Tag Archives: Ravenloft

RPGaDay 2016- Day 5, Stories others tell about my character

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This one is REALLY hard, mostly because I’m primarily the DM and while I often run DMPCs I do my best to not shine too much so that the players get to be the heroes. Even in the last several years I’ve generally been the DM, aside from playing in a few of my friends various 40k RPG campaigns and, in those, the real highlight points for my characters seem to revolve around improbable dice rolls more than actual actions.

I’ve have to go back a fairly long way to something that really stands out to me and, in a funny twist of fate, none of my current group were actually in the game, in fact I didn’t even know any of them at the time. It was probably the best part of 18 or so years ago and we were playing in a Ravenloft Campaign.

When Black Roses Bloom

We were in Sithicus, playing through the pre-written adventure ‘When Black Roses Bloom’. This adventure holds a special place in my heart because of my love of the Dragonlance and the extended story that Lord Soth received as a result of him being drawn into the Mists. There is a particular part in the last third of the adventure in which you encounter Soth, on his throne, seemingly comatose and exploration brings you to a series of mirrors that seem to be playing images, memories, from parts of the ill-fated Solamnic Knight’s past.

The party enter these mirrors and try to change events with the overall goal of trying to awaken Soth from his slumber in order to protect his domain. One such memory involves trying to stop Soth, while he is still alive, from making a terrible mistake. We spent quite a lot of time discussing what to do, how to distract him or restrain him and time was running out. In a moment of madness I yelled “let’s all dive on Soth” and proceeded to launch myself at him, bodily, wrestling him to the ground.

The next few minutes were spent frantically tussling with the knight, trying to hold him back and, at one point, saw my character sat on his chest, punching him in the face. Most surprisingly the plan worked, we managed to restrain Soth long enough for the course of events to change.

So that’s the one for me, I don’t have anything like many of my friends characters, things like tracking rocks, dying twice in a single minute to the same trap, killing an ancient dragon with a single dragonlance or withstanding hours of torture. My entire claim to fame, the stories the bards sing about my character, is the “let’s all dive on Soth” moment.

#RPGaDAY 2015 Day 29, Favourite Blog/Website

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I guess it’d be pretty egotistical to say my own blog but I genuinely really do get a kick out of writing this, even if it’s never read by all that many people. Writing my blog makes me feel like I’m vaguely connected with the gaming industry as a whole despite not actually being employed in the industry.

Realistically, my favourite website is RPG.Net. It’s a great hub within the gaming community and it covers a truly massive range of games. More than once I’ve discovered a game on RPG.net that I never knew existed and it’s turned into something that I absolutely love. RPG.net introduced me to such games as FATE, Spirit of the Century and Burning Wheel, which I consider to be pivotal in teaching me to new ways to run a game. RPG.Net is also the place I tend to find out about upcoming releases and projects that I’d otherwise miss, like the massively exciting John Carter RPG.

There isn’t much else to say on this. My other favourite website was Secrets of the Kargatane, a Ravenloft Fansite and later official site, but that closed down many years ago and with it ended one of the greatest campaigns I’ve ever played, the Galen Saga.

#RPGaDAY 2015 Day 28, Favourite Game I no longer play

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That kind of depends whether I look at it as play as a player or play as in run. Since I tend to run the games I really enjoy I’ll take it as play as a player.

In terms of my favourite game that I don’t get to play, it’s pretty much all of them, since I never get to be a player anymore. Realistically my favourite game that I never get to play is D&D. D&D is my favourite game, bar none, of all time but it’s something I virtually always end up running (which means if any of my players would like to run D&D for me, I’d appreciate it).

The last games of D&D I played were in 3.5. I played in a Ravenloft campaign playing through The Grim Harvest series of adventures (which are excellent) and before that it was a generic game in which I played a dwarven fighter using the Book of 9 Swords fighter options and he was awesome to use.

So there you go, D&D is definitely my favourite game and one that I never get to play anymore.

#RPGaDAY 2015 Day 20, Favourite Horror RPG

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As opposed to yesterdays Supers question, today is all about a genre I have played a fair amount or, Horror. Despite it not being my favourite genre overall, I’d say horror is the game I run best, probably because I think it’s the easiest to run well, but thats another story, and it’s one i’ve played off an on since my earliest days at the table.

Like most folk my age, my first introduction to horror RPG’s was through Vampire, The Masquerade. I started gaming during the 90’s at the height of the Anne Rice craze and everyone was obsessed with Vampires, not dumb twinkly Twilight vampires, but ancient, tear your throat out vampires and I was just the same. That first game of Vampire did not go well, the Storyteller didn’t really know what he was doing and we struggled to escape from the warehouse we started in, something about needing multiple 9’s on D10’s to open a door.

That didn’t stop me though, I bought Werewolf and tried to run that, without much more success than the Vampire ST, but it was a start and it wasn’t long after that I was introduced to what I consider to be the best Horror RPG, Call of Cthulhu.

My first Call of Cthulhu session, which was as a player, not a Keeper, pretty much set the bar for any session of Cthulhu I run. It was a simple investigation, just playing through The Haunting from the rule book, but the low lighting, the focus from the group and the Keeper and just the overall atmosphere just worked and by the end I was rocking back and forth in my chair muttering “This is not happening” over and over. In short, it was AWESOME.

I’ve played other horror games since, Vampire Dark Ages, Hunter the Vigil, Vampire the Requiem, Ravenloft and more but nothing has come close to Call of Cthulhu. I’ve also run several Cthulhu campaigns myself, including Masks of Nyarlathotep, Beyond the Mountains of Madness and Tatters of the King, with the latter being one of the finest campaigns, of any game, I’ve ever run.

RPGaDay 2015 Day 17, Favourite Fantasy RPG

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I’m trying to remember the different fantasy RPGs i’ve played. I don’t think it’s all that many, especially if you only could the whole of D&D as one. Off the top of my head its-

  • D&D in it’s myriad of forms and settings.
  • Stormbringer
  • WFRP (specifically 3rd ed)
  • Earthdawn
  • Numenera
  • Runequest

The question is an easy one to answer though, it’s D&D, it’s not just my favourite fantasy RPG, it’s my favourite RPG period.

Other fantasy games are fun but nothing quite achieves the same goal as D&D, especially when you take into account the various settings. If I want a horror setting I have Ravenloft, if I want low magic, Dragonlance, high fantasy noir, Eberron and for limitless possibilities I turn to Planescape.

I like other games, I love the setting of WFRP (pre End Times, I’m not sold on Age of Sigmar) with its black comedy and ever-present threat of falling to Chaos. I like Earthdawn for all it’s little nods and links to Shadowrun and I think my feelings about Numenera are pretty apparent but this point.

Runequest I enjoyed, no so much for the system or setting (in fact I could literally tell you nothing about the setting), but because of one particular character, Ralph the Goatherd. Ralph is one of may favourite all time characters, he was stupid, being barely more intelligent than the parties ogre who, in turn was barely more intelligent than his pet/lover bison named Fluffy. He adventured because he’d lost his goats (because the ogre ate them) and saved the world a couple of times by accident.

Unfortunately I think my experiences with Stormbringer (as detailed a little on day 16) soured me on the setting, despite being a fan of Moorcock and Elric of Melnibone.

RPGaDAY 2015 Day 15, Longest Campaign Played

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If I count just campaigns physically played then it’s probably not that long. I played an 8 year old girl named Mina in a friends D&D campaign from 1st to 12th level, but that probably only lasted a year or so. Mina was awesome, having absolutely no direct combat abilities and relying purely on her abilities to buff other characters through inspirational abilities based on the Marshal class in 3.5.

Outside physical games them it’s probably the Galen Saga. This was played over an extended period of time, years in fact, on the message boards of the Secrets of Kargatane website before it shut down. In that game I played a clone of my namesake, Trebor Minntt, trapped and altered within the demi-plane of Ravenloft. The story followed the adventures of the Taverners, patrons of the Malodorous Goat Tavern in Vallaki, as they tried to protect and understand the truth behind the mysterious child Galen, who appeared on the taverns doorstep one day. It was purely play by post, no dice rolls, no DM, it was freeform and collaborative story telling at it’s best and it was amazing.

As I’ve said many times, I’m a DM far more than a player and the longest campaign I’ve ever run was probably the first one that I ran when i moved away to go to University. It was D&D 3rd edition (leading to 3.5)ran for 2-3 years, I don’t remember exactly, and that was playing at least twice per week for 6+ hours a time with many multi day sessions as part of it. It ran from 1st to 22nd level, give or take, and took the players from my homebrew world, to Ravenloft, to Planescape and finally back to my own world.

The plot of the campaign was complex, twisting and turning many times, but, basically, it saw the PC’s being played off between two Yugoloths, Anthraxus and Bubonix, and trying to prevent an Tanar’ri incursion of their home world. They played through Ravenloft’s Nightmare Lands and Castles Forlorn, and the Planescape modules Hellbound the Blood War, Dead Gods (including battling Orcus), Harbinger House, Doors to the Unknown and more besides.

I vastly prefer long campaigns, I think they allow for true character development and story options that shorter campaigns simply can’t achieve. Playing the same character for years makes them a part of you in a way that can’t be replicated in the course of a few months and it lets the DM tell an epic story.

I liken long campaigns to TV shows. Single episodes can be fun, but the story told over the course of the whole season is more interesting and when that links to develop the plot of the shows entire run then it becomes something special. Look at Buffy, it has great single episodes, like Hush, fantastic seasons, like season 3, but it’s when you take the whole journey, from season 1-7 and combine it that you feel like you’ve been on an epic journey with the characters. Thats the kind of story I like to tell and participate in.

RPGaDAY Day 14, Favourite RPG Accessory

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In anticipation of this one i’ve been looking at my collection and generally trying to think of what actually qualifies as an RPG accessory. Off the top of my head I can only think of  couple of things that would genuinely count as an accessory and not a sourcebook.

The first is the DM Screen. This is a quintessential RPG product that dates back to at least 1st ed AD&D and possibly longer. I own a great many screens, for a variety of different games, some good, some bad. A screen isn’t the must have item that it used to be, some games don’t have official screens and others don’t even require the DM to pick up a dice, let alone hide their rolls, but they are still an important tool for the DM, providing easy access to tables and lists that save watching time searching through rulebooks. I’m a big fan of the DM screen.

After that, what else is there? Well there are player handouts, but they tend to come as part of an adventure than a stand alone accessory. Call of Cthulhu has some of the best examples, with Beyond the Mountains of Madness having it’s own accessory pack of handouts and with every single pre-written adventure coming with pages of letters and clues for you to photocopy for use in game. Call of Cthulhu also has packs of forms with such things as birth and death certificates and Sanatarium Admission forms, all designed to add a little depth to your game. Few games make as good a use of the handout as Call of Cthulhu but, used right, is another great tool that came really help make a game.

Lastly, at least from my own collection and off the top of my head, there are audio accessories. I covered these in a little in my article on atmosphere in gaming, but here bear mentioning again. Of all the various accessories these are probably my favourites because, used right, they can transform a game. Planescapes Mimir in the Planers primer to the Outlands is one outstanding example, as is the Ravenloft adventure A Light in the Belfry. Others might not like them as much as I do but I think that they can change the tone of a game if they are employed correctly.

Also falling into this category are the excellent sounds effects and soundboard tools produced by Battlebards. To me anything that draws the players into the world further and helps them suspend disbelief is a good thing and adding an audio element to the game is  simple and effective way to do that.

 

RPGaDay 2015 Day 11, Favourite RPG Writer

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This was always going to come down to two particular writers for me but before I discuss them, and pick a favourite, I think some other folk need an honourable mention. Keith Baker is first, for Eberron, amongst other things. Eberron was developed specifically for D&D 3.5 and I was shocked that it was god enough to stand against the great D&D campaign settings from the past. Eberron is a fantastic world that brought something new to D&D and Keith deserves major credit for that.

Next up is the combined team of Weis and Hickman. Now they get a mention mostly because of the Dragonlance novels, which isn’t specifically RPG related. However both have had significant involvement in other settings such as the original Castle Ravenloft, which kickstarted that setting and the Margaret Weis’s own companies development of such lines as Serenity, Dragonlance, Supernatural and others, including the excellent Cortex system.

But, as I’ve said, it was always going to come down to two people for me, Monte Cook and the late, great, Nigel Findley.

Monte Cook’s list of RPG achievements is huge. The man was instrumental in Planescape, which is one of the most ingenious campaign settings of all time. He wrote Ptolus, which is a holy grail item for me and one I often kcik myself for not picking up many years back. Then there is 3rd ed D&D, a game he co-developed and that set the standard for fantasy RPGs. Finally there is his latest ventures, Numenera, The Strange and the Cypher System. Anyone who has either read this series, or my Numenera reviews knows my love of that game and system and so Monte keeps going from strength to strength.

That brings me to Nigel Findley. Nigel died very young, in his 30’s but he left an indelible mark on two of my favourite campaign settings, Ravenloft and Shadowrun. In the former Nigel is responsible for the creation of Rudolph Van Richten, the famous monster hunter and archetypical hero for that setting. Van Richten’s name graced a long running series of books in Ravenloft, the Van Richten’s Guide to ……. series and these are some of the best in game fluff books in any setting, ever.

In Shadowrun Nigel developed the character of Dirk Montgomery in the novels of 2XS and House of the Sun. I mention these as RPG accessories since they are the books I give to new players to introduce them to the world of Shadowrun, being perfect examples of the tone and flavour of the setting. In terms of actual RPG products he wrote the magnificent source material in the Universal Brotherhood adventure and has heavily involved in the development and writing of the NAN books.

So who is my favourite? Of the two, I think I have to give it to Monte, by virtue of the sheer size of his body of work and how many of those aren’t just products I like, but ones I love. I have no doubt that had Nigel lived longer then he would have undoubtedly gone on to bigger and better things but with such a limited catalogue of work he gets out performed by Monte.

#RPGaDay Day 10, Favourite RPG Publisher

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At the risk of sounding like a broken record I might have said have said Monte Cook Games, because of Numenera, but that was until recently. As great as they are, they are’t EU friendly, especially on their Kickstarters and that bothers me as an EU resident. Unfortunately for me, the postage on Monte Cook Games items is just far too high, doubling the cost of a book and there isn’t a reasonable alternative that makes me willing to endorse them.

That leaves me in a bit of a bind, the only other companies I buy from with any regularity are Catalyst for Shadowrun and Fantasy Flight Games for the 40k rpgs and I haven’t bought from them in some time. I can’t say Catalyst are my favourite RPG publisher, their editing process is too lax and the quality of the writing is too varied for me to feel the need to rush out and buy their ware, which would be the best sign of them being my top publisher.

So, in line with the general theme of this blog, I think I’m going to have to go with something a little more old school and pick TSR. It’s not an original choice and, I’ll be honest, they did put out a whole load of weak products but, at the end of the day, they did some fantastic things as well.

Just to break it down why TSR are my favourite RPG publisher, well, first, they created Dragonlance, my absolute number 1 game world of all time. I’ve been reading Dragonlance for 25 years and if there is any one thing that really spurred me to get into the world of gaming it’s Dragonlance. As a kid I wanted to play through the Chronicles with mu own characters and, 25 years later, I’m still re-reading the novels and I’m preparing for a Dragonlance Campaign in 5th edition.

Second, and it’s weird that this is second, but they were the company that produced D&D, my absolute number 1 game of all time. It’s a bit cliche now to say that about D&D, most people think that they have moved on from D&D to other games and left it behind but, for me, nothing compares to good D&D, be it a long story based campaign or some good old fashioned dungeon crawling.

Above and beyond Dragonlance TSR are responsible for a couple of my other favourite settings of all time, being the amazing Planescape and the chilling Ravenloft. Planescape is one of the most inventive campaign settings i’ve ever had the pleasure to run and my complete collection is the pride of my games collection. Ravenloft has so many clever little elements and touches that it’s hard for someone to not find something they like there. For me the Ravenloft products of Castles Forlorn and The Nightmare Lands stand out as examples of what horror can be like, done right.

Sure TSR released some less than stellar items and there was some heavy bloat in virtually every line by the end but especially in the sheer number of campaign settings that they were churning out, but, in their heyday, they were a powerhouse that paved the way for all of the companies, games and worlds I love today. Without TSR there wouldn’t be an RPG hobby for me to enjoy and write about and for that alone they have to be my favourite company.