Mining Computer RPGs for Inspiration

When inspiration runs dry, computer RPGs are a great source of content for a "real" RPG. I really never thought of this until I was wallowing in the frustration of Fallout 3 crashes and remembered one of my players comments during our first Rifts session:

Playing this game is like playing a Fallout RPG.

It isn't hard to see the similarities that the two games share... both are post apocalyptic settings in which mankind is struggling to survive and both have a rugged, gritty tone. I immediately started thinking back to the countless hours I spent playing the first Fallout games (1, 2, and Tactics). There were quite a few memorable locations, NPCs, and quests. I plan on stealing some of them for future plot hooks, and I intend to work on a list of cool ideas from some of my favorite computer RPGs.

Rifts Session X: Game Night Derailed

Ever had one of those times when you just don't feel like GMing? This week I had one, and we ended up playing an old favorite that has fallen out of favor lately.

When my birthday present was a copy of the brand new Fallout 3 game for the PC, I was stoked. Unfortunately, I spent the whole afternoon trying to figure out how to get the thing running... and I have still been unsuccessful. I can play long enough to get into a fight, and then the whole program crashes. UGH! Needless to say, I was bummed... so much so that any attempt at GMing would have been abysmal. Days like this one really make me wish someone else in our group was willing to GM every once in a while.

Normally, we play Magic: The Gathering when roleplaying doesn't work out, but after one game none of us were really having fun. Nobody brought cards, so we were all using my decks... just not fun.

Then we turned to the D&D Miniatures, which we had not played in over a year (at least), built 100 point warbands, and battled to the last man standing. I can't remember what everyone played (except that Matt had a behir and fighting Will's duergar and githzerai felt like playing Neverwinter Nights 2 again), but my warband consisted of the following:

2 Troll Slashers (28 points)
2 Orc Savages (7 points)
1 Drow Blademaster (22 points)
1 Lolth's Sting (7 points)

Matt would have won, but a series of statistical anomalies (like me calling a natural one for him and a natural twenty for me... back to back) led to my victory.

It is ironic that we are picking up the skirmish rules again just as they are getting tossed out the window by WotC. After an hour of battling things out under the outdated rules released with the Aberrations set, I have come to the following conclusions about D&D Miniatures:
  • I stopped playing the skirmish game and was only buying them for roleplaying, so if most other buyers were doing the same, this might have been the only way to save the product.
  • Skirmish rules need to keep getting support. Is it really that hard to add a point value and dumbed down stats to each new figure? Balance wouldn't even matter as much anymore without sanctioned tournament play.
  • I'm not sure why minis will be getting powers that aren't supported in the books... this attempt to add extra value to each pack just seems a little pathetic to me.
I wish Palladium Books would invest in a minis line like the D&D minis... but it would probably flop just like their collectible card game did...

All in all, this week's game night wasn't as bad as I thought it would be when it started and I was so mad about Fallout 3. Tune in next week for more updates on the adventures of Minos, Pyro, and Isaac.

Shadow's Apex Part 8: Name Flavor & Name Generators

Following the advice of Ray Winninger's Dungeoncraft articles, the next step in the design of the Shadow's Apex campaign setting is to develop some sort of naming system for characters. I personally like using names from archaic languages and various generators from the net. One of my favorite resources for generating names from real languages is It has several good things going for it. One, its page rank is high on google, so if you forget the site, it is very easy to find. Two, it has a nice selection of languages to choose from (and you can mix 'n match as well). And finally, the first name it popped up for me was Aron Illarion, which just sounds cool.

For now, we'll go ahead and establish a generator for each of the following races:
Drow (, and this site even gives meanings for each stem when names are created)
Elves (, using the Kagonesti filter)
Eladrin (, using the Tolkien Eldar style)
Humans and Tieflings (, a mix of Ancient Celtic, Celtic Mythology, and Norse Mythology)
Kender (, using the kender filter)
Dwarves (, using the Tolkien Baggins style... yes, I know that hobbits and dwarves are different!)
Dragonborn (, using any of the draconian filters)

Shadow's Apex Part 7: The Map!

Okay, admittedly this is pretty rudimentary... but as I said earlier, I'm not much of a cartographer. And keep in mind, this whole campaign is still in the design stages, so the map is subject to change as well.In case the image isn't large enough, the three cities are Saltmarsh, Verge, and Garrotten (from North to South).

Mapping Tool: Hex - World Creator

The next step in my creation of the Shadow's Apex campaign is a decent map, and since I don't have the cartography skills to make one myself, I went online in search of a free map maker. I'm not usually into the hex map thing, but lately I've been reminiscing about the old Greyhawk map from 1st Edition, so I figure now is as good a time as any to reintroduce them to my game table. The first program to catch my eye was Hexmapper, but it only took about 15 minutes to realize that this wasn't the program for me.

After trying a few other programs that left me less than impressed, I finally stumbled onto Hex - World Creator... and I am loving it. Not only does this program have a user friendly GUI... it comes equipped with a tile set that actually looks somewhat professional. Check it out:

Hopefully, I will be soon be able to share the Shadow's Apex map. Lets just hope I have time to fill in all of these little hexes!

NPC Spotlight: Ghost

Visually, my inspiration for the following character came mainly from Moon Knight. I've actually been showing my players this image each time Ghost appears in the game. Unfortunately, this has lead to my players actually calling him Moon Knight, so I'll be replacing the image I normally show my players with the images in this post, each of which is a screenshot from City of Villains (which, even if you don't have the money to invest in MMORPGs, is at least worth downloading for the 15 day free trial).

There are quite a few "unknowns" in the following bio. I'll be updating this post from time to time as my players learn more about him. For now, this is just a record of what the PCs know or could guess relatively easily based on what they have seen in game.

Real Name: Unknown
Aliases: "Ghost"
Alignment: Unknown, Miscreant if the UWW information is correct
Weight: 195 lbs
Height: 6' 3"
Age: Appears to be a young adult, but seems experienced beyond his years.
Disposition: Friendly but businesslike... it is difficult to tell whether his charm is genuine or opportunistic.
Experience Level: Unknown (Though an Invincible Guardsman, he was created using Heroes Unlimited and Rifts Conversion Book 1 rules for superhuman characters)
Enemies: United Worlds of Warlock, a rival faction within the Transgalactic Empire
Allies: Onyx (a wolfen), and Wraith (an elf). Claims to have more contacts on Phaseworld, but the extent of these contacts is currently unknown.
Magic Knowledge: Unknown
Psionic Powers: Unknown
Abilities: Can create impenetrable darkness that shuts off even night goggles and other sensors, moves with incredible speed
Skills of Note: Speaks thickly accented American (though the accent is like nothing the PCs have heard before)
Weapon Proficiencies: WP Sword, WP Paired Weapons
Weapons and Armor: Wears light MDC armor and carries a pair of vibro-swords, is searching for a runesword that was confiscated from him by the UWW marines when he was captured

As of right now, Ghost might wind up becoming a patron and ally of the PCs. In fact, last session the party killed one of the two remaining warlock marines and took the other as a prisoner.

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend." ... or so the saying goes...

Shadow's Apex Part 6: Setting Up the Sandbox

Last time, I briefly discussed the Shadow's Apex campaign as a sandbox style game. Today, we actually begin moving in that direction by following the steps in this post over at The Hydra's Grotto.

I've read the article several times, and I'm still scratching my head over one thing: why start with the map instead of the adventures? By my thinking, it would be much easier to put the maps of all of my favorite adventures side by side and see where it would make the most logical sense to place them in relation to one another. With this in mind, I'm going to switch steps one and two.

Step One/Two: Choose my adventures.
I'll start with some old favorites.
  1. The Assassin's Knot: Garroten will easily serve as one of Verge's trading partners as well as providing an adventure location with the assassin's guild
  2. Shards of the Day: Dylvwyllynn makes for a great adventure location and the magical item that is scattered across the ruined city plays well with the campaign's theme... a sword for light, darkness, and twilight... what more could I ask for?
  3. Unfamiliar Ground: With goblins and a tiny dracolich, this would be a great place to put near Verge for the PCs to stumble upon early in their careers.
  4. Fiendish Footprints: An adventure I never got around to running which contains that magical phrase: "Can be dropped into any campaign".
  5. Ruins of Undermountain: A classic... no real explanation needed here...
  6. Random Dungeon: Just for old time's sake, I think I'll roll up a dungeon randomly using the tables in the 1E Dungeon Master's Guide. It might be a flop... but it could be a ton of fun.
I'll stick with these for now, though I might add more later. There is one thing that troubles me, however. With the exception of Garroten, none of these adventures come with a ready-made town. I could use Waterdeep, but it is too big for my tastes. I'll throw Saltmarsh into the mix, using the updated version from the 3.5 Dungeon Masters Guide II.

So as of now, I have five adventure locations ready to go (or at least ready to be converted to 4E), one adventure I need to sit down and generate, and three towns to place (Verge, Garroten, and Saltmarsh).

Rifts Session Six: Profitable Opportunities

The course of the game took on a new direction this week when the players met with Ghost. Ghost explained that the group had attracted his attention and that working for him would be a profitable opportunity. In order to prove themselves worthy, however, the group would have to retrieve the runesword from the Warlock Marines. The party found the marines back at the crash site, where they were clearing rubble and still trying to salvage what they could, and attacked immediately.

Minos the minotaur vagabond traded laser fire with one of the marines while Isaac the Colossus-clone took on the other in melee combat, and Pyro the hatchling dragon breathed fire from above. It was a tough fight, but our heroes won in the end. One marine bit the dust, while the other surrendered just before his power armor was destroyed.

Now the party has a nearly destroyed suit of warlock marine power armor and a prisoner. We had to wrap things up before they sorted through the rest of the wreckage or their camp.

Next time: What will the prisoner reveal? Will the runesword be where they expected to find it? Will Ghost hold up his end of the bargain?

Session Five
Session Four
Session Three
Session Two
Session One

Shadow's Apex Part 5: Sandbox or No?

Reading How to Set Up a Sandbox Campaign over at The Hydra's Grotto made me think about which direction I wanted Shadow's Apex to take. I have run campaigns that I would call plot driven (Age of Worms springs to mind) and I have also run campaigns that needed player-driven plots because I came up with the setting and then improvised everything else. I think I want something in between my previous extremes for Shadow's Apex.

This is the campaign hook:
The world is getting darker. Corruption is spreading subtly, unnoticed by any but the most scrutinizing observer, and those who do notice are typically shunned and dismissed as doomsayers and madmen. Telltale signs of the coming storm have been dismissed as coincidence or as the work of the necromancers whose presence has been known for centuries. What the world doesn't know is that the shadows have come alive in ways that they will soon understand all too well...

This concept lends itself to a great plot-driven campaign and in my mind, I pictured the campaign coming to a climax late in the epic tier. However, I believe this sandbox concept has given me a better idea. It might be a more engaging campaign if these events still happen, but the planar merging happens around the end of the paragon tier or the beginning of the epic tier and I don't do anything to push the players toward stopping it. If they do, its fine. If they don't, the new world that emerges when the Shadowfell merges with the Prime Material will be a great place for epic level adventure...

So here goes... we're keeping the original concept but changing our focus so that the hook affects the campaign setting without driving the plot of the campaign itself unless the players choose to let it.

But back to our regularly scheduled design, we need a place to begin the campaign, and for this I'm going to reuse some elements from Verge, the small town where the initial run of the campaign started. Because the campaign is going to take such a dark turn later on, I want to make sure that the opening is bright and light-hearted for maximum contrast, similar to the way Lorwyn and Shadowmoor contrast.

Verge is a small town that was once on the outskirts of civilization (hence the name). However, the wilderness nearby has since become quite civilized in the last few decades and the name is now more than a little ironic. Verge is now a center for the trade of specialty items that are not profitable enough to warrant a permanent shop but sell well if only offered on a limited basis.
Population: 2000
Government: The official leader of the town is the mayor, but a trio of wealthy families have more political clout than he can realistically claim.
Defense: Verge has no standing army. The Guardsmen of Verge serve as the local police force but are more for show than anything else. (I am intentionally making Verge's defenses weak to emphasize the relative safety of the town. We'll talk about the consequences of this decision later.)
Inns: The only inn in town is the Lodge of Merchants. Verge gets very few visitors, and those who do visit are usually in town to sell their wares in the marketplace.
Taverns: The Ale Grove and The Soup Keep (to be detailed later... I'm thinking former will be seedier and the latter a little more toned down)
Supplies: Trader's Court (instead of a general store, I'm thinking maybe a giant flea market would be interesting... mostly empty except for one day of the week but with a few specialty shops that stay open regularly)
Temples: Selune and Azuth have temples in Verge. Paladine, Araleth, and the Raven Queen all have small shrines.

Note: All of the business names used in this post about the Shadow's Apex campaign were borrowed from's Random Fantasy Business Names generator, and it isn't the only cool feature of the site. If you haven't checked it out yet, you should.

Much of what I've said already about Verge makes it sound like a rather dull environment for adventure... a relatively safe and peaceful town with trading partners in all directions that serve as a buffer between the town and the "real" wilderness.

Next time: Setting up the sandbox.

Rifts Character Sheets for Our Campaign

Character sheets have now been posted... both the character sheets for the PCs in our current Rifts campaign as well as the blank sheet that we use as a template for any readers who are looking for a simple Rifts character sheet in rich text format.

Check them out in the right sidebar or below:

Shadow's Apex Part 4: Mythology (Continued Again)

Finally, we bring the mythology of the Shadow's Apex campaign to a close (at least for now) with the following topics: Who is Araleth Latheranil? How did Vhaeraun come to the forefront of the drow pantheon? Why were several staples of D&D mythology omitted?

Araleth Latheranil originally appeared in Dragon Magazine #155 in an article called "The Elfin Gods." Unfortunately, I don't have that issue. What I do have is Dragon #236, where he reappeared in "The Seldarine Revisited." The following is what I will be using in the Shadow's Apex campaign.

Araleth Latheranil
The Prince of Stars, The Twilight Rider

Araleth Latheranil is a good power of light, starlight, and twilight. He is known for his hatred of the forces of darkness and his rivalry with Vhaeraun that has been more violent, some say, than the that which existed between Lolth and Corellon before their fall.
Alignment: Good
Allies: Selune, Paladine, Azuth
Enemies: Vhaeraun, Shar
Symbol: A shaft of white light

Note: In my first mythology post, I mistakenly listed Araleth under unaligned powers. This has been fixed here and also on the original post.

The last two questions that we will answer today deal with how Vhaeraun gained so much power and why other powers were left out. The simple answer is that I wanted most of the powers of the campaign to feel familiar without falling back on too many of the "core" powers.

The long answer is a bit more complicated, and I don't want to reveal too much too soon for several reasons. For one, my players may read this, so I want some of this to remain a mystery for a while. Also, because this is all in my head and the campaign is still in the design stage, I want to make sure that I don't commit to too much just in case I decide to change it later. For now, we'll just go with the following:
  • Years ago, the world was thrown into chaos. A series of events threatened to destroy the world itself and very nearly did. The world as sages once knew it has changed drastically, and this time of chaos is known now as the Great Upheaval.
  • During the Great Upheaval, many of the world's powers were destroyed, banished, or relegated to demipower status.
  • Lolth, Corellon, and Elistraee are all gone, presumably dead. Their portfolios were absorbed by Shar, Araleth, and Selune respectively.
  • Paladine and Takhisis are new arrivals, taking the place of several other powers who disappeared.
This briefly explains some background on how the current pantheon came to be, as well as introducing a new concept to build upon: the Great Upheaval. I needed something to refer to as the time in which the world was thrown into turmoil and a "Points of Light" style setting was created.

Since the beginning of this process, we have had an "outside in" approach to designing this campaign. Next time, we'll zoom in to the campaign's starting point and talk about a semi-sandbox style campaign start.

Rifts Session Five: TPK... Almost

This week, we were able to complete the battle with the Coalition reconnaissance team, and the results were not favorable for the PCs. After battling nearly a dozen soldiers, the party succumbed to the onslaught of laser rifle fire and fragmentation grenades. Only Minos was able to retreat safely. Our goblin mind melter and human shifter will soon be replaced by a fire dragon hatchling and a superhero (Heroes Unlimited style).

This turn of events leads me to thinking about the scope of the campaign. Before the majority of the party got themselves killed, Minos the minotaur was the beef of the group... the defender in 4E terms. Now, if the dice fall a certain way, he will be the weakest in the group physically. And there lies the double edged sword of the Rifts RPG. It is great that players can play as virtually anything, from a wizard to a dragon to a superhero. Getting to play all of these roles at the same time without having to create your own hybrid game system is awesome. Unfortunately, the game's power level can spiral out of control... and that is what I fear may happen in the coming weeks.

Fortunately, as the character creation junky that I am, this gives me the opportunity to do what I love to do most... roll up more powerful villains! Again, I am failing to follow my own advice about making stats for villains, but rolling up characters is fun. Perhaps I need to start rolling up characters just for the fun of it and creating an archive of NPC ideas similar to this series over at Greywulf's Lair.

Next time: With 2/3 of the group dead and replaced, will the meeting with Ghost still go on as planned? Even though the party retreated, the Coalition recon team suffered heavy casualties... will they finally pack up and head home? What new contacts and enemies with the new PCs bring with them to the group?

Session Four
Session Three
Session Two
Session One

Shadow's Apex Part 3: Mythology (continued)

Last time, I posted a list of the powers that would play the most noticeable roles in my campaign-in-planning, The Shadow's Apex. If you haven't been keeping up, you may want to check out the other Shadow's Apex posts. This time, we'll look at some of the decision making that went into that list. I intended to begin talking about the world itself, but this mythology process is getting longer than I anticipated, so that will have to wait until a bit later.

First off, as if it wasn't clear just by looking at the list, I tried to pick powers that had preexisting (or at least easy to justify) rivalries. Character building and background writing is easier if power struggles are clearly defined from the beginning, and where better to start than with the most far-reaching power struggles of them all... the divine.

Shar vs. Selune: I have enjoyed reading about this particular conflict for quite some time and have always wanted a chance to let it enjoy the limelight in one of my campaigns, but I have just never gotten around to it.

Takhisis vs. Paladine: I could have just left this as Bahamut vs. Tiamat, but I'm bringing a little Dragonlance flavor into the campaign for two reasons: one, as a nod to the first D&D novel I ever read, Dragons of Autumn Twilight; and two, because my players aren't very familiar with Dragonlance and now is as good a time as any for a little education (even if they don't realize what they are being exposed to).

Vhaeraun vs. Araleth Latheranil: This is not a particularly well-known rivalry, though it might be if Araleth was a better known figure. Vhaeraun, according to current Realmslore, is dead. In protest, I am making Vhaeraun the head of the drow pantheon in my campaign. Although I could have used one of Vhaeraun's more traditional enemies, Araleth an old favorite and I couldn't help but use him as a foil to Vhaeraun. I'll post more information on Araleth later on. He's from an old Dragon Magazine article that I'll have to dig up before I say more.

That leaves just three other powers: Azuth, Moradin, and the Raven Queen.

Why Azuth? My first instinct was to fall back on Dragonlance mythology for Solinari, Nuitari, and Lunitari for powers of magic. However, in an effort to avoid unnecessary complexity, I decided that a single power of magic would be better in the long run. I didn't want to use Mystra because I was afraid that her rivalry with Shar would overshadow the rivalry between Shar and Selune. Thus, Azuth comes into the picture.

Why Moradin? Really just a fill-in because I wasn't sure which way I wanted to go with the dwarves, putting Moradin on the list was admittedly a knee jerk reaction. "Oh, I need something for the dwarves... Moradin!" Of all the powers on the list, this one is the most likely to be changed.

Why the Raven Queen? Well, to be honest, I'm not a big fan of this one. However, a couple of my players seemed drawn to her when they first glanced through the shiny new 4E books, so I'm putting her in for no other reason than to please my players.

Now, there is still a big gap in the pantheon that needs to be filled... that of a nature-based power. I'll let my readers weigh in on this decision (not that you can't influence the others). Feel free to post comments, but more importantly, show your opinion on the poll in the left sidebar.

Four Reasons Giving Your Villain Stats is a Waste of Time

One of my favorite parts of RPGs is rolling up characters. This might be why I am the DM most often. As DMs, we get the opportunity to roll up more characters than any player gets to. I like having stats for NPCs. In fact, I like having stats even for the characters I don't think my players will fight just because occasionally, one of my players will get a wild hair up his butt and decide to fight someone I didn't anticipate.

There are, however, certain NPCs that I believe a DM should not prepare stats for too far in advance. Number one on this list is the campaign's supervillain (if one exists). Having a faceless villain pulling the strings behind the scenes is quite enjoyable, and it provides an "Aha!" moment when the players finally figure out what was going on. Unfortunately, as a younger DM, I always felt like I had to give this supervillain stats even before session #1 of the game. It only felt "right." But there are many reasons not to give your primary villain anything more than a paragraph of descriptive text until you are ready for his mini to step out onto the gladiatorial grid.

And thus, I present you with:

Four Reasons Giving Your Villain Stats is a Waste of Time
  1. New books will be published. If you are anything like me, a new book with cool new abilities and character options makes you want to put it all to good use. And who better to receive the new crunchy goodness but your main villain? If you have stats for him long before the players ever see him (and before this cool new book just arrived), then you will find yourself in a conundrum: don't give him the new stuff because I've already got stats (which sucks)... or recreate him using the new stuff (in which case the first set of stats are worthless).
  2. Players will lose interest. They might lose interest in the specific campaign, the genre, or just gaming in general. Even if they lose interest in gaming, more than likely they will return eventually. While this isn't the end of the world, it may very well be the end of your campaign, in which case you have created stats for a character your players will never fight.
  3. The PCs might not have to fight him. This might sound anticlimactic, because a campaign ending with a gigantic fight with the villain is pretty standard fare... but that battle might not actually require taking him on toe to toe. It could be a skill challenge in which success causes a magical explosion that kills the villain. Of course, I'd also want a bunch of his minions attacking the party while they tried to pull off the challenge, but the villain's actual stats would be irrelevant.
  4. You will have new and better ideas. There is usually a decent amount of time between the beginning of the campaign and the time the players actually encounter the villain. If this is the case, changing the villain himself behind the scenes will not disrupt the continuity of the campaign at all. So this guy named Traxx is not the vampiric tiefling warlock that you envisioned him being when you first started taking campaign notes. Perhaps he is actually a dracolich all along... as long as the PCs don't know enough to recognize the switch, make the switch and be glad you didn't stat out the other guy!
Sadly, as a DM with more experience under my belt, I still fall victim to the same urges. Even as I write this, I feel the itch to jot down some numbers for the villain I've got in mind for my Shadow's Apex campaign. In all honesty, he will probably have stats before the first session, go through several shifts of concept, and be replaced when a new book comes out. In the end, there is just something satisfying about knowing you have the big bad evil guy's combat stats ready to go at a moment's notice... even if the first twelve versions of his stats never get laid on the game table. (Heh... too funny to edit despite the connotations.)

What do you think? Any other DMs out there go through several versions of the same villain knowing full well that the stats are a waste of time for any of the above reasons?

Shadow's Apex Part 2: Mythology

Last time, I explained why I was putting my campaign on the chopping block, hacking it to bits, and putting it back together in hopes of better results. So far, all that is set in stone is the hook: the prime material will be merged with the Shadowfell if the PCs don't rise to the challenge and prevent it.

Now, with such a world-changing phenomenon on the horizon, it only makes sense that the world's movers and shakers will attempt to influence the course of events. Even those who want the merging to occur want to maneuver themselves so that they benefit from the event more than their rivals. And who are the biggest movers and shakers of them all? The divine powers.

I'm trying really hard to follow the first rule of dungeoncraft: don't create more than you need. This one is difficult because once the creative juices start flowing, I end up with a ton of info that I will probably never use. So for this exercise, I'm only going to start with a few of the powers. I may need more along the way, but for now I just want to establish the powers my players will likely want as patrons and the powers who will likely be associated with the villain and his allies.

Good Powers
Araleth Latheranil

Evil Powers

Unaligned Powers
Raven Queen

Okay, so far we have a few good and a few unaligned powers, along with the powers that will be associated with the primary villain(s). As is obvious, I am cherry picking powers from different established campaign settings. The Raven Queen and Moradin can be found in the 4E Player's Handbook, but the rest are from other sources (primarily the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance campaign settings). I am cherry picking for two reasons: one, because these are all either my favorites or those that my players have expressed interest in; two, because I want a new pantheon without having to create new powers.

Looking back over the list, the first thing I notice is that there is no power for the wilderness characters and that there are several deities that my players will immediately question being left off the list ("Wait a minute... Vhaeraun but no Corellon and Lolth?).

I'll get around to filling in those blanks and answering those questions later.

Next time: More on the mythology and a little about the world as it is pre-campaign.

Shadow's Apex Part 1: Prepping for the Future

Although Dungeons & Dragons has taken a backseat to Rifts recently, the campaign we briefly began is still fresh on my mind. It started with a "let's see how close to 4E we can get with 3.5 rules" experiment and then morphed into a 4E game for several weeks of play. Then we lost interest. It wasn't just me; the players seemed to lose interest as well. It just wasn't fun anymore, so we moved on to other things. We played some multiplayer Magic: The Gathering games a few weeks and drafted Shadowmoor/Eventide one week before the idea of dusting off the old Rifts books occurred to me. And Rifts was a breath of fresh air: new characters, new concepts, new genre, new game system, and new books to hunt down.

But that 4E campaign just felt stale and boring. Game night should NOT be boring.

It was so bad that my dungeon mastering ego was feeling a little less... well... egotistical, I guess. In any case, the idea that one of my campaigns fell flat has been bugging me. Part of it might have been that we have been spoiled rotten by having so many sourcebooks lying around and an edition of D&D without extra crunchiness seemed lacking in options. However, I still fear that the campaign itself had enough flaws to be part of the problem.

Because of this fear (and self-criticism), I have decided to rework the campaign. The hook will stay the same and I will likely keep elements of the home base, but everything else will be on the chopping block.

I will be referring to Ray Winninger's Dungeoncraft articles for advice and I intend to follow his "Rules of Dungeoncraft". However, rules are made to be broken, so we'll see how long it lasts. For now, I'll just start with the campaign's title and hook.

Shadow's Apex
Hook: The world is getting darker. Corruption is spreading subtly, unnoticed by any but the most scrutinizing observer, and those who do notice are typically shunned and dismissed as doomsayers and madmen. Telltale signs of the coming storm have been dismissed as coincidence or as the work of the necromancers whose presence has been known for centuries. What the world doesn't know is that the shadows have come alive in ways that they will soon understand all too well...

Basically, the idea is that someone is planning to take control of both the material plane and the Shadowfell. The plan will begin with powerful rituals that begin breaking down the barrier between the two planes, continue with the swapping of strategic locations, and culminate with a grand merging of the two.

I'm drawing inspiration from lots of different places, but a few of the most noteworthy are listed below:
Tome of Magic (particularly the shadow magic section)
Dungeon #136 (particularly the "Gates of Oblivion" adventure)
the Planeshift storyline from Magic: The Gathering's Invasion block

Next time: Mythology of the Shadow's Apex campaign

Rifts: Session Four

This week our group came the closest to a TPK... and it is still possible. Well, I guess at least one PC will survive...

With a day and a half of possible down time before the meeting with the wolfen and his master, the party decided to make use of the free time to launch another assault against the Coalition armored personnel carrier.

They tracked the APC successfully, but found themselves outmatched when a rather large volley of mini missiles made it past their attempts to shoot the missiles out of the sky. With their hovertank destroyed, they fought off two SAMAS suits in fairly close combat. The highlight of the fight was Eric (as Drake, our shifter) using Compulsion to get one SAMAS pilot to take off his helmet. Despite dodging the first attack aimed at his exposed head and hastily retreating, a second called shot by another character ended his days in the Coalition military.

When the session ended, the party was short a vehicle and in fear of the remaining CS forces no doubt heading their way. One character was sent speeding back town while the others headed back at a slower pace, hoping to outrun their Coalition foes.

Next time: Will the speedier PC make it to town and back for a rescue? Will the others be overwhelmed before he can return? Are the Coalition forces even in pursuit? Might the party be saved by a third party intervening?

Session Three

Session Two
Session One

Made Characters Who Never Made It

I was digging through the cobwebs of some neglected folders of my computer and stumbled on this file. This was a little fluff I was providing for a campaign that almost got started in my gaming group. The campaign was to be a backup game for when we only had a few players, and so we were each going to have two characters. I'm not sure where the actual background information on these guys went, but this was the better part of it anyway. Rambling, sorry... here's the fluff:
    "Who are we?" The drow repeated the question as if it was ludicrous. "I am Ranaghar and this is my brother Kalannar." Simultaneously, the two dipped into low bows, exposing their defenses and trying to appear as amicable as possible.
    "Yer name's not enough, drow," the dwarf spat.
    "Sadly, our names are all we can give for now. We are escaped slaves and can remember nothing before our enslavement." Though the humans had believed him the last time he explained, he knew that humans were much more gullible creatures than dwarves and had much less experience dealing with drow. He could only hope that the dwarf would buy the story.
    "Ye don't look like one o' Elistraee's bunch, and..."
    "No, I can assure you that we are not of that 'bunch,'" Ranaghar replied quickly, cutting the dwarf off before he could utter a threat. "But perhaps you could point us in the direction of that 'bunch' so that we might learn from those who have gained the trust of the honorable dwarven people."
    "If I told ye where to find 'em, ye'd probly just..." the dwarf snarled, growing more and more frustrated by the drow. His own brothers stood behind him, and the three were no strangers to battle.
    "Good dwarf," Ranaghar interrupted again. "We mean no harm to you or 'Elistraee's bunch', as you called them. As I explained before, we have no history to speak of, for we know nothing of our past. We seek a new life on the surface..."
    The dwarf growled. It was his turn to interrupt. "I'm gettin' tired o' yer sweet talk, drow. I can see though yer lies." He took a step back and lifted his axe threateningly. "I think it's time to go back to yer holes, drow, or elskk..."
    It took an agonizing moment for the dwarf to realize that much of his throat was now in strips and chunks stuck to the end of the other drow's spiked chain. Even with such a vicious wound, the dwarf still took a step forward as if to attack. But just as he raised his axe, the injury overcame him and he fell face first into the dirt.     Had they been thinking rationally, they might have run. But vengeance drove the other two dwarves to charge past their fallen comrade.
    A few moments later, the twin brothers stared down at the corpses of three dwarf merchants. Kalannar was scowling just as he had been since the moment he heard the dwarf begin his threat. Ranaghar shook his head in exasperation. This was going to be more difficult than he had ever imagined.
Ranaghar is physically weaker and less agile than his brother, but he makes up for the difference in pure force of personality. He would rather resolve most conflicts without fighting, but knows well how to mix things up when the time is right.

Kalannar is stronger and more agile than his brother but is mute, so he relies on his brother to communicate. Kalannar has a quick temper, most likely developed by years of frustration having to rely on his brother for so much.

Rifts Movie?

I just noticed this post over at RPG Blog II... and I'm excited. A movie based on Rifts has a ton of potential.

Unfortunately, in my excitement I am still thinking, "this could be the most spectacular thing I've ever seen... but it will probably be just as bad as the D&D movie (or worse)."

A movie would likely boost Palladium's sales. However, the following would (in my opinion) do more for book sales than a film simply because they are less risky:
  • A set of simpler rules to get players started quickly (similar to the D&D Basic set). From what I hear, a significant number of people are intimidated by the prep time needed for character creation in Palladium games.
  • A free download of very basic rules (similar to GURPS Lite) to get people interested.
  • A free (or at least cheap) standalone adventure that can be played out of the box with pregenerated characters (similar to D&D's Keep on the Shadowfell)
  • A video game that is more accessible than the one that came out for the N-Gage (Rifts: Promise of Power). Gamers tolerate a lot more cheesiness than your typical sci-fi movie-goer... the game just needs to be fun.
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