Tag Archives: campaigns

Warehouse 13 As An RPG Setting

Over the past year or so, I’ve heard several different people, in different venues, talk about how cool a D&D Warehouse 13 -inspired campaign would be. Granted, the fact that the show is centered around “magic items” makes it ripe for translation to high fantasy, but I think they’re missing something that could make their campaign so much better: Gamma World, both mechanically and thematically, is a much better fit for what they’re trying to do.

But first, for those of you who are wondering what the heck “Warehouse 13″ is: Warehouse 13 is a series on the SyFy channel that depicts a super secret warehouse in South Dakota. This warehouse was built to store “artifacts” that have magical properties both good and bad. There are two secret service agents assigned to the warehouse whose job it is to track down and recover newly discovered artifacts, and bring them to the warehouse. In the words of the show: “snag, bag, and tag.” If you want more details, and you’re a Netflix subscriber, you can (currently) stream the first three seasons. Given the chance, here is how I would run a Warehouse 13 themed Gamma World campaign. Continue reading

Stealing Liberally For My New Campaign

There are quite a few things going on right now that are preventing me from turning this into a full length post. One of those things is the construction of this, which you can see if you’re coming to Charm City Gameday on June 9th. Then there’s the Two Page Mini Delve I’m prepping for (hopefully) Friday.

I’m also planning a summer long campaign for the guys in my D&D group. They’re home from college, so I’m hoping to do a tight story arc that will wrap up by the time they go back to school. Just this past Sunday, we had a character creation session where we rolled some dice to determine inter-party relationships. I stole the ideas for inter-party and NPC relationships from Sly Flourish and Rob Donoghue, respectively.

Below is the result of all the dice rolling and table referencing; making a relationship web was the best way we could think of to make sense of it all. (Click for big…) Continue reading

Gamma World Point Buy System

I’ve been interested lately in giving players the option of a less random method of character generation for Gamma World. Let me say first off though, I do understand the appeal of the random character generation, and I do believe that it adds to the game’s charm and fun. I think it’s a great mechanic, and if you want to keep it you should.

On the other hand, if you’re planning on a longer campaign for Gamma World, you want the players invested in their characters. One way to do that is to allow players to spend time designing their character, and making it their own rather than simply letting the dice make all the decisions as to what their character will look like. And of course, you’ll always have people who are turned off by Gamma World solely for its random character generation. This is for them, too. Continue reading

Adding Continuity To A Multiple DM Campaign

Our play group is coming up on a gameday soon, and we’ve been kicking around what we want to play. We’re kind of LFR’d out for now, and we were thinking about trying out some new RPG systems. What we eventually settled on was a 4th Edition homebrew that uses Greyhawk as its world. We’re still discussing the finer points, but one of the main things we’re sure of is that we will rotate as DMs.

This got me thinking: how do you preserve continuity across a campaign with multiple DMs? It’s something I’ve written about before, but I began brainstorming again when we started discussing a multiple DM homebrew. Continue reading

6 Gamma World House Rules: Part 2

On Tuesday, I posted about a few house rules I’ll be implementing with my new Gamma World campagin, which starts in about a week.  This post is a continuation of that discussion; these particular house rules are not specific to Gamma World, but could apply to any D&D 4e campaign.  I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

Using 4d6 for trained skill checks

This is a concept I’ve been mulling over for almost a year now. I want characters that are trained in a skill to have a better chance of success and a more level set of results than a character who is just winging something on intuition and innate ability.  Using a trained skill, therefore, will be a straight 4d6 roll.  I know this will yield less “high” results, but it will also yield less swingy results. 4d6 yields results between 12 and 16 about 50% of the time. Results between 11 and 17 show up almost 70% of the time.  That means that a level 1 character using a trained skill with their primary ability will hit or exceed a DC 20 70% of the time. Am I concerned that this will make skill checks too easy for some characters? Yes, I am. If skill checks (and challenges) are always trivialized, I may end up either upping DCs slightly or leaning more heavily on group checks. Time will tell.

Session based leveling system

Because most of my players are seniors in high school, I know I only have them for two hours, twice a month, until the end of next summer.  I wanted to take the campaign all the way to level 10, and if I leveled them simply by experience points, they wouldn’t make it there in time.  So instead, the characters will simply level up every two sessions (once a month) regardless of what happens in those two session.  In this way, we will finish up the campaign in July before they all leave for college.  Of course, less bookkeeping on everyone’s part is another good reason to do this.  I’m free to put together whatever type of encounter I want, or have a role-play only session, without having to worry about hitting target xp numbers.  Hopefully it will put more focus on fun and flexibility.

These next two items aren’t house rules, but rather approaches I’m taking to campaign design.  Neither of them are my own ideas; unfortunately I can’t give credit where it’s due in one case because I can’t remember where I read it.

Using ex-players as villans

Instead of doing all the work involving the movement of villans in the background of the campaign, I’ve turned over the villans to three of my ex-players. They’ve each designed a villan for the PCs to face and hopefully defeat, and working with them, I’ve inserted them into the campaign at certain points. They also have a plan and timeline that the villan will stick to barring any reactions to character movements.  As the characters interact with the world, I will inform the “villans” of anything they would catch wind of, and they can adjust their plans accordingly.  Not only does this take a bit of work off my shoulders, but it also brings another real personality into the campaign, and hopefully simulates the villans more realistically because my ex-players will only be reacting to the information about PC movements that I choose to give them.

AngryDM’s Project Slaughterhouse

Presented in his Schroedinger, Checkov, and Seamus article, this last campaign planning tool is something that I may or may not end up using.  It’s a great idea, and since the campaign will be taking place in our “Gammatized” town, the location-with-claimed-territories requirements are met.  However, I’m going to wait and see if the group leans towards hooks involving more sandboxy faction politics or if they lean towards linear hooks.  If they want to reclaim territories in town or shift power from one faction to the other, I will certainly be implementing this. However, if they choose to follow more “railsy” paths presented to them, I’m not going to go through all the planning work involved.  This one will all come down to player preference, and since I haven’t played with this group yet, I’m going to wait on committing to it.

6 Gamma World House Rules: Part 1

In the original Gamma World, Domars were described as rectangular pieces of colored plastic

In just a couple of weeks, I’ll be starting a Gamma World campaign with a new group. As mentioned previously, my last group broke up because they all went off to college, and so I was left with an empty game table. The library (where I DM) was open to me continuing “game night,” so I got another group together; however, they want to play Gamma World.

While I’m a little sad to not be running D&D on a regular basis anymore, I’m also quite excited to really take Gamma World out for a campaign long test drive.  I have lots of plans, and you can expect me to share them with you in the coming months. (Never fear, there will still be D&D content to be found here on a regular basis)

With that in mind, I’m going to be implementing some small house rules that will hopefully make the game more fun in the long run. I felt house rules were necessary because Gamma World seems to have been designed with as low complexity as possible. That’s fine for a one shot (which is how most people use the system) but I felt adding a little complexity might add to the campaign overall.

What follows are the first half of the house rules I’ll be implementing. These are the rules that will directly affect the players. On Thursday, I’ll be presenting rules changes from the other side of the screen, as well as a couple of “out of the ordinary” campaign planning tools I’m using.


I think the biggest change will be the (re)addition of domars to the game. In case you are unfamiliar with earlier editions of Gamma World, domars are the currency of Gamma Terra. By using domars instead of a bartering economy, I’m actually removing a bit of DM work from the game. I don’t have to figure out how much Omega Tech equals a tank of gas when PCs want to make a trade. Also, I’m adding a resource to the game – I can drop it as treasure, or allow the characters to circumvent obstacles by spending it (e.g., buy train tickets instead of making a travel skill challenge). So, adding currency removes a layer of complexity for me, as the DM, and adds a layer of (hopefully fun) complexity for the players through a spendable resource. It’s also a necessary addition in order for me to implement…

The Black Market

The Black Market will be a specific location in the PC’s home area where they can buy and sell Omega Tech and Alpha Mutations (in potion form). There are a few reasons I’m doing this. First, it will simply be a fun location full of all sorts of characters. Second, buying items in the market will be the only means of players building custom Omega and Alpha decks. So instead of starting at level 1 with a deck stacked full of items and mutations they want, the players will have to earn domars through adventuring in order to buy items for their decks. Hopefully this will create more investment in the items that a player owns. Now, that’s not to say I won’t also be giving out random Omega Tech as treasure, but the market will allow players to buy items from their “wish list” instead of hoping something they want comes up in a random draw.

There will be a future article explaining how I will price Black Market items, as well as how I will determine the amount of treasure to give out in the form of Domars.

Alpha Pen

The Alpha Pen (or “AP”) will be a consumable item that looks a lot like an Epipen. It will allow a player, as a free action, to dump an Alpha Mutation they don’t like, and draw a new one from their deck. This particular mechanic won’t change the game too much, as the APs will be quite rare, but I thought it would create an interesting decision point for players – when is an appropriate moment to spend such a rare consumable?

Partially Non-Random Characters

Yes, I get it.  The whole point of character creation in Gamma World is “hey! totally random!” but I wanted to give my players at least a tiny bit of control over what their final character would look like.  And really, it was a truly tiny bit.  Instead of rolling their third skill, I allowed them to simply choose it.  On top of that small amount of control it gave my players over what their character would look like, it also gave them the opportunity to make sure all the skills were covered.  As it turned out, there is a LOT of “interaction” at the table and none of several other skills, so we’ll see whether they try to actually cover their bases, or just go with what seems interesting.

I’m interested to see how these changes affect gameplay. If I had to guess, I’d say the Alphapen won’t change too much, but the Domars and Black Market will be radical changes – for the better, I hope. What are your thoughts?


Where Do Water Genasi Fit In Your Campaign?

Image Copyright Wizards of the Coast

Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition has brought us a host of new races to choose from.  Bladelings, Devas, Shardminds, and yes, Genasi.  All of these races, and more, are brand new to the D&D universe, and many DMs struggle with how to fit these races into their campaigns. 

Some DMs take the kitchen sink approach, while others opt to limit the races allowed in their campaign.  Both approaches are valid, and both work.

Now, I am not going to talk about limiting choices for your players because I feel as though many bloggers more able than I have already fully covered this topic.  Needless to say, this is a decision best made by the DM and agreed to by the players.  Instead, what I’d like to do is approach this subject from the NPC angle.  After all, even if players are limited in their choices of race, that doesn’t mean the DM has the same restrictions (Drow, anyone?).  Assuming you agree, we ask ourselves: where would a typical PC find one of these new races in their campaign?

I first started thinking about this because we have very set ideas as to the environment in which one is likely to find the classic D&D races – dwarves, for example (underground) or elves (forest).  What about Devas?  Where would you be most likely to encounter a Deva?  Or (cue the title music) Water Genasi?

Let’s think about the Genasi in general and the Water Genasi specifically.  The obvious thing that jumps out about this race, and I mean really obvious, is the elemental tie that each of the Genasi types has.  In light of these special “affinities,” wouldn’t it stand to reason  that a Water Genasi would be found near, well, water?  And…boats?  (Let it sink in for a minute)  That’s right kids, Water Genasi make perfect pirates.  Which is great because there wasn’t really a “sailor” race in D&D before now.  But it makes perfect sense for your PCs to encounter, for example, a shipping company (legitimate or otherwise) run and staffed by Water Genasi, or a boat whose entire crew was the same.  And, of course, the aforementioned pirates.  It wouldn’t even have to be one random ship of pirates, either.  The PCs could be tasked with taking down a whole pirate cartel.

This also fits very well with the recent adventures I ran for my group because they’d been traveling aboard a ship.  I decided to spring my large scale naval combat on them, and once the battle was more or less over, one of the players expressed the desire to do “a boarding action.”  Not wanting to be the type of DM who says “no,” I went home that night and planned out a fun skirmish in which the PCs boarded the ship and captured the pirate captain they were after.  And the crew was entirely Water Genasi.

Now, I don’t know if the players cared about it at all, but for me, using the Water Genasi just felt right.  Who better to spend their lives on the open water?  Below are the stats for the pirates I used, if you need a starting point to crew a ship of your own.  The Monster Builder has a few Water Genasi to choose from as well.

Let me know what you think of this article in the comments.  I’m willing to turn this into a series if there’s enough interest.

Seasonal Changes in Your Campaign

It has occurred to me that we often overlook an important detail in setting the stage of any given encounter for our players. I’m not sure if it’s overlooked because it’s just easier to make assumptions, or if it’s one more thing that we’d rather not describe or think about. Of course, I’m talking about the use of seasons in our adventures.

Thinking back on the adventures I’ve played in, I can think of one (that’s right, one) that used weather or seasons to set the stage. That’s not to say that there weren’t others; indeed, I can sometimes mentally check out when the read aloud text comes along, and miss some of the carefully crafted prose that helps me imagine the setting. But by and large, I think that we often just kind of assume it’s eternally “late spring” – there are leaves on the trees, the grass is green, the weather is warm (but not too warm), and the sun is shining. I also think we can do better than that. There are a lot of things we can do with seasonal settings (and their resultant weather) that can really give the PCs a sense of “hey, this is different!”

Seasons Mark the passage of time

Seasonal changes have always been one of the markers people use to measure the passage of time. It’s a concrete thing we can point to that shows time is progressing. Unless you have an actual “in-game” calendar on the wall that you mark off for the players, seasons are the best tool you have to mark time in the campaign world. Think about that for a minute. If you feel it’s important that players perceive the passage of time over the course of the campaign, the most concrete thing you can do is change the seasons on them. How can you use this directly in your setting? For starters, if the PCs have to make a rather long, uneventful journey across the continent that you just kind of skim over, perhaps you can change the seasons between the start and the finish.  How else can we use seasons?  Read on…

Weave it into your narrative text

The easiest way to mark the season for your players is to include a passing mention of it in your narrative text.  Note that you can mention the season without beating players over the head with it, and on top of that add a really cool detail to a scene.  Observe:

  • “The warhorse’s snout trails white mist in the frigid winter air as the knight reigns him in beside you. “
  • “Passers by draw their cloaks tightly around them against the frigid pelting autumn rain.”
  • “The stifiling summer air presses you with  humidity, making your pack that much more of a burden as the midday sun beats down.”
  • “The morning air is thick with mist from yesterday’s springtime downpour.  The earth smells damp with new life, and the trees lie heavy with buds that will soon be leaves.”

Seasonal Festivals

This one feeds off the whole “passage of time” idea, but takes a different angle. Every culture has some sort of seasonal festivals. Even if the holiday is not directly tied to the season it’s in, we associate certain seasons with certain holidays. All you American readers, try this: 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Memorial Day. In your mind, without having to think about it, you imagined a backdrop of summer, fall, winter, and spring/summer, respectively. Your campaign world should be no different. There should be holidays that correspond to certain seasons for the characters, including (very important) a New Year’s festival. If you don’t want to describe the season ad nauseum, this can be a good alternate way to mark the time of year for the players. Just be sure that the first time you introduce a holiday to the players, it’s significant enough that they clearly remember the season associated with the holiday.

Create different terrain

4th edition has introduced the concept of “fantastic terrain.”  The thing is, fantastic terrain doesn’t need to be, well, fantastic.  It can be mundane terrain that poses a challenge to the characters moving through it.  A forest floor padded thickly will fall leaves is actually difficult to move through with any grace.  Hip deep snow, even more so.  Trying to get a bead on a target when there’s a downpour of rain stinging your eyes can also be challenging.  Of course, fantastic terrain can also be a boon to characters.  Perhaps you want to minimally boost the damage or size of some of your wizard’s ice or snow spells during a winter storm. Maybe in the fall, necrotic resistances are different in certain areas.  And, this last one isn’t a combat effect, but maybe during the spring equinox, restoration rituals are easier to perform.

Mix it Up

Of course the ideal is to combine fantstic terrain effects with narrative and story elements to really hammer home the idea that it’s not “generic comfortable season” all the time. Ideally, when you hear players recounting stories of their adventures, you want them to reference the fact that “it was winter” at some point. Then you know you’ve done your job.

Have you ever highlighted a season in your game? Can you remember an encounter you played in where the season was important?

Adding Continuity to your Living Forgotten Realms Campaign

One of the often heard complaints about Living Forgotten Realms (LFR) is the lack of coherence when playing modules.  There isn’t an overarching storyline within the campaign (that I know of, anyways), and the availability of the modules for any given level of play forces characters to travel extensively.  This creates a sort of “jet lag” for players, evidenced by the common comment “where are we again?”

For example, any given region in LFR currently has only two Heroic Tier 1 (H1) modules available for play.  After that, in order to continue adventuring in the level 1-4 range, it becomes necessary for characters to travel to another region.  Assuming 3 modules per level, a character will have travelled to six different regions by the time they reach level 5, not counting core modules.

Am I against travel?  Of course not.  Setting aside the DM’s difficulties of being well versed in all of Faerun’s cultures, I think it’s great that PCs get to travel all over and “see the world” as it were.  The problem for me comes when you trace the travels of any given party; it looks a little like something my three year old might draw: a meandering line that crisscrosses the continent with no direction or purpose.  And direction and purpose is exactly what every campaign needs.

Now, I know that there are storylines within every region that tie several modules together.  Unfortunately, those storylines often span several tiers of play, so once you’ve played “part 1” of the story at H1, you have to wait until level 4 (at the earliest) to play “part 2.”  By that time, the players, and probably the DM, are sitting around trying to remember what happened in the first module.  Not exactly the most efficient way to tell a story.

So, is there a solution to this problem?  Or does playing LFR sentence you to a “campaign” that feels like a string of one-shot adventures?

The solutions

I must backpedal a bit here, and apologize if I’ve made the campaign look like it was not well thought out.  There are legitimate problems, in my opinion, with the way “story series” span several tiers, and the lack of an overarching campaign-wide plot, which I mentioned above.  However, the campaign has a few features built into it that are meant to address the disjointed feeling that sometimes results from playing LFR.

The first is MyRealms adventures.  This is a kind of “make up your own campaign” option.  As long as characters and adventures are created according to the campaign rules, a DM can basically make up his own campaign that is totally LFR compliant.  Just to be clear, the rules specifically state that only the DM who makes a MyRealms adventure can run it.  This is a great option for people who want to adventure in the Realms, be a part of the living campaign, and want to make up their own storyline.

The second is Quest Cards.  The campaign has published quest cards with associated tasks that will unlock a special module.  The tasks can be fulfilled in specific, predetermined modules spread across Fearun.  Let’s face it, sending your players on a quest can give them a good reason to be trekking across the continent.  As they travel through a region in search of the next quest item, they complete “side quests.”  These side quests are basically just published modules for whatever region they’re travelling through.  Right now, this is the technique I’m using for my group.  They all received the Zhentarim quest card, and have begun pursuing leads that I’ve peppered into existing modules.  They’ve only completed one quest task so far, but they have played through five modules since they received the quest.  My plan is to make sure they’re the appropriate level by the time they unlock the quest conclusion, “Black Cloaks and Bitter Rivalries.”  Unfortunately, right now, there are only two quest cards available (that I know of), and if anyone is listening, I’d love to see more official quests.  For now, the alternative is creating your own quests, then adding task fulfillment randomly to existing modules, and using MyRealms to conclude them.  In my opinion, quests are the best way to lend purpose to the LFR campaign.

The third way the campaign has provided for continuity is through the Adaptables and the Mini Campaign.  Granted, these are only for level 1 characters, but if you need a good starting point, you could either play through the adaptables or the mini campaign.  The adaptables are basically the sample adventure in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide followed by The Scepter Tower of Spellgard (they take place in the same general area), and an adventure from one of the Dungeon Magazines.   The mini campaign is a fun series of adventures that take place on Returned Abeir, which is far west of Faerun.  Where you go after using the adaptables (or mini campaign) is up to your players, but I would recommend making use of quests at that point.

 With that, I would like to announce a new feature to the site.  If you check out the menu bar, you’ll see there is now an “LFR Modules” tab.  Click on that, and you’ll be taken to a map of Faerun that clearly outlines the areas of the world that have pre-published modules available.  Below that is also a spreadsheet listing every module available for play.  I developed this page as I was trying to figure out which modules the players should do next as they travelled across the Realms, and decided to share it so others could make use of it.  If you want the characters’ travels to be more linear, and make more sense, it’s the place to start.

 Special thanks goes out to LFR Oxford whose list of LFR modules was my starting point; they also have lots of other information about LFR modules and quests that I don’t.  You should check them out.


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