Monthly Archives: December 2009

DMing/GMing in the Abstract

Ah Picaso.... Master of Abstract

First of all, I better get this outta the way—HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Alright, now down to the important shizzy.. role-playing.

Important to Note: These are some blogs or sites that have really aided me in my quest to refine DMing in the Abstract, and also just to continue growing as a DM (RPGBLOGGER Horn toot).

Chatty DM– He’s just the shit, all I got to say about Chatty.
Newbie DM– I may not be a newbie DM (been doing it for over 15 years now), but he’s got some really great advice!
Critical Hits– Dave the Game has great ideas and concepts, and always takes the time to reply to your questions!
Role-playing Tips– Johnn Four is another person who takes the time to give you feed back on questions and ideas! His RPG eZine is awesome, and is PACKED with great DMing info.
Gnome Stew– Great site with some great ideas thrown out there. Keep clear of Telas’s gun though ^_^ Ran by Johnn Four and Mike. Mike goes insanely in-depth in his analysis of the different aspects of role-playing and DMing.
You Meet in a Tavern– A truly great forum. Everyone there is really nice, positive, and gives great feedback about your questions and ideas. I have yet to meet a troll on there.

Alright enough dry humping, onto what I came here to post about.

When I first took up the mantel of DMing, I wrote EVERYTHING out.. Every little piece of information that popped into my head made its way onto paper. Needless to say, my session notes, on average, were about 12 pages, and would last us 2-4 sessions.

An important note: When I started DMing, I had been a drama nerd for a couple years in junior high and was then in high school getting started in the theater department there. While learning acting skills, one of the important lessons drilled into us, was the art of improve, and how and when during a stage production it was appropriate (especially if the actor next to you forgot their lines), and how it can progress the story, and possibly, no one in the audience knows that there was any mistakes.

So I knew that I wanted to really include improving in my games, because I didn’t want to railroad my players. So right from the get-go, I really tried to incorporate improve DMing, or just going off what my players gave me as ammunition, to propel the story forward.

As I continued to DM my notes became shorter and shorter. I also knew, as my schedule became busier I would need to down my prep time.

As far as my notes go now, they are just bulleted points now.

Here’s an example from a previous post:

Here are the notes I have on Cyrian:
Cyrian Gal (Human, Male) Illusionist lvl ?
1. Travel to Aundair to the ruins of Floating university, Cyrain rumored to love that school.
2. Find village that has been put under enchantment by Cyrian.
3. Breaking curse also lifts enchantment on local goblinoid tribe that blames village and attacks.
4. Find way past enchantments that Cyrain has placed.
a. Goblins know of way that will take them past.
5. Face Cyrian Gal.

This is all I had written down for a session, and it lasted 2 sessions (12 hours) due to improving and just going off of what my players gave me. It is also important to note that the actual sessions looked nothing like this, as you can see: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

I have been a big professor of the awesomeness of Dave the Games 5×5 method, and have stated that many times on my blog. I’m pretty sure by this point, Dave is sick of getting ping-backs linked to my site. Oh well… He can deal with one more.

The above example is my use of the 5×5 Method. I love it, I use it. Very little prep, but in thinking within these confines, tons of ideas pop up in your mind, and it gives you a multitude of different avenues to take your adventure down, depending on the actions of your players.


When I first started DMing I did maps in great detail, again with tons of information at the ready, only to have my players thwart the dungeon or compound or whatever, in a very short time (or I’d have players who weren’t BIG dungeon divers and the adventure started to drag).

EVERY so often I get a bug up my butt and still do large dungeons, but I have pretty much left that behind me.

So what do I do now? Two things…

One– I use the 5 Room Dungeon thought up by Johnn Four. This is brilliant. It is simple and it is easy. And as he says it doesn’t HAVE to be just five rooms. It can be more, or even less.. I’ve had dungeons be 10 and 15 rooms.. I just make sure that the key formula is still there.

And as part of this philosophy I now limit my dungeon to one page. I discovered this concept on ChattyDM’s website. It is another great way to keep your prep low, but give you enough detail to make your sessions awesome. Look through the codex, there are a TON of maps already done, btw, for you to use at the ready!

Two– Much of the time I honestly don’t use a map anymore. I have traps bulleted, and a lay them out as I say them come up to a door, or a chest, or a point in the floor. I know the “feel/theme” of my dungeon, so I can describe how it looks, feels, smells, etc.. But I really don’t need a map anymore. I do this because I can make the dungeon go on as “long” as I want if the group is having fun trudging through it, or I can make a “POOF- you are at the X marks the spot moment.” And it works very well.


As I have stated in my Revised House-Ruled Game Mechanics I run monsters a little differently than what is stated in the 3.5 MM.

I used to have my monsters mapped out, all their stats, save throws, etc. And some I honestly still do (boss monsters/encounters). But usually all the numbers or “concepts” are in my head. I know what the DC to make a monster tough should be for its saves against the players and also to resist the player’s spells and abilities. I also have an idea of what would be the damage of an “ouch” ability for the creature and then ones that will be moderate to low damage that the creature will fall back on and use regularly.

The Point?

I just wanted to share how I DM now. I have very little prep time or notes, and I am able to still propel the game along in a compelling (at least I hope) manner. I just want people, especially people new to the DM chair to know that it is possible. It just takes work and the ability to analyze your strengths and weaknesses and improving on them.

Just remember the overall goals:

You should DM for enjoyment. Both for yourself and your players.
The “Say Yes” rule is awesome and really lets the creativity of the players shine! Just don’t be afraid to say NO if it hurts the story or doesn’t compel it forward.

Alright, I’m done rambling!


I’m back… You Missed Me.. I Know You Did..

I’d like to say sorry for my lack of posts last week, but I was on vacation and decided to go into a much needed self-imposed isolation. My g/f is back in Montana visiting family for the holidays, so I had the whole house to myself. I hid away and played Worlds of Warcraft, drank beer, and watched Star Wars IV, V, and VI.. It was awesome. 5 days of bliss.

My last role-playing session was cancelled due to the wonderful amount of snow the fell here in New Jersey and I didn’t want my players driving in that. So that is why I didn’t post a Clockworks session recap. I’m a bad monkey.

Sadly we won’t be doing another “regular” gaming session until February due to people on holiday, and my desire to take a small break from the GM chair to recharge my creative battery.

However there is some good news for recapping

A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away….

On Jan 2nd and 3rd I am running, for a few of my players, a 2 shot, all day, Star Wars campaign. Last year I ran a Star Wars game, and it was intended to be our alternate campaign when we tired of DnD… but.. my male players, not being controlled by the reasoning powers and logic of my female players (Angie and Kinal) who were away for the session, took the game in an entirely new direction that spiraled out of control and into chaos… However, it was fun and we enjoyed ourselves.

Now that the girls are gone again for holiday, we will be doing it again. So I will have a session recap for the all the debauchery that will occur that day.

Still Coming

I will be posting a review of a RPG product by Ike from!

And by next week I am hoping to do a post about how I DM/GM.. Not because I feel the way I do it is better, but maybe give people ideas, or through open discussion, get an idea of how others do it and learn some new tricks.

Till later this week!

Preview- Coming up Next Week!!!

Firstly, I’m FINALLY done with this semester and have a month off! Beautiful! I’ll be able to write more on the blog and work on my PBP game, which has taken a back burner due to the large amount of writing I’ve had to do for class.

So next week my goal is to get to do HOPEFULLY three or more posts.

Coming up next week-

Clockworks Playtest Session Recap

Review of Night Wyrm encounter written by Ike from Unnatural D20. I am very excited to review this!

DMing in the abstract- using very little material.

So keep your eye peeled. My Clockworks Session recap should be up Monday!

My DnD Gaming Mechanics, Revised!!

Firstly.. Yay this is my 102 post of Role-playing goodness! Thank you to everyone who reads my rambling and has contributed advice, ideas, or just reading!

I figured for this post I would go back and update an older post. My Dungeons and Dragons Mechanics! Here is the original post.

These mechanics are a hodgepodge of things I’ve taken from a few sources, mostly DnD 4e, Savage Worlds, and 3.5/Pathfinder.

*It is important to note, I am not a big fan of 4e (this is just my opinion and not knocking on ANYONE who enjoys the game- to each their own), however many of the mechanics of the game I actually like quite a bit and, as such, have incorporated them into my Pathfinder game.
4E Mechanics-

• All characters initiative going up every even level. This makes sense to me. Adventures of level 12 still going at their original +2 (because they don’t have a great dex or imp initiative) just seems very non-epic to me.
o How do you update Monsters from 3.x to reflect the initiative boost? Simple, look at their challenge rating or level advancement, and ½ that. There is their new bonus to initiative. If they have a rapid strike or quick draw feat give em +2 initiative.
• I’ve kept healing surges, to lighten the load on the healers, but they only get 2 + CON Mod (min of +1) healing surges per day.
• Bloodied- I’ve kept bloodied, but when bloodied characters take -2 to all roles, showing that they are becoming fatigued.
• One thing that really annoyed me with 3.x is status effects. These effects are difficult to keep track of. “You are poisoned, feared, etc for 2d4 rounds.” I like 4e use of it goes on the whole encounter, but at the end of your turn, you get a save. I’m keeping that, but using 3.5 saving throws.
• Quick Draw feat gives an additional +2 to Initiative. I like this.
Savage Worlds
• We now reroll initiative every round rather than rolling at the beginning and then the number remains static throughout the encounter. My players constantly were getting frustrated when they would roll really bad in initiative and then sat through a whole combat at really low number when everyone else is going much higher. So I asked them if they would be interested in rerolling initiative each round and everyone agreed.
o In Savage Worlds you use a deck of playing cards and every round the card is collected and each player gets a new one. We did not like using cards because it takes time out of playing gathering them up, reshuffling (if a Joker is drawn) and then dealing them out. I use a d20 (I have to get the d20 involved in Savage Worlds SOMEHOW). A 19-20 is considered a Joker for the purpose of Wild Cards. Also rolling a 5 or below is a reroll for anyone with the quick edge. –End SW Mechanics-

Monster Mods-

One of the things that always got to me about many role-playing games is the length of combat. Something that many GM’s and players have struggled with. To me combat should be fast, furious, deadly (Almost sounds like a Savage Worlds plug here.. And I originally wrote this before I tried Savage Worlds.. heh) without the really striving for TPK. What I decided to do was create a style of “minion” or “mook,” for lack of a better term. They don’t have 1 HP, but can definitely be killed in 1 to 2 hits. To make them more of a threat, I give them a higher initiative, higher attack, and up their damage and saves. So if the creature has an axe that normally does 1d8 damage, I up it to 2 or 3 d8.

The next style of enemy has slightly higher HP and doesn’t do as much damage, but has some tricks up their sleeves that can make them just as nasty, but again, they can go down in 2-4 hits.
Then it goes to mini-boss and boss type creatures. These can be anything- A goblin king, a shambling mound, a chaos beast, or a lich. I look at what the MM says their abilities, stats, etc are, use those as a base, and up or lower damage stats and etc. Usually I do this on the fly and have gotten decently good at providing a challenge for my players.

Action Points-

I like Eberron’s rules for Action Points. You get 3+ your level and they add +#d6 (depending on level) to your attack, save, skill check, ability check rolls when you decided to use one. They come in handy, and allow the players to be exceptional. My players LOVE action points as it has saved their butts repeatedly and AP add an epic cinematic feel to the game.

An Extra Action-

One thing that I hardly see players take advantage of is Blocking or Deflecting a melee attack, grappling (sometimes), or sundering a weapon. Why? I think that this is due to DnD being a battle of HP attrition. Players do not want to sacrifice their attack to try to block or sunder, etc, because they WANT to hit the baddie first and whittle Its HP before It can whittle down theirs.

In my original post I had come up with the concept of Fencing Points, and while it was fun I felt it just added another layer of bookkeeping for the players. Not something I really want.
So I came up with the idea that each player gets an additional action that can be used at any point during the round to be used as a block, deflect, sunder, or grapple. To make the game more epic feeling I’ve also added that it can count as an additional melee attack at the characters base attack bonus. They cannot move to the target, It must be within striking (or ranged- bow or crossbow or throwing) distance.

Simple, not much to keep track of, save the player has to remember to USE it before initiative is rolled otherwise it is lost.
Alright.. So this is my new updated mechanics.
I dropped using 4e powers for my characters, again because it was more record keeping and we found that my players were forgetting to use them, or in all honesty, just “meh” about using it.

Feel free to comment and/or offer feed back on these, just no trolling please. Feel free to borrow or use any of this.
Again, thanks for reading!!

Creating a Homebrew Part 1

The Realm of Chaos

The Bubbling and Brewing

Last week I mentioned that for my upcoming (in the distant future after we finish the current one and we play some Clockworks) DnD game I wanted to do a homebrew world, since it has been quite some time since I have done one.

So I’ve set out to examine what has been really interesting me lately and what I would want to through into the world. I’ve been taking a class this semester on History of the Holocaust and really wanted to draw quite a bit from that.

This is a rough draft of ideas I came up with. I’m debating on how I want to handle religions for the “normal” races. I definitely want some form of Chaos god that they all believe in, but I also want maybe one god to each race that would be from their ancestors, a glimpse into their past.

The evil Totalitarian Githyanki.. Bum Bum Bum

Homebrew Fantasy Campaign
(After Machinations of the Old Sage)


• Shall take place in the Eternal Realm of Chaos
• Use Sundered Skies continents (SW) as a guide. For those unfamiliar with the setting the continents are floating in a vortex of space and travel is done by airship.
• There will be 5 island continents and several smaller islands.
• The Githyanki are an aggressive nation that is committing genocide and aggression against the Githzerai, a peaceful monk race of scholars. Anyone who helps them finds themselves an enemy of the state.
• The group is going to be part of a resistance movement against the established Githyanki government.
• Magic is drawn from the realm of Chaos. Chaos Templar will be the Jedi Class and is something that the Githzerai can pass down. Use of both light side and dark side powers will be allowed. However dark side points will be accumulated. When 10 points have been accumulated a save must be made DC 20. Roll is 1d20 + ½ lvl (minimum of 1). Failure for that day means cannot use ANY Force Powers for that day. Dark side points are cleared through meditation. An hour of meditation every morning. Will check must be made DC Dark side points x2. Success purges 1 point. Tapping into chaos comes with a price. The Chaos Templar also bonds with a weapon melee. Forming the bond takes 24 hour of prayer. This gives the weapon a +2 bonus. If the weapon is destroyed, the Templar cannot bond with another weapon for one month and suffers a -2 to all attack rolls till a new bond is formed.
• Religions-
o Githyanki believe in an Old God, Tulmorfusian, that powers Chaos. They believe that they are the supreme beings chosen by the Old God.
o Githzerai believe in finding harmony within Chaos, and strive to find perfection of body and mind within the realm. The Chaos Templar whom can both tap into chaos and find peace within it is an honored and supreme being.
o Humans- ?
o Dwarves- ?
o Elves- ?
o Half-Orcs- ?
o Gnomes- ?

The peaceful and persecuted Githzerai...

This is it thus far. I shall, as I get more ideas, pop them up on the blog for everyone to give feedback from.

Clockworks Hits 50!

Clockworks webcomic just hit its 50th strip today! I really recommend following along with this awesome comic! It is based on a homebrew Steampunk Game by Shawn Gaston!

I’ve recently started playtesting his setting! Thus far, it has been loads o’ fun! Poke around on my blog, you’ll find previous entries that deal with our playtest!

Clockworks Play-test! The Gentleman Caller Recap

Warning– This contains spoilers of the Gentleman Caller adventure, by Shawn Gaston. Although I will try to keep them to a minimum if possible.

For Chargen- Part 1 and Part 2.

Angie- Jane Goodwin (human/elementalist)
Elmer- Orson Vastol Duran (human)
Drew- Cid Evenblood (human)
John- Noah Walker- (Faeblooded)
Liam- Jean-Claude “Bloody Bones” Zeeman (faeblooded “elf”/wannabe vampire)

Sunday my group and I got to play our first Clockworks session and it went very well.

For this post I will just do highlights or show where things deviated from the module format.

The groups flew through most of the adventure without any hang ups. The only deviations during the investigation part of the adventure was instead of going to a library the group went to the 9th level State Police Station to look at the archives of previous victims.

I had to make a quick decision here because the library aspect of the adventure has a way for the group to find out about the Urban Legend of the Gentleman Caller. I did not want to have to take time having the group go to the library for just this. I decided that if the a member of the group rolled two raises on investigation, they would discover a report that described the urban legend in brief detail, that it was mentioned on some level by the previous victims, either in poem, or in a quote by someone the victim had known.

This worked very well to get the GC info to my group.

A Hunting We Shall Go

When the group got to the 2nd level of Clorencia City, now hunting the GC, they ran into the Faeblooded Gang who was threatening violence if they did not receive a sum of money.

(Enter Side Note– I have decided to move away from actual money. Instead I have a wealth skill. In my DnD game it is 1d20 plus ½ your level to show your character getting more wealthy as they become more heroic. In my Savage Worlds game it is a skill that can be purchased. If you do not have it, it is treated like any untrained skill 1d4-2, and shows that you are poor or have a hard time controlling your finances.)

Elmer’s character, is very wealthy, rolled a wealth check and succeeded pretty well. He offered 600 marks if they gangers would offer any info on the GC urban legend. The gangers blanched and became nervous. They divulged that they know where he lives and that no one goes there.. Suddenly it dawns on the party.. Oh shit.. He’s real.

The gang is asked if they would show the group where he lives. They said they would take them half way, and no further. This did a good job of scaring my players. What the hell could have 15 fully armed gangers so frightened.

The group continued after the gangers left them behind and discovered the school where the GC lurked.

The group decided it would be foolish to go into the beings lair and decided to recite the poem outside in the open. Props to them.

Liam bit the bullet… after we made fun of him- he’s a big brawny Faeblooded and he kept trying to instigate plans of action that would lead to conflict, but when it came time to throw down, he always suggested someone else take the risk.. So we made fun of him.. he finally stepped up to bat.

Suddenly Liam’s character feels an arrow fly by his ears as Angie shot at him, a near miss. (I had the GC use his puppet power on her). Then suddenly the GC appeared behind Liam and took a swing at him with his large jagged knife.

The fight went pretty quick and reintroduced the deadliness of Savage Worlds combat to my players.

The fight ended, after my spending all my bennies to soak, with the culmination of two claw swipes by Liam and Elmer’s bodyguard opening up a world o’ pain with a shotgun blast to the chest.

We had to end it here since it was 10pm. When we start next session I will wrap up the adventure, and we shall continue on with the next adventure.

Some Quick Funny Moments

When group was a the school questioning Allia’s friends about any pertinent info, Liam’s character, who now apparently has a phobia or something for blossoming young women, crouched and hid in the corner away from them… I think we all learned something about Liam’s psyche last night.

John used his weird science skill to create a PKE (Ghostbusters) meter to sniff out weird science or elementalists. It had the snout of a dog on the end and a meter that went left for weird science and right for elementalists. The more powerful, the further along the needle tipped. The nose made loud sniffing noises (we joked that using this will negate sneaking around).

When the group was at the victims house looking around John decided to break out his sniffer and examine the room. Suddenly the needle started pointing towards elementalist.

Angie’s character got nervous since she is hiding that she is a water elementalist.

Angie: Umm.. Hm… I.. I wonder what if there are any clues in the other rooms!

She quickly exits and the needle goes directly to zero

John: (Looks at the door Angie left through) I have a theory.

It was a great session and we had a lot of fun. My compliments to Shawn for crafting a great module. I’m now looking forward to crafting my own adventures now!

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