Gnotes from Gnome Stew HQ

The first installment of Martin’s Mentions seemed to go over well, so I’m sticking to that format for this edition. If you have an item to suggest, please email me: martin (at) gnomestew (dot) com.

GMing Roundup

The two latest “The Architect DM” articles over on Critical Hits were quite enjoyable. On Sandbox Campaigns looks at how starting a sandbox-style campaign (one where the PCs pick a direction and you adapt accordingly, more or less) is like entering a train station: lots of options, but once you pick one everyone knows which way it’s going, at least for a little while, and you don’t have to develop the other trains or destinations all at once or right away. It’s a great analogy that really clicked for me.

A little fuzzier but no less interesting is their look at nations as character backgrounds. This piece advocates having one-paragraph descriptions of all of the major nations in your game world (made much easier in a published setting, or with a wiki, of course!) available during character creation, both to inform your players’ background choices and to help define the world through those choices.

I also enjoyed this take on creating a GMing bucket list over on Campaign Mastery. Johnn has listed out a couple dozen D&D modules he wants to run before he dies, and it’s both a great idea and an intimidating one. I’ve done this with my unplayed board games, minus the bucket list association (I committed to play all the new ones before the end of 2011), and it’s helped me focus on what comes out at game nights.

With GenCon just days away, I loved RPG Blog II‘s Field Guide to GenCon Attendees. Zach has been to many a GenCon, and he’s spot-on: I’ve met all of these people. And if you’re thirsty for GenCon advice of a more serious variety, check out the Stew’s own GenCon Tips page, which is packed with info, links, and tips from the trenches.

Lastly, but never leastly, take a peek at the Gygax Memorial Fund. They’re raising money to build a memorial to E. Gary Gygax, the father of gaming, in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Not only is it a good cause, but they’re going to be offering a book in exchange for $30 donations at GenCon 2011 (booth #1541), “Cheers, Gary,” which sounds delightful.

From the site: “Cheers, Gary is collection of some of Gary’s most remarkably warm and prolific correspondence with his fellow gamers at the EN World Q&A Threads.” After the con, the book will also be available on their website. I can’t make it to the con, but I plan to pick up a copy.

In closing, here’s my gaming group toasting Gary on the first anniversary of his death, March 9, 2009 — a gaming night, of course (and with the Stew’s own Don Mappin behind the camera):


WorldWorks Games is launching a minis-oriented product at GenCon 2011 that just about made me shit my pants: TerraClips. It’s kind of like a prettier, lighter, less durable version of Dwarven Forge‘s MasterMaze products, which are polystone — gorgeous, but heavy and expensive.

The idea is that you buy some packs, and some clips, and then build floors, streets, and 3D walls and roofed buildings) from it — and they look absolutely gorgeous. On top of that, you can build in layers, removing the street layer when the PCs head down into the sewers. You have to see this (image from the WorldWorks site):

They’re not cheap, but for what you get they also don’t seem overpriced: $49 gets you a nice-sized pack of floors, walls, trusses, roofs, ladders, staircases, and more, and the floor tiles are double-sided (currently aged wood/carved stone and different sewer options). Packs of 120 connectors run $18. They’ve got separate packs for streets, sewers, and buildings.

Seriously — check out the link; this looks amazing. I fully expect TerraClips to be what everyone is talking about after GenCon.

The Mistborn RPG

Crafty Games is going to be opening preorders for a Mistborn RPG on 8/4; you’ll be able to preorder at GenCon or online, and it looks like the preorders might close on 8/7. Mistborn is a series by Brandon Sanderson, one of my favorite authors (it begins with Mistborn, but the whole damn trilogy is awesome), and when I originally read the first book I kept thinking to myself, “This would make a great RPG.”

The mistborn are folks who can manipulate small amounts of ingested metal (infused into little vials of water) to propel themselves into the air, attract and repel metal, read minds, and perform other feats. What types of metal, how they’re used, and what your innate gifts and training let you do are the limiters, and they do all kinds of crazy shit in the books. The main characters sound like PCs to me, but not in a cheesy way — I’d love to play or run a Mistborn game.

On top of that, the Final Empire, the main setting in the novels, is fascinating, detailed, and also lends itself to gaming. There’s a central antagonist, lots of territory to work with, and plenty of background material.

The blurb on the CG website says that it’s “powered by an all new story-driven rules system,” which I find encouraging. Spycraft, based on reading not playing, doesn’t blow my skirt up. I don’t think that kind of rule set can do justice to Mistborn, so I’m glad that it sounds like they’ll be going a different route. To everyone going to GenCon this year, I’m now even more envious of you!

(Thanks to Dave over at Critical Hits for bringing this to my attention. The image is from the Crafty Games website.)

Inspiration for GMs

The soundtrack to Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 2 is the first of the Harry Potter soundtracks I’ve actually bought, and it’s fantastic. The music in the previous movies, while always good, never really stood out for me (beyond a few standout tracks, anyway), but this soundtrack is moving and all-around excellent. It’s also perfect for RPG background music, with a split of about 40% ambient, 40% action, and 20% sinister tracks, if you use my system for creating BGM playlists (which is a bit out of date — I’ve switched to just three playlists, not the four it proposes).

Crossed (v. 1), by Garth Ennis — one of my favorite comic book writers — is one of the sickest comics I’ve ever read, but alongside all the depravity it’s also brilliant and well-told. It was riveting, and I stayed up way too late reading it. I’d describe it as The Walking Dead with scarier zombies — the crossed, who are much more human than zombies — and less hope.

From a GMing standpoint, it gave me plenty to think about in terms of just how far horror can be taken and still be scary, and how the scariest thing is often just people and their infinite capacity for cruelty — fertile ground for adventure plots!

On the non-comic front, I’m well into my rereading of A Clash of Kings, the second book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. It’ll take me a month or two to reach the new book, but it’s proving worthwhile — these books reward rereading, and I always forget just what a good writer GRRM is.

This series is great inspiration for low-magic, high-drama, human-centric fantasy campaigns, or for introducing those elements into a game that might not normally feature them. GRRM does all of those things better than any other fantasy author I’ve read.

Masks at GenCon

One last reminder on GenCon Eve: Studio 2 Publishing will have 65 copies of the limited run hardcover edition of our newest book, Masks: 1,000 Memorable NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game, at booth #605. They’ll also be stocking Eureka.

This is your last chance to get a hardcover copy of Masks — once they’re gone, they’re gone! And if you do snag one or both books at the con, just send me a photo of your receipt and I’ll email you the PDF edition(s) for free.

Jolly Blackburn

Incidentally, I mentioned over on Google+ that my main inspiration for launching Martin’s Mentions was Jolly Blackburn’s editorials in Knights of the Dinner Table, and fellow gamer Tony Love had this to say:

Jolly is a good spiritual mentor. He’s taught a lot of gamers in not only the editorials, but even in his strips that we can learn a lot just as much from learning to laugh and relax in the hobby, I look forward to reading your work!

I couldn’t agree more.

As always, thanks for reading — and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!