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Meta Thursday: Isolate Don’t Incapacitate

isolateWhile doing my first ever seminar panel at Aethercon [available here! -MM], I stumbled on a great, simplification of a principle that applies equally well to both monster design and game design in general: isolate don’t incapacitate.

My favorite example of this is the temporal filcher, specifically the time filch ability. This wonderful grappler snatches up an opponent, and the two disappear from time for 7 minutes. Toss in one per party member and you’ve just created a dynamic fighting space using time, with one-on-one combat that lets each player get a moment to shine.
Of course not everybody is ready to be filched! Maybe psionics aren’t a part of your game, your players aren’t a suitable level, or it doesn’t fit your style of play—that’s alright! You can use terrain, magic (or its equivalent), and different objectives to do the same thing!

GladiatorOne of my favorite games was one where I was a player; D’thul [if you’re thinking, ‘from Rise of the Drow?’ you are quite right. -MM] fought in a gladiator arena composed of platforms. Meanwhile another ally in the stands was dumping potions of true strike down the gullet of their marksman buddy, who in turn was flicking poisoned shards of glass at Dthul’s opponent. All while another party member was listening in on important discussions in the crowd, and another prepared an ambush for one of our quarry.
It was epic and unforgettable, for two reasons: first, D’thul very nearly lost his life, climbing out of an acid pit with 1 hit point and watching the head gladiator die beneath him; second, everybody was extremely engaged with the game and indeed the fight, but there was still active participation on the part of the entire party.

1) Terrain
Difficult terrain can do the trick, but what about really employing some true obstacles? Perhaps the party’s enemy has prepared nearby trees to fall when struck, cutting allies off from one another, or chose a battlefield with a natural hazard to do the same. While we are indeed talking about a game with inherent teamwork, it can be extremely exciting  to use the battlemap to force natural divisions between PCs, making them take to the fight on their own rather than as a group

Image_Portfolio_102_Fantasy Jason Walton 302) Magic
This is along the same lines as the temporal filcher but is a troublesome route—depending on what methods are used to get the desired effect, the PCs may rightly employ the same means to negate the whole thing! This is, of course, where conjuration effects are going to serve you best.

3) Different Objectives
As illustrated in the story above, making sure everyone has a role to play can be just as important as having the right monster for the fight! There’s rarely complete balance in a combat, and one individual will end up taking the spotlight, but that doesn’t need to be the only spotlight.

All of these can easily be used within the Lands of Ludolog! Terrain naturally plays a huge role in the 2-Bit Dimension, magic is constantly at work (and GMs are strongly encouraged to make use of more invisible walls of force as they see fit!), and having simultaneous goals to finish a miniworld should be quite common.

Just remember: stunning and paralysis can be a great tool, but nobody wants to spend a fight on the sidelines because of one bad saving throw!

Isolate don’t incapacitate!

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Featured Artists: Mates Laurentiu

Mates Laurentiu was born in a small Romanian town not far from the Carpathian mountains. Self trained and dedicated to the life of an artist at a very young age, Mates has worked on a wide array of products from personal portraits for individuals to cover art appearing on many popular roleplaying game books. Most recently he was recruited by AAW Games & as the lead artist on both the epic Rise of the Drow tome and the fantastical tale of Snow White.

Mates shows his work here moving from sketch to basic colors and finally layered colors with details and shading.
mates queen lines

It’s great fun to be on the receiving end of these amazing works of art as they roll into my email each day.
mates queen flats

I think my favorite part of writing and working on a roleplaying game book is seeing the art and especially the artist’s interpretation of our art requests. Sometimes we have to request changes but when it comes to Mates he’s usually spot on with his creative intuition and we’re able to use his final draft straight out of the gates.

mates queen finished

The work Mates did on the Pure Steam campaign setting (for ICOSA Entertainment) was also very high quality and reminded me how versatile he is, moving from medieval landscapes and architecture into futuristic or advanced technology with ease. In 2015 we plan on expanding the Aventyr Campaign Setting and releasing many new adventures—Mates will be the lead artist and cover artist on many of these products so keep your eyes peeled! If you would like to see your favorite RPG character fleshed out YOU can recruit Mates via his website to draw your PC (his rates vary depending upon if you want B&W, color, and/or background).

Keep your eye on Mates, I predict that he’ll be moving over to Paizo or another large publisher within the next few years and I wish him the absolute best!

mates castle

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Meta Thursday (Uralicans Uncut): Insanity and Psionics

One the biggest misconceptions within many roleplaying games revolves around insanity; this isn’t to say that it should not have a place in RPGs, or implemented in one particular way, but that generally it is overzealous and harsh in the depiction of high mental states without showing the progression of the actual condition. One might argue that since these are within games, most conditions are mechanical and need to be triggered and resolved quickly. In those cases, kudos, but my concern is more of an aspect to a character’s thoughts, feelings, and general well-being after the mecImage_Portfolio_101_Fantasy Jason Walton 07hanical effects are gone.

The after effects of conditions can amount to very little, or accrue into a bigger issue; it is up to the player, but as a GM I always think it is great to see the PCs grow not only with powers and abilities, but weaknesses and desperations as well. These characters are heroes, adventures, and masterminds from all walks of life. Not every single condition should deeply affect them, but after awhile every great person begins to crack. With that in mind, it may not always be a bad thing that a person gets a chill every time they come across their fears—one hero may shrug it off and rush off into a deadly trap to die a fool’s death, while their compatriot’s learned caution leads them to live another day.

What happens when psionics are mixed with insanity? There are myriad ways a psychic suffering from a mental condition could represent that aspect of their character while using their powers—the biggest thing that may happen is how the character’s powers manifest when used under stress. When creating a weapon from the characters mind, it could have images of the wielder’s greatest fear represented on the blade,Image_Portfolio_104_Fantasy Jason Walton 44 or the hilt itself could embody their personal terrors. For example, a wielder with arachnophobia might have a blade that has eight moving fringes which seem to scuttle across it as the weapon cuts through the air. One of the important considerations when evaluating mental afflictions and psionics is how it changes a PCs powers regardless of whether it is a short, high, intense burst of the condition or an arduous, ongoing battle within themselves that lacks any mechanical effects that the group is likely to notice at first.

Bearing all that in mind, remember that insane characters are not stereotypes, caricatures, or cartoons; they are people with feelings, consciences, and real struggles. Playing those struggles out is far more rewarding than trivializing them, and makes for far more dynamic encounters with not only the GM, but other PCs as well.


[Submitted by Tim Snow!]