And the winner is…

Finally we can reveal the names of those who won the contest we launched some days ago (yes, since we messed up with the poll we decided to double the prize!). These winners have the possibility to create two NPCs of their choice that we will use in one of our future adventure. But let’s stop talking:

  • The winner drawn from our Facebook page is: Marco Redolfi
  • The winner drawn from our Twitter page is: Mike Kenny

I will get in touch with you writing in private what to do (if you want to partecipate of course).

Now I am so sorry for the redditors, who are the vast majority of our visitors, but we couldn’t find a way to identify you and so to be able to let you be eligible for winning our small prize. We will try to redeem ourselves in the next week, check /r/rpg, /r/dnd and /r/dndnext for more news about us!

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Mapping for dummies (aka I can’t draw an apple, but I want a world map)

There’s a moment in the life of every DM when you need a map. I’m not talking about dungeon maps (they’re quiet easy to draw), I’m talking about world or regional maps. When it comes at drawing the Kingdom of Idunnowya we all wish we were great artists, capable of doing great and colorful paintings while reproducing the exact thing we have in mind. But we are not. We draw like shit and we are too busy (or lazy) to learn. So what to do without lowering our expectations too much? Well I will talk about some workarounds and softwares who could simplify our life.

You all know what I’m talking about.

  1. Stealing is good if you keep this for your table – you know there’s a lot of good stuff out there in the Sea of Art and using that magical instrument called the Internet, we can find a lot of pre-made stuff we can recycle for our home game. There’s nothing inherently bad in this and I’m sure that any artist would be honored to know that you’re using his/her stuff at your table. So look for cool maps in the internet! You can find a lot of nice things on /r/worldbuilding or on reddit in general (i’ll talk about the great RPGs community in a later post, but for the moment I can tell you that reddit has some of the best communities for RPGs), or on the Cartographer’s guild forum, just look for them! Tons and tons of .jpg or .png treasures awaits you also on deviantart.com and pinterest.com it’s just a matter of being flexible. You’ll never find anything that perfectly suits for you game, but you could easily adapt what you find modifying it a little bit with image-editing softwares.
  2. Map sets – sometimes the pre-made stuff is not enough and you want more customization. Try a map set! Here’s a great example of a good map set that you can purchase/download to start putting all the pieces together in order to form your ideal map. To ease the process you can use a software like Maptool or Roll20 which let you drag and drop the tiles. Easy and fast!
  3. The real world is a wonderful place! – Googling around you can’t find anything? Try a satellite image! Look for islands and coasts far from your home, they are perfect for gaming purposes. They’re good, realistic (because, you know, it’s the real world) and you can place cities and political borders almost wherever you want.
    Wfm_baffin_island

    The mighty kingdom of Kaadan…

    …and the Baffin Island in Canada

    If you choose the right place your players won’t even notice that’s a real-world place.

  4. Draw you own stuff! – don’t panic, you don’t need to draw anything, you’ll just use very simple tools. A first solution is to use a custom brush together with a software like GIMP. Just load the brush and start drawing stuff! Alternatively you can download an hex mapper like HexMapper or HexGIMP and start building your hex map adding an old-style flavor to your game experience. There’s an awesome tool (but it’s still in alpha) called Hexallthethings (I don’t know if the name it’s official, but if you look for that hashtag on twitter you’ll find it) that is being developed by Fantastic Maps. I partecipated in the alpha phase and the results were very good even if just few tiles were available. I think this will have an huge impact on gaming table when released. Stay tuned on Fantastic Maps’ Twitter/Facebook page for more news.

    Hexallthethings alpha!

There are a lot of other tools, strictly dedicated to fantasy cartography like CC3 or Dundjinni but they require more efforts, if you want something fast and easy the previous solution will certainly work fine.

How to create a sandbox!

The Sandbox: the most desireable achievement for a GM and the most feared, but wanted sort of game in a pen-and-paper RPG. First let’s start with the question: “What’s a Sandbox?”. According to techopedia the definition of Sandbox is:

“A sandbox is a style of game in which minimal character limitations are placed on the gamer, allowing the gamer to roam and change a virtual world at will. In contrast to a progression-style game, a sandbox game emphasizes roaming and allows a gamer to select tasks. Instead of featuring segmented areas or numbered levels, a sandbox game usually occurs in a “world” to which the gamer has full access from start to finish. A sandbox game is also known as an open-world or free-roaming game.”

A player free to do anything He wants can end up by doing nothing.

I kinda like this definition and I think it explains quite well what players and GMs should expect from this term (even if with a videogame-oriented terminology). But why a sandbox campaign is “better” than, let’s say, a railroaded one? In fact I think it’s not, it’s just a style of game. Some likes it and some don’t. Personally I tend to prefer this kind of games for my campaign, but I totally enjoy railroaded campaigns and I understand why they exist and I am not saying that one category is clearly better than another one. Creating a good sandbox campaign is difficult and I think it requires a lot of improvisation skills (as a DM), maturity and flexibility (as players). But how do you create a great Sandbox? Well if you know the definite answer to that question, please write it to me, because I think it’s almost impossible to create a comprehensive and ultimate guide to Sandboxing. What I can tell you in this article is How do I create my sandbox campaign.

  1. Create solid and characterized PCs – This is maybe the most important part of the process. I know what you’re thinking: this should be the basis of any RPG campaign, but let’s say that if you want to be a GM of a Sandbox campaign your characters are going to be not only the center of the story, but also the creators of the story. That’s why they don’t have to be just blank dolls with a class and a race stickers upon them, you need to know what are their dreams, what’s their short/long term goal and a lot of other details. But how to do that? What you must not do is to force the players to write a very long background and ask them to fill it with all the details they want. You don’t have to do that or you will fall under one of this two situations:
    1. They won’t do it – it can be because of lazyness or simply because they don’t have so much time to invest in a game, but they won’t write anything and you’ll start your campaign with nothing but the previous doll with the class/race stickers. This is a bad situation because while all the other players will feel involved with the story, this player will just be dragged around by the others, without a goal or an identity. And this is extremely bad for a Sandbox campaign in which the players should be the central point of the story.
    2. They will do it and you won’t read it – they will fill their document with a lot of useless details and they will write it with a colorful narration, but the important information you’re looking for will be hidden inside the document and they’ll be very difficult to recap. The result will be a huge document with a lot of information you can’t use. (That’s the mistake I usually do when I am asked to write a background :P)

    Whatever is going to happen it won’t be a good thing for you as a GM and for your Sandbox campaign. So What I do? I ask my players the following 5 things and I note them down for later use. I’m stressing the word ask because you don’t have to force your players to write anything: not every person likes to write. Personally I do, but none should be forced to do things they don’t like, especially if they’re gaming.

    1. Tell me one person your character loves and one person He/She hates
    2. Tell me one quality and one flaw of your character
    3. Which is you character’s most important principle?
    4. Tell me what are His/Hers short-term and long-term goals?
    5. Why you’re here?

    One of the greatest principle of GMing is Show don’t tell. If you know that one of your players can’t bear the abuses of the authority, you can show him a guard who’s beating a poor farmer and hook him easily in one of your plots, instead of placing him into the story as a caravan-guard.

  2. Start from a small place – If you want to start a new Sandbox campaign you should be ready to react to your characters’ actions. This can be easy if your characters are in a quiet village of few inhabitants, but it can be much harder if they start their campaign in a big city like Baldur’s Gate or Absalom. I’m not saying it’s impossible to start a Sandbox campaign in a large settlement, but if you’re at your first experience in sandboxing I think you’d better think small. Both if you’re using a published setting and if you’re in your homebrew world, choose a small place with a nice mixture of settlements and wilderness and consider an area of around 24/48 miles (about 2 days of travel) from your starting area. What’s happening there? Let’s make an example of a good starting area: the Dalelands (Forgotten Realms setting).

    The Dalelands map

    In the Dalelands you have a great list of small settlements (like Archendale, Battledale or Daggerdale) with a great variety of plot hook for that region. You have a dangerous forest (Cormanthor), a good plot you can use as a background for your campaign (the nearby wanna-be conquerer nation of Sembia) and a wide variety of minor plot hooks suggested in the 3th edition of FR Setting book. Starting from a small town (like Feather falls) and preparing some small plots in the nearby area you’re sure that your players won’t be lost in an area bigger than them.

  3. The 5-places/5-events rule – Now that you’ve chosen your starting area, you have to find a way to bring it to life. How to do that? I try to create 5 interesting places and 5 ongoing events in the chosen area, so that the players feel that the world is alive regardless of their actions. Let’s make a small example: I choose Feather Falls as a starting area. In the description of Featherdale (pg. 213 of the 3th edition of FR Setting) I read these 4 interesting places: The Blackfeather BridgeThe tower of Cholandrothipe (an abandoned wizard’s tower), some unexplored caves behind the fallsthe Ashaba river and I add an home-brew 5th place called The golden field, which is a great area near to the town designated to the agriculture. After I have found these 5 places I keep reading and I find out that Feather Falls it’s a democratic farming community, that their inhabitants settle their quarrels in front of the elderlies of the town and that 60 years ago there was a blood feud between the families which ended in the exile from the community of the few survivors. Finally we read that there is an historical interest of the Sembians towards Featherdale and that they have already attempted to conquer the dale in the past. Ok, we have a lot of informations: how to use them? We create our 5 events:
    1. My grain field is sick – One of the farmers of the town (possibly a parent of one of the PCs) has a field of grain, but recently He sees that his plants are dying without a clear reason.
    2. He killed my sheep! – A local breeder blame another one for the death of his most furry sheep. The first accuses him to have put some poison inside the animal feed, but the second one denies. Since the Shieldmeet festival is coming the killing of the animal is an economic problem for the breeder that point out his case to the elderlies of the community.
    3. They raided our wagon  – A war meeting is called from the elderlies of the town in which a merchant from Feather Falls tells He has been robbed by a small militia bearing the symbol of the Sembia. A PC could have seen the crime or one of his relatives could be involved.
    4. The long awaited party – Shieldmeet is coming and everyone in town want to prepare their own stand for the incoming visitors. Of course they also need help to find the goods and any help is well-payed.
    5.  Creepy strangers arrive at the town – More and more inhabitants of Feather Falls report of some creepy facts that are happening in the town. Some of that have the strange feeling of being watched while they are working, while some others talk about a foreigner who is staying at the inn. Maybe these are just paranoias, but one of the PCs takes that seriously (maybe a person who have his/her trust is involved)

    Now we have our 5 events and our 5 locations. You should know tie one event to one (or more) locations. This doesn’t mean that the event has to take place in one of these 5 locations, but that one of these locations should be involved in the event. For example the sick grain field of event A, is a small portion of the Goldenfield, or one of the witnesses of event E tells He saw some strange lights around the tower of Cholandrothipe. The most important thing that you want while planning a Sandbox campaign is to instill in your players the feeling of a living world so if the players choose, let’s say, the event A, as they solve the mistery of the grain field one of the other events should change. For example the accused breeder of the event B has been condemned to refund the sheep and to do that he need to sell his house and leave Feather Falls. If you do something like that the players will see that that their inactions have consequences and so that they are not the center of the world. Of course you shouldn’t punish you players for choosing one of your plots with respect to another one and you should always let them do something about the changes that occurred (like helping the breeder).

  4. Create a large-scale plot – The more common mistake that I think is done by the GM when they plan to build a Sandbox campaign is to forget to build a story. We all know that in a pen-and-paper RPG the players write the story, but a good GM should give them the pen: if your players keep wandering around doing small quests unrelated each other, you’re not doing a sandbox, you’re playing a MMORPG at your table. Small quests and side quests are fine, but the players at some point should face an event. It doesn’t have to be a world-shaking event, but there has to be a major plot behind the small events we were talking about in the previous section. Let’s keep going with our Dalelands example: let’s say the players want to investigate the event A and that they find out that a cleric of Talona (the deity of plagues and diseases) has cursed the place and that she’s hiding in the caves behind the Falls. When they find the cleric the quest should not end there! The cleric can be a member of one of the heirs of the families who were exiled 60 years ago. This family made a deal with Talona: they will spread a lethal disease which will destroy the farming communities in exchange of her favor to take back the city. While this heir has become a cleric of Talona, another one is now an important merchant in Sembia and is assembling a personal militia to strike the traders of Feather Falls (see Event C), or (if you want a more subtle approach) is trying to cause a war between the Sembia and Featherdale creating a fake casus belli hiring some mercenaries and dressing them as Sembian warriors. The thing is, try to think about a large-scale plot and then reveal it little by little through the small quests, but don’t let the small quests become the game itself.
  5. Be ready to change your story, mind, everything! – Ok, now you have 5 plots, 5 locations a living plot and you’re ready to start your first session of your Sandbox game. You present the quests, but your players completely ignore them. This is perfectly fine in a sandbox game. The important thing is: don’t try to railroad your players if they showd no interest in what you have already offered to them. If you force your players in one of your 5 events you’re not playing a sandbox. Try to reuse what you have prepared for this session and to think about what happens next before the following one. For example if your players show no interest in any of our 5 events, but they find incredibly interesting the exploration of the Cormanthor forest, for Torm’s sake, let them explore the forest! Improvise a sketch of a map, put a random event in front of them, but do not force them to face the events you have already proposed to them. If you don’t want to be unprepared you can re-use some material you have already prepared for your events making some small adjustments. For example the confrontation with the cleric of Talona can become a fight with a Malar cleric in the forest who is trying to create a new breed of lycanthropes from the wolverines. You just take the gaming statistics you prepared for your cleric of Talona and you use them for your new event.
  6. Don’t be afraid to create deadly places – in a railroaded game the PCs (almost) always face threats they can win, but in a sandbox game this is not true! If, for example, the players want to explore the dead wizard’s tower don’t be afraid to create strong magical defenses which would kill a distracted PC. If the players just walk inside the caves in which the cleric of Talona is hiding they should face a dangerous threat. If dangerous places are not dangerous your PCs will soon stop thinking and start facing any plot with a brainless approach, your players should face the consequences of a stupid behavior. Of course this doesn’t mean that you, as a GM, have to kill the PCs at the first occasion: a defeat in battle can be easily converted into a kidnapping. Maybe the cleric of Talona was looking for some sacrificial victims to offer to her deity, so she keep the players alive planning to kill them later. The possibilities are endless, but the concept is: your players should fear dangerous threats and it’s your duty to show them as dangerous.
  7. Use NPCs! – Remember: show, don’t tell, and the best way to show is to use an NPC. Let the player meet the NPCs, and let them get a sense of the two farmers in event B. Dialogues are the best way to give the informations you want to the players and they create a sense of reality. World is made by people and so it should be in your sandbox game.

The importance of NPCs

Ok, that’s pretty much everything I had to say, but I leave you with two of the tools I use while preparing a sandbox campaign. These tools are very useful if you have to improvise a plot, an NPC or a small town.

  • donjon – I think you all know that, but c’mon I had to link it. This is an amazing tool you have a lot of cool generator for places, quests, names, dungeons, treasures and for more stuff than you’ll ever need for a sandbox gaming.
  • Fantasy name generators – This is the ultimate resource for random names.

And what’s your opinion about sandbox games? Do you like them? Tell us what you think in the comments section or on our Twitter/Facebook page!

What’s Next? Here’s your answer

We asked you to tell us what you’d like to read in this blog, now the poll is closed and the winner is… (drum rolling): Pre-made material for your campaigns (NPCs, mini-plot, etc…).

Of course this blog won’t be entirely focused on this topic, but we will produce something to meet your expectations!

If you remember we also opened a contest! So, who won? Nobody knows because when the poll was set, we forgot to give a way to  the 147 users who expressed their preferences to be recognizable (I know, that’s our fault). So what do we do? We will create a big list of all our followers and “likers” and we will extract the winner from there. If you are already following our twitter account or if you are a fan of our facebook page, you don’t have to do anything more. Instead if you don’t fall under one of these two categories just comment this article and we will add your name to the big list we are going to create. We will tell you the winner by Thursday 8th and then we are going to get in touch with him and ask him which kind of character he want to be included in our next adventure!

Stay tuned for this post and for our incoming new material!

What would you like to see from this blog?

Hello guys, we have a lot of things in mind for this web-space: adventures, gm tools, premade character sheets, reviews and so on, but we’d like to know also what you like to see here! Vote and let us know what’s your favorite kind of thing you’d read here (multiple choices are allowed)! At the end of the poll we’ll extract one user randomly and He/She will appear in one of our next adventures as an NPC!

PS: We’ve been told to write the articles also in Italian. We’ll work on that and there will be a special Category only for our compatriots 😉  

GM Tools (aka How to keep your stuff well organized)

Dear GMs, we’ve all been in that akward situation in which the players asks: “Are we back in that tiny village on the coast? Oh great, I want to come back at the fabolous “Inn of the Seagull”, the innkeeper was so kind! What was his name?” and that’s the exact moment in which you regret not to have a better organization for your notes. After this kind of questions two simple scenarios can occur:

  • You pass the next 5-10 minutes leafing through your notes without success while your players keep saying “You know, it’s not that important let’s mov…” and you shout “NO NO, WAIT I CAN FIND IT!”. This is the bad scenario in case you’re wondering
  • You just click on the right document or folder and then you answer with a pleased smile “He’s of course Bob, famous for his strawberry pie”

What I’m saying is that it’s 2014 (almost 2015) even for Pen-and-paper RPGs and that maybe we’ll soon call them Pen-and-paper-and-tablet-and-pc-and-smartphone RPGs. We all already use digital instruments for our favorite RPG when it comes at the books (legal or not), but I think that the matter of keeping your stuff well-organized as a GM is still an underrated problem. There are few GM tools strictly dedicated to RPGs you can use to organize the documents for your campaign, but some others can be easily adapted for such a purpose. Here are some of the ones I prefer (in no particular order), but this is not a complete list of course:

  • Obsidian Portal – This is a great resource. By signing in you get: a complete Adventure Log in which you can keep track of your sessions, a Characters section, a Wiki and even a Calendar! It’s a great site and a great tool, but maybe it’s too much and sometimes you don’t want that level of detail. If you keep updating your site the result will be really great, but it depends on how much effort you put in it. If you like writing between the sessions it can be really a great tool for you and your players tohave fun with.

obsidian_tutorial

  • Word processors (Libreoffice, Openoffice, MS Office, Google Docs, Emacs and so on…) – I’ve been doing this for more than five years and even if now I don’t do that any more I still think it’s quite a good method. I used to keep all the informations about my campaign in different folders opening the documents and updating them when needed. First let’s talk about the images. Let’s say your campaign starts at level 1 in a small village called “Vil”, you are very excited and you create a Folder called Campaign, with a Subfolder called “/Vil” and maybe two other subfolders called “/PCs” and “/Vil/NPCs”. Great! Now you have three folders and two of them are subfolders of a specific village. The first session occurs and after that you want to update your material: you add portraits of the NPCs, the map of Vil and a lot of more stuff that starts to fill your space. After three locations you will have three folders (let’s say Vil, Liv, and Ilv the three main towns of the Anagram Coast) which at least one subfolder. Why would you want to do that? Even if you are going to create a lot of folders (somewhat redundant) you do this extra work to keep your stuff cleaner, so that if your characters ask you who is the innkeeper at the Inn of the Seagull you don’t have to look inside a big NPCs folder with badly name files including every NPC of the campaign, you instead go to /Vil/NPCs and you can easily find the image you were looking for. This approach works better if you use a word processor for your stuff and then you create internal links which point at the images we talked about. In this scenario in your document (Let’s say Troubles at Bargewright.doc) you will have something like that (the links are broken, but they explain what I’m talking about):

Bargewright Inn

Menu:

      • Roasted bear cooked with beer, bread and a glass of wine (3 sp)
      • Deer stew with cardamom and a glass of red wine (1 sp)
      • Roasted deer, a pint of beer (8 cp)
      • White Dragon Carpaccio dressed with spices and lemon served with a glass of fine Cormanthot elvish wine (7 gp)

The inn is built around a small community in which these are the main figures:

Feston Bargewright – The innkeeper and head of the town. Neutral.

Aldon Bargewright – Head of the Militia, Neutral.

Chanczlatha Luruin – Cleric of Lathander and secretly an harper. Neutral Good.

In this way you keep your stuff clean and you can easily use a research (CTRL+F or CMD+F) to be ready to any question. This is great, but the complexity can diverge if you’re facing larger campaigns That’s whay I moved to the following tool.

  • Scrivener Tool – This is the best tool I actually found on the internet who suits perfectly for an RPG campaign. The real purpose of this software is novel-writing, but it adapts incredibly well to pen-and-paper RPGs. The interface is very simple, you have a nice binder on the left in which you can easily navigate through any document you would ever need and it has a splittable screen that it’s really perfect for dungeon crawling (you can put the map in the upper window and the description of every room in the lower one). It’s a really simple and adaptable tool: here you can see a screenshot of the organization of my stuff for a SIRFP campaign (which is a very good RPG, I’ll talk about it in a future arcticle).

Schermata 2014-12-30 a 11.25.41

  • Roll20 JournalMaybe I shouldn’t include that because Roll20 it’a virtual tabletop and it’s built for online campaign (even if something is going to change), but I think it’s worth mentioning it. Roll20 has a great Journal sistem (you can read about it in the main link), which lets you create some Handouts with two different text entries: one for the players and another one who is GM-Only. The documents can be easily formatted and Archived to leave space to newer ones as they get older. This system is being improved and from their blog we read that they’re developing a feature to create folders and to speed up the whole journal section.

So, in the end, there are a lot of tools you can use and it really depends on the way you play. If I should choose one, I’d probably say Scrivener, but it’s because it suits perfectly for Sandboxing and that’s the kind of game I like the most.

Coming soon: we are cooking Spaghetti for you!

Hello guys,

we haven’t  started our activity as bloggers yet, but we are going to publish some contents as soon as possible. In the meanwhile I can introduce you this blog, so that you know what to expect in the next weeks.

We are two italian guys keen about RPGs and Tabletop games and after having spent almost every moment of our spare time on this hobby, we decided to start writing about it and to share our gaming experiences, homebrew adventures and generic material so to enjoy ourselves and hoping to be useful to some of you. In this page you will read reviews about RPGs products, but most of all you could share your thoughts with us and contribute to enhance this hobby we all learned to love.

A (very rough) outline of what we are going to publish in our first update is:

– An introductive adventure for the 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons

– An adventure for Pathfinder RPG

– Some generic premade and ready-to-use material for RPGs

See you soon!

PS: By clicking on the Facebook and twitter icons on the top-left of the page you can access our pages on the social media. Be sure to subscribe to stay tuned about our activities!