Monthly Archives: October 2009

Goolies and Ghosties and Things That Go Bump in the Night

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In keeping with the Halloween spirit, here’s a list of horror RPGs to check out:

  • All Flesh Must Be Eaten. An award-winning zombie survival game. Try to keep your brains intact 😉 .
  • Call of Cthulhu. The granddaddy of horror RPGs. Based on H.P. Lovecraft’s world. Remember, once your sanity score reaches 0, you no longer have to roll…
  • Chill. Designed to have the same feel as horror movies, it’s a very flexible system that can handle many different types of horror.
  • Deadlands. A horror game set in the Old West. Uses playing cards in poker-style play is used for magical and steampunk effects.
  • GURPS: Horror. Another flexible game which can be used to simulate all kinds of horror stories. Even if you don’t use GURPS, this is a great book for inspiration or as a resource.
  • Kult. Angels and demons set in a world that’s slowly unraveling to reveal a much darker Reality.
  • Ravenloft. An AD&D Gothic horror setting. Can you fight the Dark Powers or will you slowly succumb to your darker nature?
  • Whispering Vault, The. Become a Stalker and hunt down threats to humanity.
  • Wraith: the Oblivion. The classic version. Really, most of the World of Darkness games are a type of horror game. I chose Wraith because of it’s unique Shadow system. You play your character, but you also play another PC’s shadow side, attempting to corrupt that PC to his doom.

What’s your favorite horror RPG? Have you played any of the games mentioned? What did you like and/or not like about them?

21 Sure-Fire Ways to Lose Players

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Problem players are a perennial subject on GMing blogs. But problems can go both ways. Here are some GM behaviors guaranteed to cause friction in your group. Please feel free to add more.

  1. Force your PCs into a predetermined plot line and refuse to let them deviate from it.
  2. View the players as opponents to be beaten.
  3. Don’t listen to player suggestions. Get angry is someone even tries to talk to you about improving the game.
  4. Spend a lot of time looking up rules during combat, especially to find that +1 modifier you know it there to give the NPCs an edge against the PCs.
  5. Argue with your players. Tell them they’re not allowed to do certain actions.
  6. Permit your players to argue with each other. Allow these arguments to consume large amounts of each game session.
  7. Be obviously unprepared. Spend copious amounts of time shuffling papers trying to find the next page of the adventure.
  8. Don’t keep an eye on the magic items your group has. Allow them to surprise you with a game-breakingly over-powered item you forgot you let them create.
  9. Destroy, loose, or pick-pocket every helpful or impressive magic item the party ever gains.
  10. Be very easy going and permissive one game session and hard-nosed rules-stickler the next.
  11. Arbitrarily change the rules from one game session to the next.
  12. Allow yourself to be bullied into decisions you don’t like by the players.
  13. Regularly show up late to game session without an explanation. After all, you’re the GM; they have to wait for you.
  14. Frequently cancel game sessions at the last minute.
  15. Show obvious favoritism to certain players in your group — SO’s, best friends, etc…
  16. Make all adventures as lethal as possible.
  17. Don’t take the party’s abilities into account when designing encounters.
  18. Regularly fudge die results in the NPCs favor. Make it obvious to the players.
  19. Use an NPC to solve every major challenge. Don’t let the PCs do anything important.
  20. Forget how many opponents the PCs are fighting. Increase that number midway through combat. Berate any player who tries to correct you.
  21. Don’t allow your players to make changes to the game world. Make sure their actions have no permanent affect on the setting.

Do you have any more GMing pet peeves? Please tell us in the comments below.

Post Round-Up: EM’s 10 Most Popular Posts

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I haven’t done a round-up in a while, so here’s a list of Evil Machinations’ ten most popular posts:

  1. “Where Are We Again?”: Creating Unique Fantasy Cities and Towns. A list of web resources to help you build a city of your own.
  2. What GMs Really Want. A survey about what type of articles you want to see more of. This is it’s last week; Sunday, October 25th, I close it.
  3. What’s Good About 4th Edition? Readers speak up about what they like about the current edition of Dungeons & Dragons.
  4. Handling Problem Players. A list of web resources to help you deal with those players who seem to enjoy ruining everyone else’s fun.
  5. An A-to-Z List of Lesser-Known Roleplaying Games: Part 1. An alphabetical list of less well-played games with a brief description for each one. Covers letters A-F.
  6. Character Questionnaire. Not actually a blog post itself, but one of my static pages listing questions to help round out a character.
  7. How Do You Describe Combat? My plea for help in narrating combat beyond “You hit, he takes 12pts of damage.” These guys came up with some great ideas.
  8. An A-to-Z List of Lesser-Known Roleplaying Games: Part 4. An alphabetical list of less well-played games with a brief description for each one. Covers letters Q-U.
  9. An A-to-Z List of Lesser-Known Roleplaying Games: Part 2. An alphabetical list of less well-played games with a brief description for each one. Covers letters G-K.
  10. What’s Good About 4th ed. Contest Results. The winner of the contest I described in the What’s Good About 4th Edition? post.

Unintentional Sexism in RPGs (Even Women Do It!)

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We’ve all seen a lot written about women in roleplaying games. We’ve read about the kinds of games women prefer (roleplaying vs. combat-heavy). We’ve read about how the “boys-club mentality” tends to discourage women from the gaming table. About how the depiction of women in rpg game books can turn female players off…

This isn’t one of those posts. In my experience, most players and GMs want to do everything they can to avoid being sexist, men and women alike. Most are horrified if you find something sexist about their games and will be more than happy to fix the problem. But sexism is very deeply buried in our society and we — both men and women — unconsciously insert that into our games without realizing it.

For those gamers trying to eliminate those elements from their games, I’ve identified eight issues that I’ve noticed tend to creep into my own games, if I’m not careful. With each, I’ve got some suggestions on how to counter-act those issues. If you’ve some tips along the sames lines, please share them! I’m always on the lookout for more ideas.

8 Common Gender Stereotype and How to Fix Them

  1. Watch how you describe NPCs. What words do you use? Do you tend to describe more women as “pretty”, “delicate”, “shy”, “timid”? Are your male characters usually “brave”, “strong”, “fierce”? There’s nothing wrong with brave men or shy women — the problem comes when most (if not all) of your NPCs are described with gender stereotypes.
    • Solution: Make two lists — one of “masculine” adjectives and one of “feminine” adjectives. Pick a certain number of NPCs — say, every fourth NPC you describe — and try to find an adjective on the “opposite” list that will fit the character and use that. You may have to change the adjective slightly — like describing a male NPC as “handsome” or “good-looking”, instead of pretty. But you can have a shy male character, for example, or a “sturdy” female one.
  2. Watch what animals you compare your characters to. If you compare your NPCs to animals, which ones do you tend to choose for women and which ones for men? Are your female characters like does or cats while your male characters like lions or bears?
    • Solution: Similar to above. Make a list of animals you normally associate with “masculine” behavior and one for “feminine” behavior. Draw from the “opposite” list from time to time. A woman can be “fierce as a lion(ess)” and a man can be “retiring as a deer (stag)”.
  3. Watch your character’s professions. What professions do your female NPCs have? Are they all traditional female roles, like caretaker, cook, or cleaning woman?
    • Solution: Mix it up. Occasionally have a female blacksmith or a male pre-school teacher.
  4. Notice any character patterns. A few years ago, I noticed that I tended to make my male characters magic-using types, while my female characters tended to be fighting-types. It wasn’t intentional — just for some reason I have that male = sorcerer, female = warrior association in my head. Do you have a similar type of pattern?
    • Solution: Break your usual pattern from time to time. I still have to consciously make a male warrior character or a female wizard.
  5. Watch your characters’ clothing. I’m not talking about the rampant problem of women in bear-fur bikinis while their male counterparts dress in full plate. This is a matter of having all of your characters wearing appropriate clothing for the tasks at hand.
    • Solution: As you describe characters, make sure their clothing is functional for the kind of work they do. This also goes for things they might be carrying or tools the might be using.
  6. What are your characters doing? When the PCs come across any one of your NPCs, are they always working at gender-specific tasks? Are the women washing, mending, serving drinks, walking the streets? Are the men smithing, fighting, playing chess?
    • Solution: When an NPC isn’t important to the plot, try alternating female and male characters. Have a female fixing a sword or a male playing with children.
  7. How comfortable are you with players who play characters of the opposite sex? As a GM, you have to play both male and female NPCs. Are your players any less capable of do that then you are.
    • Solution: The obvious solution is to allow players to play the “opposite” sex. However, if doing that makes you so uncomfortable you feel you couldn’t GM it, let your players know. A large gaming group (about 12-14 people at any one time) I once belonged to, half the players were women. One of our occasional GMs was honest with us that it really bothered him when women played male characters and vica versa. Because he took responsibility for his own feelings (saying it was his personal “hang-up”), I always played a female character in his game. So did the other women in the group. If you’re honest and up-front about your feelings, most people will respond positively.
  8. Watch for reverse sexism. A game setting where men are never warriors and women are never caretakers is just as sexist as the reverse.
    • Solution: Use the tips above to help you create a more gender-balanced game.

If you’re deliberately creating a male- or female-dominated setting, these tips don’t apply. But if you’re trying to create a more balanced game, these ideas should help. These tips are designed to help those who are trying to avoid unintentionally creating gender bias in their game. I keep this list with my game prep stuff so I can do a quick double-check before each game session.

Are there any steps you take to help gender-balance your games? Please share them!


Tweet The six “W’s”. You know — the questions your teacher talked about over and over. The ones that every book on how to write covers: who, what, when, where, why, how. These questions are good for more than creative … Continue reading

Dancing with the Dark

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Morality. A big topic, with even bigger answers. What is good? What is evil? Are evil actions ever justified? Can we ever truely overcome evil? If we can, should we? Do moral issues have a place in RPGs?

rpg blog carnival logoUndoubtedly, yes. One of the wonderful things about our hobby is that it allows us to explore the question of evil safely. It provides us a sandbox to try out actions, attitudes, and desires that are unacceptable in the real world.

What do I mean by “safely”? I mean that we can act out these “dark desires” in a pretend world on pretend people. No one really gets hurt; no one real dies. But the concept of “safely” goes even beyond that — it helps protect us from our own darker natures. By channeling those shadow feelings into a fictional character, we can separate ourselves from our own dark impulses. We don’t need to carry the burden of guilt those feelings often bring. They become “not us”, to a certain extent.

Wouldn’t it be better to eliminate those dark desires? To purge ourselves of them? Unfortunately both psychology and history tell us that’s really not possible. The best we can do is to repress them and try our best to forget they even exist. But what we hide still remains and colors our actions in ways we don’t anticipate … or even, often, see. But those impulses and desires — our shadow — need a safe outlet. And RPGs, as purely mental exercises, can give us that outlet. We can safely project our shadow onto our fictional characters, giving us an alternative to projecting it onto the people around us.

This has an added benefit: the more we explore the dark part of our souls, the better we can relate to other people. Through roleplaying, we learn that we, ourselves can be greedy. We can be lustful, gluttonous, murderous. When we recognize these things in ourselves, I believe we become more tolerant of them in other people. Which is not to say we condone those actions, or think they’re appropriate. But what we can do is recongize someone else’s struggle with their shadow side. We may even find it easier to treat them with compassion.

Through roleplaying, we can gain a better understanding of the full range of human emotions and desires. By becoming some one else for a time, we find we’re not as different from others as we may have imagined.

Other Carnival Posts

What GMs Really Want (Poll)

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As a GM, what information are you looking for? What kinds of topics would help you run your game better? Where do you find yourself struggling? What ideas do you want to see more of? Take the poll below and tell me!

Beyond ‘Fred’: Roman Names for Characters

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Finding a good name is sometimes the hardest part of designing an NPC. You want something more exotic than “Fred the Fighter”, but “Frewxyque the Grand Thunder Duke” becomes too hard to say with a straight face after the first first time.  Baby name books can help, but some of the best names come from real-world sources. Beyond ‘Fred’ is a series that lists names from various sources broken down by region and/or time period.

<div xmlns:cc="" about=""><a rel="cc:attributionURL" href=This time we have Roman names. Since my interest here is in providing name ideas for RPGs, I’m not breaking these names down by Roman time-period. I’m including a list of resources at the end of this article for those wishing more in-depth information about Roman names.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr, © Conscious Vision 2007)

Roman Name Structure

Roman names had several parts, frequently becoming long and complex:

  • Praenomen: A personal name. This was primarily used by family members and very close friends only. Romans had very few praenomen; typically the first child would be given the father’s praenomen (adjusted to a feminine form, if the child was a girl).  The second child would receive the praenomen of someone else in the family — and uncle, perhaps.
  • Nomen: Indicates which gens the person belongs to. The gens is a group of loosely organized families all sharing the same nomen. A woman would use the feminine form of the nomen, formed by substituting ‘-a’ for the ‘-us’ ending.
  • Cognomen: A family name used by a group of blood relatives. It was a name unique to the individual and usually referred to something specific about him — usually a physical characteristic. Like a nickname, it wasn’t given to a child as part of the name given by his parents; it could be inherited from a male relative or chosen by concensus in the general community. Cognomen were almost never complementary — usually they were neutral, or even insulting names.

Common Praenomenia

Here are some of the most commonly used prenomen:

  • Gaius/Gaia
  • Lucius/Lucia
  • Marcus/Marcia
  • Quintus/Quinta
  • Titus/Tita
  • Tiberius/Tiberia
  • Descimus/Descima
  • Aulus/Aula
  • Servius/Servia
  • Appius/Appia

Common Nomenia

Here are some of the most common nomen:

  • Acilius/Acilia
  • Aebutius/Aebutia
  • Albius/Albia
  • Antonius/Antonia
  • Cassius/Cassia
  • Claudius/Claudia
  • Calidius/Calidia
  • Didius/Didia
  • Fabius/Fabia
  • Flavius/Flavia
  • Galerius/Galeria
  • Genucius/Genucia
  • Laelius/Laelia
  • Marius/Maria
  • Mocius/Mocia
  • Naevius/Naevia
  • Ovidius/Ovidia
  • Porcius/Porcia
  • Rutilius/Rutilia
  • Sentius/Sentia
  • Sergius/Sergia
  • Tarquitius/Tarquitia
  • Tuccius/Tuccia
  • Tullius/Tullia
  • Vedius/Vedia
  • Vibius/Vibia
  • Vitruvius/Vitruvia

Common Cognomina

Here’s a list of common cognomen and their meanings. Many female cognomia are the same as the male versions:

  • Aculeo/Aculeo – prickly, unfriendly
  • Albus/Alba – fair-skinned, white
  • Ambustus/Ambusta – scalding, burning
  • Atellus/Atella – dark (haired or skinned)
  • Bassus/Bassa – plump
  • Bibulus/Bibula – drunkard
  • Brocchus/Broccha – Toothy
  • Bucco/Bucco – fool
  • Caecus/Caeca – Blind
  • Calidus/Calida – hot-headed, rash
  • Calvus/Calva – bald
  • Caninus/Canina – dog-like
  • Celsus/Celsa – tall
  • Cicurinus/Cicurina – mild, gentle
  • Corvinus/Corvina – crow-like
  • Dives/Dives – wealthy
  • Dorsuo/Dorsuo – large black
  • Fimbria/Fimbria – fringes, edges of clothing
  • Flavus/Flava – blond-haired
  • Florus/Flora – floral, blooming
  • Galeo/Galeo – helmet
  • Gurges/Gurges – greedy, prodigal
  • Laterensis/Laterensis – from the hill-side
  • Lepidus/Lepida – charming, amusing
  • Licinus/Licina – spiky or bristly haired
  • Lurco/Lurco – glutonous, greedy
  • Macer/Macra – thin
  • Merula/Merula – blackbird
  • Mus/Mus – mouse
  • Natta/Natta – artisan
  • Paetus/Paeta – blinking, squinty
  • Plancus Planca – flat-footed
  • Priscus/Prisca – ancient
  • Pullus/Pulla – child
  • Quadratus/Quadrata – squat, stocky build
  • Regulus/Regula – prince
  • Rufus/Rufa – red-haired, ruddy
  • Rullus/Rulla – rustic, uncultivated, boorish
  • Scaeva/Scaeva – left-handed
  • Silanus/Silana – nose, water-spout
  • Varro/Varro – block-headed
  • Varus/Vara – bow-legged
  • Vatia/Vatia – knock-kneed
  • Vetus/Vetus – old

Other Articles in this Series


From the Basement: In Nomine

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Angels and demons. The core of In Nomine. If you’ve ever dreamt of playing one of the Heavenly Host or a Satan spawn from the depths of Hell, this is your game. Even if you haven’t, it’s still worth checking out. In Nomine ranks in the top five of my all-time favorite games.

In Nomine coverExcuse My French

In Nomine is based on a French game called In Nomine Satanis/Magna Veritas. But the American version, published by Steve Jackson, is no mere translation of the French game. The folks at SJGames made changes, making the game (according to them) more appealing to an American audience. I’d love to do a From the Basement coverage of the original French game; unfortunately, I haven’t yet been able to get my hands on a copy. If anyone has one they’d like to sell…

God Does Not Does Play Dice With This Universe

One interesting thing about this game is its dice system. Like GURPS it uses d6’s, but that’s where the resemblance ends. In Nomine uses three six-sided dice, one of which should be a different color from the other two. The basic mechanics are straight-forward: roll two sixes and total them. Add in situational modifiers. If the resulting number is lower than the total of the character’s appropriate stat + skill score, you succeed. If it’s higher, you fail.

Then comes an interesting bit — you’re actually rolling all three d6’s. The third die isn’t added into your total — called the check digit, it indicates the degree of success or failure. A low result means a borderline success or failure, a high result means a particularly spectacular success or dismal failure. The GM interprets the check die to describe the results of your character’s actions.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. If you roll a natural result of 111 (a one on all three dice) or 666, things get really interesting. Called an intervention (DI — divine intervention — for short), a roll of 111 means God’s favor smiles upon you. Great if you’re playing an angel; not so good if you’re playing a demon. A roll of 666 means you’ve gained the personal attention of Down There.

Baby, You’ve Got Character

Character creation is simple and very quick. Groups I’ve played with have been able to finish character creation in under an hour, even if they’re new to the game. The steps are as follows:

  1. Find out from the GM if you’re playing angels or demons. You may be running a mixed party of both, but that works much better for one-shots than for on-going games.
  2. Choose a Choir (for angels) or Band (for demons). Each Choir/Band has different powers, called resonances. These range from always knowing if someone’s telling the truth (Seraphim, an angelic Choir) to being able to destroy things with your mind (Calabim, a demonic Band).
  3. Choose a superior — which archangel or demon prince do you serve? Your superior gives you further powers.
  4. Purchase levels of the three Forces, corresponding to body (Corporeal), mind (Ethereal), and spirit (Celestial). Depending on the type of character you’re playing, you have between five to nine Forces, which you can spread out as you please among the three types.
  5. The level of your Forces determine your characteristics (stats/attributs) scores. You’ve got six characteristics, two for each type of force: Strength and Agility (Corporeal), Intelligence and Precision (Ethereal), Will and Perception (Celestial).
  6. Purchase further powers and/or resources from a pool of points. Resources include skills, Songs (like spells), possessions, servants, extra bodies, etc…

Skills are broad and many of a character’s powers are determined by his Choir/Band and Superior. This leaves few choices for the player to make, which has its good points and bad points. On one hand, you can create characters very quickly; on the other hand … well, you have limited choices.

In the Mood

The In Nomine games I’ve played and ran tended to be rather tongue-in-cheek; the game lends itself to a light-hearted mood. But there’s no reason you couldn’t run a serious campaign. Like many games from the 90’s, the setting tends to be dark, even when it’s funny. For one thing, the angels of this game aren’t your fuffy, “sit on white clouds strumming harps” angels. Think Prophecy, rather than Touched by an Angel.

The quick character creation means that this game works as well as a series of one-shots as it does an on-going campaign. Given a fairly straight-forward objective, you can easily run an entire adventure in one evening, including character creation.

That’s All, Folks!

Steve Jackson Games — to the best of my knowledge — isn’t putting any more In Nomine material in print, but there’s been some support in the form of PDF material. You can find these at e23, including an introductory adventure called The Sorcerer’s Impediments. This PDF contains 4 pre-generated characters and all the mechanics you need to run the adventure, allowing you to try the game out for free.

If you’ve played In Nomine, please share your experiences, good and bad.

Just remember:

Angels always do more damage.

Other posts From the Basement: