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The Timing

500 Posts. Wow.

Really Wow.

Of course, it’s all in how you count them.

You could argue that by a strict numeric count, the 500th post was a couple of months ago, and you would be right, but only because a problem with an earlier version of WordPress forced us to break articles up that were more than about 5000 words or the text simply wouldn’t display, which meant that some articles were published in two or three simultaneous parts; and because there have been some out-of-continuity articles that were contests for our readers with no real content; and so on. So I don’t count them that way.

Should those multipart articles that weren’t intended to be discrete stand-alone parts of a series count as separate posts, or as just one? A hard call, but I drew the line as follows: If I think they would have been posted separately as a series had we figured out how to do that, they were counted as separate; if they would have been single posts if that was possible at the time, that’s how they have been counted.

You could argue that I shouldn’t count articles that don’t contribute to the actual purpose of the blog. Online magazine. Well, whatever it actually is; my working definition changes with the direction of the wind and the day of the week. Some past celebrations of milestones don’t make a meaningful contribution, and I don’t count them, either.

All told, Twenty-three Posts haven’t been counted for one reason or another. So, technically, this is actually the 524th post here at Campaign Mastery. But this, nevertheless, is the one that I have chosen to count as celebrating a history comprising 500 posts.

A Big Thank-You

Of course, it goes without saying that without the support and encouragement of every reader, every contributor, every commentator and reviewer and casual visitor, Campaign Mastery would never have lasted long enough to achieve this milestone. So to you all, I say a huge and heart-felt thank-you!

The Subject

What should the 500th post be about?

How to make it special?

I had one idea that I liked a lot, but it was even better suited to the 5th Anniversary post, which is coming up in December(!). So I went looking for ideas. I asked for suggestions on Twitter, and LinkedIn, and amongst my friends and players. The problem soon emerged: every idea they had was either too small for such an auspicious occasion, or was something that I had done before.

It was only when I thought of a subject that was even more appropriate for the 5th Anniversary than the idea already reserved for that date that I was able to release the Blogdex concept to appear here and now.

So, what’s it all about?

No-one could deny that a lot of what has appeared here, over the years, has run in themes. That comes with the territory when your goal is “Expert advice on creating and running exceptional campaigns”. I’ll talk some more about that statement of purpose in a minute or two.

Some of those themed articles are already collected together in the form of series. Others were written in more piecemeal fashion, and have never been collected together in any conceptual way. Every article we’ve ever published can be accessed through our Archives, but there’s a problem: all you get is the title. While we have always made efforts to ensure that our titles are descriptive first and artistic/interesting second, it’s still a very limited snapshot of the content, and they are all listed in chronological sequence – not ideal when you’re looking for a related article.

Of course, those aren’t the only way we organize these things. We use 53 categories as a high-level organizing tool, and 93 tags for finer control, and we employ both in a systematic way. Both are collected in our right-hand column, and each post also has the categories to which it has been assigned at the top and the tags at the bottom, to help readers find related articles. And, what’s more, when you click on a category or a tag, it brings up a list of the articles with a short extract from the start of each article – and the full set of categories and tags assigned to the article. The same thing happens if you click on the title of a series.

But these excerpts aren’t always the most enlightening. It’s my habit to introduce articles with any contextual or background information about the writing of that article in a preface, and the automatic excerpts can’t tell the difference between that information and the start of the article itself.

That’s where this article comes in. But first:

A snippet of history, or who we are:

Johnn had been running Roleplaying Tips for years, written a few RPG Books, and even made an official contribution to a WOTC D&D supplement. I had written some articles on other subjects that had been published in magazines (both print and online), written a few game supplements for my own campaigns, submitted some reader’s tips and articles to Roleplaying Tips, which Johnn found quite agreeable. He broached the idea of working on some projects together. One of those evolved into Campaign Mastery. Johnn is no longer involved in the blog (at least officially – he still helps out every now and then), but he is still a big part of the history of the site.

Over the years, he’s brought in some guest authors and contributors, I’ve brought in some, a few brought themselves to the blog, and we’ve brought a few in together (Notably Michael Beck, who submitted an article to Roleplaying Tips which became a mammoth 14-part series here). But the touchstones and nexus was always the two of us, and then myself alone when Johnn felt he needed to step away to pursue other goals.

Expert advice on creating and running exceptional campaigns

Let’s break that mission down.

Expert Advice

I’ve been active in this hobby for more than thirty years, and I’ve seen and done a lot in that time. This magazine/blog (“magablog?”) exists to pass on what I’ve learned, and any new thoughts, discoveries, and insights that present themselves as I continue to game.

Creating

There’s an emphasis on creation and creativity. One of the most frequently-used categories here is “The End of The Rainbow”, which is the term I coined to symbolize inspiration and sources of inspiration.

Running

It’s not enough to make something great, you have to be able to use it, and use it well. Otherwise, what’s the point? So the second major strand of discussion is using whatever you’ve got, and how to do it as effectively as possible.

Exceptional

When we started Campaign Mastery, there were lots of other gaming blogs around. Johnn and I had all sorts of ideas as to what we could do to distinguish ours from the others. Our combined expertise was one of the first things that we hit apon, and over a period of time our point of distinction emerged naturally.

Depth. A lot of those Blogs seemed to focus on one idea or tip and present it in isolation. We decided to look at subjects in greater depth, to place it in context and explore as many associated aspects of the subject and implications as we could. A lot of that stemmed from my personal style and the way I structured and planned my articles. In fact, it’s that depth that creates the confusion about just what Campaign Mastery is, but that’s a dilemma that I can live with. A consequence of that is that we don’t post new articles daily, the way others do.

But it does create a lot of pressure to deliver, week in, week out. It’s not atypical for each article to take a full day or more, despite the fact that I am a fast and fairly-organized writer. Part of that is due to ongoing medical problems that I struggle with, part of it is simply finding new subjects worth writing about. I quite literally don’t have a lot of time to waste chasing down blind alleys; if an article isn’t working, or is taking more time to write than I have available, I have very little leeway to realize that and abandon it for something that I can finish in the time available. Thereafter, that unfinished article tends to just sit around, with work only being carried out on it when another article gets finished early. It’s unfortunate, but it happens, and it’s why I still haven’t been able to finish the long-awaited sequel to Pillars Of Architecture: Some Thoughts On The Construction Of Cities.

Heck, it eats into my own campaign prep time – which is why it took me until the last minute and beyond to get to work on what has become the The Orcs & Elves Series, and why I’ve had to find a way to kill two birds with one stone – using the ongoing campaign work to provide articles once a week.

I have sometimes wondered if that has compromised the execution of the Mission Statement. But I have realized that by giving an actual example of the prep that I invest into my campaigns, it actually serves that mission brief more accurately and extensively than just about anything else that I’ve posted.

The other aspect of uniqueness that helps make Campaign Mastery stand out is my style, which is as close as I can get to my conversational style. That’s one of the tricks that I use to achieve my ability to write quickly, and it’s something that I learned from the non-fiction of Isaac Asimov. It means that I employ more words than are strictly necessary, but those words flow out far more quickly than they would if I strived for a more succinct mode of expression. It’s my hope that it also makes the articles easier to read as well, even if they are longer.

The Mission

So that’s what I strive for with Campaign Mastery. But that all comes at a price. The more content there is in an article, and the depth I strive for generates a lot of content, the more inadequate the introductory paragraph becomes as a synopsis of the entire article. This only exacerbates the problems that I identified earlier.

So, what, then, is a Blogdex?

What is a Blogdex?

I coined the term “Blogdex” for my personal blog which existed back in the days of Yahoo 360. It’s an “index” of all the blogs, a contents page if you will. So it’s a slight misnomer.

It’s a list of the articles that have appeared here, with a brief synopsis of what the article is about, grouped and organized by subject matter.

The purpose is to try and make it a little easier for our readers to find past articles of interest – and, as a byproduct, to help make it a little easier for me to find articles when I want to cross-reference to them in new articles.

After all, there are 500 of them (and counting) to try and remember!

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Blogdex Architecture

I’ve divided the articles into 14 subjects. Some of those subjects were then split further into topics, and some of those were then divided by campaign. The 14 subjects follow what is hopefully a logical sequence from beginning to end.

Each of the major subjects is separated by a blue bar, just like the one above, and each is in the same large, dark-blue font as the heading “Blogdex Architecture”, above. At the start of each subject, I list all the topic subtitles used within that subject.

Each of the topics has its own subheading, in the same smaller, lighter blue font that was used for the subheading “The Mission”, above. Most articles are given their own entries in a list, but some series have been packaged into single entries. On rare occasions, an entry might be repeated under a subsequent category, but I’ve chosen to avoid this as much as possible. For the most part, duplicate references equal duplicate descriptions – copy and paste with no rephrasing. Where the article is part of a series, I generally synopsize the whole series, not individual component articles, but where an individual part of a series belongs in a wildly different category than the overall series, I have listed the exceptions both ways.

Ahh, you’ll figure it out. It’s not that hard.

The subjects (and subtopics, where any have been used), are:

  • Genre Overviews – Pulp, Sci-Fi, Historical Accuracy in FRP, Online Gaming
  • Campaign Creation – Campaign Concepts & Development, Campaign Backgrounds, Campaign Synopses, Divine Power, Magic, Sorcery, & The Arcane, Money & Wealth, Politics, Societies & Nations, Races, Languages, Character Classes, Organizations, Wonders
  • Campaign Plotting – Plot Sequencing, Big Finishes, Plot Ideas, Subplots, Writing, Problem-Solving, Prophecies
  • Rules – Learning game rules, Solving Rule Problems
  • Metagame – GM Screens, House-Rules Theory, Actual House Rules, Alternative Healing & Damage Rules, Game Physics
  • Players – no subtopics
  • Names – no subtopics
  • Characters – Characterization, PCs, Villains, Other NPCs, Playing
  • Adventures & Adventure components – Locations, Maps & Dungeon Tiles, Miniatures, Encounters, Combat & In-Game Environment, Rewards, Seasonal Adventures, Complete Adventures, Puzzles & Mysteries, Ad-hoc Adventures & GM Improv
  • Game Mastering – Feedback, At Conventions, Mistakes, Problems, & Emergencies, GM Improv
  • Fiction & Writing – Writer’s Block, Burnout
  • Publishing – Pricing, Product & Tool Reviews & Previews, Dice Sets & Props Reviews, Online Tools & Software Reviews, App Reviews
  • Assassin’s Amulet – Announcements, Excerpts, Legacy Items
  • Miscellanea – Sources Of Inspiration, Artwork & Illustration, Philosophy & Opinion, Site Milestones & Announcements, Contests & Special Offers, General Seasonal Articles

So, let’s go…

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 Genre Overviews

 
Genre is the most fundamental and defining characteristic of a campaign. It defines what content is acceptable and how it will normally be treated.

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  • 7 Steampunk Resources – As part of the Blog Carnival for June 2009, Johnn lists seven resources for those interested in the Steampunk Genre.

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Pulp

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Sci-Fi
  • Quantum Distractions With Dice: Types of Sci-Fi Campaign – I break down the general concept of “Science Fiction” into 21 specific subgenres and look at each from a gaming perspective. As examples, I offer 11 specific sci-fi campaign premises. Along the way, I give readers a copy of “Buy Low, Sell High”, a set of quick game rules I wrote for handling Trade in Traveller, which can be easily adapted to other campaign genres.
  • Putting The SF into SciFi – Scientific speculation can be huge fun, but a lot of people don’t think they can do it without a deep understanding of science. Sci-Fi games often have limited and unoriginal future-tech as a result; this series sets itself the lofty objective of making it possible for the average GM to run a Sci-Fi campaign that’s rife with plausible future-tech.

    In Creating The World Of Tomorrow, Part 1, I look at the problems, show why any solution other than some original creativity is going to be second-best at best, and then offer practical solutions that make it possible for the average GM to create that original content by extrapolating from the world of today.

    Creating The World Of Tomorrow, Part 2 considers some core technologies that everyone creating Sci-Fi needs to make unique: FTL, AI/Computers/The Net/VR, Entertainment Tech, Medical Tech, Communications, Local Transport &/or Teleporters, Food Distribution Tech, and Convenience Tech. You don’t need to be a Physics Geek or a Maths Guru to do this stuff! Sure it can help – but it can also hinder. That requirement is bypassed by once again making the focus about how the characters (both PC and NPC) will interact with these technologies, and how the tech will interact with the stories and the gameplay.

    As originally planned, Creating The World Of Tomorrow, Part 3 would wrap up the series by considering how the technologies developed in the previous parts would shape the world around the characters – regardless of the medium in which the tale is being told. Along the way, I codify three principles of technological advance: The Bootstrap Effect, Tech Serendipity, and Tech Cascade. There’s a lengthy discussion about the potential for extracting hydrocarbons from Jupiter’s Atmosphere in the comments.

    And finally, in The Design Ethos Of Tomorrow (a postscript article tacked onto the series a week or two after the fact), I look at how to create the look and feel of the world of tomorrow in everything from starships to coffeepots.

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Historical Inaccuracy In FRP

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 Campaign Creation

 
Once you have a genre, the next most fundamental question is the campaign. It involves defining the fundamental concepts and metaphysical architecture of the game world, the history that has resulted in the characters, the role (if any) of Divine Power, how magic will work in the game (if at all), money & wealth, the geography, politics, nations and sociology of the game world, the races that inhabit it, the languages they use, the occupations (in game terms) that are available, the organizations that exist, and the iconic locations and wonders that make this game environment special. Unsurprisingly, a lot of content here at Campaign Mastery has focused on this critical subject.

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  • A Quality Of Spirit – Big Questions in RPGs – Why asking yourself the Big Metaphysical Questions matters when designing a campaign.
  • How much Campaign do you Plan before the Start? – Finding the sweet spot between over-planning campaigns (My vice) and under-planning. There are some great tips on campaign development in the comments.
  • FreeMind Tips for Game Masters – Johnn explains how he uses FreeMind to mindmap his campaign plans.
  • Ask The GMs: In it for the long haul – How is it that my campaigns can last for decades? What are the implications and consequences, and how do I deal with them?
  • Mine Fiction For Campaign Qualities – Johnn starts with a review of FantasyCraft and extrapolates one of the ideas within to find a way of customizing RPG worlds and drawing on fiction for inspiration.
  • Legendary Achievements: Coloring Your Campaign with Anecdote and Legend – Which is better: ‘The Target is too far away for bowshot,’ or ‘Not even the legendary Halwein, holder of the record for longest bowshot at 2,192 yards, would dare attempt such a shot’? Rhetorical question, right? This article is all about using the limits of achievement to add color to your game world.
  • Ask The GMs: PC Choices and Consequences – How can you make the players feel like their actions have an impact on the world? A simple question but like an iceberg, nine-tenths don’t show. In order to properly answer this question, Johnn & I had to answer five even more complicated questions: How can the players impact the game world? How are the consequences of PC actions determined? How do the PCs become aware of these consequences? How can the GM ensure that the Players recognize the connection between action and consequences? And how can the administration of these changes be kept practical? All those answers, and more, are in this article.
  • A Monkey Wrench In The Deus-Ex-Machina: Limiting Divine Power – I argue against the use of a Deus-Ex-Machina in RPGs, and why that means you should give limits to the Gods. Along the way I show how you can have up-close-and-personal encounters with The Gods in unusual Genres for such occurrences – Wild West, Superspies, and Hard SF/Cyberpunk. There’s some great discussion in the comments. Unfortunately, Da’Vane’s website is gone, and so is the article she wrote in response to this, and attempts to find it using the Wayback Machine failed. Fortunately, Da’Vane summarizes her points in the comments.
  • Things Done and left Un-done – I maintain a list of undeveloped ideas for Campaign Mastery articles, and got to thinking about why there had been so little movement of ideas off that list. That leads to an analogy between the list and the reasons my campaigns tend to last such a long time, something I had discussed in Ask The GMs: In it for the long haul, so this article becomes a sequel to that discussion in how to produce longevity for your campaigns. I use a synopsis of my “Fumanor: One Faith” campaign as an example.
  • A Twist in Time: Alternate Histories in RPGs – I offer the general principles that I use to construct a viable, believable, alternate history or parallel world.
  • GM’s Toolbox: World Building Part One: Geography and Landmarks – Part of the GM’s Toolbox series by Michael Beck with contributions by Da’Vane and the occasional comment drop-in from Johnn. The series is aimed at both beginners and more experienced GMs and strives to articulate all the things for which you will need tools and techniques, to successfully run a campaign. This article starts the world building by considering the physical features of the in-game environment.
  • Grokking The Message – The fifth article in the A Good Name Is Hard To Find series looks at naming places and campaigns, and I explain how I chose the names for some of the campaigns that I have run.
  • In Someone else’s Sandbox: Adventuring in an established setting – For the September Blog Carnival, I wrote this article considering the pros and cons of adventuring in an established third-party setting instead of creating your own, what some of the difficulties are that you might face, and how to solve them.
  • Deus Ex Machinas And The Plot Implications Of Divinity – I consider the implications of Divine Beings manifesting as objective reality in RPGs and the complicated question of Deus Ex Machinas when that is the case, the relationship between divine beings and the campaigns structure and narrative, and how a big-picture perspective on divine beings can make or break plausibility in a fantasy campaign. I offer possible answers to the question, “Where Do Clerics get their spells from?” along the way. There’s a fascinating discussion of the issues raised by the article in the comments.

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Campaign Concepts & Development
  • Big Changes For The Little Guy: How to go from Premise to Campaign – I demonstrate how I take the seed of an idea and build a campaign from it – coming up with a whole new campaign, “Arignoza”, to use for the example, which gets given away to the readership in the course of the article.
  • How to Design a Cool Holiday for Your Game – 3 Templates – Johnn excerpts one of his books to tell our readers how to create a seasonal holiday for their game world.
  • The Frozen Lands: A Science-Fiction Campaign Premise – I offer a complete, ready-to-develop science-fiction campaign premise for anyone to use, with enough work left to do that every use will be just a little different. Even if you don’t want to use the idea yourself, you can get some tips on how I develop a campaign premise by reading the article.
  • The occasional ‘Lessons From The West Wing’ series kicked off with one article that was so big that it’s a 5-part series in it’s own right.

    The first part of this series-within-a-series, The Pursuit Of Perfection, Part 1 of 5: Don’t Compromise With Mediocrity discussed the execution and delivery of uniqueness in a RPG campaign and evolved an achievable definition of perfection for doing so. I then identified four elements that were required in order to achieve this, and dedicated a separate article to each of them.

    Element number one is about creating the potential for uniqueness through the initial vision of the campaign and is dealt with in A Perfect Vision Through A Glass, Darkly.

    The second necessity is to convert that initial vision into a common platform for both players and GMs to build apon, and is dealt with in Laying A Campaign Foundation.

    Part Four, Evolving The Campaign, deals with the third element, the extension and development of the initial concept in the course of the campaign.

    Finally, in Part 5, Character Evolution, I deal with how the uniqueness of the campaign should impact on the player characters that participate in the world. It was a big article, and a big series, but several people have told me it was worth it!
  • Life & Death in RPG Blog Carnival Wrap-Up – We wrap up our hosting of the March 2011 Blog Carnival with the usual compendium of synopses of the articles submitted. If you find either Life or Death to be important in your games (or want to make it so), these are worth reading.
  • All Is Three: A 3.x Fantasy Campaign Premise – I offer an original but unfinished campaign idea, fleshing it out in the course of the article as an example of how I go about designing a campaign.
  • The Foundation Of Averages: Psychohistory and RPG Rules – I look at the process of extrapolating from rules systems to the larger worlds and nations that they describe using elementary statistical analysis.
  • Theologies at 30 paces: The Hell of Evil in D&D – I consider the theological implications of the cosmology of D&D (and to some extent, Pathfinder), especially the implications of having demons, devils, and dark gods, how to resolve the contradictions implicit in this cacophony of ill-digested theological influences, and how the consequences would manifest in the everyday lives, motivations, etc, of the inhabitants of the world. More suggestions and ideas in the comments.
  • Round Pegs In A Square Wheel: Reinventing Roulette for RPGs – Human nature doesn’t change. I examine human vices and foibles and how to use them to reinforce the genre of a game, then consider how to reinvent gambling, taking roulette as an example, for different genres.
  • Been There, Done That, Doing It Again – The Sequel Campaign Part One of Two: Campaign Seeds – The first half of a two-part discussion of how to create a new campaign that is a sequel of one you have already run. In this part: the foundations of the campaign, a list of ideas, and initial ideas for possible plotlines.
  • Been There, Done That, Doing It Again – The Sequel Campaign Part Two of Two: Sprouts and Saplings – Organizing the seeds of the campaign, making decisions about the interval between the campaigns, the consequences to campaign structure, managing player expectations, and more on sequel campaigns in general.
  • Quantum Distractions With Dice: Types of Sci-Fi Campaign – I break down the general concept of “Science Fiction” into 21 specific subgenres and look at each from a gaming perspective. As examples, I offer 11 specific sci-fi campaign premises. Along the way, I give readers a copy of “Buy Low, Sell High”, a set of quick game rules I wrote for handling Trade in Traveller, which can be easily adapted to other campaign genres.

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  • Mage Guild Mastermind Survives Pirate Haven – Johnn takes readers through his thought process when creating a faction for his Riddleport campaign.
  • The Ascended Conflict in my Riddleport Campaign – Following the advice I offered on asking yourself the big questions when planning an RPG (A Quality Of Spirit – Big Questions in RPGs), Johnn outlines his plans for the (Near-)ultimate powers within his then-forthcoming Riddleport campaign.
  • Revealing the Exotic – Johnn considers the implications of restricting the availability of exotic equipment as part of the campaign development for his (then-) forthcoming Riddleport campaign.
  • The Cypher Gate – Johnn shows how he has integrated the suggestions & feedback in response to his earlier articles concerning his (then-) forthcoming Riddleport campaign. By comparing the content of the sources with this article, readers can gain insights into how to merge their own ideas to form a complete concept.
  • Architecture of Riddleport Inspires Plots – Johnn describes how he is using the architecture within the city of Riddleport to enhance his game, and (by example), how you can do the same for yours.
  • Life and Death in RPG – March 2011 RPG Blog Carnival – In March 2011, Campaign Mastery again hosted the Blog Carnival, this time with the subject “Life and Death in RPGs”. This was the first of several articles we posted on the subject: Johnn looked at how death was a hidden theme in his Riddleport campaign as well as introducing the topic.

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Campaign Backgrounds
  • GM’s Toolbox: World Building Part Three: History, Mythology, and stocking Dungeons – Part of the GM’s Toolbox series by Michael Beck with contributions by Da’Vane and the occasional comment drop-in from Johnn. The series is aimed at both beginners and more experienced GMs and strives to articulate all the things that you will need tools and techniques for in order to successfully run a campaign. This article focuses on the mythic and background elements of a campaign.

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  • Theology In Fumanor: The collapse of Infinite No-Space-No-Time and other tales of existence – I follow up the issues raised in Deus Ex Machinas And The Plot Implications Of Divinity (such as the relationship between divine beings and the campaigns structure and narrative) by examining the ‘big picture’ answers employed by some of my campaigns in future articles, of which this is the first.
  • The Orcs & Elves Series – From the start of my Fumanor Campaign, there have been secrets concerning the history of Elves, Drow, and Orcs in the game world. Now the characters have reached the point where the truth has to be told. This completely reinvents (from the players point of view) the campaign background of the world so far as those particular races is concerned. It is presented here as a very long fantasy novel. I’m not even going to list the contents, here – it’s just too massive a series. With each part, I build up a Glossary of Elvish language used within the story. So far, it’s up to Chapter 85 of 116 originally planned – but I’ve hit all the essentials in terms of its campaign needs, so whether or not I continue on all the way is still to be determined. I could more or less wrap up the series at this point by having the PCs awaken from their dream state and being told, “The rest you know…” On the other hand, the completist in me wants to tell the rest of the story, so we’ll see. It’s a heck of a lot of work.

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  • The Imperial History Of Earth-Regency – This series (still unfinished because the parts take a long time to write and research) details the historical background of the (parallel) world in which my superhero campaign currently takes place. Part 1: 1189-1220; Part 2: 1220-1782; Part 3: 1782-1910; Part 4: 1910-1945; Part 5: 1945-1959; Part 6: 1960-1972; Part 7: 1973-1975; Part 8: 1978-1979; Part 9: 1980-1997; Part 10: 1980-1997 (continued); Part 11: 1998-2015 (overview); Part 12: 1998. One of these days I’ll get back to this series but it won’t be anytime soon, despite having three more chapters half-done and a bunch more outlined.

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Campaign Synopses
  • Grow The Hobby With Great Game Mastering – The July 2010 Blog Carnival was about how to grow the hobby, RPG Gaming. Johnn approaches the question from the perspective of being able to tell compelling stories about your campaigns – and that requires you to become a great game master. I add my 20-cents-worth in the comments.

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  • Campaign Update: Fumanor: Seeds Of Empire – After publishing “The Flói Af Loft & The Ryk Bolti” I received a number of requests for more information about my Fumanor: Seeds Of Empire campaign (that’s right, the same one from which the Orcs & Elves series derives). So I wrote up this campaign update to satisfy the curiosity of our readership. Includes (in the comments) 6 tips for running two interacting campaigns simultaneously in the same game world.
  • Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 4 – In part four of the background to the Orcs and Elves story, I start to update the campaign history so-far, building on material I had already published. Don’t worry, there are links in the article telling you when to revisit that material. There are lots of editorial asides to offer glimpses behind the curtain and context. The Giveaways continue, this time I offer an original magic item, The Spirit Blade of Clan Takamuchi.
  • Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 5 – The final preparatory piece of the puzzle completes the synopsis of the campaign so far (including some parts of the story that the players didn’t know). A sidebar considers the economics of Undeath. As a giveaway with this post I offer a high-res map of the part of the Game World where the campaign has (mostly) taken place – but bereft of labels and captions so other GMs can use it as they see fit, and another with captions detailing the PCs travels. I point out that each of the PCs has a personal quest in the campaign(and list them) – something that the players would only peripherally have been aware of. Finally, I discuss just how the Orcs & Elves series was being written, in other words, the plan of attack for the series.

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Divine Power
  • A Quality Of Spirit – Big Questions in RPGs – Why asking yourself the Big Metaphysical Questions matters when designing a campaign.
  • A Monkey Wrench In The Deus-Ex-Machina: Limiting Divine Power – I argue against the use of a Deus-Ex-Machina in RPGs, and why that means you should give limits to the Gods. Along the way I show how you can have up-close-and-personal encounters with The Gods in unusual Genres for such occurrences – Wild West, Superspies, and Hard SF/Cyberpunk. There’s some great discussion in the comments. Unfortunately, Da’Vane’s website is gone, and so is the article she wrote in response to this, and attempts to find it using the Wayback Machine failed. Fortunately, Da’Vane summarizes her points in the comments.
  • Deus Ex Machinas And The Plot Implications Of Divinity – I consider the implications of Divine Beings manifesting as objective reality in RPGs and the complicated question of Deus Ex Machinas when that is the case, the relationship between divine beings and the campaigns structure and narrative, and how a big-picture perspective on divine beings can make or break plausibility in a fantasy campaign. I offer possible answers to the question, “Where Do Clerics get their spells from?” along the way. There’s a fascinating discussion of the issues raised by the article in the comments.
  • Life and Death in RPG – March 2011 RPG Blog Carnival – In March 2011, Campaign Mastery again hosted the Blog Carnival, this time with the subject “Life and Death in RPGs”. This was the first of several articles we posted on the subject: Johnn looked at how death was a hidden theme in his Riddleport campaign as well as introducing the topic.
  • Too Much Life for The Living: March 2011 Blog Carnival – My second contribution to the March 2011 Blog Carnival asks is Healing is too easy in D&D, which leads to proposing an alternative combat system for 3.x / Pathfinder Based on concepts within the TORG game system. It was quite well received. There are additional suggestions and clarifications in the comments. If you want to make your combats more life-and-death dramatic, this might be worth your time.
  • Life, Death, and Life Renewed – March 2011 Blog Carnival – My first contribution to the March 2011 Blog Carnival considers proposals to restore some legacy rules, and the question of whether or not Elves can be Resurrected, and extrapolates to consider the impact of changing rules systems mid-campaign, and then (unexpectedly) to considering the Resurrect spell as a plot point within a campaign and a campaign background.
  • Life & Death in RPG Blog Carnival Wrap-Up – We wrap up our hosting of the March 2011 Blog Carnival with the usual compendium of synopses of the articles submitted. If you find either Life or Death to be important in your games (or want to make it so), these are worth reading.
  • Theologies at 30 paces: The Hell of Evil in D&D – I consider the theological implications of the cosmology of D&D (and to some extent, Pathfinder), especially the implications of having demons, devils, and dark gods, how to resolve the contradictions implicit in this cacophony of ill-digested theological influences, and how the consequences would manifest in the everyday lives, motivations, etc, of the inhabitants of the world. More suggestions and ideas in the comments.
  • The Ascended Conflict in my Riddleport Campaign – Following the advice I offered on asking yourself the big questions when planning an RPG (A Quality Of Spirit – Big Questions in RPGs), Johnn outlines his plans for the (Near-)ultimate powers within his then-forthcoming Riddleport campaign.
  • Life and Death in RPG – March 2011 RPG Blog Carnival – In March 2011, Campaign Mastery again hosted the Blog Carnival, this time with the subject “Life and Death in RPGs”. This was the first of several articles we posted on the subject: Johnn looked at how death was a hidden theme in his Riddleport campaign as well as introducing the topic.
  • GM’s Toolbox: World Building Part Three: History, Mythology, and stocking Dungeons – Part of the GM’s Toolbox series by Michael Beck with contributions by Da’Vane and the occasional comment drop-in from Johnn. The series is aimed at both beginners and more experienced GMs and strives to articulate all the things that you will need tools and techniques for in order to successfully run a campaign. This article focuses on the mythic and background elements of a campaign.
  • Theology In Fumanor: The collapse of Infinite No-Space-No-Time and other tales of existence – I follow up the issues raised in Deus Ex Machinas And The Plot Implications Of Divinity (such as the relationship between divine beings and the campaigns structure and narrative) by examining the ‘big picture’ answers employed by some of my campaigns in future articles, of which this is the first.
  • Part Eight of Johnn’s series on City Government Power Bases covers Religion.
  • Life, Death, and Life Renewed – March 2011 Blog Carnival – My first contribution to the March 2011 Blog Carnival considers proposals to restore some legacy rules, and the question of whether or not Elves can be Resurrected, and extrapolates to consider the impact of changing rules systems mid-campaign, and then (unexpectedly) to considering the Resurrect spell as a plot point within a campaign and a campaign background.
  • Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Orcish Mythology – In the course of the Orc & Elves series, I found that I needed to construct and outline a pantheon for the Orcs, and a mythology to go with that pantheon.
  • Ask The GMs: The Momentum Of The Inevitable – In the discussion following a previous Ask The GMs, we were asked, ‘should there ever be something that is too big or has too much momentum for the PCs to be able to stop it?’ The discussion that follows the article adds to the content so well that it feels like part of the original article; if you’re interested in the question, don’t miss them.
  • Back To Basics: Example: The Belt Of Terra – Part four of the two-part article contains a larger and more complete example, illustrating all the steps in the process of creating an adventure, structuring it, and inserting it into a campaign plan. Along the way it expands both the game physics and game mythology and touches on or references no less than 20 other plotlines, showing how tightly integrated a plotline can be within a campaign.
  • Pile On This: Undead are Taking Over. What happens? – Johnn’s campaign came off the rails and he asked for help working out what would happen next. Lots of interesting suggestions to pilfer ideas from in the comments.
  • The Undead Are Coming!! A reply to Johnn – My answer was too big to reasonably put in a comment (and needed some organization to be clear), so I put it in an extra blog post. Don’t miss the comments for extra clarification.
  • 25 Cleric Character Hooks – Johnn concludes his character hooks series with this entry that offers 25 Cleric Character Hooks.
  • The Perils Of Prophecy: Avoiding the Plot Locomotive – I discuss prophecies within RPGs, the benefits, the pitfalls, and how to avoid the problems. Don’t skip the comments, there are some additional techniques worth considering described there. And once again, we have feedback from someone who employed the techniques I offer and came up with a great result, so you know it works!
  • “Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?”: A New idea for handling “wild luck” in D&D – I come up with a new idea for using luck in an RPG, especially in D&D.
  • May the camels of 1,000 fleas – wait, that’s not right: Improving Curses in 3.x – I reinvent the rules for Curses in 3.x/Pathfinder to add to its roleplaying potential, then offer 60 Curses to fire the imagination.
  • Undead Foe Generator – The last of Johnn’s Q-workshop dice articles is all about giving personality to the undead. The contest was over long ago, but the tables are still just as functional. This article was inspired by the Red and black Skull Dice set which appears to be no longer available (the link is to Q-Workshop’s home page).
  • Encounters With Meaning Part Three of my series Creating ecology-based random encounters applies the processes developed in earlier parts of the series and analogous theory to create encounter tables for Urban Settings and Dungeon Settings, and then wraps the series with integrating random encounters with your plotlines to infuse them with meaning. Along the way, I explore some strange but related back alleys, like the ecology of Undeath, and Devils & Demons.
  • The Creation Of A Deity: The Origins Of Cyrene – Another behind-the-scenes look at the creation of Assassin’s Amulet, this post contains my recollection of the creative process that led to the rather unique Deity Of Death that is central to the content of the e-book. It also serves as a teaser for the next article, and places it into some sort of context.
  • Cyrene Revealed: an excerpt from Assassin’s Amulet – Another excerpt from Assassin’s Amulet, a heavily-edited description of the Deity herself.
  • The Remembrance Of The Disquiet Dead: A Spooky Spot and Campaign Premise – For the October 2013 Blog Carnival I offer a cemetery that follows the PCs wherever they go. Explaining the cause of the phenomena led to three or four different interpretations, each with their own resolution to the series of encounters, so this will fit into more than one type of campaign.

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Magic, Sorcery, & The Arcane

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Money & Wealth
  • How Much Is That Warhorse In The Window? – Pricing Of Goods in D&D – After recommending “…And A 10-foot Pole” in a previous article, I look at the problems of converting its prices to the D&D scale and expose unexpected problems and complications. Then I share my system for converting the prices given, and a couple of alternatives (including to standard 3.x/Pathfinder).
  • Coinage in Fumanor: Windows into a campaign background – I expand on some material that I left out of How Much Is That Warhorse In The Window? – Pricing Of Goods in D&D because it’s a good example of how to take a section of the rules and turn them into a roleplaying element. This is a warts-and-all analysis – what choices were made and why, what worked, and what didn’t.
  • Loot As Part Of The Plot: Making, Earning, Finding, Analyzing, Using, Selling, and Destroying Loot – As part of the Blog Carnival, I consider the many different ways in which loot in general might be made part of a plot. Along the way I get to vent about the Identify Spell in D&D, how easily rare/valuable items can be converted to cash in most Fantasy Games, about Fantasy Economics in general, and about another D&D Spell, Mordenkainen’s Disjunction. There’s a discussion in the comments about the relationship between videogames and tabletop RPGs.
  • Making The Loot Part Of The Plot: The Value Of Magic – As part of the Blog Carnival, I analyze the possible meaning of the term “value”, and evolve a classification system for GMs to use in deciding what magic items to place as loot in their campaigns.
  • Quantum Distractions With Dice: Types of Sci-Fi Campaign – I break down the general concept of “Science Fiction” into 21 specific subgenres and look at each from a gaming perspective. As examples, I offer 11 specific sci-fi campaign premises. Along the way, I give readers a copy of “Buy Low, Sell High”, a set of quick game rules I wrote for handling Trade in Traveller, which can be easily adapted to other campaign genres.

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Cities & Architecture
    Note that a lot of the advice contained within these articles will scale – to nations in one direction, and villages in the other.

  • Pillars Of Architecture: Some Thoughts On The Construction Of Cities – I reflect on simulating the way cities grow and how to incorporate this process into the mapping of the city. I still intend to follow this up with an example at some point.
  • Architecture of Riddleport Inspires Plots – Johnn describes how he is using the architecture within the city of Riddleport to enhance his game, and (by example), how you can do the same for yours.
  • City Government Power Bases – In this 9-part series, Johnn looks at what might give a city government and its leading citizens their power and authority, which dovetails very nicely with my earlier article on the ways in which leaders are selected; the latter was more about nations than cities, but scales perfectly well.

    In Part one of the series he lays out the general principles he will be using, this article is essential reading for the rest of the series.

    Part Two examines the power bases of The Law and affiliations;

    Part Three covers Character and Social Classes;

    Part Four deals with Popularity and Leadership;

    Part Five concerns Social Leverage, Marriage, and Wealth;

    Part Six covers Wars and Military Authority;

    Part Seven gets into Magic and Psionics as a source of authority;

    and Part Eight covers Religion; and finally,

    Part 9 covers Land. (NB: I’ve always meant to write more parts to this series, and Johnn has given his blessing to that endeavor. One of these days I’ll get around to it.)

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Politics

See also some of the entries on Societies & Nations, below.

  • Pulling That Lever: The Selection Of Leaders In RPG Societies – How are leaders in an RPG society selected – and what does that say about who they are? I had a lot of fun speculating on suggestions and alternatives raised by other contributors in the comments! Anyone interested in this subject should also check out Johnn’s subsequent series City Government Power Bases considering what might give a city government and its leading citizens their power and authority, detailed in the preceding Blogdex section.
  • Ask The GMs: How to survive political games with paranoia and intrigue – The question might concern a Vampire The Masquerade campaign, but Johnn and I look beyond that to offer advice on how to handle games filled with in-game politics. With a postscript piece of advice in the comments.

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Societies & Nations

Note that a lot of this advice will scale to cities and smaller settlements.

  • Distilled Cultural Essence – My first major series at Campaign Mastery offers a simple technique for the generation of unique and original cultures for use within a game (in part 1) and ways to display that uniqueness to the players in parts 2, 3, and 4. Originally a pair of articles, so that’s how it’s counted here, not as four parts.
  • Lore Enforcement: The Legal System in an RPG – Thinking about the legal systems that need to be present in an RPG environment and some of the many variations that are possible – and important – in how they work.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Thinking about nations in RPGs – I supplement the Distilled Cultural Essence series with this article examining how a nation’s reputation on the sporting field both derives from and reflects the national reputation and ‘personality’ in other areas. Along the way I display plenty of parochial pride in my own nation’s achievements (with a lot of respect for the achievements of others). Then in the comments, I show how to reverse-engineer the process of creating an interesting character to generate an interesting nation for your RPGs.
  • GM’s Toolbox: World Building Part Two: Communities and Politics – Part of the GM’s Toolbox series by Michael Beck with contributions by Da’Vane and the occasional comment drop-in from Johnn. The series is aimed at both beginners and more experienced GMs and strives to articulate all the things that you will need tools and techniques for in order to successfully run a campaign. This article looks at the social and human/demi-human landscape of a game world.
  • The poetry of meaning: 16 words to synopsize a national identity – I argue that the literal translations of specific words can offer insight into national and cultural identities – then reverse the relationship to turn the concept into a tool for developing cultures and nations.

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  • On Alien Languages – This is probably the most structurally complex series of articles at Campaign Mastery. Before I could complete my series on Names, I needed to address the subject of Alien Languages. The easiest way of doing that comprehensively was to excerpt the material on the subject that I had crafted as the foundation of my Shards Of Divinity campaign; but in order for that to make sense, and be placed in proper context, I had to describe in detail some of the Realms from that campaign, and for those to make sense, I had to present the foundations of the campaign. Like one domino knocking down another, the compounding of complexity accumulated. This series has never been finished because of the amount of time the articles took to write (they average about 11,000 words each, 75% of them new material), because I had covered most of the material on languages that was the original justification for the series, and because the Orcs & Elves series took priority and dominated 2013.

    The first article in the series, The Non-human Languages Generator, describes the ideal process of creating a non-human language.

    The second, The Shared Kingdoms: A Premise from the Shards Of Divinity Campaign, interweaves the origin myth of the game world and discussions of the Origins and Concepts of the campaign. It also summarizes the cultures and politics of the game world and details the capital, before getting into the common language in detail, and the format of human names in the campaign.

    The third article, Bher Yuralvus, The Home Of The Endless Library, details an independent city-state which treasures knowledge over everything else (including discussion of why this kingdom is in the campaign at all). The article’s second part provides a new feat, “Linguist”, and gives the general language rules for the Shards Of Divinity Campaign.

    Four in the series, Causa Domasura, The Home Of Reason, offers details of a Mage-dominated Human Republican Meritocracy (including how and why I came up with it), then begins to put the principles on languages into context by detailing the Common Languages from the campaign. Along the way, I offer a set of “Cheat processes” for simulating non-human languages.

    Fifth on the list is Therassus Amora, The Centre Of Attraction, which details in the now-established pattern a Human Feudal Kingdom – this campaign’s take on the “common standard” of political structures – with a couple of twists. The second part discusses the unusual languages from the campaign in detail, has a unique Gnomish Name generator, and then begins detailing the technique for creating your own non-human language simulator.

    The Sixth article in the series, The Ineoddolus Imperascora (The Traders And Commerce Empire), provides a detailed description of the ultimate human Plutocracy, where everything is for sale – at the right price. The second part of the article details the rare languages from the campaign, and the third part continues the instructions in making your own non-human language simulator.

    The Seventh, and last, article in the series (so far) is The Longex Dextora (The Hinterlands) which describes a frontier realm for Byzantine human politics – technically, a Republic of Independent City-States against a background of dominance games between Orcs, Giants, Gnolls, & Goblins. Ironically, it evolved during construction so that it is no longer (technically) a “Hinterlands” at all. Part Two of the article details the Obscure Languages, and Part Three shows how to create the rules that turn a foreign language into a non-human language.

    The Eighth post (which was promised at the end of the 7th and never delivered promises discussion of a Gnomish Monarchy, The Parumveneaora, also known as The Vale Of Dreams, something that’s already been created called The Language Map, and a discussion of the theoretical underpinnings of this approach to languages. After that, I still had Six more principle Realms from the campaign to write up. One of these days, when time permits, I’ll finish this series. Then I’ll restructure it into an e-book with some pretty maps and art :)

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Races
  • Races Should make a Difference – Johnn suggests ways in which a race’s presence or absence should affect your game world.
  • The Age Of An Elf: Demographics of the long-lived – I look at the population dynamics of longer-lived species and aging in RPGs, and find problems with the standard D&D model. The process permits an assessment of the social impact that the longer lifespans and resulting demographics have, and offer ways of interpreting or modifying the results and the base assumptions to achieve the society that you want in your game. The contributions and discussion in the comments are a total greater length than the article itself, and not to be missed if this subject is relevant to your campaign.

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  • Life, Death, and Life Renewed – March 2011 Blog Carnival – My first contribution to the March 2011 Blog Carnival considers proposals to restore some legacy rules, and the question of whether or not Elves can be Resurrected, and extrapolates to consider the impact of changing rules systems mid-campaign, and then (unexpectedly) to considering the Resurrect spell as a plot point within a campaign and a campaign background.
  • Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 1 – The Orcs And Elves series consists of two broad components: the story itself, and the backstory / campaign background / context that shapes that story. While these are all presented as one big series at Campaign Mastery, these background-element articles have a broader utility. Originally intended to be three parts, it grew into five. This first part addresses the question of why reinvent races in different fantasy campaigns at all? and then synopsizes very briefly the events of the previous campaigns in the game setting.

    Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 2 – Part two continues sketching in the background to the Orcs and Elves plotline. This begins describing the key characters, along the way giving the backgrounds and histories of their races within the campaign, covering Elves, Drow, Ogres, Dwarves, and Halflings. I give away lots of freebies from the campaign in the process.

    Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 3 – Taking up where the previous article left off, this article describes Orcs, a new race (Dwarvlings), a new character class (The Fated, a reinvention from the ground up of an idea from The Planar Handbook [D&D 3.0]), another new race (The Verdonne), Humans in Fumanor, and a new variant character class (The Paladins Of Thumâin).

    Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 4 – In part four of the background to the Orcs and Elves story, I start to update the campaign history so-far, building on material I had already published. Don’t worry, there are links in the article telling you when to revisit that material. There are lots of editorial asides to offer glimpses behind the curtain and context. The Giveaways continue, this time I offer an original magic item, The Spirit Blade of Clan Takamuchi.

    Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 5 – The final preparatory piece of the puzzle completes the synopsis of the campaign so far (including some parts of the story that the players didn’t know). A sidebar considers the economics of Undeath. As a giveaway with this post I offer a high-res map of the part of the Game World where the campaign has (mostly) taken place – but bereft of labels and captions so other GMs can use it as they see fit, and another with captions detailing the PCs travels. I point out that each of the PCs has a personal quest in the campaign(and list them) – something that the players would only peripherally have been aware of. Finally, I discuss just how the Orcs & Elves series was being written, in other words, the plan of attack for the series.

    Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Orcish Mythology – Did I suggest that I was ready to set aside the background and get on with the series itself? Well, I thought I was, but a funny thing happened around the Chapter 51 mark – I found that I needed to construct and outline a pantheon for the Orcs, and a mythology to go with that pantheon. By the time I had finished this background work, there wasn’t enough time to actually write another article in the series – so I presented my handiwork, instead. Surprisingly, it turned out to be even more central to the storyline than I had originally expected, so it was all serendipitous.
  • Who Is “The Hidden Dragon”? – Behind the curtain of the Orcs and Elves Series – This is all about decision-making when designing plotlines and adventures. Once again I had to interrupt the ongoing main narrative of The Orcs & Elves plotline, which had reached the point where decisions had to be made concerning the question asked in the title; I spell out the thought process that went into determining the solution used in that story.
  • The Orcs & Elves Series – From the start of my Fumanor Campaign, there have been secrets concerning the history of Elves, Drow, and Orcs in the game world. Now the characters have reached the point where the truth has to be told. This completely reinvents (from the players point of view) the campaign background of the world so far as those particular races is concerned. It is presented here as a very long fantasy novel. I’m not even going to list the contents, here – it’s just too massive a series. With each part, I build up a Glossary of Elvish language used within the story. So far, it’s up to Chapter 85 of 116 originally planned – but I’ve hit all the essentials in terms of its campaign needs, so whether or not I continue on all the way is still to be determined. I could more or less wrap up the series at this point by having the PCs awaken from their dream state and being told, “The rest you know…” On the other hand, the completist in me wants to tell the rest of the story, so we’ll see. It’s a heck of a lot of work.

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  • Pieces Of Creation: The Hidden Truth Of Doppelgangers – Goodman Games published an excellent sourcebook, The Complete Guide To Doppelgangers. The only problem was that at least one of my players had read it. So I wrote a sequel that completely inverts the rationale of the species so that the Goodman Games product is what the Doppelgangers want the rest of the world to think. The article discusses the how and why I did that in detail, and includes my follow-up text as a free PDF, with the kind permission of Goodman Games.

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Languages
  • Ask The GMs: Rubbing Two Dry Words Together – Why have different languages in an RPG, how can you use them to enhance a story, and what’s wrong with universal translators. anyway? Some of our readers thought this was our best article so far (in July 2010).
  • Sugar, Spice, and a touch of Rhubarb: That’s what little names are made of – Article three in the A Good Name Is Hard To Find series discusses simple name structures and how to create a name using a name seed, and as a bonus, shows how to generate a monosyllabic language.
  • On Alien Languages – This is probably the most structurally complex series of articles at Campaign Mastery. Before I could complete my series on Names, I needed to address the subject of Alien Languages. The easiest way of doing that comprehensively was to excerpt the material on the subject that I had crafted as the foundation of my Shards Of Divinity campaign; but in order for that to make sense, and be placed in proper context, I had to describe in detail some of the Realms from that campaign, and for those to make sense, I had to present the foundations of the campaign. Like one domino knocking down another, the compounding of complexity accumulated. This series has never been finished because of the amount of time the articles took to write (they average about 11,000 words each, 75% of them new material), because I had covered most of the material on languages that was the original justification for the series, and because the Orcs & Elves series took priority and dominated 2013.

    The first article in the series, The Non-human Languages Generator, describes the ideal process of creating a non-human language.

    The second, The Shared Kingdoms: A Premise from the Shards Of Divinity Campaign, interweaves the origin myth of the game world and discussions of the Origins and Concepts of the campaign. It also summarizes the cultures and politics of the game world and details the capital, before getting into the common language in detail, and the format of human names in the campaign.

    The third article, Bher Yuralvus, The Home Of The Endless Library, details an independent city-state which treasures knowledge over everything else (including discussion of why this kingdom is in the campaign at all). The article’s second part provides a new feat, “Linguist”, and gives the general language rules for the Shards Of Divinity Campaign.

    Four in the series, Causa Domasura, The Home Of Reason, offers details of a Mage-dominated Human Republican Meritocracy (including how and why I came up with it), then begins to put the principles on languages into context by detailing the Common Languages from the campaign. Along the way, I offer a set of “Cheat processes” for simulating non-human languages.

    Fifth on the list is Therassus Amora, The Centre Of Attraction, which details in the now-established pattern a Human Feudal Kingdom – this campaign’s take on the “common standard” of political structures – with a couple of twists. The second part discusses the unusual languages from the campaign in detail, has a unique Gnomish Name generator, and then begins detailing the technique for creating your own non-human language simulator.

    The Sixth article in the series, The Ineoddolus Imperascora (The Traders And Commerce Empire), provides a detailed description of the ultimate human Plutocracy, where everything is for sale – at the right price. The second part of the article details the rare languages from the campaign, and the third part continues the instructions in making your own non-human language simulator.

    The Seventh, and last, article in the series (so far) is The Longex Dextora (The Hinterlands) which describes a frontier realm for Byzantine human politics – technically, a Republic of Independent City-States against a background of dominance games between Orcs, Giants, Gnolls, & Goblins. Ironically, it evolved during construction so that it is no longer (technically) a “Hinterlands” at all. Part Two of the article details the Obscure Languages, and Part Three shows how to create the rules that turn a foreign language into a non-human language.

    The Eighth post (which was promised at the end of the 7th and never delivered promises discussion of a Gnomish Monarchy, The Parumveneaora, also known as The Vale Of Dreams, something that’s already been created called The Language Map, and a discussion of the theoretical underpinnings of this approach to languages. After that, I still had Six more principle Realms from the campaign to write up. One of these days, when time permits, I’ll finish this series. Then I’ll restructure it into an e-book with some pretty maps and art :)

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Character Classes

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Organizations
  • Guilds, Organizations, and other Bad Company – Some quick on-the-fly rules for PC memberships in organizations within an RPG.
  • Mage Guild Mastermind Survives Pirate Haven – Johnn takes readers through his thought process when creating a faction for his Riddleport campaign.
  • Shades of Sky Blue: Variations on U.N.T.I.L. – Perhaps the most seminal creation of the Hero Games universe is U.N.T.I.L, but (while the acronym is excellent) the name still gives me acute pain, it’s so at odds with what the organization actually does. In this article I describe how I reinvented the organization for my game and the implications in terms of the policies, principles, and Charter of the United Nations.
  • The Veil of Secrecy: A truth about organizations in games – Every real-world organization has secrets and reasons to keep those secrets. Good ones. Necessary ones. Bad ones. This article is all about institutional secrecy by organizations in your RPG and how likely it is that an organization will have such a secret – and how useful it can be from a plot and characterization perspective to have that secret on tap.

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Wonders
  • Big Is Not Enough: Monuments and Places Of Wonder – For my sixth post in the September 2013 Blog Carnival, I raise the question of Wonders Of The Known World and the qualities they need to possess in order to live up to the label; four reasons they are hard to do well, ten reasons why they are worth doing, and 12 sources of wonders to help overcome those difficulties.
  • Six Wonders: A selected assortment of Wondrous Locations for a fantasy RPG – When I sat down to list ideas for the September 2013 Blog Carnival, I only intended to do one article on Wonders. But when you get inspired… The offerings in this post are: The Broken Man, The Pool Of Reflection, The Palace Of Winter, The Citadel Of Secrets, The Spire Of Contention, and the Library Of Shelves.
  • Five More Wonders: Another assortment of Locations for a fantasy RPG – My Ninth article for the September 2013 Blog Carnival continues where the last one left off, with five more Wonders Of The Known World (that I didn’t have time to complete for the previous article). This offers The Pyramid of Reason, The Caves Of Rockbeard, The Rainbow Of Eternity, The Desert Of Gold, and The Emerald Falls.
  • Still More Wonders: Fifteen Amazing Locations for a Sci-Fi RPG – I snuck this one in because September 2013 wasn’t quite long enough to fit everything into the Blog Carnival (actually, it was delayed because I needed an extra half-week to deal with Fantasy Wonders and because I was having trouble gathering enough ideas. Thanks to the players in my superhero campaign, I got there in the end). This article offers The Orouberus Molecule, The Cascade Nebula, “Birth And Death” By Garl, The Dyson Superplant Of Epsilon Centauri, The Spiderweb Of Rukh-C, The Torus of Andraphones, The Confusion of Hydra, The Waltz Of Minos IV, The Diaphanous Assembly of Omicron Boötis, The Billboard Of Greeting, The Halo Rock, The Necrotis Plague Planet, The “Cosmic String” of 18 Delphini, The Arena Of Canopia, and The Fireworx Swarm.

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 Campaign Plotting

 
Before you can start creating and running adventures in your game world, you have to decide how they are all going to fit together. Will there be an overarching plotline? Will each adventure be completely isolated from all the others? How will the campaign finish, and how will it get there? How will subplots be handled and structured? The GM is sure to encounter problems in these areas as the campaign proceeds – how can they be solved? And finally, how will in-game prophecies of these ultimate directions be handled?

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  • Spring Cleaning for your Campaign – How players and GMs can spruce up and refresh a campaign by cleaning up loose ends.
  • Ask The GMs: Networks Of NPCs – The GM gave the PCs a bunch of contacts from which the Players expect to extract Intelligence, but the GM is out of his depth – how does he organize these NPCs and their info? How does he turn these NPCs into an Intelligence Network with drowning himself in paperwork & Prep? Includes 13 tips for handling informants and some links to related articles.
  • The Nimble Mind: Making Skills Matter in RPGs – How to make skills important in an RPG. Too often, they don’t seem to be. ‘Nuff said.
  • Ask The GMs: Giving Players The Power To Choose Their Own Adventures – How do you create a campaign that gives the players absolute freedom but still leaves the GM in control?
  • Ask The GMs: The Momentum Of The Inevitable – In the discussion following a previous Ask The GMs, we were asked, ‘should there ever be something that is too big or has too much momentum for the PCs to be able to stop it?’ The discussion that follows the article adds to the content so well that it feels like part of the original article; if you’re interested in the question, don’t miss them.
  • Jolting The Status Quo – I start by talking about a significant change in my personal life, and the anticipated impact on Campaign Mastery which leads me to write about upsetting the status quo for characters in a game, and how the game can benefit. I still love the illustrations that I put together for this article – the one showing an office type who is smugly proud of his achievement in stacking boxes on the ceiling, the other a befuddled type struggling to comprehend a scene in which a river flows across the sky and a tree grows downwards from its banks. You can almost here him saying “What’s going on here?”.
  • Game Master Tool Illustrated: Plot Flowcharts – The Blog Carnival for September 2010 was on the subject of Preparation. Johnn provides Campaign Mastery’s entry by considering Plot Flowcharts. At the end of the article and in the comments, several software aids are listed for producing flowcharts to help.
  • Plot flowchart example – Guest Author and Campaign Mastery reader Yong Kyosunim follows up Johnn’s article on using plot flowcharts with a real example.
  • Lessons From The West Wing III: Time Happens In The Background – The third in this irregular series is actually the seventh post to be included because the first article was itself a five-part series-within-a-series. I discuss the concept that time continues moving even when the PCs aren’t present, and ways to make this practical.
  • Directed Plots, Undirected Narrative, and Stuff That Just Happens – I examine the ways in which different Narrative Styles can combine with Episodic and Serialized campaigns to produce eight distinctly different combinations, and how those can be sandboxed. The goal is to help GMs choose the narrative style that best suits the campaigns and the adventure that they want to run – and to explain (if you’re using the wrong style) why the campaign keeps going off the rails.
  • Starting In The Middle – The virtues of skipping the beginning and going straight to the middle. I offer three ways of getting straight into the action without railroading the players. There’s further discussion of the merits and drawbacks of railroading as well as some discussion of the ideas I’ve offered, in the comments.
  • Making The Loot Part Of The Plot: Loot as a plot mechanic – I consider just what “loot” might be, and how it can be used as a plot mechanic. There’s a link to an interesting related article in the comments.
  • GM’s Toolbox: Prep Tools Part One: Campaign and Adventure Planning – Part of the GM’s Toolbox series by Michael Beck with contributions by Da’Vane and the occasional comment drop-in from Johnn. The series is aimed at both beginners and more experienced GMs and strives to articulate all the things that you will need tools and techniques for in order to successfully run a campaign. This article deals with the upper-level planning that goes into running a game.
  • Turning Reaction into Proaction – plotting techniques to get your players moving – After a couple of ‘soft’, speculative articles, I turn my attention back to practical measures. In this article, I consider ways to make your players active participants in campaign plotting and plot development.
  • Ensemble or Star Vehicle – Which is Your RPG Campaign? – Is your game an ensemble, in which everyone gets an equal share of the spotlight, or a star vehicle in which a few characters dominate play? What are the differences and the impacts? And how can you keep your players happy, either way – or fix it, if your campaign is the ‘wrong one’?
  • The Seven Strata Of Story – Any narrative – including RPG adventures – consists of multiple layers working together to tell the overall story. Giving PCs their independence from the central author (the GM) simply adds another layer, or perhaps a sub-layer. This article breaks down these layers of story, shows the relationships between them, and how they can be exploited or enhanced to improve the game – or the story, in any other medium – for everyone.
  • Who Is “The Hidden Dragon”? – Behind the curtain of the Orcs and Elves Series – This is all about decision-making when designing plotlines and adventures. Once again I had to interrupt the ongoing main narrative of The Orcs & Elves plotline, which had reached the point where decisions had to be made concerning the question asked in the title; I spell out the thought process that went into determining the solution used in that story.
  • There are 7 primary types of writer’s block besides “Blank Page Syndrome”. Part Two offers solutions to the first three of them Conceptual blocks (Ideas), Specific-Scene Blocks (Scenes within an adventure), and Setting Blocks (Locations).
  • People, Places, and Narratives: Matching Locations to plot needs – Your cast of characters isn’t limited to PCs and NPCs; this article shows you how to access and use the current location as another member of that cast.

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Plot Sequencing
  • My Campaign Planning Cycle – Johnn describes his campaign planning routine.
  • When Good Ideas Linger Too Long: Compacting plotlines – Using scriptwriting techniques to compress a plotline that had lingered for too long.
  • Ask The GMs: Pacing Your Campaign – How do you pace a campaign? How do you know if you’re giving too much or too little in experience and treasure? And how do you get the PCs to explore more than the local area? Also included is a complete outline for an original 3.x campaign.
  • Scenario Sequencing: Structuring Campaign Flow – How to link adventures so that they flow naturally. There’s more to it than you might think. One of our readers offers an alternative system in the comments that might suit some GMs better.
  • Plot Stat Block For The Organized Game Master – Johnn and I were so impressed with Eureka that we each wrote a review of the supplement and each got something different out of it. This is Johnn’s, about how he can better organize the plotlines that he has running at any given time in his campaigns.
  • Directed Plots, Undirected Narrative, and Stuff That Just Happens – I examine the ways in which different Narrative Styles can combine with Episodic and Serialized campaigns to produce eight distinctly different combinations, and how those can be sandboxed. The goal is to help GMs choose the narrative style that best suits the campaigns and the adventure that they want to run – and to explain (if you’re using the wrong style) why the campaign keeps going off the rails.
  • Back To Basics Part 1: Adventure Structures – I examine the creation of an adventure and how the plot can be structured. This was very much written with Beginner GMs in mind.
  • Back To Basics: Campaign Structures – This article continues the ‘For Beginners’ theme of the previous, exploring different ways of tying adventures together into a wider campaign structure, starting with the simplest and evolving through to an extremely complex one that is state-of-the-art (at least for me). I still get the occasional request for the campaign planning materials that I excerpted for the latter. I conclude the article by offering a process for the conversion of an existing campaign into the plotting structure that I offer.
  • Back To Basics: Example: The White Tower – Part three of two in the articles about creating adventures and hooking them together to form a campaign offers an example of the process of adventure creation and connection from one of my actual campaigns. This article was carefully written and edited to conceal the actual ideas that I chose for the real adventure in the campaign.
  • Back To Basics: Example: The Belt Of Terra – Part four of the two-part article contains a larger and more complete example, illustrating all the steps in the process of creating an adventure, structuring it, and inserting it into a campaign plan. Along the way it expands both the game physics and game mythology and touches on or references no less than 20 other plotlines, showing how tightly integrated a plotline can be within a campaign.
  • The Echo Of Events To Come: foreshadowing in a campaign structure – I follow up the adventure structures series with a postscript article on how to foreshadow future events in a campaign, and how to use campaign planning to make it easier to do so.
  • Amazon Nazis On The Moon: Campaign Planning Revisited – For those who prefer a simpler campaign structure to the one I use in most of my campaigns, I describe the technique I devised for use in planning the Co-GM’d Pulp Campaign, giving readers an original adventure in the process.

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Plot Ideas
  • Pile On This: Undead are Taking Over. What happens? – Johnn’s campaign came off the rails and he asked for help working out what would happen next. Lots of interesting suggestions to pilfer ideas from in the comments.
  • The Undead Are Coming!! A reply to Johnn – My answer was too big to reasonably put in a comment (and needed some organization to be clear), so I put it in an extra blog post. Don’t miss the comments for extra clarification.
  • Character Hooks – A series in which Johnn and several guest contributors provide adventure/plot hook ideas for different character classes. Although mainly intended for 4e D&D, most can be imported into any D&D campaign and some suit an even wider range of games.

    50 Barbarian Hooks – Johnn’s initial article includes a brief review of the revised Barbarian character class in the D&D 4e version of Player’s Handbook 2, which inspired the series.

    63 Wizard Hooks – Umm, actually no. Readers (and my humble self) have added more to the list, taking it up 81 plot hooks for Wizard Characters as of this writing.

    50 Paladin Hooks – Guest contributor D. L. Campbell extends the series with these 50 Hooks for the Noblest of The Noble Warriors. Well, that’s what they would like to think about themselves…

    54 Sorcerer Hooks – Guest Contributor Bobby Catdragon offers 54 hooks for the Sorcerer character class. Readers take the tally to 59. This is a rarity, I think it’s the only article posted at Campaign Mastery without some sort of accompanying illustration.

    25 Cleric Character Hooks – Johnn concludes his character hooks series with this entry that offers 25 Cleric Character Hooks. This article is more-or-less tying with Building The Perfect Beast: A D&D 3.5 online monster generator as the most popular articles on the site, day in, day out.
  • Mine Fiction For Campaign Qualities – Johnn starts with a review of FantasyCraft and extrapolates one of the ideas within to find a way of customizing RPG worlds and drawing on fiction for inspiration.
  • Vocabulary Hijinx: Using random word pairings for inspiration – I offer up an idea-generation technique that I haven’t seen written up very often, but that can really spur creativity. There’s a link to some technology that you can use to streamline the technique in the comments.
  • Loot As Part Of The Plot: Making, Earning, Finding, Analyzing, Using, Selling, and Destroying Loot – As part of the Blog Carnival, I consider the many different ways in which loot in general might be made part of a plot. Along the way I get to vent about the Identify Spell in D&D, how easily rare/valuable items can be converted to cash in most Fantasy Games, about Fantasy Economics in general, and about another D&D Spell, Mordenkainen’s Disjunction. There’s a discussion in the comments about the relationship between videogames and tabletop RPGs.
  • Melodies & Rests: ‘Euphoria’ by Def Leppard – The first, and so far only, occurrence of this occasional recurring column in which I mine music or lyrics for plot ideas, in the process showing how its done. This prototype considers the Australian CD release of ‘Euphoria’ by Def Leppard.
  • The Metaphor Engine: A surprising plot generator – Using a deck of cards and the rules of an established game like Poker to generate plots and campaign backgrounds.
  • Splitting Hairs: Exploring nuance as a source of game ideas – It might seem like splitting hairs, but extremely minor differences between the meaning of words can be a great source of interesting ideas. There’s no such thing as a trivial difference, as this article shows.
  • Patterns Of Unpredictability: Superheroics and the Stock Market – The impact of superheroes on the stock market and on economics in general.
  • Trivial Pursuits: Sources of oddball ideas – I demonstrate the use of books of trivia for ideas, with a whole heap of examples interspersed throughout the article.

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Subplots

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Writing

See also the content under “Fiction & Writing”.

  • The Right Quip at The Right Time: Humor in RPGs – More than a “try to lighten the mood by telling the occasional joke” article, I analyze a whole bunch of different types of humor and how to use them (and not use them) in an RPG, discovering why Comedy RPGs are hard.
  • Action Trumps Description – GMs and authors are told to “Show, don’t Tell”, but Johnn takes this advice a step further in this article.
  • The Poetry Of Place: Describing locations & scenes in RPGs – How to use descriptive language more effectively when conveying information about a location or event to the PCs. With a fictional D&D city invented just to serve as an example.

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Problem-Solving

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Prophecies
  • The Perils Of Prophecy: Avoiding the Plot Locomotive – I discuss prophecies within RPGs, the benefits, the pitfalls, and how to avoid the problems. Don’t skip the comments, there are some additional techniques worth considering described there. And once again, we have feedback from someone who employed the techniques I offer and came up with a great result, so you know it works!

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 Rules

 
The Rules are another vital element that will need to be settled before play can begin. It also usually helps if the GM has some understanding of those rules before he starts to adjudicate them – which can present a whole new problem of time-crunch with everything else he has to do to get a campaign off the ground. And the GM needs to be able to solve the rules problems that will inevitably arise.

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  • Google Groans: Misplacing the Rules – Google’s failure to serve as a game resource, the poor indexing of RPG rules & supplements, and using a desktop search as a solution.
  • “This Means WAR! – A complete system for refereeing a War in an RPG – up close to the PCs. This is a four-part series that got split into six for practical reasons (but is only counted as four toward the 500).

    Parts One and Two deal with the fundamental concepts and prep work needed to make War a practical option within an RPG.

    Parts Three and Four describe how to use those fundamental concepts in play.

    Part 5 describes how to integrate PC-scale one-on-one combat with a war; and

    Part 6 concludes the series with miscellaneous notes on how to implement unusual abilities and exotic armaments within the system. Principally intended for D&D 3.x/Pathfinder, but adaptable to any game system. Part of the Blog Carnival for March 2009.
  • The Foundation Of Averages: Psychohistory and RPG Rules – I look at the process of extrapolating from rules systems to the larger worlds and nations that they describe using elementary statistical analysis.
  • A Game For All People: The Perfect DnD Recipe – I respond to the announcement of D&DNext by extending a previous article (Top-Down Plug-in Game Design: The Perfect Recipe?) to outline how I would create a Universal D&D game system – in other words, what I would like to see in D&DNext when it came out.
  • GM’s Toolbox: Running The Game Part Three: Rules and Combat – Part of the GM’s Toolbox series by Michael Beck with contributions by Da’Vane and the occasional comment drop-in from Johnn. The series is aimed at both beginners and more experienced GMs and strives to articulate all the things that you will need tools and techniques for in order to successfully run a campaign. This article details a subject that many GMs and players seem to obsess about – the rules.
  • Exceeding the Extraordinary: The Meaning Of Feats – D&D 3.0 introduced the concept of Feats. I look behind the curtain at the gears and cogs of the Feat concept and rules subsystem and how they affect the game. There are some additional perspectives in the comments.
  • Who Got Poker In My RPG? – Poker is a card game that’s still growing in popularity, but which had a real boom a couple of years ago. Johnn offers some ideas on how to include the game within your campaigns.
  • Round Pegs In A Square Wheel: Reinventing Roulette for RPGs – Human nature doesn’t change. I examine human vices and foibles and how to use them to reinforce the genre of a game, then consider how to reinvent gambling, taking roulette as an example, for different genres.
  • A Rational Intuition – The differences between instinct and intelligence, and how different game systems handle the former.
  • On The Edge: Implications of the D&DNext Advantage mechanic – I respond to an article by The Online DM by considering the consequences of the results that he generated. There’s lots of tables and mathematical analysis, and more than 15 implications identified. If you don’t want to know how to conduct such an analysis, you can skip down to the interpretation, but be warned: I have no idea of how relevant these results are to the still-in-development/playtest system. One of the few posts at Campaign Mastery that is topical more than evergreen in nature.

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Learning Game Rules
  • Rules Mastery For Dummies & Busy GMs – This five-part series looks at why it can be so hard for GMs to invest themselves in learning game rules, and my solutions to the problem.

    Part One, the Series Introduction, describes the problem in detail.

    Part Two, Getting Enthusiastic About Rules, points out a common mistake in the approach that most GMs take, to wit, reading the rule books cover-to-cover (or trying to).

    In Part Three, Student, Tutor Thyself, I explain a system that I use to teach myself the basic rules of a new game in about 18 one-hour sessions.

    Part Four, The Quality Of Rules, considers the question of “realism” within an RPG and derives a principle for reverse-engineering the existing rules of a game to discover the underlying principles and design philosophies, enabling flaws in the rules to be exposed and providing a consistent standard by which to assess house rules.

    And Part Five offers a new concept, Rules Touchstones, as key entranceways through which to learn a rules system, and discusses the first of these, the Combat System.

    There was supposed to be a part 6 to this series but I was so drained by the debate in the comments section that I never got around to writing it. I still have the notes, though, so one day…
  • Taming The Time Bandits: Some time-saving combat techniques – In Johnn’s review of the Chronology iPad app, he identified three major problems that he felt were responsible for the slow pace of combat resolution in his Riddleport campaign, but offered no solutions. In this response I offer the techniques that I use to solve the problems of 1)Not knowing the spells and supernatural abilities of the monsters in the encounter; 2)Being unfamiliar with the specialized combat subrules that applied to this particular battle; and 3) Being unable to identify which Mini went with which PC, which Mini went with which monster, and who was attacking who. There are some more great solutions in the comments, especially to the last of those three questions, and some great discussion of the first problem and my solutions.

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Solving Rule Problems

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 Metagame

 
Metagaming describes any decision-making process or consideration which takes place outside the level of characters within the game. Metagaming can be good or bad, depending on the reasons something is done. Campaign Mastery uses the term in three contexts – general metagaming, like having an NPC do something not because it is the “right” thing for that NPC to do, but because it will make for a more interesting or entertaining story for the players; House Rules, which compromise or alter the standard rules for campaign-concept reasons or for practicality; and the implementation of a Game Physics which treats the rules as guidelines within a simulated reality that can be overridden if the Physics implies a different outcome from a situation. Again, several of these topics are favorites of mine, and have been the subject of several articles as a result. Finally, because they may need to contain or synopsize metagame rules decision, GM Screens have also been placed in this category.

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  • Ask The GMs: Weather, Not Climate – How do you give your campaign realistic weather without overloading the GM with admin tasks? Johnn & I offer a variety of simulation systems, but not everyone agrees with us. Which is fine by me.
  • When Is A Good Time To Hand Out Experience Points? – Johnn & the commentators examine this issue and many alternative answers to the question.
  • Learn From Your GMing Mistakes – Session Post-Mortem Tips – Johnn offers some tips on how to improve your game by learning from your mistakes with a session post-mortem.
  • Increase game attendance with great session reminders – Johnn talks about ways to improve session reminders. The benefits extend far beyond increased game attendance.
  • Ask The GMs: Systematic Systems Choice – How do you choose the right game system for a campaign?
  • It’s Not Like Shooting Sushi In A Barrel: A Personalized Productivity Focus For Game Prep – I devise a theoretical method of making game prep more satisfactory using the principles of time-and-motion studies and applying the objective of making the game more fun. I still don’t know if this works for anyone else. I’m not even sure it works for me. But it still seems to make sense.
  • Google Calendar As Awesome Campaign Calendar – Johnn started using Google Calendar as the in-game Calendar for his Riddleport Campaign as an experiment. It worked so well that it became a permanent addition to his campaign tools. This article explains what he does and how he does it.
  • A Monkey Wrench In The Deus-Ex-Machina: Limiting Divine Power – I argue against the use of a Deus-Ex-Machina in RPGs, and why that means you should give limits to the Gods. Along the way I show how you can have up-close-and-personal encounters with The Gods in unusual Genres for such occurrences – Wild West, Superspies, and Hard SF/Cyberpunk. There’s some great discussion in the comments. Unfortunately, Da’Vane’s website is gone, and so is the article she wrote in response to this, and attempts to find it using the Wayback Machine failed. Fortunately, Da’Vane summarizes her points in the comments.
  • Life and Death in RPG – March 2011 RPG Blog Carnival – In March 2011, Campaign Mastery again hosted the Blog Carnival, this time with the subject “Life and Death in RPGs”. This was the first of several articles we posted on the subject: Johnn looked at how death was a hidden theme in his Riddleport campaign as well as introducing the topic.
  • When Good Dice Turn Bad: A Lesson In The Improbable – The improbable can occasionally happen. This is a true story (I was at the table) of just such an improbable event. And then the GM explains how he coped. Don’t miss the comments.
  • Have WordPress, will Game – I consider the advantages and benefits of using WordPress as a campaign wiki, and how to structure it to get the most bang for your buck. This includes a mini-review of a dice roller WordPress plugin from Awesome Dice.
  • GM’s Toolbox: Running The Game Part One: Creating the Mood – Part of the GM’s Toolbox series by Michael Beck with contributions by Da’Vane and the occasional comment drop-in from Johnn. The series is aimed at both beginners and more experienced GMs and strives to articulate all the things that you will need tools and techniques for in order to successfully run a campaign. In this article, the focus is on the atmosphere of the game.
  • GM’s Toolbox: Beyond The Game Part Two: Roleplaying and Reality – Part of the GM’s Toolbox series by Michael Beck with contributions by Da’Vane and the occasional comment drop-in from Johnn. The series is aimed at both beginners and more experienced GMs and strives to articulate all the things that you will need tools and techniques for in order to successfully run a campaign. This article deals with the connection – and, ideally, the disconnection – between character world and real world.
  • GM’s Toolbox: Beyond The Game Part Three: Learning to become a Better GM – Part of the GM’s Toolbox series by Michael Beck with contributions by Da’Vane and the occasional comment drop-in from Johnn. The series is aimed at both beginners and more experienced GMs and strives to articulate all the things that you will need tools and techniques for in order to successfully run a campaign. The final substantative article in the series considers the metaquestion of how to constantly improve as a GM.
  • It’s Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught: Game Fraud and Counter-Fraud in RPGs – In a fantasy, sci-fi, or superhero world, how might people cheat at games of chance – and what would casinos have to do to stop them?
  • Selected Ticks Of The Clock – Session Scheduling for RPGs – I reminisce about my roleplaying experiences and ponder how playing time and session duration impacted the campaigns, deriving six principles to enable GMs to tailor these real-world factors to the benefit of their games. The comments offer some other reader’s experiences while validating the analysis.
  • Patterns Of Unpredictability: Superheroics and the Stock Market – The impact of superheroes on the stock market and on economics in general.
  • The Arcane Implications of Seating at the Game Table – Few people have ever thought about why people sit where they do at the game table, and still fewer have thought about the consequences of getting people to sit in different places. I take an in-depth look at both aspects of the situation.
  • Top-Down Design, Domino Theory, and Iteration: The Magic Bullets of Creation – There are three tricks that I use all the time – and this article gives you the keys to all three. Along the way (as an example) I use the techniques to develop a master plan for a Mastermind in a generic D&D/Pathfinder campaign.
  • Game Prep and the +N to Game Longevity – I consider professionalism when it comes to blogging, and the implications of inspiration when it conflicts with that value. I then apply the question to game prep and show how to employ top-down design principles to the problem, illustrating the process that I use to plan my game prep. Which is the same process that I use to plan my Holidays, writing, TV viewing, shopping… you name it. You might find it useful, too.
  • The Gap In Reality: Immersion in an RPG Environment – Four years on, I update “Are Special Effects Killing Hollywood” and focus on the impact of changing expectations of immersion on RPGs, leading to suggestions for the use of multimedia in games.

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GM Screens
  • Top 9 Dungeon Master Screen Hacks – Johnn examines nine ways of customizing a GM screen. This remains a popular article at Campaign Mastery.
  • 11 Homebrew Dungeon Master Screens – Johnn follows up his article about customizing DM Screens with another on constructing your own.
  • Speed Up Combat By Building Your Own Combat GM Screen – There haven’t been many articles about GM Screens here at Campaign Mastery, but the few that have appeared have been amongst the most popular. This article by Johnn does exactly what it says in the headline. There are more suggestions on content and technique in the comments.

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House Rules Theory
  • The House Always Wins: Examining the Concept of House Rules – I look at the basics of House Rules – and in particular why campaigns have them. Along the way I introduce readers to some of the many controversies relating to the subject that have raged amongst gamers for as long as I’ve been involved in the hobby. I have some fun with some of my players in the comments.
  • A Different Perspective: Changing the dynamic with a different metaphor – I look at the potential of using playing cards and existing card game rules instead of dice to resolve situations in an RPG.
  • My House Rules for D&D – As part of the Blog Carnival for July 2009, Johnn got guest author Mike E. to pen this guest article detailing the way he integrates rules from earlier editions of D&D to augment his 4e campaign.
  • The Critical Threshold: A brief debate on the Merits of Extreme Results – I consider extreme die roll results and the merits – and disadvantages – of systems of associating extreme results with extreme rolls. And the discussion in the comments was awesomely useful to anyone thinking about the subject.
  • Ask The GMs: How to set up a fun fishing mini game – Johnn considers some environmental and procedural aspects of fishing in response to the specific question posed, dealing with the roleplaying aspects of the question. I put on my rules-creation hat and consider the bigger question of how to represent contests and competitions within an RPG on the way to developing a complete mini-game. The rules of that game are available as a PDF at the end of the article. And there are some fun left-of-field ideas in the comment at the end.
  • Experience for the ordinary person – I cast an analytic eye over the question of how ordinary people (NPCs) gain experience and expertise in the course of a game. While primarily intended for D&D / Pathfinder, the results should be more broadly applicable, though YMMV when it comes to any specific game system. Don’t miss the extended (and extensive) discussion in the comments.
  • Objective-Oriented Experience Points – I extend the line of thought offered in Experience for the ordinary person to completely revise the experience paradigm.
  • Taking everyman skills to the next level: The Absence of an Alibi – I start with the concept of Everyman Skills and evolve a tool for the characterization of individuals that often yields surprising results.
  • The Nuances of computer use in a simulated world – I examine the difficulties of simulating computers, and their use (and abuse) in RPGs and develop a “Virtual Reality” solution to those problems.

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Actual House Rules
  • Shadow Levels: A way to roleplay the acquisition of Prestige Classes in D&D 3.x – The title is self-explanatory. This should have been my first published credit, but it was mistakenly accredited to my then partner at Campaign Mastery, Johnn. But I’m still proud that it was considered worth publishing by an outside party, and I still employ this system in my games.
  • Broadening Magical Horizons: Some Feats from Fumanor and Shards Of Divinity – 27 Original feats from my D&D campaigns are offered in four categories: Reducing Metamagics, Enchantment Metamagics, General Metamagics, and General Magic-related Feats. These of course are just the tip of the iceberg, one day I’ll pull out another bunch of them.
  • “Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?”: A New idea for handling “wild luck” in D&D – I come up with a new idea for using luck in an RPG, especially in D&D.
  • A Slippery Slope: Level Adjustments Under The Microscope – One of the most contentious articles I’ve ever written looks at Level Adjustments in D&D 3.x. I offer my way of doing them, which is definitely NOT canonical – because the canon is firing confetti, in my opinion. You may not agree with my interpretations and the way I house rule the treatment of level adjustments. Or they might be exactly what you need to make sense of a confusing part of the rules. I’m fine with both.
  • Let’s Have A Good Clean Fight… – A discussion of the expanded EL-CR chart that I created and how I use it to ensure that opponent power levels match those of the PCs in my D&D encounters.
  • Ask The GMs: How to set up a fun fishing mini game – Johnn considers some environmental and procedural aspects of fishing in response to the specific question posed, dealing with the roleplaying aspects of the question. I put on my rules-creation hat and consider the bigger question of how to represent contests and competitions within an RPG on the way to developing a complete mini-game. The rules of that game are available as a PDF at the end of the article. And there are some fun left-of-field ideas in the comment at the end.
  • “How Hard Can It Be?” – Skill Checks under the microscope – I examine the fundamental concepts that underpin skill checks and “difficulty targets” using D&D 3.x as an example and find multiple answers depending on your assumptions – and expose flaws in the 3.x mechanic along the way. Despite my making a mistake in the article (check the comments) I stand by the conclusions. This is something that is important for every GM to understand regardless of which game system they are using.
  • Life, Death, and Life Renewed – March 2011 Blog Carnival – My first contribution to the March 2011 Blog Carnival considers proposals to restore some legacy rules, and the question of whether or not Elves can be Resurrected, and extrapolates to consider the impact of changing rules systems mid-campaign, and then (unexpectedly) to considering the Resurrect spell as a plot point within a campaign and a campaign background.
  • On The Nature Of Flaws – I review Player Option: Flaws from 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, and find it inspirational but incomplete, then set about addressing the holes that I found. The subject: how do you integrate the concept of racial or character flaws into game systems that don’t have them?
  • Experience for the ordinary person – I cast an analytic eye over the question of how ordinary people (NPCs) gain experience and expertise in the course of a game. While primarily intended for D&D / Pathfinder, the results should be more broadly applicable, though YMMV when it comes to any specific game system. Don’t miss the extended (and extensive) discussion in the comments.
  • The Nth Level Of Abstraction – GMs abstract things to varying degrees all the time. This article attempts to put some systematic analysis into the how, when, and why of abstraction, and the consequences. In the comments, I discuss ways of expressing the different levels of abstraction within maps. This is one of those ‘deep’ articles that needs to be read two or three times to get the full benefit.
  • Draco Inadequatus: Beefing Up 3.x Dragons – I discuss the inadequacies of Dragons in 3.x when Epic Levels are involved and offer a custom redevelopment of the Monsters to beef them up. A lively discussion in the comments leads to an unrelated article about House Rules.
  • May the camels of 1,000 fleas – wait, that’s not right: Improving Curses in 3.x – I reinvent the rules for Curses in 3.x/Pathfinder to add to its roleplaying potential, then offer 60 Curses to fire the imagination.
  • Superhero combat on steroids – pt 1 of 2: Taking the initiative with the Hero System – I look at some variant rules to speed up Combat in the Hero System by incorporating something similar to the 3.x Initiative mechanic and discover numerous secondary benefits to doing so.
  • Superhero combat on steroids – pt 2 of 2: Moving with a purpose – In part 2 of my article on speeding up combat in the Hero System, I consider some of the knock-on effects on other rules to the changes mooted in part 1.
  • By The Seat Of Your Pants: Using Ad-hoc statistics – There are always situations that the official rules don’t cover. This article offers a guideline that can help solve them – while adding color to the game world.
  • I Got A Plot Device and I know how to use it: Bluffing in the Hero System – Bluffing is one of those things that the Hero System does exceedingly poorly. I set out to rectify that with some specific rules for the game system.

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  • Too Much Life for The Living: March 2011 Blog Carnival – My second contribution to the March 2011 Blog Carnival asks is Healing is too easy in D&D, which leads to proposing an alternative combat system for 3.x / Pathfinder Based on concepts within the TORG game system. It was quite well received. There are additional suggestions and clarifications in the comments. If you want to make your combats more life-and-death dramatic, this might be worth your time.
  • All Wounds Are Not Alike – Part 1: Alternative Damage rules for 3.x – What are “Hit Points”? I have encountered many different definitions, and each – carried to its logical conclusion – is best exemplified by a different set of house/variant rules for Damage and Healing. Each part of the “All Wounds Are Not Alike” series examines one in detail, from game theory through to implementation and consequences for game play. I didn’t actually gather them as a series because I wanted them to stand alone – you don’t need this article to understand/use the next in the series. This first one defines Hit Points as “a numeric index of the gap between healthy and helpless”. The results are great for bringing a High-Fantasy game back to earth, grounding it in realism. Don’t skip the comments for some perspective on the possible pitfalls.
  • All Wounds Are Not Alike Part 2: Bone-breaking damage for 3.x – The second definition that I consider for the concept of “Hit Points” is “An index of soft-tissue damage” which requires a rules extension to deal with broken bones. The results are interesting, to say the least, and offer lots of potential for new magic items, for differentiating between Paladin laying-on of hands and clerical magic, and for reinventing selected monsters with a slightly tweaked flavor. This option strikes a balance between high- and low-fantasy.
  • All wounds are not alike, part 3a: The Healing Imperative (Now Updated!) – An unmistakably high-fantasy approach, and the first variant offered that I actually use in one of my campaigns. Instead of making the differential between different wound types a function of the character’s total hit point capacity, it distinguishes types of injury by the amount of damage inflicted in a single blow, with thresholds based on the efficacy of Healing Spells. More variants and some really interesting discussion in the comments, which were unusually voluminous for this post – but read them in conjunction with the second half of the article, which was simply too big to finish in time.
  • All wounds are not alike, part 3b: The Healing Imperative (cont) – I finish the unfinished variation – with five sub-variants for users to contemplate. There’s some clarification in the comments.

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Game Physics
  • Relatively Uncertain: Taking Control of Game Physics – I take a close look at game physics – why you need one, the assumptions that underpin them, downsides, and how to create a manageable one.
  • Time Travel in RPGs – This series started as part of another article, Blog Carnival June 2010: A Medley Of Inspiring Media but very quickly outgrew it.

    The first part, When Inspiration Is Not Enough, looks at using the existing media as a foundation, but ends up concluding that the best examples aren’t good enough, that what’s needed is a game metaphysics to give some operating principles to time travel.

    In part 2, A Journey Of 1,000 years, I describe the Time-Travel physics that I employ in my superhero campaign. Even though this is more than 20 years old now, it still holds up in the face of modern physics discoveries.

    Finally, the third part, Like Sand through the Klein Bottle, looks at the in-game consequences and implications of using that game physics – the fun stuff, in other words.
  • Examining Psionics – This 5-part series examines Psionics in gaming, especially Telepathy.

    In Part 1, The Mind’s Eye, I provide extracts from the game rules for my superhero campaign including notes on roleplaying telepathy. This is probably the least-valuable part of the series to the general reader, I have to admit, though there’s discussion of the metagame impact of Psionics and telepathy in particular that no-one in a campaign with Psionics should skip; it provides a framework for the rest of the series.

    Part two, Neurons & Lobes, offers a pseudo-scientific ‘explanation’ for the biology of Psionics. Both these first two articles are actually preamble for the article that originally intended to write, which appears as the rest of the series.

    Part 3, The Value Of Information, points out the inadequacy of existing metaphors and analogies for the telepathic experience, most of which date from the first half of the twentieth century or earlier, and then suggests using the Internet as a metaphor for the telepathic experience. I had identified 21 aspects of the Internet that were applicable, and use each to generate telepathy-related adventure ideas or to illuminate the concepts involved, or both. In Part 3 of the series I consider Privacy, Law, Law-Enforcement, Telepathy for Voyeurism and Pornography, the value of information, Data Piracy, and Search Engines.

    Part 4, All This And Psionic Spam, continues by examining the World Wide Web, Misinformation, Spoofs, Spam, Instant News services, Viral Marketing, and File Sharing.

    The final part of the series, The Dark Side Of The Mind, considers Tracking Cookies, Fisching, Viruses, Social Networking, Twitter, Website Hacking, and Spyware/Hijacking exploits. I close by reviewing the value of the Internet as a metaphor for Telepathy and then considering the whole series as a representation of the value of Analogy.
  • It’s Reality, Jim, but not As We Know It: St Barbara – I discuss the Paranormal Physics and Paranormal Biology skills from my superhero campaign, and use the discussion as a springboard into an illustration of my contention that rules-based disadvantages and roleplaying-acting don’t have to be mutually exclusive by exploring the pseudo-science behind the powers of one of the PCs in the campaign – an explanation that gets both a reality check and an extension in the comments.
  • Fascinating Topological Limits: FTL in Gaming – I examine Faster-Than-Light travel, and point out the flaws in the assumptions that lead people to assume it isn’t possible. Then I examine the different types of approach used in RPGs. The conversation in the comments was one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever had at Campaign Mastery and is not to be missed by any devotee of science fiction or future-world-oriented games.
  • A Twist in Time: Alternate Histories in RPGs – I offer the general principles that I use to construct a viable, believable, alternate history or parallel world.
  • The Physics Of Uncertainty – An anomalous article for Campaign Mastery that is only indirectly game-related. I reflect on some of the stranger implications of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty, use the results to prove that anything that can be measured contains an uncertainty, and consider some of the consequences that would manifest in a sci-fi/superhero campaign or novel. Speculative physics can be so much fun :) I just wish I could have gotten some real-world physicists to comment.
  • A Hint Of Tomorrow: The Future Evolution Of Homo Sapiens – I consider the evolutionary pressures on modern humans in an effort to understand what the humanity of the future might be like – something relevant to just about every sci-fi and cyberpunk campaign.

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 Players

 
Once you have the campaign and the rules sorted, you need players before you have a game. But this involves interacting with other people, with all their human foibles and failures, opinions and attitudes, philosophies and beliefs, ideas and inspirations – some or all of which can differ from those held by the GM and expressed in his campaign. Dealing with these complications makes Players deserving of their own category within the Blogdex.

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  • Moral Qualms on the Richter scale – the need for cooperative subject limits – How questions of morality can impact your game when a player’s personal beliefs come into conflict with the campaign.
  • Ask The GMs: The right to be heard – How do you ensure that every player gets a fair share of the attention when one of them has a dominant personality?
  • Ask The GMs: PC Choices and Consequences – How can you make the players feel like their actions have an impact on the world? A simple question but like an iceberg, nine-tenths don’t show. In order to properly answer this question, Johnn & I had to answer five even more complicated questions: How can the players impact the game world? How are the consequences of PC actions determined? How do the PCs become aware of these consequences? How can the GM ensure that the Players recognize the connection between action and consequences? And how can the administration of these changes be kept practical? All those answers, and more, are in this article.
  • Increase game attendance with great session reminders – Johnn talks about ways to improve session reminders. The benefits extend far beyond increased game attendance.
  • Bringing on the next generation, Part One: Player Peers – How I was taught to be a good player and how you can teach someone else to be one – not to mention being a better player yourself.
  • Interviewing Potential Players – “Filling the empty chair” was written by Johnn during the time when he was working on Campaign Mastery, and I contributed to it. In response to a question raised by a review of the book, Johnn added this extension to the book on how to use an interview to screen prospective players for a good gaming ‘fit’ and potential problems.
  • This Survey For New Players Ensures A Good Fit – Roleplaying Tips reader Zerfinity sent Johnn the player recruitment survey that he used to build his new group. Johnn offers the survey in this article because it answered the question of a reviewer of “Filling the empty chair” (paraphrased): How do you select a new player if you get multiple responses to your ‘gamer wanted’ ads?
  • Missing In Action: Maintaining a campaign in the face of player absence – How do you maintain a campaign when several players are unable to attend regularly?
  • Gaming With The Family – Lessons from yesteryear – As part of the Teach You Kids To Game Week, I write about my experiences serving as a relative novice GM to my teenaged older brother and my much younger brother in the very early 80s, and how their different ages and abilities shaped my role behind the screen.
  • The Ultimate Disruption: The loss of a player – I consider what a GM has to consider when he loses a player. Is the campaign still viable? What can be done about it? And, what should be done about it? I go on to review my campaigns in light of the then-recent passing of my friend and player, Steven.
  • Refloating The Shipwreck: When Players Make A Mistake – For the April 2013 Blog Carnival, I look at how GMs can cope when the players make a major, potentially campaign-ending, mistake.
  • Lessons From The West Wing IV: Victory At Any Price – Players, and Characters, in RPGs sometimes grow so fixated on winning that they will pay any price to achieve it. This article considers the subject in detail, with an extensive example from the Adventurer’s Club Campaign.

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 Names

 
Names are important. The give characters, places, geographic features, adventures and entire campaigns a point of identity – so I have chosen to give Names their own category in the Blogdex.

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  • 40 Great Name Resources, Lists and Generators – Johnn offers a compendium of resources on the subject of Names. Some may be gone to the Great Internet Node In The Sky since, but most should still be around. This was so good a list that I ended up cutting my planned delivery of a similar resource out of my later series on Names!
  • A Good Name Is Hard To Find – A series about names for which continues to be popular.

    The first article in the series, A Good Name Is Hard To Find, discusses why good character names are important and offers a bucketload of advice on what to do and what not to do when choosing one.

    The second, The Wellspring of Euonyms, introduces the concept of Name Seeds, a symbolic distillation of a character that can form the foundations of a name, and shows how to generate a name seed.

    Article three, Sugar, Spice, and a touch of Rhubarb: That’s what little names are made of, discusses simple name structures and how to create a name using a name seed, and as a bonus, shows how to generate a monosyllabic language.

    Article four, With The Right Seasoning: Beyond Simple Names, extends this approach to cover complicated name structures, and explores byways such as non-human languages, and Superhero & Villain naming.

    With the fifth article, Grokking The Message, we leave character names behind and move on to naming places and campaigns, and I explain how I chose the names for some of the campaigns that I have run.

    The next two articles,Hints, Metaphors, and Mindgames (Part 1) and (Part 2), discuss adventure names, with hundreds of examples (with explanations) and general principles based on style & genre of campaign.

    Part 8, still untitled, which will deal with Alien Names and Name Tools, is still unfinished but is expected to appear sometime in late 2013 or early 2014.

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 Characters

 
Once you have players, those players are going to need characters, and you are going to need antagonists and supporting cast. And once those are created, you are going to need to know how to express the personalities that you have invented for them in-play.

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  • Sophisticated Links: Degrees Of Separation in RPGs – We’ve all heard of the “Six Degrees Of Separation” game. I apply the concept to RPG Characters and come up with ways to take advantage of it within the game. This article only scratches the surface of what can be done with this tool.
  • High Elf Generator – Johnn follows up his review of Q-workshop’s Curse of the Crimson Throne dice set with this review of their Pathfinder Elven dice set and offers a random generator for High Elves – Names, Quirks, Motives, Appearances, Secrets, and Power Base. He then offers our readers the chance to win a set (sorry, the contest has closed) in response for additional add-ons for the generator – so don’t skip the comments on this one!
  • Evil GM Tricks For Over-Resting PCs – Do your players stop to rest as soon as they run low on power for the game-day – even if that’s just five minutes after their adventuring day starts? Johnn excerpts some material from his Faster Combat course to offer some solutions to the problem. I offer a refinement in the comments.
  • Go Hard Or Go Home: Graceful Character Aging – How I now simulate Aging in my campaigns, some of the approaches I’ve used to handle character aging in the past, and why those weren’t successful.
  • Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 2 – Part two continues sketching in the background to the Orcs and Elves plotline. This begins describing the key characters, along the way giving the backgrounds and histories of their races within the campaign, covering Elves, Drow, Ogres, Dwarves, and Halflings. I give away lots of freebies from the campaign in the process.
  • Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 3 – Taking up where the previous article left off, this article describes Orcs, a new race (Dwarvlings), a new character class (The Fated, a reinvention from the ground up of an idea from The Planar Handbook [D&D 3.0]), another new race (The Verdonne), Humans in Fumanor, and a new variant character class (The Paladins Of Thumâin).
  • Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 5 – The final preparatory piece of the series points out that each of the PCs has a personal quest in the campaign (and lists them) – something that the players themselves would only peripherally have been aware of.

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Characterization
  • Focusing On Alignment – This series starts with An Unnecessary Evil?, a guest article by Gary Stahl, in which he explains his dislike for the concept of alignment.

    In part 2, A Necessary Evil?, I discuss the justification for alignment being part of the rules, and why some people have problems with it.

    In part 3, An Unnecessary Evil?, I offer counterpoints to my own arguements, re-examine the question of whether or not alignment should be part of the rules, and offer some alternative Mechanics for alignment that satisfy both sides of the question.

    In part 4, Flavors Of Neutral, I look at the complex subject of neutrality and show how all colors of neutral don’t have to be alike.

    In the concluding part, Dark Shadows, I talk about the interpretations and definitions of alignment in Shards Of Divinity (an ‘evil’ campaign).
  • The Hidden Key: Resolutions as a window to personality – I ponder the question “Why do people make the same New Year’s Resolutions year after year?” and discover a new tool for exploring a character’s personality.
  • The Characterization Puzzle – A five-part series in which I look at different techniques for generating the right personality for your NPCs. These approaches also work for players generating PCs.

    In the first part, When personalities are hard to find, I examine the problem.

    In part 2, I describe ‘ The Thumbnail Method‘.

    In part 3 I demonstrate ‘ The Inversion Principle‘, with a real-life example from one of my campaigns. Both techniques had been go-to solutions of mine for years.

    Part 4 offers ‘ The Window Shopping Technique‘, which was a new one that I developed in early 2010.

    Finally, the last part, The First Decision, discusses how to choose between the three techniques. The comments to the last part also contain some extra uses and considerations concerning the Inversion Principle.
  • Creating Alien Characters: Expanding the ‘Create A Character Clinic’ To Non-Humans – I extend Holly Lisle’s e-book course in character creation, the Create A Character Clinic, to cover the creation of Alien Races, twisting the central concepts of Dwarves in entirely new directions as an example. And touch on some others.
  • We All Have Our Roles To Play – This (still incomplete) series examines the relationships between PCs in terms of their social and character roles with a team and the interactions between them. Unfortunately, right now, these articles take too long to craft, so this series is on hold for the time being. But I will get back to it eventually, even if I have to run it one archetype at a time. So far, eleven archetypes have been discussed out of a total of 31 identified roles (some added after the series started).

    Part 1 introduced the series, then looks at The Heart Of The Team, The Tactician, The Moral Guardian, and the Rock.

    Part 2 looks at The Mother Hen and The Intellectual.

    In Part 3, I discuss The Faithful, The Air-head, and The Flashing Genius.

    Part 4 is the final part published to date with The Maverick and The Strange Uncle.
  • Taking everyman skills to the next level: The Absence of an Alibi – I start with the concept of Everyman Skills and evolve a tool for the characterization of individuals that often yields surprising results.
  • A Good Name Is Hard To Find – The first article in the series of the same name discusses why good character names are important and offers a bucketload of advice on what to do and what not to do when choosing one.
  • The Wellspring of Euonyms – The second part of the series A Good Name Is Hard To Find introduces the concept of Name Seeds, a symbolic distillation of a character that can form the foundations of a name, and shows how to generate a name seed.
  • Sugar, Spice, and a touch of Rhubarb: That’s what little names are made of – Article three in the A Good Name Is Hard To Find series discusses simple name structures and how to create a name using a name seed, and as a bonus, shows how to generate a monosyllabic language.
  • With The Right Seasoning: Beyond Simple Names – The fourth article in the series A Good Name Is Hard To Find extends the approach detailed in part three to cover complicated name structures, and explores byways such as non-human languages, and Superhero & Villain naming.
  • What matters to your character: the value of the shameful secret – I consider the value of deciding your character’s secrets as characterization aid – what we regret can be a signpost to the morals and values of the individual, profiling the character in several key respects.
  • Part Three then addresses two more of the remaining primary types of writer’s block: Action (Combat) and Personality Blocks (Characterization).

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PCs
  • Ask the GMs: Characters not trusting the other PCs – What should the GM do when one character’s mistrust of the other PCs when it starts getting in the way of the game? Johnn & I Advise, others chime in within the comments.
  • Paint On A Canvas: A Personality Metaphor – Tony Scott and Beverly Hills Cop II combine to give me a new perspective on how to choose characters who will have chemistry together.
  • The Pursuit Of Perfection: Character Evolution Part 5 of the series-within-a-series of the first of my Lessons From The West Wing deals with how the uniqueness of the campaign should impact on the player characters that participate in the world.
  • Ask The GMs: An Inconsistency of Play – A GM grew so frustrated at the inconsistency of personality given by a player to their character that he started cancelling sessions. One of his other players asks Johnn & I for help. There’s a link at the end of the comments that is worth reading on the subject as well – thanks, Robert.
  • Ask the GMs: What we have here is A Failure To Cooperate – Character-driven PCs tend to be rugged individualists. Diverse backgrounds make this even more pronounced. So how can you get such diverse individuals to bond? How can you generate some party unity? There’s also some useful advice in the comments.
  • Character Hooks – A series in which Johnn and several guest contributors provide adventure/plot hook ideas for different character classes. Although mainly intended for 4e D&D, most can be imported into any D&D campaign and some suit an even wider range of games.

    50 Barbarian Hooks – Johnn’s initial article includes a brief review of the revised Barbarian character class in the D&D 4e version of Player’s Handbook 2, which inspired the series.

    63 Wizard Hooks – Umm, actually no. Readers (and my humble self) have added more to the list, taking it up 81 plot hooks for Wizard Characters as of this writing.

    50 Paladin Hooks – Guest contributor D. L. Campbell extends the series with these 50 Hooks for the Noblest of The Noble Warriors. Well, that’s what they would like to think about themselves…

    54 Sorcerer Hooks – Guest Contributor Bobby Catdragon offers 54 hooks for the Sorcerer character class. Readers take the tally to 59. This is a rarity, I think it’s the only article posted at Campaign Mastery without some sort of accompanying illustration.

    25 Cleric Character Hooks – Johnn concludes his character hooks series with this entry that offers 25 Cleric Character Hooks. This article is more-or-less tying with Building The Perfect Beast: A D&D 3.5 online monster generator as the most popular articles on the site, day in, day out.
  • 50 Assassin Hooks – This excerpt offers a representational fifty of the more than 125 Assassin Hooks contained within Assassin’s Amulet.
  • Forging Unexpected Connections: Putting PC Dossiers To Work – I look beyond the concept of a character sheet and invent a character dossier – then show how to put them to work as a way of improving a game. A comment adds another way to use the concept. This article got great peer reviews, so it’s worth your time.
  • The Power Of Synergy: Maximizing Character Efficiency – I look at a simple technique that players can use to make their characters more efficient, and the benefits to the GM of doing so.
  • An Empty Death, An Empty Life: Making PC Death Matter – All PC Deaths should matter. Heroes should either die a Heroic Death or should achieve victory. That puts the GM in a difficult position when it comes to that staple of D&D, the wandering monster. This article shows how to add meaning commensurate with the risk by making sure random encounters are always plot-significant.
  • The Acceptable Favoritism: 34 ‘Rules’ to make your players’ PCs their favorites – My friends and I list the 34 things that GMs should and shouldn’t do to turn your players characters into their favorites.

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Villains

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Other NPCs
  • Former PCs as NPCs – Johnn takes a reader’s suggestion, submitted to Roleplaying Tips and builds on it with details of how to put it into practice. The article ends with links to sites where GMs can submit NPCs for use by the greater gaming community.
  • Book of Dead Characters to Celebrate Your Gaming – Johnn expands on his thoughts in Former PCs as NPCs by connecting the idea to his Book of Dead Characters. This should very much be read as a supplement to the earlier article.
  • The Ubercharacter Wimp: Plotting within your PCs limitations – TUW, or ‘The Ubercharacter Wimp’, is a tool that I devised for the generation of quick and easy NPCs. This was a really hastily-written article to cover my obligations to the Blog while I was moving house.
  • GM’s Toolbox: Prep Tools Part Three: NPCs – Part of the GM’s Toolbox series by Michael Beck with contributions by Da’Vane and the occasional comment drop-in from Johnn. The series is aimed at both beginners and more experienced GMs and strives to articulate all the things that you will need tools and techniques for, in order to successfully run a campaign. This article looks at the creation & management of the NPCs needed for a game session or adventure.
  • Look beyond the box: a looser concept for NPCs – I develop a simple (and universal) system for defining complex aspects of NPCs. Try it, it works!
  • By the seat of your pants: the 3 minute (or less) NPC – I break an NPC into smaller pieces: three general framing decisions, the eight most important details, a list of secondary items that aren’t needed for every character, and a pair of optional extras that may be needed for some campaigns – and show how to employ the structure to generate an NPC in less time than it takes to hard-boil an egg. Even experienced GMs get something out of this article, I’ve been told. It’s a perennial favorite amongst our readers. I’d completely forgotten that I intended to develop a worksheet for it – but I mentioned it in replying to a pingback. So that’s back on my radar, for anyone who’s been waiting!

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Playing
  • Ask The GMs: How to survive political games with paranoia and intrigue – The question might concern a Vampire The Masquerade campaign, but Johnn and I look beyond that to offer advice on how to handle games filled with in-game politics. With a postscript piece of advice in the comments.
  • Roleplaying Assassins: An excerpt from Assassins Amulet – An excerpt from our then-forthcoming sourcebook, Assassin’s Amulet offers advice on how to roleplay an Assassin. And there’s a link to part two of a great review of AA in the comments, and a link to the site where you can buy a copy.
  • In Part Four, I wrap up the Primary types of writer’s block with solutions to Dialogue Block and Narrative Block.

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 Adventures

 
Only once you have all the game elements discussed already are you ready to create and play adventures – which brings a whole new set of headaches and requirements. But no-one has any fun without them.

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Locations
  • Back To Basics: Example: The White Tower – Part three of two in the articles about creating adventures and hooking them together to form a campaign offers an example of the process of adventure creation and connection from one of my actual campaigns, describing a rather unique location in the process. This article was carefully written and edited to conceal the actual ideas that I chose for the real adventure in the campaign.
  • Grokking The Message – The fifth article in the A Good Name Is Hard To Find series looks at naming places and campaigns, and I explain how I chose the names for some of the campaigns that I have run.
  • The Poetry Of Place: Describing locations & scenes in RPGs – How to use descriptive language more effectively when conveying information about a location or event to the PCs. With a fictional D&D city invented just to serve as an example.
  • There are 7 primary types of writer’s block besides “Blank Page Syndrome”. Part Two offers solutions to the first three of them Conceptual blocks (Ideas), Specific-Scene Blocks (Scenes within an adventure), and Setting Blocks (Locations).
  • Location, Location, Location – How Do You Choose A Location? – I examine the various considerations that should weigh into the decision of where something is to happen. There’s also some useful advice on the subject in Parts 2 And 5 of the Breaking Through Writer’s Block series – look for the sections on “Setting”. This was to be the lead-off article in the September 2013 Blog Carnival and I wanted to make it a strong one.
  • Adjectivizing Descriptions: Hitting the target – I offer a seventh entry into the Blog Carnival with practical advice on How to describe locations, especially Wonders.
  • People, Places, and Narratives: Matching Locations to plot needs – Your cast of characters isn’t limited to PCs and NPCs; this article shows you how to access and use the current location as another member of that cast.
  • Location, Location, Location: Nyngan – I describe my home town (and get a number of people into a nostalgic frame of mind in the process) – then adapt it to a number of different genres (Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Pulp, Horror, Westerns, Cyberpunk, and Superhero games).
  • Places to go and people to meet: The One Spot series from Moebius Adventures – I review a series of new products from Moebius Adventures that collectively offer a trio of ready-to-use locations to drop into your fantasy RPG: Hand’s Goods, The Painted Man, and Angar’s Magic Shoppe.
  • Big Is Not Enough: Monuments and Places Of Wonder – For my sixth post in the Blog Carnival, I raise the question of Wonders Of The Known World and the qualities they need to possess in order to live up to the label; four reasons they are hard to do well, ten reasons why they are worth doing, and 12 sources of wonders to help overcome those difficulties.
  • Six Wonders: A selected assortment of Wondrous Locations for a fantasy RPG – When I sat down to list ideas for the September 2013 Blog Carnival, I only intended to do one article on Wonders. But when you get inspired… The offerings in this post are: The Broken Man, The Pool Of Reflection, The Palace Of Winter, The Citadel Of Secrets, The Spire Of Contention, and the Library Of Shelves.
  • Five More Wonders: Another assortment of Locations for a fantasy RPG – My Ninth article for the September 2013 Blog Carnival continues where the last one left off, with five more Wonders Of The Known World (that I didn’t have time to complete for the previous article). This offers The Pyramid of Reason, The Caves Of Rockbeard, The Rainbow Of Eternity, The Desert Of Gold, and The Emerald Falls.
  • Still More Wonders: Fifteen Amazing Locations for a Sci-Fi RPG – I snuck this one in because September 2013 wasn’t quite long enough to fit everything into the Blog Carnival (actually, it was delayed because I needed an extra half-week to deal with Fantasy Wonders and because I was having trouble gathering enough ideas. Thanks to the players in my superhero campaign, I got there in the end). This article offers The Orouberus Molecule, The Cascade Nebula, “Birth And Death” By Garl, The Dyson Superplant Of Epsilon Centauri, The Spiderweb Of Rukh-C, The Torus of Andraphones, The Confusion of Hydra, The Waltz Of Minos IV, The Diaphanous Assembly of Omicron Boötis, The Billboard Of Greeting, The Halo Rock, The Necrotis Plague Planet, The “Cosmic String” of 18 Delphini, The Arena Of Canopia, and The Fireworx Swarm.
  • Location, Location, Location! – the Roundup and Wrap-up (for now) – The September 2013 Blog Carnival brought in 27 entries, including 10 from Campaign Mastery. This article synopsizes all 27 entries plus one extra that I thought belonged there.
  • The Remembrance Of The Disquiet Dead: A Spooky Spot and Campaign Premise – For the October 2013 Blog Carnival I offer a cemetery that follows the PCs wherever they go. Explaining the cause of the phenomena led to three or four different interpretations, each with their own resolution to the series of encounters, so this will fit into more than one type of campaign.

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Maps & Dungeon Tiles
  • Maps Have Three Parts – Johnn started the very first series here at Campaign Mastery way back in December 2008 – before the site went public. He suggests that maps have three constituents: Lines, Spaces, and Negative Spaces – and examines each in detail.
  • Lessons From The West Wing II: The Psychology Of Maps – The second article in my occasional series of “Lessons From The West Wing” considers how maps both influence and reflect the way we see the world – and hence, that they should be very different if deriving from another society.
  • Hexographer – RPG Mapping Dream – Hexographer is a piece of software that’s been on my personal wish-list ever since I read this review by Johnn. Note that the link given in the article is out of date; while there is a redirect in place, it might not be there forever. So use this link instead: < a href="http://www.hexographer.com/" target="_blank">http://www.hexographer.com/.
  • 8 Easy Ways to Organize Your Dungeon Tiles – When Johnn wrote this article (with contributions from other GMs), I had no dungeon tiles. That is no longer the case, since one of my players has been collecting them for use in the games I run, and has left them in my care, and I have supplemented those with some extras that I’ve acquired. So I really need to pay closer attention to this article. More tips in the comments, especially the last one.
  • The Nth Level Of Abstraction – GMs abstract things to varying degrees all the time. This article attempts to put some systematic analysis into the how, when, and why of abstraction, and the consequences. In the comments, I discuss ways of expressing the different levels of abstraction within maps. This is one of those ‘deep’ articles that needs to be read two or three times to get the full benefit.
  • Out Of Sight does not mean Out of Mind: Maps I Could Not Find – I list a number of game maps that didn’t seem to be on the market – anywhere – in hopes of inspiring some cartographers to plug the gaps, with some success.
  • Straightening a bent line: Measuring complex distances on a map – I offer a practical solution to measure complicated distances, like the by-road distance between journey start and destination – then toss in some neat tricks that you can incorporate into the process.
  • Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 5 – As a giveaway with this post I offer a high-res map of the part of the Game World where the campaign has (mostly) taken place – but bereft of labels and captions so other GMs can use it as they see fit, and another with captions detailing the PCs travels.
  • 52+ Miniature Miracles: Taking Battlemaps the extra mile – My 3rd entry in this month’s blog carnival looked at ways of extending the functionality of battlemaps by adding Found and Made objects. The general response to this article has been “now why didn’t I think of that?” which was very gratifying.

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Miniatures
  • DM Tool: Scrabble Tiles for your Minis & Battlemats – Using Scrabble tiles as miniatures and map symbols on a battlemat. This article went mini-viral in August.
  • Elevate Your Game – Tracking Airborne Minis – John examines solutions to the vexing problems of integrating the third dimension into a two-dimensional battlemap.
  • D&D Minis Giveaway Contest – Another out-of-continuity contest. Note that the contest is long-over, it does no good to enter now – though you may want to read the tips and advice on Battlemats in the comments and on the entry page. All told there are about 80 of them – more than enough reason to actually count this post as one of the 500.
  • Taming The Time Bandits: Some time-saving combat techniques – In Johnn’s review of the Chronology iPad app, he identified three major problems that he felt were responsible for the slow pace of combat resolution in his Riddleport campaign, but offered no solutions. In this response I offer the techniques that I use to solve the problems of 1)Not knowing the spells and supernatural abilities of the monsters in the encounter; 2)Being unfamiliar with the specialized combat subrules that applied to this particular battle; and 3) Being unable to identify which Mini went with which PC, which Mini went with which monster, and who was attacking who. There are some more great solutions in the comments, especially to the last of those three questions, and some great discussion of the first problem and my solutions.

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Encounters
  • Break Down The Door – 5 Encounter Seeds – Johnn expands on a point he made in his two-part article on How To Be A Confident GM by describing the concept of adventure seeds – with some great examples and links to many more.
  • New Generator: Roleplaying A Black Dragon – Johnn does another review of Q-Workshop dice, in this case the Black and Yellow Dragon Dice and constructs a generator using them to create personalities for a Black Dragon.
  • The Perfect Monster Manual – A Wishlist – Johnn asks what would be in the Perfect Monster Manual. In the comments, I explain the technical details of how to meet Johnn’s requirements, and point out the similarities to my (theoretical) proposal in Google Groans: Misplacing the Rules.
  • Drow Generator & Dice Giveaway – Johnn does another review of Q-Workshop dice, in this case the Second Darkness dice set and constructs a generator for fleshing out Drow NPCs using them. Unfortunately, this dice set doesn’t seem to be available any more; the link is to the Q-Workshop home page.
  • Undead Foe Generator – The last of Johnn’s Q-workshop dice articles is all about giving personality to the undead. The contest was over long ago, but the tables are still just as functional. This article was inspired by the Red and black Skull Dice set which appears to be no longer available (the link is to Q-Workshop’s home page).
  • Perfect Skin: Some Musing On The Design Of Monsters – Inspired by a free review copy of by 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, I revisit the concept of Reskinning and ask how a Monster Supplement should be designed to best facilitate it.
  • Draco Inadequatus: Beefing Up 3.x Dragons – I discuss the inadequacies of Dragons in 3.x when Epic Levels are involved and offer a custom redevelopment of the Monsters to beef them up. A lively discussion in the comments leads to an unrelated article about House Rules.
  • GM’s Toolbox: Prep Tools Part Two: Encounter and Scene Planning – Part of the GM’s Toolbox series by Michael Beck with contributions by Da’Vane and the occasional comment drop-in from Johnn. The series is aimed at both beginners and more experienced GMs and strives to articulate all the things that you will need tools and techniques for in order to successfully run a campaign. This article looks at the detailed planning within an adventure or game session.
  • Creating ecology-based random encounters – ‘Wilderness Encounters’ in D&D are as old a subject as D&D itself. This 3-part series attempts to put some rationality into those encounters. Even experienced GMs have told me that they’ve gotten something new out of it.

    Part One, The Philosophy of meanderings, examines the philosophical underpinnings and game-play purposes of the unplanned wilderness encounter, why they seem to be declining in favor, and why they should still matter.

    Part Two, This Eats That, looks at ways to create better, smarter, encounter tables, by creating a simplified, summarized, ecology and then converting it into an encounter table. Be warned, it’s very long even by my standards, but it defied being further subdivided.

    Part Three, Encounters With Meaning, applies the same processes and analogous theory to create encounter tables for Urban Settings and Dungeon Settings, and then wraps the series with integrating random encounters with your plotlines to infuse them with meaning. I also explore some strange but related back alleys along the way – like the ecology of Undeath, and Devils & Demons…

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Combat & In-Game Environment
  • Hazards Of Combat – Johnn defines a combat hazard as an “element other than the PCs and their foes that brings danger, risk, or difficulty to the fight” – and then begins a series dedicated to examining possible combat hazards in detail.

    Part one, What is a combat hazard?, asks what – beyond terrain – might actually be a combat hazard, and offers many ideas in answer to the question.
  • Part two, Craft a spirited name for your hazards, considers an essential element of combat environment psychology.

    In part three, Terrain, looks at the terrain as a critical combat element.

    The fourth entry in the series, Environment, looks beyond ‘terrain’ to a more comprehensive appraisal of the conditions under which combat takes place, and how these can be enhanced to further enliven combat.

    The final part, Traps, focuses on what has always been a staple element of fantasy RPGs (and Pulp/Superhero RPGs!) in isolation, and how integrating their presence into the combat can dress up an otherwise routine encounter.

  • My Group’s Time Thief Revealed – Chronology iPad App Review – Combat takes a long time to resolve in most tabletop RPGs. Johnn uses the Chronology iPad to work out why that’s the case in his Riddleport campaign and comes to a surprising conclusion, reviewing the product in the course of reporting his findings.
  • Taming The Time Bandits: Some time-saving combat techniques – In Johnn’s review of the Chronology iPad app, he identified three major problems that he felt were responsible for the slow pace of combat resolution in his Riddleport campaign, but offered no solutions. In this response I offer the techniques that I use to solve the problems of 1)Not knowing the spells and supernatural abilities of the monsters in the encounter; 2)Being unfamiliar with the specialized combat subrules that applied to this particular battle; and 3) Being unable to identify which Mini went with which PC, which Mini went with which monster, and who was attacking who. There are some more great solutions in the comments, especially to the last of those three questions, and some great discussion of the first problem and my solutions.
  • Fastest Pathfinder Combat Ever – How We Did It – Johnn tries out some suggestions for improving the speed of combat. They seemed to work for him at the time, but as my comment shows, I thought he might comparing apples and oranges. Or not. If your combats are dragging, there are worse ideas than trying Johnn’s solutions.
  • Five (Plus One!) Effective Combat Tactics for Assassins – Another excerpt from Assassin’s Amulet, this time offering techniques on how to make them more effective in combat.
  • GM’s Toolbox: Running The Game Part Three: Rules and Combat – Part of the GM’s Toolbox series by Michael Beck with contributions by Da’Vane and the occasional comment drop-in from Johnn. The series is aimed at both beginners and more experienced GMs and strives to articulate all the things that you will need tools and techniques for in order to successfully run a campaign. This article details a subject that many GMs and players seem to obsess about – the rules.
  • 11 Table Rules For Speed – Johnn offers an expanded excerpt from the Faster Combat course he and Tony Medeiros co-authored, in which he discusses 11 rules of table etiquette designed to speed up combat.
  • The Tactical Masterclass – Preparing a player to lead on the battlefield – How to prepare a player who’s character has to lead the other PCs into battle.
  • Part Three then addresses two more of the remaining primary types of writer’s block: Action (Combat) and Personality Blocks (Characterization).

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Rewards

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Seasonal Adventures
  • Holiday Hell: Re-creating real holidays for RPGs – How to transform a real seasonal Holiday into a festive occasion within an RPG
  • ‘Tis The Season: A Christmas Scenario – To celebrate Christmas 2010, I pass on the outline of a quick-and-easy Christmas Scenario that I ran a couple of years earlier. And, for good measure, half-a-dozen variant ideas.
  • The Season Of Optimism – As a celebration of Christmas, I examine the concept of celebrations taking place within RPGs, generally. Using Christmas and its many variations in other cultures as a template, I derive a framework for integrating original celebrations into a campaign.
  • Parable and Play: Fables and Morality Plays as the basis for adventures – Every year, the Christmas season brings variations on the same old stories. There’s a reason for this – there are certain plots that just work better that time of year due to the Holiday Season. This article discusses the process of deriving adventures and new plots from traditional sources.

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Complete Adventures
  • The Flói Af Loft & The Ryk Bolti – A complete adventure from my Seeds Of Empire campaign, published here in three simultaneous parts for practical reasons only, modified to stand alone from the campaign. Complete with three-D-layer map. This was part of the Blog Carnival for February 2009.
  • Back To Basics: Example: The White Tower – Part three of two in the articles about creating adventures and hooking them together to form a campaign offers an example of the process of adventure creation and connection from one of my actual campaigns. This article was carefully written and edited to conceal the actual ideas that I chose for the real adventure in the campaign.
  • Back To Basics: Example: The Belt Of Terra – Part four of the two-part article contains a larger and more complete example, illustrating all the steps in the process of creating an adventure, structuring it, and inserting it into a campaign plan. Along the way it expands both the game physics and game mythology and touches on or references no less than 20 other plotlines, showing how tightly integrated a plotline can be within a campaign.

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Mysteries & Puzzles

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Ad-hoc Adventures & GM Improv
  • A potpourri of quick solutions: Eight Lifeboats for GM Emergencies – There are times when everything seems to go wrong for the GM, and he needs help. When you’re in an emergency and the ship is sinking, you need a lifeboat. Here are eight to choose from.
  • By The Seat Of Your Pants: Adventures On the Fly – I share my secrets for generating adventures on the fly, and doing it so well that most of the time your players won’t notice. This article focuses on the process.
  • By The Seat Of Your Pants: Six Foundations Of Adventure – I follow up the previous article by expanding on the sources of instant adventure ideas.
  • By the seat of your pants: the 3 minute (or less) NPC – I break an NPC into smaller pieces: three general framing decisions, the eight most important details, a list of secondary items that aren’t needed for every character, and a pair of optional extras that may be needed for some campaigns – and show how to employ the structure to generate an NPC in less time than it takes to hard-boil an egg. Even experienced GMs get something out of this article, I’ve been told. It’s a perennial favorite amongst our readers. I’d completely forgotten that I intended to develop a worksheet for it – but I mentioned it in replying to a pingback. So that’s back on my radar, for anyone who’s been waiting!
  • Boxed In: A problem-solving frame of reference for players & GMs alike – Using a box as a metaphor for problems you may encounter at the game table can reveal surprising solutions. This article shows you how to apply the concept as a problem-solving tool. I provide an original political D&D/Pathfinder adventure (and a variation) as one example. And discuss some possible relationships between the concepts of Life and Death.
  • By The Seat Of Your Pants: Using Ad-hoc statistics – There are always situations that the official rules don’t cover. This article offers a guideline that can help solve them – while adding color to the game world.
  • Refloating The Shipwreck: When Players Make A Mistake – For the April 2013 Blog Carnival, I look at how GMs can cope when the players make a major, potentially campaign-ending, mistake.
  • Part Five of the series on Writer’s Block discusses translation blocks, also known as transition blocks, and shows that the solutions already provided work just fine – if you have plenty of time to implement them. But, when you need a solution in a hurry, this article will come to your rescue with emergency solutions to five subtype types.
  • Which leaves five more to be covered in Part Six, plus a solution to another type of problem, “Crowding Blocks”, and some final advice on the subject.

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 Game Mastering

 
Everything that a GM does can be considered “Game Mastering”. But Campaign Mastery uses the term in a more restricted sense, to describe the actual process of supervising and adjudicating play. Even so, as befits such a subject so fundamental to the site’s purpose, there have been a LOT of relevant articles amongst the five hundred…

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  • Say Yes, but Get There Quick – A simple principle of good GMing, articulated by Johnn.
  • Engaging Your Players: A Lesson from Crime Fiction – Means, Motive, and Opportunity as things to be provided to the players by the GM if the “crime” is to be a great campaign. Some good general advice and a fresh way at looking at things, in other words.
  • The Literary GM: Expanding your resources for a better game – I describe my reference library, the other sources of information I use, and why they help my GMing. Its the latter content that stops this being a fluff piece.
  • Bringing on the next generation, Part Two: Gamemaster Mentors – My introduction into the world of GMing and the fundamental lessons learned that made me good at it – and can do so for you, too.
  • Melodramatic License: Drama in RPGs – Drama vs Melodrama and their roles in an RPG.
  • Ask The GMs: Essential Game Master Skills – Loz Newman – one of our regular commentators at Campaign Mastery – asks a ‘deceptively simple question’ – What are the essential skills of a game master? Check the comments for some additional suggestions and discussion.
  • 3 Ways Game Masters Show, Don’t Tell – Johnn offers some great advice for making sure that the players are interacting with the game world instead of just watching it pass them by. As someone who sometimes has trouble with this, I really should pay closer attention to this article; I suspect that I’m not alone.
  • Ask The GMs: How to GM solo PCs (especially in combat) – 31 pieces of advice (more if you count the extras in the comments) on how to handle this tricky situation.
  • How To Be A Confident GM, Part 1 – First of a two-part article by Johnn, GMing is 80% confidence, as he writes in the article’s introductory paragraphs; this article aims to give you as much of that 80% as possible.
  • How To Be A Confident GM, Part 2 – If you’ve read the description of the preceding article, then you’ll know what to expect from this one!
  • Lessons From The West Wing III: Time Happens In The Background – The third in this irregular series is actually the seventh post to be included because the first article was itself a five-part series-within-a-series. I discuss the concept that time continues moving even when the PCs aren’t present, and ways to make this practical.
  • The failure of …urmmmm… Memory – I offer my more modular equivalents of a Campaign Binder, and why it is not just useful but necessary. More suggestions in the comments.
  • Top-Down Plug-in Game Design: The Perfect Recipe? – I apply the principles of good software design to work out how the perfect game mechanics for a tabletop RPG should be constructed. There’s interesting discussion in the comments.
  • Missing In Action: Maintaining a campaign in the face of player absence – How do you maintain a campaign when several players are unable to attend regularly?
  • Ask The GMs: How to Deal with Players Who Disagree with Game Calls – A GM is having trouble with a player who constantly disputes the rulings at the table, and it has reached the point of impacting the enjoyment of the other players. Johnn offers a range of solutions so complete that I have nothing to add. It sparks a great discussion on the role of the GM, and a couple of commentators add some novel and interesting approaches to the problem.
  • Gaming With The Family – Lessons from yesteryear – As part of the Teach You Kids To Game Week, I write about my experiences serving as a relative novice GM to my teenaged older brother and my much younger brother in the very early 80s, and how their different ages and abilities shaped my role behind the screen.
  • GM’s Toolbox – A megaseries written by Michael Beck with contributions and editing by Da’Vane. This series started with Michael offering a single-article version to Johnn for Roleplaying Tips. Johnn couldn’t make up his mind what to do with it (the fact that English is Michael’s second language may not have helped) and was on the verge of turning it down when he asked for my opinion. I responded that there were some really cool insights buried within that I thought he had missed, probably because he (presumably) had only skimmed the proposed article, but that it would need a lot of editing and expansion, and that RPT might not be the right venue for the resulting series of articles. As a result, Johnn took a second look, and as he replied, “found the goodness”. The result was this 14-part detailed review and discussion of the basic tools and techniques that go into being a GM. This is not primarily a series on how to do various things; it’s more about identifying the need for techniques for doing these specific things, though there are suggestions along the way for what might fit those empty slots. One of the things I would love to find time to do is read this from start to finish in one single session, as I suspect that there is even more juice to extract from the series that way. But I don’t think it will ever happen, there are too many demands on my time and too many plates to keep juggling.

    Following the Series Introduction, there are:

    …three articles on tools for game prep (One: Campaign and Adventure Planning, Two: Encounter and Scene Planning, Three: NPCs);

    …three articles on world-building (One: Geography and Landmarks, Two: Communities and Politics, Three: History, Mythology, and stocking Dungeons);

    …three articles on running a game (One: Creating the Mood, Two: Notes and Organization, Three: Rules and Combat);

    …and three articles on add-ons to provide additional sophistication (One: Handouts and Props, Two: Roleplaying and Reality, and Three: Learning to become a Better GM).

    The whole thing then wraps up with a Concluding article.
  • Cause And Inflect: Marketing your way to a better game – Product marketing is as much about understanding the people you’re talking to as it is manipulating desire. The latter is relevant to a GM trying to “sell” his adventure and game world to his players, while the former helps make NPCs believable and realistic in behavior. Sure, it’s not what it was intended for – but who cares about that? The comments debate the thoughts that sparked the article, but don’t say much about the actual point that I was making.
  • An Adventure Into Writing: The Co-GMing Difference – It’s unusual, but I regularly Co-GM a Pulp Campaign. This article describes the impact on how adventures get written for the campaign and along the way discusses some of the benefits and pitfalls of Co-GMing.
  • Five Games That Will Wreck Your Life (and what we can learn from them) – Some videogames are so compelling that they can become an obsession. What characteristics does an RPG campaign have to have to be equally compelling? This article is a collaboration between myself and Jason Falls.

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Feedback
  • Ghosts Of Blogs Past: All The World’s A Suggestion Box – The first of an irregular series that resurrects and updates relevant blog posts from my long-defunct personal blog. This one deals with the way that suggestions we make improve the world often without our even being aware of the impact that we are having. It then connects this notion with gameplay and game feedback and examines the consequences on the economics and reality of Gaming and Game Publishing.

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At Conventions
  • Game Mastering at Conventions Tips – As our contribution to the Aug 2009 Blog Carnival, Johnn serves up links to a number of articles on GMing at conventions that had appeared in Campaign Mastery. I have never GM’d at a convention myself, but if I was ever intending to do so, this would be one of the places I would start.

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Mistakes, Problems, & Emergencies
    There’s a lot of overlap between this category and “Ad-hoc Adventures & GM Improv” under Adventures, above. Check the articles listed there for more problem-solving techniques.

  • My Biggest Mistakes – Campaign Mastery hosted the September 2009 Blog Carnival about GM mistakes and how to fix them. We collected all the articles we published on the subject into this series. Johnn kicks us off by talking about the mistake of not gaming, and I offer up five biggies of my own. The first part also contains links to all the other articles on the subject posted by other websites.
  • Retcon Rightly – Johnn offers his advice on how to undo major events in a campaign without destroying it. Don’t miss the additional techniques in the comments.
  • A potpourri of quick solutions: Eight Lifeboats for GM Emergencies – There are times when everything seems to go wrong for the GM, and he needs help. When you’re in an emergency and the ship is sinking, you need a lifeboat. Here are eight to choose from.
  • When Good Dice Turn Bad: A Lesson In The Improbable – The improbable can occasionally happen. This is a true story (I was at the table) of just such an improbable event. And then the GM explains how he coped. Don’t miss the comments.
  • Evil GM Tricks For Over-Resting PCs – Do your players stop to rest as soon as they run low on power for the game-day – even if that’s just five minutes after their adventuring day starts? Johnn excerpts some material from his Faster Combat course to offer some solutions to the problem. I offer a refinement in the comments.
  • Boxed In: A problem-solving frame of reference for players & GMs alike – Using a box as a metaphor for problems you may encounter at the game table can reveal surprising solutions. This article shows you how to apply the concept as a problem-solving tool. I provide an original political D&D/Pathfinder adventure (and a variation) as one example. And discuss some possible relationships between the concepts of Life and Death.
  • By The Seat Of Your Pants: Using Ad-hoc statistics – There are always situations that the official rules don’t cover. This article offers a guideline that can help solve them – while adding color to the game world.
  • Refloating The Shipwreck: When Players Make A Mistake – For the April 2013 Blog Carnival, I look at how GMs can cope when the players make a major, potentially campaign-ending, mistake.
  • Part Five of the series on Writer’s Block discusses translation blocks, also known as transition blocks, and shows that the solutions already provided work just fine – if you have plenty of time to implement them. But, when you need a solution in a hurry, this article will come to your rescue with emergency solutions to five subtype types.
  • Which leaves five more to be covered in Part Six, plus a solution to another type of problem, “Crowding Blocks”, and some final advice on the subject.

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GM Improv

Refer to the entry for Ad-hoc Adventures & GM Improv in the section on Adventures, above – the content list is virtually identical.

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 Fiction & Writing

 
There are some GMing activities and problems that are common to other forms of literary activity. This section deals with those commonalities.

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  • Melodramatic License: Drama in RPGs – Drama vs Melodrama and their roles in an RPG.
  • Top-Down Plug-in Game Design: The Perfect Recipe? – I apply the principles of good software design to work out how the perfect game mechanics for a tabletop RPG should be constructed. There’s interesting discussion in the comments.
  • One word at a time: How I (usually) write a Blog Post – This article describes the process I usually use to write. I had been asked a number of times how I manage to write as much as I do, and how I keep it all organized – here are the answers, so that you can do it, too. I use variations on the same process for writing everything from Novels to RPG Adventures.
  • Good Storytelling Technique Or Bad? – Chekhov’s Gun and RPGs – I consider the application of the literary principle commonly known as “Chekhov’s Gun” to RPGs and conclude that it doesn’t necessarily apply in practice (though it does in spirit) due to the unique nature of the genre. Along the way, I offer a listing (and analysis) of what I consider to be ‘Good Writing’ for an RPG. The eight items I list may not be exhaustive, but they’re a good start. This article should be useful for anyone who adapts RPG adventures into another literary form (short story, game report, etc) and anyone attempting to adapt a traditional work into an RPG adventure. Again, there’s some interesting discussion of the issues in the comments.
  • Adventure Structure: My Standard Formatting – I describe the standard format and nonclemanture that I have evolved for writing the adventures that I run. In the comments I describe how much game prep I do and how long it takes me to write an adventure.
  • Game Prep and the +N to Game Longevity – I consider professionalism when it comes to blogging, and the implications of inspiration when it conflicts with that value. I then apply the question to game prep and show how to employ top-down design principles to the problem, illustrating the process that I use to plan my game prep. Which is the same process that I use to plan my Holidays, writing, TV viewing, shopping… you name it. You might find it useful, too.
  • The Seven Strata Of Story – Any narrative – including RPG adventures – consists of multiple layers working together to tell the overall story. Giving PCs their independence from the central author (the GM) simply adds another layer, or perhaps a sub-layer. This article breaks down these layers of story, shows the relationships between them, and how they can be exploited or enhanced to improve the game – or the story, in any other medium – for everyone.
  • Ghosts Of Blogs Past: An Air Of Mystery – Using an RPG to write mystery fiction – I resurrect an article from my 2006 personal blog to reverse the usual process (adapting fiction to an RPG) to argue why mystery writers should use RPGs to develop their plots.
  • The Poetry Of Place: Describing locations & scenes in RPGs – How to use descriptive language more effectively when conveying information about a location or event to the PCs. With a fictional D&D city invented just to serve as an example.
  • Adjectivizing Descriptions: Hitting the target – I offer a seventh entry into the Blog Carnival with practical advice on How to describe locations, especially Wonders.

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Writer’s Block
  • Cure DM Writer’s Block with a Map – Johnn offers a solution to writer’s block.
  • ‘There Is A Hole In Your Mind…’: Solving Mental Block – I describe a basic technique for solving mental block. This is NOT one of the solutions I offered in my series “Breaking Through Writer’s Block” (because I had already described it here).
  • Breaking Through Writer’s Block – This 6-part series takes the premise that different kinds of content actually resulted in different kinds of writers block – and that by getting more specific about the problem, a multitude of solutions to the problem can be developed. Even people who thought they never suffered from Writer’s Block had discovered otherwise by the end of the series, much to their surprise. Many of these solutions are tried-and-true techniques that I have used for years. Plus I give away a heap of ideas in the form of examples.
    Part One identified 19 types of writer’s block in a number of broad categories, and offered solutions to the phenomenon most commonly associated with the term – what I call “Blank Page Syndrome”.

    There are 7 primary types of writer’s block besides “Blank Page Syndrome”. Part Two offers solutions to the first three of them Conceptual blocks, Specific-Scene Blocks, and Setting Blocks.

    Part Three then addresses two more of the remaining primary types of writer’s block: Action and Personality Blocks.

    In Part Four, I wrap up the Primary types of writer’s block with solutions to Dialogue Block and Narrative Block.

    Part Five Discusses translation blocks, also known as transition blocks, and shows that the solutions already provided work just fine – if you have plenty of time to implement them. But, when you need a solution in a hurry, this article will come to your rescue with emergency solutions to five subtype types.

    Which leaves five more to be covered in Part Six, plus a solution to another type of problem, “Crowding Blocks”, and some final advice on the subject.

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Burnout

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 Publishing & Products

 
Not everything that you use within a campaign is going to be your own original work. This section includes reviews of products that can enhance or form the foundations of your game, and (by extension) questions of publishing your own work.

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Pricing
  • Ghosts Of Blogs Past: All The World’s A Suggestion Box – The first of an irregular series that resurrects and updates relevant blog posts from my long-defunct personal blog. This one deals with the way that suggestions we make improve the world often without our even being aware of the impact that we are having. It then connects this notion with gameplay and game feedback and examines the consequences on the economics and reality of Gaming and Game Publishing.
  • Value for money and the pricing of RPG materials – Part 1 of 2 – I got a lot of kudos for this two-part article, which was really gratifying – even gaming pros told me they got valuable insight from it, or found that it encapsulated a number of things they wished they had known years earlier. It examines the perceived value-for-money of RPG rules, supplements, modules, etc, and how that relates to the price, and what all that means for the pricing of eBooks. Along the way I do a breakdown of production costs using ‘traditional’ methods relative to eBook publishing. Note that all opinions are derived from Australian pricing perceptions, which are somewhat different to those in continental North America, and may yield different conclusions.
  • Value for money and the pricing of RPG materials – Part 2 of 2 – The analysis conducted in part one suggested that e-books would only be economic if they were sold for roughly half what a product would cost in physical form. In this part I examine the question of why and how e-books can be sold for less than this – and quantify how and why perceived value-for-money can make or break a product.

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Product & Tool Reviews & Previews
  • Ultimate Toolbox of Ideas – Johnn reviews Ultimate Toolbox by AEG, a product that’s still on my wishlist.
  • Nobis: Going Renaissance and loving it – I review Nobis and find an awful lot to like!
  • The Gold Standard – The twenty must-have RPG supplements in my collection reviewed (9 in part 1 and 11 in parts 2,3,& 4 (All in one post)) plus why I consider them indispensible. These two are only counted as one article toward the 500. Part 5 lists 28 honorable mentions that almost made the list – and why they didn’t quite get into the top twenty. Some of these may be getting harder to find, others may be available as cheap PDFs – that’s what happens after a couple of years. I sincerely hope that all of them are still available in one format or another, it would be a shame if they had vanished.
  • Mine Fiction For Campaign Qualities – Johnn starts with a review of FantasyCraft and extrapolates one of the ideas within to find a way of customizing RPG worlds and drawing on fiction for inspiration.
  • Plot Stat Block For The Organized Game Master – Johnn and I were so impressed with Eureka that we each wrote a review of the supplement and each got something different out of it. This is Johnn’s, about how he can better organize the plotlines that he has running at any given time in his campaigns.
  • Eureka! – Some inspiring notions – I dig into the operating principles under the hood at Eureka and extend the concepts and usefulness even further than the book’s authors – by their own admission! (And if you don’t think I’m proud of being able to impress pro game supplement writers like that, you’ve got rocks in your head!)
  • On The Nature Of Flaws – I review Player Option: Flaws from 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, and find it inspirational but incomplete, then set about addressing the holes that I found. The subject: how do you integrate the concept of racial or character flaws into game systems that don’t have them?
  • 50 Barbarian Hooks – Johnn’s initial article in the series Character Hooks includes a brief review of the revised Barbarian character class in the D&D 4e version of Player’s Handbook 2, which inspired the series.
  • Creating Alien Characters: Expanding the ‘Create A Character Clinic’ To Non-Humans – I extend Holly Lisle’s e-book course in character creation, the Create A Character Clinic, to cover the creation of Alien Races, twisting the central concepts of Dwarves in entirely new directions as an example. And touch on some others.
  • My Game Master Bucket List – D&D Modules – Johnn assembles a bucket list of the modules he wants to run – or to run again.
  • Pieces Of Creation: The Hidden Truth Of Doppelgangers – Goodman Games published an excellent sourcebook, The Complete Guide To Doppelgangers. The only problem was that at least one of my players had read it. So I wrote a sequel that completely inverts the rationale of the species so that the Goodman Games product is what the Doppelgangers want the rest of the world to think. The article discusses the how and why I did that in detail, and includes my follow-up text as a free PDF, with the kind permission of Goodman Games.
  • The Color Of Pulp – I review Arcana Agency – The Thief Of Memories and its value as a game aid for a Pulp Campaign.
  • The Dark Secrets of Hacking Interface Zero 2.0 – Dave Viars, one of the developers, penned this guest article previewing a cyberpunk RPG being funded through Kickstarter, at my suggestion. I contributed the artwork used to illustrate the article, the full-sized version of which has become the most-downloaded free extra from the site.
  • Places to go and people to meet: The One Spot series from Moebius Adventures – I review a series of new products from Moebius Adventures that collectively offer a trio of ready-to-use locations to drop into your fantasy RPG: Hand’s Goods, The Painted Man, and Angar’s Magic Shoppe.

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Dice Sets & Props Reviews
  • 7 Gamefull Uses for Campaign Coins – Johnn reviews Campaign Coins and offers seven ways he thinks he can use them in his games.
  • Alea Tools Magnetic Markers Mark The Spot – After his article on how to handle airborne minis, Johnn was sent a set of Magnetic Markers by Alea Tools. This is his review of the product – which I think is now a permanent part of his GMing kit.
  • I’ve Been Framed – Johnn reviews a set of Pathfinder Curse Of The Crimson Throne dice and offers a random generator for a political plot that follows the pattern, “In the [Type of State] of [State Name of Your Choice] ruled by a [Type of Government], a character must undergo a [Type of Trial]. He has been framed by [Power Behind the Throne], and if found guilty of [Type of Serious Crime], his punishment will be [Spell-Based Punishment].”
  • High Elf Generator – Johnn follows up his review of Q-workshop’s Curse of the Crimson Throne dice set with this review of their Pathfinder Elven dice set and offers a random generator for High Elves – Names, Quirks, Motives, Appearances, Secrets, and Power Base. He then offers our readers the chance to win a set (sorry, the contest has closed) in response for additional add-ons for the generator – so don’t skip the comments on this one!
  • New Generator: Roleplaying A Black Dragon – Johnn does another review of Q-Workshop dice, in this case the Black and Yellow Dragon Dice and constructs a generator using them to create personalities for a Black Dragon.
  • D&D Minis Giveaway Contest – Another out-of-continuity contest. Note that the contest is long-over, it does no good to enter now – though you may want to read the tips and advice on Battlemats in the comments and on the entry page. All told there are about 80 of them – more than enough reason to actually count this post as one of the 500.
  • Treasure Detail Generator & Dice Giveaway – Another Generator based around Q-workshop’s dice sets, this time their Green-and-Black dragon dice set. This generator is all about adding color by using one or more of the tables to make treasure more interesting.
  • Drow Generator & Dice Giveaway – Johnn does another review of Q-Workshop dice, in this case the Second Darkness dice set and constructs a generator for fleshing out Drow NPCs using them. Unfortunately, this dice set doesn’t seem to be available any more; the link I’ve given here is to the Q-Workshop home page.
  • Undead Foe Generator – The last of Johnn’s Q-workshop dice articles is all about giving personality to the undead. The contest was over long ago, but the tables are still just as functional. This article was inspired by the Red and black Skull Dice set which appears to be no longer available (the link is to Q-Workshop’s home page).

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Online Tools & Software Reviews
  • Building The Perfect Beast: A D&D 3.5 online monster generator – I review and experiment with an online monster/NPC generator. Still one of our most popular articles, it continues to generate traffic for both sites to this day.
  • Hexographer – RPG Mapping Dream – Hexographer is a piece of software that’s been on my personal wish-list ever since I read this review by Johnn. Note that the link given in the article is out of date; while there is a redirect in place, it might not be there forever. So use this link instead: < a href="http://www.hexographer.com/" target="_blank">http://www.hexographer.com/.
  • Game Master Tool Illustrated: Plot Flowcharts – The Blog Carnival for September 2010 was on the subject of Preparation. Johnn provides Campaign Mastery’s entry by considering Plot Flowcharts. At the end of the article and in the comments, several software aids are listed for producing flowcharts to help.
  • Plot flowchart example – Guest Author and Campaign Mastery reader Yong Kyosunim follows up Johnn’s article on using plot flowcharts with a real example.
  • Hero Lab for Pathfinder: 7 out of 10, but oh so close! – Guest author Ian Gray reviews the then-new Pathfinder option for the Hero Lab software. While he rated it 7 out of 10, it could very easily have been 9 out of 10. It was especially gratifying to get a response from one of the developers in the comments, and from what he wrote, at least two of the major issues will have been partially or completely resolved by now, so I can quite happily recommend Hero Lab to anyone considering it.
  • Have WordPress, will Game – I consider the advantages and benefits of using WordPress as a campaign wiki, and how to structure it to get the most bang for your buck. This includes a mini-review of a dice roller WordPress plugin from Awesome Dice.

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App Reviews

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 Assassin’s Amulet

 
By rights, this should be a subsection of the “Publishing” category, but it was so important to Johnn and I, and consumed so much of our attention for so long, and I am so proud of the resulting product and its add-ons and bonuses, that I simply had to list it independantly.

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  • Help Me Take Your GMing To The Next Level – Johnn asks our readers for input on what his next eBook should be. There are some great ideas for me for blog posts here. This post also contained the first hint that Assassin’s Amulet was coming.
  • Dark Shadows In The Night: Lessons from the writing of Assassin’s Amulet – This article steps behind the scenes to offer 18 lessons that we learned in the course of writing Assassin’s Amulet. These not only offer insight to our readership on why the content of the E-book is what it is, but a lot of them apply in general to campaign creation and administration.
  • The Creation Of A Deity: The Origins Of Cyrene – Another behind-the-scenes look at the creation of Assassin’s Amulet, this post contains my recollection of the creative process that led to the rather unique Deity Of Death that is central to the content of the e-book. It also serves as a teaser for the next article, and places it into some sort of context.

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Announcements & Cover
  • Announcing Assassin’s Amulet …and a contest! – This post describes the content of our then-forthcoming Assassin’s Amulet and runs a contest to choose the cover. I was extremely proud of the number of entries that it attracted. But there’s nothing here to benefit our readers (other than by persuading them to buy a copy of the book), so I haven’t counted it amongst the 500.
  • We have a winner! – The Assassin’s Amulet Cover Contest – An out-of-continuity post to announce the winner of the contest to choose the cover for Assassin’s Amulet. Also uncounted.

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Excerpts

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Legacy Items
  • An excerpt from ‘A player’s Guide to Legacy Items’ – Part 1 – As part of the blog carnival, I offer an excerpt from one of the free bonus eBooks that are part of the Assassin’s Amulet package. Legacy Items are a new form of magic item, and the bonus eBook aims to give players everything they need to know about how they work.
  • An excerpt from ‘A player’s Guide to Legacy Items’ – Part 2 – The second part of the two-part excerpt, which discusses the powers of Legacy Items – from a Player’s point of view. This should all have been one article, it was split for practical reasons, so I haven’t counted this second half toward the overall total.

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 Miscellanea

 
There’s always something left over. This category contains everything that didn’t quite or completely fit the other 13 content types. And there’s a fair bit of it…

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  • The meaning of 400 – I pull out (almost) all the stops in this celebration of 400 posts at Campaign Mastery (by strict count). Along the way I recount the history of Campaign Mastery and how it has evolved through the 400 posts.
  • Clash of the Timetables – Inter-GM politics and the scheduling of games when there are too many GMs and not enough players. Includes brief synopses of the base concepts of a number of actual campaigns. Highlights the need for GMs to be able to compromise. Oh, and it showcases some fancy banners I did for the different campaigns being scheduled.
  • Stop Procrastinating and Get Those RPG Campaign Projects Done – A post on beating procrastination at another Blog compels Johnn to build on the advice offered there with some tips of his own on the subject.
  • GTD for RPG – Johnn describes how he uses the “Getting Things Done” (GTD) system to organize and manage his campaign.
  • Ask The GMs: How to set up a fun fishing mini game – Johnn considers some environmental and procedural aspects of fishing in response to the specific question posed, dealing with the roleplaying aspects of the question. I put on my rules-creation hat and consider the bigger question of how to represent contests and competitions within an RPG on the way to developing a complete mini-game. The rules of that game are available as a PDF at the end of the article. And there are some fun left-of-field ideas in the comment at the end.
  • Things Done and left Un-done – I maintain a list of undeveloped ideas for Campaign Mastery articles, and got to thinking about why there had been so little movement of ideas off that list. That leads to an analogy between the list and the reasons my campaigns tend to last such a long time, something I had discussed in Ask The GMs: In it for the long haul, so this article becomes a sequel to that discussion in how to produce longevity for your campaigns. I use a synopsis of my “Fumanor: One Faith” campaign as an example.
  • Who Remembers AutoREALM? Call for Alpha Testers/Contributors – Unfortunately, the developer who was working on updating this software has struck difficulties and while he thought it was ready for alpha testing, it now seems that this is no longer the case. It’s been a while since there was an update, so it’s possible that the whole project has run out of steam; but AutoREALM has been pronounced dead before, and pulled a Lazarus act.
  • Remembering Stephen Tunnicliff – This is more an explanation for why there was no article at the start of the month, and a memorial to my friend and player. While it touched a chord in many people, it wasn’t an article that would improve anyone’s campaign, and hence doesn’t fit the ‘mission parameters’ of Campaign Mastery. So I havn’t counted it amongst the 500, no matter how much it might mean to me, personally.
  • A Zocolo Premise: AetherCon is coming! – I get excited about the implications of a virtual convention, prompted by the announcement of the then-forthcoming AetherCon (16-18 Nov 2012). And Trivia/history buffs should check out the final comments.
  • What do you give the Gamer who has everything? – I run through some out-of-the-ordinary gift ideas for gamers. This article came out a little too late – people had already done their Christmas shopping – but lots of people have asked for reminders about it in mid-November this year :)
  • The Arcane Implications of Seating at the Game Table – Few people have ever thought about why people sit where they do at the game table, and still fewer have thought about the consequences of getting people to sit in different places. I take an in-depth look at both aspects of the situation.
  • Two Emails and a ‘summon collective wisdom’ request – A would-be GM having trouble getting a game started asks for advice, which I do my best to provide, which leads into publicizing International Tabletop Day.

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Sources Of Inspiration
  • What inspires your games? – June 2010 meant that it was time for Campaign Mastery to host the blog carnival once again, and this time around, our subject was “what non-game media has most inspired your games?” Johnn kicks us off with his celebration of Saturday Morning Cartoons. There are some great sources cited by non-participants in the Blog Carnival in the comments, too.
  • Blog Carnival June 2010: A Medley Of Inspiring Media – I follow up Johnn’s article, What inspires your games? by discussing some of the Media that have been most inspiring to me over the years. I strongly recommend all of them to everyone out there.
  • Blog Carnival Wrap-Up – What Inspires Your Games? – We wrapped up the blog carnival with this collected list of articles on the subject.
  • Help Me Take Your GMing To The Next Level – Johnn asks our readers for input on what his next eBook should be. There are some great ideas for me for blog posts here. This post also contained the first hint that Assassin’s Amulet was coming.
  • October 2011 Blog Carnival: Making The Loot Part Of The Plot – As hosts of the October 2011 Blog Carnival, I list a number of topics that might be appropriate to the subject, “Making The Loot Part Of The Plot”. The turnout was remarkable. Since this doesn’t contain any content per se beyond this listing of what might be in the subsequent roundup, this post hasn’t been counted toward the 500.
  • September 2013 Blog Carnival: Location, Location, Location! – Once again, Campaign Mastery hosts the Blog Carnival. This article has no content other than suggestions for what might be in the final roundup, so it isn’t counted toward the 500.
  • Trivial Pursuits: Sources of oddball ideas – I demonstrate the use of books of trivia for ideas, with a whole heap of examples interspersed throughout the article.

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Artwork & Illustration
  • A Picture Should Be Worth 1,000 Words – I talk about illustrating your campaign – when and how to do it, and when and how not to do it. With some examples from my own campaigns, and past campaigns that I have played in.
  • Creating the Orcs And Elves Series Titles – I reveal the construction process from start to finish, with tips and techniques that can be applied to other art projects. Written as much to document the process for my own use because I knew I would have to make more of the titles before the series was complete. Every RPG book ever published has a title, and GMs (should) be making props for their games all the time – so while this article may be a small niche, it’s also a relevant one.

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Philosophy & Opinion
  • Happy New Year! – Lessons from yesterday – Food for thought. I lament the absence of the “sense of wonder” of the 21st century, and comparing it with the premature ending of a campaign.
  • Are Special Effects Killing Hollywood? – The impact of special effects on the ability of players and GMs to suspend disbelief, and why I can still hope that it is a temporary phenomenon.
  • The Gap In Reality: Immersion in an RPG Environment – Four years on, I update “Are Special Effects Killing Hollywood” and focus on the impact of changing expectations of immersion on RPGs, leading to suggestions for the use of multimedia in games.
  • “The more things change…”: An essay on the future of RPGs – As part of the May ’09 Blog Carnival, I wrote this analysis of the future of the RPG Hobby & Industry. It’s interesting to look back now and see which forecasts were right, which are happening now, and which missed the boat (not as many as people thought at the time). Some great discussion in the comments, too.
  • The Moral Of The Story: The Morality and Ethics of playing an RPG – For the October 2009 Blog Carnival, I discuss the moral responsibilities that players and GMs have to themselves, their fellow players, and to the game they are playing.
  • Create the Perfect Turn and Results Will Take Care of Themselves – Johnn takes a lesson learned from his boardgaming days about hyper-competitiveness & enjoyment of the game and applies it to RPGs.
  • Two ways to play: Roleplaying and Rollplaying – I discuss the differences between the two, and how to bring them together.
  • Grow The Hobby With Great Game Mastering – The July 2010 Blog Carnival was about how to grow the hobby, RPG Gaming. Johnn approaches the question from the perspective of being able to tell compelling stories about your campaigns – and that requires you to become a great game master. I add my 20-cents-worth in the comments.
  • A Monkey Wrench In The Deus-Ex-Machina: Limiting Divine Power – I argue against the use of a Deus-Ex-Machina in RPGs, and why that means you should give limits to the Gods. Along the way I show how you can have up-close-and-personal encounters with The Gods in unusual Genres for such occurrences – Wild West, Superspies, and Hard SF/Cyberpunk. There’s some great discussion in the comments. Unfortunately, Da’Vane’s website is gone, and so is the article she wrote in response to this, and attempts to find it using the Wayback Machine failed. Fortunately, Da’Vane summarizes her points in the comments.
  • Jolting The Status Quo – I start by talking about a significant change in my personal life, and the anticipated impact on Campaign Mastery which leads me to write about upsetting the status quo for characters in a game, and how the game can benefit. I still love the illustrations that I put together for this article – the one showing an office type who is smugly proud of his achievement in stacking boxes on the ceiling, the other a befuddled type struggling to comprehend a scene in which a river flows across the sky and a tree grows downwards from its banks. You can almost here him saying “What’s going on here?”.
  • The Nth Level Of Abstraction – GMs abstract things to varying degrees all the time. This article attempts to put some systematic analysis into the how, when, and why of abstraction, and the consequences. In the comments, I discuss ways of expressing the different levels of abstraction within maps. This is one of those ‘deep’ articles that needs to be read two or three times to get the full benefit.
  • Top-Down Plug-in Game Design: The Perfect Recipe? – I apply the principles of good software design to work out how the perfect game mechanics for a tabletop RPG should be constructed. There’s interesting discussion in the comments.
  • Draco Inadequatus: Beefing Up 3.x Dragons – I discuss the inadequacies of Dragons in 3.x when Epic Levels are involved and offer a custom redevelopment of the Monsters to beef them up. A lively discussion in the comments leads to an unrelated article about House Rules.
  • The Future Is Bright: The coming boom in RPGs – I take a look at current social and economic trends, inspired by an article at enworld by Ryan Dancey, and reach the conclusion that RPGs are set to boom in coming decade or two.
  • What does “Old-School Gaming” really mean, anyway? – I grew irritated by the hardline nay-sayers complaining about WOTC/Hasbro’s announced goal of uniting the best of both “old” and “new” games and rebuke the advocates of both schools while summarizing the benefits of each approach. What follows in the comments is a reasoned, respectful discussion – and as a result, this is one of the most widely-circulated articles at Campaign Mastery, attracting 19 tweets, 11 google+1′s and 11 facebook likes. The goal was to inject some clarity and perspective into the debate before it degenerated into an edition war before the game system was even published, and all indications are that it succeeded, at least at the time.
  • Stop me if you’ve heard this one: An RPG, A Videogame, and a Bingo Game sit down in a bar… – I consider the parallels in the evolutions of RPGs, Video Games, and online Bingo (you heard me right) through the years, then step forward to consider potential future developments. There’s some great discussion in the comments.
  • Fireflies in the Lamplight of the Law: Protections in Crisis – I cast a slightly-cynical eye over developments in the field of intellectual property and attempt to speculate on where it all seems to be leading. I don’t like the destination, and forecast trouble…
  • Social Media, SEO, and the dying of comments – I ruminate on some observed trends in internet usage patterns (especially related to social media) and the impact they are having on sites like Campaign Mastery. Ironically, having identified a reduction in blog comments as one of the consequences, this article attracted 26 comments forming a substantial dialogue on the issues raised and the possible solutions to avoiding the negative impact.

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Online Gaming
  • Digital Roles: Two Calls For Help – I’m not an expert on online gaming and neither is Johnn. So when we received a couple of questions on the subject, all we could pretty much do was throw them open to our audience. One question requests a source for maps and images for an online game, while the other asks which tabletop RPG game system best translates to an online environment. Oh, and if anyone has more up-to-date answers than those which appeared at the time (2009), feel free to mention them in a comment – the post still gets the occasional hit.

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Site Milestones & Announcements
  • Reconstructing the Campaign Mastery Blog – A complete reorganization of categories and tags along more functional (and hopefully useful) lines. Not counted amongst the 500.
  • 100 posts and we’re just getting started! – Johnn & I celebrate the 100th post at Campaign Mastery, and reminisce about our first year.
  • Celebrating 100,000 Hits! – One of our earliest milestones is celebrated in this extra out-of-continuity post.
  • Oops… – An out-of-continuity post apologizing for a breakdown in our RSS systems, not counted toward the 500.
  • 150K! – Celebrating our 150,000th hit! Not counted amongst the 500.
  • Theme vs Style vs Genre: Crafting Anniversary Special Adventures – To celebrate the 300th post (and some other great stats) I look at ways of celebrating campaign milestones with special adventures.
  • I wrote the news today, Oh Boy – I announce changes to the content structure of Campaign Mastery (short, quick articles on Mondays and fuller articles on Thursdays) as Johnn began to disengage (amicably) from the site – a plan that has been honored more often in the breach than in the observance, especially lately. It remains the theoretical blueprint for the site, though.
  • 300, 550, 37, 40, 3300, 387 – Thank You! – Campaign Mastery celebrates some major milestones, and Johnn’s withdrawal from participation is made official.
  • OMG, We’re Nominated! – 2012 ENnies (Updated) – One of Campaign Mastery’s crowning glories was being nominated for an Ennie in 2012 (sadly, I didn’t get the paperwork in for eligibility in 2013 in time due to a deadline error on my part). This out-of-continuity post announces the nomination with pride, but hasn’t been counted towards the 500.
  • Voting for the ENnies has opened! – Another out-of-continuity post announcing the opening of Voting in the 2012 Ennies. Not counted amongst the 500.

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Contests & Special Offers
  • Win a copy of Underdark – Unfortunately, the contest has long ago ended, leaving little value in this post. This was an extra post, not part of our regular publishing schedule. And not one of the posts that I’ve counted in the 500.
  • Win a copy of Martial Power 2 – Unfortunately, the contest has long ago ended, leaving little value in this post. This was an extra post, not part of our regular publishing schedule. And not one of the posts that I’ve counted in the 500.
  • Win Players Handbook 3 – Unfortunately, the contest has long ago ended, leaving little value in this post. This was an extra post, not part of our regular publishing schedule. And not one of the posts that I’ve counted in the 500.
  • New Contest to Celebrate 500 Issues – Johnn sets up a contest to celebrate the then-forthcoming 500th issue of Roleplaying Tips in this our-of-continuity extra post.
  • For A Limited Time Only, “The Empty Chair” on special – An out-of continuity post announcing a limited-time discount on “Filling the empty chair” as part of the GM’s day sale at RPGNow. Not counted as one of the 500.

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So, there it is. 500 articles that made an honest attempt to improve the games that we play – and from the feedback that has been received, quite often succeeded. It’s taken months of effort to create these synopses, and the largest single article ever posted at Campaign Mastery – more than 38,000 words, or six times the usual length even of my usually-expansive efforts.

Where to from here? Well, the 5th anniversary is now staring me down the barrel. There’s lots of unfinished business to wrap up – I’ve acknowledged my commitment in the blogdex to tidying those loose ends up. There are lots of Ask-The-GM entries still languishing in wait for a public response (when we started falling behind, Johnn and I started replying directly when we could – and saving our responses for eventual use in a more ‘official’ reply. Then there are new series, and entries for the blog carnival, and some more old articles to resurrect, and a huge list of article ideas still barely tapped… I have more article ideas on tap now than I did when CM started…!

To cut a long story short, Campaign Mastery – and I – are just getting started!

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