Sudden character details and talent reveals.

Sudden character details and talent reveals.

Sudden character details and talent reveals.

I have talked before about asking players questions to get them to volunteer for a scene or add details. For instance: Do any of you happen to speak the old languages of the elves? Who looks like the biggest threat? Have you had any run-ins with the local law before?

Sometimes there is a lot of hesitation on the players part and I have to assure them that I am prepared to continue regardless of their answer. Maybe no one can speak to the elf, or everyone can. Maybe I change the question to who looks weakest or the attackers target everyone equally. Maybe there is no true law enforcement here or an outside bounty hunter has tracked you down. When I ask the players these questions I am mostly looking to get them more involved with the story making process and help it move along smoothly.

Today I want to talk about players volunteering character details and talents. I’ve thought about this in the past but I recently listened to Ray Otus podcast, Plunder Grounds (one word?), where he mentioned a situation where a character who wasn’t a bard and had not previously described themselves as having musical talent should auto-fail an attempt to play the piano (or maybe to play it impressively). I highly recommend the podcast and might be misunderstanding (I am not trying to call anyone out and don’t believe in any ONE TRUE WAY to RPG) but I have to differ slightly with that idea. I would probably find it delightful if my barbarian player, Kurg the skull smasher, suddenly revealed a talent for song. Who is to say that the thief hasn’t had dealings with all sorts of unlikely customers and speaks fluent drow. I want to learn more about their stories, especially the unlikely and unexpected bits. I generally don’t approve of anything but the briefest prepared backstories at character generation, but I think reveals like this are great places to explore the characters more and mesh them with the setting.

To be clear, a reveal like this should always lead to questions. (Where did you learn that? How come it’s never come up before? Is there anything else you’ve been hiding?) Also it should probably not be contrary to already established details. (I thought you said you were raised by elves, how are you also raised by dwarves?) But that’s not to say characters cant lie about their past, or offer an explanation for a truly unlikely reveal. Also I am not opposed to occasionally retconning, especially if the original story has not come up yet in an interesting way. The players will still have the mechanical opportunity to roll and fail so I am not overly concerned about abuse of this power. And there are some obvious limits. (did i mention that my character is also a level 20 wizard because I went to Hogwarts one summer, or that I am 30 ft tall, was dipped in the pool of invulnerability as a child and also the world’s most famous brain surgeon?) Generally I would much rather assume they have the means to engage the story rather than not. And finally, it’s just fun to find out more details about the players.

What do you think? Is it giving the players to much power? Or asking for abuse? Is it unrealistic or game breaking? Am I only focusing on good examples? Have you ever been surprised / delighted / upset by such a reveal

I am currently looking forward to playing in a game that takes place in the lord of the rings setting and was…

I am currently looking forward to playing in a game that takes place in the lord of the rings setting and was…

I am currently looking forward to playing in a game that takes place in the lord of the rings setting and was recently talking to another player about fairy tale logic. Why should a dragon or monster take the time to talk to an adventurer, why should it honor a promise or agree to a riddle contest. The short answer is probably because it is sort of cool and makes for fun stories. I generally run very brutal, slightly “realistic” Conan style games but I always love the idea that truly old and powerful creatures obeying obscure forms of etiquette. Maybe it’s just for their own amusement, maybe there is actual power in it. Maybe they are just so old and sure in their power that they feel they can hold themselves and their servants/quests/victims to a higher standard.

From a fairy tale perspective it makes sense as a method to teach kids to be polite and intelligent. It also helps explain why a couple of kids lost in the woods might be able to survive an encounter with an evil witch. Sure she could just turn them into animals and butcher them, but instead she is trying to lure them into the oven under the guise of a friendly lady who just needs some help with housework. They could confront her and probably lose an impossible fight. Or they could be smart and polite and trick her into the oven instead.

Finally, this sort of storytelling is a refreshing change of pace from the traditional, murder hobo games where you solve every challenge by attacking it, setting it on fire, and looting the remains.

Whatever the reason I decided to collect some custom moves here for dealing with magical / legendary creatures or great kings. A couple of these were originally suggestions for a monster of the week game but I have changed them all to use DW stats. Feel free to adapt and use them in any game to give it more of a story book feel.

When you confront a being of magic with evidence of a broken promise roll + WIS . On a hit the being is gravely weakened. on a 10+ the being is magically compelled to do one service for the wronged party. It may not avoid or delay this penalty without painful or even deadly consequence.

When you speak the full name of a magical being, imparting each syllable with magic, roll + INT. On a 10+, gain 2 hold on the creature. on a 7-9, same as 10+ but the creature also gains a hold on you. spend hold to:

*receive an honest and direct answer to any question.

*force the creature to return to its lair till dawn.

*force the creature to give you something of itself.

*force the creature to appear.

gain +1 on this roll if you willingly give the creature a hold.

When you challenge a creature of legend to an unwinnable contest, explain how you actually plan to beat it and roll + STAT. On a miss, in addition to the GM’s move, you are caught cheating. On a hit the creature is forced to admit defeat and will honor any wager they agreed to. On a 10+ the creature is also impressed, does not suspect any trickery, and will certainly not take offense at being beaten.

When you are allowed audience with a great king or legendary creature, the GM will tell you the rules of etiquette you must follow to stay in their good graces. As long as you remain a well behaved guest, they will welcome you in their home and listen to your petition. Roll + CHA, on a hit they will offer what assistance they can. On a 7-9 they will require something (evidence, tribute, or service) from you. On a miss, in addition to the GM’s move, you will have worn out your welcome.

When you begin a game of riddles with a creature of legend, decide who goes first (generally the guest or challenger) and roll + INT. The GM will roll the die of fate and subtract the result from your roll. On a hit, depending on whose turn it is, you correctly answer the creature’s riddle or manage to stump it. On a 10+ you also get a +1 to your next roll. On a miss, you either fail to answer the creature’s riddle or it easily answers yours. The game ends when one opponent cannot answer the other’s riddle. you may agree beforehand to play best two out of three. Aiding another player must be done covertly to avoid accusations of cheating.

When you are within their power and appeal to the vanity of a great king or creature of legend, roll + CHA. Chose two on a hit, but on a 7-9 you are prevented from leaving and must continue offering compliments.

*You have their complete attention. They will not take any notice of your allies unless they directly attack or cause a great disturbance.

*They will not directly threaten or further entrap you. Some creatures like to talk to their prey while they ensnare it, luring it in close or cutting off its escape. Some creatures are just inherently dangerous to be around unless they are content to sit still and talk.

*They will answer a question or give you good advice. Such creatures are often ancient and know much hidden lore.

Critical failure or how your character was secretly an incompetent moron the whole time!

Critical failure or how your character was secretly an incompetent moron the whole time!

Critical failure or how your character was secretly an incompetent moron the whole time!

This has become one of my least favorite things about role playing games. What is worse about it is that I catch myself doing it all the time. I’m running a game that’s going great, I am excited to see what these epic heroes are going to do next, then one of them rolls snake eyes. Something bad should happen to the player, or some new danger or change should be added to the world. But instead the Yuck-Yuck part of my brain takes over and I tell the previously competent hero that they just slipped on a banana peel, their sword goes flying into the air and then buries itself into their leg or shatters in a thousand pieces. Insert cartoon sound effects.

Now there are certainly games with lighter or even cartoonish tones. There are also games were the characters are supposed to start off as incompetents who have to suffer and survive to become adventurers. But outside of those games, when I hear about or see this I always think “That doesn’t sound like they are fans of the character” and I would want to ask the GM to try another way or suggest some less comedic explanation for the mechanical effects of the failure.

Unfortunately, several times after running a game I immediately regret how I treated someone who rolled poorly. It’s never hard to imagine a number of interesting and epic ways that could have been used to reach the same conclusion. But in the heat of the moment, the image of that character stepping up to do something cool and then looking like a goofball (womp womp) is to easy and immediate to pass up. A lot of players accept this as tradition and maybe some look forward to it, but I am always worried afterward that I have discouraged them. Maybe they won’t step up next time, maybe they won’t show up to the next game.

As an example: I recently ran a game of Traveler where the party had tracked an alien menace to a reactor room. Most of the party was behind cover pouring bullets into the seemingly unkillable alien. One character, the noble face of the party realized he wasn’t going to be much use with a gun but he carried a dueling sword and the room was full of pipes. He was also wearing a very expensive vac suit with thrusters. So he describes to me his intention of jetting in close to the beast and cutting a pipe that would spray it with hot steam, or coolant, ect. Very cool I think, but he fails and its the monster’s turn next. In the moment I could not imagine anything other then your sword, which you thought was a well crafted masterwork that you paid a lot for, bounces off the pipe and cracks, the monster stabs you and you die (the monster made his attack roll and it turned out that the character had pretty poor stats and wasn’t able to dodge or survive the hit). I wasn’t really making fun of the character, and the player seemed to accept it at the time.

But A moment later I could easily see that this was a lame outcome, the character looked goofy and was “punished” for trying to be cool. I could easily see a number of ways to give them the spotlite, make them look awesome and still take the mechanical outcome of death in an interesting way. The most obvious would be to let them have the cut pipe. The creature disappears into a cloud of steam with a roar (mechanically no damage though). For a moment the character thinks it worked when a tallon rips from the cloud and impales them.

I could have also told the player they had failed and were going to die, then asked them to describe their final act.

It should also be noted that the player’s plan was exactly the sort of epic desperation effort I want to see in my games. Much of the rest of the game was about the party trying to avoid conflict and danger. And otherwise most of the combat consisted of very routine waiting for turns and shooting from cover. These are smart policies but not the golden nuggets of story we are (I am) looking for.

So not much of a rant this time. I don’t like critical failures that reveal the player to be incompetent (even if their stats are awful), but others might. What about you? Are these the highlight of your games? Or not? Personally I am going to try to do better and encourage my players to always speak up if they have a better idea or want me to try harder.

The Librarian

The Librarian

The Librarian

Warning, anyone who is frightened by concepts of possessed media (The Ring) or creepy-pasta might not want to read this. Part of me thinks this is a great example of the nature of the human brain and the power of collaborative storytelling. Another much smaller part of me hopes I can save myself from the curse by spreading it to a bunch of people on the internet.

So I had the privilege to join a game of Dungeon World with David LaFreniere, Jason Tocci, josh gary and +Simon Landerville. We were playing in a setting called “Cold Ruins of Lastlife”. I was coming in late in the adventure and David was nice enough to meet me online to handle character creation and sum up the story so far. I have a distinct memory of our conversation while I skimmed through the setting book and looked at the artwork for inspiration. The very first part of the story David told me was the other characters meeting a creature called the Librarian. I don’t remember his exact description but I quickly found it depicted early in the book.

Right before the end of our adventure, Jason’s wizard summon an invisible monster. David described it tidying up messes, attacking demon possessed characters and “yelling from a chest with no mouth”. After the game I asked what the deal was with this creature and found out that the other players recognised it as the Librarian or the same type of monster. Apparently you can’t see them unless you already know what it looks like. While we were talking about this I opened up the setting book and started flipping through the pages looking for the remembered art. Apparently several of the other players did the same.

After a few minutes we all sort of got frustrated and it was soon discovered that none of us could find the picture to show the others. David and I both went through the PDF page by page to the end multiple times. We started wondering where the picture had actually come from and searched other documents in Davids google drive. We also tried google image search for the picture. Nothing even close.

Josh pointed to another drawing of a different creature and reasoned that maybe we had all assumed this was the librarian because it had multiple hands (which is a common motif in the book). But none of us seemed willing to accept that because we had a clear memory of a very different scene.

We all used the term “Pan’s labyrinth guy” to describe what we thought of when picturing the librarian so David reasoned that we all just connected with this idea so strongly that we created the picture. But the strange thing is that we all remember the picture in the very distinctive black and white sketch style of the other artwork.

Finally there is a page in the pdf with the caption “Closing Thoughts” that has a border and a smokey background but is otherwise blank. It is the only page like this and it really looks like there was meant to be artwork there.

As a rational skeptic who was never really bothered by movies like the ring and various creepypasta I can intellectually accept that we all generated a clear idea, in sketch form, of what was described to us. We used the pieces available and came to something similar. The world is large enough and the human brain is amazing enough that this isn’t impossible or unlikely. In fact, chances are that if we all really sketched down our memories and then viewed them objectively, we would quickly notice differences.

But as a human who spent a long time pouring over a PDF absolutely certain that something was missing (something described as invisible unless you can see it??!?!), I can’t help but wonder in the dark. Maybe I will try to put my mind at ease by giving it something else to think about. Maybe I will get comfortable and sit in my bean bag chair with a used hardback science fiction book. As I open it to the marked page there is an illustration. Oh wow is that where the memory came from? No, wait, it’s on every page! Getting larger. I throw the book down as the music ramps up and the pages turn as if blown by a strong wind. The effect makes the librarian appear to move and reach out…. Later the Houston gauntlet members see my name on the news. Another overweight office worker dies of a heart attack. But the tarp slips off as there moving my body and you can see the sheer terror frozen on What is left of my face…


Anyway, fun story, Big thanks to the other players for a fun adventure. Tell me what you think. Does this sort of thing freak you out or make you marvel at the nature of the human brain? Also here is my best sketch along with some materials I think may have been unconsciously encorporated.

Non-traditional thieves tools

Non-traditional thieves tools

Non-traditional thieves tools

Just a little flavor to add to an item that generally does not get a lot of focus. We all know what lock picks look like and how they work. Mostly they are a single line in the inventory of one character and only mentioned when lost. These are some stranger variants that might be especially interesting to parties without a thief. Maybe a cool gift to searching characters when you had nothing specific planed. Feel free to post your own lock picks or other generally uninteresting bits of gear.

Elf-pick (DoF uses)

Apply this bulb to any wooden door and it will quickly take root and flower. The wood of the door shrinks rapidly as it feeds the new plant. Locks and hinges fall away and the door drops out of its frame. Roll a die, on a one the plant dies before producing another bulb.

Dwarf-pick (slow, reload)

When jammed into the stone frame of a locked doorway this device will begin to drill. It crumbling stone around the door until it falls free and the passage is opened. Rewinding the Dwarf-pick requires several hours of strenuous effort.

Orc-pick (loud, 1 use, dangerous)

In its inert state the orc-pick appears to be a pourase brick of clay. When moistened (traditionally with blood or spit) it can be molded into a sticky mass that becomes highly volatile. Carefully applied to a lock or thrown against a barricade it will explode on impact with a low thump. The sound is bound to draw attention unless covered by noise of combat or celebration.

Monster-pick (dof uses, dangerous)

A seemingly delicate feather-like appendage kept in a wooden box when not in use. Any metal lock, hinge, or door brushed by this device will quickly rust away. Extreme care must be taken to avoid unintentional contact and the effects eventually weaken.

Problems with Paladins and how to Play them without Punishing your Pals.

Problems with Paladins and how to Play them without Punishing your Pals.

Problems with Paladins and how to Play them without Punishing your Pals.

read in a funny voice

Alignment nuts: “I had to murder that woman because she was running from the guards. She must have been evil, I’m obviously playing lawful good.”

Jerks playing Jerks: “First chance I get I tell the guards that you stole the mcguffin stone from their fortress. Did I mention that my character is constantly watching you guys to make sure you don’t break the law or do evil things? I have to because i am lawful good.”

Quest is game breaking: “This adventure is called Rage of the Fire God, so I want to start off with a quest to kill the fire god, dragon, whatever so I can be immune to fire. I was already planning to play lawful good so I don’t mind having to be honorable.”

I am the law sucks: “Why would I ever use this if the DM can attack me on a hit? Unrelated, but have I mentioned yet that I am lawful good?”

read in a slightly more serious voice

Like many people I have read about and experienced some pretty terrible sessions that centered around a player (often new to the group, often never appearing again) who eagerly grabbed up the paladin character sheet and then proceeded to be a huge pain both to the other players and their characters. I don’t have any advice for dealing with these players beyond telling them to stop or leave. Despite the joke-y quotes above, this is not a rant about alignment (see earlier rant). Instead I wanted to take a few minutes to give my perspective on how to play the paladin in a way that is fun for you and the other players. The move specific parts are for Dungeon world but most of the attitude stuff should be universal.

Fundamentally the paladin is a warrior (not always armed or armored) who believes and fights for something. This something can be a god or religious belief. It could be the authority of the king, church, government, or other organization. It could be as simple as their own code of ethics or chivalry. But wait, how do they cast magic if not in service to a god? The answer is: You tell me, but honestly this is a magic fantasy land so pretty much anything works. Maybe their lay-on-hands is completely mundane and shows their skills as a medic or inspiring leader.

The trick to playing the paladin right (IMO) is in sticking to this belief, being honest about and eager to explore situations where it becomes inconvenient, and not forcing your burden on your friends.

(note: the following antidote probably greatly simplifies and misrepresents a whole branch of philosophy)

A philosophy of law student might tell you that Spock is a utilitarian, believing the right action is always the one that maximizes good for the majority, when he says “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” and sacrifices himself to save the ship. You should point out that Spock sacrifices himself, instead of pushing a much less mission critical red shirts into the radiation chamber to die. Maybe Spock even took the time to way out the value of his life verses the ensign to the survival of the ship and crew, before making his choice, maybe not. His choice and actions makes him an epic hero, not a mindless ethics equation. Then neck pinch that jerk into unconsciousness as punishment for soiling the good name of Spock.

No one wants to hangout with or trust a mindless psycho robot who is only waiting to entangle them in its personal hang ups. No band of adventures would tolerate this behavior in the group. But people can respect and appreciate the person who holds themselves to a high standard, who doesn’t back down or abandon their principles and doesn’t force their beliefs on their friends. Play the paladin when you want to be the epic hero, the shining knight. The one who stands alone against the hopeless threat while others make their escape. Who exchanges themselves for the hostage. Who does the job to the end despite the costs. You might die heroically, or succeed epic-ly, or you might have an amazing scene where your friends decide to stand with you. This is the right way to play the Paladin.

Meta-Gaming-wise, this is the reason the paladin has so many defensive / survival and leadership moves. They are designed for hard use. Feel free to armor up before making your stand and asking the GM to give your their best shot. Be useful and inspiring to your friends and they might follow you, or at least launch a rescue later. You may even feel the need to retire the character when they have to go it alone, or face judgment while the party runs off. Give them an epilogue, roll a new character and maybe bring them back in a future game. They can be even more epic after suffering punishment or completing a hard quest alone.

On the subject of the Dungeon World Quest move: it is very tempting to try to abuse it as a player, or nerf it as a GM. The most obvious benefit is the immunity to some type of damage.

As a player I would only suggest that you occasionally pick something else. Challenge yourself to get benefit and great fiction out of the other choices. Pick it when it makes sense, but don’t force a quest just for this benefit.

More to the point, your paladin should always be on a quest in fiction but maybe you should wait to engage the move when fictionally appropriate. Maybe your party was just betrayed or the bad guy just showed up and wrecked your face. Describe what it looks like when you recover and take a moment to go through a personal ritual swearing a quest of vengeance. Maybe a friend just died and you take some memento and attach it to your armor. Later the monster that slew them is surprised when its attack doesn’t affect you. Maybe you are literally talking to a god and in accepting its quest you ask for a couple boons like a voice that transcends language or a mark of its divine authority.

As a GM I would suggest that you not worry to much about “Game Breaking” its the players job to be epic and your job to be a fan of it when it happens. Alternatively you do have to keep the adventure interesting. Do not immediately go into your notes and replace every bandit sword with a club, or fire breathing dragon with a acid spitting one. Do ask the player what it looks like when they ignore this damage and what it might imply in fiction. Maybe the enemies decide to ignore what they can not hurt and go after easier prey. maybe the shattering blade trap makes a lot of noise and attracts attention. Maybe the party must split while the paladin swims the acid lake and they are both attacked, the paladin must fight alone and the others must survive without their tank.

On the subject of the dungeon world I am the Law move: it is hard to immediately see the benefit of this move over a defy danger with charisma. It is important to remember that the GM should be a fan of your character and not just out to kill you. This doesn’t mean that they will never pick the “They attack you” option but they shouldn’t pick it all the time. More importantly, and going back to my earlier talk about playing epic-ly, you should engage this move when your paladin is willing to be attacked. Maybe they are willing to risk it in order to spare their friends, or they simply believe strongly that trying to end a conflict, or give a command is important enough to risk danger. Some of the most powerful moves in Dungeon world are the ones that are always dangerous even on a 10+.

Meta-gaming wise: Attacking you is not always fictional appropriate. An armored knight waving a holy symbol, giving orders to a non hostile villager is unlikely to result in a mob (not guaranteed). Maybe in the middle of a siege, the NPC Rookie guardsmen hesitate to follow the instructions of another party member, that is when you grab them, stand them up and remind them of their duty and your holy authority. They might run away but it’s less likely they will attack in any immediate way. Finally, I always turn to this move when I can’t imagine anything else working. The monster has incapacitated your friends and shrugs off your best strikes, you have nothing to turn to but your beliefs. Hold forth your holy symbol and hope you roll well… Your GM may appreciate your boldness, failing that they may let your friends escape.

Sorry for the long post. Let me know what you think. Have any great stories of heroic paladins? Have any problems with other moves on the Paladin sheet? Am I totally wrong and the only correct way to play the paladin is as Judge Dread?

Check out my Birthday gift from my brother. Ignore the cat. SciFi gaming may be in my future.

Check out my Birthday gift from my brother. Ignore the cat. SciFi gaming may be in my future.

Check out my Birthday gift from my brother. Ignore the cat. SciFi gaming may be in my future.

The Wise Old Man ( is one of my favorite literary archetypes when it is…

The Wise Old Man ( is one of my favorite literary archetypes when it is…

The Wise Old Man ( is one of my favorite literary archetypes when it is used to imply mystical importance and background in the setting. Good examples are Merlin, Gandolf, Obi-Wan, Yoda, Dr Quest.

Sometimes they are famous and renowned, other times they are in disguise and unassuming. For some reason they are always near the center of important conflicts and help the heroes to get started, understand what is going on and occasionally escape when things get out of hand. They also serve as teachers, mentors, employers and guides. They help introduce characters and the audience to the settings history and important characters. As a GM the Wise Old Man NPC can be a huge help and become a favorite of the party. Just watch out for the temptation to use them as a GM insertion character or a railroading tool. There is a reason Gandolf keeps disappearing and doesn’t just lightning bolt everything in the party’s path.

I created the attached Dungeon World character sheet a while ago, in part as a counter to the Mage class, which at the time I was not a fan off. It was also supposed to be a Low magic setting replacement for the Wizard. I wanted a character whose main purpose was to know things. Insead of casting magic missile, they would solve problems and help the party by explaining historical context or revealing arcane knowledge. Knowing an ancient elven password, or how to speak to horses, or producing a rare powder from your robes can be a very cool way to get past an obstacle and let the party know how resourceful you are. I also wanted to make the ritual move more appealing. Of course there is no reason you could not play this type of character with the stock wizard but I wanted to remove the temptation to burn everything down or charm everyone.

The GM might chose to share extra knowledge of their setting with the Wise Old Man Player or work together with them outside the game to establish history and background but it is not necessary. GMs and players should always work together to establish the setting. The Wise Old Man just has a different, personal, perspective on what is revealed. I have played it a couple times in other players games with great success. I would hesitate to allow one in the same party as a wizard or mage though as I would expect a lot of toes to get stepped on. Let me know what you think and please tell me what happens if you try it out.

A Very special Dream for Ferrell Riley for hosting a Bad Movie Night titled “Mandatory Fun Club: Making Gold Out of…

A Very special Dream for Ferrell Riley for hosting a Bad Movie Night titled “Mandatory Fun Club: Making Gold Out of…

A Very special Dream for Ferrell Riley for hosting a Bad Movie Night titled “Mandatory Fun Club: Making Gold Out of Dross” where we watched the amazing cold war documentary “Gymkata” and learned of the real life heroic efforts of Jonathan Cabot, Olympic gymnast turned Government Agent, and how he survived the most dangerous game in the little known but strategically important country of Parmistan. We ended the night creating story elements from the movie to use in future games and playing probably the greatest game of The Final Girl in my career.

Thanks also to parrish warren and several others in the Houston Gauntlet

Just wanted to show off my newest prototype RPG box. tell me what you think. what would you add.

Just wanted to show off my newest prototype RPG box. tell me what you think. what would you add.

Just wanted to show off my newest prototype RPG box. tell me what you think. what would you add.