Posts Tagged ‘roll20’

Recently I found myself in a situation where I had to submit an original medieval fantasy TRPG setting for some work. Ultimately I did not get the job, but my submission got me in the door and helped me make it to the final round of interviews. I’m pretty proud of it. The best part about the rejection is that now I get to share my work with all of you.

I only had an hour or so of free time between the time I got wind of the assignment and the time I had to submit. No problem. Creating, outlining, and describing an original world in a short amount of time is exactly what I do. Let me show you how.

1. Get An Idea

This does not have to cut into your designated hour of worldbuilding. Sure, you could sit down and have a quick brainstorm but you could think about it while you go about the mundane. Instead of watching Netflix while you do the dishes or catching up on your favorite podcasts while showering or working out, let your mind wander about the world you want to create. Think of a strong central idea like, “Dragonborn run an evil empire and are more numerous than any other race in my island world,” or, “A century of warfare has changed everything,” or “There are huge blank spots on the map and everyone wants to be the one to fill them.” Feel free to start by stealing an idea from somewhere else to get inspired, and then twist the idea to make it your own. While running a cool five miles I came up with my central idea for this pitch, “Monsters rule the world below, the undead rule the surface, the civilized races are trapped in the sky.”

2. Outline in Bullet Points

Now that you’ve got a good idea it’s time for a rough world outline. If you’re limited on time, just write out your big ideas and any details you’re afraid you’ll forget while writing the rest of the world’s description. Then go back and quickly put the details of your world in some sort of chronological order. My world outline for this pitch looked like this.

  • In the beginning humans, elves, half-elves, halflings, and dragonborn ruled the surface in 13 cities.
  • 13 cities form a nation ruled by a council of 13 mage governors.
  • In the beginning dwarves and tieflings lived together in one massive city underground.
  • A mage governor fears death, becomes a lich, makes undead army.
  • Undead army takes surface city, many dwarves and tieflings get away, undead have harder time chasing them down in the monster infested tunnels.
  • 6 remaining surface cities are lifted into the sky by their mage governors and now float safe above the undead.

3. Come Up With A Campaign Arch Outline

Once your bullet point outline is ready, make another. Think of your campaign’s potential arch within the world. The story might change as your game goes on since it hinges on the actions of the PCs, but it’s good to think about your campaign’s overall arch before you put meat on the bones of the world outline. Why? Because your campaign’s outline could affect the world outline. Maybe your campaign calls for a villain or earthshaking event you haven’t included in the world outline. If you add details to from you campaign outline to your world outline, those details will feel less tacked on (e.g. suddenly wand theory is a huge plot device which shows up in the final book of the Harry Potter series). Here’s what my campaign outline looked like for this pitch.

  • PCs start transporting goods for a mage governor and have to fend off sky pirates.
  • PCs find sky pirates which attacked them part of some greater plot.
  • PCs slowly uncover the secret plot – the pirates and others (including high-ranking public officials) are feeding intelligence about the people living in the sky cities to the undead below, but why?
  • PCs investigate plot by exploring the surface world of the undead and are aided by the dwarf and tiefling survivors who have evaded the undead by living a nomadic life underground.
  • PCs discover the undead are building their own airships and making dracoliches to attack the sky cities.
  • PCs return home to defend against the attack and discover the attack is only half the plan. If the undead get close enough to the cities they can enact a ritual that will crash the sky cities into the ground, killing many. Battle may be won or lost depending on the actions of the PCs.
  • After the battle PCs discover the location of the leader lich’s phylactery.
  • PCs must go back to the surface to destroy leader lich once and for all.

Once I outlined this possible campaign arch, I went back and added these bullet points to the world outline:

  • After being in the sky for 50 years, resources for the sky cities are limited and a large economic gap forms between the wealthy and the poor.
  • Some of the poor turn to piracy for money and others enlist to fight the pirates and protect the goods of the rich.

4. Describe the World (and the Campaign Arch)

Now that you’ve got your outlines, that may be all you need to run your first session. If you want to share the world information with your players, post it on Obsidian Portal, or submit it for a job, you’re going to need to flesh it out a little more. With an outline in chronological order, it’s easy to throw down a few paragraphs to describe your world.

There is one main hang-up I have that stops my writing cold – coming up with proper names. I like to keep my flow while I’m writing so I use simple placeholders. Then I go back and replace those placeholders after I’m done the lion’s share of writing. This seems to make everything go a lot faster since I can be focusing on fleshing out the outline and then switch over to proper name mode. I simply write NAME in all capital letters when I need a proper name I haven’t thought of yet. This makes it easy to find later when revising.

Write no more than 5 – 10 paragraphs. Time is of the essence, pitches should be short, and if you’re writing this for your PCs or Obsidian Portal, know that most folks won’t read pages and pages of description.

Here’s the description of the world I created for the pitch.

Six floating cities hover above the darkness of Enora in Bound Sky. Once a prosperous nation, Enora was home to humans, elves, halflings, gnomes, and dragonborn. The country was run by the Dordune, a council of mage governors, each acting as the leader of one of Enora’s thirteen major cities. Beneath Enora’s surface, the nation’s dwarf and tiefling allies lived happily in the kingdom of Drakefire. Except for the occasional marauding gnoll pack or angry dragon, all was well in Enora. Any threats which appeared were dealt with swiftly and efficiently by the Dordune.

Fifty years ago Governor Kira Vae, an elf wizard, was nearing the end of her long life. Some say fear of death gripped the governor, others say it was an unsatiated lust for power. Whatever the reason, Vae transformed herself into a lich. The transformation warped her mind, seeding a dark hatred of all life in her heart. The lich declared herself Empress of Enora. Empress Vae turned the citizens of her city, Cambor, into an undead army. The rest of Enora tried to stand against the threat, but so sudden and severe did the undead strike that seven of Enora’s cities fell to Vae.

Every victory added more soldiers to her undead ranks. Messengers were sent to Drakefire, asking for military against the undead legions, but the underground kingdom was already over run by Vae’s minions. Any survivors from Drakefire had already fled even deeper underground by the time the messengers arrived.

As the armies of Empress Vae closed around Enora’s six remaining cities, the Dordune made a decision to enact a powerful ritual which raised the cities and their people into the sky away from Vae and her undead. Away from a fight they knew they could not win. As the cities rose, Vae swore to eradicate the rest of Enora’s living. She is eternal as is her hate for all people who defy her.

Now the six floating cities of Deldoroth find themselves safe from Empress Vae’s undead, but they have their own troubles. With limited land to produce resources, the six cities have begun treating each other more like separate countries than one cooperative nation. The Dordune have disbanded and each governor acts as a city’s monarch. As competition for food, water, and shelter grows each day, many less fortunate turn to a life of crime or legal savagery to survive. Airships transporting goods from one city to another are wary of pirates, and many make a killing or die trying in the cities’ gladiatorial arenas (which were introduced by the governors to help control population growth).

Beneath Deldoroth, dead Enora can no longer be seen. Thick layers of black clouds hang between the floating cities and the surface. The undead built massive stoves and constantly pipe ash into the sky to blot out the sun they hate so much. Sometimes at night the victorious howls of the undead can be heard through the blackness by the people of Deldoroth. It is an unsettling reminder that Enora is no longer their home and what drove them out long ago still hungers for them.

If you have the time, go ahead and flesh out your campaign outline too. I wanted to do this for the pitch to give an idea of the adventures I’d create, but even if you’re not pitching it will be helpful to have a fleshed out description of your potential story to refer to. This is less necessary for home campaigns since you won’t be sharing it, but still helpful to you as the GM.

Over-the-top action and sprawling mysteries will be the hallmarks of Bound Sky. The campaign opens with a massive airship battle. The players, hired as merchant guards, encounter pirates and battle for their lives. After the battle the heroes discover a mysterious message to the pirates from a higher power. These aren’t your normal pirates. They’re part of something much bigger.

The story unfolds in Deldoroth’s soaring cities as our heroes uncover a conspiracy. The first learn that some of the pirates and then that some of the officials in Deldoroth have been working with the undead armies of Empress Vae. She’s planning something big, but to learn what will require closer investigation.

The heroes journey down to the undead-infested Enora and navigate the dangerous territory by disguise or by stealth. Diving into old ruins, gathering intelligence from enemy-infested cities, and aided by the nomadic survivors of Drakefire, the PCs discover Empress Vae has begun building airships of her own and converting dragons to dracoliches. She is planning an enormous attack on Deldoroth.

It is up to our heroes to convince the people of Deldoroth to work together to defeat this incursion. As they work to negotiate with various leaders, the PCs uncover another mystery. Empress Vae has discovered the source of the magic which keeps the cities of Deldoroth afloat. She plans to disrupt this magic and crash the cities. If she succeeds, the death toll will be catastrophic.

The heroes stop Vae’s forces from destroying Deldoroth, but the victory is costly and the empress could return at any time with more forces. Thanks to a captured dracolich lieutenant, the PCs learn the location of Vae’s phylactery. The heroes must make another perilous journey into Enora, this time into Vae’s stronghold in Cambor. It is up to them to destroy the phylactery and slay Empress Vae once and for all to save their homes.

Check it out! I’ve even got a description of my first encounter in there. There’s enough information I could improv my way through the first session or possibly the entire campaign if I have no more free time to dedicate to preparation.

5. Got a Little More Time? Map it Up!

If you have some more time, maps are great worldbuilding resources that help make your setting come to life for both you and your players. They’re also a good tool for judging travel obstacles and distances from one place to the next. I created the two maps below in less than hour using roll20.net, but you can checkout any number of easy to use resources to create a map quickly.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 12.24.08 PM

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 12.24.28 PM

So there you have it! One-hour worldbuilding. Simple stuff!

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

 

A new episode of my podcast The Round Table is up on The Tome Show’s website.

I sit down with Rudy Basso, Alex Basso, Joe Lastowski, and Topher Kohan to talk about the past, present, and future of digital tools in D&D. We mention a lot of great resources in this podcast, so check them out in the links below! This podcast was recorded on May 17, 2014.

Links to resources:

roll20.net

Obsidian Portal

iPlay4e

inCombat4e

Syrinscape

Fantasy Grounds

Google Drive

Displacer Cube

Links to personal stuff:

Topher Kohan Google+

Topher’s Obsidian Portal

Joe’s Obsidian Portal

What the Average Joe Thinks

dungeonsmaster.com

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

So I’m taking a little diversion this post from Exploration Age to talk about the theme of this month’s RPG Blog Carnival. That theme? GM binders.

Way, way, way back in the day when I was ten and playing The Fantasy Trip I used a marble composition notebook in which I wrote every whack campaign idea I had (many of which we’re never played). This included an entire campaign based off the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun. The Man with the Golden Hand Crossbow (I was ten) was a rollicking tale and one of the first stories I ever ripped off completely. Here’s to you marble composition notebooks! May you hold young children’s campaigns, MASH games, dot-man wars, and secret crushes forever.

Behold! The secret-keeper and math-homework-tracker!

Google Drive

My gaming notes today are organized, but usually only in a way that would make sense to me. I’ll use my last campaign as an example. I ran a group of six PCs through a Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons Eberron game that lasted from levels one to thirty. The ideas for this campaign began where many today probably do – Google Drive.

A peak into my Google Drive folder for my Eberron campaign.

Why Google Drive? Well there’s a few reasons. First I work on my game in a lot of different places. At home on my laptop, on my phone in the train headed to work, and on my work computer during my lunch hour. With Drive being a cloud I can work on my home laptop, my phone, and my work computer without having to lug too much back and forth. I can easily output word docs, tables, PDFs, etc. to share with my players or print stuff out and bring it to games. Plus, 15GB is plenty of space for campaign notes.

In Google Drive I kept a bunch of different documents related to the Eberron game, but they mostly fit into these categories.

  1. Campaign Outline – A brief outline of where I think the campaign is going. This is so I can see how things are playing out, what the endgame might be, and what’s happening in the world beyond the scope of the party. I usually update thisdocument every few sessions. Here’s a look at my outline during ourepic tier of play (forgive any typos, remember, this was just for me).
    • Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 2.57.18 PM

      Eberron is badass!

  2. Open Threads – Then I also have a list of open threads (and believe me there were PLENTY in this campaign). Here’s where I list all of the unresolved issues in the campaign. Stories from side quests, character backgrounds, secret dealings, and consequences reverberating from the party’s actions all go here. I leave this open while we play and jot down notes quickly. Anything that gets resolved I highlight in red.
    • Seriously, this is just a PIECE.

      Seriously, this is just a PIECE.

  3. Weekly Quest – This is where I kept detailed information about what would (might) happen during our weekly session. Monster stats, read aloud text, traps, NPC statistics, and general adventure information would go here. Here’s another taste.
    • Again, please forgive typos.

      Again, please forgive typos.

  4. Treasure – If you’ve ever played 4th edition, you know that there’s many a magic item to give out. If a player doesn’t have the right magic items the math for attacks and defense won’t work out. In this case I awarded over 150 magic items (not counting consumables like potions). It’s a lot to track along with gold and monetary rewards so I had a separate document for that.
    • I'll assume this only makes sense to 4e DMs, but here it is.

      I’ll assume this only makes sense to 4e DMs, but here it is.

So those documents help me track what the campaign is doing and where it’s going, and a tiny bit what’s in the past. However most of the past of this campaign was tracked if a different way – via gmail.

Gmail

I’ve tried using Obsidian Portal before, but unfortunately for as much as I loved it, getting my players to use it made taking a dog to the vet seem easy. Obsidian Portal and services like it are awesome, but they’re a ton of work as well and if my players aren’t into it then it’s not worth the effort.

My players do read emails. Going to a website and navigating for the answers you want requires more effort than opening and reading an email. Likewise typing an email is a lot less work than managing an Obsidian Portal account. So after each session I’d send an email with the following information – a list of the known quests and tasks they had committed to completing, a brief summary of what happened during the previous session, a list of who was wounded or diseased, a list of rewards gained during the previous session, and an updated quest wiki.

A sample of a recap email minus the wiki.

A sample of a recap email minus the wiki.

Our wiki was simple and tacked onto each email. It was divided into three categories – people, places, and organizations. Each was organized with alphabetical entries that had no more than two lines of description. I’d simply copy and paste the wiki from the previous recap email then add to it for the current email. It started small and was enormous by the end, but it was a helpful reference for the players and myself. They didn’t have to read it each week, but they knew it was there for them when they needed it. Plus, it was super easy for me.

And here's a very small piece of the wiki, but you get the idea.

And here’s a very small piece of the wiki, but you get the idea.

Roll20

I’ve already sung the praises of roll20.net, but this is where I kept all my maps for battle, which is super important in a Fourth Edition D&D game. I could archive maps I really loved and might use several times throughout the campaign (like the deck of the party’s airship or the temple which served as their home base).

If roll20 doesn’t turn you on, there’s a lot of other services like it. Recently I did a soon to be released podcast interview with Doug Davison of Fantasy Grounds. This product is badass and I highly recommend checking that out as well. The podcast will be released in two weeks, but until then check out their video.

The Future

Again, through my podcast, The Round Table, I recently learned about a new product for worldbuilding and campaign tracking called Realmworks. Right now this product is only available on PC, which stinks for us Mac users like me. However thanks to the podcast interview with Liz Theis (coming next week) I’ve learned Realmworks will one day be available through the web. When that day comes, I’ll be super excited to keep my GM notebook with that product. It’s full of tons of ways to make prep, worldbuilding, story-tracking, and on-the-fly note taking easy. Check out the video below to get more information about what Realmworks can do.

Until then, I’m working on outlining Exploration Age with, you guessed it, Google Drive!

A Postscript – Eberron Fiasco

Also, as a bonus in this blog post, I was going through my old notes and I found a Fiasco playset I created for Eberron. It was supposed to be used in the event I couldn’t make a session, but the players still wanted to play something. That never actually happened, but I think it a group could use this playset in a bunch of different ways. Maybe a way to kickoff a campaign or to create a story that somehow ties into an overall Eberron campaign. If you’re familiar with Eberron, the playset is meant to be set before The Mourning in the city of Making in the country of Cyre. Anyway, it’s super niche, but I thought I’d share since I never got to use it. So on the off-chance you love Eberron AND Fiasco, check it out in the link below. Let me know if you actually use it and how it goes! I’d love to know.

Eberron Fiasco – Making

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

roll20.net

Posted: March 13, 2014 in General
Tags: , , , ,

I’m taking a one post break from Exploration Age to write a post for the RPG Blog Carnival. This month’s theme is about virtual tabletop gaming, a subject near and dear to my heart.

Like many people, I go wherever I can make a living. I’ve lived all over the East Coast – New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and now Washington, DC. I came here a little over two and a half years ago to work at a place I love.

However, working in the heart of DC makes it very difficult to find a game to join. I tried organized play events, but the game stores within the city of DC closed by 7 and I work until 6. The stores outside the city were unreachable in a timely manner due to DC’s infamous traffic. I tried posting games on meetup, but alas those fell through. My travel to and from Philadelphia to maintain my long-distance relationship made meeting on weekends impossible.

For a while I despaired. I would never play a tabletop RPG again! Cue dramatic sting. Then there was ray of hope. Cue choir. Wizards of the Coast introduced their virtual game table and I gamed more often and consistently than I ever have. Virtual tabletop gaming saved my hobby. For realsies.

After a time of playing with the platform Wizards created, which required one to be a D&D Insider subscriber, I started to bemoan the limited selection of minis and map tiles. For some of my players with older computers, the table was sluggish and bogged down their connections. Then, the final dagger – was not going to continue supporting the table and we would have to look elsewhere to game.

(Note: Today the table still lives at www.rpgtableonline.com thanks to GameTable Online.)

Through talking with some friends, I learned about roll20.net. We tried it out and I cannot say enough good stuff about it.

First of all, it’s free. You can support roll20’s development with an upgraded account if you wish (and I suggest you do if you rely on the service and/or would like cool extra features), but no payment is required. Guess what you get for $0?

  • A virtual tabletop that supports all systems, grid maps, and hex maps.
  • Players can have journals that track character stats, keep story notes, and share notes with just the GM. Each player’s journal can be linked to his or her mini.

Just a fraction of what you can do in the journal.

  • The selection of free map tiles and minis is through the roof, and more are available for a nominal fee (from a store to which anyone may submit art). Searching for the tiles and minis you want is fast and easy, making improv a dream. I swear, making a map in roll20 looks better and is so much faster than drawing it out at the table.
Again, a fraction of the options that appeared in literally a second when I searched "goblin" in the token library. All these are free.

Again, a fraction of the options that appeared in literally a second when I searched “goblin” in the token library. All these are free.

  • If you don’t find the tiles or minis you want within roll20’s database, you can import your own images and use those.
  • You can easily add stats, auras, markers, and status effects to any mini.
Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 7.29.45 AM

Customizing a mini’s stats and auras.

Once again, just a fraction of the markers you can add to a mini with minimal effort.

Once again, just a fraction of the markers you can add to a mini with minimal effort.

  • GMs can easily communicate messages and rolls with just one player via IM.
  • GMs can share handouts and art with one or more players.
  • Movement and distance is easily tracked.
  • Lighting effects and fog of war options are simple and easy to control.
  • A whole host of command options exist for rolling different combinations of dice. I’m not just saying roll20 can do the math of 1d20+5 for you. I’m saying it can roll 2d20 and take the higher (or lower) result and then add 5 with just a few quick easy to learn keystrokes.
Simple commands for complex dice rolling and math! No, roll20 is not paying me.

Simple commands for complex dice rolling and math! No, roll20 is not paying me.

  • Don’t like key strokes? Macros. That’s right, easily programmed little buttons that with one click can give you result of attack and damage for any attack, check, saving throw, etc. This is especially useful if you player 4e and have players with a lot of powers or for spell casters. Pro tip: encourage your players who are bad at math or take forever going over their character sheet looking for an option to set up macros. This will speed up play (again my 4e combat never moved so quickly at a table).
Once your macros are easily setup, simply click on the character to have your options appear at the top of the screener and click what you want to roll. Bam. Done.

Once your macros are easily setup, simply click on the character to have your options appear at the top of the screener and click what you want to roll. Bam. Done.

  • A jukebox feature allows you to play music from a huge library at the table.
  • A virtual card deck can be brought onto the table and dealt to players. You can even build your own custom decks by uploading art. (Hello, Deck of Many Things!)
Deck of Many Things in action.

Deck of Many Things in action.

  • Lots of neat visual features like virtual dice and special effects (like a mini breathing fire) add to the fun.
Rolling dice onto the minis, just like real life, only it doesn't mess anything up.

Rolling dice onto the minis, just like real life, only it doesn’t mess anything up.

  • You can launch roll20 through Google+ Hangout as an app. So you get all the features of a Hangout (or you can simply play through roll20 itself which has webcam, voice, and text capabilities).
roll20 in G+.

roll20 in G+ Hangout.

  • If you don’t know anyone nearby or far away, roll20 has a whole community of folks just like you and the message boards to find them . So find a game or post for players and get rolling.
  • There’s also a team constantly working on making roll20 a bigger, better platform with consistent updates and upgrades. They’re also responsive to any questions and concerns you may bring to them via Twitter or forum .

So whatever your game, if you can’t gather folks around a table, see if you can all sit down to a virtual one. I recommend roll20, but there are tons of others out there. Explore and play! This day in age, no gamer need be gameless. The only downside is you’ll need to buy your own snacks.

And if you want to see more of roll20 in action, check out this video for players…

Or GMs.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!