Category Archives: Musings

A History of Dice at Awesome Dice Blog

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The guys over at Awesome Dice Blog have done a brief history of dice, from the ancient world to modern day, including the cool graphic timeline you see below. You can see a more legible version of the timeline and get more information about dice history at the actual post.

Adventure Creation Handbook now on Kindle

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Just a quick note today letting everyone know that The Adventure Creation Handbook is now available for the Kindle.

Obviously, I wasn’t able to include the worksheets and the whole book is stripped down to the text information. I did list the worksheet and checklist questions at the end of the Kindle version and anyone who purchases a Kindle copy will be able to download a free PDF copy of the “Adventure Creation Worksheet” from the website.

Just in case the above link doesn’t work, here’s the actual page address:


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So How Do You Win? Explaining Roleplaying to Non-Gamers

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Explaining roleplaying to a non-gamer is one of the hardest things we’re asked to do. We want to share this hobby we love so much, but we often find ourselves in a catch-22 situation: it’s extremely difficult to explain roleplaying to someone who’s never done it, but once someone’s done it, they no longer need the explanation.

Below are several posts that could help when you’re called on to do the impossible:

[Image courtesy of pasukaru76 via Flickr Creative Commons]

Now on Kindle

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Just a quick note this week to tell everyone that Evil Machinations is now available on your Kindle.  Just search the Kindle store for “Evil Machinations” and it should pop right up. And, as usual for Kindle blogs, you get a free 14-day trial subscriptions, after which you pay $0.99 per month.

I’m also looking into the possibility of making it available for the Nook, as well. Can’t say when that will happen, though…


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Top 11 for 2011

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I can’t believe the end of the year is on us already. It’s been a good year for me and I hope for you, too.

Here’s the eleven most popular posts this year:

  1. Character Questionnaire: Just what the name says–it’s a character questionnaire to help GMs and players alike flesh out important characters. This has been the number one favorite page since Evil Machinations began in 2009.
  2. Where are we again?” Creating Unique Fantasy Cities and Towns: List of on-line resources that can help you create cities and towns for your game world.
  3. February Blog Carnival: Worldbuilding: Check out the comments of this post for great links to blog articles about worldbuilding. This was the introductory post for when I hosted the RPG Bloggers blog carnival in February of this year.
  4. Building Better NPCs III: Character Webs: What are character webs and how can you use them to help bring your NPCs to life. Also a perennial favorite post.
  5. X Marks the Spot: 11 Map Making Tutorials: Another list of on-line resources, this one on making great maps for your game.
  6. And *Then* What Happened?: Using Adventure Seeds/Hooks/Starts/Ideas: Ever come across an adventure seed you really wanted to use, but you couldn’t figure out how to turn it into a full adventure? This post is the first in a series that can help.
  7. Creating the Adventure Outline: Using Adventure Seeds/Hooks/Starts/Ideas, pt. 9: Another post in the above series, this one on how to develop you idea into game outline or flowchart to make running that adventure a little easier.
  8. Handling Problem Players: A list of web resources with great ideas on how to handle problem players.
  9. Finding Events: Using Adventure Seeds/Hooks/Starts/Ideas,  pt. 8: How to come up with the encounters and challenges that make up an adventure.
  10. Campaign Worksheet: The campaign worksheet I use when creating a new campaign.
  11. Beyond ‘Fred’: Russian Names for Characters: A list of Russian names for PCs and NPCs.

There they are: the top eleven posts for 2011. Thanks to all my readers–you’re the reason I’m still here and looking forward to a great 2012.

Need Ideas? Check Out Sea of Stars

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In my continuing and irregular series of my favorite blogs, we come to Sea of Stars. This is great site for items and ideas to steal and use for your own games.

If your the kind of GM that gets inspiration by reading campaign logs of other people’s games, Sea of Stars has several for you to choose from. From Pathfinder to Legend of the Five Rings to Shadowrun, there’s a wide variety of genres and systems to look at.

Sea of Stars also has several good articles on game theory and gaming advice. For some solid advice on playing evil characters, check out Moral Dilemmas: Playing Evil (and I’m not just recommending it because he links it back to this blog 😉 ). Genre Resources is just what it says it is: a list of resources for various gaming genres.

But where this blog really shines is its collections of things–magic items, monsters, people–that you can use in your own games. I like to check the blog for it’s Tuesday Magic Items. The site’s owner, Sean Holland has described over 100 different magic items, from books, to rings, to wands, weapons…even a box of servants.

Sean’s also creating the Sea of Stars game setting and is a fellow member of the Gamer Lifestyle program. You can check out the progress of that here: Sea of Stars RPG

So if you’re needing some item to round out a monster’s hoard or a new monster to challenge your players (complete with 3.x/Pathfinder stats), this is a site to check out.

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My RPG Bucket List

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I know–it’s been over a month since a posted. Blame that on a computer that decided to completely up and die at the beginning of October, which took nearly three weeks to get fixed and rest of the time catching up from being off-line. But it did give me some time to think about games — the ones I’ve run and the one’s I still want to.

I think every GM has a “bucket list” — the games you want to play before you “kick the bucket”. I’ve had to chance to try many of the RPG systems out there, at least for a single game session, but there are still a wide number of games I’ve been wanting to try my hand at. In no particular order:

  1. Call of Cthulhu: I’ve played a couple of sessions of this at conventions, but haven’t yet had the opportunity run it.
  2. Werewolf: the Apocalypse (2nd ed.): I’ve run Vampire and Mage games and I’ve run garou in cross-over games, but I haven’t yet had a chance to run a pure Werewolf game.
  3. Skyrealms of Jorune: An amazing game, with an incredibly rich game world, but one that requires a major time investment for the players as they learn an entirely new world from scratch–something neither I nor my players have been able to give right now. Oh, well, maybe after everyone retires…
  4. Shadowrun: I have run this, briefly, but would really like to give it another go. I just haven’t had the time to make over the cumbersome mechanics. I don’t know if the newest edition is better, since I haven’t had a chance to pick it up. Hmm, I wonder how much time it would take to convert to Savage Worlds…..
  5. Qin: This is also on my Amazon Wish List. I have an interest in ancient China and would love to get my hands on this one, I just haven’t felt like I could justify the cover price right now.
  6. In Nomine: One of my absolutely favorite games. I’ve played it extensively at conventions and the occasional one-shot here and there, but have never had the opportunity to run an actual campaign of it.
  7. Aberrent and Trinity: I did run a Trinity game for awhile, but I wasn’t at my GMing best during that time and would love to give it another go around with a campaign that ties both together.
  8. Ars Magica: Another personal favorite. I really like the historical basis of this game, as well as the flexibility of its magic system. This is on the “to do soon” short-list.
  9. Over the Edge: As you can probably guess from the rest of this list, I’ve got a thing for dark, occult conspiracy.
  10. Mark Miller’s Traveller: While I would enjoy running it, this is one I’d rather play than GM. Liked the first, black box, version of the game and was impressed by this edition when I skimmed through it.

But I am getting to cross one game off my list. This coming Saturday I’m sitting down with my group to create characters for a Castle Falkenstein game. It’s been a few years since I’ve been able to actually run a game (I’ve been playing D&D 3.5) and I’m really excited. So unless you tell me stop, you’re likely to get regaled with game session reports.

How about you? What are the games you’ve always hoped to play or run? What’s been sitting on your shelf for months or years, enticing you, that you’ve never had a chance to actually play?

[Image courtesy of donjd2 via Flickr Creative Commons]

One for the Amber Crowd: Trump Poker

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Those familiar with the Amber universe know one thing–everyone carries a deck of cards with them wherever they go. Granted, these aren’t your run-of-the-mill 52-card standard playing card decks. But gambling is a universal activity and card games are so wide-spread, I can’t image that the ultra-competitive Amber court wouldn’t develop ways to gamble with those ever-present decks.

To that end, my heart-sister and college roommate Romilly Mueller got together and created a set of scoring rules that allowed us to play poker in character during our Amber Diceless games. Poker is such a common game, I won’t go over the basic rules here (especially since the best way to learn poker is from someone else who already knows it). This scoring can be used with any of the multitude of poker variants out there. My group tended to play seven card stud.

Scoring Hands

Here are the scoring hands of Trump Poker, from lowest score to highest:

  1. Highest Card: When none of the players has any valid combinations of cards, the player holding the highest value card wins the hand. Aces are high and beat all other cards except trumps (see Scoring Trumps, below).
  2. Highest Pair: Two cards of the same value. This is a very common hand, since all trumps are wild. If two or more players have a single pair, the highest value pair wins.  If all players have pairs containing trumps, the pair containing the highest pip card wins. If all players have the same pip card or the pairs are all comprised of two trumps, the highest trump card (or card combination) wins. Hands of two trump cards lose against a “natural” pair (a pair made without wild cards).
  3. Two Pairs: Player with the highest pair wins. If the highest pair is tied, then the highest of the second pair wins. If that pair is also tied, the player with highest single remaining card wins.
  4. Blaze: Five court cards. If more than one person has a blaze, the highest pair in the blaze wins.
  5. Three of a Kind: The highest three of a kind wins. Again, “natural” hands beat those made with wild cards.
  6. Royal Blaze: This is unique to Trump Poker. A hand of only trumps, or four trumps and the Ace of Coins. If two or more players both have a royal blaze, then the hand containing the Ace of Coins wins. If no one has the Ace of Coins, then the hand with the highest trump or trump combination wins.
  7. Straight: Five cards in numerical order. Aces can be high or low, but scoring doesn’t “wrap.” That is, page, knight, queen, king, ace counts, as does ace, two, three, four, five. But queen, king, ace, two, three doesn’t.
  8. Flush: All five cards of the same suit, not in numerical order. If more than one player has a flush, the flush containing the highest card wins. If the highest cards tie, count the next highest cards and so on. In the event all cards tie, the highest suit wins (see Scoring Suits, below) Natural hands beat those made with wild cards. Note: the trumps aren’t considered a suit and any hand containing all trumps is considered a “blaze” and scores lower than a three of a kind.
  9. Full House: Three of a kind + a pair. If more than one player has a full house, the highest three of a kind wins. If three of a kinds tie, the highest remaining pair wins.
  10. Four of a Kind: Four cards of the same rank, plus any other card. If more than one player calls a four of a kind, the highest one wins.  Note: it’s possible, given the high numbers of wild cards in this variant to have a “Five of a Kind”. This is considered a four of a kind and scored accordingly, remembering that a natural four of a kind beats a “five of a kind.”
  11. Straight Flush: Five cards of the same suit in numerical order. If there are multiple straight flushes, the straight flush containing the highest value card wins. This is the first of three hands that has to be made of natural cards. If the hand contains a wild card, it’s scored as a flush.
  12. Royal Flush: Ace, king, queen, knight, page, all of the same suit. This is the second of the three hands that must be natural to score. In the unlikely event of multiple royal flushes, the highest suit wins.
  13. Royal Hand: The final natural hand, this one is also unique to trump poker. This hand consists  of Oberon, Eric, Corwin, Random, and the Ace of Coins. (All the people who have ever worn the crown of Amber, plus the Jewel of Judgement).

Scoring Suits

Unlike normal poker where all suits are equal, each suit in trump poker has a ranking (from lowest to highest scoring): coins (pentacles), cups, rods (staves/wands), and swords.

Scoring Trumps

When combined with other cards, all trumps are wild and take on the value of whatever hand contains them. When compared against each other, they have the ranks given below. Combinations of trump cards score higher than single trump cards.

On PC trumps: Usually only the trumps of the Elder Amberites (Corwin, Random, Oberon, Fiona, Dworkin, etc.) are used; all other trumps are discarded from the deck before play. Sometimes they “younger” trumps are left in, but score like the jokers in a regular playing card deck: they’re purely wild cards and have a rank of zero when compared to other trumps.

Single Trump ranking

From lowest scoring to highest: [Ryalle]*, Sand, Delwin, Random, Florimel, Gerard, Julian, Llewella, Caine, Brand, Bleys, Fiona,  Deirdre, Corwin, Eric, Benedict, Finndo, Osric,  Oberon, and Dworkin.

This ranking is based on birth order (with the exception of Ryalle), from youngest to oldest, as I determined it for my game. Change the order as you see fit for your own game.

*[Ryalle is the full sister of Benedict, Osric, and Finndo in my game and is one of the “dead or missing” siblings Corwin mentions in Nine Princes in Amber. She’s last in the rankings because she was exiled from Amber for supporting Osric and Finndo’s ambitions. ]

Trump Combinations Ranking

Combinations are a set of trumps combined with each other or with other cards in the deck. The Ace of Coins represents the Jewel of Judgement when combined with trumps, thus its presence in the highest-scoring combinations.

Here are the combination rankings (from lowest scoring to highest):

  • Osric, Finndo, and Ryalle
  • Osric and Finndo
  • Julian and Fiona
  • Corwin and Deirdre
  • Florimel and any cup card (governing love and emotions)
  • Eric and Florimel (Eric’s spy)
  • Caine, Gerard, and Julian (called the “Dark Trio”)
  • Fiona, Bleys, and Brand (the Cabal)
  • Fiona and any rod (which represents sorcery)
  • Benedict and any sword
  • Brand and the Ace of Coins
  • Corwin and the Ace of Coins
  • Caine and any ace
  • Benedict and the Ace of Swords
  • Random and the Ace of Coins
  • Dworkin and Oberon
  • Oberon and the Ace of Coins
  • Dworkin and the Ace of Coins
  • Dworkin, Oberon and the Ace of Coins

Final note: Any hand, no matter what the other cards in the hand are (even if it’s a royal flush), that contains both Corwin and Eric is automatically a losing hand. The only exception to this is the “royal hand”, which beats everything.

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Campaign Mastery is Exactly What It Says

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Help is on the WayYou want to be a better GM, right? You know you need to get better at things like improvising during a game session, creating more believable NPCs, and be better prepared for your game sessions. But how exactly do you do that?

Check out the Campaign Mastery blog, written by Johnn Four (of Roleplaying Tips and Gamer Lifestyle) and Mike Bourke. This blog is chock full of useful advice. If you’ve noticed in the “Article Zemanta Thinks May be Related” section at the bottom of my posts, you’ll find I often link to Campaign Mastery. That’s because I find so much useful information at this particular blog, I have to share it with y’all.

No matter what kind of advice you’re looking for, Campaign Mastery’s got a post on it somewhere. Need information about improvising adventures? Check out By The Seat Of Your Pants: Six Foundations Of Adventure. Want some information about how to handling things when the PCs do something totally unexpected? Try A potpourri of quick solutions: Eight Lifeboats for GM Emergencies. How about tips on using spells to develop areas of your game world? Look at How To Cast A Spell On Your Campaign And Polish Till It Gleams.

One of the best things about this blog (in addition to the incredibly useful information) is their “Print Friendly” button at the end of every post. It allows you print out the post without printing all the gagillion bits you don’t need to pring, like all the sidebar information. (This is something I’ve just added to both this blog and product excerpts in the main section of the rpgGM site. Check out the row of buttons at the bottom of each post–when you mouse-over, they expand and the “Print Friendly” button is in the middle of the second row).

And I didn’t write this just because Johnn likes my stuff. 😉

[Image courtesy of Tom T via Flickr Creative Commons.]

Other blogs in this series

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Need RPG News? Check Out Game Knight Reviews

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This is the first of a new post series where talk about my favorite RPG blogs and sites. There’s no particular significance to the order I review things — it’s more of a “who’s on my mind right now”. And these aren’t intended to be reviews, per se–I’m not going to critique the sites. It’s much more like the old Pyramid Magazine’s “Gee, we wish we’d done that” column, for those of you who’ve been gaming long enough to remember Pyramid when it was available in print.

Today’s site is Game Knight Reviews. As you can guess by the name, this site focuses on reviews of game products. From print to e-books to game-related services, if you’re wondering about a specific product, you can probably find a review of it at GKR. If it’s not up yet, it will be sometime. In addition to game reviews, though, they have interviews with prominent members of the RPG community and (my favorite bits) news from the RPG world. It’s really nice to have game news gathered into a single source, since I simply don’t have time to read tons of the wonderful blogs out there, much as I’d like to.

Oh, and did I mention they’ve got some pretty cool art on their header graphic? [Hopefully Fitz won’t mind that I also stole his logo for this post…]

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