Best DM I’ve had

The last question in the challenge is at least a reasonably good one.  It’s pretty easy to answer too — the best DM I’ve had is my brother Tom.

Sure I’m biased but having been a gaming club in college and played some convention games and so on I’d guess I’ve played with at least 20 or 30 different people as DMs (or GMs in non-D&D systems).  Good DMs are few and far between and I could only think of two or three other DMs I’ve thought did a really good job, maybe a handful of competent ones, and the rest were kind of crappy.  Tom stands out for running memorable games — the only campaigns I ever really mourned when they ran out of steam.

He’s always been pretty good at improvising and making up interesting NPCs on the spot.  This has served him well as he avoids railroading and preconceived plots most of the time.  As far as I can remember he’s never run an “out of the box” campaign and rarely used modules.  Having looked at a lot of the published modules now I think he was right.

What really makes Tom the best DM in my eyes though is the simple fact that he has been able to recruit new players very easily.  Once they play in one of his games they seem to be hooked.  Perhaps the down side to this is that when we were younger, we moved around some and in every gaming group we joined, Tom displaced the old DM.  This may have caused some hard feelings, although it was never an intentional power play.  What would happen was Tom would offer to run a session and nobody wanted to go back to the old DM.  Somehow he’d keep the balance between being adversarial and not challenging enough just right.  We always felt that surviving an adventure was an accomplishment and while we sometimes teased him about being a “killer DM” or bending the rules (one player in particular dubbed him the “freewheeling DM”), he was actually scrupulously fair.  He showed no favoritism, ever — not to me, not to his girlfriend, not to anyone.  He also never “had it in” for any player, and if anything was too charitable to kick unpopular players out.

His only weakness as a DM, in my opinion, is that he rarely keeps a campaign going for very long.  In fact he won’t call his games “campaigns.”  He prefers running low to mid-level adventures and enjoys episodic rather than continuous story lines, so I don’t think he ever really set out to run a long-term game.  I could probably count the long-term campaigns he’s run on one hand, really, and I don’t think any were in D&D.  Still,  since I have been DMing for a few years in a current group run an ongoing campaign, I hold out hope that at some point he’ll want to DM again and might even try a long-term game for a change.

Published in: on September 30, 2013 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)  
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Day 27, 28, & 29: clown questions

Character you want to play in the future: Whatevs.   I don’t really have a strong preference for any type of character any more.  There are a few campaigns that really ended too soon and I wish I could have gotten a little farther with my character, but there’s no going back.

Character you will never ever play again: All of them, I guess.  I have never “brought a character out of retirement” or anything.  We always played campaigns (even if they were very very short), and have never resurrected a campaign once it fizzled out due to DM fatigue, too many cancellations, or loss of players.

What number you always roll on a d20:  That is mother of all clown questions.  WTF?

Anyway I’ve almost made it through this pain in the ass challenge…one more tomorrow.



Published in: on September 27, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Favorite nonmagical item

You mean besides my 10′ pole?

I guess I’d point to the auger, again.  Already said all there is to say about.

As an aside, I’ve heard of complaints about equipping characters and while I hate tracking encumbrance as much as anyone, I do think it adds something to the game to have to list what your character actually has rather than having some abstracted rule for whipping things out as needed, as I’ve heard some ‘story’ games do.  (I can’t remember what game it was, but someone told me about a system where you have a certain number of ‘oh, I happen to have a crowbar in my purse’ type stunts you can pull per session.)  So anyway put me in the camp with people who like equipment lists.

Published in: on September 26, 2013 at 2:00 pm  Comments (4)  

Favorite magic item

As a DM I don’t really have a favorite magic item.  For some reason when I’m not using random tables I tend to choose magic weapons other than swords so maybe those are my favorite.  I especially like weapons that are dedicated to killing a particular type of foe, because it kind of makes sense to me that someone with the ability to create magic items would make them with a purpose in mind.

As a player, I’m always happy to get whatever I can so I can’t really say I have a favorite there either.  A ring of invisibility was the most prized possession of my half-orc fighter-assassin for obvious reasons, but I am a bit of a heretic about magic items in that I always prefer something that lets your character do something he couldn’t otherwise do rather than something that just enhances his existing abilities.  This might be part of what I dislike about WotC editions of D&D — you really need to have items directly related to your skills and powers to “keep up” with the CR curve.  I’d rather get a useful miscellaneous magic item than a +1 sword for my fighter… come to think of it I guess my favorite type of magic item is the miscellaneous type.

Published in: on September 25, 2013 at 6:31 am  Comments (2)  

Favorite energy type

This is a silly question unless you play 3e or 4e.  In the versions of D&D I enjoy, there is no firm taxonomy of ‘energy types’ (like “radiant” and, um that’s only one I remember…).  We throw around loose terms like “fire,” “cold,” “electricity” etc. and somehow manage without defining them, although I can actually see why some game designers thought there was a problem.  Look at the description for a ring of fire resistance in the 1e DMG and it talks about three different intensities of fire (normal fires, very hot fires, and exceptionally hot blasts) so maybe there was a DM somewhere who needed more guidance about that sort of thing?

There was such a thing as negative and positive energy in 1e, which came from the negative and positive material planes.  These planes were never described in any detail as far as I know but the more powerful types of undead, particularly those that drain levels, have a connection to the negative plane and use negative energy for the drain.  I have always thought level draining made undead truly scary in a game already filled with weird monsters and while I sympathize with people who say energy draining is a bitch, I think it still has a place in the game.  (I would just make it a little easier to recover from rather than eliminate it.)

So I guess my favorite energy type is negative energy.

Published in: on September 24, 2013 at 9:49 am  Comments (4)  

Least favorite monster

Fallen a little behind on the challenge, but here’s the 23rd: my least favorite monster.

There are plenty of monsters I never use, and don’t care for; there some monsters I use and regret introducing.

Starting with the second type — monsters I regret using — the answer there is vampires.

You’d think they’d be great monsters — they are a classic, a staple of horror movies, Halloween, and folklore.  There are lots of weird variants so if you don’t like the (now) vanilla Bram Stoker version you can do the Philippine flying head with a tail of guts or any of a number of different things.

My problem with vampires is that they take way more planning than most monsters, and their vulnerabilities and dependence on a coffin make them fairly easy pickings for a party of adventurers that is tough enough to face them in combat.  So, due to either my incompetence as a DM or my player’s excellence (or both), the vampires that have appeared in my campaigns have always been duds, and never prove to be as challenging as they should be.

Vampires as I intend them to be…

…vampires as I actually run them.

Regarding monsters I just don’t like and never use, I spend a lot of time thinking about them, but having just had a question about dragons I am reminded of the “good” metallic dragons which I kind of hate.

In principle, a good dragon could be a problem or foe for a party since they will have their own agendas and possibly stand in the way of the party’s goals.  But in my experience, mainly as a reader of adventures more than as a player or DM, good dragons are usually handled as powerful NPCs that railroad a party or just show off how awesome they are.  There is no reason to have a good dragon in an adventure unless it is there to be defeated.  Yet when I see them in old magazine articles, published adventures, etc. they are usually just “Mary Sue” NPCs that are there to hog the limelight and waste my time.  So screw good dragons.

Published in: on September 23, 2013 at 8:08 pm  Comments (2)  
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Favorite monster full stop

Having mentioned a lot of monsters I like, my favorite is probably the troll.

I do like the Poul Anderson rubbery regenerating trolls with long noses of D&D.  The empty, black eyes are a nice touch.


true trolls2What’s not to like about them?  Mechanically, they are  very tough foes through the low and mid-levels, and until you have a flaming weapon, they are a logistical nightmare as you have to use fire or acid to make sure they stay down.

But my first exposure to trolls was in the D’Aulaires’ books, expecially the one all about them called “Trolls”.  It has a few stories, but is more of general survey of the types of trolls they found in Norwegian folklore.

Another great children’s book on trolls was written by the son of the Berenstains (best known for their Berenstains’ Bears books).  I need to find a copy.  Here’s the cover, which looks like a ready-to-swipe dungeon:

I also stumbled across a short picture book with three relatively famous troll stories and art that is pretty awesome:

I’ll have to find or scan some of the inside picutures.  They are quite surreal.

Now that I’ve gotten totally sidetracked on troll books, another good one which collects folk tales and some of the illustrations from the late 19th/ early 20th century revival in interest in troll stories is this:

Published in: on September 23, 2013 at 6:18 am  Comments (2)  
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Favorite dragon


The first and best dragon figure I ever got!

The 30-day challenge asks what’s your favorite color or type of dragon today.  I am still using chromatic dragons in my current campaign, as I’ve already had a white dragon this time around and last campaign had some red dragons.  If I had to pick a color I guess go with black — the acid breath is just horrible.  Damage and it destroys your stuff.  It’s like a dragon/rust monster combo.  Actually come to think of it that would make a great dragon type: rust dragons.   (Some sort of metallic dragon, gone bad, with only gems and non-metal items for treasure, and a breath that reduces metals to rust.  I’m sure the dwarves would pay a king’s ransom to have the local rust dragon slain.  But maybe the wood elves keep him around to stop logging.  Dilemma!)

Generally I prefer for dragons not have ‘types’ or ‘colors’ that define them though.  Dragons should be more unique than that.  Really every dragon should be different, more like folklore and fairy tales.  A great set of tables for randomly generating dragons is here.  I’m not sure I’d roll randomly but there are some great ideas in the tables.

My favorite dragons from folklore are the Lambton worm

File:Page facing 202 illustration in More English Fairy Tales.png

The Laidly worm

File:Page 195 illustration in English Fairy Tales.png

and the Tarrasque


Some time I should photograph my dragon miniatures.  I do have a group shot though.


Published in: on September 21, 2013 at 9:18 am  Comments (1)  
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Favorite humanoid

Are you kidding me? Orcs.

orcarmyThose are just the minis I was willing to “sacrifice” for wargaming (gluing them to unit bases rather than individual bases for RPGs).

I have never tried to count just my orcs, but I’m going to guess it is in the hundreds.  I have, easily, more than 100 plastic orcs, and at least as many metal ones; if I added goblins and other goblinoids I would embarrass myself.    I actually got into wargaming when I realized I had more orcs than I would probably ever need for RPGs.  The upside is that the different makes and styles of orcs can be used as different tribes of orcs or kinds of goblinoids.  For example I usually use Citadel/Warhammer orcs as hobgoblins, GW uruk-hai as half-orcs, old Grenadier orcs as true orcs, Nick Lund Grenadier orcs as greater orcs, and Ral Partha orcs as greater goblins…

Anyway I got into orcs because my earliest influences in fantasy were the animated movies  the Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, the Return of the king, and the Yellow Submarine.

The Rankin-Bass movies (the Hobbit and Return of the King) had super-creepy-but-also-comical orcs/goblins, and the very memorable song “Where there’s a whip, there’s a way.”  You (or at least I) couldn’t help feeling a little sympathy for the downtrodden buggers.

The Bakshi Lord of the Rings was much scarier and the orcs were pretty freaky.  I was only six when my parents took us to see it at the movies, and had not really seen a lot of movies in the theaters; certainly nothing so psychedelic and dark.  The narration was hard for me to follow, and somehow I thought the Nazgul, when defeated at the river, came back as the orcs.  I think some offhand comment about the Nazgul returning stronger or in greater numbers must have made me think they literally came back in greater numbers every time they died.  I might have confounded this with something from the Prydain chroncicles/Black Cualdron which I had certainly not read at that time (and the Disney movie was 8 years away) but perhaps I’d heard about.

Probably the oddest influence though would be the Yellow Submarine, which was on TV a fair amount when I was young.  The Blue Meanies seemed very orc-like to me (and the very first orc I ever painted, I painted blue!)

Actually reading the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings later on — after I’d gotten into D&D — I enjoyed the orc characters, even though I knew I was not “supposed” to.  For a while I hated the pig-faced orcs of AD&D, as they seemed so cartoonish, although they’ve grown on me.

As a DM I haven’t used many orcs at all, though.  As much as I like the concepts of orcs as either ignoble savages or ruthless soldiers with a weird sense of honor, they never quite fit into my setting.  So Telengard has been populated with morlocks, kobolds, “moon goons” (hobgoblins in gas masks and trenchcoats who ride in hot air balloons, mostly a rip-off of Trey’s idea), and assorted other monsters.  Overall I haven’t used too many humanoids at all — if I need minions in an encounter they are just as likely to be undead or evil humans.

Published in: on September 20, 2013 at 9:03 am  Comments (9)  

Favorite elemental/plant

I’m not sure when elementals are grouped with plants for today’s question, especially since they are outsiders (see yesterday) but I guess the combination makes sense if you look at it as nature-based monsters? (But why separate these from animals…?)

Anyway I am not really a big fan of elementals.  They are sort of boring.  Plant-monsters are awesome though.




and treemen/treants/ents!

DSC03647-2Lately though I’ve come to appreciate shriekers more.

As monsters that just bring more monsters, they are a great obstacle.  The fact that some might be violet fungus in disguise is just icing.

I never looked that closely at this picture before, but I used to think the guy was praying or something, and the fungus was creeping up on him.  This is the first time in all these years of looking at the Monster Manual that I noticed he’s holding his arm…and it seems to be falling off.  How did I never notice the fingers before?

Published in: on September 19, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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