The Outsyder's GM Merit Badges

It seems like posting your GM Merit Badges is catching on. I doubt it will make much difference for me, since I very rarely bring new people into my games... but I guess it's worth exploring and sharing, even if only for the mental exercise.

Combat is more fun when there is something more at stake than just winning or losing. Even if the story is just, "We're a group of traveling mercenaries and we want to make a fortune," that loose framework is what defines the game and makes the combat meaningful. That said, I have to admit that the story is usually secondary to the actual challenges of the game: exploration, combat, traps, etc. Improvisational theater has its place, but it is not in my game room. My GMing style is almost strictly 3rd person, so I rarely ever take on the voice of a character and I don't expect my players to either. "She threatens to burn down the whole village if you don't comply," is a lot more common at my game table than talking in funny voices. Also, see "Tactics."

Lochlann's Laboratory: Dr. Travis Lochlann

Travis Lochlann began his life as the son of a mechanic in the Chi-Town Burbs. His grandfather had applied for citizenship but it was not granted within his lifetime. Travis and his father, however, were accepted when Travis was a teenager, and they moved into the city itself immediately. Travis joined the Coalition military when he was old enough and was selected to be trained as a scientist. He fell in love with the daughter of an officer, married her, moved to Lone Star to conduct genetic engineering research, and believed he had the perfect life… until Bradford’s lies led to Lochlann losing everything he held dear.

Although his genetic engineering projects are far from stable and always a little risky, Lochlann couldn’t resist the temptation to experiment on himself. After all, the world seemed aligned against him and he needed every edge he could get, and furthermore, what superhuman in his right mind would follow a normal human to war against the Coalition States?

Lochlann was once light-hearted, with a contagious smile and quick wit. The light-heartedness has been replaced by cynicism and that smile rarely surfaces anymore. His wit is still there, though it is much more biting than playful. His once-dark hair has become peppered, and is nearly gray on the sides. He constantly fears for his life, and even though most in the Coalition have written him off as dead, he still believes that they are out to get him. Despite his near immunity to common weapons (thanks to his self-experimentation) he is rarely seen without body armor and bodyguards, and he fiercely guards the secrecy of his identity and of his laboratory’s whereabouts. His efficiency as a scientist has increased exponentially through his self-experimentation as well, as his mental attributes have increased and he can concentrate on multiple projects at once in ways that would surprise even the most talented multi-tasker.

BUGrove Elder Evolution

Another of my articles was published on PureMTGO today. Click the image below to check it out.

Midweek Metapost

To be honest, my brain isn't firing on all cylinders at the moment, so trying to explain this will probably not come out as eloquently as I'd like. So be it. I hope you'll accept my apology ahead of time.

I was on a good streak for the better part of July and the first part of August, writing 4-5 posts per week. That pace is slowing down as school starts back, and my gaming will drop off as well. I miss writing and I miss gaming... already... so I'm going to start sharing my random musings a little more than usual. If I'm not gaming, I won't have regular battle reports or tournament reports to share, so why not my personal thoughts? Who knows? I might just stir up some controversy.

No controversy today, though... just a little blog post about blogging.

I read a lot of other blogs, and on a regular basis, the best blog posts I've read have fallen into three categories:
  • Review or preview of a product I find interesting
  • Insight into a game or a playing style
  • Personal accounts of peoples' lives who share interests with me
I do the first two quite often, but I rarely ever share anything about myself on here. I do talk about the games, and I talk about my gaming crew a little, and I give my opinions about various games on a regular basis... but I just don't talk about me. That might be a plus... maybe people don't want to know about me. Maybe they just want to read about games and they don't care about the person behind the writing. 

But I don't think that's the case most of the time. I'm convinced that most returning readers come back because of the connection with the author. Write a technical manual, and people will only read the manual when they need the information within... build a relationship with your readers and they'll come back for the relationship.

I wouldn't say that Outsyder Gaming is a technical manual... but I wonder what direction this thing might take if I opened up a little more and actually shared a bit of myself here. I aim to do that more in the future. NPC spotlights and tournament reports are cool... but does anybody really know me

Expect that to change...

Building a Better GM

A challenge was issued last week, and I'm going to try my hand at it. The challenge was to share three "best practices" that I possess as a GM, and then elaborate on them (specifics here). I'm not the best at writing about myself, so I'm just going to go for it... I hope my players will respond here and give their input.

Best Practice #1: Create interesting and varied combat situations.
Sometimes this means fighting in unusual settings with weird terrain, and my group's foray into Warhammer 40K scenery has certainly improved the cool factor of our RPGs from a visual standpoint. However, this also includes challenging the players with different situations and tactics. Take your trusty old standby of marauding orcs. Nobody wants to fight 3d6 more orcs that look just the same as the last ones that came up on the random encounter chart. That's boring enough to make you pay more attention to the Cheetos and Mountain Dew than the game itself. However, even monsters with the same stat lines can use different tactics. Perhaps the last group just stumbled across the party, but this group heard them coming. The two fights should be noticeably different, even if the monsters have the same stats. You could use different monsters each time, but eventually you suffer in one of two areas: the necessity for more preparation time, or a lack of verisimilitude within the adventure. Sure, your characters could be adventuring in a fantasy zoo where all the cages magically opened, but most of the time, you need something believable to tie the monsters together thematically and give them a reason to be there.

Best Practice #2: Make it a point to know your players' preferences and give them opportunities to interact with those game elements.
If you have the opportunity to play with the same group for a long period of time, you'll know your players pretty well already... but you might be surprised what a quick survey would tell you. Put one together and see what your players are really looking for... you might find some things intriguing. And as soon as you find these things out, look for ways that you can incorporate them. For example, when our Age of Worms campaign ended and I was in the process of brainstorming for the next campaign, I gave out a survey for the next game. In it, I asked things like, "What percentage of the game do you think should be combat and what percentage should be roleplaying?" I also asked what monsters they would like to see in the game. To be honest, I don't remember too many of their responses... but when I introduced my group to Rifts, I created a minotaur character just because Matt had listed minotaurs as a monster he'd like to see more of in our D&D games. He snatched that character up, and while other characters died off and were replaced by more and more powerful ones, Matt managed to keep that minotaur alive as long as the campaign lasted. I would never have known he would be interested in such a character if I hadn't given out that survey.

Best Practice #3: Use flat characters sparingly, and keep your players guessing.
It is actually kind of a joke around the table that nothing can be taken at face value in one of my games. My brother especially is hesitant to act on anything I describe as GM without trying to figure out what kind of spin I've put on things that are seemingly obvious. I took Ray Winninger's advice from his Dungeoncraft articles very seriously, and one point he always brought up in his setting design was the idea that everything must have a secret. I realize that shopkeepers can be flat and uninteresting, and so can the bad guy's minions at times, but I try to make sure everything in my campaigns has some trait that nobody knows but me... until the time comes to reveal it. It certainly keeps my brother on his toes...

Now, with all that said, I'm hoping my players will drop by and offer their opinions. They've dabbled in GMing as well, and I'd be curious to hear their critiques of my style. What do I do wrong, guys? And don't worry... I have thick skin... I can take it...

BUGrove Elder: Comments on a Green-White Version

This little pet deck I've been working on has really been giving me some good results, so I'm going to keep running with it. I placed 3rd at a local tournament a few weeks ago (tournament report here), and finished 3-1 at last night's FNM (not sure what I placed other than that I wasn't in the top 4... needed a fifth round of swiss to avoid the need for massive tiebreakers, but they only ran four rounds for some reason and my tiebreakers apparently sucked).

In the comments on the tournament report (linked above), Ebonlocke (a player running a similar deck) responded with the following: 
Hey man, love the blog post. Made an account just to be able to respond! I have been playing my own version of U/W Control until recently when I aquired 3 Mind Sculptors and 4 Mystics in a trade and decided to convert it to a legacy Caw-Blade, but that's besides the point.
I was out of a standard deck because of that and I love the idea of a Dungrove elder. I only just put it together but here's what I have:
20 Forest
2 Plains
4 Gladecover Scout
4 Spirit Mantle
4 Rampant Regrowth
4 Sylvan Ranger
4 Viridian Emissary
3 Hunter's Insight
4 O-Ring
4 Dungrove Elder
3 Phyrexian Metamorph
2 Thrun, The Last Troll
2 Gaea's Revenge
I play alot of can't be countereds and hexproof things. Until I get around to getting them manaramping and little critters keep me alive, little worried about flyers though as I haven't really tested this yet in an FNM. Hunter's insight is awesome if you have an empty hand and you swing in with a 7/7 Hexproof Pro. Creatures dungrove elder to give you more fuel for the war effort.
The swords idea seemed very tasty too, but I'm not sure about what to replace them for really. I'm thinking I'll probably try to adopt the swords of vengeance and the basilisk collar too, but I'm afriad I'd have to replace too much if I don't play blue to fetch them with trinket mages. I'd rather just get a massive dungrove elder and get through defenses with spirit mantle, the sword of vengeance would make that especially tasty.
It's also alot of fun when you already have a heavy dungrove elder to bring in a Gaea's Revenge and then copy either of them with metamorph next turn to make for quite a few number of really hard hitters, all of which canpotentially be creature proof with spirit mantle.
I only play 2 plains because I have a million ways to fetch them anyway.
What do you think? ;)
First, I have to say to Ebonlocke: Thanks for reading, and I'm glad you enjoyed the post. As far as the deck, it does have quite a bit in common with mine. The core strategy is the same: abuse big Dungrove Elders. Many of the cards in this deck were ones that I considered for my own. Sylvan Ranger, Viridian Emissary, and Dungrove Elder are really the core of the deck. Two are mana ramping/fixing chump blockers that can put some pressure on a control deck in a pinch. As for the other card choices, let's go one by one:
  • Gladecover Scout: I love these guys in M12 draft, but for my deck they're just too fragile in combat and they don't do anything other than say "no" to targeted removal. Personally, I prefer either Llanowar Elves or Birds of Paradise. BoP might even help your worries about flyers. Now, that said, giving these guys protection from creatures can make them really annoying for your opponents... so if that's working for you, run with it.
  • Spirit Mantle: Another card I love in M12 draft, I can see the potential they have for this type of deck. If I was running white, I think I'd be running these too.
  • Rampant Growth: Do you need it? I would argue that you don't, and that this slot might be better as either another threat or more removal. 
  • Hunter's Insight: I have gone back and forth on this card, and I had three in one version of my deck as well. I think it's amazing under certain circumstances, but when it is amazing, you're probably going to win in a turn or two whether you cast it or not. I finally cut it after I had a few experiences of drawing it without the ability to push much damage through, and I ended up just drawing one or two cards.
  • Oblivion Ring: This is your deck's primary advantage over mine... there are things you can get rid of permanently (barring enchantment removal) that I can only bounce for a turn. After boarding, I can get rid of the same things, but they get a 3/3 beast in place of whatever I killed. O-Ring is amazing... love it...
  • Thrun, The Last Troll: Before M12, I was running 3 copies of Thrun in every green deck I played... but now he's usually just a smaller, more expensive Dungrove Elder. I would definitely run a few of these if UB Control was popular in my area, but so far I haven't seen anyone playing it, so he rotates in and out of my sideboard depending on whether or not I feel like I have better options. 
  • Gaea's Revenge: A big untargettable guy that can't be countered and has haste. These can be amazing in certain match-ups. However, they're also pretty mediocre in others because there are just so many creatures in standard that he trades with (all of the titans, for example). Another option to consider here is Terra Stomper... he doesn't trade with titans, can't be countered, and can't be chump blocked by a random Bird of Paradise. He can be targeted, but he at least ignores the most popular removal spell in standard right now: Dismember. I don't know if he's actually better rather than just better in theory, but it's worth considering, at least.
  • Phyrexian Metamorph: I saved this for last because it is actually a little embarrassing. Congratulations on catching this gem... I'm not sure why I overlooked him. I'm definitely going to see if I can find room for him in my version of the deck.
As far as using my deck for ideas, allow me to share some things I've learned over the last few weeks of tournaments and testing.
  • Sword of Vengeance is a ton of fun, but I think I was running too many copies. Drawing multiples is not fun, and it happens more often than you'd think. In the last tournament I played, I dropped down to two copies, and I might end up going down to one. I just keep replacing them with other swords (Feast and Famine, War and Peace). The most important ability that Sword of Vengeance granted was trample, and your Spirit Mantles provide pretty much the same thing for a much smaller mana investment.
  • The Trinket Mage engine is cool, but it's a one trick pony and there are too many cards devoted to that one trick pony. I always wanted to get a Basilisk Collar with the first Trinket Mage, and then I winced every time I drew another one, because I already had the only card I really had Trinket Mages in the deck to get. My advice: Don't switch to blue just for this.
  • Fetch lands really help the mana situation. I know there isn't one for green-white in standard, but I think Terramorphic Expanse is worth it just for the versatility.
  • As someone else pointed out in another comment, Green Sun's Zenith is amazing in this deck. It almost feels like you're playing eight Dungrove Elders, and it lets you go get other things that you might need in a pinch as well (like Acidic Slime, for example).
I've modified the maindeck significantly since the last time I posted a list. I'll post a new list and a mini tournament report on PureMTGO soon.

Lochlann's Laboratory: Shemp, Lochlann's Failed Experiment

HU2.114Although Dr. Lochlann has never been able to predict exactly what changes will befall his experiments, very few of his experiments have been disastrous. Unfortunately for Shemp, he was one of these disasters. Kidnapped from a group of adventures who barely survived a freak rift storm nearby, Shemp was tested without his consent, and the experiment broke his mind while it strengthened his body. 

Horribly disfigured yet strong as an ox, he has the mind of a toddler, always seeking positive attention and adoration from "dad" (Dr. Lochlann). Shemp is great at moving heavy loads and bashing things that dad doesn't like, but he can be a bit of a liability at times. A toddler throwing a tantrum can be quite terrifying when the "toddler" is a hulking monster of a man!

Painting Rifts Miniatures, Part Two

I haven't had much time to keep this project going, but I did do a little work on the line walker over the weekend. The last pic I posted was just the base coated version, more to share what the model looked like than anything else. Here's some actual progress I've made:
I need lots of touch up work around the face, and the skin is a little too yellowish for my tastes.

Basically, this is just the base coat, blues for the clothing, browns for the boots and gloves, some paint on the face, followed by a blue wash on the clothes and a black wash on the gloves/boots. Obviously, we're not going for Golden Demon quality here... not that I could achieve that level of quality with my current artistic skills anyway.

I still haven't worked on the Coalition SAMAS, but he'll be next when I get the line walker finished.

Playing Magic in Cornelius

Last Friday, I played a Magic: The Gathering tournament in Cornelius, North Carolina. It was an M12 draft, and I had to drive a fair distance to get there. With two card shops within five miles of my house, I can't believe I agreed to drive so far... but then again, I was rejoining some old friends who haven't played in quite some time and don't have enough newer cards to play standard. Getting to hang out and play cards with them again was cool, even though the tournament was a little bit of a let down.

The draft itself was great. My first pick was an Oblivion Ring, and I cut off white in the first pack. I thought I would end up in red-white based on what I was seeing come so late, but the second pack showed me a Dungrove Elder (which is fast becoming my new pet card), and then several Trollhides. I ended up with a pretty impressive green-white aggro deck, with griffins and their riders, multiple Pacifisms, some spiders, and some more hexproof guys. I didn't draft any true bombs, but hexproof regenerating guys are pretty impressive. My MVPs of the tournament were definitely my two Stingerfling Spiders, though. I didn't take notes this time, but I went 4-1 for the tournament, placed fourth, and won... two packs? Really?!

I knew from the beginning that this tournament would be harder on my wallet just because of the drive and the cost of gas, and that isn't the fault of the store. However, the draft costed $16 just to enter, which is $1 more than what we pay in Hickory. That doesn't seem like that big of a deal, but if the draft costs more, I expect there to be a bigger prize pool, even if only marginally so... and apparently there wasn't. If I heard correctly, first place only got six packs. I got five packs for this third place finish in Hickory last week, at a tournament with a similar number of people.

I haven't played enough tournaments outside of Hickory to know for sure, but I felt like I got ripped off. Maybe whatever prize structure they use is more common than I'm imagining and I'm being unfair in this assessment. Maybe Tim at The Dugout just spoils us. I don't know. I do know this: it will take a lot of convincing to get me to play in Cornelius again... which is sad, because the players there were really cool. I met some folks that I would really enjoy playing again. I wonder if they have any clue how much greener the grass really is on the other side?

The Dugout's First Legacy Tournament, a Semi-Success

A few weeks ago, I posted this to see if I could garner any interest in a legacy tournament in The Dugout of Hickory. Standard and draft have plenty of support, but those of us who love the older cards are usually just out of luck except for casual games. Initially, I thought we would have a good turnout, but on the day of the tournament, very few of the people I thought were coming actually showed up.

So we ran an unsanctioned tournament with just six people... still fun, but just not the same as getting a big crowd. I brought Junk, and I was able to play a pretty decent (as in, not budget) list since John let me dip into his collection and borrow a few things. My deck list was:

Lochlann's Laboratory: Darla, D-Bee Experiment with Amnesia

R.WB.30.071Though he conducted numerous tests on D-bees in his days as a Lone Star researcher, the only time Dr. Lochlann has experimented on one since his exile has been with the creature known as Darla. From where she came, even she doesn't know, but at some point she found herself on the run, at Dr. Lochlann's doorstep, begging for protection from mercenaries. Dr. Lochlann refused to protect her, but offered her the means to protect herself (if the experiment worked). She accepted, but an unforeseen side effect of the experiment was complete memory loss. Since she told Lochlann so little when she arrived, he was little help except to tell her that she was on the run from someone. She left Lochlann for a time, eventually confronting those who wanted her killed and defeating them. With no past to cling to and no present danger, she decided to return to Lochlann's laboratory and has remained there willingly ever since. She has no idea where she came from, but she knows that Lochlann's experiment saved her life. With nowhere else to turn, she has found it a relatively comfortable place to reside.

Now Writing on PureMTGO

I've just had my first article approved and posted on, a site that focuses on Magic: The Gathering Online. It's a little ironic, since I rarely ever play MTGO and do most of my card slinging with physical cards, but it is still an interesting experience to be published on another site. You can check it out by clicking here.

The article is just a tournament report for last weekend's Sunday tournament, and it is far from what I would consider polished. Still, the only blatantly obvious error in the article is actually an issue with the image linking... I assume the Magic 2012 set just hasn't been uploaded yet since all of the titans are linking to the M11 version and Dungrove Elder is stuck as just basic not-hyperlinked-or-replaced-with-a-pic text. Either way, you should check it out if you're interested in a really fun budget deck for standard.

Painting Some Rifts Miniatures

Line Walker after base coat
I'm finally getting around to painting some Rifts minis that I intended to start working on back in 2010. It has been a long time coming, and these miniatures have remained in their original packaging for quite some time now, but it's about time that they got some fresh air and a few good coats of paint. I don't know if I'll ever actually use them, since Rifts isn't mini-dependent at all, and we aren't even running a Rifts game at the moment... but painting them will be fun nonetheless. I decided to start with two of my favorites: a line walker and a Coalition SAMAS.

Warp Spider Phoenix Lord

Yeah, I know... terrible paint job...
I haven't actually used warp spiders in forever,
and I never got around to finishing them.
For some odd reason, the warp spiders got shafted when it came to distributing phoenix lords. If I had my way, they would get stats as follows:

Warp Spider Phoenix Lord (215 points)

Stats: Same as all other phoenix lords.

Unit Type: Jump Infantry

Wargear: Enchanted Death Spinner, Powerblades, Warp Jump Generator

Special Rules: Independent Character, Fleet of Foot, Fearless, Eternal Warrior, Disciples, Withdraw, Warp Jump Navigator

Enchanted Death Spinner: This weapon has seen so many trips through the warp that it has taken on mystical properties and is much more powerful than its more common counterparts. This death spinner is AP 2 and Assault 4.

Warp Jump Navigator: All warp spiders are adept at traversing the warp, but the phoenix lord is especially skilled at doing so safely. When this phoenix lord or a model in a unit he has joined would be removed as a result of rolling doubles for a warp jump generator move, roll a D6. On a result of 4+, the model is not removed.

I also want to add a note that taking this guy allows you to take one unit of warp spiders as a troop choice, but since none of the other phoenix lords have the ability, I'm leaving it out. Considering how many HQ choices printed in the 5th edition era have similar "may take X as troops" abilities, I'm assuming the next Eldar update will include this for phoenix lords. Until then...


Lochlann's Laboratory: Jerome, Dog Boy Experiment

R.UE.259Three dog boys who served Travis Lochlann helped him escape from Lone Star with his life after he took the fall for Desmond Bradford: Moses, Larry, and Jerome. Each of the three served Dr. Lochlann in a different capacity before his exile, and each fills a very different role in the lab now.

Jerome is the youngest of Dr. Lochlann's dog boys, and has shown his youthful curiosity by taking it upon himself to join the doctor in some of his research, as well as volunteering as a test subject. Due to the experiments Dr. Lochlann performed, Jerome can now shoot electricity from his fingertips, is extremely resistant to energy attacks of any sort, and has transformed into a mega damage being. What might be the most interesting of his new abilities, however, is his ability to walk in front of a camera and his image not show up on the film. Although it hasn't been fully tested, Jerome and Dr. Lochlann have speculated that he is probably invisible to technological sensors and cameras of all sorts.

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