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A Sample of My Planning:

James, you know who you are, don’t read this!!!!

This week, I’m gearing up to run a one or two shot game for a friend who has never gotten to play in a Star Wars campaign . . . so since I just spent two hours writing, I thought I would share a sample of my pre-game “home work” with you, dear reader, so that you could see the kinds of notes I like to make for myself prior to a session.  It more or less encompasses the first few social encounters of the game, and is meant for the fantasy flight “Rebellion” system.  Sorry for the lack of pictures, Disney is tight-fisted with it’s copyrights!  I generally read the italic parts to my players, and then let them react to the situation!

NPC Rank: (This is to simplify the npc’s in the system, which I am relatively unfamiliar with.)

Legendary*: 3 yellow in something they’re good at, plus perks that let them ignore black dice. 2 yellow 1 green in class skills, 1 yellow 2 green in things they’re bad at.

Heroic: 2 yellow 1 green in something they’re good at, plus perks. 1 yellow 2 green in class skills, 3 green in things they’re bad at.

Normal: 1 yellow 2 green in something they’re good at, 1 yellow 1 green in class skills, 2 green in everything else.

Easy: 1 yellow 1 green in something they’re good at, 2 green in everything else.


Ch. 1: Aboard the Redemption

As the starlines in the viewport revert to fixed points, the myriad dizzying colors of hyperspace flicker and then die, leaving you alone in the vast emptiness of regular space. Well, almost alone.  Suspended in space before you is an oblong, asymmetrical shape, little more than a wad of engines connected to a wedge shaped hull by a slender tube.  Klaxons begin blaring, filling the small cockpit with enough noise to make a firefight seem relaxing.  Above the alarms, LOM-8’s eerily cold voice booms out of the speakers in his mouth, “Calm down.  They’re just painting us with their not inconsiderable sensor arrays.” A charge of static bursts from the intercom, a woman’s voice, saying, “Unidentified ship, power down shields and weapons, and prepare to be boarded.  I hope you can explain how you got these coordinates, because you’re about to have a really bad day if you can’t.”

A dark haired, slender woman in a light brown, blue sleeved uniform, flanked by two rebel soldiers, greets you at the airlock.  She doesn’t smile, and the dark circles under her eyes betray a sense of exhaustion.  She looks you up and down and say, “Well, come on then.  I’m not so far removed from Alderaan that I’ll kill a few sentients without checking out thier story first.  She leads you to a small conference room, and leaves you with a tankard of water, and a few ration cubes.

One way or the other, the characters are brought aboard the frigate, and put in a locked conference room with water and ration cubes.  An hour passes, and Captain Marquez enters the room.

*Captain Marquez (Heroic) – Alderanian, dark hair, slender, tall, commanding.  She has dark circles under her eyes, and treats the PC’s matter of factly, even after confirming their bonafides.

Talking Points:

  1. story checks out.
  2. They have to prove themselves . . . A recommendation from Moonam isn’t good enough.  
  3. On the mission, for insurance, Lom-8 will be piloting another crew, while you are stuck with one of our guys . . . to keep an eye on you, and because Lom-8 is something of a curiosity.
  4. Do you accept the mission? You don’t get to know specifics beforehand, except that you will be running munitions off an Imperial world, and it will be dangerous.  They can walk around the ship, but only if accompanied by Ken and a protocol droid named Emtrey.  Lom-8 has volunteered to be studied by Dr. Rolkied, who has an interest in A.I.


*Emtrey (Heroic only for scrounging) – strange droid, reminds you a great deal of Lom-8


If they choose to explore the ship, read the following:

Each corridor you pass is absolutely martial, all in hard whites and greys, with the occasional hard black.  Each person you pass has a hard, hollow look, like soldiers who have seen too much, and lived too long in the shadow of some great loss.  Emtrey casually announces that 42.3% of the crew are survivors of Alderaan, a planet you recognize from the rebel propoganda machine . . . an entire planet destroyed?! It simply isn’t possible.  But from the glances you are catching, something must have happened . . . something worth hating the empire for.


The Hydrospanner’s Bolthole.

:Shop, with all goods rarity five or lower.


Run by Quiggles, a Duros refugee from Coruscant.  He has special interest in Laminate armor parts and will pay full price for them.


Aldera’s Peace:

Emtrey takes to an inconspicuous doorway on an otherwise barren hall, but as the door opens, you hear the low rumble of music, conversation, and the occasional raucous laugh.  The rec room, called Aldera’s Peace, is a narrow space filled wall to wall with tables and chairs.  A bar runs the length of the left side of the room, with a what looks like a repurposed surgery droid casually mixing drinks, while the entire right wall of the room is covered in two dimensional representations of happy looking humans, peacefully green vistas, and the occasional holoprojection, depicting happy scenes.  A large plaque above the wall reads “Never Forget.” A group of pilots in rebel orange sit at a back table, watching a holo of a recent space battle, using their arms and hands to reenact remembered maneuvers, and it is from this table that the laughter is coming from.  At a large table in the center sit five humanoids, dressed in the white, black, and khaki of rebel troops, quietly nursing drinks.  One, a horned Devaronian, gestures at you to join his table.


Red and Green teams:

Red Leader:

1) Dev Sandar, Devaronian, Heroic Commando.  He made his home on the peaceful slopes of Mt. Alder, before the Death Star blew it up. Welcoming, but sad.  His smile never reaches his eyes.


Red 2:

2) Flax Voltune, Human Alderaanian, Normal Commando. He is quiet, untrusting.  He looks over the newcomers constantly, as though sizing them up.


Red 3:

3) Sam Newman, Human Alderaanian, Normal Pilot.  His face is shadowed, and he openly speaks out about the need to hold to Alderaan’s non-violent philosophies.  


Green Leader:

Alice Dweller, Selonian Female, Heroic Commando.  Her catlike features are hard to read, but her friendly and open demeanor so much to soften her angular face.  She speaks of a fear that the Empire will know they’re coming, because Vader and the Emperor practice the “dark arts.”


Green two:

Gom Shugard, Corellian Human, Heroic Smuggler.  Gom is a burly, blustery man with massive handlebar mustaches.  He is in stark contrast to Alice in that he is not friendly at all, and openly accuses the pc’s of being double agents.  


The conversation can go however it needs to.  Talking points:

  1. Dev greets the newcomers and asks them about themselves.
  2. Flax is obtrusive in his vigilance, possibly evoking a comment from a PC
  3. Flax’s only comments are about revenge, righting wrongs, and killing imperials.
  4. Sam pleads with Flax, asking how much of himself he will lose to these dark times, and whether or not he will ever embrace peace again.
  5. Flax replies that, when he is standing over the smoking ashes of the emperor, maybe then.  He will put some in a capsule to release at the Alderaanian asteroid belt, to help his family rest easy.
  6. Alice brings up the possibility that tomorrow’s mission is a trap. Dev tells her to can the talk, they aren’t supposed to discuss the mission, and that her fears are unwarranted.
  7. Gom accuses the PC’s of being double agents, telling them to watch their backs tomorrow, lest they catch a stray laser . . . he’ll be watching them for anything suspicious.
  8. Dev tells everyone to get some rack time, the mission starts in nine hours.  


At this point, the PC’s can do whatever they want.  For the mission briefing, see the “Rebellion Gun Running” file.

I hope you enjoyed reading what I’m going to be putting my players through . . . let me know if this is something you would like to see more often, and as always, don’t fall for the old kobold pit trap!

Character Biography: The Druid

In the keep, out on the border between civilization and the wilderness, players can sometimes feel like they’re hulled up in the last bastion of safety, afraid to set foot outside the strong, tall walls of the keep itself.  With the swamps to the east, and the caves to the north, nothing but forest in between, planning forays to the more interesting locals the Borderkeep has to offer can be a daunting task for any set of player characters.

“I’ll show you the way . . . just come to the edge of the water . . . “

With that in mind, you’re going to want to add a character to your repertoire of NPC’s that can offer assistance to the party, without overshadowing their abilities.  To this end, I give you Bramble, the gnomish druid!

Gnomes, seen in their rare, natural form.

Bramble is a young gnome, and a newcomer at the Borderkeep.  Having set up shop a few miles outside the city walls, Bramble makes a living selling rare herbs and ingredients, freshly harvested from the surrounding area.  He knows that the journey to his hut can be perilous for the majority of the citizens in the keep, so he makes the trip himself every seven days or so.

Bramble grew up in a small gnomish settlement far to the south of the keep.  As is common among the gnomish people, Bramble developed a love of nature very early on.  Less common, though, was the strength of his love and the curiosity that came with it.  Bramble began spending a great deal of his time in the forests of his homeland, the time between visits to his family growing larger as time went on.  Eventually, he encountered a mysterious man named Vosh, who seemed older than any Bramble had ever met before, and yet showed no visible signs of the ravages of time.  Vosh took Bramble as apprentice, teaching him the secret language of the druids, showing him how to call on nature’s might to aid him in the lonely stretches between settlements.  Vosh moved on, suggesting that Bramble find a needful place to call his own.

The Borderkeep is ever a needful place.

Bramble’s training focused more on how to go unnoticed when he needs to, rather than how to physically confront problems with brute strength.  In addition to gathering his herbs and ingredients, Bramble maintains a trade relationship with the lizardmen that inhabit the eastern swamps.  He also keeps a watch on travelers riding south along the Borderkeep trade routs, though never where anyone can see him.  Bramble spends the vast majority of his time in the form of a great stag to avoid detection.

So majestic!

When you need your PC’s to have access to intel about the surrounding area, or even if they just get in over their heads before you’re ready to introduce a life or death situation, Bramble makes a great deus ex silva, so to speak. As for stats, consider his two highest to be wisdom and dexterity.  Bramble is around level three, with any animal form around medium size that you need him to have for your game.  His knowledge of the area around the Borderkeep is unrivaled, with the possible exception of the lizardman shaman that lives in the swamps, or a gnoll ranger who lives to the north.  Assume that Bramble can cast an first or second level spell.

I focused more on story line this time than giving a direct stat block.  Leave me some feedback about which you like better, this, or the actual printable character sheet, and thanks for reading!

As always, don’t fall for the kobold pit trap!


Hello sports fans!

I know it’s been a while . . . Real life has been kicking my butt in the form of my 6 month old’s first cold, and training him to soothe himself to sleep . . . the entire family was running a fever simultaneously last week! IRL can be more perilous than the game world sometimes . . .

“I would like all of the drugs, please.”

Anyway, I know I was supposed to do a character biography next, but I’ve switched to primarily writing this blog on a chrome book, which has been awesome so far, but I’m not 100% sure how to create the editable sheet I was working with on my iPad to make a character that you can just print and play, so until I figure that out, the bio’s will have to be on hold.

Instead, what I would like to talk about this week is a common plight of the GM, namely that we never get to play in the games that we hold closest to our hearts.  A friend recently started running a game in the new Star Wars system I’m calling, affectionately? D-sh***y, mostly because I hate games that make me buy stuff above and beyond the already pricey book . . . Ugh, I digress.  Anyway, he loves Star Wars in the same way you might say a new parent loves sleep, and what’s more, he loves this new system.  It involves a set of dice with faces that range from “Triumph” to “Despair” with varying gradations of success and failure in between, designed to encourage role playing from the PC’s and GM, as apposed to the simple, “I rolled a 15,” “You hit it,” mechanic in more conventional games.  While I was skeptical at first, and while I still loathe the dice themselves, I have come to really enjoy the abstract and story-telling-heavy sense of play that I get from this game.

“What’s the problem?” you ask, sitting in your ivory tower, judging me for not getting to the point . . .

Pictured: You, in your tower . . .

Well, like all GM’s, we like to keep our eyes open for new experiences, rule sets that change up the state of play, and when we find something we like, we usually dive into it, headfirst, with all the excitement of drug addict finding an 8-ball in his coat pocket from last winter.  Of course, this is what my friend did, to the tune of three books, a starter set, two decks of cards, several boxes of minis and two sets of dice.  None of this would be a problem, except he fell into the classic conundrum of the Game Master: I love this game, I want to run it for you in the hopes that you will, one day, run it for me.

Of all the members of the Borderlanders, only he and I truly have the kind of love for Star Wars that allows me to tell you, in all seriousness, that the crew compliment ranging from about 30 to over 150, depending on how many systems are slave-rigged, and what kind of modifications have been made.  My point is, no one else in our group would even consider running a Star Wars campaign, because they don’t have the raw nerd knowledge to know the difference between a R2 and an R5, and what if it comes up?!

“Hey, that rebel pilot should’t be on the same board as a clone trooper! They’re 20 years apart in the timeline . . . ” “NEEEEEEERRRRRRRRDDDDDD!!!!!”

He recently told the group that he wanted to play a character, and since he knew that I would never run this new system, he felt like he should just roll up a character for his own game and play it as a background, almost NPC to fill in our gaps as a party.  @#$%^&* . . . I suddenly felt a great disturbance in the force, as though a thousand GM’s heavy-sighed in frustration, and were suddenly silenced . . . Ok, so not a thousand, but I know a few of you groaned!

Basically, what I’m trying to get at in my long winded post, is how to make running a system you’re not crazy about fun for your PC’s.

I was listening to the System Mastery podcast today, in which two guys review garbage, out of print systems for their merits and flaws, and this particular episode mentioned a mechanic in which each character picked a “Best Friend” and a “Rival” out of the other PC’s, and every time they crit, the best friend decides how the bonus comes into play.  Every time they botch, it’s the rival’s job to tell how the egg ends up on their face.  While the game that this mechanic came from sounds absolutely awful, (It’s called Panty Explosion, which I think is enough said on the matter) the mechanic has excellent applications in a game like the Fantasy Flight Star Wars, which is heavy with “Advantages” and “Threats” that you spend every time you roll to your character’s boon or bane, respectively.  Therefore, I am going to run this system for my friend, so that he can experience his favorite setting in his favorite system.  Ostensibly.  Really, I’m going to run a mad experiment to see if this mechanic is a viable way to keep all the player engaged in a system where, often, character are specialized to the point of having literally nothing to do in about a third of the situations that crop up.

“I wish I’d put points into literally anything social . . . “

Let me know what you think, and tell me your stories!  What have you tried, house-rules-wise, in order to make an undesirable system more tolerable? I’m all ears! And as always, roll enough advantages so that you don’t fall for the old Kobold Pit Trap!

Back in the World of Darkness

I keep trying to get out, White Wolf,  you vixen, but you just keep pulling me right back in . . .
I keep trying to get out, White Wolf, you vixen, but you just keep pulling me right back in . . .

I don’t know how well you follow Old World of Darkness publication information, dear reader, but I can tell you that Drive Thru RPG has been doing some pretty amazing work making old White Wolf books available to the general public.  Click on the link and give them a view if you’re at all interested in older books of any genre, or small, no-name publishers that have some pretty great merchandise just waiting to be discovered. Anyway, if you go to the link, you’ll find a 20th anniversary edition of Mage, The Ascension, which I will be purchasing as soon as I can convince my wife that I need it to live.

I only bring this up, because the book I received as a gift from my wonderful wife on my birthday last year was the 20th Anniversary edition of Werewolf, The Apocalypse.  And ever since then, I’ve been dying to run it, but with so much going on, the baby, other existing games that needed to be finished, and my place in the running schedule of who will GM next, I have yet to get the chance to use that magnificent, full-color, quadrabizillion page tome to the betterment of myself and all of my friends!

Well that is no longer the case! My turn in the old rotation is coming back around fast, and I have quite a lot of work to do!  As an experimental post, I thought I’d let you in on my process . . . the things I do to get a game ready to go for my group.  I can’t go into too much detail about the actual story, because my players read this blog, but I can tell you about . . .


So first, a word about building the old world of darkness into something that’s still relevant today.  Luckily, the new 20th anniversary edition has actually added a fair amount of content to help with this, but if you’re not familiar with the setting . . . well, it’s not called “The Apocalypse”  for nothing.  If you re familiar, then you’ll likely remember that the great bloodbath in defense of the Wyld was supposed to take place in . . . you guessed it, the year 2000.  Obviously, it never happened, so they had to do a little ret-conning to fix the problems present in playing fifteen years into a world that has not been apocolypsed.  The themes of Werewolf were always a kinda “save the cheerleader, save the world” deal, except instead of the cheerleader, it was Gaia, and instead of the world as it is, it was the world before the three competing deities went mad and fell out of balance.  The setting itself was a reaction to growing fears in the 90’s that the environment was on its way down fast and hard, and that if we didn’t change something quickly, then we were going to choke on our own befoulment before the changing of the millennium.  Especially since the main antagonists were part of a corporation that looked fine on the surface, but was actively seeking to destroy the world behind the scenes, the setting made for some awesome, desperate stories about downtrodden, alienated heroes fighting against overwhelming odds to save humankind from itself . . .

At least, that’s what I think now that I’m an adult.  At the time, it was probably more like, “I get to be a 14 foot tall murder machine? Awesome!”

How, then, do you make the story relevant in a time when the population is much more conscious of the importance of preserving our environment?  My idea is fairly simple.  If the antagonist has gone to ground, then I’m going to bring the focus on the characters themselves, because mostly, Werewolf was always a story about growing up, and all those terrifying changes that happen as one gets older, only in this world, those changes are very much personified in the player character’s sometimes monstrous abilities.  I’m going to attempt to make the game more about what my characters are going through, and less about the epic struggle to defend the world against Pentex.  And to do that, I have to actually do the one thing we always ignored in all the old White Wolf games we played; run the prelude to the story my characters will eventually play.

That's a metaphorical forest fire.  It's really your hormones  that are trying to kill you . . .
That’s a metaphorical forest fire. It’s really your hormones that are trying to kill you . . .

To do this, I will be starting my players as vanilla humans . . . or wolves, or metis, depending on their preference . . . you get the idea.  They will not have auspice gifts (the ones granted from the phase of the moon they were born under), nor will they have tribe gifts (the ones granted by the werewolf tribe that eventually accepts them into their midst), but they will have the ability to turn into a 14 foot tall killing machine lurking just beneath the surface . . . they just won’t know what it is.  I’m basically going to have them create basic humans, and play through that first dramatic event that forces them to make the change, and instead of making it all about saving mother earth, I’m going to make it about saving themselves.  I don’t know how it’ll work out, but I do know that if I don’t do something with my last 100 dollar book, there is no way in hell my wife will ever let me get the next one!  She stands to benefit . . . she’s one of my players!

Anyway, one way or the other, I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on starting a new game.  If I get positive feedback on this post, I might continue on the vein of how I write my games, so if you liked the entry, please click like, leave a comment, reblog or share this post on your media . . . literally anything to let me know you enjoyed what you read!  Otherwise, it’s back to the Borderkeep, to talk about some more traditional (at least, for this blog) topics.  Check out my partner blog, Tales from the Borderkeep, and as always, don’t fall for the kobold pit trap!

Secret Cults: Spotlight on Antagonists

Sorry about the late post, againI’ve been trying to balance being a new dad with grades due at the end of the nine weeks, and life has been extra . . . Well, just extra lately!

So, my last post was about recurring villains, one of my favorite topics, and one of the most challenging to include in a game. This week, I thought I would explore one of the easiest ways recurring villains into your game.

“This? It’s a . . . doll for my son?”

Last Sun Day, before the good towns people of Pracola, better known as the Borderkeep, had open mass at the temple to Apollo, a few townspeople went missing . . . At first, it was easy to explain away, as the festivities on the night before Sun Day, The Night of Moon and Stars, was unusually . . . Festive this year. But then the first body surfaced, and lately, neighbors have been locking up earlier and earlier. People who have know each other for decades are turning with shadowed faces toward their own domains, sparing not a single cup of sugar for their allies on the border. They don’t dare speak it aloud, but in the warm fires of the bar, bolstered by spirits and ale, they might whisper: The Cult of Everlasting Night.

Secret cults provide a unique experience for your players in that, along with a supply of potentially powerful villains, they add a sense of intrigue and suspense to your game. Old lady Marth wasn’t at feast day last week’s end . . . Was she simply baking her famous Sun Day cookies, or was there something more nefarious afoot? Goody Dellah was seen at the outskirts of town, clutching a strangely shaped bundle under her thin arm . . . The lamb for the feast day veal pies, or sacrificial daggers?

“She was helping me milk the cows, honestly. You people fret too much.”

When a mysterious force begins taking hold of a small town on the edge of everything, everyone is suspect. Your players will probably begin by looking into the fringe element in town . . . The people who never quite fit in are, after all, usually have the exact personality type that is often preyed upon by charismatic cult leaders.  That might be true in the real world, although even here, without the aid of dark magics and darker gods, events are never so clean-cut, in your fantasy world, you can make your players work a little harder. Create suspicion around several characters, and make the least likely the most devoted of the cult followers. Remember that secret cults have to stay secret by their very nature, and are often led by wickedly intellegent people, so why not make their modus operandi equally intelligent? Perhaps they work in a system of cells, designed so that each one has just enough member to enact rights designed to grant them boons for the low price of a sacrifice or two, but no two cells know of anyone else in their group. Maybe only the leader and his or her lieutenants are the only ones with everyone’s identity . . . Everyone else always meets with hoods on, and no one can guess who their fellow cult member is.

“I hereby call this meeting in order to enact the right of the blue pill . . .”
“. . . Karen?”

Your players should have the feeling that literally anyone could be a cult member. Perhaps float a rumor that the lord of the keep himself is at the dark heart of this plague on Pracola. Make them shadow members of the community, and build the suspense by making it really seem like the person they’re following is one of the cultists, only to reveal, at the last-minute, that they have a perfectly good reason for being out in the dead of night under the full moon. If you’re really adventurous, have them try to infiltrate the cult, which can be as tense or as fun as you want it to be, especially if the first group of cultists they manage to apprehend are a bunch of morons, made patsies by the real powers in the Borderkeep!

I hope you enjoyed my treatise on the nature of putting cults in your game! I certainly enjoyed writing it! Head over to Tales from the Borderkeep to check out some originally fiction based on some of our games, and as always, don’t fall for the old kobold pit trap!

Recurring Villains, Pt. 2

As you may have noticed, especially if you’ve been reading my partner blog, Tales from the Borderkeep, and you should! There have been a rash of weddings and major life events in our little circle of late! I’ll try to get back to my regular Saturday night/Sunday morning post schedule, but in the mean time, I’d like to give the Devils their due!

Villains come in all shapes and sizes, whether they are recurring or not. What I’d like to do today, is talk about the four main types of bad guys and gals you’re likely to employ as part of your masterful repertoire! 1

1) The Troops "We're Terrrriiifffffyyiiinngg!!!"
1) The Troops
“We’re Terrrriiifffffyyiiinngg!!!”

The troops are the lowest level bad guys. These are your zombies, goblins, common street toughs, and whathaveyou. They serve a purpose, that of exciting, fairly challenging combat, but they aren’t enough to fulfill a story’s worth of twists and turns, and exciting antagony! That’s a new word I just made for you, friends! The minions serve to make scenes tense, to provide clues about the greater, behind the scenes goings on, and to let your newly leveled characters try out all their awesome new abilities. One thing I do enjoy when employing the old shock-troop regiment, is to give one or two of them interesting dialogue quirks, or even visual differences.  It’s always more fun to kill “the one that keeps calling me a drow-lover” than it is to just get goblin #2. Even in a zombie apocalypse game, the minions cannot be the stand alone adversary forever. Take it from a dyed in the wool zombie one shot junkie, the most dangerous, and most interesting bad guys you’re likely to meet aren’t going to be your rank and file red-shirts.

2) The Midbosses "You might have slain my evil puppets, but now you have to deal with ME!!"
2) The Midbosses
“You might have slain my evil puppets, but now you have to deal with ME!!”

This is where things start getting interesting! Why is this mysterious woman hanging out with a bunch of walking corpses? Is she controlling them? What are her motives? The Midboss can be more fleshed out than a regular troop, perhaps making several appearances before actively engaging the party. One of my personal favorite mechanics is to take a rank and file, especially one that just keeps surviving the party’s most valiant attempts to kill it, and level it up. The party then has a stake in taking out said Midboss, because they just can’t stand the thought of “the one that got away.” The Midboss needs to have clues about what’s going on in the large scheme of things . . . A calling card for the baddy that’s really in charge, or some sort of hideout that has clues as to what the party should do next. Just remember to make him or her more challenging than the other bad guys faced thus far, so the pc’s have a real sense that they might meet their end if they don’t tread carefully.

3) The Lieutenant "So you've made it this far . . . Davenport, we have guests. Prepare a feast . . . FOR THE CROWS!!!"
3) The Lieutenant
“So you’ve made it this far . . . Davenport, we have guests. Prepare a feast . . . FOR THE CROWS!!!”

All jokes aside, this is probably my favorite class of villain. The Lt. Is cunning, powerful, and has survived long enough to (usually) avoid making stupid mistakes. They should have fully fleshed out personalities, goals, relationships with other npc’s, and your party should know and fear what it means when you finally bring the Lt. against them. There are usually more than one . . . I personally prefer to have a cunning, sneaky type, a brawling, muscle-bound type, and a smart, calculating type at work behind the scenes at all times. Imagine characters like Zsasz from Batman, or The Mountain That Rides from a song of fire and ice. These are characters that, if left to their own devices, are terrifying enough, but when unified by a greater power, become down right nasty. Make sure they aren’t just another henchmen, though. The characters need to have heard of them looooooong before they encounter them, and it never hurts to let them get the better of your pc’s at least once. A healthy fear, aggression, and even a little bit of curiosity are what you’re going for, and remember, these people have climbed the echelons. They should be interesting, dynamic, and potentially lethal . . . And every once in a while, redeemable, but that’s a completely separate post.

4) The Mastermind "I'm sure you're wondering why I've brought you here. Too bad you'll never find out."
4) The Mastermind
“I’m sure you’re wondering why I’ve brought you here. Too bad you’ll never find out.”

Ah, the mastermind! You’ll know if you’ve done it right by the looks on your player’s faces when you have the big reveal. Build the mystery. Have a name whispered in shadows, fearfully by men and women who need have fear of nothing. Have this be someone the party has encountered, on good terms or bad, and let it be a shock that this is the real power behind the evil army/devastating thefts/vile murders/abductions/ or whatever other game is afoot in your story. This is very hard to pull off, especially if you have a thrice damned paladin in your group of pc’s, but it can be done, You just have to resist the urge to give away too many clues, no matter how excited you are about your players finally encountering the one who has been behind everything! As with the lieutenants, tease this one as long as you can before bringing him to the forefront. Imagine being in Luke’s shoes, for instance, never having seen Darth Vader, but hear of this wicked, powerful enemy, and knowing all along that one day, you will have to face him. Trickle information to your players, build the suspense and anxiety, so that when they finally face that seven foot tall space samurai, you really get something from them . . . That often sought, ever elusive emotion response that says, “Thanks, man! For a second, I forgot all about my crappy job and real world problems!” It’s always about that suspension of disbelief, and with the Mastermind, you get as close as you ever will to really pulling that off on purpose!

This has been fun to write, and I hope you enjoyed it! If you want more, check out the previous link to Tales from the Borderkeep, or head over to our website, the Borderlanders. If you like anything you’ve seen or read here, please leave a comment! It would seriously be like an early Christmas present for me! And as always, don’t fall for the Kobold Pit Trap!

Character Biography Three: Joven, the Court Wizard

Sorry I’m late this week, weddings and open houses and the like have all conspired lately to take me away from my favorite pastime! Congratulations to some very special friends in Georgia, you know who you are!

Without further ado, I give you Joven, the Court Wizard!

"welcome to my laboratory . . ."
“welcome to my laboratory . . .”

Joven was born into a world of compromises. His human mother, the wife of a wealthy merchant, procured the very best education money can buy for young Joven, only to be quiet and distant towards him. She showed her love the only way she could, but not in the way a young half-eleven boy needs. He was a constant reminder of the drow raid that occurred just under a year before he was born, a fact as well-known in his hometown as it was forbidden to be spoken of.

Above all else, young Joven craved acceptance. He was treated fairly, but coldly by his teachers, and even the man who took him on as apprentice was distant, fearing some metamorphosis that would bring the darker parts of his heritage to the surface.

"I'll always have my books . . ."
“I’ll always have my books . . .”

So it was that when a young noble swept through Joven’s small town, boasting of the excitement and adventure to be had on the road, Joven knew that he must prove his worth to this young man. Attempting to demonstrate his mastery over a newly learned spell, Joven accidentally charmed a locally beloved barmaid instead of a member of the noble’s retinue, causing the whole of twenty years of resentment and fear on the town’s part to bubble to the surface all at once. In the issuing brawl, Joven and the young noble became fast friends, and in the years to follow, he found the acceptance he had craved all along.

"The true power was love all along!"
“The true power was love all along!”

Now in his seventies, still in his prime by half-elven standards, Joven watches as his friend and mentor, the lord of the keep falls to the ravages of old age. He is fiercely loyal to the lord and his family, and will defend him to his dying breath. Joven has picked up some of the bardic skills in his life at court, and uses his abilities to soothe the lord in any way he can. He is secretive and mysterious, but has never lost his need for acceptance. Many nights, strange lights can be seen shining in the windows of his laboratory, and it is even rumored that he holds communion with a powerful spirit of the cold, granting him the ability to alter the very essence of some of his spells. Once a PC has proven him or herself to Joven, he is a steadfast ally, and a powerful mentor. He knows that his longtime friend’s days are no longer measured in decades, and as a result, he spends his time strengthening the various personal structures of the keep. A frozen death awaits the person who threatens his adoptive family.

"It'll be a cold day in hell . . ."
“It’ll be a cold day in hell . . .”

Posted hereafter are Joven’s stats. Please use him in your game and let me know how he worked out for you! As always, check out my partner blog, tales from the Borderkeep, and remember not to fall for the kobold pit trap! See you next week!



The Reccuring Villain

First off, I would feel remiss if I didn’t finally give a major shout out to the website Pixabay, from which I have drawn most of the images from this blog so far. If you’re interested in doing something like this, please swing over and check out their vast library of open source photography. Pixabay is awesome!

Now, onward to The Borderkeep!

I’ve written a great deal about the various benevolent, and not so benevolent, npc’s that you might use in an adventure set in the Borderkeep. As I was playing the newest installment in the Destiny franchise, however, I started thinking. Villains. Specifically, the recurring villian. Any of you who have ever planned your own campaign, written your own villains with inspirations like Tywin Lanister, or The Man in Black, or even characters like Kefka and Sephiroth, then you know what it means to attempt to recreate that feeling you get when, around every bend and turn, the heroes are hounded by what seems like an insurmountable force.

Seriously? What about me?

If you have, then you’ve realized the same basic truth that I have . . . Realistic recurring-ness is reeeeaaaaalllly hard in a game that, at its most basic function, relies on random chance. We’ve all been there. You have the evil genius, who has finally chosen to make his presence known. He has am escape route, he has minions, he has every opportunity to get away free and clear, when,

Ranger: “Dude! Nat-20!”

The party starts cheering, because they know they’ve already done a ton of damage to this guy . . . And this, well, this must be the culmination of all their cleverness and hard work. At this point, you have two options; let him die and then pull a finial fantasy nine and toss in an even worse threat that just has to feel contrived, or have him escape deus ex machina style, which is even worse than the other option.

"I've won again, Rand Al'thor"
“I’ve won again, Rand Al’thor”

Well, here are some simple tips that I’ve learned along the way. First, never have your villain present himself in a vulnerable position unless you are absolutely ready for the possibility of his or her death. Second, the gaming world is a wide, weird place. If you want to, give the villain an extraordinary ability that helps him escape, but make sure your players see him use it BEFORE he uses it on them. Third, every good villain has equally diabolical minions, with their own fleshed out personalities and machinations . . . That, despite their usefulness and utter evil effectiveness, will inevitably be sacrificed like the pawns they are in the Gillian’s epic game of chess against your pc’s. I could go on sooooo very long about this topic, that I think I will, right after I write character biography 3, on the mysterious court wizard!

I hope I was helpful! Please click like, or even better, leave a comment, question, or request behind as you go. Get the word out, and visit my partner blog, Tales from the Borderkeep, and our parent website, The Borderlanders, and as always, don’t fall for the kobold pit trap!

The Inner Keep

The Borderkeep, as I have explained before, is a place of near infinite story-arc potential. Some of the places I’ve touched on have a great deal of low-level type quests and side missions, and possibly a few mid level, but where we go next . . . well, let’s just say your players need to earn their place at the big kid table.

The Borderkeep is a blanket term I use to talk about the entire town, from the farms outside the walls to the shops and housing within, but the inner keep!  This is where the Lord Himself eats and sleeps, dreaming of ways to keep his tiny kingdom safe from the encroaching chaos without.  Without referencing A Song of Fire and Ice as hard as I possibly can, your choice in Lords falls into four broad categories; The Drunkard, The Man of the People, The Stern Ruler, and The Villain. Each has its flaws and merits, and I will go into much greater detail when I focus on the Lord Himself in a later post.  For this one, I’m going to stick with the story and setting that the inner keep represents.  I suppose I should point out that the words “Lord” and “Lady” are more or less interchangeable, especially if you enjoy having strong female characters in your game.

"Presenting Lady Paunchbottom!"
“Presenting Lady Paunchbottom!”

For the first few levels, your players are mucking out the stables of the keep, so to speak.  Dealing with goblin raiders, find herbs for Father Harverard, avoiding the Court Wizard at all costs. Then, something changes.  The heroes pull off a particularly daring feat, something that benefits the entire town . . . maybe they finally route  out the gnoll warchief that’s been plaguing commerce, or they put an end to a powerful fey who’s been enchanting young lads from the keep, and all of a sudden, the holy grail . . . They’re invited to dine with the lord of the keep.

The keys to the kingdom!
The keys to the kingdom!

Some GM’s will tie this event to the level of the party, which isn’t a bad idea, as long as that isn’t the one and only thing it’s tied to.  After all, we’re not playing wow, where killing chickens outside the gate for twenty hours is rewarded with fifteen levels.  No, this is a ROLE playing game, and rewards should be tied to a storyline in which the players have earned their place in the keep.  After all, the Lord of the Keep isn’t going to invite just any chicken kicker in for Sunday brunch.

The point in the story in which the players get this very special invite should be tied to the moment when they stop being just another group of adventurers, and start being a recognizable force in the local community.  And as such, the Lord will have greater challenges, as well as greater rewards than ever before.

Like fancy ass-kicking boots!
Like fancy ass-kicking boots!

Ultimately, the right time for the players to get invited to the inner keep rests in the capable hands of the gm.  Whether the Lord has a special message that must reach a neighboring kingdom at all costs, needs help defending the walls against a powerful foe, or merely wants to extend his gratitude for the hard work the pc’s have been putting in, the invitation needs to be a big deal.  They’ve earned it, just by staying alive in your campaign, you demented shrew!

I’d love to get into my personal favorite of the Lord’s invitations, the festival, but that’ll have to wait for next week.  I have a cold, and the baby is teething!  Alas! In the mean time, head over to The Borderlanders to see make suggestions and see some of our other awesome blogs!  And as always, don’t fall for the kobold pit trap!

The Court Wizard

Dear readers, this one is near and dear to my heart.

My favorite type of character to play, in literally any type of game, be it D&D, Elder Scrolls, or even Destiny, is a magic user.  There’s just something about having the ability to remake the reality around you to suit your whim . . . to break all the most annoying laws of physics and create something from absolutely nothing . . . to be the mysterious, dangerous, soft-spoken scholar, wielder of scroll and book, fire and lightning, rod and staff.  To get this reaction:

"Get down! I think he's about to-" BOOM!!!!!! "Ulrich?!"
“Get down! I think he’s about to-“

I’m not alone in my obsession.  Many of the most famous characters in our venerable genre are wizards . . . Elminster, Raistlin, Gandalf, Harry Dresden . . . even Harry Potter.  There is a reason the world wants so desperately to believe in and read about magic.  It’s cool.

So, the question is, how do you bring that level of cool to your game-table without overshadowing your fledgling characters?  You have to blend mystique and accessibility, power and a willingness to share that power that is very often not a part of the wizard stereotype.  My solution? The Court Wizard:

Pictured: The last face your chaotic-nuetral, party-screwing thief sees before being sent to the afterlife.
Pictured: The last face your chaotic-neutral, party-screwing thief sees after he tries stealing from the lord of the keep.

With a well thought out Court Wizard, you get two or three benefits in one.  First, you have a mysterious figure, one who might take a special interest in the party, and perhaps build tension as they try to ascertain where his morality/loyalties lie.  Second, you have a source of magic for you party.  This can be tricky, because you don’t want your players to grow in power too fast, so in my games.  My advice is to have your Court Wizard be honest with the players.  He doesn’t know if they’re ready to call the fires just yet.  Maybe he thinks they need more discipline, or maybe he simply doesn’t trust them.  On the flip side, he does present a possible source for pretty much any spell from first to third level, so your wizard pc has something to spend his money on while all the fighters are buying shiny new breast-plates.  Third, Court Wizards can’t be bothered by pesky things like gathering components, so you can use him for low-level quests.  He also can’t be bothered to check out that weird magic resonance near the old silver-mine, so upper level stuff is a go also.

Don’t let him be a buddy to your party. He should stand aloof, perhaps only truly ever speaking at length to the lord of the keep. My favorite quirks to give a Court Wizard are things like having the characters feel a chill every time he looks at them. Roll fake will saves to keep them on edge. Have strange lights and otherworldly sounds seep out of his research tower at night.

"Did you still want to knock on his door?" " . . . Uh, no . . . I'm good . . ."
“Did you still want to knock on his door?”
” . . . Uh, no . . . I’m good . . .”

You don’t want to come right out and say “oh yeah, he’s mean-mugging you something fierce,” but maybe have him never smile around the party.  But if the party tries t cultivate a relationship with him, be open to that possibility too. In the first major game I ever played, my wizard was taken under the wing of the old elf Court Wizard. It took a long time, and a lot of role playing, but I still remember that experience fondly.

If you couldn’t already tell, I think I’m going to make this character my next biography, which I hope will be as helpful to you as it is fun for me. I’d like to take this time real quick to acknowledge Pixabay, which provided all of the pictures I’ve been using these last few months. Stop by and check it out, and buy their donators a cup of coffee. I also want to remind you that my parent site, The Borderlanders, is going to be up and running soon, filled with awesome stuff for the modern gm. Also, my brother blog, Tales from the Borderkeep, is up and running, full of awesome posts and stories from the players and gm’s of our gaming group. If you like short fiction, Star Wars, or just like reading about adventures, check out the Tales from Teemo’s Folly. I’m diggin’ it.

Thanks for reading, and as always, don’t fall for the kobold pit trap!