January 2012

It should be pretty obvious by now that I am a big sucker for any product that helps inspire creativity and improvisation, and generally makes the GM’s job easier – and I’ve been lucky enough to happen upon many in recent years.

Masks: 1,000 Memorable NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game could be a candidate for one of the best GM tools ever, at least in my book. It is a 300+ page collection of NPC personality sketches that is not just a list of characters, but a collection of tools to adapt them to your own campaign and use them to the best advantage. It’s not only a book of NPCs, it is a book on how to NPC.

The entire first chapter is devoted to GMing advice – making NPCs memorable, “re-skinning” NPCs from one genre to use them in another, polarizing elements of the character to make them unique – and most importantly, how to not overdo it (these are supporting characters after all, and should never steal the show from the real protagonists).  The lists of traits and “invisible keywords” at the end of this chapter, and the explanation of how they were used, will prime any imaginative GM to immediately begin customizing these NPCs before they even get to them.

After that comes the parade of NPCs, divided into three genre categories (fantasy, modern, and sci-fi), each of which are divided into sub-categories (villains, neutrals, and allies). Each NPC is fleshed out in an array of descriptors – Name, Capsule Description, Quote, Appearance, Roleplaying, Personality, Motivation, Background, and Traits. The descriptions are very concise, to keep the most important and functional elements of the character in the foreground. Many of the NPCs could easily be adapted to other genres with a bit of fiddling and tweaking (and advice for this is supplied in Chapter One).

If all of this wasn’t enough, the book contains a “name ribbon” running through it – a one-line list of names running along the bottom of most of the pages that a GM can quickly reference if a character name is needed on the fly.

While looking through this massive collection of character backgrounds, I found an additional use for it, as I caught myself coming up with story ideas to draw them into. I’m even tempted to challenge myself and choose some at random (they’re all numbered) and try to write a plot around them!

As a side note – I was pleased to discover that it was inspired by one of my favorite Dragon magazine articles of all time – “The 7 Sentence NPC,” by C.M. Cline. It appeared in the August 1992 issue, and I’ve kept a photocopy of it in my RPG binder for many, many years now.

I really can’t recommended this collection enough for any serious GM’s reference library. If I had to come up with a negative about Masks, it would be this – it’s entirely too big to fit into my RPG binder. I’m probably going to have to invest in a good tablet PC that can display PDFs.



soybomb.com/tricks/words is a little gadget that creates random pronounceable nonsense words based on real words in the English language.  Here’s a list of words that it made for me:

immerreration pinostupon bilbereous alizesenlay costaft
convilizes ovelestancess vageords specamplier dimnassympeth
picauth nopung digingentrice actinimbing restowins
malfunden bearties ablety cleari farmatuter
gonsiverlest prodwondi sariologa cognized rectivittic
seminicance bustraticarbon crosphys mospecue beyingslavoid
calindacery vinisharchared boyfrian lawrapprop tempasts
constreas fighossplancy prolater nishintentian thostravieth
resser ancecial decoolitier ecution downtroseviers
belitt destirvits ceippermings criplicilly bridene

You should totally generate a thousand or so of these words, put ’em into a text file, print them out, and put a copy in your roleplaying folder for those times when you need a genuine-sounding word to describe something that doesn’t really exist.

I know I’m gonna.


New Year, New GameOkay, here it is – my belated (but better than be-nevered!)  New Year, New Game post.

For those of you just joining us,  New Year New Game is a challenge to roleplaying enthusiasts to try a new roleplaying game every new year, to help inspire us, broaden our horizons, and keep our hobby from getting stale.

A few new RPGs have really caught my attention, and I thought I would make a list of five that will try my best to play in the coming year. I figure making a list of five will increase my odds of getting at least one of them in. So, here goes:

1) Macabre Tales (link) – I reviewed this one a little while ago – It’s a one-on-one RPG (one narrator, one player) that is the most faithful tribute to the stories of H.P. Lovecraft that I’ve ever seen, and it uses dominoes instead of dice. Very intriguing.

2) Toypocalypse (link) – This is another that I reviewed recently. One could call it a mash-up of Toy Story, Small Soldiers, 9, and Lord of the Flies, if one were so inclined – sentient toys living in a human-free post-apocalyptic world. Oh yeah, I’m so there.

3) Cosmic Patrol (link) – This one is in my to-be-reviewed pile. Two-fisted Golden Age science fiction GMless roleplaying that looks like it would be a blast to play. And speaking of GMless games…

4) Fiasco (link)  – Nope, I haven’t played it yet. Yeah, I know it’s awesome. I kn… I KNOW, ALL RIGHT? I KNOW! I’M GONNA! JUST STOP, ALREADY!

5) Lost Days of Memories and Madness (link) – Their teaser text has me very interested – “A storytelling game of intrigue and insanity at the end of the world. The immortal elves of the Eternal Court are masters of the world, enslaving the lesser races so that their most precious possessions – their memories – can be harvested for the pleasure of the decadent elven lords. The greatest fear amongst the immortal elves is madness; the greatest taboo is the mention that the stolen memories of others is the path to insanity.” And I just noticed that it’s GMless, too. Honestly, I don’t have anything against GMed games… it just seems to be working out like this…

So there’s my list. If I get to play and/or run one of them, I will consider it a success. Two will be a critical success, three will be an outright miracle. I’ll check back in when January 2013 rolls around and file my report.

Now, about those new gamers…

I’m happy – and very lucky – to say that I have a lot of opportunities to play with new people right now, and by “new,” I mostly mean folks who have never tried the RPG hobby before, along with one experienced gamer who wants to try a game he’s never played before. And unlike the above list, I’m going to do my very best to check ALL of the items off of this one in the coming year:

Mr. Hudson is a long-time friend of my partner Paula and mine. I used to call him “Dave” (that’s his first name) until the day I bumped into him while visiting a grade school and learned that he was a teacher there.  Now I call him Mr. Hudson. Anyway, Mr. Hudson and I got into a conversation late last year in which he mentioned that his son expressed an interest in playing Dungeons & Dragons – so I told him that if he would like, I would be happy to run a game for him and his son someday. He said he would like. So I’m going to. I’ll probably run a retroclone like OSRIC, which while technically counts as D&D, I’ve never run before. So it’ll count as a new game!

Allie is a theatre friend. She and I have been in many different stage shows together in the children’s theatre group that we are both a part of. In our first (The Frog Princess), I played the storyteller and narrator, and she was a barbarian princess. Currently, we are working together on a new show (The Golden Goose) in which she is playing the storyteller/narrator, and I’m playing the king. She has heard us talk about gaming during our backstage discussions and late-night after-rehearsal dinners at Applebee’s, and mentioned that she’d like to give it a go. For this, I may use Blue Rose – simple rules, and since I’ve never run it before – cha-ching! New game! (Does Blue Rose have barbarians in it?)

Jeremy is my oldest daughter’s boyfriend. He already enjoys console RPGs, so trying out a tabletop version won’t be all that new to him. During one of their phone conversations, I overheard my daughter say to him “You’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons? You can’t truly call yourself a geek until you’ve played D&D! My dad can run a game for us someday!” He has agreed to do so – but it’s likely that his real agenda is to have that much more face-to-face time with my daughter. Regardless, I’m making him chuck some dice, probably in the same Blue Rose game with Allie.

Jenn is another theatre friend who has three energetic and highly imaginative boys. I’ve thought about asking her if I could run a simple RPG for them someday, but she actually popped the question before I could. I’m not sure what I would run, but I did just get a review copy of RAWR!

My friend Chris is someone I’ve gamed with for years, who recently told me that one of his other friends (whose name I cannot remember right now) inquired about giving the Call of Cthulhu RPG a try for the first time. “There’s only one guy I know who can do Cthulhu justice,” says my friend Chris. (Aw, shucks.) Now this doesn’t really count as a new game on my end, but it would on his! Ca-ching!

And there we have it – my big RPG plans for the year. Check back with me in 2013 to see how they went!


Many gamemasters, myself included, like to spice up their roleplaying sessions with background music and sound effects. I’ve been finding quite a few examples of both in the bricked-up library, so I thought I would put them into a big pile, give them all a listen, and share my reviews for anyone who might find them useful for their games.

Toxic Bag’s Game Masters Collection is a series of sound effects arranged in several themed volumes. I’m going to tackle the first three in this post, and cover the rest in future posts.

Volume One: The Twentieth Century is a collection of ambient sound tracks and individual sound effects for contemporary RPGs.

The ambient sound tracks are full and rich – “1930s/40s Swing Club” features three minutes of crowd noise and jazz music, with laughing patrons, clinking glasses, and cigarette girls in the foreground. The “1950s Corner Gin Joint” track features the sounds of a pool match, a radio broadcast of a baseball game, and some background conversation, and the 1960s Go-Go Club, 1970s Disco, and 1990s Industrial Bar are just as full and rich. Each track clocks in at around three minutes.

Other goodies in this set include: a noisy, staticy morse code message (I’m tempted to try to translate it), calm and panicked distress calls with lots of dropouts and static, an emergency broadcast message announcing the declaration of martial law (thousands of uses!), an evil genius headquarters and mad scientist lab, a cave, a sewer, a couple of different cities, and several different types of gunfire.  Most tracks seem to run around a minute and a half long, with the ambient tracks running closer to three minutes, and the sound effects (like gunfire) clocking in at less than half a minute.

Some of the background tracks don’t work quite as well when looped. The Swing Club track, for example, fades in as the house band is in the middle of a song, and fades out the same way. I feel this track might have worked better if it were a bit longer, and included three complete songs (that would make the track seem less repetitious to the players if their characters are spending a lot of time in that particular scene).  Some of the other tracks have a long period of silence after the fadeout, which would create a noticeable hole in the effects if it was being looped. This could be somewhat remedied by playing the tracks more quietly (at the risk of losing some of the nuances), or more technically adept gamemasters could use an audio editing program to remove the silence and make their own extended versions of the tracks.

All in all, it’s a quality package for a reasonable price.

Volume Two: Monsters is a collection of sixty three creature sounds and noises ranging from bugs, cats, and snakes to aliens, undead, sea monsters, and demons.

Many of the effects here are very easy to repurpose. The Dimensional Beast, for example, could easily be used as a malfunctioning robot or distorted radio message, if you don’t happen to have a place for a Dimensional Beast in your scenario, and anyone with access to some audio editing software and even a modicum of skill could combine two or more of these tracks into something perfectly suited for their needs.

Most of the tracks run less than thirty seconds, with some of the more simple sound effects clocking in at between :10 and :15.  Some of the effects are a bit campy, but intentionally so (such as the “Polly Playtime” doll and one of the zombie tracks) which means that GMs looking for humorous and/or cheesy sound effects will find something of use here as well.

Volume Three: Fantasy features – you guessed it – fantasy themed sound effects and ambient background effects. This collection boasts fifty six tracks, with over a third of them battle themed – arrow hits and flybys, sword draws and clashes, and outdoor and dungeon skirmishes.

Other audio goodies include a royal fanfare, some orcs grunting and talking, a bit of gregorian chant (with some nice reverb effect to make it sound like it’s happening in a monastery), a church service, a few spells being cast and some dragon noises, to name a few – all of which could find a place in any good fantasy campaign.

As with the other volumes in this series, the ambient tracks (like the Busy City, Smithy, and Enchanted Forest) suffer from long stretches of silence at the end, which isn’t a problem when the tracks are played once, but will create a noticeable hole in the sound if they are looped during longer scenes in the game. This could be resolved by playing the sounds at a lower level, or using an audio program to trim out the silence and maybe even extend the entire duration of the file through cutting and pasting.

That’s it for this batch. Keep your ears peeled for my next batch of RPG music and sound effects!


I’m not sure how I missed this on Gnome Stew when it was first posted, but I’m glad I caught it through a more recent post – John Arcadian explains The 3-3-3 Approach to Quick Game Prep. It sort of reminds me of Dr. Rotwang!’s  Adventure Funnel, another great tool for prepping adventures quickly.

Both are awesome, and you should definitely print them out and put them in your RPG binder for future reference, as I have done.


Just a little while ago, Wizards of the Coast announced a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons – news that was even leaked early at the New York Times – and as you’d expect, gamers have a lot to say. Most of it isn’t very hopeful, at least from what I’ve seen.

I had a much longer post written about the whole thing, but after I looked it over, I realized that I wasn’t saying anything that anyone didn’t already understand, and I was really just writing a sermon for those folks in the pretty robes over there near the organist. So I’ll just go over my general opinions and be done with it.

Companies like Hasbro have to make money. The problem with roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons is that it’s very possible to enjoy them for years without spending any more money on them – and from a corporate standpoint, that’s bad.  So they have to find some way to keep people spending money.

On top of that, the roleplaying hobby faces a pretty bleak future.  Technology threatens a pretty nasty flanking attack – on one side with multiplayer video games that become more immersive every year, and on the other with the impending death of print and smartphone apps that replace dice and possibly even miniatures, a combination which may make one wonder why they shouldn’t just avoid all of this trouble and play an MMORPG instead.

Hasbro has to do something to keep up with this – and if it doesn’t work, then we may eventually see them drop the Dungeons & Dragons name.

The thing is, just as there will always be wargamers, storytellers, and amateur actors, there will always be roleplayers. Even if we were to see Hasbro close the doors on D&D completely, there would still be gamers playing every edition ever printed, along with the retroclones that they have inspired.

D&D: the business may not work years from now, but D&D: the game always will. It’s happening right now with games that are no longer in print – Star Frontiers and Marvel Super Heroes and all of their supplemental material are available for free online.  This is not to mention classic games from other companies – and the new indie games we’ve been seeing lately as well. People will continue to play them, and game designers, writers, and artists will continue to produce them, even when it doesn’t become financially feasible anymore.

So don’t get all caught up in edition wars and all that mess. Play what you enjoy, find others who want to do the same, and have some excellent adventures.


WyshMaykers is a storytelling game about a special group of people who have the power to make wishes (sorry… “Wyshes”) come true.

The setting is rather open-ended – no time period is implied (though it seems to assume a contemporary one), so GMs could set their stories in almost any era they liked. Virtually no mention is given to the repercussions of this wanton WyshMayking. Do Wyshes cause any kind of karmic backlash? Are WyshMaykers only allowed to make Wyshes when the mundanes aren’t looking? If not, what would happen if a mundane witnessed a Wysh in action? None of these questions are answered, but the right group of players may have a good time making up their own.

The game uses -U-, a fairly rules-lite system.  Characters are detailed by three Attributes (Action, Thought, and X, which is sort of a catch-all attribute for things such as Will and Luck), a list of Studies (areas In which they have some level of expertise), and any Items that they possess. To create a character, players assign dots to these Attributes, Studies, and Items. Actions are resolved by rolling 3d6 for each dot in the appropriate Attribute (plus any dots in related Studies and/or Items). If any of the 3d6 rolls come up with a pair of matching numbers, the action is a success, while three matching numbers indicate a critical success. No matches denotes failure.

It’s a very freeform system – possibly too much so. The Wyshing ability allows a character to do pretty much anything they desire, with little in the way of limitation (a table of modifiers makes larger acts of Wyshing more difficult, but at the very worst, there’s still a 1 in 36 chance that a WyshMayker can topple a skyscraper). There is a large and powerful group – the Society of WyshMaykers – who work to keep any such activity in check, but even with them in place, I fear for any gamemaster who ends up with even a single powergamer in their group. Please choose your players responsibly if you decide to run a session of WyshMaykers.

The artwork is rough and sort of “scratchy,” and leaves a bit to be desired – thankfully, it is somewhat sparse and non-distracting. The crumpled paper background for the “World of WyshMaykers” section makes it a little more difficult to read, but is absent in the print version of the document.

WyshMaykers gets bonus points from me for the inclusion of the “Print 2 Play” pages at the end of the book. These include character record sheets, story outline cards, and cards to help players keep track of their points, as well as “Rules-at-a-glance” cards. These cards contain a simple synopsis of the rules so that the Story Referee and players can check them quickly, without having to reference the rulebook. They even have the page arranged in sections, so you can fold or cut it apart to make it pocket-sized. This is something that I wish every RPG publisher would do with their game (in fact, for those that don’t, I usually end up making one myself, the first time I run the game).

Check out WyshMaykers: The Game of Magical Stories at DriveThruRPG.


Sonnet 18

Part of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18, written in Amethyst (click image for more)

Omniglot is a comprehensive collection of languages and writing systems, both real-world and “constructed,” and is an incredibly inspirational resource for anyone interested in adding foreign languages to their roleplaying sessions.

There is a lot here for GMs to work with, whether you’re looking to create some convincing phrases or even if you just want some nonsensical filler text – you could, for example, create some simple documents in Arabic or  Ancient Aramaic for your troupe of archaeologists to find.  There are even writing systems that have been developed by visitors to the site – all of them very unusual. Use Visual Binary Cube on some keyboard displays in your cyberpunk campaign.  Write out a page from a crazed cultist’s journal in Bāgha. Want to burn a few real-world sanity points from your players (and maybe make them a bit nauseous to boot)? Give them something written in Rotor Script to translate – it’s a language in which all of the characters move as you’re reading them.

Just try not to get overwhelmed like I did. I may need to lie down for a bit.

(Thanks to BoingBoing for the link.)


New Year, New GameGnome Stew has announced New Year, New Game a project that they (and I) hope will encourage gamers to seek new vistas and run a new roleplaying game every year.

Their mission is (and I quote):

“To inspire game masters to run at least one new game each year, because trying new games broadens your horizons, challenges your skills as a GM, and can deepen your enjoyment of gaming as a hobby.”

NYNG will be promoted with a blog carnival (in which I will be participating) and a pitch-your-game contest, in which GMs are encouraged to send a short “elevator pitch” of the RPGs they’d like to run, for a chance to win a prize bundle from Engine Publishing, DriveThruRPG, Obsidian Portal, and more.

You can find out more at Gnome Stew, and at the official site for New Year, New Game.