difficulty or the opposed roll. The oppositions roll follows the same procedure as described above. At this point aspects can be invoked using fate points. When you do this you can add a +2 to your total, re-roll, pass a +2 to another character if narratively reasonable, or add a +2 to a source of passive opposition. Now do a final comparison once both sides are finished spending fate points and compare. One of four things will happen: You fail at your attempt or choose to succeed with a consequence, you tie, you succeed, or you succeed with style if you have three or more difference.

Fate Point – The currency of Fate. You can spend these points to do a variety of things in the game from creating elements in a scene to invoking or compelling aspects.

Refresh – The number of Fate Points you start a session with if you ended your last session with fewer Fate Points.

Aspects – Phrases that lend importance to something in the game which can be Invoked or Compelled.

Invoking – You spend a Fate point to activate an aspect which allows you to add to a roll or re-roll your dice.

Compel – When one of your aspects causes you trouble you receive a fate point. The trouble is either an event occurs where your character is being prompted to do something and you now must try and accomplish whatever your character is being compelled to do or a decision where your character acts in a detrimental way because it makes sense for them to do so based on the Aspect. You can always spend a fate point to buy off the compel at the time of the compel.

Stunts – They modify how you can use your skills, make you better at using your skills in specific situations, or give you a new aspects.

The Skill Column – Skill ratings are like bricks you stack. You must always have at least one skill below the rating you want a skill at. In other words you can’t have two +4 skills if you only have one +3 skill. The +4 skill doesn’t have anything to sit on top of.

Stress – temporary harm you accumulate over the course of a scene. It goes away when the scene is over.

Stress track – the amount of temporary harm you can take before you are more permanently damaged in the form of consequences.

Consequences – A negative aspect from taking stress which exceeds the stress track.

Boost – A temporary aspect which only lasts for one turn regardless if it is invoked or not.

Extras – Rules you can add onto the core game covering superpowers, cyber ware, magic, or whatever else you might want in you game that the core game doesn’t cover mechanically.

Milestone – A break in the story of the game where advancement occurs. They come in minor, significant, and major.

The Review

Fate Core will help you build the game you want to play as long as the game revolves around characters who are proactive, competent, and dramatic. Every bit of this book is a guide to doing that, from teaching what FATE is in chapter one right down to how to add in all the extra bits like magic, superpowers, or cyberware in chapter eleven. Other games which try to do this don’t always excel at giving or explaining the tools to players and GMs. Fate Core is superb in that regard. The layout is easy to read, important information jumps off the page in bold text or in bullet lists, there are tons of examples throughout the course of the book, and the side bars are punchy and poignant. Oh, did I mention the hyperlinks for you digital readers. The table of contents is hyper-linked and there are hyperlinks in the margins to jump you to places in the book which might help you grok what’s written on the current page. Those margin notes also have page numbers for those with physical copies. This book is just another of the fine products produced by Evil Hat Productions and is the tightest Fate rules set produced to date. I recommend buying it but if you want to know what’s inside here’s a chapter break down of what you get.

Chapter one talks about the basics of Fate. It starts with the obligatory “What is role playing” section before moving on to describe fudge dice, the ladder, Fate Points, Aspects, taking action in the game, invoking, and compels. By covering all these ideas in basic terms the chapter prepares you for the rest of the book.

Chapter two covers game creation. This is a pared down version of the Dresden Files RPG city creation system but it also expands the ideas in that game to assist GMs in getting their groups to collaborate on any type of game they might want to play. It breaks down how to create a setting, set the scale of the game, get the games big issues going, and populating the game with, organizations, locations and NPCs.

Chapter three is all about character creation and how it’s also a game. Fate games use a system which tells part of a characters story and how the character connects with two other characters. From this little storytelling game you get your Aspects, which define half of a Fate character. The other half are skills and stunts. The skills use something called the skill pyramid. Each character gets four skills at +1, three at +2, two at +3, and one at +4. Characters are also capped at +4 or great according to the core rules. There is an optional rule where players start with twenty points to spend but are limited by the cap and the idea of the skill column, which is always in effect. In this version of Fate three stunts are free and refresh can be spent to get up to two more. Next Stress and Consequences are covered which is the way damage is handled. Finishing up some smooth and quick character creation rules are laid out. In short a character starts with a couple of Aspects, some skills, and a bunch of blanks filled in during the first session, adding in what is needed when it is needed. This works really well for people who have some ideas but aren’t sure how the game is going to play out and which skills will be really important.

Chapter four talks about what I believe to be the lynch pin mechanic which makes this game so much fun to play. Aspects and Fate Points. Fate points are the currency of the game and Aspects bring what would normally be background fluff to the forefront of play allowing it to be invoked or compelled. In previous books like The Dresden Files RPG and Spirit of the Century there have been chapters on the Aspect but none as comprehensive and easy to understand as in this book. It starts by defining Aspects and Fate Points, then discusses the type of Aspects: Game, Character, Situation, Consequences, and Boosts. After that we learn what Aspects do, covering how making something an Aspect makes it important to the game and get some advice on determining when the mechanics should be engaged.  Next it covers how to make quality Aspects. Here’s my favorite advice:

Always ask what matters and why?

If that question is answered an Aspect is easy to make. Following that is invoking Aspects which is the mechanical application of Aspects and hits on something I believe is new to this version of Fate in how free invocations are used. As many free invocations on an Aspect can be made at one time as there are fate points on the Aspect, even spending a fate point from the acting players own pool on top of it. Compelling aspects comes after along with the types of compels. The best part here is the idea of suggesting compels is everyone at the tables responsibility. After this are sections about using Aspects as role playing prompts, how to remove or change Aspects through play, and creating or discovering new Aspects. Finally the chapter talks about the Fate point economy, how refresh works, other ways to spend Fate points other than invoking, and how to earn them. Something new for the GM here is whenever a scene starts you get a Fate point for every PC in that scene. You can spend these Fate points on anything you want in the scene to help get your ideas going and to challenge the players.

Chapter Five explains Skills and Stunts. It starts by defining skills, what they do in the game, and touches on the four basic actions of Overcome, Create an Advantage, Attack, and Defend. When a player takes action that requires a dice roll in this game they are always doing one of these four things with some skill. The best rule change from previous versions of the game is the Create an Advantage action. It replaced a bunch of old actions that created Aspects. I was always confused since they were so similar.  Stunts are covered next and this section has a fantastic “how to” on building new stunts. In fact anytime this book is giving you the “how to” on anything it is done in superb fashion with the mechanical tools explained clearly, followed up with common examples so you have a blueprint to start with when building anything. Finishing the chapter is the skill list. I think it’s worth noting there is a quality side bar on dealing with the resource skill on pg 123.

Chapter six is all about Actions and Outcomes. This chapter and chapter 7 cover the procedures of play, starting by getting in depth with the four outcomes and the four actions. Everything in this chapter exemplifies the Fantastic layout of the book. It’s easy to read and understand and if a term was forgotten the margin notes point to where to find it.

Chapter seven covers challenges, contests, and conflicts. When a single roll of the dice isn’t enough to determine the outcome these are the procedures given to decide what happens. There are some great questions GMs can ask to decide which of these three frameworks should be used. Challenges cover overcoming some series of obstacles where a single roll doesn’t seem to fit, contests involve two or more characters striving for a goal but aren’t trying to harm each other directly, and conflicts are for those situations where people are trying to hurt each other physically or mentally. The conflict section is the largest of the chapter and covers setting the scene, determining turn order, what exchanges and zones are, creating situation Aspects, resolving attacks, taking consequences, recovering from consequences, ending a conflict and all the other little gritty details of fighting, be it with words or swords. I really like the teamwork rule in this game. It’s simple. If a character has at least an Average rating (or +1) in the skill that the die roller is using a +1 can be added assuming the characters assistance makes sense in the narrative. The only caveat is if a character helps they are now subject to any costs associated with the roll.

Chapter eight is all about running the game from the GMs perspective. It covers what the GMs responsibilities are which is starting and ending scenes, playing the world, judging the use of the rules, and creating scenarios along with just about everything else. So while that’s the over view of what the GMs job is this chapter goes deep, giving GMs some options for how to guide game creation and deciding if extras are needed. Then it hits on how to make the game go during play and it starts with the Golden Rule of Fate:

Decide what you’re trying to accomplish first, then consult the rules to help you do it.

It seems so simple but it’s such good advice for any game. Next it talks about when to roll the dice:

Roll the dice only when succeeding or failing at the action could each contribute something interesting to the game.

Then there’s advice on how to make failure interesting, some excellent tips about how to not marginalize characters because they failed, and what constitutes a minor cost vs. a serious cost. After that the chapter goes into how to push some of the work onto your players, setting difficulties, dealing with game time and story time, and how to use story time in success and failure to create deadline pressures. There’s advice on zooming in and out on the story, judging the use of skills and stunts, why you should leave specific measurements out of the game, dealing with the weird things that happen in conflicts, and how multiple targets of effects could be handled. It covers environmental hazards, gives advice on dealing with Aspects and how not to be weaksause (their words not mine) when making compels. Finally there is an excellent set of guidelines for creating and playing the PCs opposition. This version of Fate, like others adopts a create only what you need philosophy, which I approve of, and covers how to right-size your opposition if you want rougher or easier conflicts based on numbers, skills, advantages, and venues. I think this chapter is a gold mine of advice for any GM running most traditional RPGs and even some which aren’t so traditional.

Chapter nine covers the creation of scenes, sessions, and scenarios. It starts with defining the scenario and how to start building them by finding the problems, asking story questions, establish the opposition, and set the first scene. After that the game should just go. It’s fantastic stuff and helps GMs out by posing a bunch of Madlibs to figure out what problems there are and following it up with questions you can answer to figure out everything else. Next is support for scenes through determining the purpose of the scene and figuring out what interesting thing is going to happen. Then the book takes a few pages to help GMs get their players interested in the scene by advising GMs to hit character Aspects and calling back to the three pillars of the game: Competence, Proactivity, and Drama. Then some superb advice is given.

Whatever you have planned will always be different from what actually occurs.

The chapter finishes with some information on resolving the scenario.

Chapter ten is called the long game which defines and then gives advice for building story arcs and campaigns. They’re basically giving frameworks for spontaneous storytelling. The mechanic that helps signify the ending and beginnings of these arcs are milestones. The book takes some time to define minor, significant, and major milestones and what mechanical benefits each of them give to players. Then advancing the world is covered and the things the GM should think about during each of the milestones. The chapter finishes up with advice about how to handle NPCs over the long haul.

Chapter eleven is all about the Extras. What’s an extra? It’s anything that’s part of a character or controlled by a character that gets special treatment in the rules. These are the setting rules you’ll get in a super hero game or the magic system in a fantasy setting. To help GMs out the book has a bunch of different add-ons you can use or use as a blueprint to build your own extras. To help GMs create those extra’s they even have a great list of questions GMs can ask to help them figure out what they may or may not need. In here is also one of the coolest things about Fate. The Fate fractal. Anything in the game world can be treated like it’s a character. A car, an organization, a location, whatever. Just throw some Aspects, skills, stunts, a stress track or two, and consequence slots on it if you want. You want a Birthright campaign, you can do it, just make all the kingdoms Fate characters with skills, stunts, or Aspects, and that’s just one of the things you could do.

My personal thoughts are this rules set is the tightest Fate has produced yet. Aspects are easier to understand than ever before, there is an interesting failure mechanic where the player gets to choose if they fail or succeed with a consequence, and the game creation sections along with the extra’s chapter gives you the tools to build the game you want. For GMs Chapters eight through ten are some of the best GM advice collected in one place I’ve seen in a RPG book that isn’t Robin’s Laws of Game Mastering. As far as presentation and use of language for explaining a game is concerned I’ve always felt the best book out there was the Mouse Guard RPG. While that book is still more beautiful I feel Fate Core is at least its equal and maybe just a little bit better at teaching the rules through the text and layout. I don’t give ratings but I will say this. I love Dungeon World and I’m very fond of Mouse Guard as a book to teach a rules set. Fate Core accomplishes the goal of teaching the game better than either of those games. I can’t say it’s a better rules set than Dungeon World or Mouse Guard because it’s focus is different but as a set of tools to help GMs and players build a game I’ve never seen a book or game do it better.

Apr 22 2013


I think presentation is king, be it at the table or in the rule book your reading. When it comes to playing at the table I think framing is the best way to think about presenting the game. When I say framing this is what I mean:

The parameters you lay down to create with in X. X being the individual game, the scene, the campaign, or any variable you want to throw in there.

Now to the details.

Campaign Framing

When you’re setting up your campaign I think it’s important to have a frame, especially if you, as a GM, have some idea’s you want to put forth. To give those idea’s a chance you need to place the players in a creative box while still having a big idea, theme, or genre to build inside of. That means you give them some choices but keep the choices constrained. For example if you’re running a game in a city and you have an idea for a conspiracy / noir detective story it makes sense to create the parameter of “You’re all connected to a Private Detective Agency.” Now all the players can create something within the parameter you’ve described. If you think the “box” you’ve created is too small here’s a list of character archetypes you could have just off the top of my head. The hard-nosed private eye, the girl detective who uses all the tools at her disposal and won’t take anyone’s guff, the underworld guy who’s knows everyone but isn’t always trustworthy, the muscle you call in for hard jobs, the kid who just likes to hang around the PI’s, the tough nurse girl friend of one of the PI’s, the former client who owes a private dick a favor or two, the cop who sort of likes the PI’s and works with them because they can go places the cop can’t and vice versa. All of these could be PCs in a campaign.

Story Arc Framing

Story Arc Frames I feel are very dependent on the first session of them or the opening act. If you ever watch a TV show, read a novel, a comic book, or consume any kind of storytelling media pay attention to the first episode or first act. You’ll get introductions to the characters. The themes will be introduced. The opening conflict or hook, which should be related to the themes of the story, will be presented. An overall tone will permeate this part of the story.

As GM’s we have some options with which to push forth our themes and feel. First off we get to frame the first scene. In this frame we can set the tone with videos, pictures, music, props or whatever you decided to use but our most important tool for this frame is the words we use and how we use them. This is your first impression, the opening of the movie, the first 3 minutes of a TV show, the prologue of a book. This is your chance to hook them in and push your players to take a similar mind set as you. If I was trying to get the feel of the conspiracy / Noir campaign frame from above I would start with describing a camera shot of the office door with the name of the agency on it and then I would turn to one of the private eyes and ask them

“How are you sitting at your desk?”

Once they described that I would have there be a knock at the door and have a beautiful woman in expensive clothing walk in. Next I would ask one of the other players

“You’re sitting on the couch reading the paper when she walks in. What is your first impression of the beautiful woman? Describe her in first person.”

This reinforces the genre and tone I’m going for since Noir detective stories tend to get inside the head of the characters. Plus I’m getting the players to give some insight into their characters and keeping them involved in the storytelling instead of just talking to them. At this point whatever conflict I wanted to present to the PCs I do using the Fem Fatal as my vehicle for doing so. She offers them a job which they take since they’re PI’s and need the money since PI’s are almost always broke. Tone presented, hook set, characters involved, job done. From here it’s all fall out and keeping the tone, themes, and characters in mind when you frame future scenes which leads to…

Scene Framing

The framing of a scene is similar to the framing of your story arc except all scenes you frame from here on build upon the first scene and the scenes which came before the current one. These scenes exist to allow your PCs to make choices to push the story forward and create conflicts for them to overcome, whether it’s shooting bad guys, infiltrating criminal organizations, or hitting at the Black Jack table instead of standing on that 20, because while you both have 20 you need to win this hand and get out of here with the cash or you won’t make it to the exchange in time and your friend is going to die.

Framing these scenes by keeping to the ideas you’ve established in your campaign frame and Story Arc frame will reinforce the kinds of choices your player’s will want to make and keep them thinking along the established ideas. The words and props you use will spark the imagination of the people you’re gaming with, inciting them to make decisions which will prompt your imagination in return. Here’s an example of a framing a scene:

“You find yourself in Terry’s Place, a diner you frequent. Where do you sit and what are you eating?”

The players give their answers and you continue.

“The food tastes great as you’ve once again barely escaped a death defying situation.”

This is a great place to remind them of the death defying situation they’ve just escaped from but if you’re starting a session cold then you can ask – What death defying situation have you just escaped from? In this example the question is – How did you escape from a death defying situation the Villi Mob put you in?

“I guess the Villi Mob didn’t appreciate your interference in their most recent plans. That’s when a chair is pulled up to your booth and a man sits down wearing a black coat and a fedora. His eyes take you in mid bite as you hear the click of a gun cocking from below the table. Neither of the man’s hands are visible as he gives you small smirk.”

“Hi boys. Sorry about this but Mr. Villi wants a word with you.”

You can ask the players who the gun man is or insert your own NPC.

“You recognize the man as Bobby the Hat. A Villi mob trouble shooter and that means he sometimes shoots the trouble.”

Now we play the game of act and react.

So that’s how I think about framing. I’m curious as to how you start campaigns, story arcs, and scenes. Please let me know? I’m also interested in how you promote a tone or theme during your gaming sessions? Thanks for reading

Mar 14 2013

Arms and Equipment Guide for Travelling Game Masters

Friend of the Show, Eugene, asks, “hat GM-Specific equipment should I bring to run games at a convention?”

Awesome question, Eugene.

I think a lot of GMs try to bring everything they own, and that is a mistake. If you are a travelling GM your goal should be to travel light. I think a lot of people consider the ThinkGeek Bag of Holding an excellent bag for GMs. It’s the bag I use, and I know several of my fellow GMs who use it, so I’m going to describe what I think is the best way to pack that specific bag. You should be able to adapt most of the advice here for your own game bag. The key is to pack only what you know you will need first, then fill in any left-over space with goodies.

Bag of Holding - ExteriorFirst, let’s look at our bag. The Bag of Holding contains three external pockets and four internal pockets. One of the internal pockets is sealed by magnetic button and subdivided with internal pockets for pens, calculators, cell phones, and the like. All of the other pockets are sealed by zipper. One of the external pockets is padded for a laptop, or other sensitive equipment. There is an adjustable shoulder strap, and a flap cover sealed by two magnetic buttons.

Next, lets look at the list of gear we’re thinking about taking. I’m going to list every single item I own that I’ve ever used as a GM, organize it, and pare it down.

Books, Printed Maps, Grid Mats, Miniatures (or other positioning tokens), Status Markers, Dice, Writing Utensils (pencils, pens, sharpener, eraser, dry erase markers, etc), Scissors, Printed Adventure Modules, Handwritten Adventure Modules, Laptop, Tablet and other small electronics, Calculator, Playing Cards and other Specialty Card Decks (e.g. Deck of Many Things), Player Handouts, 3D terrain features, Index Cards, Tape Measure and area effect templates, Laser Pointer, Projector, Laser Level, Elevation Markers, MP3 player (or other source for sound effects), Character sheets (blank and pre-gens), Initiative Tracker, batteries, post-it notes, Pipe Cleaners, GM Screen, Miscellaneous Props.

So, lets start with the basics. Books, Maps, and Miniatures. Surprisingly, all three of these things should be very low on your priority list. Books are bulky, and you never know which ones you will need. At worst, you should have your Player’s Handbook, Rules Compendium, and Monster Manual. At your best, you are bringing a Tablet with PDFs of all of your books pre-loaded on it. Miniatures are big and bulky, and require lots of space to store. Instead, use a sheet of cardboard tokens, like the ones that come in the Monster Vault. These are easily transportable, and a lot more versatile. Maps that are rolled up in tubes are a nightmare, because they don’t fit anywhere usually, and you have to carry them by hand to keep them from getting damaged. If you have a folding printed map, you are better off, but your best bet is a foldable grid mat, so you can draw all of the maps you need.

Dice are important. You can’t play without them. Additionally, if you are running a lot of games for new players, you may want to bring extra sets, as new players often don’t have a set of their own. However, if you are rolling with an experienced crew, only bring your own set. And only bring a single set. Not the gallon bucket of dice that you paid $5 for at Gen Con. I know some of you have superstitions about the need to switch out dice that are misbehaving. Suck it up and roll the same die again. If you are bringing a tablet, or a smart phone, load it up with a dice app and leave your dice at home. You are much less likely to lose them at the convention that way, but see the tablet section below before going down this road.

Writing utensils are important. But avoid bringing #2 pencils and a sharpener. Pencils break easily, and make a mess when you sharpen them. Bring a couple of cheap mechanical pencils. Make sure each one is loaded with lead, rather than bringing an extra case of lead for them. Don’t bring a sharpener. Do bring an extra eraser. You don’t want to use the erasers on the mechanical pencils, because they get lost easily, and they are usually what is holding the lead in. If you are going with a foldable grid mat, bring 2 black dry erase markers as well. Do not bring wet-erase, unless you need to. They are more hassle than they are worth.

Bring a printed copy of your adventure. Don’t expect to print one out on site at the hotel. Don’t expect to borrow one from the convention organizers. If your organizers are giving you hand-outs for your adventures (typical at Gen Con and Origins for LFR) don’t bring your own. Otherwise, bring enough to last you for all of your games.

Pre-Gen Character sheets are important, and don’t take up a lot of space. Don’t bring more than 6. Blank sheets are not important. You might think that a blank sheet is more versatile. You’re right, but it also takes a long time to generate a character. If a player shows up who hasn’t prepared, or you are running with new players, just hand them a pre-gen and go. Don’t waste time building characters from scratch in a convention setting where time is limited.

There are a few things on the list that should not be taken at all. Topping my list of excluded items are Laptops, Projectors, and MP3 players(or other sound effect devices). The Sound Effects are great at home, but in a convention center, you are likely fighting against other noise already. Don’t make that situation any worse. Leave the projector at home too. You won’t have room for it, let alone a power supply. Similarly, most laptops won’t last for a full 4-hour game without being plugged in, and very few convention centers provide power for laptops at a table. See the section about Tablets below instead. Don’t bring a stand-alone calculator. At this point in our society, someone at your table will have a smart-phone. You probably have one yourself. It will have a calculator on it, so use that if you must, but try to do most of the calculations in your head. Most calculations should be basic addition and subtraction. If something comes up that you need a calculator for, and you don’t have your own smart-phone, ask your players to do the calculation for you. Don’t bring your tape measure, or laser level. These are sometimes used to accurately judge distance, or determine line of sight. In a convention setting, this wastes time. Unless you are participating in Tournament Level play, just eye-ball it and go. If it’s too close to call, rule in favor of the players. Just keep the game moving. This goes for anything else that you may use to try to determine accuracy. Unless your adventure is specifically focused on elevation and aerial combat, leave the elevation markers, or other specialized position tracking tools at home. Leave your 3D terrain at home as well. This stuff normally doesn’t travel well, it is bulky, and it tends to be too expensive to allow to get broken or lost. At worst, bring a single piece of 3D terrain for the major battle of your adventure, to add a little coolness factor. Don’t bring a DM Screen. Don’t worry about rolling your dice in front of the players for 95% of your rolls. For that one roll that absolutely needs to be secret, just cup your hand and roll behind it, then pick up the die when you see the result. The only reason I would bring a DM screen is for the quick-reference tables printed on the back. If you can get by without them, don’t bring it. Leave behind any miscellaneous props. For example, one guy I know had a stylized dagger to show us how a cultist’s ceremonial dagger of sacrifice would look. This is especially bad because it’s also a weapon. Do not bring any weapons to a convention. Ever.

Now, lets talk about things that should be included. Surprisingly, I’ve always found that I need to bring a pair of scissors to a convention. There are usually handouts that need to be cut before they can be handed out, or things are printed 3 to a page, so I need to separate them. You should bring Index Cards, or Post-It Notes, but not both. I prefer Index Cards. They are useful for handling initiative, passing table notes, jotting down hit points, or any number of other things. They can even be folded into table tents to help you remember player/character names. If you choose to have your players make table tents, I always find it useful to bring a template to show them exactly how you want it done. If you are running Savage Worlds, bring a deck of playing cards. Pipe Cleaners are flexible little pieces of colored wire that works wonderful as a status marker, or as a way to mark off areas that are under an effect that lasts more than one round. I try to bring a small selection in a variety of colors, unless I’m strapped for space.

Finally, lets talk about things you should bring if you have space.
Status Markers and Area Blast templates should be made obsolete by pipe-cleaners. However, if you have an abundance of room left, these can add a level of visual appeal to your game that may make them worthwhile. Specialty Decks, like random treasure cards, injury cards, or tarot cards are cool to have. They usually travel well. Specialty Initiative Trackers are usually made obsolete by Index Cards. However, if you are the type who doesn’t like the card system for initiative, this can be a nice thing to have. It doesn’t take up a lot of space either. Finally, the biggest space hog in my bag is the actual Miniatures. These add a great visual effect to the game, but they are bulky. It’s always a difficult decision to decide whether or not you should make space for these. I tend to bring my box of player minis if I know I’m dealing with new players, or a small set matching up with Pre-Gen characters. On the monster side, I bring 5 orcs with various weapons that I use to distinguish between generic humanoid/medium enemies, a pair of large creatures, a pair of small creatures, and whatever mini I have that matches best with the big-boss of my adventure. From that base, I customize as needed to meet the demands of my adventure.

Tablets (and to an extent, smart phones) are always a tricky decision. They have a better battery life than a laptop, as long as you turn off their wifi and other radio connections. Bonus! If you do have a tablet, you can pre-load it with a dice-rolling application and save yourself that space in your bag. The downside of a Tablet is that if you are doing back-to-back games, it may die on you in the middle of your second game. If you have a portable power supply, like a spare battery or solar charger, you may be able to work around this. If not, don’t expect to be able to charge your tablet between games. Only bring your tablet if you have time to charge it between games, or a portable battery to go with it. Never rely on it as your source of adventure material. Always bring a printed copy of the adventure. If you don’t bring anything else, you can still get by with borrowing dice and other material from players, but they won’t have a copy of the adventure for you. I usually bring my smart phone no matter what.

So, lets start fitting things into the bag.
First, I start with my specialized pockets.


I’ve got the padded laptop pocket, where I keep my tablet, and my pre-gen character sheets. I rarely use my tablet, except when I need to look up something in a book on the PDFs stored on it. I keep my pre-gens here in the external pocket because if I get to the table and I’m running late, these are the first things I want to pull out, so I can give my players something to start looking at while I set up.




IMG_20130315_190711In the small pocket on the outside of the bag, I keep my scissors. I don’t like them getting mixed up with anything else because of the possibility of cutting myself if I’m digging around in the bag for something.







IMG_20130315_190930In the inner Button Up Pocket, I keep my writing utensils, my Specialty Card Deck, and a charger for my tablet.








IMG_20130315_191028In the largest inside pocket, I keep my miniatures inside a plastic box that you can get at any craft store. This helps keep them well-organized and sorted. Next to the box is my folded Grid Mat, and any folded maps I am using. Next to that, I keep my printed adventure and my index cards wrapped in a rubber band.






IMG_20130315_190953The smaller inside pocket holds my dice. I keep extra dice packs because of the new players I often deal with. I also keep my Pipe Cleaners in here in a plastic baggie.

My cell phone goes into my personal clothing pockets, rather than into the game bag, but I may set it down at the table if I’m using it to track time, roll dice, or do calculations.





IMG_20130315_191142Finally, bring a snack. A granola bar, or something similar, will keep you going if you find yourself fading in the middle of a session. There is a small secret pouch in the Bag of Holding inside the largest pocket. This is where I keep a granola bar wrapped up. Try to remember to put a fresh one in every convention, rather than being stuck with a stale one. They won’t go bad, but as a rule, I try to avoid eating very old food. Bring a bottle of water as well. I keep mine clipped to the side of the bag, so I can get to it, even if I’m walking around the convention center with my bag slung over my shoulder. And if you are going to be doing a lot of talking, bring some cough drops. Your throat will be raw by the time you are done running 5 marathon GM sessions, and these little babies can help keep your voice from giving out.

I still have a lot of room left in this bag for any extras that I may need, such as my rule book, or even another box of miniatures. When I go to a large convention, I usually end up getting free stuff, or buying more materials which I end up carrying in my bag. Having the extra space available comes in handy when this happens.


There you have it. That’s my guide to packing for a travelling DM. What do you think? do you have advice of your own?

Mar 04 2013

Finding Your Fun

Gaming is a tricky thing to discuss because of how big a subject it is. Just off the top of my head I can pull out War Games, Board Games, Video Games, Role Playing Games, Hobby Games, Casual Games, Party Games, Story Games, Arena Games, Live Action Role Playing Games, and Drinking Games. I enjoy most of them to one degree or another, especially the drinking games. Enjoying them isn’t really the problem though, it’s talking about them. How do you define a certain type of game? How do you rate it? What standards do you use? Is the design solid? How can you tell?

Answering these question is important to me because I don’t think it’s enough to say the game is fun. What’s fun to one person isn’t necessarily fun to another. So how does one define their fun? I think it takes some self-analysis. You need to look back at your experiences and ask yourself why you enjoyed a game. What parts of the game were enjoyable? What parts weren’t? Do you like working with people to overcome an obstacle? Are you more interested in competing to win? Do you like managing your resources better than the next person or do you want that plus the ability to hinder your opponents with clever timing and moves? Should the game be an even contest where skill is the only thing that matters or is the luck of the die determine the difference between victory and defeat more your speed? There are so many variables for games out there I think a large list of attributes could be amassed.

So to assist you in finding your fun I’ll share some of the things I’ve discovered about myself.

I really enjoy role playing games but I’m not as interested in games where combat mechanics take up most of the rule book anymore. What I want from them is a collaborative storytelling experience. This isn’t to say I don’t like the fighting parts of RPGs but I know the games with combat are rigged. In a lot of classical RPG’s (I know I’m taking a big risk by calling them classical, even games from the 80’s and 90’s had what we consider modern mechanics by today’s standards) the GM was a judge, there to impartially rule on the game mechanics based on the adventure written. That was the assumed role regardless of who wrote the scenario being played. I feel this has drastically shifted over the years to the GM being someone who has ultimate authority in “classical” games. It basically means they’re the final authority, not just on rules, but on the stories direction. This means if the players screw up and all die it’s the GMs fault because regardless of what happened the GM didn’t need to let the party die. The commonly accepted good GM provides the illusion of challenge while making the players feel like they’re overcoming the obstacles set in front of them while making choices which change the world. In reality this all goes through the filter of the GM. Nothing of consequence happens without the GMs say so or a clutch die roll. Remember, this is what I’m calling classical games. Games in the ilk of D&D, Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, Traveler, BRP games, and Mutants and Masterminds. Combat, which is the primary form of conflict in many of these games, is the largest offender. The GM can always stack the deck to kill a group or can use his powers to shift an unwinnable fight into something dramatic. The trick is making the players believe it was their decisions which made the event play out whichever way it did. That’s a skill I feel excellent GM’s have. It’s also a problem for me.

Games where I can have my ideas vetoed by the GM, where I can’t make something happen just because I would like it too, aren’t as fun for me. Games where the story is preplanned and my actions only impact the world in small ways aren’t interesting. As a GM I’m starting to find all these games to be formulaic in how they work. So while I like the combat aspects of D&D I know they’re rigged, making the thrill of victory and defeat feel a little hollow. Because of that view I play these games from a different lens. I look to see how the situation plays out. I play to push character stories and internal drama and I watch how the external stories play out as if I’m watching for the Meta plot of a TV show. This happened to me over time and in a subconscious manner. It wasn’t until I started trying to figure out what I liked about RPGs today, and what was missing from them for me, that I came up with a list for what I wanted. Here it is:

  •  Internal character drama supported by mechanics.
  • A story I can be surprised by and contribute too in meaningful ways.
  • A randomizer which doesn’t negate the games progression but drives it.
  • A competitive element because I like to compete.
  • Teamwork

These are the elements of games which are fun for me. I expect it to be different for everyone. For me I don’t think RPG’s can cover all of them. Internal character drama, a surprising story I can contribute too, and a randomizer which pushes progression of the game are very RPG. The competitive element doesn’t work because I know the game is rigged. It’s why I’m fascinated with the OSR because a lot of old school gaming tries to recapture that old feeling of GM’s acting as Judges. I want that fair and impartial judging where being clever could get you past a lot of things. Those games weren’t character in the world stories, they were very much player vs module. That meant a lot of those games were lacking what I was looking for in my first three areas of interest. It’s why I play board games like Descent and Arena video games like League of Legends. They’re antagonistic teamwork games.

With my competitive fix in I started to look at Indy games. Now here comes the tangent. I’m not sure Indy games is an apt term because compared to the larger world I would say all RPG game companies produce Indy games but for the sake of this conversation we’ll say anything not WotC, Piazo, Margaret Weis, or Pinnacle related is an Indy game. Indy games like Fiasco, or Apocalypse World and its clones promote narrative storytelling. Fiasco is almost an improv acting exercise where the decisions you make allow you to introduce or resolve a scene as a player and then the rest of the group gets to decide the other portion for you. The dice rolling at the end just ties together the story you’ve told so far. The Apocalypse World games use the dice rolls to drive story, never letting it stall out. Something always happens when you roll 2d6. That something is either bad, what you want with a cost, or good for your character. It’s never nothing.

Those games both drive the game through their randomizer.

I like Fate because it has a mechanic for internal character drama, Aspects. Aspects can reflect a change in the characters beliefs and mental state over time. Fate also allows me to contribute to the story in meaningful ways through their setting creation system where all the players, this includes the GM, get to help decide what will be a part of the setting of the game. It’s still got some of the problems with its randomizer but Fate points help balance out the problem by giving you a choice of when you want to fail, while also letting your character be compelled to make character decisions even if they’re not optimal for the group. Best part is you’re rewarded by gaining a fate point.

So that’s me, the games I’m into, and why I’m into them right now. But that’s just one person’s fun. So take some time, think about what’s fun for you, and please share it with me in the comments section. I’d like to see your fun and how different it is from me.

Jan 08 2013

Finding Your Fun

I’m a narrative-gamist guy.

Ok. So what does that mean?

It means I like games which have a strong narrative component but have some gamist aspect to them. To break that down further it means I like rules which prompt storytelling or even better rules which require storytelling to make the game go forward.

Now there are other things I like about gaming but those are the big ones. If I can have a game where the story happens because I interact with a rule then I’m pretty happy. Not always happy, but generally. Games like Mouse Guard and Dungeon World have this flow going on and FATE has some of it too with a little more gamist going on.
Now these two aspects aren’t the only things which define a game. I’m not really a GNS guy. Those two terms just sort of make sense to me for the kinds of games I like but if you dig accounting for the rations in your pack and how many arrows you have then your probably into simulation or resource management type games as part of the kit which would describe you. I like those parts to be a bit more abstracted to have some baring on the narrative but not a huge part of the game.

Maybe you like having a lot of challenges thrown at you without having much say what the challenges are or maybe you like to choose the challenges your going to be facing. Maybe you like to pick starting points and ride plots to their end where you can choose another starting point. Maybe you like having decisions come up two or three times over the course of an adventure which change the adventures outcomes.

The point of that rambling was to show you people like different levels of control over the story of the game. You need to identify what you like about gaming and then find games which give you that level of control.

Do you game because you like playing with your friends or is it because there are specific types of games you want to play. Maybe it’s a mix of the two. There’s no shame in realizing the gaming you want isn’t the gaming you’re getting with your friends. All it means is you need to readjust your expectations, find people to game with who share a similar vision as you, some mixture of the two, or a solution I haven’t been able to figure out yet.

There are lots of other vectors you can apply to what is fun about gaming for you. I encourage you to sit down and take some time to figure out what they are so you can discover what fun is for you.

Game On,

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Oct 22 2012

Nile DeLuxor by Minion Games

Recently I got a taste of Nile DeLuxor and by taste I mean I played four games of it. It’s a fun little set collection card game. The object of the game is to have harvested the most of a variety of crops. I’ll explain this in a moment if you’re confused. The crops come in seven different flavors (wheat, lettuce, flax, Papyrus, onions, grapes, and castor) but in the 2-4 player version you only have 5 in the deck, adding one more crop for each player up to six. You start with 5 cards in your hand and on your turn you take the following actions in this order:

  • Flood
  • Harvest
  • Trade
  • Play or Speculate
  • Draw

You flood by flipping over the top card of the draw pile. This indicates which crops can be harvested in the harvest phase and which crops can’t be planted during the Play or Speculate phase.
The Harvest Phase allows the player or players who have the crops shown on the flood card to harvest one card of that type and place it face down in their scoring pile. I say player or players because some of the cards are speculation cards which have two crop types on them and only one player may have a singular crop type at a time. In other words if I have flax then Jen can’t have flax.

The Trade phase allows you to trade two cards from your hand, your score pile, or a combination of the two, to do two things. You can either flip a new flood card or draw a new card into your hand. You can do this as many times as you are able to in a single turn.

Playing or Speculating is the choice you make now. Playing means you are planting crops but there are some very specific guidelines you must follow when doing so. When playing card or planting crops you can either play exactly two different crop cards into your field, two or more of one type of crop card into your field, or reinforce any crops in your field with as many cards as you’d like. The rub is if you’re planting a new crop into your field it has to have more crop cards than anyone else to be planted. If you do this then the player who now has less crops in their field than you must discard their field to the discard pile. This could probably use an example:


It’s Jen’s turn to play. Her flood card was Papayas and she had three of those in her field so she takes one and puts it in her harvest/score pile. Looking down at her hand she see’s four onion cards. Chris has two onions in his field and knows he needs them to balance out his harvest. She plays her four onions with a smirk as Chris gives her the stare of death and discards his onions. Now Chris starts working on building up onions in his hand to have a chance at winning. He hopes Jen harvests one or two of her onions so he can play more than she has in her field and take control of the onion fields again.

Speculation is a different bag. There are cards in the game which have two crops on them around a circle labeled speculation. Instead of playing cards you can play one or two speculation cards and if the next flood card drawn has a crop on it matching your speculation card or cards you get to draw three cards. This stacks so if you play two speculation cards with castor on them and castor comes up you get six cards. It’s a good way to build up cards but you could also get nothing, hence speculation.
The draw phase is just drawing two cards from the top of the draw pile which ends your turn.
One more thing. There’s a card in the deck called Swarm of Locusts. When this is drawn the player with the largest single crop field loses all the crops as the locusts devour them. This card doesn’t take the place of the drawn card and another is drawn after the swarm is resolved.
Now that I’ve explained the phases of a turn I guess I should tell you how the game ends. There are six season cards. The season changes when the draw pile runs out and the discard and flood pile are reshuffled. What this means is each season will get shorter as people bank cards into their harvest piles or keep cards in their hands which has no limit. Once the sixth season is over the winner is determined by the person with the most variety of crops in the largest number. This needs an example:

Chris and Jen are playing a 2 player game so there are only 5 crops: wheat, papyrus, grapes, castor, and onions. Chris has five wheat, four papyrus, grapes, and castor cards each, but only 2 onions. Jen has 3 of each crop. This means Jen wins because she has a wider variety of more cards. She had three of each while Chris only had two of each. If Chris had three onions he would have been the winner because the sets of three all balance out but Chris also has four cards of at least four different crops where Jen has no crops with four cards. I believe this is the reason you can choose to pull cards from your harvest pile to trade in for a new card or a new flood. Having 12 wheat cards doesn’t do you squat if you only have two castor cards and a grape, especially if your opponent has three of each kind, so remember to diversify if you’re playing this game.

I suppose I should throw the length of the game out there. The box says it takes about 30 minutes to play. The first game I played was with 6 people and the expansion and it took somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour. I and my fiancé Jen were new to the game but I believe the other four players had played at least once before. I took the demo copy of the game home and me and Jen played three two player games which took about 30 minutes give or take 5 minutes. Once we got a feel for the game it was really fast.
Nile is the base game Jen and I played three times. The six player game had the expansion which included three monuments and stone, another “crop” to manage. I don’t think I played the expansion enough to get a feel if it’s worth it to have or not but I do know I like the two player version. This game has a little bit of depth to it because of how you can manipulate and manage the draw pile to attempt to get the cards you want or need. It’s also important to keep an eye on your opponents so you can figure out what they’re trying to harvest and what they might have. You can do some nasty things by harvesting and holding cards they might be trying to harvest. The pace of the game seems to flow from a mad grab to get whatever you can in season 1 and 2 to trying to fill in and block your opponents from collection what they need in the later part of the game and because you can play cards to wipe out your opponents fields there’s a bit of a screw your neighbor element to the game. With six it felt like a party game. With two it was very strategic. I’m thinking it plays best with four and well with three but I can’t say for sure. I am looking forward to finding out.

If this review was helpful or not please let me know and also let me know what you did or didn’t like about it and if you’d like to see more reviews on the site.

Game On,
Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Oct 08 2012

My 4e Dungeons & Dragons Playbook

I usually don’t do this because I try to keep my advice general but my friend Drew is running a 4e D&D campaign for some of his friends as his last hurrah for 4e Dungeons and Dragons before putting that game away for just about good. I told him I’d share some of the things I’ve done over the years with him so I thought I’d share them with you too.

Rolling Encounters

What I mean by rolling encounters is encounters that roll from one into the next. I’ve run plenty of sessions where the game felt like one huge encounter. I do this using primarily these three methods:

  • Reinforcements showing up.
  • Changing the objective.
  • Changing the terrain.

I consider each of these three things an event or something that happens to change the situation. For example I had a battle on a bridge as the PCs were trying to move from one tower to another. All around them battle was raging in the skies as dragons and their allies battled with the occupants of the towers of Darkenspire. On the partially enclosed bridge the PCs had run up against the Followers of the Sacred Lady, a holy order who worshiped one known as the Sacred Lady. As the battle progressed more and more members of the Sacred Lady came from the far tower to help their allies. The idea of reinforcements changed the nature of the battle. Players didn’t want to unleash their most powerful abilities or press to far forward because they weren’t sure what was coming out of the door next and how many were left.

The next thing I had going on during this encounter was a dragon was hit by a lightning bolt and was going to crash into the bridge. This was going to change the terrain. I had the passive perception set higher than anyone’s passive since they were in the middle of a fight when the dragon was hit by a lightning bolt and crashing into the bridge. The thing I did to give the players hints to the event was by throwing specific flavor text into the fight about things happening around them. I use a lot of flavor text in my combat sequences so this wasn’t unusual. During the second round of the fight I mentioned a dragon was struck by a lightning bolt. All anyone needed to do over the next three rounds was say they look to the right or mention they check on the dragon. Someone did the initiative count right before the dragon hit the bridge so they were the only one who got a chance to move before the dragon hit the bridge. I had a flip mat with the bridge drawn on it. I had it folded over so when the dragon hit I marked where everyone was, flipped the mat, and had a drawn crashed into bridge with the dragon on it. Some people were crushed by the dragon, some buried beneath it, and the crashing into the bridge almost knocked a couple of people off who were on top of the bridge.

I always enjoy changing the objective or at least adding something to the objective of an encounter or an adventure. During the last part of the Drakenspire arc I ran (It was something like 8 to 10 sessions) they were in a tower where energy was being gathered and focused for some nefarious purpose through several crystals in the tower. Up to this point the PC’s were just trying to get to the last tower to kill a mind flayer named Quat Lilarack. They hated it for various reasons. In any case once they got to the last tower they learned of this energy, found one of the focusing crystals, and figured out how much time they had left before the energy needed to do whatever was happening was gathered. This wasn’t at the speed of plot. I had an actual doom track, taken from Arkham Horror. The track went from 1 to 7 and every five minutes it would gain a tick. Basically every short rest was a tick and after any 3 encounters I threw a tick up there to take into account exploration and fighting time. I also threw a tick up there if I felt they had used up 5 minutes worth of time. The thing was they could gain ticks back if they messed up the focusing crystals, which they did. It also made them conserve powers so they could skip short rests here and there to cut down on their time. It changed the objective from just killing Quat to stopping Quat from doing whatever it was he was doing. If anyone is curious he was gathering the energy from a pair of “gods” trapped beneath the mountains Darkenspire was built on to open a portal large and stable enough to allow the King in Yellow to come through from Carcosa, one part of my version of the Far Realm.

Setting this up changed the encounters and scenario from getting through to the top of the tower where Quat and the energy being gathered was to a timed situation where making stops to mess with the crystals and resource management became very important.


So I’m not a huge fan of solos, I’ll talk about them in a bit, in D&D but I do like elites and I like encounters where some NPC’s are dependent on other NPC’s. Linking them up together or giving them abilities which make them work together in synergy. Two examples:

In one encounter I had a knight who had two men next to him at all times. As long as those men were next to him it increased his defenses so it was easier to take out the side guys first then go after the knight. The second example is a two-headed dragon with a caster who used primarily ice attacks. One of the dragons was a white dragon who could frost up the battle field. This was in an open field but the ice mage and the dragon were creating terrain with icy spots which the ice mage could teleport to and from as a move action while also being able to teleport back on top of the dragons back. This goes back to changing terrain but also shows how two different adversaries can work together to create an interesting situation for PC’s to deal with.

Sly Flourish

Mike Shea has an invaluable tool on his website Sly Flourish. It is a chart with every level of damage expression, hit points for monster type, and DC’s for skill checks. I have one of those screens where you can slide in paper inserts. It’s a great tool to have if your players go off the cuff. You can ad lib encounters from it. It’s like having wire frames for any possible thing you can think of.

Staying with Mike Shea I stole an idea he started applying to solo monsters. I always give any solo an ability where they can shake off any single effect at the beginning of their turn but they take 10, 20, or 30 points of damage depending on the tier of monster. Now there are a couple of variations you can put on this idea. Instead of shaking off an effect you can have them ignore it for a round so it has the potential to happen again the next round. You can apply some penalties to the monster along with the damage. Instead of Stunned the monster is dazed. Instead of immobilized its slowed and takes a -2 to its attack rolls. You have some options but my preference was always the monster shakes off the effect but takes damage for doing so. Now I only ever did this for things like stun, daze, and immobilized because the action economy in 4e is a very important part of the game. Having an extra action, extra attack, extra turn or even an extra move is very powerful and taking away those actions is just as powerful, especially when you’re a solo and only have a few actions each round. Having the choice to shake off a status for damage fits in with the mechanics of D&D pretty well. You’re not getting everything you want but solos should be scary things that can pound through your abilities and status effects. Making it cost the monster hp gives the mechanic some “balance”.

If you’re looking for more 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons tricks I would suggest reading Sly Flourish. It’s quite good.

The Healing Surge

The healing surge is a resource which is very plentiful in my opinion. Players have a lot of them and I have implemented a few house rules which make them a little more interesting and useable:

  • If you miss by one you can spend a healing surge to put forth that little extra effort in order to succeed on what you’re doing. I always ask for a little descriptive flavor to go along with it.
  • I implemented the use of second wind three times. Once as a minor, once as a move, and once as normal each encounter. This rule is excellent when you have situations where there isn’t a leader.
  • Sometimes I’ll tie healing surges into player’s special abilities. For instance one of the characters in a game could wreath themselves in a blue magical fire which made them more powerful when using magic (+2 to hit, +5 to damage) but it cost a healing surge every round it was activated and it required a saving throw to turn it off. Of course when it ran out of healing surges it would start dealing healing surges of damage.

The Choice

This is the last one and isn’t really a D&D 4e trick but one that can be used in any game. You have the players come up against a situation where they have to make a choice and the choice isn’t good or bad but will push the story one way or another or give them a difficult decision. For example one of the PC’s had just ripped an abnormally large amount of aberrant energy out of an angel of death. They decided to help this angel of death instead of killing her. The problem was the energy didn’t dissipate due to not rolling quite well enough so instead the PC had a choice. Absorb the energy or let it randomly fly about which might get one of his allies, possibly the angel again, and maybe it would just disperse. He chose to take it into himself. He made the choice which drove the game forward. Now he has to deal with this energy which basically makes him the incredible hulk. Giant aberrant rage monster once he is bloodied twice in a fight or knocked out once.

The thing with the choice is whatever the decision is it needs to have a consequence that is visible to the person who made the choice eventually, otherwise the choice becomes meaningless.

Please feel free to throw out some more interesting tricks and hacks you’ve thrown on your 4e game to make it play better.

Good Night and Good Gaming,

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

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