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Two Thorns in the Grand Lion’s Paw

AAW-SonicCicada-colors01Creature design can be a tough road to walk and even the most seasoned, stalwart player can lose their nerve when their nefarious monster brings them low.

This isn’t a sign that either one of you is necessarily doing anything wrong; as far as I’m concerned, it means that you’re about to crest the wave of serious immersion. Drama is high and there is a real, palpable danger to the PCs and if they aren’t preparing their things to go home, you’ve done it and you’re riding the wave.

How do you stay on the board? Weaknesses: one generalized and (to get unique) one rare.

 

My favorite example of this is from the Paizo core rules – take a look at the Jabberwock—specifically, DR 15/Vorpal and cold vulnerability.
That’s pretty specific and you know what? That’s great. A dedicated party of high-level adventurers would still be able to drop this creature, whether properly equipped for the task or not. The latter will prove to be a real challenge, but the former won’t be a pushover.

 

If you’re making any monsters yourself (and you should be – always throw a curve ball at your players) take a note from the Jabberwock.pyro

This creature brings into focus one of the principal elements in monster design. It’s clearly in the realm of high-level encounters, and it shows without having to read the slew of offensive abilities at its disposal. Following the progression of the Pathfinder Monster Creation Rules, its hit points, AC and saves fit the bill and are on average what they ought to be, so why the weaknesses?

 

The answer is a simple one: high-level encounters mean high-level abilities and powers.

A formidable, high-level combat-proficient PC (barbarians, fighters, paladins, rangers and rogues) will unleash a considerable amount of damage each round from weapons, chipping away at that stack of hit points with a fair amount of success (at that point, the frequency of critical hits rises quite a bit). Without a truly effective form of damage reduction—take a seat, adamantine—the Jabberwock will fall far sooner than any GM is going to be happy about. If a potent spellcaster is around, this wonderful “dragon” would be biting the dust if it wasn’t loaded with resistances.

 

The specificity of the vorpal enchantment means that the PCs are unlikely to have more than one or perhaps two weapons capable of completely ignoring it’s physical buffer, and the resistances (at double the value of the DR) do the same for magical attacks—any lower level spells, like fireball, are going to be practically ignored unless they produce a cold effect.

 

Gremlin final cropMonsters like the Jabberwock are unique examples of truly creative design work. This one creature can easily occupy a huge number of opponents, withstand the attacks of fell foes, while still possessing an attainable Achilles’ heel to reward the smart, prepared adventurer.

 

If you’re making a mid- or high-level monster, make sure to learn the lesson of the Jabberwock – prepare for the worst (buffer) and hope for the best (selective and generalized weakness).

[Hey, did you know I have a twitter account? The myths are true. -MM]

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A Simple 5-Step Approach for Complex Characters

A couple of weeks ago we got quite a response to an article (10 Ways to Run a Better Tabletop Game) and several folks responded with how they implement in-depth character creation—thank you! One of these approaches is so simple that its originator, John Hughes, broke it into a simple sketch. His thoughts on that area of game design are below. Enjoy! 

Image_Portfolio_104_Fantasy Jason Walton 60It’s never easy coming up with a character concept—knowing your character’s goals, hopes, quirks and foibles. Too often we ignore the intangible qualities of our imagined hero and focus on the mechanics of the numbers and abilities instead. During a World of Darkness campaign, a dear friend (but lackluster roleplayer) came up to me one day, proclaiming proudly, “I’ve got a new character concept for a vampire: Dominate plus Telepathy.”

That’s not a concept—that’s two powers strung together—and while that might be the extreme of mistaking mechanics for personality, I believe that all of us occasionally make this trade-off. Whether the setting is a casual pick-up game or a convention event, when faced with a different group at the table and a new piece of paper in hand, the temptation as the player to develop only a cursory profile can be overwhelming. Additionally, other players might enjoy the game for the sake of the combat and don’t want to divert time and effort into fleshing out their creation.

Over time, I’ve developed simple steps that, regardless of playing style, encourages quick but meaningful examination of a hero that more fully invests players in their creations.

 

Step 1: Five AdjectivesA PC in 5 parts
The first step is to come up with five adjectives to describe your character; the idea is not to just develop a string of five words from the same category: e.g. physical traits like strong, swift, lithe, nimble and sure-footed. Without variety, five adjectives are no better than one. Instead pick one word from each of the following five categories to give a character instant depth:

Past     This should describe something about how the character arrived at today.

  • Where did they come from?
  • How did training or other major events change and shape them?
  • What was their family situation (or lack thereof) and how did it affect their adolescence?

Future     You have one word describing the hero’s formative experience, now imagine the more aspirational facets of this individual.

  • How do they want to be remembered
  • What word best describes what this character hopes to do?
  • What mark do they want to leave or what role would they like to fulfill?

Image_Portfolio_1.27_Fantasy Romans-Robots 01Self     Bringing the time vista back to the present, now we’ll look inward.

  • What word best describes the character in behavior, philosophy, or appearance?
  • Is this a way the hero presents themselves as a facade, or does this represent a true personality facet?

 

Others     Look around the hero and empathize with how they must feel about the world.

  • What word best describes what your character think about others? (The definition of others could be other tribes, races, traditional enemies, close allies, nations, classes, alignments, religions.)
  • How does your character treat them?
  • What does the hero expect outsiders to think upon meeting?

Stuff     How an individual deals with other people can be completely different from how they deal with objects.

  • What word best describes the character’s relation to goods, services and social bearing?
  • Do they show an interest in tangible objects like weapons or wealth?
  • Does the character prefer intangibles like fame or power?

Gary Dupuis - Kargrin-CRemember, the quality of adjectives count! Why be “happy” when you can be cheerful, joyful, enthusiastic or even maniacal? This step is a great opportunity to break out those words you only memorized for the SAT; you may never use “nonagenarian” in a sentence, but it could be the perfect word for your wizard, who might also be decrepit or wizened (assuming your wizard is a human—for an elven wizard, “nonagenarian” is the equivalent to immature or untried.)

Don’t be afraid to try unconventional words for your concept! Many people can see a cleric as devout, but what if hanging around the temple all the time instead has made the disciple ingratiating or even sycophantic? Words with greater context or specific meaning will produce a more concrete vision of the character from this exercise.

Step 2: Draw Your Character
When describing the five areas above, I’ll draw little pictures to help visualize what I mean—I also draw in an effort to overcome any resistance or fear of this next step. This part of the exercise tends to draw heavily on the class, armor, or weapon of a character, so in some ways the illustration serves only to reinforce the role of those mechanics. Nonetheless, by encouraging the players to draw the character, the image triggers other areas of the brain, giving visual context to both the adjectives and the mechanics. The drawing doesn’t have to be great or even good, but encourage the player to try—the rewards are immediate and the practice makes the next time easier.

Note: I can’t claim to have devised this step entirely on my own—I came across a version of this idea in On The Edge by Jonathan Tweet and have been using it for two decades.

Elve_ThiefI discourage names from movies or books when players flesh out the last part of the character. An original name reinforces ownership of the hero—names like Bob or Fred can disrupt the fantasy mood—so put some effort into a plausibly authentic name.

Hopefully this quick, easy exercise will help make characters more interesting for both you and your companions during your next adventure!

 

Submitted by Jonathan Hughes [who also submitted these pictures as examples]
[Edited by Mike Myler]

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3 Approaches to Improbability

0655-FrancisGrose-1208x1060Sometimes the dice abandon us. This doesn’t pose a huge problem to GMs – we can conjure more creatures or challenges into the story to make sure it remains an adventure rather than a cakewalk. No, the problem with improbability that I’m tackling today is those few cursed ones utterly bereft of fortune. Those players that constantly roll 1s, that never break the 10 on a d20 in three consecutive games and for whatever reason, simply defy the nature of probability. 
Nearly every game I’ve played in enjoys a house rule to compensate for these situations in some form or another (something I’ve had to do away with for playtest balance). The options being digested here are as follows: objects of fate, depleting powers and the Luck attribute.

 

Orc-BeserkerObjects of Fate

The first of these are things that players can get easily within the core rules and are a good solution for the luckless member of a group, but should be granted carefully – some are extremely valuable and if the PC passes away in a situation where their equipment is not compromised, it can become problematic. Stick to the lower level roll manipulation magic items and don’t get overzealous about it. This also, of course, can be very frustrating for other players and the last thing a GM needs to be handed is a group with multiple rerolls for each and every member; its tedious and your game is going to ultimately suffer for having such a wide breadth of consequence evasion. While I love the Deck of Many Things, the fact of the matter is that it’s a really good time because the randomness inherent can be vastly unbalancing (with joyous, dramatic, stunned and horrified expressions, as well as everything inbetween). I’m a perfect example of the kind of player that really enjoys those kinds of game tools because they never seem to sour on me – I walk away with 5 wishes or some other unbalancing element that aggravates all my companions, who more often than not have suffered a grievous loss.

 

Depleting Powers

The second option is something I’ve referred to before and is definitely a dangerous terrain to cross. If you choose to go this route, I recommend using either the rules given (for Pathfinder, just make them play a halfling with the adaptable luck racial trait) or to model your own off of them. If you’re using 3.5, I can tell you from personal experience as a player who enjoyed the Auspician class – it is to be avoided by all but the truly cursed (or at the very least, watered down). That class can be a game changer in a very serious way and if you’re not any good for quick improvisation or seamlessly weaving unexpected elements into your story,  consider banning it.

 

KaleLuck as an Attribute

Luck, as a seventh attribute, is my preferred and favorite way to bring some ‘entropy’ into the mix for die rolls. In the days of yore, before I had to adhere to Pathfinder Core Rules for everything, this was what I used for my home games. Everybody gets one (I preferred them to be at 12 or above) and this replaces The 2 Rule. “You’re about to lose your grip, but the plate guarding your arm snags the rope, giving you the instant of relief needed to regain your resolve and hang on for dear life!”

If it’s getting really god awful, allow the PC to make a saving throw (determined by how generally improbable their request is, but usually a DC 10) that will grant them a reroll on the original check. Sometimes (for those truly lucky players that net an attribute score of 18) this is going to get out of hand, but there’s a solution for that as well: either give major NPCs a Luck attribute of their own, or keep a “Karma” or “Fate” track and make sure that eventually, the PCs achieve balance with all their rerolls (having to make saves to avoid rerolling the checks you really want to hit them with).

 

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Jonathan G. Nelson talks Adventure-A-Week on Gamer Lifestyle!

Want to know what it’s like to run AdventureAWeek.com?

Check out this episode of Gamer Lifestyle, where the inimitable Jonathan Nelson breaks it down for Johnn Four (of Gamer-Lifestyle) and Brian “Fitz” Fitzpatrick (of Moebius Adventures)!

jonathan crew picJonathan tells all – the struggle to get started, the Do’s and Don’t’s of publishing, what programs and services are the best value for what AdventureAWeek.com provides, how to get started in the gaming industry, the pressures of publishing the hardcover monster that is Rise of the Drow – it’s all inside this interview.

If you just want the really good stuff, where he plugs me, check out the last 5 minutes.  ; ) -Mike

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10 Ways to Run a Better Tabletop Game

Human BooksWe’re keeping it quick and clean this week; enjoy these suggestions on how to run a tighter tabletop game and then get ready for Halloween!

 

1. Get a GM Screen.

Don’t want to spend any money on one with some sweet artwork? Fine – put together some simple word documents, print them out and use two manila storage folders (or some cardboard for the super-thrifty) to make your own. Not only will the quick reference material prove essential, but this keeps anyone with prying eyes (including those you most love and trust, apparently) from seeing the hit point totals of a creature or what an NPC’s roll for a Bluff check was.

2. Keep a Running Cast List

Do you remember that surly bartender from the inn way back at 2nd level? I bet the PC he refused to serve does, and you don’t want to give away any indication that you don’t. Make a Running Cast List and every time you hand out a name, write it down (and include a short stat block or a note or two about what the NPC is about).

 

Vikmordere Ship3. Let the Players Captain the Ship

Nobody likes throwing out hours of design and development, but you have to remember that tabletop roleplaying is a collaborative engagement. If you wrote up a campaign for the great north, but they absolutely refuse to go there, then don’t. Go ahead and provide incentive to steer them where you intended, but if they insist, make those obstacles into an adventure all their own until you can adapt what you’ve got or present something different for your players to sink their teeth into.

 

4. Snacks

Everybody loves snacks.

 

5. Ambiance

I’m not saying that you have to game in a dark basement, but you should try to. Whenever possible, have some background music or sound effects playing. If they’re in the swamp, get some chirping crickets, or if in a cathedral, get some chanting from somewhere. The effect this has on a group is readily apparent for something so easy to provide.

 

Unloading the Ship6. Voice Acting

Even if you aren’t any good at it, you should be doing this. You are the game world – bring it to life. If nothing else, it makes it easier for PCs to differentiate who’s who in a multiple NPC conversation without breaking character and provides both the GM and the group a mnemonic device to remember that fictional individual.

 

7.  The 2 Rule

This guy comes straight from the mouths of some of Paizo’s very best. It’s a general, situation-based bonus/penalty to ensure game fluidity. Find some reason for why the PC would have failed or succeeded on the check, then dole out those one or two integers to make the story move along. More details on that in the link above.

 

8. Play to the Entire Crowd

Obviously the party bard will take second seat in some combat situations, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be busy. Make sure that your encounters are keeping the attention of all the players – if they aren’t, include a lesser enemy to harry them and increase the drama. If their contributions aren’t needed for victory, they aren’t going to feel compelled to make them.

 

Snowy Forest9. Keep Random Encounters Random

Don’t stop doing them entirely, make sure to scale them (to a degree – some ambitious and overzealous goblins can be just that) and don’t make them predictable or a constant occurrence. Not all of them need to be monsters either – earthquakes, hail and freak snowstorms happen.

 

10. Have Fun!
Make sure to enjoy yourself! Happiness and good times are contagious – if you’re engaged, focused and excited, your players will be as well.


 

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Confessions of an Evil GM: Boring vs. Evil

rotd-diceA few weeks ago I went on about fudging dice rolls; Brian Wiborg Monster had so much to say about it, he’s getting an entire post.

Enjoy, folks. -Mike

 

 “The boulder crushes you underneath and you take 50 points of damage.”

Ahhrrww I am dead then, well I guess I have to roll up a new…”

What, no, wait, you only take 12 points of damage.”

Oh then, I’m still up”

The above exchange between a GM and player exemplifies everything I hate about fudging dice rolls, even if the convention can be necessary to keep the game going. Fudging to keep a character alive can be essential, but when a weak GM takes away the thrill and excitement from the game it is wrong on so many levels.

 

medieval-fashion-1We all love playing in extended games, but most of us have stumbled upon a campaign or GM where something is off. We can’t quite put our finger on it…until someone avoids certain death by blatant interference from the GM (oh no, I ended up in one of those boring campaigns where you can’t die!) Now I know we have seen games where the GM plays favorites, but that subject is for another day; this is purely about campaigns where the characters are immortal because the GM is afraid to let anyone die.

It takes away from the excitement and tension; if my character can’t die, why should I even think about his actions? Without real consequences, he’ll just do everything on a whim. We will never run or surrender, just keep fighting against overwhelming odds (because we know the GM will save us). I must say, I despise it.

 

All this rambling leads me to the sentiment that I am an evil GM. Or am I? Perhaps instead I’m a GM that runs campaigns where actions have consequences (balanced consequences I like to think).

witch

I recall an occasion where I used an unconscious character as a hostage – I gave her back, but by then she was bound to a lit witch’s pyre while an evil psyker directed mobs to block the remaining characters’ from reaching her, with screams of “burn the witch” echoing down the alleyways.

This was set on a pleasure planet in a certain dark future of mankind setting (Where there is only war! -MM). Should the character have died horribly? Yes, she should have. That would have made me evil, but details ensured her survival. First, the group really worked well together to rescue her. Secondly, the planet was in lockdown due to a festival (yeah you know the adventure now, don’t you?) that would have made it difficult to get a replacement character. Thirdly, I was having a good day! No, seriously, the group worked together and legitimately saved the character.

 

In said campaign, a few rules were made painfully clear when playing with me as a GM:

1) Don’t split the party.

2) Don’t run down dark corridors on your own, unless you want to spend the rest of the session doped up on painkillers to function after your chest has been shredded by combat shotguns fired from ambush.

3) Don’t trust a clergyman, ever.

4) Don’t split the party. Never ever.

horse-pictures-24

Now I might add, forget rule #1 and #4, because if I want you to split up, it will happen. It is my experience that the coolest things happen when the party is divided, because those times are the most risky in terms of character death and maiming. With that said, it is important to remember that the rewards in those situations should be higher as well.

Sneaking alone after an informant to a clandestine meeting is dangerous, but learning where the identity of other members of the cult makes the risk worth it. Being discovered eavesdropping on a secret cult meeting will most likely result in a ritual sacrifice to send a message, with you being that sacrifice, unless you run and run fast.

Evil? Yes.

Fun and exciting? Yes.

Boring? No way.

  

To sum everything up:

-Don’t be afraid to kill characters. It keep players excited and interested in their own charges as well as those of the rest of the group.

-Don’t kill just for the sake of it. Say to yourself, “What would BBEG (big bad evil guy – MM) do to a hostage at this point in his plan?”, and act accordingly. It is not a James Bond flick where the BBEG traps the hero, explains his grand scheme and how the hero could theoretically stop him, all the while laughing like a madman.

-The players should not necessarily fear you, but they should fear certain things in an environment, a name, a place, or a situation.

forest picture

If they end up hating you for my ramblings, or should you find them useful, remember one thing:

Oderint Dum Metuant

Let them hate, so long as they fear

 

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Confessions of an Evil GM: Sandbox vs. Railroading

B1_map_GMWhen I started playing RPGs, railroading was the only way ahead. Then something called a sandbox came along. I initially thought, “isn’t that where children play and cats do their business?” That’s only partly accurate; sandbox design is a way of making the campaign world more alive.

More alive? I just wanted to kill things with my character. Still, over time I came to love the new, open worlds previously unavailable to me – it was mind-blowing just thinking that I could go anywhere. I ultimately found sandbox design to be amazing and used (or perhaps abused) it for years. I went off the track just because it was expected that I could, and I could have been a better player if I hadn’t.

To this day I still expect a GM to know the proprietor of every tavern in the campaign setting. Now that I’ve taken up the gamemastering reigns myself, my views on the sandbox approach have changed…or have they?

renaissance-clothing-5Let’s consider it against its most polar counterpart: railroading.

I hate pure sandbox; learning everything in a campaign setting by heart? No thank you. Because I have a life, you ask? No, because there are too many cool campaign settings for me to reasonably do that (although I might add that I do have a life). For me the sandbox is of infinite size, both as a player and a GM. The player side of me loves the opportunities, but the GM part of my brain despises it, as the party can run everywhere and expect you to be prepared. This might be because my players are an evil lot, but in my opinion it is because if you give them a possibility, they will seize it. I know I would, so it is only fair that they do so when I’m the GM.

To combat the infinite size of the sandbox, I turned back to railroading. As we played around in the sandbox, we discovered the failings of railroading; it was restrictive and often proved to an impediment rather than aid to the GM. Basically, there’s a good way of railroading, and there is the bad way of doing it. Let me give you examples of both.

Morsain Castle interiorThe wrong way:

The party is summoned to the count’s castle. A railroading trick, the players are summoned by a powerful NPC so that no one tries anything, because the NPC is so powerful.

You must go to X and before the next full moon. Another trick, make sure the distance and time given allows for no or little leeway.

Carry this treasure/ransom/document to X. Make sure the item in question is so valuable that the party will not take any chance that might endanger the item.

Arrive at X, and sit in an antimagicfield and watch the villains take off with the ransom. This is the result of bad railroading; now we can wait until next time, where we will be sent off to somewhere else.

Did this actually happen to me? Yes, and I hated it; it was boring and restrictive.

The right way:

THE TORESTUS FULLGive the players an awesome handout. A map, a prophecy, or a book, if you are so inclined (I am looking at you Mike Myler, giving them a book, talk about raising the stakes for the rest of us.) Seriously with a handout like a map you can control their most likely path of travel (and compensate for going off the trail) and the same goes for a prophecy; any handout that controls some of or any part of their whole journey will help you narrow down your sandbox, which will help you make the passage to the destination more believable. You can prepare a few encounters and read up on the most likely towns they will visit, thereby making sandboxing a breeze.

I must admit that I don’t make handouts for all campaigns, but putting together an intriguing verse or prophecy gets easier with practice.

Checklist for a successful sandbox campaign:

1) Get familiar with or prepare a couple of backwater villages, including a small inn where the party can stay should they go too far from the path.

2) A list of names for quickly naming minor NPCs, so we can avoid the Hanson family of farmers, and the brothers Jonas.

3) You should know where the clerics that are capable of raising and resurrecting are located in the world – there is no free resurrection in every little village.

4) A list of rumors with details conveniently located on or close to the path you want the PCs to take.

medieval-age-2

5) Lists of the various city guards and mages might come in handy as well.

 To sum up my ramblings:

Narrow down the sandbox.

Use an awesome handout (prophecy, map or otherwise) to influence the PCs path.

Prepare lists of useful details for the campaign.

Submitted by Brian Wiborg Monster

[Edited by Mike Myler]

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Slapping your Players

As a rule of thumb I’m a kind GM; as I’ve stated previously, I think roleplaying should fundamentally be a positive, empowering experience for the people involved. This motivation comes from a desire to see the storytelling process along and doesn’t force players to invest themselves, it invites them to.

Sometimes, though, you should slap your players in the face.

Not literally, of course (well, maybe if the circumstances truly warrant it) but ultimately in the more metaphorical sense. In my ‘house projects’ the party may as well be superheroes – they have to fight to win, and sometimes it may look like they’ll lose, but they’re the prime motivators of the story and the world exists around them, not separately. Total Party Kills are not part of the agenda.

This week I’ve been designing things for two companies (*cough, fantasyflight, cough, froggod, cough*) and they do not play by my aesthetic rules. One of them specifically says, “This should be really, really hard.”

My box needed to be stepped out of and to that end, this weekend we did our first playtest of some of that material; there were a few things that went down which really stood out to me as important.

Today, we’re going to discuss sowing paranoia among your players; not just making their characters scared, but actually scaring them.

You can see how I prefer to go about that by checking out the upcoming Mysterious Peaks of Baranthar (I promise this is my only plug for that!), but there are ways to do it that do not require you to adhere to any specific story element, setting or theme.

Here’s what I noticed worked very well in that regard:

fantasy-tavern-31) Apologize when they arrive to game.

Keep a grin on your face, explain that there’s a good chance somebody is going to die, and otherwise keep your cool. This is the time to take advantage of meta-gamers; only one of my players didn’t take any bite off that hook and I commend him for it (props to Jack – somebody is getting extra loot). If they seem totally unimpressed by this subtly played ploy (and please, be genial when you go about it, not condescending), you’ve got your work cut out for you.

2) Sow the seeds of fear.

If you know that there’ll be talk between players prior to game, seed a festering thought in their minds sometime during the week before you sit down to play.  I promise, what they imagine is going to happen to their beloved character is going to be far worse than whatever you have in store.

 

medieval-people-13) Divide and Conquer

Take them away from the table to speak with each player exclusively as often as you can justify doing so. This will have the same effect as the previous point; we are playing games of imagination, aren’t we?

 

4) Avoid maniacal laughter. 

Don’t deny it – we all love doing it, and there’s absolutely a time for it, but resist the urge. Cackling is not only unattractive, it’s offensive. This is not to say that you should not laugh – by all means, a well placed chuckle can do far more to incite fear than a dubious booming retort. Just make sure to be considerate about when and how you go about it. Quietly mumbling, “ohohohohoho, I forgot about thaaaaat,” isn’t just more rewarding, it’s more effective.

5) Get graphic. 

Don’t shy away from dark, vivid descriptions; don’t say, “the axe head has lots of blood on it,” instead say, “the head of the axe is encrusted with the dried blood of those long dead, making the new bits of flesh adorning the sharp edge all the more vibrant.” Force them to envision it in their heads.

 

Beauty & Blood6) Make it difficult.

Just because the creature they are fighting is an animal does not mean it cannot use tactics – check out wolves or their many cousins. Force them into tough positions and if you notice ‘stop and sleeps’ becoming an all too regular pattern – and this one kind of breaks off my initial goal of avoiding messing with story/character elements – throw something unavoidable at them. Earthquakes, forest fires, animal stampedes; some of these things just happen and have no Snidely Whiplash to blame. Their search for a cause could become a hazard in itself if you like, but play the whole thing out like there really is something awry – don’t just tell them, “it’s obviously a natural effect”, just imply it.

 

 

 

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IRONWALL GAP MUST HOLD – Interview with author Jachob Michael

cover1. Why should I read Ironwall Gap Must Hold?

Because instead of a traditional trip into a dungeon to find treasure, or a mystery to stop a deranged killer in town, the PCs find themselves in charge of an entire fort, which they have to lead to victory against an army that vastly outnumbers them (using the new mass combat rules in Paizo’s Ultimate Campaign sourcebook). Also, orcs shouldn’t be low-level fodder and in this adventure, they’re a deadly, overwhelming force arrayed against the PCs.

2. What makes Ironwall Gap Must Hold unique?

Unlike most adventures, the PCs aren’t primarily going out adventuring or solving a mystery. Instead, they’re playing the role of defenders of the “dungeon,” giving an experience unlike most modules. It gives them the chance to turn the tables on the monsters, setting up traps and defenses and letting the threats fight their way to them.

3. What neat stuff is in Ironwall Gap Must Hold?

Catapults! An orc horde! a 30-foot-tall new monster! A fully fleshed out mountain pass fortress! A new magic item that can turn your enemies against each other (or do the same to the PCs, in the hands of a cruel GM)! Plus, lots of use of the new mass combat rules in Paizo’s “Ultimate Campaign” sourcebook!

4. Which part of Ironwall Gap Must Hold was the most fun to design?

I really enjoyed devising the orcs’ tactics for assaulting the fort, especially with the way they interact with the mass combat rules. The orc horde certainly rushes forward in all-out attempts to take the wall by sheer force, but the enemy is smart enough to use subterfuge too. If the PCs aren’t ready, plenty of dire consequences wait for them, and they could soon find their forces routed and orcs pouring through the gap.

beard bro5. Is there a specific part of Ironwall Gap Must Hold that you identify as your favorite?

I feel like that’s equivalent to asking if a specific part of my dog is my favorite. I love all of her (the dog) and it (the module)! More seriously, I think I’m most pleased with the role-playing aspects. There are a lot of difficulties that can be solved through role-playing and fully fleshed-out NPCs, both as allies and adversaries, to interact with. I like that the NPCs have their own stories going on, which inform and shape their roles in the adventure.

6. What kind of gameplay was the focus for Ironwall Gap Must Hold?

I don’t focus on a specific type of gameplay, as I think a good adventure should have elements of everything. In addition to the previously mentioned role-playing possibilities, there are a couple mysteries to solve, some sandbox-style exploration, a variety of monsters to fight, and mass combats where you must lead your small garrison against the massive horde of orcs.

7. Did you have any inspiration for Ironwall Gap Must Hold?

One of my favorite memories as a younger player was our party having to retreat to a house deep in the woods and set up traps as we prepared for a coming enemy. I no longer recall why we couldn’t keep running, but I had so much fun digging our own spiked pits and getting to play “defense.” Ironwall Gap is intended to do that, albeit on a larger scale. It also takes inspiration from any number of siege stories/seemingly hopeless battles, particularly Jim Butcher’s “Cursor’s Fury” and the battle of Helm’s Deep from Peter Jackson’s movie adaption of “Lord of the Rings.”

8. If any theme dominated Ironwall Gap Must Hold, what would it be?

Holding out against overwhelming odds, with hundreds of lives depending on your actions. This is a fight not for treasure or secrets, but survival.

armydill9. Are there any particularly interesting monsters or NPCs in Ironwall Gap Must Hold?

The PCs get to know several interesting NPCs in the fort. With a hundred soldiers under incredible pressure, not all of them react well to the situation and some are even partly responsible for the chaos in the garrison. PCs also get a chance to meet at least one of the orc leaders, putting a personal face on the enemy. Finally, a throckha — a new, Colossal beast with the ability to smash through stone and metal — will test the very limits of the fort’s defenses and the PCs’ own mettle.

10. What part of Ironwall Gap Must Hold did your playtesters enjoy most?

They really enjoyed the basic setup itself of the module, with themselves being put in charge of this border fortress and having to lead a garrison against a vastly larger force.

11. Is there a specific scenario in Ironwall Gap Must Hold that is going to stick with me?

I think the climactic battle should be a good challenge, with several different enemies harrying the PCs. Another scene, sort of a “charge of the light brigade” action — which ironically only happens if the PCs fail in their attempts to avert it — really grew on me through development of the module. I’m excited to hear about players’ experiences as they’re forced to abandon the protection of the fort’s walls to rescue some of their soldiers from disaster.

12. In one sentence, what can I expect from Ironwall Gap Must Hold?

A thrilling, non-traditional adventure pitting the PCs into a desperate, last stand against the forces of evil, chaos and destruction.

Jacob W. Michaels’ earliest memories of gaming are from 30 years ago, when he was introduced to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in the third grade, filling in blue dice with a marking crayon before looking for laser guns in Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Since then, he’s played and run countless games, enjoying Champions, Shadowrun, Toon, Gamma World, Battletech, TMNT, Torg, Talislanta, Marvel Super Heroes, Vampire: The Masquerade and even several home-made games, but always coming back to the sword and sorcery genre: Dungeons & Dragons for many years and more recently Pathfinder.

His beginning steps in designing games for a wider audience than the friends in his gaming group came at the end of 2011, when he decided to throw his hat in the ring for Paizo’s RPG Superstar 2012 contest. His haunting glass was a popular choice among the judges and his second-round entry, the Unfettered, garnered popular acclaim during public voting. (His Round 3 monster won’t be mentioned here, as he’s still trying to live it down.) He’s incredibly excited to have his first module, Ironwall Gap Must Hold, published with Adventureaweek.com.

When he’s not gaming, Jacob’s a newspaper copy editor in eastern Pennsylvania. He lives with his faithful hound, Holiday, who hasn’t inherited his interest in gaming, but enjoys when her dog friends come over during games. His parents and younger sister have always been supportive of his hobby since his earliest days playing in New Hampshire, and he appreciates his girlfriend’s encouragement, even if her reaction to watching her first (and only) gaming session was “there are some things you can never unsee.”