Gnotes from Gnome Stew HQ

Now that I’ve resurfaced from working on our second book, Masks, one of the things I want to get back to is posting Gnome Rodeos (link roundups) — but I think the format could use a shakeup and a fresh coat of paint, so I’m relaunching this old regular series as “Martin’s Mentions: Gnotes from Gnome Stew HQ.”

I want Martin’s Mentions to feel more like an editorial, more personal and less like just a list of links — even though links are still at its heart. It’s been awhile, so this first entry is over 1,500 words; I hope you dig it.

GMing Roundup

Campaign Mastery has a good article covering the many ways you can continue a campaign with an absent PC. I also recommend their piece on encounter and scene planning — here’s my favorite tip from that article, one that seems so obvious now that I’ve read it:

Traps are often meant as a delaying tactic, but too many can slow down the game to a crawl. They should be reserved for areas of danger that are meant to be protected, so the players can have some idea when to expect traps and when they are reasonably safe. Sometimes, even the threat of a trap is enough to keep the players on their toes.

Both of those articles are the kind of long-form advice that Campaign Mastery really excels at. Instead of going for short snippets and link-bait, they post evergreen material that you can bookmark and come back to. Good stuff!

I’d also like to highlight some recent posts by our fellow 2011 Best Blog ENnie nominees, all of which are well worth checking out:

  • At-Will is all 4e, and mostly mechanics; it’s a blog I wasn’t familiar with before the nominations came out. Need some sea creatures? They have solid write-ups that include stat blocks. Like skill challenges? Check out their podcast about skill challenges, the latest episode of which covers when to use them (a topic my group struggled with, at times).
  • Critical Hits posted a funny exploration of a dream-based adventure gone horribly wrong. Here’s my favorite bit: “When the first PC failed to break free of the lettuce and wound up mutating on a piece of evil toast, I realized I had far exceeded my ability to improvise. The first victim suddenly found himself with the hindquarters of a wooden wasp.” I also enjoyed the latest entry in the Architect DM series, which covers city architecture and the way little details can provide your players with a rich understanding of the campaign setting.
  • Sarah Darkmagic focuses on D&D, and her writing and approach are excellent and engaging. On the GMing front, try her manual to WotC’s Monster Builder and her searchable adventure database, which is holy shit awesome. As a big fan of using non-gaming books for gaming, I also dug her look at the non-fiction book Warrior Women.
  • Thistle Games is the final Best Blog nominee, and one that I’d never heard of before. Like Critical Hits, TG isn’t devoted entirely to RPGs, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful to GMs. For example, I dare you to read part four of The Black Douglas, an historical piece that’s chock full of inspiration for battles and dirty politics, and not get the itch to run a game featuring those elements. I also like the concept behind their free Treasure RPG, which can be played as a tabletop RPG, a boardgame, or a light CCG, and combines elements of each.

Last but not least, in the comments on A Look at Downtime in RPGs and Board Games, Gnome Stew reader MonsterMike shared some info on Bean: The D2 RPG, a game designed to be easy enough to play with kids. As my daughter, Lark, has gotten older, I’ve been thinking more and more about RPGs she might enjoy in a couple of years, and this one has potential.

The system uses beans (or any other d2, but beans sure sound like more fun) as its resolution mechanic, and it employs team combat: the heroes all combine their “rolls” and compare that total to their foes’ combined total, which sounds like a fantastic approach for kids (or for lighter games in general — as MonsterMike pointed out, this is how Tunnels & Trolls handles combat, too).

New Open Design Project: Dark Roads and Golden Hells

Dark Roads and Golden Hells (awesome name!) is the latest patronage-based project from Open Design, the brainchild of Wolfgang Baur (of Kobold Quarterly fame).

Planescape was one of the AD&D 2e settings that really touched a nerve, in a good way, for a lot of GMs and players, and there have been several attempts to do something as cool since it went out of print. Golden Hells isn’t a full-on planar setting, though; it takes a different approach.

Here’s the quick skinny:

Rather than presenting a whole cosmology, Dark Roads and Golden Hells provides themes, flavourful locations, and special rules that can be integrated into any campaign setting, concentrating on locales tied to the Free City of Zobeck: The homes of prominent gods and devils, the planar domains of creatures like the shadow fey, and the afterlife of ghouls and kobolds.

That’s a neat approach — I like modular GMing tools, and most established D&D worlds already have a cosmology and a structure for their planar realms. Also nifty, for those of us not playing D&D/PF: “This is a setting book more than a heavy rules supplement…” — so there will be some mechanics, but I’ll be able to ignore them without sacrificing most of the book. I expect this to be a really cool book.

Its a patronage project, so by joining you get the PDF and a discount on the print book, as well as the opportunity to influence the design — and you can also pay more and have the opportunity to write part of the book yourself, as one of its designers (for which work you will then be paid).

RPG Blog Alliance

Michael Wolf of Stargazer’s World asked me to mention his latest project, the RPG Blog Alliance, and it’s something I think Stew readers will be interested in.

By my highly unscientific count, it’s the third major RPG blog network, the RPG Bloggers Network and the RPG Media Network being the first two biggies. The RPGBA is notable for having gained 200 new members in less than two months — it’s definitely struck a chord with RPG bloggers.

In the announcement about the launch, Jeff Uurtamo, the programmer and host of the RPGBA site, answers the question “Why do we need another RPG blog network?”:

Even with these features, some will ask why this even required, as there are similar sites out there. To which we say, Yes there are. The issue for me has always been that they just didn’t seem like a community. We wanted to start a community. I wanted something that users could edit their own profile information without an administrator. I wanted simple to use administrator functions. We think we done that.

The RPGBA’s admission requirements are incredibly inclusive: To join, you need to run an RPG blog with an RSS feed, and not be offensive — that’s it. I tend to prefer a slightly more curated approach, but the advantage to the RPGBA’s inclusiveness is that there’s a lot of content for you to peruse, including many excellent blogs.

Inspiration for GMs

My wife, Alysia, and I just finished watching the first season of Game of Thrones, and we both loved the music. The soundtrack is finally available as an MP3 album, and it’s become one of my favorite soundtracks — especially for writing.

It reminds me a lot of Battlestar Galactica, with an orchestra and plenty of drumming, but it’s the strings that really shine in this one. It would make excellent RPG background music. Highly recommended.

With Game of Thrones on the brain, I also dove back into the earlier Song of Ice and Fire books in anticipation of the latest volume, A Dance with Dragons — but before doing that, I polished off the first book in Brandon Sanderson’s new series, The Way of Kings.

I want to mention that book for two reasons. First, because it’s the best fantasy novel I’ve read since A Game of Thrones and the Fellowship of the Ring — it’s really that good. And second, because it makes me want to do some serious worldbuilding like no other book I’ve read in years. Sanderson manages to craft a deeply detailed fantasy world that’s also unique and original, but without the “Ha ha, I just did that to be different!” feel you sometimes get from fantasy books that try to innovate.

Masks Preorders are Now Open

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our latest book for GMs, which is currently available for preorder. If you like the idea of having a thousand system-neutral NPCs at your fingertips, check out Masks: 1,000 Memorable NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game.

Not only is the preorder an opportunity to get the hardcover edition of the book, which will not be available in retail stores (retailers will be carrying a softcover edition), but you’ll get the PDF edition for free as soon as you place your preorder.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you like this first entry in Martin’s Mentions, and the new approach!