Monday, August 20, 2007


In order to allow players into a world, one needs to determine allowable classes for the characters. Often, all the standard classes work, but let's think through them.

Barbarians are an iffy one for me. I don't like to allow characters to be barbarians without a good reason for ending up in a campaign group. I'm certainly not allowing players to throw on a level of barbarian without some extraordinary circumstances. I don't think, though, that I will necessarily throw the barbarian class out of the campaign. A berserker is a feasible thing, I think.

Bards are always in. After all, what better class for most adventuring groups than the one who would like to retell the stories? I may tweak the way they weave magic just a bit, though, but it'll mostly be flavor, rather than substance.

Clerics will, of course, have to follow a deity, and the deity will determine some things, such as allowable weapons/armor. Not all clerics will be able to wear every sort of armor, at least if they want to please their god.

Druids will have to follow the twin gods of nature, though some may favor one very strongly, even to the point of denying any allegiance to the other. Those druids will use only the powers that their choice of god would grant.

Fighters won't change, of course. Why would they?

Monks are out. I don't like them in a setting like this, since the Eastern flavor just doesn't fit the Western civilization. If one of the kingdoms gets that flavor, I may reconsider, but they are out for now.

Paladins will follow a code of honor, and will be allowed in both chaotic good and lawful good flavors. I've always liked the idea of a paladin that would do good, but not give a damn what the law allowed, as long as what he was doing was for the greater good. However, the chaotic good paladin still follows his own code of ethics, and will be even harder on himself than the LG flavor, since he doesn't answer to anyone but himself.

Rangers, as I mentioned in the Pantheon section, will be forced to choose a path, gaining spells fitting either the path of growth and life or the path of power and destruction. I'll have to rework their spell lists a bit, but I think it'll make rangers more interesting.

Rogues are always okay. I can't imagine a setting where a thief wouldn't fit.

Sorcerers will be perfectly okay as a starting class, but there will be special story requirements to explain someone suddenly gaining their first level of sorcerer otherwise. "Hey, I suddenly noticed that I have natural magic!" just doesn't cut it for me.

Wizards, too, will be in. There will be wizards researching new spells, others teaching a few students, and still others going out looking for the lost spells of other civilizations. Spells will be a valuable commodity, not easily handed out. If a PC wants to get a new spell, s/he will be forced to provide a spell of equal value or do something to earn it. But there will be plenty of spell trading, and an entrepreneurial wizard will be able to not only acquire spells, but even make a profit while doing so.

As for some of the common prestige classes, I'm taking out the dragon disciple with my description of sorcerers Other classes will be in if they fit, out if they don't. Obviously, any classes that require monk levels are out, as are racial classes that require races I'm not allowing in. The rest will be determined on a campaign-by-campaign basis.

The Pantheon

Because I want the gods of my world to be active and important, that's the next step to creating this world. I'll leave a lot of things a little general for now, since I'll want to pin things down later.

The nature gods shall be twins, or perhaps one goddess with multiple personalities. One will be creation, focusing on growth, healing, and tranquility. The other will focus on nature's wrath, harnessing wind, might, and the like. Druids will generally worship both, but favor one somewhat. Rangers, though, I will force to choose. I've never been all that fond of the ranger having a selection of spells that doesn't reflect anything. So they will choose to worship one side of nature, and I will come up with spell lists for each.

There will be a god of magic, who will have few clerics, but will sometimes awaken magic within people. This will be the main way I'll allow a sorcerer level in a character who has limited reasons for it otherwise. Plus, I think players that want to add a sorcerer level to a non-sorcerer will enjoy this method of doing so.

There will be a god of deception and trickery. His followers will include rogues and bards, and he will be quite active, pulling harmless tricks on people. He will often appear to rogues and outdo them in their endeavors, sometimes stealing their newly acquired riches.

There will be a god of death, but he will be neither dark nor light, as often happens. He will be an impartial judge, reaping souls and sending them where they should go. He will not enjoy the job, but he will do it. In rare instances, he will appear to take a life or defend it, as his calculations of how death should strike are never to be proven wrong.

There will be a god of the harvest, but this god will likely not be important to players.

There will be a goddess of light. She will be the god of many good clerics, bestowing powers against the undead, as well as healing powers.

There will be an overgod. It will be the ruler of the pantheon, and it shall also be the god of knowledge. It will know all, see all, and keep the gods in line. It shall have few followers, since it grants nothing, allowing the other gods to be active.

There will be several demigods, and these are the ones that will generally interfere with the plans of the gods. They shall vie for godhood, and perhaps sometimes achieve it. They will include at least one demigod of the undead, a thorn in the side of the god of death. He won't necessarily be evil, but he will not see the point in allowing death.

Being active will require avatars, but I think I'll include them when I actually get far enough for a section on the mythology of the world. I'll probably add a couple more gods then, too.

Friday, August 17, 2007


For any campaign setting, you need to define the races and their interactions. The easiest way to do this is to start by confirming or eliminating each of the basic races.

Humans are in. They are generic and make a fantastic point of reference. They may not be the most powerful race, considering the longevity of other races, but we'll see.

Dwarves are also in. It's hard to rule them out, since they are a staple of fantasy. They may not end up quite like the usual stereotype.

Halflings are in, and will be made into a race that has more influence than they do in most current campaign settings. I like the idea of them, but they always get shortchanged in campaign settings.

Elves are in. I'm not sure yet exactly how I'll paint them in terms of interaction with other races, but they are definitely in.

Gnomes are probably out, at least as a major race. There might be a few tinker gnomes in the world, but they won't be common. I don't want the world to have too many gadgets, and I like my gnomes to tinker.

Half-elves might be in, though they may be tweaked a bit. They've always fit in too cleanly as their own race for my tastes. They will probably be second-class citizens in my world, showing the disdain of both humans and elves for these half-breeds. There may also be some tribes of them, living by themselves to avoid the constant judgement of full-breeds.

Half-orcs are out. I have never liked the idea of them. And the orcs in my world will be a bit more like the Reavers of Firefly--they don't leave survivors.

Planetouched are out. There may be extraplanar beings, but they will not be a playable race, nor will they be all that common in the world at large.

In fact, I'm going to go ahead and call it good with the list I have so far. Humans, dwarves, halflings, and elves will be plenty of civilized races for the world. Now, subraces are an interesting way to create further divisions AND create reasons for allowing interracial parties.

Humans might have a subrace or two, but they'll be common anywhere, so it won't matter too much. And they won't divide by subrace, but by political group.

Dwarves will be available in both hill and mountain models, each having their own features. The hill dwarves will be friendlier to other races, while the mountain dwarves will do some trading, but keep their amazing cities hidden from prying eyes. I see the hill dwarves as having a simpler life, and being more open. The mountain dwarves will be industrious, but they'll keep mostly to themselves.

Halflings will remain the jovial sorts who have several breakfasts a day, just as they have been since Tolkien created them. The difference will be in a certain diplomatic cunning. They'll be prolific traders, and have treaties of protection with virtually everyone else, keeping their non-warlike kingdom safe..

Elves will come in three flavors. High elves will have a magnificent kingdom, but will allow only others of their kind full citizenship. They will grudgingly engage in trade, but try to have as little contact with "lesser races" as possible. Wood elves will be elusive and somewhat secretive, but not unfriendly. They will be self-sufficient and engage in very little trade, but will be friendly in interactions with other races. Their cities will be hidden in the forests, perhaps magically. The third breed will be aquatic. They will be a mythical sort, and not allowed to players. They will sometimes aid sailors who find themselves at sea without a ship, but they will have very little interaction with the land races.

Most half-elves will be the progeny of wood elves and humans who spend substantial time in the forest, though some high elves will indulge themselves with the lesser breeds, bringing great shame if they are found out. Wood elf half-breeds can never find the cities of their elven heritage if they ever leave. Humans will also be cruel to the half-elves, generally mocking them for their perceived fragility, marked elven features, and alleged effeminate nature. Female half-elves are more accepted than males, though they are treated only as sex objects or serving girls, with little respect afforded them. Because of their problems in any civilization, half-elves sometimes band together and build their own villages, generally in or near halfling land, where they are accepted.

You'll note that I have shied from the notion of evil races. There are going to be the monstrous races, which will be savage and sometimes evil, but there will be no calculating evil races like the Drow. There may, however, be evil kingdoms. It has never seemed right to have an evil race. I may change my mind, but I prefer to think of evil kingdoms as being a regular race that has allowed a cruel regime to take power or has harnessed the power of some evil magic. But we'll see.

Campaign Setting

Rich Burlew, of Order of the Stick fame, sometimes writes material to be used in D&D campaigns. He wrote a series about creating a campaign world. I've looked at his conclusions repeatedly, as well as his process, and I have to respectfully disagree with a large portion of it. He did end up hopping out of D&D for his setting, which actually improved both his setting and the fit of his entire process, but I still feel like some of his decisions are odd. Well, it's time to stop sitting here criticising and get down to business.

First, as Mr. Burlew astutely pointed out, you should state your objective. I disagree though, on which goal to state. A setting for your gaming group is usually best done very thoroughly, too. They'll appreciate it.
The goal here is the general type of campaign world. Since I mostly have players interested in D&D right now, I think I'll go with a D&D setting. But what kind? I don't want an Eastern setting, which is a lot of work for D&D, anyway. I'll be doing a Western setting, though it'll look a bit different from the reality of Western Civilization. Basically, I'm looking at starting from a fairly generic fantasy setting.

Next up is the static vs. dynamic problem. I love working with a dynamic world, but it takes some extra work to make sure that it can change over time without becoming a completely different setting. Forgotten Realms, for example, has an ever-deepening history, which is interesting, but it can be frustrating when players look up things about gods who died in the Time of Troubles (well, actually, that was even written into 2E stuff, so there's little chance of that with 3.5 players, but you get the point). At the same time, stagnation is frustrating. If there isn't room for one kingdom to take land from another, a king to be deposed, or a new god to rise up, the players may bore quickly. If you create a dynamic world, it also means that you may have to make up new maps every once in awhile. I'm willing to do that, and it is always fun to retire characters by giving them kingdoms or even godhood.

Looks like I'll be creating a dynamic standard fantasy setting.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Plot Hooks

Plot hooks are always a sore subject for players and GMs alike. The GM wants players to want to advance the plot, but can't always find a way to entice everyone. Players (usually) want to advance the plot, but they want to stay true to their characters. The GM doesn't want to railroad the players, and the players don't want to abandon the GM's carefully planned storyline.

Players first: You've probably heard this advice before, but you should find a reason to want to do what you know the GM is hoping you'll do. In a fantasy setting, it may be that a rogue hopes to loot some mysterious ruins, a wizard hopes to find knowledge there, and a paladin wants to get rid of the evil that has taken up residence. Whatever their motives, you can find a way to make most characters want to go check out the ruins mentioned in local gossip. In a modern setting, one character may want to solve a crime because he hopes to get the reward, another may not like competition, still another may be afraid she'll be the next victim, and one might be afraid he'll be the next suspect (GMs can play into this one, too).
If you cannot think of a justifiable excuse to bite the plot hook, talk to your GM. Maybe this is the sort of plot that you'll have to pass on. Maybe it can be slightly tweaked. Maybe yor GM just needs a little help figuring out your party's motivations.

GMs: If players aren't biting into those juicy plot hooks, maybe you need to look at the characters' motivations. If you have self-interested characters, you aren't going to get them to help people without a reward. Likewise, if your characters are noble and benevolent, all the loot in the world won't get them to do things that aren't saving someone's day.
If you're having trouble with it, talk to the players. They can help you see their characers' motivations, and you can help them see how certain plots can fit into those. Eventually, you can reach a solid understanding and progress the plot.

If none of this works, you may need to look at your group dynamic. A party with conflicting goals is fun, but if those conflicts are too open, it's hard to work on the same things. And a group of players who can't cooperate may need to find different games. After all, even if you're all friends, there can be issues with playstyle. If you separate and move on, you can avoid tensions that might move well into the non-RP realm.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Character Creation

Character creation is always my favorite part of RP. Coming up with characters that will be fun to play and fun for others to interact with is always enjoyable.

I create crazy characters, generally. In Vampire, I create Malkavians. In Rifts, it's Crazies. In D&D, it's bards. That's not to say that I always play these. It's just fun to create them and consider how one would play them. Often enough, I pick a different class/breed/type/etc.

The key to an interesting character is the flaw. Superman would be boring without kryptonite. Crazy characters have a built-in flaw. Your Malkavian might have multiple personalities. Your Crazy might rely entirely upon the advice of a stuffed rabbit. Your bard may desperately need to be the center of attention. These are all fun to explore. What, exactly, makes your Malkavian switch personalities? Does the smartest personality suspect something and start journaling for the others to read? What kind of advice does a stuffed rabbit give, exactly? Can the Crazy even decide whether to find the bunny if he loses it, or does he stand there unable to act? Does the bard take unnecessary risks for the sake of attention? Will he take any wager, even though he's probably not going to beat the champion longbowman in an archery contest?

Of course, non-crazy characters can be just as flawed. Your Ventrue may be blinded by lust for power. Your Juicer may be boastful enough to constantly be in a competition of some sort. Your cleric may experience the occasional crisis of faith.

Whatever you do, don't make a boring character. Both you and your GM will be disappointed by the character that has been made to be brutally efficient. It may work well for online play, but RP is not about the best character. It's about the most fun. I've been GM for characters that just didn't have anything interesting to focus on. The players don't have fun until some absurdity can be forced upon them, and I don't have fun until I've created an absurdity. I try never to leave that responsibility on a GM, since I know how hard it can be to present a reasonable absurdity to characters with a lack of absurdity.


As the inaugural entry for this blog, I figure I should introduce myself and the goal of all this.

I'm a DM, GM, Storyteller, and anything else you want to call it. I'm also a player. Yep, I'm a nerd. RP is my favorite sort of gaming, though I don't shy away from board games (especially ones like Arkham Horror) or video games (though I can't afford to stay on top of the latest and greatest).

This blog is partially here to chronicle some of the more notable things from some of the campaigns I've been in. It's also here to give advice to players and GMs. Mostly, though, it's here because I feel like writing about this stuff sometimes. If you enjoy reading it, good. If you don't, it won't faze me. If you want to spread anything I post here (Why, though?), just be sure to credit me by linking to the post.