Early Inspiration: Sleeping Dragon by Joel Rosenberg

This post is the first in my Early Inspirational Reading series. I’ll be rereading and discussing some older fantasy novels and discussing how they inspired me in my adventure design and role-playing.

The Sleeping Dragon Cover

The Sleeping Dragon (Guardians of the Flame) by Joel Rosenberg

By the time I read Joel Rosenberg’s The Sleeping Dragon, and the rest of his Guardians of the Flame series, I’d already been playing Dungeons and Dragons for several years.  Though many stories before, and since used the premise, this book is the first I recall reading that dealt with people shifting from the real world into a fantasy setting. In this case, it was even more interesting because the characters were actually gamers transported into the world they believed to be a fictional place created for them by their game master.

Upon arriving in the game world, the players quickly realize they have the bodies, and physical attributes of their characters. Moving quietly comes naturally to their rogue. Their fighter is now taller, broader, and stronger.  One player whose real world body is confined to a wheelchair finds himself in the strong healthy body of a dwarven warrior.  They wield their weapons and casting their spells as though they’d always done it.

While these things come easily, their knowledge of this new world seems to be more limited. For reasons unknown they have been deposited in a region that their characters had not explored in their gaming sessions. As they learn a bit more about the region, one of them shares a vague memory about the area based on a different character. Though they eventually manage to bring the memory forward and share his knowledge of the area with the rest of the group.

Though the few mentions of rules make it obvious they aren’t playing by any version of the Dungeons and Dragons rules, players of any game can experience the problem of character knowledge versus player knowledge. Unlike in this setting where the knowledge is needed, and important to help the group move forward in their quest, frequently in a game player knowledge of a non-player character, or a location, or especially a monster can get them through an encounter with far less effort than the game master intended.

It is nearly impossible to keep players from reading and learning from gaming products, forums, or just conversations with other gamers. Some of them certainly will recall some fact at an inopportune moment. As a dungeon master, I learned it was better not to simply say “No” to the players, so instead I would allow a dice roll to decide whether the character actually shared the knowledge the player possessed. I felt it represented the chance that the character might have picked up the knowledge somehow. In reality, all of us pick up a lot of miscellaneous bits of information through experience, reading, conversations with friends, and other source, so it seemed appropriate to allow players a chance to have learned some things not directly related to any class, skill or profession their character might have.

While I never made any sort of hard fast rules about how difficult the rolls would be, I did try to gauge how common the knowledge might be. For example, knowing a weakness of a rare creature would be fairly difficult roll, probably with no more than a 15% chance of success, while recognizing a mid-level dignitary from a nearby town might have a 40-60% chance of succeeding.

As the series went on there didn’t seem to be as much focus on the issue of what things they knew or remembered. Their time spent in the game world led them to know it quite well, while they apparently adapted to accessing the game knowledge learned before moving to the game world, or perhaps simply knew enough about the world that they didn’t need the old knowledge any longer. In your home campaign this can happen over time with knowledge about local knowledge and traditions, making more of it available without even making a roll.

If you’re looking for a read, this is one I would definitely recommend. Though I must warn you that there are scenes of rape in the novels, and I recognize that it is problematic for many, and something I had managed to forget in the years since my original reading of the book. In addition to exploring a bit of player versus character knowledge, the books set out an interesting setting, and shows how some people with modern knowledge try to use that in a setting that has not enjoyed the benefits of modern technology.

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Virtual GenCon 2014

Kill the die! Yes, this week, gamers invaded Indianapolis for GenCon 2014!

Reading my Twitter feed, I know many of you are already there. Dice rolling, cards flipping, roles playing, friendships forming! I know you’re enjoying an amazing experience. Thanks to the wonderful world of The Internet, those of us stuck at home can share in the enjoyment!  Here are a few links I am using to keep an eye on things:

1) Board Game Geek Livestream: Board Game Geek is providing a stead stream of game demos all day long! Learn about some new games!

2) Oomba.tv: They’re hosting a number of interviews throughout the day. I’ve been having some trouble with this site, but I keep checking back hoping they’ll get things running smoothly.

3) Twitter!: I’ve seen both #GenCon and #GenCon2014 hashtags. The links will take you straight to a search for those hashtags. I’ve kept both open in separate tabs in my browser.

4) The Escapist: Sharing some articles and news from GenCon.

5) YouTube: Lots of sites and people posting videos to YouTube. My link takes you to a search for GenCon sorted with the most recent uploads first.

6) GenCant: Tries to help those of us stuck at home get as much fun out of the convention weekend as those who made it to Indianapolis.

7) Ennies: The Ennies will broadcast Saturday Friday night on Ustream at 6:30 7:00. Watch your favorite creators and games getting recognized.

I know there are many other bloggers, vloggers, podcasters, and more sharing information from the convention, so feel free to leave a link in the comments to additional sites that would be of interest to all of us who could not make the journey this year.

And safe travels to all!


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First Book of Swords by Fred Saberhagen

First Book of Swords

First Book of Swords

I’ve decided to do a semi regular series where I discuss older fantasy novels and how they relate to my role-playing.

I first read Fred Saberhagen’s Book of Swords in the mid to late 80s. I read both the Book of Swords, and their follow-up the Books of Lost Swords. Last month I re-read the First Book of Swords, and hope over the next year or so to pick up the rest of the series again.

From the Amazon.com description:

The gods decide to devise a Game of great fun: their colleague Vulcan forges 12 magic Swords, each with a different power, and scatters them across the world. Play begins in grand and gloriously violent fashion as Swords are gathered and used to control chance, enhance fortune, and change destiny. The holder of a Sword wields power undreamed — power to change the world and the holder.

If you haven’t read this series, I highly recommend you pick it up and give it a try. A very well-developed world, and an entertaining story. As it says, there are twelve swords, each with different powers, but also with different weaknesses. And that is the fun of the story, getting to see each of the swords, and seeing how they work, and how they compare and interact with the other swords. Of course, while it discusses their creation, this first book only touches on four or five of the swords.

I read this book near the time I was attempting to learn to create and run my own Dungeons and Dragons campaign. As a Dungeon Master, my style at the time fell strongly into the hack and slash/Monty Haul style of gaming. These powerful swords offered an amazing selection for me to choose from. At the time I came up with game versions of all twelve, though only one or two ever made it into a player’s hands.

Here are the names of the swords: Coinspinner, Doomgiver, Dragonslicer, Farslayer, Mindsword, Shieldbreaker, Sightblinder, Soulcutter, Stonecutter, Townsaver, Wayfinder, and Woundhealer.

In most cases, the names describe the sword’s ability, though I confess I do not remember exactly what Soulcutter does, though I know it can’t be very nice!

Within the novels, most of these swords were extremely powerful. In game terms they qualify as artifacts, and if I created stats for them now I would treat them that way, but at the time, I basically gave them each +5 to some category of roll, and left it at that. I chose +5 because I felt it was making them equal to the Holy Avenger, and chose what rolls they would affect based on how the sword performed in the stories.

Somewhere I still have a notebook with the stats written down, but it is buried in the archives, but here is one quick example. Coinspinner, also known as the Sword of Chance created good luck for its wielder, and on occasion would simply transport itself away to a new owner, or just to somewhere it could be found again.

My version of Coinspinner provided +5 to saving throws. While this made a great sounding sword to give as treasure, it was very powerful, and certainly unbalanced.

With a bit more experience as a DM, Coninspinner would probably look more like this:

Coinspinner +1 Long Sword. When rolling saving throw, roll an additional d6. If d6 is even, add d6 result to saving throw, if d6 is odd, subtract d6 result from saving throw. At the start of each game day roll d10, on a result of 1 Coinspinner has teleported away to some random location somewhere else in the game world as chosen by the DM.

I suspect the chance for bad luck would have most players hoping for that 1 to show up and take the sword away. The even/odd computation will lead to a small positive increase to saving throws over time, though not enough to be over powering. Combined with the fact that the weapon isn’t likely to remain with the character for long, the weapon is relatively weak, and some might even classify it as a cursed item. Which is why I kept the focus of the weapons bonus/penalty activity away from its direct use in combat. Of course, this concept focuses more on the idea of a Sword of Chance instead of staying true to the book version of the sword.

So, pick the book up, give it a read and maybe you’ll be inspired to come up with some unique swords for your own campaign.

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Posted this to my personal blog, but so many of the Kickstarters I backed are gaming related that I thought I should post it here too.

Paul John's Life

My KickstartersRecently, I received an email from Kickstarter sharing some data, milestones, and other important achievements they had during 2012. Among other statistics they shared the fact that “50,047 people backed ten or more projects”. I’ve posted a few projects here during the year, and I’d even supported a few, but 10 projects seemed like a lot to me, until I logged into my account and learned I backed 13 projects last year!

Here is a quick summary of the projects I backed. I’m not going to list my exact backer amounts, but most of them I spent less than $30 on, and in a few cases I spent $10 or less.

I’ve tried to put this in date order, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year:

1) For The Win! – Zombies, Pirates, Ninjas, Aliens, and Monkeys. A fun little tile game. I haven’t played…

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Kickstarter of the Week: Get Bit! Deluxe Tin Box Set

Don’t ask me how, but I managed to skip the original Get Bit! Kickstarter last year, probably due to a lack of funds on my part. This year though, I’ve already pledged! The full name of the project is Get Bit! Deluxe Tin Box Set -The Shark/Pirate Card Game! and it closes Tuesday Oct  9, 11:42am EDT.

Game Description for the original from Board Game Geek:

“You don’t have to be faster than the shark, just faster than your friends!”

Get Bit! is a card game where players are competing to stay alive as the others are being eaten by the shark.

The order of the swimmers is determined by simultaneously playing cards face-down then revealing the values. The number on each player’s card determines position in line (higher numbers in front, lower numbers in back), however ties don’t move.  The swimmer at the back loses a limb to the shark and is flung to the front of the line! The process is repeated until only two swimmers remain on the table. When this happens, the swimmer at the front of the line wins the game!

I haven’t played the game personally, so rather than try to explain the rules further I’ll send you to take a look at Geek and Sundry’s TableTop Episode 3 where Wil Wheaton and friends play the original Get Bit! along with a couple of other quick and fun games.

Changes to the original game appear to be:

1) Card Artwork updated.

2) Stickers added to decorate the swimmers. In addition thanks to already attained goals, there will be a couple of extra sticker sheets as well.

In addition, if you add $5 to your pledge you can get a Sharkspansion and Meat Tokens add-on, allowing you to play a variation of the game where one player actually gets to play as the shark.

There’s a stretch goal at $50,000 that will add 2 dice to the game, and rules for 2 more variants of the game. With 7 days to go, this might be hard to make, but I have a feeling they’ll make it.

Other add-ons allow you to add different color swimmers, or even a complete extra set of swimmers and an additional shark.

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Free Kindle Book of the Week: Challenger RPG a Free Roleplaying Game

I thought this column would mainly be books to read, but while scanning the free Fantasy list for Kindle I stumbled across an RPG. I’ll probably download and skim this, but I don’t get enough playing time already, so I doubt I’ll give this a test any time soon, but thought perhaps some of my readers would be interested. The description includes the word Free, so I expect this will remain free for quite a while.

Challenger RPG a Free Roleplaying Game by David Dostaler. Official site: Challenger RPG.com 

Currently rated 3.3 stars out of 5 on Amazon. 3.14 out of 5 on Barnes and Noble. 2.5 stars out of 5 on DriveThruRPG. Based on some of the reviews on the book sites, I think people were expecting some sort of game app, and did not understand what an RPG is.

Amazon Description: 

Free, 20+ Races, 36 Classes, 50+ skills including: specific skills, broad skills, power skills, and special ability skills. GM rolls no dice, completely player-driven approach to gaming with a core mechanic using the d20 and set damage ratings for most weapons so combat is faster and more furious than ever before. 2x faster combat than 4E Dungeons and Dragons.

More than 60 Pages of GM advice useable with any system. New rules on stacking monsters, monster subtypes, magic items, a list of monsters for use with Challenger, traps, and rules on non-combat obstacles complete with TN’s.

The rules on Base Skills have been removed and clarified. No more must you roll 75 different base skills to start play. It’s as simple as choosing your skills, classes, race, 5 powers, purchasing equipment and calculating your stats and you’re done!

New rules on armor, equipment, and improved background powers to further detail your character like never before. Crazy races have been ditched and new races combined to make the rules on races simpler, more flexible, and even more entertaining!

You’ll still find the classic traits generator for your character, improved formatting thanks to the masterful Matt Fleming (soon to be included in the game credits) and fantastic artwork by the incomparable L.E.C.D.

Our Other Products

Of Mice Men and Wizards (free in sample)
Challenger: Basic Edition (for new players)
The Vampire War
And more…

You can find a complete list of books by clicking on the link of the author’s name above. Please enjoy the free books!

Our Mission Statement:

Despite the low (or nonexistent) price of this product I’ve invested hundreds (if not thousands) of hours in its production. I’ve flown over 1,500 miles and met countless game designers, playtesters, and fellow gamers such as yourself, and I know Challenger isn’t done yet. There’s still a long way to go but I must thank everyone who helped me. This game would not be what it is today without the invaluable feedback from countless gamers such as yourself. If you have anything at all to say about the game, good or bad, I’d love to hear it. Any critical advice would be even more welcome. Thank you.

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Kickstarter of the Week: Eternity Dice

In truth, I could probably list 3-6 Kickstarter projects related to gaming almost every week, but I’m going to limit myself to one. If you REALLY want more Kickstarters to look at, I’ll also be posting a non-gaming Kickstarter of the week over on my other blog.

This week’s project: Eternity Dice

So sue me, I’m a gamer, and like many gamers I buy far more dice than I really need. This project is for dice made from the lava of Mount Vesuvius by an artisan from Naples, Italy.  Dice will be available in basic D6, Fudge dice, and special Dungeon Map dice to help you randomly design your dungeon.

The project has already reached several stretch goals. People backing at levels receiving 4 or more dice will also recieve a dice bag, and the project is only a few thousand dollars from adding a 5th die for those backers as well.

They’ve also already passed a goal to allow the pips or markings on the dice to be painted “lava-red”.  Remaining stretch goals are: square edges, and a wooden box for the dice.

Kickstarter ends: Saturday Sep 29,  7:01am EDT.

My Plans: I haven’t backed this project, but I plan to back it at the $16.00 level to get myself a single pipped D6, which will mean $26.00 for a single die when I add shipping. That would make it perhaps the most expensive die I own.

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