World Wildlife Federation of Justice.

We had a couple new superheroes to the home WWFJ campaign today – Otter Destruct (super strength and invulnerability) and Drako (Duck with draconic powers) joined Go-Rilla, Bushido Dragon and the Invisible Fink. They saved the lives of several animaloids in a burning building, part of a rash of arson that has been plaguing New Metro City of late. The Invisible Fink arrived late (he heard about it on the news while everyone was on the scene moments after the fire started (by two firebombs in the building, as it turns out). A hippo that Otter D saved told her that he had information about the arsonist, and that he’d meet her at the waterfront subway station at midnight with more info. The heroes arrived (most undercover) later that night to meet with him. The hippo took them across the street into a construction site where he introduced them to his “boss” – a shadowy horse wearing a hood. The horse said “Superheroics are all well and good, but I’m prepared to offer you something more substantial for your abilities” and he cracks open a couple briefcases filled with money. Go-Rilla asks “and if we refuse?” The dark horse snaps his fingers and out of the shadows come Tarmadillo and Rhinosferatu. That’s where we paused for the day.

It occurs to me that if we had gone to see Supersize Me! at Tinseltown instead of 5th Ave Cinema we would have each saved $2 for a total of $8. And the seats would have been comfier. And bubble tea would have been on hand. Anyway….

3 out of 4
or 4 out of 5
or 8 out of 10.
You pick the rating system you like best.

James got me a rock lord – which I think is my fifth. Then we drove out to Chilliwack and I forgot to give him gas money because I didn’t ride home with him. In a convoluted set of circumstances Stewie needlessly rented a car and went separately from the rest of us, so we actually had a spare seat in James car which if I had known about it earlier I would have dragged Anghold along. Anyway that’s all ducks under the windbridge now. The reason we went to Chilliwack was because we were invited to Sid’s BBQ. I ended up eating a hamburger even after seeing Supersize Me! I saw all the usual Chilliwackian residents like Bob, Garett & Lea, Tara & Jordan, my brother, etc etc. Even Suzanne Bate who I haven’t seen for years. After the food we bandied about ideas for a short to make for the H.P. Lovecraft film festival and I came up with this great idea that would take way too long and would have limited appeal to non-Ghostbusters fans but I still think it’s a great idea and I think that Stewie and I will work on it (covertly – shhhh). Nevermind that we still haven’t gotten our SSZ treatment to Stuart Gordon yet. Then we played Pac-Man, Galaxian, DigDug and 2 other weird retro games for way too long and watched children playing with children, dogs playing with dogs, and children playing with dogs. It was all very culture (as opposed to counter-culture) but quite enjoyable, and hey – free food. It was Linda’s birthday yesterday so there was cake for that too. You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you? Don’t worry, now that it’s July it won’t be long before I post an entry that I’m sure we can all relate too.

Also, I phoned my grandparents yesterday. My grandpa actually said “you’re another day older and deeper in debt.” I guess some sayings never get worn out – I know I’ll be telling my czar chasm joke until I’m 85 so fair’s fair.

New Metro City

So Disney is blocking Michael Moore’s new movie criticising George W Bush because it may “jeopardize tax breaks granted to Disney for its theme park, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where Jeb Bush is governor.” Of course that is horrific and of course it is no surprise.

Yesterday Yvonne and I redesigned Vancouver for my anthropomorphic super-animals game I’m working on. There’s now a dam in North Vancouver and a military academy by Stanley Park and a Coney-Island like boardwalk along Sunset Beach. I’m going to do it all up nice-nice in the next few days. Has anyone been to Disappointment Lake, and if so – did it live up to it’s name?

Has anybody else noticed that recently when you search for something in Google, it will give you your list of results, and a few seconds later in will pop extra listings, to whit:

Free Virus Scan
Scan for spyware, malware and keyloggers in addition to viruses, worms and trojans. New threats
and annoyances are created faster than any individual can keep up with. – 15k

You can find MAPQUEST right now at
Click here to show top and relevant search results for MAPQUEST from 14 Search engines with just
1 click. – 44k

right under the first listing? I wonder if this is some new deal Google has or if it’s due to some virus-like thing on my computer. One thing for sure – I hate it.

I think it would be fun to crash wedding ceremonies and when the priest says “if anyone knows any reason why these two people should not be married, speak now or forever hold your peace” cry out either one of their names longingly and run up to declare your secret love. That would be a fun activity for an otherwise dull Sunday afternoon.

How to DM – The Long (Old) Post

Being a Dungeon Master takes a lot of skills. First off, everyone expects you to know the rules. If you’re lucky (and I often am), one of the players I DM will know a specific rule, so I don’t have to spend 5 minutes looking up the “trip” rules, for example. Keeping all the players waiting while you look up rules is a no-no. The rules in D&D are pretty intimidating if you’re not Adrian or Jon. These are smart, smart guys who can read something once and absorb it for all time. I, for starters, don’t take the time to read through the rulebook (historically, I’ve spent more time creating my own rules than poring through someone else’s) so that’s a point against me right there. If I arbitrarily decide that a rule works this way or that way on the spot, is that going to skew the balance of an encounter?

More importantly is being consistent with the rules. If, for example, I decide on impulse that a certain spell or game mechanic works a specific way (whether or not it’s in line with the actual rules), the players will expect it to work the same way next time. If it doesn’t, the suspension of disbelief is in danger of being compromised.

As a DM – you have to give everyone their fair share of showtime. It’s kind of like being the director of a play. If you give too much time to one character/player, the other players may not have as much fun. It’s really easy to favour (give more attention to) one player over another, if one player is boisterous and forthcoming while the other is shy and quiet. Especially in my situation now, where I am DMing a group that is not as experienced as I usually game with, this can be a challenge. I don’t want anyone to lose interest because they’re not getting the coaching that they need to understand the ins and outs of just what is going on, what is possible and what is not possible, rules-wise or situationally. D&D combat can essentially be a strategy game, and the more you know the rules the better your strategy can be. When the opportunities arise, I introduce the special moves like flanking, grappling and bullrushing, one at a time, to the group.

Control of the table is another issue. Whenever you game with a group of people who get along really well – which thankfully is 95% of the time with me – it’s easy for people just to crack jokes and basically socialize at the table. That’s a lot of fun and there is usually nothing wrong with it – but it can get out of hand. Especially with larger groups, certain players will go off on tangents that may include the whole group or just a couple of players, which can be distracting as a whole. This was a huge issue when I was playing with Chris Woods, Warren and Bob back in Chilliwack. We would just bullshit for at least an hour before we even started gaming, and including our many, many, many tangents could cut an evening of D&D in half. If everyone is fine with this, it’s no problem. But if you want to accomplish a certain something in a session and you’ve got a limited amount of time to do it, socializing can cripple your chances to do that, and you find yourself having to call a game at an inopportune time (like the middle of combat). If people stop paying attention, you find yourself wasting others’ time describing the same things over and over again. If someone doesn’t pick up on a vital piece of information because he wasn’t listening, it can cost their character his life, and that leads to serious pouting. One of the most often heard paraphrases at a gaming table is “well if I had known this then my character would never have done that!”

Crafting a tale is a whole ‘nother kettle of piranha. I DM for 2 different D&D campaigns – in one “Adventurer’s Guild” campaign each adventure has absolutely nothing to do with the next except that each is in the Freeport area and involves many of the same characters from episode to episode. The girl group I run on Wednesdays, on the other fist, is part of a long campaign that I have plotted out. This requires me to take the players on an epic journey from point A to B to Z, and I have to know where I’m going ahead of time. I’m not writing each chapter myself – I’m stringing a series of published adventures together with a common thread, and this in itself is a task. I have to adapt the individual themes of the scenarios into a cohesive campaign. I have to introduce a setup for each payoff. I have to introduce foreshadowing. I have to know the parts that each player character (PC) and non-player character (NPC) will play.

At the same time I’m giving the characters direction with my various plot points, I shouldn’t make my players feel that I am marching them down a corridor with no exits. The players have to be able to make choices that will affect the story. If a player has no control over his destiny, where is the fun? So as a DM I have to be prepared that the players will make decisions that could quite possibly derail my story. I have to try to anticipate their actions–based on the player’s attitudes and the character’s motivations–that I can adapt the story so it doesn’t fall apart. And if I fail to anticipate, which happens from time to time, then I have to be prepared to make stuff up on the fly, and it’s best if the players can’t tell what’s improvised and what’s pre-planned. If they can tell, that’s one more botched suspension of disbelief, as they acknowledge the man behind the curtain.

There are many other things to consider: Am I not giving them enough rewards (Experience & treasure)? Are the magical items I’m providing going to bite me in the ass when the PCs use them? Will they destroy the challenges I set against them too easily, or will I accidentally pit them against a monster or trap they can’t possibly beat? Am I balancing out the combat-to-plot ratio properly?

Are the NPCs I create memorable? Are they characters? Do they have their own personality? Right now there’s an NPC called Wainscotting (an NPC name I use in most of my campaigns) tagging along with the group, and he’s said all of three sentences to the group. In that tiny amount of interaction with the group the players have come to their own conclusions about Wainscotting. Michelle doesn’t trust him. Marlo thinks he’s not pulling his weight with the group. Really, I’ve been building his personality as we go along (but for the players who may be reading this – that’s not to say that everything about his presence is an “accident”), and I’m quite happy with the way things have turned out. I guess I’ve never had a problem creating characters with personality (maybe it’s the actor/impressionist in me) – in the Freeport campaign I had to play two dozen different characters for Sea Lord Drac’s fancy dress ball. It was a challenge, but from playing the head of the wizard’s guild (Alec Guinness) to Drac himself (Christopher Walken) it was also very gratifying to see the players have fun interacting with the NPCs.

I’m a little worried that I haven’t planned enough; that my lack of reading ahead will make the transitions between adventures too rough. But right now, I think the biggest problem with my current group is “dead air.” This happens to some extent in every campaign, but because most of my players are new and inexperienced, if I’m not telling them that something is happening, there is a tendency to avoid decision-making. I guess this is better than a lot of arguing. I don’t want to lead the players around by the nose so I am giving them plenty of breathing room to get accustomed to the game and to one another, and I’m sure as the group plays more and gets comfortable, these awkward silences will shorten and disappear.

That all said – I think this campaign is going pretty well. I think last night’s session was one of the most fun and memorable for everyone: they finally found some treasure, got the opportunity to soundly bash some monsters (in this case skeletons), and found and rescued the guy they’ve been looking for for 5 sessions. Now for phase two: Mwoo-hahahaha!

APPENDIX: Toren’s Secrets of GMing.

I love to keep my players in suspense and keep them guessing. Poker face is key. There is nothing more blatant than going through an entire adventure and glossing over every room saying “you search the room and find nothing” and then getting to a final room and when a player searches you ask them “where are you searching, exactly?” It’s obvious that the room contains something hidden, and the players will keep trying to search the room until they find it. I approach every room and every area as though it had everything the PCs could possibly find: traps; monsters; treasure; damsels in distress; whatever. It may seem a little pedantic and time-consuming, but I think constantly asking the question “who is turning the handle on the door” when somebody says “we go into the next room” simply adds a bit of realism to the encounter (or non-encounter, as the case may be). Randomly rolling huge numbers of dice behind the screen serves a similar purpose – the players should never become complacent that nothing bad could possibly happen while the DM is sitting back with his head resting on his hand.

A final word about NPCs. Non-Player Characters are, to me, a fantastic tool. Apart from all the usual entertainment factors, they provide a mouth through which information (true or false) can be provided. If you need to impress upon (i.e. – warn) a group that a situation is extremely dangerous – you can kill off a beloved NPC to hammer home the point – I find this provides a slap of realism to PCs who become complacent that their characters are immortal. Although I am usually loathe to use them this way, NPCs can be the DM’s deus ex machina: if something needs to be done to advance the plot and the PCs aren’t doing it – you the DM can take control of the situation if need be without a blatant hand of god coming out of the clouds to set things right. It’s a good thing Wainscotting was around last night or Deanna’s brand new character might have been nourishing a growing Grey Ooze instead of healing up in the temple of Dorl Tavyani. Not that that was the only way out, but it just so happened that all the other characters nearby couldn’t win a grapple check with all the grace of Terak on their side.

If You Love Christmas So Much, Why Don't You Marry It?

I had a dream this morning that Anthony Hopkins came to my house. And that I had a house.

Moving on…

Movies I want to see as soon as possible:

Return of the King
Triplettes of Belleville
Intolerable Cruelty

Movies I am also interested in but theoretically could wait until video/dvd:
Matchstick Men
21 Grams
Mystic River

(Don’t forget, Princess Mononoke & The Dark Crystal are playing at the Placebo on Sunday (28th), and p:ano (the band) is playing at the Sugar Refinery on Monday (29th).)

I went down to Drexoll Games today and picked up a cool monk figure with a spiked chain. I didn’t really know what I was looking for – there were a few that caught my eye, but I decided I didn’t have enough monk minis in my collection. I like it. I also bought an issue of Dungeon Magazine which has some really interesting adventures in it (but only 2).

For posterity, I will catalogue here the really bad joke I thought up while I was walking from Broadway to 4th Ave.

Hugo: I really love Christmas
Buford: If you love Christmas so much, why don’t you marry it?
Hugo: Marry Christmas?

Sorry, it’s all in the delivery.

I had a look at their boxing day sale table. amidst the games etc was a copy of Cults Across America, a Cthulhu board game for which I did art. It’s actually a pretty good game, but it takes a long time to play and it’s expensive ($70). They (Darcy & Tamara, shopowners) tried to apologize to me for marking it down but I wouldn’t let them. When Jeff showed up in the store a few minutes later, he rubbed it in my face that the game was on sale, but then had to apologize when somebody bought it!

While I was browsing through the miniatures a fellow nearby asked me if I had anything to do with Spaceship Zero (the RPG). He asked me if I would run a game of it at his stag party. Yeah, you read right. I thought that was pretty choice and of course I agreed. He hasn’t set a date yet but I gave him my card. I knew I carried those stupid things around for a reason.

Return to the Temple of Gingerbread Evil

Return to the Temple of Gingerbread Evil

Having heard rumours of gingerbread treasure in an ancient gingerbread temple, our gingerbread adventurers gather.

The entrance to the temple is dark (except for the windows), foreboding, and delicious.

Toren’s half-orc barbarian is ambushed from above by three gummi bloodsuckers. His life-icing is tragically and noisily sucked out of him. Even with his high Fortitude save, he never stood a chance. The cleric could revive him, but figures “ah, why bother?”

A bevy (school? murder?) of gummi lobsters guard two coveted icy squares. Unpictured: Darcey’s gruesome death by nippers.

A clodhoppers trap claims the life of another valiant adventurer. Bards will sing glorious ballads of the tragic tale of Stewie’s cleric.

The remainder of the group enters the domain of the Cult of the Gummi Bear, interrupting their unholy sacrificial rites before the alter to some nameless profane gingergod. Note the two treasure chests in the back right and the colourful, starry side-effect of Ang Hold’s necromantic aranea’s miscast spell.

The gummi cultists handedly dispatched, Yvonne’s halfling rogue checks for traps on the treasure chests…

…sadly she fails her roll. There were no survivors.

Stoned Gaming

On Saturday I played Mutants and Masterminds: not the Red Skrull game, but the reunion of the Justice Hurricane. I used to play Champions with Jeff GMing in oh, 97 or so, shortly after I moved to Vancouver. It’s ironic that Jeff and I went to the same high school in Chilliwack, and knew all the same people, but never actually met until I moved to Van. Anyway, in the Champions game I played Rhinosferatu (half man, half rhino, all vampire) but rather than renew him I decided to make up a new character for the M&M game: The Beekeeper. He’s fun. His alter ego name is Cedric Doppelpopoulos. Everyone there was drinking and/or smoking pot so although there were many hilarious moments, everything was three times as hilarious to everyone else. Stuart was building things with Lego while we played, and Mike, rather doped up, stepped on the bag Stuart left on the floor and fell over like a tree, right onto the table (and my knee). I thought he had either suddenly died or had an attack of narcolepsy, because he didn’t put his hands out when he fell or in any other way reacted. He just lie on the table for a number of seconds as we all tried to lift his inert body up. Turns out he was fine, though he did cut his hand, we discovered minutes later. Tea, Jeff’s girlfriend, is singing in a band (I don’t know the name) and a greeting was passed on to me from Karen, who plays drums for them (if I recall correctly) and who I was told I know. It’s not unlikely that I know her, but I have no recollection of knowing more than one Karen (my ex-boss who I now do web design for). Nevertheless, I returned the “via” greeting and maybe some day we’ll meet “again.”

Our cable went out on Thursday, but just in the living room – not in Mr. Chris’ room. Two guys came this morning to have a look at it. One of them was a typical repairman specimen who was taken to call objects and situations “her.” They couldn’t get the signal fixed today so we are to expect more visits by another “crew” in the next 2-3 days. In the meantime they gave us a lot of cable and a splicer. I hope all of this is free. It should be, shouldn’t it? I’ll be angry and broke if it’s not.

Yesterday, in addition to writing a few ESL dialogues, I worked on the almost-all-girl campaign that I’m running. I did up a map and got a clearer picture of what the string of adventures will be. Here’s hoping they advance in levels as planned, otherwise I may have to add or remove some scenarios. I’m sure I’ll be able to deal with that if it happens. There’s just a little bit in the middle I need to flesh out (how will they get from here to there?), but overall it’s looking pretty damn interesting. I’ve left lots of opportunities for the players to make decisions that will affect the outcome of the story arc, which I’m sure you’ll all agree is important, rather than just taking them for a ride.

NecroWombicon / Robin Williams Plays Spaceship Zero?

Our rock show last night went off like a natural 20. That’s nerd-speak for ‘quite good’, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you blog readers. Despite the fact that we haven’t played (including practice) since March, we hardly screwed up at all. I did forget the words during “Shoggoths Away” but only for a second, and I covered by making up new lyrics as I went, which is always popular.  We played at about quarter after nine so by the time we finished the sun was setting. Yes, we played in a parking lot. Merrick stood right over a manhole cover. The sound system was da bomb – my worries were completely unfounded. Fatrick really came through for us, my thanks to him and to all the fans who formed the “mosh” “pit”. At a bar gig, we never (well I shouldn’t say never but very rarely) are asked to give autographs, but at these nerd-cons, we’re small ‘c’ celebs, and yes I must admit that’s a nice feeling. Someone brought their copy of SSZ for the band to sign, another person just had a piece of cardstock, and another one grabbed our set list and we signed that for him. If I had been able to bring CDs I would have made a killing. But sadly they’re still not done. I did have the foresight to bring the last dregs of the t-shirts that have been quietly sobbing of loneliness in my closet at night, and I sold all but one. Someone shouted out from the crowd that we should play some Clash, so the boys started playing some Clash song. Since I have no idea how any Clash songs go, I stood quietly and entertained myself by thinking about different kinds of wallpaper. For our one and only encore song, there was another little surprise, Jordan got off the drum kit and Mario took over. Oh the fun we have!

All the toil about figuring out the buses turned out to be time wasted – one of Chris’ friends gave us a ride there. I got to play Bubble Bobble too so I was happy. Lester’s Arcade, for those of you who don’t know, is quite a large arcade in Burnaby, open 24 hours, with pool tables and air hockey and LAN games. And it’s got its own pizza joint. After all the nerding was done, Stuey, Slater, Kathryn and I were given a ride back to civilization by Darcey, who ranted (as is his wont) about the many things he was born to rant about, to the edification of us all. A late dinner of salad, an episode of Black Adder, and it was to bed for me.

In the morning Rob called offering me a ride to the gamey-game part of NecroWombicon. Naturally I accepted and gave him his birthday present. I played a game of Carcasonne (I think it’s spelled) which was mildly dull but not without its charm, then I just kind of wandered about while everyone played video games. Finally 6pm rolled around which was when I scheduled to play Spaceship Zero. At first I thought nobody was going to show, but I ended up playing with 9 people playing (though not all at the same time). Everyone seemed to love it and a few asked how to get a copy.

Jeff told me the other day that Robin Williams has a copy of Spaceship Zero the RPG. Apparently he plays D&D with his daughter on the set of the movie he’s shooting now in town with Jeff’s girlfriend’s young daughter, so Jeff gave him his extra copy of SSZ. Will he play it? I hope so. Rob and I were hoping that he and Vin Deisel would get together and start a celebrity RPG advocacy group of some kind. Then maybe it would be cool to play RPGs…

…or they’d just be stigmatized. Either way, I approve.