Dungeon Master’s Fatigue

•May 21, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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Image above belongs to the awesome dudes at Penny-Arcade: Link

DM Fatigue AKA DM Burnout, is a common condition experienced by many a runner of games. We the Dungeon Masters of the world are the bearers of multiple tiny universes that exist in our heads. It is our job to paint the picture for you and tell you exactly how things go. We set the stage and create the characters. We are the directors, actors, grips, and the administrative assistants of our worlds. We have no help, we need no help (usually). There are a lot of cogs, springs and fly wheels that go with running kingdoms in your head. Every action the players take have ripple effects. Don’t believe me?

Slaying a marauding dragon and taking its hoard is a good example. You seize a fortune in gems, gold, magic items and general paraphernalia. There are so many things that can happen here but let’s explore a potential scenario.

Example: You build a base of operations with the funds.
In this example the party buys (or is granted) land and builds a keep or some sort of permanent structure used as a primary base of operations. A place you can relax between adventures. You hire servants and you oversee the surrounding land. Your monetary means are going back in to the kingdom you invested in. Your lands are worked by farmers and craftsmen that all grant you an amount of taxes used to recycle in to the surrounding area and keep things up to date. Depending on the way you go you could either be benevolent rulers or complete dicks. Either way has consequences for the lands, the kingdoms, the surrounding area.

Your dungeon master has to take in to account the monster population in the area, raids, rival kingdoms, or even the dragon’s rivals that may want to claim the horde for themselves. What if this new found fortune makes the players a target for ye olde ponzi schemes? What kind of followers will the players attract? What will the gaining kingdom get in return for this investment? What are the reactions to the player’s attitudes? There are so many questions and answers we must balance and manipulate to keep things rolling.

Bottom line is that for all of your planning your players can destroy hours or even days of hard work in one minute. A good DM is ready but even the best of us are susceptible to the dreaded burn out.

Signs of Burnout
1. Planning is no longer fun, it is a chore.
2. Irritability with your players.
3. Questioning every decision your players make.
4. Railroading (to a degree).
5. Unexplained party wipes.
6. Lying to players about their success or failure.
7. Making it a point to try and kill the Player Characters.
8. Lack of enthusiasm.

The best thing to do when faced with DM Burnout is to step back or even step down. Take a break and let someone else DM. Play a different game or even pull out some board games. Start a side game that is different from the main campaign. Run a pre-built module. There are so many things you can do as DM. As a player make sure to give your DM some slack. They’re the Dungeon Master, they create worlds.

Pimpin’ ain’t easy when you’re a Gnoll.

•April 29, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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So recently my group has delved back in to the venerable pages of D20 Modern. Modern, being the post-fantasy D&D equivalent made by Wizards of the Coast, was the answer to all things urban fantasy, modern day, past and future for those of us who delve in to different worlds. With source books ranging from D20 Past, D20 Future and D20 Apocalypse there isn’t anything you can’t do with D20 Modern story-wise. My personal favorite is Urban Arcana, which places elves, dwarves and other fantasy races in the modern times.

Gnoll pimp anyone? Don’t laugh, it’s in the book.
Pimpin ain't easy!

So the recent game I’m running uses a little-known source book called (Wait for it!) Dark Matter!

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Dark Matter is a supernatural horror setting that isolates the players in a world steeped in conspiracy and black ops-style covert operations. It is the quintessential horror setting for any RPG. Originally published for Alternity, Dark Matter has roots back to the days of TSR. It is based upon the RPG Bureau 13, a little known RPG of the same mien. If you have an urge to game a modern day setting with touches of horror, supernatural, aliens, and conspiracies Ala The X-Files this is your setting!

DM Review: Venetia

•April 6, 2015 • 1 Comment

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Another diamond in the rough made by Passport Game Studios, Venetia is a game of control and colonies. Now I’m a big fan of competitive games like this so I was pretty excited to dive in, I’d never heard of it before but this game has a lot of historical content to it which, in my book, gives it another few points.

Diving right in the box is high quality, thick and sturdy. The components are easily punched but still thick and sturdy. Another point that I am a big fan of. The cards are also high quality and so far that seems to be the norm for Passport Games, big ups to them for that.

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The initial setup is not very hard as the components are nothing new for people who have a few board games under their belt. One thing of note you’d do well to grab a couple of old dice bags or something similar because this game has a component not unlike eclipse in the form of victory points and battle tokens you have to pick at random. Having a bag to keep these in will be handy.

The game is played in three rounds, each consisting of an era in Venice. In the initial stage of the game everyone bids one member of their house and a card from their hand and the one who wins becomes the Doge for the first round. The Doge gets tokens that can be used for extra actions or victory points. Throughout the game you will draw cards and each card has a number of coins at the bottom. In order to win the next Doge election you will have to bid using these cards by placing them on your color on the top of the board.

The game itself revolves around a set of ‘Action Dice’. You roll the dice and the players begin by selecting one of the three sets of dice. You take a number of actions as indicated on the dice, and in some cases you get to draw a card. If you’re taking less actions by selecting the 2 dice, you draw. If you take four actions everyone else gets to draw a card.

When taking actions on the board you must have a line to the place you wish to go. Every ocean tile and city tile has a number associated to it. In the case of oceans you must place one of your cubes on each tile until you reach this number. Once you have reached that number you place a token on that section and you may start from there from then on. In the case of cities each of the dice do something different. Once die gives you the ability to place multiple tokens on a colony, another lets you put multiple tokens on different colonies and the last makes you draw battle tokens. Battle tokens can be good or bad, just like any other cards you draw. Each city you can colonize requires a number of tokens in it to in order for you to put down a podesta (and get bonus points). The player with the most colonies in a city puts down a podesta and this can change as the game goes on and more players add cubes. When there are more than six cubes on one city everyone has to remove one.

Each epoch changes What happens when you draw a card to take an action. Other empires may show up. The flags and fleets that show up can be taken out with actions and each of those gives you victory points. Easy enough.

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When a podesta is put out you move the token along the bottom track. When you hit the end of the third Epoch the game is over.

In the end I like the mechanic of the action dice, I like the components, I like the theme and feel of the game. I would have like to seen a little more in the way of conflict between players. There are a lot of fiddly bits that come with the game as well. You’ll be moving pieces around a lot. The action cards also range in power which can feel unbalanced. The game does have a little bit of chaos, but such is life. Venetia can get bogged down at times when someone picks four actions and takes forever on their turn. In the end I can honestly say it’s a good game to have but not a must have for your shelf unless you love historical games.

DM Review: Dungeon Raiders

•April 1, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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The DM has a new game to share Dungeon Raiders by Passport Game Studios. Now I’ve seen lots of these types of games through the years so we’ll see how things play out. See what I did there? The first thing to note is that the box is pretty sturdy, as are the cards and components. The cards feel solid unlike some games I’ve played so no cheap cop-outs there, plus for Passport. The cubes are plastic, not the wooden fare we’re used to and I must say I’m quite happy with that. No more snagging or splinters. The rulebook is crazy small and that in my book is another plus, I’m a big fan of games you can just open and play right out of the box.

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Here is are the card decks separated. You have a dungeon deck, heroes, items, action cards, dungeon doors, boss monsters and treasure counters. Fairly simple! You start off by shuffling the 30 dungeon cards, removing 6 to keep it random then turn 12 of the cards over and reshuffle the deck. I was confused first too but bear with me, it makes sense! Once you do that you lay out the item cards (which in my mind represent trips to town) and the dungeon levels. When laying out the dungeon levels you put one random boss monster card on the bottom of the stack then divide the stacks all up in to fives, putting a dungeon door on each stack.

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The dungeon layout goes like so. The first level is the one on the bottom, I’ve discarded the door and laid them out top card on the left-hand side. This bottom row represents the first level of the dungeon. The other four levels are above (under the dungeon doors of course). Divvy out random hero cards (shown below), health cubes per the number in the heart and set your treasure counter to the number of starting gold (the stack on the left). The middle icons represent a number of items you start with as well, take one of those from the stack.

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As you can see above we’re all prepared to start. Warrior, Thief and Knight. Each is given a 1-5 card and their starting items and you’re ready to bid! Why do I say bid? Because that’s kind of what it feels like but that’s a good thing. Each player selects a card to put against the first dungeon card in line. Once everyone has chosen, reveal your cards. Monsters need to be defeated or the lowest bidder takes damage, treasures are won by the highest number, and vaults (like a mini store) mean you buy the item represented by your number.

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Where rules are concerned this game is pretty straight forward. It reminds me a little of a lite version of cut throat caverns and in my opinion that is definitely not a bad thing. With sturdy components, a good price tag and fast and furious setup and game play you can’t go wrong with Dungeon Raiders. In the end the DM says it’s a good buy!

DM Review: Mai-Star or Memoirs of a Geisha

•March 31, 2015 • Leave a Comment

pic1745564_md Pictures taken from BoardGameGeek.com

So recently my players and I cracked open a copy of Mai-Star courtesy of a friend of mine. I’d heard of the game but I did not have the chance to back it. I did not know what to expect but let me just say that I am pleasantly surprised with the game, it is amazing.

You start off with the below components, it’s a simple game to say the least.
Geishas – Each have their own ability, usable once per turn or once per round. Each geisha has stats Entertainment (Mask), Service (Flask), Intelligence (Book). These stats allow you to purchase guests, as described below.
People – These people can end up being either Advertisers which boost your stats or guests which give you points and allow you to take actions. Their bonuses are on the left hand side. The top three are guests, Cost, how many points (income) you get, and effect. The bottom three are the advertising bonuses + to one of your three stats.

Advertisers do not count towards your points and guests do not add to your advertising.

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The first thing you do is shuffle the deck, pick your geisha and set out a score card. Every round you get a different amount of starting cards (5,6,7 respectively). There are three rounds consisting of turns that run until someone has no cards in their hand or the deck runs out of cards. The rules are light and fast. The first player to pick their geisha goes last and the last person to pick goes first. Every round you can perform one action:

Draw a card
Advertise – Place a card from your hand next to your geisha and you gain its advertising bonus
Guest – Place the card above your geisha and perform its action (if any)
Discard up to two cards and draw up to two cards
Swap an advertiser for another card in your hand

Each person plays one action (plus any bonus actions from guests or your abilities) and that is a turn. Once all cards are out of one player’s hand or out of the deck the round ends, you total your score and move on to the next round. Turn in your advertisers and guests and keep your geisha then shuffle and deal again.

Once you have played three rounds you total up your entire score and the highest is the winner. All-in-all this is a great little game that can be fast, furious and frustrating because there apparently is a lot of backstabbing in the line of a geisha’s work.

DM Theory: Ripples in the Pond

•March 23, 2015 • 3 Comments

One tactic I use to keep my players interested in my world is continuity. I’ve mentioned in the past that I’ve had characters meet their retired or (at times) dead characters. This is just a small bit of the gigantic pie that is my world and DMing style. Characters make real ripples in the pond of life as they adventure. I’ve taken my characters through ancient worlds and modern times, past, present, future, it all ends up the same. What they do gives purchase to what happens in the future. It’s not just the big things either.

For example to teach a rather rowdy group the importance of what they called ‘starting quests’ or ‘tutorial quests’ I created an adventure for them. In this adventure the characters lived in a small town on the outskirts of a large kingdom. This town was walled in because it was on the edge of a very dangerous forest known for its excellent selection of hard wood. The first quest they got was to check on an old woman and her older son within the town walls. The two ran an alchemical business in town that had been shut down for a few days. My players scoffed and rolled their eyes at me and demanded a more important task.

I complied and told them that they had heard rumors of a goblin uprising to the south and there were calls for adventurers to come and assist the king’s guard in defending the southern reaches. They left the town in search of gold and glory. Some time down the line they went back to share their glory with the townsfolk they knew so well only to find that the town was completely uninhabited. They later found out that the people they were supposed to check on had an accident in the basement that had opened up an ancient spider warren that contained a huge number of unhatched giant spider egg sacks in stasis. The adventurers all perished trying to kill the spiders.

Later down the line (two sets of characters later actually) the group stumbled upon an abandoned city in the thick of an overgrown forest. This city had been overrun by giant spider creatures from a time in the past. It took them some time to recognize it but when they found the bodies of their old characters in the spider’s warrens they all found a somber lesson of humble pie served up. All of them vowed to me that they would never overlook a ‘tutorial quest’ ever again.

DM Review: Terra Mystica

•March 7, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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So the DM has recently purchased a copy of Terra Mystica. It has held the #2 slot on Board Game Geek for a while now (images borrowed from the same!) and I was curious to say the least. From what I’d seen elsewhere it looked to me like an advanced Settlers of Catan. I like Catan. Terra Mystica did not disappoint in any way shape or form. I will say this though, the rules and initial setup look daunting but everything falls in to place as you go. Setup is the longest part. You establish what race you want and each race has its own abilities to start with and once they build certain structures.

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Once you establish your race you set up your board, which has a similar feel to the mechanics if Eclipse. Each building you place gives you more resources of a certain type. You then set up your starting resources and positions on the cult track. The cult track grants you power (a mana-like resource that renews slowly) and each line of the track represents a different element. Builders, Gold, Power and Priests. Building more structures takes gold and builders (Dwellings, Trade Houses, Temples, a sanctuary and a stronghold). You chose your starting locations after your factions and begin from there. The last person to garden is the first player.

Upgrading your ‘infrastructure’ so-to-speak allows you to add ships to your trade lines (allowing you to build across water and count your water tiles as one long string) and reduces the amount of builders required for terraforming. Each race also has a special ability that can be triggered or used under certain conditions. This upgrade sometimes requires priests (gained from religious structures).

Temples and your Sanctuary grant you favor tiles which update your position on the cult track and grant you certain abilities. The priests you get from those tiles can be spent to move your position on the cult track as well.

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You cycle across each player until everyone has passed (again, similar to Eclipse) and from there you move on to the next round. Simple enough. Terraforming, building, all of these things mesh well in to the game and in the end, this game is definitely worth purchasing. The first play through was a tad rocky at the start because we had to keep referring to the rules but once you establish yourself it is a very excellent game that pulls all of the good from Catan, Eclipse and Lords of Waterdeep but keeps its core effort different from all of the other machines.

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In the end: Buy this game, it needs to be in your library.

 
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