Friday, January 6, 2017

The Social Beast: Choosing a Table

I consider myself to be a successful DM. I could spend my time expounding upon why I think that, but the more important question is what actually makes my campaigns successful. If I had to choose one thing, it definitely wouldn't be my impeccable planning, my massive amount of effort, my unshakeable charisma, or my top-notch minis and props. (I have none of the above, haha.)

The single most important thing I do to make my games successful is choosing players.

I know many GMs advise prioritizing an open and welcoming table that anyone can join - and there's definitely something to that. A friendly and welcoming atmosphere IS important - which is why it's important who's at the table, who creates the atmosphere. A GM has a DUTY to be selective as to his or her players, as it is a vital factor in determining how fun the game actually is, which is, of course, the POINT of these games. To be fun.

I'm gonna try to give a brief rundown of what to look for (and what to look OUT for) in potential players, but the truth of the matter is, I choose players mostly by feel. It works really well (after years of DMing, I've NEVER had a player leave from strife or even lack of interest), but just makes it hard to quantify in a blog post - but here it goes anyway.

Things to Look For:

1) Rock-solid reliables. People who aren't afraid to make commitments, and who stick by them. It's key for any long-running campaign (weekly, monthly, whatever) that a consistent group of players be able to get together at fairly regular intervals. Long lulls and interludes dull interest and engagement, and missing party members tug at the fabric of the story. When you invite prospective players to your table, try to stick to people who can plan on being there regularly.

2) Imaginers. You want people who do more with their minds than browse social media, watch sports, and get wasted. Not that there's necessarily anything WRONG with the above - just that a person who doesn't bother engaging their imagination on a regular basis won't get much out of a tabletop RPG, for reasons that I hope are obvious. Look for people who read a lot, who discuss unusual topics, who have a variety of free-time activities.

3) The shy. I might be exceeding my self-mandate here - to give you guidelines for assembling the best table you can - but there might be something important here. I've seen tons of people normally thought of as "shy" or "friendless" really find their place at a gaming table. It makes social interaction easy, because it removes the sometimes-crippling focus on YOU as a person. You aren't YOU anymore - you're Bugaboo the Ranger, or Smervia the Bard, or whatever. People with social insecurity and anxiety often make really great players, because the game gives them an opportunity to be part of a group without regard for their appearance, race, occupation, sexuality, mannerisms, or fears. Some people really need that in their lives, and it might be something you can offer. (Still, take the following section into account, too.)

Things to Look OUT For:

1) Controllers. Players who constantly criticize the decisions of the GM (or worse, other players), just because they would've done differently. The core of tabletop RPGs is the making of meaningful choices in a shared fictional setting, and a player who acts as if the choices of others must conform to their own eats at the very core of the game.

2) Attention whores. Anyone who's always fishing for attention or causing drama in the social world has no place at a gaming table. If all they want is always to be at the center of the action, it will make it difficult for more self-controlled players to participate in the common game. Worse, attention whores will often CREATE conflict just for the spotlight-time it brings. You don't need that at your table, or in your life.

3) Lone wolves. By this I don't mean your garden-variety loner, who merely prefers to keep his or her own company much of the time. I mean the kind of person who doesn't give two farts about cooperation or common goals, but just wants to generally exercise their fictional freedom without regard for its place in a group context.

...) It would be a waste of your (and my) time to go through the more obvious warning signs in prospective players (verbally abusive, chronic anger issues, antagony with an existing group member), so I'll just say: don't invite anyone to your gaming table who you wouldn't invite to your dinner table.

Reader: tell me about the best person, and/or the worst person, you've ever had in your gaming group. What was (or should've been) the clue as to how they'd do at the table?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


"Ghosts are, of course, those spirits whose bodies have died but who remain to trouble us. Vampires are the opposite: their souls have long since been taken or destroyed, but their bodies remain, stalking this earth as predators, seeking blood of the living."

"Why blood, you ask? As any learned man knows, the life is in the blood. The soul and spirit is in the blood. Drain any of the other humors - black bile, yellow bile, or phlegm - and the subject is discomfited, but recovers. Drain the blood, and the subject perishes without fail."

"A vampire, having no soul, no true life, has an insatiable hunger for blood, the life that they lack. And so, they glut themselves on the blood of the living, devouring their soul, but never able to recover what they so hunger for. And their victim, blood drained and soul stolen, becomes a vampire like their tormentor. There are, of course, other means of becoming a vampire: the blackest hexes may damn souls on the spot, and there are always mad hellions who sell their souls to the ENEMY, thinking they somehow gain in the exchange. But there is only loss."

"Alas, the loss of soul has grave repercussions. Lost with their soul is their reason, their morality, and even their mortality, though these losses may take years or more to manifest. They say the most aged vampires, bodies still youthful as the day they died, have long since lost their ability to control their wicked impulses, grasp abstract concepts, or even use language, becoming mere beasts in all but form."

"The cleansing purity of Sun's fire, or, lacking that, a mundane blaze or blade of silver (both of which carry a glimmer of the True Fire of the Heaven in their form), is all that may rid our world of these abominations. Otherwise, any possibility of these creatures' deaths departed with any remnant of life."

- From the writings of Erbius the Lorekeeper, Magus of the Fifth Order

Monday, January 2, 2017

Headless Hunter (monster, system-neutral)

No one knows whence the first headless hunter came, nor how many there are. Several incidents have occurred over a few decades in Knuthe and the sleepy hollows north of the Inner Six, tales of shambling, headless bodies wandering the woods as if searching for something.

Furthermore, no one knows what to make of the cases following these incidents in which a member of  a nearby village or community seems to grow taller or shorter, or to gain or lose mass, as if overnight. (And, it may be added, to gain a proclivity for high collars or fluffy ruffs.)

Headless Hunter (system-neutral):
Physical stats (including movement, HP, attacks) as a bipedal, sapient creature of your choice (often human, but an ogre would be a challenge, and a halfling would be hilarious!).
Mental stats nil (so no spellcasting), but any saving throws or resistances remain identical to the template creature.
Furthermore, it is immune to fear, charms, or other effects to alter its relentless drive to tear the head from another bipedal, sapient creature and attach it to its body. It may, however, be turned as an undead.
It has blindsense/tremorsense out to 20ft, beyond which it seems only to be able to feel out the general direction of a creature if it moves. Perhaps the deprivation of most if its senses has left its sense of touch extremely sensitive, and it is able to detect the slightest tremors in the earth or floor.

Headtaker: if the headless hunter reduces a target to 0hp, they immediately tear off (or cleave off, if a weapon is at hand) the target's head and place it upon their own suppurating stump, whereupon it binds with the body within a round (creating a ring of messy scar tissue). The original target finds itself in control of this new body, complete with its basic physical attributes and HP total (including any wounds), while it maintains its original mental stats, knowledge, and skills. The target's headless, bloodied body flees the scene, becoming a fresh headless hunter. Only miraculous resurrective magic can restore the target's head to its original body.

Relentless: if the headless hunter is reduced to 0hp, it does not perish; instead, one of its limbs is destroyed beyond recovery (roll 1d4 to determine which), and it loses a HD/level (but its HP count rises to half its maximum).
If an arm is destroyed, its attacks are usually impaired (exact mechanics vary based on the body template you're using, and the game system in general, but may include losing a multiattack, losing an attack bonus, losing a damage die, etc.).
If a leg is destroyed, the hunter may only locomote by crawling.
This effect may recur until no limbs remain to be lost, at which point the headless hunter is finally destroyed.
(If you're using a ruleset that awards XP based on slaying foes, it's recommended to award XP when "relentless" first triggers, and not force players to continue to brutalize this suffering creature any further just for the sake of the XP. The headless hunter is worth 1.25x as much XP as the base creature it was created from, at the GM's discretion; for example, a headless hunter created from a wizard or other spellcasting creature may be worth less, due to a significant loss in its original ability.)

Enjoy! If you use this, tell me how your players react!

(I had to try really hard not to just name this creature a "headhunter," haha.)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Vile Sacrament

Coagula, from Boston, have recently emerged with a wonderful breed of good ol' fashioned crusty death metal. The production is just gritty enough for the genre without being unbalanced or unpleasant, and the riffage is a pounding groove rich with d-beats. I'm a sucker for d-beats. (I swear that phrase isn't as dirty as it sounds.)

Anyway, Coagula is highly recommended for: trench warfare, sitting in a dimly-lit room reading blogs, and fleeing a ravening swarm of undead.