Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Gary Gygax Taught Me To Be A Better GM

Today is Gary Gygax Day! The day we celebrate the birth of the father of RPGs. It is a day that should be revered and celebrated, like Christmas, Halloween, or Free RPG day. But why are we celebrating one man? Surely there are others. Over the years, so many people have touched the world of role-playing games and made an impact, like Frank Mentzer, Chris Perkins, Ed Greenwood, and Tracy and Laura Hickman, to name a very few (this list could have gone on for miles).

Yes, the history of the RPG is a long and storied one with a plethora of contributors that made role-playing it what it is today. However, if you want to see the seed from which this mighty redwood grew, then gaze upon the majesty that is Gary "The Man" Gygax.

"Sarcasm aside, I applaud that man's taste in Hawaiian Shirt." 

Now I know there are those out there that roll their eyes at the very mention of Gary's name. They try to discredit him, diminish his achievements, and ignore his contributions to the role-playing community as little more than an elitist who desired to watch the PCs at his table die in a host of hilarious ways.

To those people, I say "For shame!"

"Know your name."

I hear this argument a lot when it comes to Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Jack created most of the beloved characters from the Marvel Universe that we know and love, but Stan always seems to be the guy that gets the credit. Well, kids, that was because Stan was a showman. He was the face of the team. And as any rogue or bard with a 16 Charisma and up can tell you, the face gets all the glory.

Gary was a lot like Stan. Both were friendly, very creative, and defined their industries. Stan taught me a lot about comic books, but Gary... Gary taught me how to be a better Game Master.

Now I should state, right off the bat, that I have never had the pleasure of meeting Gary Gygax in person. It is something on my bucket list that shall forever go unfulfilled, or at least until we all join him at that big gaming table in the sky. When I say that Gary taught me how to be a better GM, I am saying that through his enduring works, I have picked up what he put down, dug what he buried, and smelled what he was cooking.

"Can you smell it? Can you smell what he's cooking?"

The Man Was A GOD Of Game Mastering
Yes, I can prattle on all day about my man-crush for Gary Gygax and all the things he's done. But if you really step back and look at it, my GODS that guy could run a game! He didn't just run it either. He knew it, front to back. One need look no further than the Village of Hommlet to get a proper understanding oh just how well he knew his games.

"The village of Hommlet-Hommlet as it is commonly called-is situated in the central part of Flanaess, that portion of the eastern Oerik Continent which is known and "civilized"/ The village (actually hamlet-sized, though local parlance distinguishes it with the term "village") is located some 10 or so leagues (35 miles) southeast of the town of Verbobonc, on the fringe of the territory controlled by its noble Lord, the Viscount of Verbobonc. It is at a crossroads. To the north is the mighty Velverdyva River, along whose south bank runs the Lowroad. Mandy Days travel to the east, on the shores of the Lake of Unknown Depths (Nyr Dyv) is the great walled city of Dyvers, the village of Sobanwych about halfway along the route. Below that to the southeast and east are miles and miles of forest, the Gnarley, beyond which is the Wild Coast, Woolly Bar, and the Sea of Heamat. The road south forks a league (3.5 miles) or so beyond the little community, one meandering off towards the Wild Coast, the other rolling through the lower Kron Hills, to the village Ostverk and then eventually turning southwards again into the elven Kingdom of Celene. The western route leads into the very heart of the gnomish highlands, passing through Greenway Valley about a day's travel distant and going onwards to the Lortmil Mountains far beyond."

Sure, he could have just said "Homlet is here", but he detailed everything from the nearby geography to the settlements. He didn't just paint you a picture, he painted locations for you to visit. He wanted his players to explore and experience the expansive and highly detailed world he had created. Let's face, a few of you just wanna say "Screw Hommlet, let's hit up the Wild Coast".

"Whoever adopts this for their campaign slogan shall have my vote, forthwith!"

Dungeon Master
A lot of Dungeon Masters have come and gone, with an incalculable amount of dungeons, but Mr. Gygax exemplified that title. His dungeons were painful, punishing trails by blood and anguish, spell and shield, glory and loss.

The man had a mind for mazes, monsters, and puzzles. He seemed to like making his players use as much of their brain as humanly possible. He didn't just want good players, he wanted the best players, and that was what his dungeons dragged out of people, kicking and screaming. You were either clever and wise, or you crawled into that GODDAMNED MOUTH!

"No, dude, I swear. There is totally a Mewtwo in there. Check it out."

Death was a big part of Gary's dungeons. A lot of folks complain about this, which I never understood. Adventuring life isn't easy. It's hard, brutal, and often short. Death is the only real common companion of most adventurers. Gary reminded people of this. Were his traps cruel? Hells yes they were cruel. But have you ever seen a trap that wasn't supposed to be? If the place was built by a friggin demi-lich, there is a good chance that he's not messing around. He doesn't want to give you hugs and let you talk about your feelings. He wants to hurt you. To expect your Game Master to hold back because you can't handle it isn't just doing them a disservice, it is doing you one as well. Pull yourself up and do it better!

"Just... aw hell, you already know."

The Founding Father
A lot of what is now Game Master philosophy is due in no small part to the art that was pioneered by Gary. To be at the forefront of this strange new game, this offshoot from wargaming, where people would act out the lives of single characters, had to be absolutely maddening.

Rules were fresh and new. Tested over and over by countless players (of which a few were his children). All the things we take for granted as just cemented mechanics were founded and forged deep down in that basement in Lake Geneva. Armor class, hit points, random encounters? All brand new. Can you imagine?

Even so, Gary knew that the rules could become restraining. They could restrict creativity and free thinking from the players as well as the Game Master. Despite concocting the rules many of us would come to live by, he never wanted us to become slaves to them.

"They're more of a guideline really."

See For Yourself
If the name Gary Gygax is just a name to you, if you are not familiar with his work or who he really was, do yourself a favor. Find one of his adventures. Pick up a copy of Village of Hommlet, Expedition to The Barrier Peaks, Keep on the Borderlands, or even the dreaded Tomb of Horrors. Read them like you would any novel, absorb them, update them if you must, and run them. Run them for your friends. Something magical happens somewhere in the Caves of Chaos with the goblins and kobolds, or when you see someone entering Moathouse for the very first time.

"I have seen enough hentai to know that this will not end well."

This is the legend of Gary Gygax. Millions of people, perfect strangers, playing his games and having fun. Could anyone really ask for more than that?

Gary may not be with us any longer, but in his own way he has achieved a measure of immortality, for as long as role-playing games in any of their forms continue to exist, his legacy will endure. Never in the entire span of human history has the term "Rolling in his grave" held such positive connotations.

Roll well, my friends,
+Ed The Bard 

And Special thanks to my Epic-Adventurer Level Patrons
Levi Davis
Michael Stevens

Would you like to support the bard in another way, and still get some pretty cool stuff out of it? Kick in the door to the Open Gaming Store. They have a mountain of affordable aids to help you be all the player or Game Master you can be. Just tell them Ed The Bard sent you.

Looking for an article? Just want to browse the archives? Wander over to my Master List, a directory of every article I've ever written, right here.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

GM Advice: Getting Your Players To Write Your Game For You

Game Masters put a lot of work into their games. We like to craft those significant little details into our stories that make our players' jaw drop, that make them say "Oh!" and "What?!" and "I knew it!"

Some of us, and I am not pointing any fingers here (totally me), get a kind of high from the reactions we can evoke from our players. Sometimes, however, our players surprise us by cooking up ideas at the table that are so good, we wish we had thought of them first.

Well, unless your playing with an advanced race of psychic proto-humans (we've all been there), they don't know that you that you didn't come up with it first. They have no idea what is going on behind that screen or in your meaty noggin. In these cases, if the player's notion is better than what you've written, use the hell out of it.


They say that players will write 99% of a campaign with their paranoid conjecture. I say let's let them! While players are natural chaos generators, they are also the greatest idea engines in the universe, and a clever GM will know how to harness their power for evil... I mean good. Yes... good...

"I don't want to know how the other 1% live."

But how? How does one incorporate all these new ideas from their players, why, and when? That my friend is the tricky part. Luckily I have already done the grunt work and deconstructed what it takes to putting your players to work without them even knowing it.

When To Utilize Your Players' Ideas
Sometimes, at the table, your players will begin talking to each other, either in-character or out. They'll strategize, launch theories back and forth, and exchange assumptions. While some GMs may consider this pointless chatter, I firmly believe that this may be the most important dialogue to listen to in the whole game.

It's through this exchange of information between players that some of the best ideas reveal themselves, notions that you may never have thought of in a thousand years, or that make more sense than what you already have planned.

 I find it is best to note these things down on a piece of paper when a player mentions them. You can use it as part of a future plot or encounter, or (if you are very good at GMing on the fly) you could switch some things up immediately.

However, I do not suggest doing this all the time. As The Bard's Philosophy states; everything in moderation. If you use their ideas all the time, they will begin to expect it. There will be no surprises left in store for them, no plot twists to drop jaws, no little nuances they haven't thought of yet. Do it enough to occasionally stroke some egos and build confidence, but not enough where the players have a definitive idea of where things are going. It's a balancing act, but one that yields some pretty rad results.

Players At Really Good At Deciding Who The BBEG Should Be
You can plot main villains to doomsday and back, but the characters might just not care that much about it. Sure, the villain is evil, but your players may come to truly hate and despise a different antagonist. I call this the Voldemort/Umbridge complex.

"I am leaning a bit to the right."

In the Harry Potter series, Lord Voldemort is the main villain. Of course he is. He's the powerful quasi-undead Wizard-Hitler. He kills lots of people and does all the bad things. But he is not even close to the most hated antagonist of that series. That honor belongs to prim, proper, unsuspecting Dolores Umbridge.

Umbridge infuriated readers. From her mannerisms to the slow ways she tortured Harry, to the way she handled herself, everything about the woman had millions spitting venom. They detested her. In their eyes, she was eviler than Wizard-Hitler. Seems like she would have made a great main villain.

The great thing is, in your game, she can be.


 I don't often roll up the main villain right off the bat, unless it is a super-narrative game. I usually like to come up with the "idea" of a villain, basically just a rough template. What I do often do is throw several frustrating enemies at the PCs, and when they show me wich one they hate through their open exchange of ideas, I listen carefully. If they've killed the villain, I conjure a way to bring them back. If it escapes, they hate it more. I find new ways for the villain to grow in power along with the PCs until that final climactic battle, which in turns becomes one of the most satisfying ones.

Why Would You Want To Use Player Ideas?
You're the Game Master, and odds are you have a grand scheme. A master plan. It seems strange the idea of using someone else's ideas, especially when you already have what you want to do on paper or in your head. However, there are some merits to opening yourself up to ideas that come from your table.

When the players talk about things like "Who is the man in the Gold Mask?" or "What killed the noble?" or even the suggestion of certain monsters based on what they perceive are signs of the monster's presence, they are secretly hoping for that thing to happen. If your rogue says, "I hope this chest isn't a mimic." they are really saying, "I hope this chest isn't a mimic, but it would be pretty friggin awesome if this chest was a mimic!"

They will tell you outright what they want, or what they suspect. Sometimes, playing into that is a fun way to reward characters. Let's face it, we all like being right sometimes. All of us. If you don't agree, you're wrong.

See how that felt?

"I don't want to go back into the ball. It's dark and lonely..."

When the player "figures out" who the villain's real identity is, or that the noble's daughter killed him, they feel empowered. There are pats on the back, high fives, and the overall feeling that the players got a one up on the GM, all the while never realizing that their "discovery" was entirely by your providence.

Get Good At Thinking On Your Feet
Improvisation is the Game Master's best friend. The ability to think on your feet is a boon that cannot be denied. Changing things on the fly, altering your strategy, and all around countering the chaotic elements that are the Payer Characters can help propel your games to new heights.

Working in player ideas requires a bit of improvisation on your part. You'll need to be able to connect the dots, justify why it makes sense, and work it in in such a way that the players think it was your idea the whole time, and that they merely stumbled upon it.

Occasionally you'll have that player, typically an old school player, that just seems to know everything that is going on. They'll tell the players that certain monsters lurk nearby based on imagined clues. For instance, they may turn to the party in a chilly cave complex and say, "The air is cold, stale. Undead thrive in these conditions. We should be careful."

A lot of GMs would revel in throwing something wholly not-undead at them. You may even have nothing but abba rations prepared for the length of the dungeon. But then you think to yourself, it would be cool if there were undead down here. In a way, you reward the player's assumption and perhaps give the cautious player, and the rest party a chance to shine since they won't be caught unawares.

Sure, you can spend hours writing each session, laboriously slaving over notes and praying that your players like it, or you can put them to work for you and use your newfound spare time to... I don't know, binge watch Stranger Things?

On a side note: Voting is up for The ENnie Awards, and you can vote for your (hopefully) favorite Bard under the Fan Favorite Publisher section. I'm not saying assign me a 1... but I am not not saying it either. Go forth, vote for your favorite publishers, and give the Bard a little love!

Roll well, my friends,
+Ed The Bard 

And Special thanks to my Epic-Adventurer Level Patrons
Levi Davis
Michael Stevens

Would you like to support the bard in another way, and still get some pretty cool stuff out of it? Kick in the door to the Open Gaming Store. They have a mountain of affordable aids to help you be all the player or Game Master you can be. Just tell them Ed The Bard sent you.

Looking for an article? Just want to browse the archives? Wander over to my Master List, a directory of every article I've ever written, right here.

Like what you've read? Follow me on...
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And coming soon to...

Monday, July 18, 2016

GM Advice: Want To Try Something New? Try Something Old!

Game Masters! Let us make one thing very clear; we work very hard. Even when we cut corners, roll randomly, and have our hooks all in a row, the work we do behind the screen is still sizable. Still, we put out the best games we can with a smile on our faces, a song in our hearts, and a tiny glint of evil in our eyes.

"Roll for initiative."

Sometimes we make things a little more complicated for ourselves. We see all the other GMs running games with core races and classes, keeping things by the book and we get restless. We get aggravated. Worst of all, we get bored. How can those players find any kind of enjoyment from such boring settings and boring races? So sometimes we take it upon ourselves to go back to the drawing board and reinvent the wheel.
"Keep rollin', rollin', rollin' rollin'."

We want new settings, new races, new this, new that. Until finally we are left with something almost entirely unlike the original game we intended to play. We've removed the core races and replaced them with brand new ones. We have altered and gestalted each class, we've replaced the magic system with one of our own devising, overhauled hit points and experience points, added a few mechanics, set it on a flat floating rock world hovering over the abyss, and completely done away anything vaguely resembling the original system.

And then we run it, and it lasts... maybe three sessions? The players become frustrated because they wanted to play the game that was in the player's handbook instead of... whatever the hell this is. The Game Master is frustrated because they wanted to run something new, original, and never before seen, so they put a butt-load of work into the campaign, only to watch it fall apart.

"Not again!"

A lot of GMs try to do something new. They try to make their mark with something different, and while occasionally it takes hold, most of the time it falls flat on its face with players mildly interested in what's going on and humoring their Game Master for fear of hurting their feelings. It can be a trap that starts as a noble pursuit to give your players something they've never experienced before.

I blame Eberron. It was well written, an original idea, and masterfully executed, but it put the idea in a lot of heads that GMs could go off in a wacky direction and it would work out. I'm not saying GMs shouldn't try to mix things up, but these days it becomes such a constant parade to distance themselves from the source material, it seems like it would make more sense to try different systems. All of this for the pursuit fo something new.

"A new campaign is born every three minutes. Sadly"

Well, sometimes new is overdone, and it can get old. Really old, really fast. However, if you are looking for something new to add to your game, might I suggest something that is already old? Something old enough to be considered new?

I will confess that I did not get into tabletop role-playing until the advent of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. That was the basis from which everything I know has grown. Luckily, however, I was also a massive comic book nerd, so I knew full well that, if you want a better appreciation for what you are reading now, you have to go back and read "the classics".

For me, those classics were The Tomb of Horrors, The Village of Homelet (and the immortal Temple of Elemental Evil), Against The Giants, Castle Greyhawk, Castle Ravenloft, Castle Amber (Wow, they had a thing for castles), and Vecna Lives.

"Is it me, or has Lloth gotten hotter... I mean, she's still a scary spider lady, but now she is a hot scary spider lady... I have a lot of confused feelings about this..."

To be quite honest, I have found more inspiration from older modules than I have from newer ones, and the elements I have taken (or stolen I guess is the more accurate word) from these classics have been the most well-received among my players. They love the dynamics set forth in things like the Keep On The Borderlands.

But why? Why do these dusty old adventures have anything to offer in today's adrenaline-fueled landscape of epic quests and God Of War-style encounters?

The Scale Is Intimate
Too often today, GMs are concerned with presenting their players with apocalyptic, world-ending scenarios, where reality itself can be in jeopardy. And while that is all well and good, it happens with a startling amount of frequency. It seems that every plot results in keeping the whole world safe from certain doom. This much armageddon on a regular basis can become a bit of a running joke. Just look at Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

 "Silly world. Stop trying to end."

But the old games, aside from a few notable exceptions, keep the threat more localized. Often it's a town, kingdom, or region that needs saving (if it gets that large scale at all). It is exciting in its own simplicity. The smaller scale threats can be infinitely more intimate. Look at Matt Mercer's Critical Role. The number of threats that the brave souls of Voxx Machina have faced is many, but the number of world-ending threats? Zero, by my count. When the threat is small, the characters can relate more to the villain and the situation.  You can always go big later, but keep it simple, and keep it fun.

If there is one thing that can be said about classic modules, it is that they have withstood the test of time. Players are still delving into the Caves of Chaos all these decades later. That is because there is something appealing about them. Something tangible but undefined. Old School players remember the games with fondness. It may be nostalgia, whisking them back to a magical time, or just something on their bucket list they hadn't gotten to yet.

For new players, everything is new. They've never heard of Homlet, or Greyhawk, or Acererak. They get to experience something that millions of others have experienced, and for them, it is brand new. They'll form memories withing those darkened halls and years later, those that rise as Game Master will want to run those adventures for their group.

The classics endure. They transcend time and preference. If you are playing Pathfinder or D&D, they fit anywhere, which brings me to my next point...

You Can Use Them To Fit Your World
So you have your own world. Awesome. The classics (more so than modern modules set in specific campaign settings), can be set in any world of your choosing. Homlet can just as easily be a village a week's ride from Waterdeep, Sharn, or Magnimar.  The Tomb of Horrors can be transplanted anywhere.

The adventures are just generic enough that you can adapt them to your story. Perhaps your characters are looking to acquire the great McGuffin, forged in mount McGuffin out of pure Mcguffinnite (thank you GM That Guy), and the current home of said McGuffin is in The White Plume Mountain. Maybe it has a different name like "Cloud-Rise Mountain" or "Mt. White Smoke", but the flavor is still the same.

Sometimes Your Players Just Want To Be Old School: One holy grail I have always sought as a player was to play in an old-school-style game. Don't get me wrong, I love Pathfinder and the new D&D 5E, but I really dig the feel and dynamic of games run like they were in days undreamed of when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the sons of Aryas.

 "I think we all know what's best in life."

I am not the only player that feels this way, either. Whenever I pitch such ideas to other folks the response is usually "LET'S PLAY THAT!" 

I am also not the only one that sees this. If you even take a fleeting glance at Wizards of the Coast's release schedule these days, it seems they are embracing that old-school feel. With revamps of Ravenloft (Curse of Strahd) and the Temple of Elemental Evil (Princes of the Apocolypse), and with Storm King's Thunder feeling more and more like a spiritual successor to Against The Giants, the big boys are loving the old ways, and the players are digging it too.

"We're going to need a bigger boat."

So sure, you could jive with the new-fangled worlds with new-fangled rules and new fangled classes, or you could bite the bullet and run something from the 70's, 80's or even 90's. But don't be surprised if you actually start to like it.

On a side note: Voting is up for The ENnie Awards, and you can vote for your (hopefully) favorite Bard under the Fan Favorite Publisher section. I'm not saying assign me a 1... but I am not not saying it either. Go forth, vote for your favorite publishers, and give the Bard a little love!

Roll well, my friends,
+Ed The Bard 

And Special thanks to my Epic-Adventurer Level Patrons
Levi Davis
Michael Stevens

Would you like to support the bard in another way, and still get some pretty cool stuff out of it? Kick in the door to the Open Gaming Store. They have a mountain of affordable aids to help you be all the player or Game Master you can be. Just tell them Ed The Bard sent you.

Looking for an article? Just want to browse the archives? Wander over to my Master List, a directory of every article I've ever written, right here.

Like what you've read? Follow me on...
YouTube  (NEW)

And coming soon to...

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Dungeons & Diets: A Bard's Adventure Into Better Health

I am a man of a rapier wit, a tongue like a razor, and the charm of a 20th level Paladin. I have a larger-than-life personality. I say these things not because I am a conceded ass, but because enough people have told me so that I take it as truth. I also use my bombastic persona to compensate for a pretty glaring issue.

You see, I'm fat. Fat fat. Like, "Our next contestant on The Biggest Loser" fat. Last November I tipped the scales at a whopping 430lbs (197.77kg for my metric friends). That's a stone's throw away from being 500lbs. (226.8kg). That's a quarter ton.

 "We're gonna need a bigger bard."

I've never been small. When I was a kid, I was quite the little plumper. By second grade I was tipping in at 100lbs. (45.36kg). This was due to a childhood eating and drinking all the wrong sorts of things. Colas, fried foods, potato chips, salty everything, and chocolate. All those and in large quantities. By the time I was 12 I could polish off a whole large pizza by myself. I can't blame my parents too much. They game from a different time when people didn't live past 65 and cooked everything with butter.

"If you could taste racism, it would taste like butter. Sweet, salty butter."

It didn't help that I didn't eat good things to counter all the bad. Vegetables (aside from potatoes) were unheard of. I ate fruit so rarely that at one point I lost the taste for apples. To make matters worse, I was picky, so aside from eating crap-food, I was unwilling to try new food... you know, healthy stuff.

As I got older, I continued my bad habits and amplified them. Fast Food, greasy pizzas, fried chicken, and anything deep-fried became my regular diet. It is surprising that I am alive at all right now. I would have figured my arteries would have looked like a grease trap at a McDonald's by now.

Long-term effects were had, though. I suffer from some pretty heinous back pain on occasion (but with the gut I am toting around, it is not very surprising). My ability to move around has been diminished. Not as bad as some, but enough so I can't do all the things I want to do. I cannot sit in a lawn chair without fearing for its safety.

Scariest of all, though, I developed severe sleep apnea. For those of you fortunate enough not to be hip to the lingo, sleep apnea is when you stop breathing for periods throughout the night. It lasts only a few seconds at a time, but it can lead to restless sleep, thickening of the heart muscles, and death. The big d.

 "100% medically accurate, like The Human Centipede"

Mine was brought on by my weight. Apparently, my jiggly jowls press down on my throat at night, causing me to stop breathing for an average of 113 times an hour. So now I sleep with a mask attached to a machine that keeps me alive.

Hmm. I enjoy wearing black. I require a breathing apparatus to stay alive. Some people think I'm evil. Who does that remind me of...

"I find your lack of healthy choices disturbing."

I was a mess. So, I decided it was time for a change. No more could I continue down the path I'd set down upon, with its delicious cheese-coated streets. I had to make some serious alterations to the way I did things. For my family, my friends, and for me. I needed to get my shit together.

"And so I did"

I had tried dieting in the past, with bouts of exercise, but I always fell back into that vicious cycle to returning to food. So, for inspiration, I turned to the sanest, most rational outlet that I could think of; a made up fantasy world where the laws of reality don't apply...

 I had played many an RPG character in the past. Each of them had been stalwart individuals in great health and hardy constitution. I got to thinking that maybe there was more to this than just pencils, paper, and dice. I got to pondering, thinking about what exactly an adventurer had to do every day. The more I thought, the more their physique made more sense.

So I decided to be an adventurer, rather than just play at being one.

Adventurers do a lot of stuff. They plunder tombs, fight goblins, and occasionally rescue someone. But that did not seem like the workout schedule for someone whose idea of strenuous activity was getting up to go into the other room.

 "You're just... gonna have... to wait a minute... so I... can catch... my breath."

Instead of the rough and tumble, I set my gaze on the routine. The everyday things adventurers do, you know, in between adventures. The things that are common place. If nothing else, it would help me get into character.

What Does An Adventurer Eat?
This is more of a "What doesn't an adventurer eat" sort of thing. I took to my fridge and pantry, looking over the foodstuffs I had laying around.  

  • Things A Good Adventurer Could Do Without...
    Soda/Cola/Pop (My weakness)
    Baked Goods
    Greasy Food
    Deep Fried Food
    Too Much Crap With "Breading" (I'm looking at you, fried chicken)
    Bread (well, at least a little in moderation)  

  • The Things A Good Adventurer Needs...
    It takes a lot of energy to save the world three times a week. I would need the kind of food that propels an adventurer forward. Basically, the food pyramid. 

"Oh Marylin Manson, you delight and educate."

This is pretty straightforward for the rest of the known universe, but it took me a few go's to get it mostly right. Still working on it a bit. Don't judge me.

Well, now I knew what I had, and what would work. My biggest problem, though, had always been how much? Portion control was a skill that I didn't put a lot of points into. But adventurers do it all the time. That is why they mark them as "Trail Rations" on your character sheet, and it's in increments of days. The food is rationed for the day.

That seemed like a smart move. If you planned your whole day's worth of food right from the get go, that removes any chance for unnecessary snacking, which is usually what dismantles diets quickly. So, I plotted some calories and cut all my portions in half. After all, unless you have a handy haversack, you only have so much room in your pack.

However, I know that temptation lives out there. It lurks in the dark places with all the delicious smells. Sure, I could deny myself the fatty, greasy, awful food, and I would be better for it. Or, I could allow myself a weekly cheat. A little goal to aspire to. Something to look forward to as I spend the week counting calories and avoiding food traps. Even adventurers who come in off the road are prone to a little excess when the settle down in the tavern at night. It is only human to want to indulge in these kinds of behaviors.

So I implemented a cheat night. A lone night during the week where I can take one meal and make it into a delicious cavalcade of sinful delights. Picking the day was a no-brainer; game night. Let's face it, as a whole, our  community doesn't exactly paint themselves as exemplars of healthy eating on game nights. Pizza, chips, take-out, you name it. We like out junk food when we start rolling. Few are the times I have seen a veggie platter at the game table (it's rare, but it happens). Being surrounded by the aromatic bouquets of the decadent spread typically found on game night is enough to make anyone fail their will save.

And that's okay. We're not all paladins of iron will. But deciding when you stumble and fall helps to ensure that you only do it once instead of making it a constant struggle to keep balance.

How Does An Adventurer Exercise?
Adventurers tend to roam from place to place often. Unless you have a horse, which I am lacking, you had to walk to your destination. You needed to do this every day. So, taking a page from the players handbook, I took to walking. I started small and worked my way up. I find that nature trails and scenic locals help in the process. It gives your brain some time to relax and take in some pretty impressive sights.

 "I actually live 10 minutes from this."

If you take after the monk or the barbarian, I suppose you could take to running. Building up that base land speed and endurance. I'm not quite there yet, but it's an aspiration. I've been eyeballing Couch to 5k as a means to take the adventuring lifestyle to the next level.

After that, I'll start taking my walks late at night on the bad side of town to simulate traveling down a bandit-ridden road. Muggers beware! I carry little to no cash on me!

Class Training
I sometimes ask myself, if I belonged to a class, which one would I belong to? Each has their own flavor and abilities, but they also each offer something interesting in the way of exercise.

Barbarian and Fighter: Strength and endurance are the bread and butter of this martial duo. Running, swimming, and weightlifting would round out the physical prowess these classes. Training in certain weapons might also be fun. Taking up archery, attending a fencing class, or just going out with some friends and some boffers (PVC pipe wrapped in insulating foam and duct tape) and beating the hell out of each other could be fun ways to get into the class mentality while still doing something active.
Druid and Ranger: Getting in touch with nature is always a good thing. It's soothing, peaceful, and fun. Hiking, swimming, archery, and mountain climbing are all great physical activities. For extra added fun, go camping. Not fake camping. No campgrounds. Unplug, go off the grid and do yourself some real roughing-it-in-the-middle-of-nowhere camping. Or, if you want something more social and more violent, take some pals out into the wild and paintball.
Cleric and Monk: Finding one's self and getting in touch with a higher power are pretty difficult to quantify into physical activity, but I think with some meditation, yoga, and martial arts (perhaps tai chi), you could nail down everything and possibly have a religious experience.

Rogue: Criminal activities require a lot of physical exertion. Running, aerobics, acrobatics, and really anything that helps with agility and cardio. Fleeing from the authorities can be difficult work.
Wizard and Sorcerer: Screw these guys. Always sitting around. Go for a walk, you lazy asses. If you can manipulate reality to your will, manipulate yourself out of your chair and do something!

But I fall into a different category. I'm a Bard. I talk a lot, occasionally sing a tune. But moreover, I am the most versatile class in the game. So I'll do it all! Slowly but surely I am working up my bardic repertoire to tackle all the physical challenges. A new membership to my local Y will help in tackling a bunch of these. And since it is summer here stateside, there are plenty of great days to get out and about.

The Effect
I've been working at this since January. Little by little I've hammered down on a lot of my bad habits like a dwarf with an anvil. That is why I am happy to report as of two days ago I have officially lost 46lbs. (20.86kg). I've dropped a couple pant sizes, found myself with more energy, and I am feeling great. And if I keep it up, I can only imagine how much better I'll be feeling. The long-term goal is to get down to a respectable 260lbs. (117.93kg). What? I'm 6'5", 260 is pretty good. That would make me lighter than I was in high school. And I was pretty dapper in high school...

"At least, I think I was."

At that weight, I should no longer be a slave to the CPAP machine, my heart health will be secure, and I will look ever bit as dashing and sexy as I think I am. Mind over matter, friends. So, here's hoping that a little less of the bard means a little more of the bard.
On a side note: Voting is up for The ENnie Awards, and you can vote for your (hopefully) favorite Bard under the Fan Favorite Publisher section. I'm not saying assign me a 1... but I am not not saying it either. Go forth, vote for your favorite publishers, and give the Bard a little love!

Roll well, my friends,
+Ed The Bard 

And Special thanks to my Epic-Adventurer Level Patrons
Levi Davis
Michael Stevens

Would you like to support the bard in another way, and still get some pretty cool stuff out of it? Kick in the door to the Open Gaming Store. They have a mountain of affordable aids to help you be all the player or Game Master you can be. Just tell them Ed The Bard sent you.

Looking for an article? Just want to browse the archives? Wander over to my Master List, a directory of every article I've ever written, right here.

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Monday, July 11, 2016

3 Things That Other RPGs Could Learn From Rifts

It has been nearly fifteen years since I first started chucking dice (I was a late bloomer). In that time I've played hundreds of games with dozens of Game Masters in just about every imaginable setting. I've finally settled on what I consider my home systems; Pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons, which sing to me such lovely notes. Still, I never forget my past and where I came from.

While many a gamer who has been doing this for more than 15 years has cut their teeth on things like AD&D and Call of Cthulhu, I was baptized in the fires of a needlessly complicated system where game balance was a laughable concept, and Mega Damage was king! I am of course speaking of Palladium's offering for the Post-Apocalyptic crowd; Rifts.

Some of you may have played this game long ago. Some may even still be playing it. And even if you've never heard of it, there is a damn good chance that, if you read comic books in the 90's, you've seen the ad for this particular game.

 "Ah, memories."

For those of you who have never had the privilege of indulging in the game, let me lift back the veil a bit. Rifts is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth. A nuclear war broke out and one of those happy little nukes hit a nexus point(currents of magical energy converging on a single point), the result of which was a butt-ton of interdenominational and interplanetary rifts opening up unleashing all manner of monsters and magical beings. The human race is nearly wiped out, giant robots walk across the landscape, and the world is filled with mutants, psychics, mages, steroid freaks, and cybernetically enhanced psychopaths.

It was a weird game.

 "You know you're going to have fun when the class name is literally 'Crazy'"

Despite that, is was an incredibly detailed, highly entertaining setting with a lot going on. The only failing grace was that the system that it operated off, Palladium system, was an overcomplicated pain in the ass that made character creation more of a trail of patience and force of will than an actual set of mechanics. I won't go into details here (another article for another day), but suffice to say it did not resemble the streamlined systems we know and love today.

Still, I feel that Rifts still has something to offer games these days, as well as their Game Masters.

1. Post-Apocalyptic-Palooza
When it comes to settings, Rifts stand out, and not just for the mechanics. The setting is what makes Rifts so memorable. Blasted wastelands, the ruins of modern day Earth, inhuman creatures lurking about, robots, cyborgs, magic, psychics, and big guns. But it is more than just that. There is a rich history that is revealed through the writings of the NPC Erin Tarn. She tells of how humanity had reached a new golden age of technology and science. Diseases were all but eradicated. Then came the apocalyptic war that inadvertently opened the rifts the setting derives its name from.

After that is a lot of wanton slaughter, supernatural monsters, and mechs. The truly cool thing about the world of Rifts is the number of factions keeping folks safe from those nasty creatures that go bump in the night. The Coalition (which we will get to in a moment), The Federation of Magic (which sound like a bunch of good guys, but are super dicks), Tolkien (yes, there was a part of America named after the Lord of the Rings guy), the Cyber-Knights, the New German Republic, the friggin Knights of Camelot, and countless others.

The idea that humans were so outnumbered that they needed to form these factions is typical in a lot of post-apocalyptic settings, but in Rifts that air of hopeless that often permeates the whole game is gone. Instead, you not only have people who have survived but thrived. They've risen from the ashes, built a society.

It's sort of inspiring, in a horrifying kind of way.

2. The Coalition
The human race is on the brink of extinction. Monsters from other dimensions hunt and kill (the lucky ones) millions of people. It is looking grim, but in steps The Coalition. This highly military, technologically advanced faction beats back the darkness and builds themselves a city on the bones of old Chicago, which they now call Chi-Town.

Humanity is saved! People flock to Chi-Town where they are protected by The Coalition States. It is a utopia for the human race, a new golden age, and it is all thanks to... Nazis?

Wait, what?

"You know what son? Let's be cyber nazis. What could go wrong?"

And while they don't outright come out and say nazis, they are so totally nazis. I mean, look at that. Right down to the black uniforms and friggin skulls! Also, the guy on the left? Minister of Propaganda. Need I say more?

You see, the way that The Coalition saved humanity was by uniting humanity against the monsters. After awhile, the monsters were anyone that wasn't human. Just to be clear, there are as many peaceful and harmless monsters, here called dimensional beings (or D-Bees for short), as there is the kind that wants to eat the goo inside your eyes. Still, The Coalition sees no distinction between the dangerous ones and the peaceful ones. Further undesirables include practitioners of magic and psychics, both of which are, in The Coalitions eyes, decidedly not human.

"You stand accused of being green. How do you plead?"

 The thing is, even though you might not agree with the way they've done it, you as a human being can understand where they are coming from. Imagine if Earth was overrun by what we can assume to be aliens. They kill off at least half the population, set up empires, enslave people (and those are the lucky ones). Would you not have a mad-on for anything not-human? Fear and the drive to keep the human race alive drove these people to new heights of technology and forged a people that could beat back world-ending threats.

So, to recap; the human race, the race you as a human belong to, was saved by a group of human supremacists that based their entire empire off of Nazi Germany circa 1940. Feeling a little dirty? You should. In Rifts the distinction between what is right and what is evil is blurry as hell. I mean, the saviors of humanity are running around with these!

 "The PR department is making a kinder, gentler Coalition... with Skelebots"

But that's the fun of Rifts! It can make you detest the bad guy and still kind of root for them. In games like D&D and Pathfinder we are often introduced to irredeemable villains or outright physical personifications of evil with few exceptions. To cast in this gray-scale of morality would play merry-hell with alignments and the very concept of divinity.

I have personally used the Coalition as a basis for a kingdom in one of my Pathfinder homebrews. A largely militaristic and religion-oriented society, the kingdom was very anti-magic, employing only government licensed war mages that were treated like second-class citizens. Practitioners of magic were executed and non-humans were oppressed with very few exceptions. The catch is that their anti-magic rhetoric has actually stopped several catastrophic magical events and event prevented a world-ending cataclysm.

Bad guys that do good things make for interesting bad guys, and make you question what "bad" really means. Always ask questions.

3. Splatbooks That Build A World Instead Of A Catalogue
So often major publishers fall into the trap of over saturating the market with a new product every month, be it a module, world book, race book, class book, setting book, or something in between. And while these all add a little something to the overall game, it also detracts a bit as well. D&D 3.5 had 44 different classes, Pathfinder currently has 36 (not including archetypes and class variants). Already you have a lot of customization, but isn't that a little much? It is nothing compared to Rifts.

Rifts, on the other hand, has 259 different classes. That doesn't include racial classes or other beings from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Heroes Unlimited, Ninjas and Superspies, or the original Palladium Role-Playing game (all of which are compatible and feasible in Rifts). Now that seems really excessive, except when you take into consideration how it is presented.

"With a butt-ton of books."

 While other publishers will dedicate whole books to new classes and races, Rifts did it in a way that built upon the already existing world. New races and classes were introduced with different parts of the world, their cultures, and how those entities interacted with that corner of the globe. Every single class and race, no matter how outlandishly unbalanced it was, fit into that part of the world and could easily be exported to other parts of Rifts-Earth.

While it may be very setting-centric, it doesn't diminish that each character class and racial class was in itself a piece of world building. They were important to the setting. If you removed the fighter from D&D or Pathfinder, the barbarian, or a battle cleric, or any number of variants can step in, and it would have no effect on the setting it was in. If you remove the Triax Glitterboy (yes, glitterboy is actually a thing), then the supernatural creatures that run rampant over Europe would crush the New German Republic and rule over the continent with an iron tentacle, or whatever it is they have at the time. Each class is a little piece of the world. Remove it, and you remove a piece that makes the setting more interesting.

There we are. Three things that Rifts has done well, and other RPG's could take a page from their many many books. Just not from a mechanics standpoint. Or a balance standpoint. Or a market standpoint. Wow, thank the Gods the setting is so good.

On a side note: Today is the day! Voting is up for The ENnie Awards, and you can vote for your (hopefully) favorite Bard under the Fan Favorite Publisher section. I'm not saying give me a 1... but I am not not saying it either. Go forth, vote for your favorite publishers, and give the Bard a little love!

Roll well, my friends,
+Ed The Bard 

And Special thanks to my Epic-Adventurer Level Patrons
Levi Davis
Michael Stevens

Would you like to support the bard in another way, and still get some pretty cool stuff out of it? Kick in the door to the Open Gaming Store. They have a mountain of affordable aids to help you be all the player or Game Master you can be. Just tell them Ed The Bard sent you.

Looking for an article? Just want to browse the archives? Wander over to my Master List, a directory of every article I've ever written, right here.

Like what you've read? Follow me on...
YouTube  (NEW)

And coming soon to...