[D&D 4e] Test Drive: Gaming With A First Time GM

Last weekend, our group decided to try something different.  In this case, long-time poster and first-time GM Hikkikomori volunteered to run a few D&D games now and then, both to try out the activity, and to give me a chance to actually play for once.

Hikkikomori made a good showing, taking to the role of GM naturally.  The 4e rules were a solid springboard to work with, and Hikkikomori knew enough of the rules to make good quick judgement calls on whatever came up.  The scenario was pretty standard, but that’s not a point against his creativity.  The group was looped into caravan duty, with all of us escorting a cheapskate caravan master who was our only key to getting to the City of Five Kings.

The inevitable ambush was expected, but I will admit that it was a perfect way to get the group into the irreverent tone of a casual hack-and-slash D&D adventure.  The fight was longer than we had expected, but Hikkikomori demonstrated a good sense of pacing, making sure that it never drew on too long with too much of the “I hit, you hit” mentality.  Creative use of his Caravan Master’s idiosyncrasies were enough to keep up on our toes as we tried to corral the caravan master away (lest he die) and still take down the bad guys.

Overall, I felt that Hikkikomori has a lot of potential to be a GM that can roll with the blows that his players throw at him.  He’s quick to react, and quicker to make interesting ways to keep the game from devolving into a simple tactical exercise.  I’m eager to see what he has planned after this one, and see if he’ll work in other forms of conflict in the game as well, considering that our characters are about to get into a large metropolitan location full of crazy potential for all sorts of shenanigans.

[D&D 4e] Prepping a Refresher Course

Hikkikomori, avid comments guy in this blog, and a player in my gaming group has decided to give GMing a whirl, and for his first attempt, has selected 4th Edition D&D as the system for it.  As such I’ve been re-reading my core set, both to get me back up to speed with regards to the rules so that I can help with rules lookups and keeping the gameplay experience moving smoothly.

I’m aware that there’s been a ton of books that have been put out ever since I bought the three core books, but I’ll stick to the basics for now.  Also, since the rest of the players aren’t as familiar with the rules, I figure I might as well prepare a refresher course, something along the lines of a couple of encounters to get the other players (and myself) used to our character’s powers and how they interact in the context of a combat encounter.

4e is one of those games that emphasizes tactical play over most other parts of the roleplaying game experience, but it’s not a bad game.  Arguably, it does exactly what it set off to do, and I feel that if anything, as long as expectations are set correctly, it’s easy enough for anyone to enjoy the game.  That said, I think that a measure of proficiency with regards to play will definitely help in making the game more enjoyable so what I’m doing might not necessarily be too crazy.

[4e] Darker Days, A Beer & Pretzels Game Campaign Concept

Sometimes, when my brain isn’t really up for high-concept campaigns, it always seems to drift back to something simple.

In this case, simple means a simple campaign concept, with a strong premise, easy entry points for characters, and an excuse to kill a lot of monsters.


Darker Days is my take on the Dark Fantasy Action-Adventure genre popular in videogames.  The player characters take on the roll of heroes fighting off the almost interminable tide of darkness.

To take wholesale a big plot element from Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, a dark ritual has scored a massive victory on the side of hell, and the souls of the deceased can no longer pass on to their eternal reward.  Instead, they are trapped in the material realm, even as the denizens of hell pour out en masse, eager to transform the earth into their own personal playground.


The campaign will be an episodic game, with the occasional side-story to deal with the backgrounds of each of the player characters.  It will have combat in every session, as taking the fight to the demons often involves raiding various dungeons and ruins that they’ve decided to make their home in.  Various NPCs from the few living settlements might be encountered, and if they survive these NPCs could be the source of further plots.


D&D 4e may have had its share of detractors, but I have to admit that whatever it does, it does well.  So for a game like Darker Days, I’d go with it as it fulfills all the necessary situations I can really think of.  That said, I’d stick to the basics, the 3 core books should be sufficient for a campaign of this nature.


  • Ravenloft
  • Castlevania
  • Diablo

[Review] Martial Cultures: The Sijara

If there’s one thing that fantasy gaming has always needed, it would be more products that focus on the little details of a given culture. Books like Martial Cultures: The Sijara fill that particular need quite well.

As a GM who enjoys having varied cultures that go beyond simple stereotypes, I found Martial Cultures: The Sijara to be an entertaining read that goes into detail about the nature of the Culture in question, from their beliefs, their myths, little details like fashion options and the idiosyncrasies that make characters of that culture to be more than just another face in the crowd.

What I liked the most about this book is how easily the author enables players to understand the Sijaran culture and makes it easy for them to play one without having to go too technical. Little details like fashion choices and little behaviors that may seem just a little odd to outsiders are explained in a fashion that makes sense in the context of a “real” culture and that alone makes it a great read.

For those interested in crunch, the book also goes into full detail on how to integrate the culture into a campaign setting, adding little rules tweaks, sample feats, character options, and even plot hooks.

Overall, Martial Cultures: The Sijara is a dense, well-written, and interesting book that lends much-needed flavor to the standard fantasy rpg campaigns out there. I’d definitely recommend it for GMs or even players who are looking to lend more depth to their settings.


Martial Cultures: The Sijara is available from DriveThruRPG for $4.95 or roughly PhP 214.00

If you’d like to check out the rest of the Martial Cultures series of books as well as some very handy RPG related software, please visit Chaotic Shiny Productions

Shifting Gears, or Altering the Gravitas

After running a string of relatively high concept games which deal with heavier themes, I think it’s about time that I take a break from the super-serious stuff and come up for air.  One thing I’ve learned to avoid burnout is to switch gears now and then, taking a moment to break out of your established conventions to try something new.

While this doesn’t necessarily mean a comedy-type game for me, there are other genres with lighter, but no less entertaining stories to tell.  My first HERO campaign was like this, with young heroes dealing with everyday problems with school and life along with occasionally kicking super villain butt.

And so I’m considering my options.  I’ve got the rest of the L5R campaign to play through, and a continuation of my “Exalted for People Who Don’t Like Exalted” campaign after that but once both of those are over, I’d like to think that I have a clean slate by which to explore something new.

Of course changing the usual campaigns I run to something less than standard is always a gamble.  Pitches have to be done carefully on my end, as anything that doesn’t elicit a “Hell Yeah!” from the players will mean that there won’t be enough player driven momentum to keep the game running.  That said, there’s got to be a few games ideas from my old notes or work-addled brain that should be worth a shot:

  • Spycraft is a definite contender.  A small team of specialists on rogue missions for fun an profit is always a good idea, though I’ll hold off until Spycraft 3.0 comes out before I give it a spin.
  • D&D 4e is another option.  I had a good experience with D&D 4e, as long as expectations are appropriately calibrated, and the fights not drawn out to forever it might actually work.
  • A Supers Campaign is always a good thing in my books.  Whether it’s DC Adventures or HERO 6th is up in the air, but I should focus on something a lot lighter in tone.  Up to the DC Animated universe level of seriousness is good… but Batman: The Brave and the Bold might be too much.
  • Metabarons is an oldie but definitely a goodie.  Thanks to the fact that it’s actually D6 Space Opera, there’s a wealth of information I can skim from in other D6 products (Starwars D6 I’m looking at you.)  Just add a ton of sugar to my double power expresso and I should be able to run this no problem.
  • 7th Sea is a game that is just begging to be ran.  I’ve had the books for years now but I’ve only run them in convention one shots.  This error has to be corrected.
  • Deadlands is another good choice.  I enjoyed the Crew of Nine campaign I ran before, when I was learning the ropes of Savage Worlds.  It was a fun campaign with lots of laughs, so I’d mark that as a winner in my books.

All of these campaign options are fun, with systems that don’t necessarily get too complex (oh, except for maybe Spycraft and HERO, but their complexity is often a good thing)  but most importantly they can provide a good, fun time without having to go high concept.

Character Roles: The Talker

Now for a change of pace.  For the past three roles, we’ve been looking from a combat perspective.  Today, let’s take a look at the Talker, a role that is often played in conjunction with another since it sometimes does not rely on rules at all to exist.  Talkers are interesting because of their ability to circumvent challenges or obstacles with the use of social leverage as opposed to hitting people with things.

That said Talkers have to be mindful of themselves just as it is with the other roles:

  • Talkers get others involved – Just because you’re the head negotiator of the team means you can leave the rest of the party twiddling their thumbs.  Everyone’s got something to contribute.  A smart Talker knows how to make the most of their party’s abilities to their advantage, even when they’re negotiating as opposed to fighting.
  • Making Friends is always preferable to making enemies – Talkers aren’t just for short term solutions.  Helping out NPCs, or cutting deals is always good, since this gives you more resources to work with.  A smart Talker can turn a population into willing allies with the right amount of work.
  • Learn to control the negotiation – Sometimes negotiation is about convincing the other side to agree with you.  Exactly how this happens is something that depends on the individual person you’re talking to.  Sometimes pretending to be less capable than you actually are will work, while at other times, sheer intimidation is your best bet.
  • Know when to stop talking – Fancy words are awesome, but sometimes talking too much is detrimental. Make your point, but never overdo it.  Based on real life experience, a person who would otherwise have been sold on an idea might end up dropping the deal if you take too long to make your point.

Talkers are firmly on the roleplay part of the roleplaying game equation, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.  As long as you’re in character, playing a talker is a rewarding experience as the player gets to pull off solutions to problems that would otherwise take too long, or have undesired consequences when violence gets involved.

Character Roles: The Healer

There’s a common impression that there’s no job more thankless than being a Healer.

Much like the Tank, they don’t really get a lot of the glory.  However, unlike the tank, the loss of a healer is something that players try to avoid at all costs.  Everyone knows that healers are important, but not a lot of people willingly play one.

It’s an interesting perception actually, and one that I wonder about.  I don’t mind playing a healer, but then again I’m the type to enjoy playing a Tank, so support roles don’t bother me.   What is it about a Healer’s job that nobody wants it?

That said, here are my thoughts on this particular character role:

  • Healers are Versatile – Healers heal, but they also do other things.  Their position away from the front lines means that they have opportunities to step in and actually pull off actions that front liners can’t do because they’ll be too busy being hit or hitting things.
  • Healers are Cautious – As a healer, it’s tempting to throw a strike or two in a fight, but each turn you end up doing damage is one where you can’t assist your friends.  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t let a good opportunity pass by.  However, it is important to know when you can attack without taking too big an opportunity loss.
  • Healers are Discerning – A good healer knows how to prioritize.  In a bind, when two or more characters are in the red and there’s not enough healing to go around, then the healer should have a good head for which of these to apply healing to to improve the chances of majority of the team making it back alive.
  • Positioning is key – A Healer is useless if they can’t get to where they need to be.  Healers must know where and how they can be of most use should things take a turn for the worse.

Healers might not win popularity contests, but everyone’s glad to have them along.  Playing one isn’t too difficult with a little bit of common sense and caution.  With a cool head, any player can do a good job as a healer, and be able to branch out into other specialties outside of combat, since Healers are well suited to be multi-talented.

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