Why Tweak an Established Setting?

Let's face it as a game master in a busy world, we don't have a lot of time to always come up with our own setting. To our rescue many times is the established setting. Sometimes even, the game has such a setting implied. Take the game I've been playing a lot of, The Savage World of Solomon Kane. The whole point of the game is to play in the setting of Solomon Kane. Of course other times, it's also the de facto standard setting for a system. In Traveller, the Imperium is such a setting. While you can play games outside that setting, all the rules and supplements are going to be based on it.

So with all the pressures of time and the wealth of information out there for established settings, why on earth would you want to even bother to tweak the setting?

First off, let's face it. If it's a good setting, then your players may have read all the material. Let me give an example. As a person who has played Traveller and run Traveller quite a bit, I have read most of the Classic Traveller material out there. Which means that if I was a player, I would likely have too much meta-game knowledge. As a good player, I would not try to have that influencing how I play my character. Still, I'm sure in small ways it might. As a GM, having a player like that could ruin what I'm trying to run. This can be especially true if the player has read things that you the GM hasn't read.

Second as GM, we do like to invent things. Which means we want to make our own mark on the world in question.

Third without knowing it, you are already tweaking an established setting. Yes that's right you are. Just by using the material, the GM and players are making their own interpretations of the material presented. Let's use a simple example, maybe the description for an NPC king says that he's sad about the death of his daughter. Now the material may give examples of how that's effected his kingdom. Still as GM, you will have to decide how that NPC may act in the front of the players if it's not already stated. All of which means your sad king may act differently than another GM's version of that same sad king. Congratulations, you have already tweaked your game and didn't know it.

So what sort of tweaks can you as the GM make easily?

• Change the Names of certain places.- Change the name of Inn or tavern or move where it is.
• Add/Change/Delete NPCs in the setting. - Maybe flesh our that sad king's adviser
• Add/Change/Delete monsters and their treasure.
• Flesh out locations

No matter what, you need to let the players know that just because they have read the material doesn't mean you haven't changed it in some way. This will prevent arguments in the future. One should always be on guard against fan boys and girls.

One word of warning. If you use an established setting, please don't expect your players to have read 60 pages of setting background. If you do, you will be disappointed. Create a one to two page summary if you can.

Just remember, it's your game and you get to do things you want to do. Using an established setting is just a jumping off point that prevents the GM from having to creating everything.

Update: I forgot to include a link back to original Blog Carnival Post. So, here it is.

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Weekly Blog Posts

Greetings. I want to let everyone know that after a long hard internal debate, I've decided that we will start posting some blog posts. Right now, we are looking at trying to get one in a week. This will be in addition to our Podcast episodes.

So why you ask are we going to be to doing this? To be truthful, I wanted to do some blogging again. I love doing the podcast but I thought writing a blog post now and again would be fun. I contemplated writing on other people's blogs, but I knew that I would only be able to write maybe one blog entry every week or so. I guess you could say I was worried about screwing someone else over. Then there was the fact that posting on another blog wasn't really helping out the Podcast. So, it seem logical to just do it right here.

Now long time listeners/readers of RPG Circus may note that I've said similar things before. And that is very true. Of course, in the past I was really concerned about if I was going to Post again to the Bone Scroll blog. Which I should admit was an option I considered again this time. It really all came down to what was good for the Podcast. Writing a blog article on RPG Circus every once in while can do nothing but help promote the podcast. Besides there are times that we do topics on the podcast and I'd like to expand something we have said there. Not to mention that sometimes this would be a good places to answer the some email comments we get.

At any rate, you can look forward to at least one blog post per week. Currently, I have at least 8 or 9 topics I want to write about. So that will take us a couple of months at least. As a matter of fact, you can expect the first such blog post sometime later today.

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Up in the Morning with the Rising GenCon 2012

One of the things I like about waking up early is seeing the city start to creep out of it's slumber. On the first day of GenCon 2012, one also gets to see the Convention Hall slowly come to life. Although I was up at 6am, there were already people there. There were the people that make the convention possible,such as convention hall janitorial staff and some of the GenCon convention staff. While the convention doesn't offically start for a few hours, there were even those that couldn't wait and were already hanging out. To be truthful, some have been there since at least yesterday.

As time passes, more and more people begin to wander the convention center. For me, I get a chance to see what has changed and what has remained the same. The last time I was here was in 2010. Which means at least for me, I haven't been in the areas that they were working on last time.

So what has changed since 2010? Well for one, the vendor hall is on the south side of the convention center. Not that this is news, after all it was there last year. Still it's wierd that the area near the Sky Walks is not crowded anymore, not something that will last long I'm sure. Where the vendor area use to be is where True Dungeon is. I've never done True Dungeon, It's just never been a major priority for me and to be truthful holds little intrest. But like all things, I say if it's your thing go for it. Another change is that almost everything is inside the convention hall this go around. In 2009 and 2010, some of the events were spread over several of the hotels. That's not to say some events are not there, but they are no longer in hotels not connected by skywalks. Which will be a good thing, if the rain they predict comes down. Finally, Will Call was much different this year. There seem to be many Will Call windows. I'm sure this was in response to the issues with Will Call they have had.

Still with all the things that change, much still remains the same. Many of my fellow geeks, gamers, and smart asses have come together to both enjoy and annoy each other. There will be LARPer, Cosplayers, Role-Players, Board Gamers, and other creative people crammed into the convention hall. While we may not understand each others collective hobby sometimes, we are all here under one roof. While we still find the stereo-typical gamer that public tend to think of when you mention gamer, many more are not so typical like there always has been.

Well, the Con awaits me. I will just leave you with this thought for now. As someone who survived the great witch hunt of the 80's, It's nice to be able to go into a restaurant and hear people talking about RPGs in public.

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Can 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Be Everything to Everyone?

One of this promises of 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons is that it will bring everyone back into the fold. Personally, I'm highly skeptical of this. Some of you are likely asking why? To put it simply, it's just too big of an elephant to swallow.

First off, not everyone plays the game the same way. I don't think this is a bad thing. I don't think the game was meant to be. In my early youth for example, we would play up to 12 hours on a Saturday (with breaks of course). I know many of you call that youthfulness, but honestly that's the way we thought it was suppose to be played. Fast forward to today, My current group is good at about 4 to 5 hours and that's the way we think it should be played. Even how much actual Role-play there is different from group to group. For some people it's the primary focus and for others simple role assumption is the rule. Now both these example have nothing to do with the rules. But they are generally influenced from the rules presented. How is one game going to handle these differing types?

Second, everyone has a sacred cow they don't want to see go and everyone wants to someone else sacred cow go. As a computer programmer and project manager, I find that you can never make everyone happy. Someone is always going to want certain things and be unhappy if you don't have those things. So how can you have a goal that says everyone will be happy? I'm really not sure you can. Even the fact that they are asking the fans what they want in a more open fashion while good, can be like drinking from waterfall instead of a steam.

I guess in the end, we will have to see what actually gets released. For myself, I'm just going to remain skeptical. So I ask you, do you think 5ed D&D be the thing that brings everyone back under one roof?

Your rating: None Average: 4.2 (5 votes)

Review : Lamenations of the Flame Princess Grindhouse Edition

Last week, in Season 3 Episode 8 of the RPG Circus Podcast, we talked to James Raggi about Grindhouse Edition of Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Before that show, he was nice enough to send us a copy to prepare us for the show as well as to review. Since we done the show, it was time for a review.

One of first things you will notice about the product is the fact it's small. I think that's a selling point, This is something you could easily throw into backpack, luggage, or messenger bag (which is why I use for my gaming stuff). The books are about 7 inches by 9 inches. It bit of odd size, but since the printing is done in Europe and I'm an American, I'm not really familiar with the International Paper size standards.

There are three books in box with around 350 or so pages.

  • Tutorial
  • Rules and Magic
  • Refree

One of the more interesting pieces in this box set is the Tutorial book. I assume that the person reading it doesn't know what Role-Playing Games really are. For experienced people this seems like a waste of pages, but the truth is that things like this are needed. Hell, there is a D&D 4ed for Dummies book. I think this tells us something. It tells us there are people that want to Role-play but don't know how because the rule books themselves don't really tell you anymore. Why do you think the old Red Box was so important to so many gamers. It was where they learned to Role-play. I think my absolute favorite thing about this book is the essays on recommend reading authors. All too often we see a recommend reading list and we don't know anything about a certain author. Here James Raggi has put together some of recommend authors and written a short essay about each. This gives those reading them an idea about the author and the type of stories that they have written. I think this wonderful. All to often, I meet people who don't quite know who Jules Verne and H.G. Wells was.

In the Rules and Magic Book, you will find the rules. They are based in many ways on the older versions of D&D. Here will find where race does equal to class. Still James has his own spin on all these things. I think one of the ones I liked after giving it some thought was the rouge/thief class to specialist. I think this more accurately describes the class. After all most of the players are not common thieves. Hell anyone of any class/race could be a thief. All you have to do is still. Here the specialist takes on a more natural role of an adventurer with a wide range of skills to do just that. You will also not find hundreds of spells in this book. Not to sound lame, but most players can't remember all those spells and what they do. Here the choices are limited by varied. Something I think a new player could easily grasp while old players could instantly absorb and then move on to actually Role-Playing instead of looking up Spells and what they do. This is the only book that players will need to reference. Hell, just the summary charts on the back of the book enough for most people. One last note, I like how most weapons grouped into the Great, Medium, minor, and small categories, with those categories saying how much damage is done. I think this just makes for faster reference. Players can then also choose weapons based on what they think their characters would carry rather than based on the damage differences between a two-handed sword and a great axe, Here both weapons would do a d10 as they are both Great Weapons.

Finally, there is the Referee book, It's much smaller than the Rules and Magic Book. There really are not that many rules in this book. It mostly tells you how to be a Game Master and things you have do. It gives advices on NPCs, Adventures, Maps, Cultures, and even has an adventure. What you will not find in here is a list of monsters, instead they offer up rules on how to make the stat's you need for Monsters. I think Tim Kask would be proud, having once played Tim Kask at GenCon. I can say he was very much into creating Stuff on the spot without the need of rule books. Even if you don't like the idea of no monster stats, I think the monster section is a good read just for a different point of view.

So, your wondering, should I spend my hard earned money of this thing? Even if you never play LotFP, I think there is much to get out of simply reading the rules. However if you do that, I think you would be missing out on a lot. One last thing, while one could say that LotPF is "old school", I don't think so. While it has many elements of so called "old school" , It is a modern game with influences from games that James Raggi liked. Those games just happen to be what people call "old school"

If you want to pick up a copy of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, you can order it from the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Online Store.

Unboxing Pictures

The box before opening.

Everything is packed really tight

These are the second smallest dice I've seen.

The three rulebook of LotFP:Grindhouse Edition

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Announcement: RPG Blog Alliance Open For Business

Greetings Fellow Bloggers and Podcasters,

I'm happy to announce the official opening of the RPG Blog Alliance. The RPGBA is the start of new Blog Community for RPG related Blogs and Podcasts. Like many such communities, at it's core it provides an RSS Aggregation Feed. So what set's the RPGBA apart from other such services you may ask? I think the following are some things that set us apart from other services.

  • User Profile, which can be updated by user
  • Ability for Users to Hide Posts From being shown in Feed
  • Email Verification of New Users
  • New Blogger and Podcaster Help via Wiki

Even with these features, some will ask why this even required, as there are similar sites out there. To which we say, Yes there are. The issue for me has always been that they just didn't seem like a community. We wanted to start a community. I wanted something that users could edit their own profile information without an administrator. I wanted simple to use administrator functions. We think we done that. We should note that we do not believe that the RPGBA is a replacement for any such site. For us, it is just simply a new community that we would like you to join.

We want you to help the community grow. We want the RPG Blog Alliance to be thriving thing. We want to hear your comments, we want to try to create new features based on user feedback. Basically, we want you involved. We look forward to seeing you join our community.

To join simply to go to RPG Blog Alliance, and click join us.

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Faking Class, Or Can You Impersonate a Class and Win Friends?

Being an old gamer does have it's advantages. For one thing, I have a library of old gaming stuff that I can look through from time to time. Last night I was doing just that. I started reading an old Dragon magazine article about using Magic-user (This was for AD&D) spells to simulate another class. It even had lists of spells that could be used to simulate spells from other classes. There were even spells that could be simulated by faking it. After all a spell like Detect Evil, What's to prevent someone from saying they cast it and there was not results? This got me to thinking, could a player actually get away with saying that their character was another class?

One thing to start with is the fact that there are two points of view for the players. There is the in-character and out-of-character (meta-gaming) knowledge and perceptions. For example, if a player was wizard and trying to say he was rouge a few things would come up. First most players share too much meta-game information to make this work on a player to player basis. Second, even without share, meta-information players have might ruin the ruse. After all, players are going to demand that other players use certain class features and feats that other classes don't have. Take the rouge's sneak attack ability. People are going to suggest/demand that a rouge to use that ability. It sort of ruins the ability of players to "fool" other players . So on the surface player to player is sort of out.

What about player to non-player character (NPC), or NPC to player? Here is an area that has possibilities. As the Game Master, your not going to forcing your players to use certain class feats or features. This means that the players can make an NPC think the player's character is of a certain class, race, or even alignment. As a Game Master, you base an NPC's reactions based off of what the players present. The same is true of NPC's. Heck, it even works better that way. Many NPC's can just be a name and basic description. There is no need for classes, skills, or feats for NPCs that players are just going to interact with and not fight. As Game Master you may need to fake a stat, skill, or other characteristic, but you don't normally need to do so. In these cases, you can actually write that the NPC claims to be one class and the players normally take that at face value. Now, some of you might think you need to have disguise or bluff checks. I would say that things like that are only required if the NPC is doing something that might make someone guess that they are not who they say they are. Let's face it, you see a guy in a pointy hat. He has a wand and claims he's Mandrake the Wizard. Initially, do you think most people might guess he's not? Now, if a someone was dressed like a beggar and claimed he was a wizard, then you might be a little skeptical. Still for the most part we tend to accept people initially for who they claim to be. So at least from the in-game point of view, it's very easy to handle player's characters pretending to be other classes and the like. All they need is the right attitude, a few basic skills, and maybe a few spells or magic items to simulate another class. Although, the right attitude will get them pretty far.

So what about the first case, player to player. Could you fool other players? Normally, I'd say no. However, if you have a Game Master that willing to do the work with player then it's possible to do it short term. The reason I say it's short term, is that it's going to be a lot of work to keep things from the other players. First off, the player should know the game system pretty well. They are not going to be able to normally ask other players with help with certain rules or spell descriptions. They are going to have to work with Game Master how to do certain things. For example, let's say someone is pretending to be a rouge. The player could roll for the sneak attack damage, but give the Game Master the normal damage and the sneak attack damage. The Game Master would then just apply the normal damage. Since this sort of thing can not be kept up for long, I think both the player and the Game Master should find ways to work in clues that things are not what they seem. After all, this is going to be hard to do , even if I actually think this is interesting Role-Playing challenge for a player. I don't think the Player or the Game Master is going to be able to hide it from the other players for ever.

So what about you? Have you ever had your character to pretend to be another class? Was it just for NPCs or did you try to fool the party? If so, how hard was it? I look forward to seeing your answers.

Your rating: None Average: 4 (1 vote)

Review: Weird West

Want a little Kung-fu, six-guns, and wizardry? Well that's what Weird West hopes you do. The description at Drive ThruRPG is as follows.

The streamlined and fast playing adventure roleplaying game for weird western worlds of cowboys, kung-fu, magic and otherworldly malevolence.

The entire rulebook so to speak is only 8 pages. It was done this way, so it can be in pocketmod format. As matter of fact when you purchase it off of Drive ThruRPG, you get both a pocketmod version and the standard version. The standard version is easily readable by both my Droid X smartphone and my Kindle DX. On my Kindle DX, I think the font seemed too big, but since this was designed to work with much smaller screens, I can understand that.

Character Generation is simple as a starting character you get four points to split among 4 attributes: Fighting, Grit, Magic, and Skill. The only one you need to have at least one is Grit. It is used to determine your Stamina Points, which is sort of like Hit Points in D&D. Each character will then choose a path: Adventurer, Gifted, Fighter, or Magician. These will provide the attributes modifiers as the characters advance in level. One thing that I did find interesting was how stamina points worked. Each session you roll you stamina points. You roll one die based on your path for each Grit point you have, which is why you need at least one when you first make up your character. If the roll is higher than what's you have currently, you use that one instead. I'm not sure if I understand the idea here completely. I guess it is meant as a way to make sure players have as many stamina points as possible.

Level advancement is at the groups choice. They get to decide when and if characters advance. Normally, I might consider this a cop-out but since this is simple game and I would not think that this is something to run a long term campaign with, I don't see this as a big issue. Like most level based games, players are assumed to start at level one

As was noted in the description, there is magic available. For each point of Magic, a player gets one spell/weird ability. In sense, nothing covered under mundane skills or mundane fighting is considered Magic. For example, if you want to be Kung-Fu person, you would need to have 1 point of magic so you could take Shaolin Monk. There are only a few abilities listed in the magic section. Enough to get you started, but there could be more in the future.

When your player attempts to do things, they are called 'Tasks'. A Task is resolved with a d6 with a five or greater indicating success. You get to add the relevant attribute and subtract the challenge level. All and in all pretty simple.

Combat in Weird West is pretty simple. Initiative is based off level, higher level characters go first. A fighting action is chosen. This can modify your fighting and your skill for that round. The attacker's modified fight and the target's modified defense is compared is cross referenced on a chart which gives you a target number to beat on d20. After looking at the chart, I would simply say, 10 + target's defense - modified fight is the number you need.

In addition to the rules to handle damage and healing, that's all that is in the rule book. Like many PocketMod games, you have to add additional material yourself. This is not a bad thing. games in this category are suppose to be simple and fast to play. A good Game Master should be able to scenario for this genre.

Overall, I think the rules do what they need to do. Be simple and allow someone to run a quick game. I'm likely going to print out the pocket mod version and put it with my Microlite20 PocketMod Rules. Which of course is in my backpack. The only thing that would help is an adventure in PocketMod format. Sadly because my current group doesn't do much beyond D&D, I'll have to wait for some people that are open to non-D&D games.

Weird West is available for 1 USD at Drive ThruRPG

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Number of Players at the Table

Yesterday, I was flipping through on old book of mine, Gary Gygax's Role-Playing Mastery. In one section, he had a little to say about the maximum number players that a Game Master can handle while maintaining a good game. He set that number to three or four players.

What's interesting is that is the number of positions in the old standard party. You know the one where there is a fighter, a magic-user (wizard), cleric, and thief (rouge). It really sort of makes me wonder if that number was sort of influenced by that concept in some way. Of course it could have been the reverse as well. Honestly, I'm not sure which came first, I'm just sure that there is some sort of link between the two concepts.

In the same area, talked about using a Game Master's assistant. Someone who could handle some of the GM administrative work. Gygax, basically suggested that with such an assistant a GM could handle eight players without make his game suffer. Of course, I'm not sure anyone would want to be an assistant. Much like the working world, assistants seem to get none of the glory or respect that the person they give assistance to gets. As GM, I'm not sure if I'm down with someone not really playing and not really the GM. But that's my opinion.

Still, what is maximum number of players that can be handled at the table without assistance? I've always thought that six was my personal number. Any more than six and you have no idea what the hell is even going on. And even if you do, you will find that a few players will monopolize you time. Of course I guess the same could be said about any number of players. I do now that no matter what, there is a limit of some sort. Once a long time ago, I played in a group with about ten to twelve people. That's right ten to twelve people. The adventure involved some sort of war and we were in some sort of castle siege. Since there were so many players, the poor GM couldn't help but focus on a few people at time. This meant there were long stretches with nothing to do. We actually started to do other things while we waited for our turn. This became a huge disconnect for us. Since we were not paying attention, we sometime had no idea what exactly was going on. I dare say that game ended poorly. Eventually, I think group broke into two groups, which is what sort of needed to happen in the first place.

So what is the maximum number of players you can handle as a GM? What are your thoughts on a GM Assistant? Have you ever used a GM assistant? Finally, what is the largest group he have ever played with and how successful was it?

Your rating: None Average: 4 (1 vote)

Choosing a Game Day

When I was a young boy, I use to be able to game whenever I wanted. Which of course makes sense. When your 13 to 17 years old, you really don't have all that many things that are demanding your time. Or it was at least that way for me. I remember doing gaming weekends, where we would start Friday evening and play until about midnight. We would get up the next day and start gaming Saturday at noon and play until midnight again. Finally, we would get up on Sunday and start playing at noon and then stop by sundown. It was a pretty gaming intensive time for me. I'm actually sort of glad I was able to do it then because today, I don't game that much. Hell, I dare say the amount of gaming that we got done in a weekend is more gaming than I do in about two months. On a side note, I'm not sure why my mother let me do that. I guess she just like the fact that she knew what I was doing and who I was doing it with. I should note that most of the people I gamed with when I was in High School were either in the Military or going to college. Which when thinking on it, makes me wonder how much faith my mother had in me. But I ramble on. The point is that I did a lot of gaming when I was a boy and now that I'm an adult I don't game that much anymore. Now, we have to pick a day to game on and try to make that happen. With only seven days to choose what day works best? Let's take a look.

Monday - An interesting option to say that least. I think it's hard to get people for a Monday. Most people I know just started the work week and they usually don't want to do anything on a Monday.

Tuesday - I like Tuesday. I think Tuesday could be a good day for gaming. My only problem is that many of my son's weekly activities seemed to be on a Tuesday. I guess because it's the second day of the work week people feel safe doing things that day. I seem to know only one group that played on this day and they were all college students and didn't have classes on Wednesday.

Wednesday - "Hump" Day. I've known a few groups that play on Wednesday. I usually don't because we normally record on the podcast on this day. That and there were always seems to be other functions that press for my time when I'm not recording the podcast.

Thursday - One of the groups I played off and on with use to do Thursdays. Nominally, we use Thursdays as a backup day if we can't record on Wednesday. This sort of means that I can't play this day. I'm not sure if my friends even play on this day anymore.

Friday - As an adult, it use to be that this day was bad because everyone I knew would go out this night. Now that I'm married, we sometimes use this as a date night, but not as much as we use to. I think for now, I'm just too tired from the week to run or play most of the time on Fridays.

Saturday - Oddly this is one of the few days that's still generally OK for me. It's also traditionally the day when most people can game. The only down side is that as adult, this is a day with possibly the most conflicts. I send out an email to my players a week in advance to see they can game. Since we only play every other week, it tends to work out for us.

Sunday - I'm played a few sessions on Sunday as an adult, but most people I know use it as a day of rest before they go to work the next day.

In short, It seems like I'm going to be sticking with Saturday for now. Although, I might be up for trying a game on a Thursday. What is your best day of the week to game and why?

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