Tag Archives: tools

Character Backstory: A DM’s Best Friend, A DM’s Worst Nightmare

Stack of BooksFor some time now, I’ve been pondering the problem of character backstory.

On the one hand, you have the player who does nothing to flesh out any kind of backstory. I call these the “orphan” characters. Why? Because that’s inevitably their backstory. “My character is an orphan.” I don’t know why that seems to be the default backstory for all the lazy players out there, but it is.

And while “no backstory” isn’t a problem for the DM, per se, it also doesn’t give the DM too much to work with. If you want your players invested in your campaign beyond killing the monsters and looting the bodies, you need to tie at least SOME of the story to their characters. And character backstory is useful for that. Continue reading

3 New Gamma World Character Creation Tools

I know everyone is excited about the new Famine in Far-Go Gamma World expansion.  It’s been all over Twitter and the D&D Blogosphere almost since Gamma World came out.  I am not ashamed to admit that I am excited too.  That’s why I’ve been working on some new character creation tools to get your players from “how do I make a character?” to “roll initiative!” in no time.

Character Creation in 10 Easy Steps

This PDF walks players through character creation with minimal input from you, as the GM.  No more “Which origin is an 18?,” and “I rolled a 2 for my skill; which one is that?” questions from six directions at once since you’re the only one with the book.  All the relevant charts for new characters are included on two sheets.  They will need you to help roll for starting gear, and that’s it.  Also included is every origin’s traits and novice power, for player reference during the game.  Best for: New players and groups that don’t have more than one Gamma World rule book.  Get it

Excel Based Character Creator

The Excel Character Creator is a great tool if you have a printer nearby.  Have the player roll a few dice, make a few decisions, and the spreadsheet does all the calculations.  Print the character sheet, and you’re off!  This does take a little bit of the fun out of filling in a character sheet, but since the sheet generated by Excel is kind of spartan (preview), players may want to transfer the info to a new sheet anyway.  Best for: Players that still like to roll the dice for origins and stats, but don’t like figuring out all the bonuses. Get it

 

Excel Random Character Generator

The Random Character Generator was developed for players whose characters die in the middle of an adventure, and want to spend as little time as possible making up a new character.  On this spreadsheet, you literally fill in what level the character is to be, push a button, and print.  A player can go from “You’re dead” to “Hi! I’m new here!” in about 30 seconds.  This tool takes every ounce of fun out of character creation (and we freely admit character creation is fun), but it does very well what it was designed to do.  This generates the same spartan character sheet as the “interview style” Excel sheet does.  Best for: When characters die in the middle of an adventure or for groups that don’t want to spend any time creating characters. Note:This spreadsheet has an embedded macro to help generate a new random character every time you hit the button. Get it

Bonus! Character Origins Sheets

The Character Origins Sheets should go along with any level 1 character sheet.  They sum up every origin, its traits and bonuses, and the origin’s novice power.  I will confess that I did not make this PDF myself, however; I found it somewhere else, and I pass it along to you.  If you download the first of the three tools listed above, this PDF will already be included in the zip file. Get it

Each of these tools will also find a permanent home on our downloads page, so be sure to bookmark it for easy retrieval later!

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.

 

I hope you find it useful; it’s a permanent addition to the site, so bookmark it and come back as often as you need to!