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The Gator Man + Thoughts.

Have you ever been to a carnival that has kiddie rides? One of the more popular rides for young kids is the mini-coaster. It consists of several cars, usually decorated to look like a dragon or an alligator. It rolls around on a metal track with gentle ups and downs—a placid, oval journey. It's many a kid's first thrill ride without the comforting presence of mom sitting alongside. This is as tame as amusement park rides get, and running The Gator has to be about the most boring duty a carny can pull.

One July 4 weekend, as my family and I strolled through the midway at a local carnival, The Gator caught my eye. It wasn't the ride; that was the same as always. It was the operator.

Here was a guy, probably in his mid-50s, dressed in scuffed cowboy boots, stiff blue jeans that were a bit too tight, a growing paunch restrained by a belt with a huge silver buckle, and a denim shirt with pearl snaps and the sleeves rolled up to show his USMC tattoos and knock-off Rolex. A pack of thin cigars was tucked in his shirt pocket. His skin was so leathery that he looked like he might be half gator himself. His face was mostly hidden behind mirrored shades, a handlebar moustache, and a straw cowboy hat with the brim rolled up on the sides and broken down so sharply in front that it practically brushed the tip of his nose. And he was chewing a matchstick.

You could find a more intimidating figure to park in front of a carnival ride for three-year-olds, but not without some effort.

What really grabbed my attention about this scene, however, was the sign taped to the ride. It was scrawled in black marker on a piece of corrugated cardboard, and read:

GATOR MAN NEEDS A WOMAN!
35-45
Willing to travel
Must cook

What does this have to do with D&D? Much of what brings a game to life is NPCs. Battles can be exciting and memorable, but they're not where the characters live. You have a battle; you interact with NPCs. They are the most direct expression of the world that characters will meet, and the more varied and colorful they are, the more the world breathes. If your characters stroll though a carnival, you could describe the sights and sounds around them or you could describe Gator Man and let the characters talk to him. The conversation will make a deeper impression.

What might Gator Man look like in a D&D setting? Consider his essential characteristics. Gator Man didn't look like just any cowboy; he looked like the cowboy. He went out of his way to make himself look grizzled and fierce for his job of working with young children. Your NPC could be an old warrior, retired from adventuring but still tough as nails; his ornate sword hangs in a patched, cracked scabbard and the battered hat of an officer in the Dragon Cavalry is crushed around his skull as if it grew there. Is it true that he saved the Duke's life but then was dismissed in disgrace? Why does he call himself the Gorgon Man, and how did he wind up running the town's orphanage?

Answer those questions and you'll get a unique NPC who the characters will remember whether they encounter him once or a dozen times.

The good news for DMs is that varied, colorful people are all around. You can't miss them if you keep your eyes open. They might not all be as distinctive as Gator Man, but he was one-of-a-kind.

--

This is an article by Steve Winter, posted verbatim from Dungeon #172, and I don't think I can conjure a more successful analogy to represent the way we see NPC's in a fantasy narrative setting, and it's really put my brain to work. I think my players will agree with me, that one of the weaker portions of my game are NPCs. Sure, I can formulate personalites, and names on the fly, but NPCs are a real challenge to flesh out quickly. I mean, what makes NPCs different are diction, accents, and points of view. Diction is something that I've really been trying to improve with the games I've run in recent times. I typically attempt to take a phrase, or two (one of the most famous ones has been "What the deuce!") and play it up. Accents is something I do more with tonality differences, because I'm no good at accents. I can do them well enough when practicing by myself, but not reliable enough to bring them out in a social situation. Points of view is pretty simple, just take a stance on a certain subject. This is actually the whole reason I mentioned this all, although, if I wasn't as lazy, I'd probably reformat this article to make it seem a little more so. Can I be bothered? No, thus you can see my thought patterns, so lets move on.

Strong points of view is something I've neglected until recently, which is a real shame. Simply by making your NPC make derrogitory comments every time he references Elves, or Elven culture, and bewm, you have a racist, and as a result, flavourful NPC. Maybe he gets excited everytime he sees magical rings, because he's a collector, bewm, flavourful NPC. I think that as GM's we feel that our NPC is too strong, but in my opinion it's better to go too far then too little. If you give too little flavour, you've wasted one of your ideas, and your NPC is just as boring to the players as if you'd done nothing at all. If you add too much, you get a comical moment, which ends up memorable because your NPC leapt out of his chair when he saw the bling of protection + 2 one of your players is toting. Sure, maybe it broke the serious tone you were going for, but if the players are in a serious narrative, they'll go back to being serious after the scene, they'll just spin a few in character jokes about how that NPC was a quack. I know I've accidentally taken that as an insult to my NPC, but that's not true, you're doing your job, which is entertain your players.

Embrace the strong points of view, even risk going on too strong (I do recommend that if your last NPC the players saw was too strong, which resulted in lulz, just play it safe on the next one, to break the cycle, and stop it from looking like every NPC in this setting is a whack job, but definitely try push the points of view as long as you can maintain the serious tone of the session). Hell, you might even end up with a Dick Rattleshank, which is never a bad thing.

Aedan Felk: Journal Entry one.

And thus ends my first day outside of Pelitar's apprenticeship. Even though I'm simply staying at The Lady Luck, rather than the tower, it's liberating. The only thing itching at my consciousness now, is why Fuegan was released to travel alongside me. I mean, it's not as though Pelitar was in any way finished with his research. And, it's not as though crystalline constructs who possess free will, the ability to reconstruct themselves, and no record of a master - either through arcane seal or physical markings - are commonplace encounters. I, for one, have never heard tale of such a happenstance.

I will have to inquire further at a later time I think. Either way, the morrow should be eventful: Fuegan and I are beginning the trip to Waterdeep to try and pick up some work. While the Academia of Arcana and Divine arts didn't accept a Dwarf toting the very powers they strive to teach, to a degree much more powerful then even their second year initiates, I'm sure there will be less bureaucratic and short sighted employers. Will just be a matter of time.

--

Well, apparently skin tone is rather important to Elven merchants. By the Fires of Dis! Just because my appendages aren't spindly, pasty, and disgustingly smooth. Bah. They'll never know the power that flows through my veins, no matter how many of their ponsy 'elf' centuries they live. However, our funds are running thin. We're not going to be able to pay our way by selling Fuegan's contraptions and concoctions, no matter how fantastic they are. Without a stall, a reputation, and a piece of parchment pronouncing how his cocktails are so fantastically-great-that-yer-bum-is-tickled-while-your-life-is-changed, it's just not going to happen.

--

I don't care for what reason Pelitar entrusted Fuegan to me, for once the crystalline beast has turned things in my favour. Typically, when we check in at the local inn, I have to put up with question after question of: "Your golem is so intriguing, how did you create him?" Normally, this is unwelcome company. I mean, not three days ago I had three people in a row ask the same question. How were they not in earshot of each other? I do not know. They were standing right behind one another like a carrion crawler picking at my attention. Bah, I'm getting sidetracked. This always brings my patience as short as a gnomes neck, but today it worked in my favour: We were staying at The Pelor's Grace, and this strange, blindfold-wearing man - along with his female Tiefling companion - decided to indulge in their curiousity as to Fuegan's appearance.  The woman - whom I know now as "Tashikir" - sat at our table, and set about eyeing Fuegan up and down. Her flagrant behaviour set me on edge, for I caught her sending admiring glances - glances that lingered a little too long, for my tastes - at the large gem set in Feugan's chest. (I've had enough run ins with piking sodboxes to remain at ease) However, I gave Rowan time enough for him to voice his queries (Moradin knows I must've been in a good mood to put up with him that long. Strange, pasty fellow), and noted that he never referred to Fuegan as "golem," or "construct."

He called Fuegan some name that I didn't recognise, or catch properly. It sounded almost Supernal, but don't quote me on that. The fact that he wasn't like the rest, led me to downing many an ale with him I must say, the fact that he wore a blindfold, but still appeared to see just fine, intrigued me to no end. Spellscar from the underdark he said, and, with the arcana literally flooding his eye sockets, I'm in the mood to believe him. He can also hold his liquor better then any human I've ever met, even to dwarven standards. He barely flinched when we both had a glass of Waters of the Deep, which I can say now, is as sharp as Moradin's axe going down.

It must have been six or seven drinks later, when I admitted that we were having trouble finding work for our...stature. I would never have stooped so low had I been sober, but Rowan said that they were down and out on work also, for Tieflings aren't well accepted, and whether he can see or not, employers prefer someone with two eyes that they can see. He explained that the pairw ere heading out to Loudwater, to reply to a decree in force by one of their council members, Eoffran Troyas. Mentioned something about controversial "Privateer Laws" being enforced, where the town guard was being stripped to bare minimum, and the money placed into outsourcing protection. Instead of  the guard simply waiting for a threat, adventurers were paid to actively seek out threats surrounding Loudwater, preventing the guard from needing to exist in the first place. I wonder if it's wise to not have a quality town guard, but if it means work for me, then I don't give a rat's ass. We shall see in two days, when we make it to the Antler and Thistle.

Character motivations

Today I finally got around to printing out I6 - Ravenloft, since its gained such a nice reputation to spawn a board game, and an entire campaign setting, and after reading part of it, I am just blown away. It is a deliciously gothic module with some really great descriptions throughout Castle Ravenloft, and it's surroundings, but what really got me, was Count Strahd, the owner of Castle Ravenloft, and the Antagonist for the story, and how well crafted his motivations were. It really felt like a villain who had a reason for doing what he was doing, not simply because he was trying to take over the world, or because he was evil, but there was a human aspect to him. Unfortunately I can't speak specifics of Count Strahd until after I run the module, so, instead I shall talk more generally about how important character motivations are with Angatonists and NPCs, and I shall use a recent example, using I3 - Pharaoh, as it is written by the same husband and wife combo (That's a pretty badass wife there, even if she did go on to write a bunch of Dragonlance stuff).

Pharaoh starts with the premise of your party being wrongfully accused of a crime, and being forced into scouring the Desert of Desolation for some raiders, who were most likely the true culprits. After wandering around the desert, and doing some minor plot points, the characters come across the spirit of Amun-Re, a pharaoh over the land now known as the Desert of Desolation, and he spins the tale of how he was selfish, and greedy, and created a giant pyramid so that once he died, he would have an impenitrable tomb, and would be gifted the afterlife. After the pyramid was completed, the people revolted, and tried to kill Amun-Re, but he cursed them in the name of Osiris, saying that if his blood dries, so should the waters of Aethis (which is the only source of water in this particular desert, just btw). He was killed, and so the waters dried up. Amun-Re was all "Heh, ah well, it's all wine, and women in the afterlife for me now", but Osiris stopped him, and said "Just as you looked onto death in life, you shall look onto life in death", and he was cursed to wander the desert, until his two symbols of office were removed from his 'theft proof' tomb. He then propositions the characters to put his spirit to rest, by doing some badass grave robbing.

Now, this is a decently solid storyline, and when reading the module, that hooked me, but what really made the module sparkle, was when I found near the end of the module, the rules for a research book, able to be found in a few places in the module, either being seeded with a group of Thune researchers like I did, or placed inside the temple or pyramid. There are two parts to the book, one is a first person account from Amun-Re, and the second is an account of a researcher summing up history, and culture of the place. Will summarise below:

The tale of Amun-Re is a touching story of Amun-Re's childhood, where after his father's death, he heard of his tomb being plundered. The young Amun-Re snuck out one night, and made it to his tomb, where he found that indeed, his father had been prevented from entering the afterlife. He then swore that this would not happen to him when it was his turn to face Osiris.

The second part, isn't so much about Amun-Re specifically, but details things about how the temple rituals and such were conducted, and adds a nice flavour, as well as dropping a few hints about the arcane secrets of the place.

I very much enjoy the fact that Amun-Re wasn't simply a quest giver, he wasn't simply an antagonist, a reason for the story to unfold. He felt like a real person, with a real problem, and while the characters at first may have been "Ooh, quest.", within a short space of time, they were able to connect with Amun-Re on a more personal level, and engage in the story of I3 - Pharaoh, not because of XP, or loot, but because they sympathised with a man locked between life and death, and I think that is the grounds on why my players found Pharaoh to be one of the most enjoyable adventures that I've run.
I ran yet another game of Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition today. It's just so addicting! I find it both a blessing and a curse to be so intrigued by so many modules both new and old, and by the amount of fantastic characters you can build mechanically. Of course the interesting combinations you can create narratively are limited only by your imagination, but over and over again Isaac, and various other players show me hilarious/awesome/hilariously awesome builds for classes I previously thought were single facetted and dull. The new mechanics I saw today were as follows:

Isaac's character was a Shadar-kai fighter, which was deliciously full of lore. Essentially the Shadar-kai are a race who serve the Raven queen, and have ties with the Shadowfell, and their point in life are to be, or pretend to be amazingly badass so that the Raven Queen will accept them, and make them immortal. Excellent premise for kicking ass. The next piece of awesome that Isaac brought out was he's playing a brawler style of fighter, who drags, grabs, and punches things with his spare hand. It's pretty awesome to be able to describe what he's doing, because it's just so delicious to narrate.

Casey's character was a Drow Assassin, which was the first time I'd seen the mechanics of the class, save Mike Mearls talking about it on the Wizards of the Coast podcast. This character is super mobile, and has some cool striker abilites. The Shadow Shroud or whatever, the thing that stacks, until you hit with it, that's a cool ability. Isn't more powerful then the Barbarian, or the Rogue, but definately feels badass when you manage to hit, and pull out the quad shroud 4d6+12 bonus damage to whatever you're stabbing.

Playing through the Assassin's Knot, which was the module we began today, they had a run in with some hooded men, who wielded daggers, but they were awesome because they had lots of shift abilities, and they had this cool attack where they would make an attack, could shift 2 squares, and attack the same, or another enemy, and then shift two squares again. This meant that there was a lot of mobility, and they had a lot of DPR going down (ranging between 1d6+6 to 3d6+6, with a bonus +6 damage on a crit, happening on 19-20). It was an incredibly tough encounter, and I wish I'd have given my two players warning that killing people wasn't going to be something happening in abundance. All they managed to do was bloody one of the figures before they dashed off into the night. I think it's a slightly bold move, considering I run brutally hard encounters as is. I don't think every encounter will be that hard, but tactical positioning will be a huge part of the encounters, in that bad positioning can get them killed quick. (6 3d6+6 attacks a turn, whittles down the HP quick).

I also enjoyed the sheer number of Named NPCs in AK. In hindsight I really should have made an abbreviated list of all the names, so I didn't have to keep checking, but I only had one hour to prepare, so I did alright I guess. My proudest moment was when they went to see Balmorrow the theater owner in Garotten, who I enthusiastically described him rehearsing the final scene for "Dick Rattleshank". The scene included a large busted woman who was playing the character of Octo-wench, sitting there helplessly, as Dick Rattleshank did battle with a goat headed individual, stabbing him with a fake sword between his arm and chest, all the while spouting sexist one liners. I then managed to pull out the stereotypical overdramatic, yet slightly air headed actor, who talked about how he found it easy to get into the character of Dick Rattleshank because he shared many qualities with the character. My players managed to get a lot of entertainment out of it all, which I was proud of. Kudos to Isaac for coming up with the play name in the first place :P.

I look forward to finishing the module, but for now, /rant.

Skill Challenges suck

Last night was week three and four of D&D encounters, and quite frankly, I'm so happy that we were a week behind, and didn't simply play session three, because it was HORRENDOUS, and here's why:

Dungeons and Dragons: Encounters, for anyone who doesn't know, is Wizards of the Coast's latest project in the organised play series, where they try to get the whole world playing something cohesive. It started with Living Forgotten Realms, where you'd get the LFR modules, and send Wizards the results of the adventure, and they would take the worlds results, and then publish where the storyline went, and then World-Wide Games days, and D&D Ultimate Delve started, where on the release day of a new sourcebook, people would go into their gaming stores and play games using the new rules sets, and with Delve, it was a competition to see whose characters could get the furthest in the dungeon before getting taken out. Encounters is a more casual style of organised play, where they've tried to cater to the people who work a lot, and maybe don't have enough time to run a home game, but still want the chance to be able to get in on a regular game. So, they run what they say is a one to two hour game (in my experience it's been 45 minutes each session, with 15 minutes set up time) where you simply play a single encounter, so that people can finish work, come to D&D Encounters, and still be home in time for dinner. I applaud their concept, it's pretty casual, and RP-light/mechanics bare, but workable... with exceptions.

Because it's mechanics bare, you prepare for that. You don't write up a massive backstory, you take Durable (+2 healing surges per day) instead of Linguist (You know and can speak two extra languages), because you want your character to be able to smack/stab/blast/mind thrust as well as physically possible. This is the sole reason I chose a Barbarian (Skills I took were Nature, Perception, and Athletics, but in hindsight I should have taken Heal instead of Nature). So, when session three rolled around, and we were required to have a more 'role playing' experience, it just felt dissonant. I keep thinking "Where is the combat? I'm here to kill stuff, why can I not kill things?". Not only was my character useless in anything outside of combat, but the role playing experience didn't even make sense.

We found a door that had six little holes in the door (convenient for a complexity 2 skill challenge mayhaps? :P) anyhow, we just kinda stood around the door doing nothing, until Karen, our GM suggested we made a Perception check, and we found a latch, which we pulled, and that lit up one of the little holes in the door. My hope for awesome was fading, mainly because a lever that opens 1/6th of a door doesn't make a ton of sense, narrative wise, which is what they were attempting to go for, only mechanics wise, which feel disjointed and slightly lame, but probably the best example on why the skill challenge was lame, is Karen let one of our party members Intimidate the door, and that passed one of the checks that we needed to pass. At this point I realised it was simply "pass 6 skill checks", and so I could use Athletics, since I had a +10, and could roll two d20, and choose the highest, but I absolutely REFUSED to mention until the last check, because I would have cried if I'd have charged the door, and it would have made one of the holes glow, but we couldn't go through immediately.

Karen managed to draw the thing out to around 45 minutes, but it felt 45 minutes of "I could be doing something else right now...like killing stuff, which would be fun." I was looking at my phone, and working out who I could text the whole time. It was *that * dull. Thank goodness we got to beat some people up in session 4 before heading home.

I much rather let the characters run into puzzles, and go "Hrm. Can I use Arcana or Religion to see if I understand what this Altar is for?" Whether that's a pass or a fail, I'm not going to tick any check boxes. Maybe they won't understand it, maybe they will, but it'll only be part of the puzzle, or maybe that'll just be it, and it's back to exploring. Either way, it's vastly superior to slapping a mechanics driven encounter into something that doesn't really fit.

D&D Rant 2.0 (Includes Ottyughs).

So, one thing that bugs me a lot about D&D 4e encounters is the lack of solo monsters. I like the way they've made the combat even more tactical then 3.x, but I find that I have to do a little tweaking to get monsters feeling the way I want them to. Ever since playing The Witcher, I've been a fan of monsters being tough as nails. I like the idea of a single lone hunter type monster, like a Striga, or a Bruxa, to be dangerous just by itself, rather than needing things like 3 minotaurs to make the encounter balanced. I mean, where in myths do you make it to the center of the maze to find two minotaurs supported by a carrion crawler? No where. So, what I do, is take something that's normally a single monster, and turn it into a solo. Example is following:

My 4e Temple of Elemental Evil game saw me requiring to modernise a famous room, the garbage pile, with a secret door within, but also an Ottyugh. Now, the 4e implimentation of an Ottyugh is as follows:



(I wish I could supply a higher res, but that's all my Monster Manual PDF will allow for anyhow...)

As you'll see, this monster is a Level 7 Soldier, so, it's supposed to be one of many monsters in an encounter. This both has dissonance with what ToEE says (single Ottyugh is the encounter), and what I want to run (single Ottyugh is the encounter), so here is the Ottyugh that I ran, with some philosphical discussion in between.

Most of the statistics you can leave as is, these things (generally) are initiative bonuses, skills, stats, and defenses. If you're changing those, it's normally for a very specific situation, or a different reason then "you want it to be a solo". One of the most basic differences you'll want to make is the hit point changes. The two methods I use is check what a level 7 solo would have, and base it off that, or simply multiply the HP, I tend to run a 3x multiplier, and then just double check with the average solo of the same level to make sure it isn't overly disproportionate. This leaves the new Ottyugh with 246 HP, and a 123 bloodied value.

The next thing is what you're going to do with the attack powers. Most solos have some way of shrugging impairing effects, so giving them a +2 or +3 on saving throws helps, but if you can come up with a power, either stolen from another solo, or concepted yourself, it always helps, since all effects will be lumped on the one monster. The next thing is the amount of DPR that the monster will output. The two ways you can generally go is just multiply attacks, but sometimes that lets people know that you're fudging the monster, or just multiply damage. For the ToEE game I had the Ottyugh have three attacks, which made it hit HARD, and I think that's why my players loved it so much, but you could simply give it multiple initiatives like the Demogorgon from Monster Manual II, or you could pimp the damage. if I was to pimp the Ottyugh's DPR, I'd most likely do a 2x damage, or maybe 2.5x. The problem with multiplying damage, is you don't want the difference on your d20 range from miss, to one hit, you want miss, to "Woah, that thing hits hard, I'm nearly bloodied". 40% damage is the sweet spot I've found, it's a 3 hit knock down, but feels pretty brutal. (After playing D&D encounters tonight, Isaac confirmed that I run my combat encounters tough, which I think is a good thing, but whether my players think it's a good thing or not, I guess my players will have to comment.)

The Ottyugh fight that I ran ended up pretty good, most characters were at 20-30%, two characters were on 15 or so HP with final stage of Filth Fever, one unfortunate Rogue was inside the Ottyugh's belly, and there was a lot of walking between the party and the surface, and even more walking to the nearest town. Good encounter. Good game.

Roleplaying, Bad Company II and the like.

The last few months have been interesting for my outside of uni hobbies, after losing my slot as medic for the Ju1cy Team Fortress II team I've had a period of limbo where I didn't find a focus particularly well. I tried various PC games, multiplayer and singleplayer, but nothing really fit too much. That is, until Bad Company II.

Bad Company II entranced me pretty much instantly, because of three reasons: The beta was free to play, Battlefield 1942 was the first multiplayer FPS I ever played save Counter-Strike, and...well, it kicks ass. For public play it rocks because you get to run around with 3 of your friends in a squad, being a part of a larger battle, resulting in me and mine having many 'war tales'. 's good relaxing time*. Competitive sees the stress level ramped up a few notches, but I tend to attribute that to my team not being as organised as they should be. Still decent fun.

*As long as there aren't too many people wielding the GUSTAV, the 40mm grenade launcher, or the M60 Light Machine Gun.

BC2 has sucked up a lot of my time, but as of late, my focus has shifted a lot from PC gaming, I don't have that same drive to get on the PC and rock out Bad Company, or Team Fortress that I did a few weeks ago. The reason? D&D.

Dungeons and Dragons has managed to catch my eye, probably because it was where the genre of game I love originates from, but I've found myself ranting to anyone who will listen about just about anything to do with it all.

At the moment I run 2 regular games, with a few more in limbo. I will talk about only one tonight, which is my university game, which I've run Keep on The Shadowfell for, and now are making their way through my 4e conversion of T1-4: Temple of Elemental Evil. It's always a lot of fun to play with those guys. I took a group of people who were either new to 4th edition, or had never played a roleplaying game before, and turned them into die hard fanatics. With a group that started with 4 players, I now have 8 coming to my sessions, and more asking about whether they can join. I must say it's very nice to have a sort of mainstream appeal, and it's fun to run for such a large group. Getting the pacing right, and keeping the game flowing with that many people is a refreshing challenge, as well as making sure that everyone says "Oh man, that session was awesome!" and not just three of the eight.

I doubt I'd be able to run the game as well as I have if I'd not listened to Mike Mearls advice for running games of different sizes however. When running with such a large group, it's easy to just slap in more monsters to balance things up, but that's the bland option, and it's much  smarter to look at what's going to be different. For one thing, there are going to be more players to hit, so you can make encounters feel more dangerous by adding anything that has an aura, or deals AoE, my new favourite for this are Wraiths, especially the Mad Wraiths, with their Touch of Madness, they whisper in the ears of their targets, causing them to move and attack their allies, as well as having a 15 foot aura which dazes. For mid-heroic tier, they are definitely a fun monster.

Another consideration is the DPR. WIth more players means there will be more 'tank' characters, but this doesn't mean that you need to focus on hurting them, because one thing I've found turns players off, is when they don't feel like the game is dangerous, and if you only have the 'tank' characters taking damage, then everyone else finishes the fight on full hit points, or minus 3 or 4 from a small AoE attack. My theory, is you want a LOT of DPR, enough that you look at it and go "Wow. That is too much." - The reason for this is because you want to lump it on as many different people as possible. Where the sort of average output is something like 1d8+4, so, 5-12 or so, then I like to have things that atleast have a recharge or encounter ability with three times that. You want to hit them decently hard, for maybe 30-40% of their HP, so they feel like the fight is dangerous, and change their tactics from simply doing the same thing each round, because they know the enemy will die eventually, without actually putting their character at risk of dying. Then you can supply some AoE damage which isn't super ramped up, and then it keeps them on the edge of their seat because they know the rounds they can take take this damage is limited, but if they play their cards right, they can come out on top. This is what you want to achieve.

I've also found myself timing the keyword "bloodied". Now, I don't do this often, and I don't recommend you use it much, else you will lose your players trust in anything you're saying, but sometimes when I build encounters on the fly, they go wrong, they either have too much HP on the table, or not enough (it's usually the latter), and I will delay saying that the monster is bloodied, even though it is, for a hit or two, essentially letting a hit or two deal no damage, to buff the monsters HP by 10-20 points, because I know the pacing of encounter I want, and so I know that I want the bloodied word to drop right when the players are starting to get disheartened, because it gives them a second wind of their own, and they redouble their efforts to finish off the enemy. I don't like this, because I don't like fudging things too much, I'd much prefer to just get good encounters in the first place, but this is definately a band aid I've pulled out on an encounter or two from the uni game.

...I might post some more tips from my experience in GMing 4e again soon, but my mind has suddenly hit a brick wall. I blame university. And Josh.

Any comments, or thoughts would be appreciated

Here you go Isaac.

This is what happens when you try play Mass Effect a second time.





I think Kaidan's one was the creepiest when they would move, and one face would come out of the other.

Oh noes! 2010 is approaching!

So, whether I get time or not, 2010 is something that is going to be upon us rather quickly. I'd hoped to do a post on various media that was badass this year, but I guess since I'm lazy, and kinda tired since I just got back from Sherlock Holmes with the Ju1cy crew (just putting it out there, was good, not great. <3 Robert Downey Jr. However.) I thought I'd do part of the deal, and just do the music portion, and leave the film and video games to a later date.

So, for music, On my front we have releases from: Red, Lamb of God, Mastodon, Dream Theater, Behemoth, Chevelle, Family Force 5, Muse, Paramore, Breaking Benjamin, Atreyu, and 30 Seconds to Mars. Pretty solid releases from most of them. Will just talk about a few disappointments, and exceptional moments.

Paramore, Paramore, Paramore, oh how I love you so, but please keep me enthralled, don't release boring songs. The album isn't bad, but I listened to it once. ONCE. I never listen to something once. I either don't listen to it because it's something I don't enjoy, or I listen to it atleast 5-6 times in the week I get it. I was so excited for Paramore to come up with something fantastic, because I'll be honest, I really enjoyed Riot!, I thought it had some great cuts, and for pop, it was great, but yeah, Brand New Eyes was pretty generic for me.

Behemoth was also something I had high high hopes for, because they took themselves from an extremely boring Polish Blackened Death Metal band, to being the single Death Metal band that I love, and will listen to over and over again. Demigod was one of favourite records of the last few years, then again, came out in 2004, so had to be awesome. The Apostasy was also fantastic, so I was hoping for more amazing cuts. Evangelion again isn't bad, but it lacks stand out tracks, that The Apostasy had 80% of, and Demigod had 100% of. I recall every song vividly from Demigod, and 8 or so of the 11 on The Apostasy, but I only remember ONE on Evangelion. Disappointed guys.

on the exceptional side, we have Lamb of God's Wrath. At first I wasn't very keen for it, because Contractor didn't really catch my eye, and that's what they were hyping, but Wrath is a phenomenal album, and after seeing them live, it only hardened my boner for Mark Morton, Randy Blythe, John Campbell (Yes, like the news show host), Willie Adler, and Chris Adler.

Dream Theater had a similar release with their Black Clouds & Silver Linings. I thought it was a really solid release, good progressive rock tunes, and was cool to get an instrumental version of the album with the traditional one. Lots of standout tracks, lots of good music.

And oh jesus. Crack The Skye. Mastodon's latest blew me away. It is just trippin' balls left and right. I mean, Banjo in metal is something I'd only previously heard with John-5's The Devil Knows My Name, so it was great to hear, and all the Russian themed stuff was so deliciously different that I had to keep pressing repeat.

Really enjoyed Breaking Benjamin's Dear Agony too, although it wasn't revolutionary, it was just some more solid BB tunes, although it's mixed kinda high on the low end, which sounds really odd in my sound system, have to turn down the bass to listen and make it feel right. Like, it doesn't have a lot of bass guitar, just a lot of low end.

Right, so that's it for music, and I know, it's pretty minimalistic, but what can I say, I just gained a willpower point for fulfilling my Sloth vice. /World of Darkness reference.

Night bitches.

Chris - The Nephilim Rising

St. Louis. Also, Planescape

It was Sunday, and like the awesome Calvin and Hobbes collection, it was a lazy Sunday. I woke up at around 1 AM to find that the reason I had lasted that long in the world of my head, was because nothing was happening today. One of the first things I did was get to reading The Last Wish again. I just love how the cinematic for The Witcher was so high quality, to the point where reading The Witcher the short story (The one where King Foltest asks to reverse the curse on Adda's daughter, who has become a Striga), the fight is in perfect unison between the two mediums. I mean, every word in the book correlates to every shot in the cinematic. Nothing was added or removed. If you don't believe me, read/watch it. Mind you, you should be doing that anyways, since they are both great pieces of art. Anyways, after reading that for a while, Kevin, Dad, Caitlin and I decided to play some table tennis. The result was interesting.

What started out as simple 2v2 rally, began to heat up, and become more interesting when dad kept attempting to slam the ball into Kevin. This resulted in harder hitting, and more yelling. By the end we had tried playing with 1, 2, 3, and even 4 balls to varying degrees of success, and the idea of 'winning' is more defined by who did the cooler stuff. Dad and I did assist serves, as well as crazy shots from far too far away from the table to be considered normal by any length. One thing I enjoyed about that session was the fact that Wendy was just doing a puzzle nearby, and balls were flying past her to no end, however she didn't flinch one bit. Was great.

After that died down, we were all tired, so I just sat down in front of my laptop and thought "Well, what could I do now?". The answer? Planescape, and let me tell you, even raving about it to everyone, I still forget how amazing it is. I began playing again with my semi-recent save right at the beginning, where The Nameless One and Morte the talking skull have become acquainted, and wandered around the first level of the mortuary, discussing the Rule-of-three, and how Morte wants to show the volumptuous chits the way of a good time. These chits being corpses ressurected by magic. Not traditionally attractive.

The language of this game always blows me away, I need to remember to refer to females as chits more, money as jink, and speak like some tripped ass pikey that you find in The Hive of Sigil (regarded by many as the center of the planes, however, others think this is wash, because how do you define the center of something that is infinite?). "Pen some berks in the dead-book" has got to be my favourite term of phrase thus far. In fact, the dead-book itself is a fantastic concept. There is this monument in The Hive, which appears like a war memorial, and contains the name and date of everyone's death up until the current point, and there is a Dustman who hangs around called Death-of-Names. He knows where to find each name on the monument, which directly correlates to the Dustman's record of death, aptly named the 'dead-book'.

Other highlights of my short game, from the first level of the mortuary, to running around disguised as a dustman up in the higher levels, to walking around the Hive were as follows:

Ingress, the nutty woman who runs around the Hive, and has gone slightly crazy due to being stuck in the Hive away from everyone she knows for thirty years by accidentally walking through a door (the term for portals, which are everywhere in the planes, and especially in Sigil). She hasn't walked through an arch since her accident, and asks you to find a way for her to get 'home'

Convincing a Dustman against his belief of wanting to die, by killing yourself, only to come alive again soon later, showing him that there is more to see in life, and that he shouldn't be so eager to end.

and this shiny gem of dialogue which I hadn't seen before. This is the second of who knows how many exchanges between Morte and The Nameless One about chits.

Morte: Did you see the way that cadaverous beauty was staring at me? She was looking for some lucky cutter to thaw her coffin

The Nameless One: Please don't start this again.

Morte: *Becomes thoughtful* I don't really mind the attention actually... it's just that I like to be seen as something more than just a skull you know? I have feelings that go beyond my base animal instincts. I want courtship, not some fortnight fling around the mausoleum.

The Nameless One: Morte, you *are* a skull. Nobody can help but see you as a skull. Accept it.

Morte: Yeah, well I may be just a skull, but I have a big heart. *Morte tries to stifle a snicker*

Sarcasm is fantastic, and so is Morte.

If anyone who knows me in real life needs or wants the discs to this game, I will gladly pass them, because this is a game that needs to be played. You cannot call yourself an RPG lover until you've experienced the planes, and this is the best way to do it.

Chris - The Nephilim Rising