On Continuity and Barney Stinson

So, I watched a TiVO’d episode of How I Met Your Mother yesterday. It’s one of my favorite television shows, and I think it’s one of the best sitcoms on television right now, if not the best. But that’s neither here nor there.

Barney StinsonWhat’s here is that there was a continuity error on the episode “The Bracket“. While that doesn’t seem like much of a deal, it is for a show that makes inordinate use of flash-backs and flash forwards and different retellings of events. (In fact, for those not in the know, the entire show is one giant flashback.)

See, in The Bracket, Barney Stinson mentions that he may have sold a woman for a Mercedes, which he then drove off. He also flashes back to where he stole a date’s truck while camping, and then drives off in it. There’s only one problem with these two scenarios…

Barney can’t drive.

Alas, in the episode “Moving Day,” it is established that Barney is terrified of driving and can’t really do it. (It’s all he can do to get a moving truck around the corner behind a bar.)

Bit of a continuity error. Ah well.

I’m not really going to review the episode, but I do want to talk a bit about continuity in your campaign. I like to think that the succession of all campaigns (when one campaign in a group ends, and another begins with the same players), falls into a few broad and vague categories, summarized by, appropriately enough, television shows.

  1. The Office / Battlestar Galactica – The two campaigns have nothing in common except the basement where they take place. Setting, genre, feel… All are completely different.
  2. House / Grey’s Anatomy – Same feel, same genre, different settings. Crossovers aren’t really possible.
  3. Cheers / Frasier – Same setting, but cameos and crossovers are rare.
  4. Star Trek – It’s the same show. Different characters, but you know what you’re doing and references abound.

Now, in the first two, continuity doesn’t exist and is a non-issue. (In today’s post, I’m dealing with really long term continuity. I’ll address shorter term, between adventure continuity in another post another time.)

In the third one, continuity is present, but is relatively easy. One is in Boston, the other is in Seattle. The only time you really have to think about continuity is when you have an NPC cameo, when there’s a little crossover. It won’t happen often, but it can happen. Otherwise, continuity can safely be ignored, or easily dealt with by any DM worth his salt. Occasionally, you might make a small error, but it can either be explained away as the slip of the tongue. (“Did I say the Eye of Thorgonia? I meant the Hand of Thorgonia. Sorry about that.”)  Others can simply be retconned in. (“I know Lord Salazzar would have been three years old at the Second Battle of Chanapoly, but he was propelled backward through time by a rogue Time Elemental.”)

Of course, these kind of gaffes should be avoided.

The longer a campaign runs, though, these gaffes become harder and harder to avoid.  My Countless World setting has been home to between seventeen and thirty campaigns, depending on how you slice it.  Errors are going to show up.

I’ve got three tips for avoiding these kind of errors.  Each of them work well in the context of role playing, though they might be more difficult to maintain in a more constrained narrative (such as a book or movie).

  • Long Dates – The best way, in my opinion, to handle temporal continuity, is to make everything take forever.  No two hour battles – battles take a minimum of two days, if not weeks or possibly even months.  No month long wars – wars take years and years and years and generations.  This solves the problem that any time you reference two things happening concurrently, it could be the end of one and the beginning of another, giving you a wide window to work with before you commit an NPC to having been in two places at once.
  • Short Dates – On the flip side of the coin, short dates can help, too.  If you refer to an NPC being at the Battle of Tunigia, “from the moment the ships came down from the sky” to the moment “we stormed the walls and raised our flags in victory,” and you’ve stated the battle took eleven weeks, you’re kind of committing your NPC to being their for all eleven weeks, which can preclude him from being involved in other battles of the war.  It would take some awkward backtracking for you to say they were there on the first day, and there on the last, and absent in the middle.
  • No Dates – The final, and easiest, way to address temporal continuity is to simply ignore dates.  Don’t reference when things happened.  Sometimes you have to, either vaguely or specifically, but whenever possible, ignore dates.  (“He fought in the Chriminian War with your father in the year before you were born” should be cut to “He fought in the Chriminian War.”)  Often, this is not possible – Players need to know when things happened, and you never want to cut out the flavor if you can avoid it.

Admittedly, this is somewhat contradictory advice.  That being said, each piece of advice is appropriate at different times.

I also recognize that this advice is all about temporal continuity, which really has nothing to do with the aforementioned Barney Stinson continuity error.  However, it’s the first piece of continuity I want to address, and I started thinking about if after watching “The Bracket.”  Bear with me – I’ll come back to both short term continuity and non-temporal continuity another time.

Until then, there you go.


Nomenclature, Part Deux

Time for my second post on Nomenclature!  I’ve realized there are a few words and designations that might need a little explaining here at the Consummate DM.

First is the phrase “mini-campaign.”  I use this word to refer to a story arc within a greater campaign.  I realize that this might be synonymous with others’ use of the word campaign (without the mini), but for me, a campaign refers to however many sessions it takes to reach the end of the Player Characters’ stories.  While a given story might take ten sessions, the campaign could take years and years.  The ten sessions is a mini-campaign.

The second is a distinction in capitalization – Player versus player.  Obviously, every time I use the word at a beginning of a sentence, it will be capitalized and you’ll have to draw meaning from context.  However, in the middle of a sentence, my capitalization will matter.  But not much.  Player with a capital P means the players who are not the Dungeon Master.  They are the real world counterparts to Player Characters.  When I use the word player with a lower-case p, then I’m referring to anyone at the table – Players or Dungeon Masters.

On that note, another separation – that between Player and PC.  I think these two terms are consistently lumped together, and I want to make sure that my designations are clear.  A Player is a human body that exists in the real world and plays role playing games.  A Player Character is a character in the game world not controlled by the Dungeon Master.  I know this sounds rudimentary and patronizing, but I constantly see phrases like “If your PCs are unhappy…” or “If a PC gets an unlucky die roll…”  Player Characters don’t roll dice – Players do.

And last but not least, another example of capitalization – Drama versus drama.  Drama is bad, drama is good.  Drama with a capital D refers to the kind of stuff you find on teen girls’ LiveJournals.  Anger and bitterness, bickering, shallow, childlike behavior, and so forth.  When used with a lower case, drama refers to edge of your seat storytelling, the interesting clash between characters and forces in the gameworld.  You know, awesomeness.

And there you go.


The DM’s Role, Part 2 – Is Not

And now for the second part of my three part series on the Role of the Dungeon Master. This post will be on things that the Dungeon Master is not. These are things that are separate from the role of Dungeon Master, and while they are sometimes overlapped, are not in anyway integral to the responsibilities of the DM.

I have two roles, and they come down to the beginning, and the end.

  • Inspirer – At the beginning end of the spectrum, the Dungeon Master is not the Inspirer. It is not the DM’s job to make sure the player’s are inspired. The DM, in his role as the Creator, is responsible for making sure the campaign setting is inspiring. But the DM needs to be inspired by his Players as much as they need to be inspired by the DM.Granted, the DM is frequently the Most Experienced Player, and it is the responsibility of the Most Responsible Player to make sure other Player’s feel creative, to help them get their sea legs. But if the Player is having trouble thinking of a cool concept, or creating a wild character, or finding a niche they want to fill, it is as much their responsibility, and the responsibility of the other Players, as it is the DM’s, to make sure that those concepts and ideas are brought to fruition.
  • Decider – At the other end of the spectrum, in the end, it is not the Dungeon Master’s job to be the Decider. Some may argue this point, but I’m a firm believer that this is a holdover from the Most Experienced Player overlap. The DM should not necessarily have the final call.If there is a conflict in regards to the rules, I strongly feel that unless the DM knows oodles more about the system than the Players do, the DM shouldn’t rule by fiat. The Players should reach a consensus. Sure, if one Player is abusing the system, it’s the DM’s role to squelch that abuse, but otherwise, the DM should engage the Players about how they feel the system should be run. The DM shouldn’t just decide what they think is best without the input of the Players. The DM may be somewhat “in charge,” but they run the table at the pleasure of the other Players.

Now, some players may not agree with me, but I think these two are pretty clear. There are other roles that I will be presenting in my third part that I think are more subjective, but I think these two roles are clearly not intrinsically linked to the DM’s role.


Countless Worlds – The Shadow Traders

Okay, and now for my inaugural Countless Worlds post. This is big for me. I’ve been working on this campaign for years. It’s the only campaign setting I run. Every campaign I run is run in this universe, regardless of genre. This was the entire reason I created this campaign setting – so that I would have one volume, one world to keep track of. It was tough at first, but it has paid off. Now, I’ve got hundreds of organizations, hundreds of ships, pushing a hundred spells, and more NPCs than you can shake a fist at.

However, the purpose of this blog is not to go on and on about my awesome campaign. Alas. No, this blog is about good DMing. Ostensibly. So, while I will be showing off my campaign from time to time, but each time it will be to make a point about being a good Dungeon Master.

Now, it occurred to me that my post last night about pulling the trigger might not have come across correctly. So, rather than explain a little more of what I meant in abstracts, I wanted to show one of the aspects of my campaign that allow me to pull the trigger so easily.

Allow me to introduce the Shadow Traders.

If a loved one dies an untimely death, the Shadow Traders will bring them back. For a price. And that price is rarely money. The Shadow Traders are a guild surrounded by rumors, by worship and hatred. The price that they exact is not always immediately apparent, and many people have traded away more than they bargained for. Others are fanatically grateful to them for bringing back family and friends from the worlds of death. The worst stories told about the Shadow Traders are the ones about the people who try to back out on their deals. Worst of all, the Shadow Traders take more than you agreed to give when you try to cheat their price.

All Shadow Traders belong to one of nine Arti, divisions within the Traders. Members of the main seven Arti where all gray, and carry a blackwood staff adorned with the symbol of their Arti. Initiates belong to the first of the Arti, the Unarti, and wear white. The Exarti, the shunned, wear black and have no staves.

The Shadow Traders travel and live in famous black astral ships known as the Panora. About the size of a heavy cruiser, the Panora are not meant for combat. They mount minimal armament and defenses, since firing at the Shadow Traders is a death sentence. These black ships, constructed to look like grim visages of cities. Other than small and large shuttles, the Shadow Traders only travel in the Panora. These ships are the face of the Shadow Traders, and bring apprehension with them wherever they go.

I built the Shadow Traders as an outlet for resurrection. I don’t like putting resurrection in the Player’s hands. I don’t care if it’s a seventh level spell or a ninth level spell or a twentieth level spell. I don’t care if the material components are a bajillion gold pieces and a small baby in blue socks. I feel putting resurrection in the hands of the Players spoils a lot of drama. But! I still think it should be there. Something I learned a long time ago, irrespective of role playing, but especially in role playing, is that everything has a price. When you kill someone off, or take something away, sometimes you’d be surprised how far players would go to get it back.

I hate hypocrisy, as well. It felt wrong to me that Players could stab the villain with silver, chop him up into little tiny pieces, burn the pieces, feed them to a demon, burn the demon, and scatter those ashes across nine dimensions in three different temporal possibilities, and whadaya know, he came back. And yet, they drag their best friend to the local clergy, and “I’m sorry, he’s too far gone to revive.”

Thus, resurrection in my campaigns is an option, but I like to keep it in my hands. It works like this.

If you’ve got a fresh corpse, a simple cause of death and a good supply of magical power, there are plenty of magical options if you’ve got this skills and the dinero. But, if it’s been more than a few hours, or the body’s been decimated or poisoned with something potent or diseased with something treacherous, well, you’ve got to bring in the experts. The experts are the Shadow Traders.

Each of the seven main Arti have a different group of people they cater to, and a different cost. Thus, depending on the mood I’m in when Players want to bring back a PC or NPC, I could charge gold or weird quests or simply the valiant sacrifice of the life of another. Plus, with the exception of gold (and sometimes even then!) you can phrase it vaguely enough, in an oracle/riddle fashion, and let the players assume one meaning and then make up another one as a plot hook down the road.

By building this option of resurrection in, I suddenly found myself with a huge organization with a myriad of uses. Obviously, they can bring back characters, but they can offer quests to hunt down people who’ve reneged on their bargains, or the PCs can be hired to help fulfill bargains to raise others, or perhaps a Panora shifts in from the Astral Plane above a small town unexpectedly, hanging in the sky for days with nary a movement, and it’s up to the PCs to figure out what’s going on before the entire village riots.

The ultimate point? Build options into your campaign. Assume that everything is possible. If you can lay the foundation for everything, for every possible option, you’ll find yourself in a much better position than if you have to create the solution ten months down the line when one of the players confronts you with an expected quandary. One of the things the HERO System has taught me is never deal in absolutes.


He That Believeth In Me

Battlestar Galactica is back!

I know I’m a week late, but that’s what DVR is for! I just want to say that I was floored by last Friday’s Battlestar Galactica episode, the premiere of the fourth season.

Okay, I’m going to be discussing an episode of television. It’s going to involve spoilers. Don’t get your panties in a bunch. Consider yourself duly warned.

The Adamas from Battlestar Galactica

Now, the beginning of the third season had my jaw being propped up by my hands. The end of season two, when Baltar puts his head on the table and then picks it back up one year later… I haven’t been that blown away by an episode of television since the end of season six of TNG, when it turns out the Borg are being lead by Lore. So, it was hard for season four of BSG to pick up at the same tempo.

And yet…

Starting the new episode off at the moment season three ended was fantastic. I know it’s a daunting challenge to do that. Most shows like to let a little time pass from the end of one season to the beginning of another, to account for haircuts and other signs of time passing. So when I see a show go from one moment to another over the course of a summer (like Barney Stinson’s summer spanning LEGENNNNDARY), I’m always impressed.

Tyrol and Anders have always been some of my favorite BSG characters, so it was pretty sweet to find out they were cylons. And the scene where Tyrol slaps Anders around and gets him in the cockpit… I was reveling in it.

Starbuck’s temporal displacement? Nyeh. It was fine. She seemed far wiser at the end of the third season, but I’ll get over it.

Baltar’s sex cult? Awesome! And I have to say, the creation of Baltar, of all people, as a Christ figure, nay, a Christ figure slash pimp, well, that was genius. Pure, unadulterated genius. (Unadulterated. Did you see what I did there?) When Charlie Connor attacks Baltar in the bathroom, I loved it. I loved that it was right after Baltar shaved (I love BSGs use of straight blades for so many reasons), with Baltar both shedding the Christ symbolism, aesthetically, and taking up a more active role as a Christ figure by pleading with God to take his life on behalf of the child’s.

The scene with Starbuck and Anders was deft, if not inspiring. Roslin’s inherent distrust for Starbuck seemed a little forced, but I blame that more on Mary McDonnell than on the writers. (Don’t mistake that for a dislike of either McDonnell or Roslin – I’m fond of both.)

I have one chief complaint against the episode, which also functions as a nice segue into how this relates to good Dungeon Mastering. My chief complaint is the episode ending with Starbuck pointing a gun at Roslin. Lame. I hate how shows do this. Unless Starbuck shoots Roslin (and as much as I enjoy the character of Roslin, Starbuck shooting her would be AWESOME!), it’s just unfulfilled hype. It creates an expectation that Starbuck might shoot Roslin, but we know she won’t. I mean, we have precedent with Boomer shooting Adama, but that’s different. Ending an episode with a cliffhanger like that? Uninspired. That kind of cliffhanger only works if there’s a belief that maybe, just maybe, she might pull the trigger. And without that expectation, it’s just seen as a ploy.

Overview – 39,698 out of 50,298 survivors.

So, the segue. How does this apply to role playing and Dungeon Mastering?

You’ve got to pull the trigger. Not always, but sometimes.

Your Players have to believe that you might. If they think that you might, even if only once in a dozen or five dozen times, you can pull off those cliffhangers. You can scare them. If you can’t threaten your Players, if the only thing that scares them is scarier and scarier and yet scarier monsters, you’re failing to really bring the drama to your table.

Most of my established Players know that I tend to kill someone off about once a year. Might not be in their campaign. Might be with another group. But it does happen. And it’s not always with a big, bad monster. I’ve given characters wasting diseases, poisoned them, had them stabbed in their sleep, the whole of it.

Now, I can hear a few DMs and Players saying that this isn’t fair to Players, that they have an investment in their characters and that you should consult them first.

Horse puckey.

I’ve had Players, who were playing a big, strapping warrior character make one or two off hand comments during a session that it would be fun to play a cerebral wizard or a sneaky thief, and then come up to me after the session and try to clarify that they didn’t mean it. Because that’s all the justification I need.

Sometimes I’ll consult with a player, ask if they want to try a new role. Rarely is it totally out of the blue. It’s usually tied to a Players desire to change, even if only indicated by a comment or two. And it’s rarely if ever unavoidable. Diseases and poisons can be cured and assassins can be thwarted. But it’s difficult. I take it seriously. Because, and here’s the clincher, I make sure the character’s downfall is caused by the character’s actions.

A wasting disease caught from an affair with the mayor’s husband. A poison slipped to them in a magic potion they stole from a cleric. An assassination bounty put in place due to their wanton disregard for an annoying merchant prince’s demands. I’m a big fan of hubris – rocks don’t fall out of the sky and kill characters unless the character said he couldn’t be killed by falling rocks.

Let me make this clear – I don’t do this often. I can count the number of times I’ve done non-combat killings of character (combat includes traps and other dungeon disasters) on two hands, for my entire Dungeon Mastering career. But I’ve done it, and my players know it. And when an NPC threatens their family or friends or them, they know that it’s not hollow Evil Overlord ranting – people die.

And I’m not just talking about death. I take away magic items, I destroy towns. I do bad things as a DM. Again, rarely. But it makes all the posturing and threatening I do the rest of the year that much more intimidating.

Do it. You’ll add drama to the table, drama you need.


No two see the same Maro.

I stopped playing Magic: The Gathering a long time ago. Most of my time playing the game was in middle school. I picked it up again for a few months my sophomore year of college, when a dorm-mate of mine had such a monstrous collection of cards it was hard not to get into it. (And, admittedly, when I was in middle school, I was always wowed by gold cards, no matter how useless they might be. And my sophomore year happened to line up nicely with the Invasion release.)

Anyway, it’s been years since I played. But I still head over to the website, once a week, every week.

Why?

Mark Motherfrackin’ Rosewater.

Maro, the Magic CardHis column “Making Magic,” which comes out once a week every Monday, is a treasure trove of useful ideas. His column is useful even if you’re unfamiliar with Magic, because, unlike the other columns posted on the site, many of Mark’s columns are only tangentially related to the card game. Many of his posts are about game theory and game design in general. And these are things that are useful for any DM.

While Mark may be referring to restrictions breeding creativity in regards to the five colors of mana in Magic, the general idea allows me to examine my own campaign, looking for ways to turn what had previously been restrictions into opportunities for exploration.

His reference to game space may actually refer to the library, the hand, the graveyard, but from it I infer a greater relevance to my campaign setting, looking for areas of the setting or the system or the Players own quirks that I haven’t diligently explored and ruthlessly exploited.

Virtually every article Rosewater writes gives me some inspiration for my current campaign. Even when he’s really, really in the thick of the Magic, and not so much in the middle of the game design theory, I can usually glean one or two tidbits for use. Sometimes, I get nothing more than the artwork for a card he references inspiring one or two truly epic encounters down the road. However, other times, I use an article of his as an outline for an entire series of adventures, a campaign within a campaign, if you will.

I haven’t figured out how to add these articles to my RSS feed. I don’t think I can – I think they want you to go over and read it and maybe click on some links to other things they sell. That’s okay. Do it. Go over there and read Making Magic – it’ll be one of the best free investments in your Dungeon Mastering creativity you’ll make this month.

Overall – 5 out of 5 mana! A must cast!


Bright of the Sky

So I just finished Kay Kenyon‘s novel Bright of the Sky. And it was fantastic.

The novel is the first in her Rose and the Entire series. The Rose and the Entire are also the setting. The ‘Rose’ is our universe, and the ‘Entire’ is a parallel universe of truly epic proportions.

Kenyon does a fantastic job of blending science fiction and fantasy. The Entire is a world with a wholly different set of physics than our universe. At the same time, it’s a scientifically sound universe in and of itself.

The beginning of the book, which involves a distant future and a bit of science fact, is laid out in such a way that I, an English major with minimal scientific knowledge, was able to get what she was saying, the nitty gritty details of the scientific plausibility of the world she was revealing. It was deft, and it was appreciated.

Bright of the Sky CoverThe Entire is a world unlike anything I have ever read. Though it is science fiction, the sheer scope of its alien characteristics made it feel like it was a fantasy world. Weird creatures, unique customs, and a system of mysticism that borders on the magic, all combine to make you wonder at it all.

Now, the protagonist Titus Quinn (who gets the award for most badass name of a protagonist of a book read by me in the last six months) is your standard fish out of water. He’s from the Rose (our world) and he goes to the Entire (their world). His internal commentary give us a point of reference. So far, pretty standard. But Kenyon takes it a step further – ten years before the book even started, he was there. (These aren’t spoilers.) He’s suppressed these memories, and as he explores the Entire, they come back to him. So rather than being your standard stranger, he’s actually quite famous over there, and has to deal with that. A very nice twist on an established trope.

Best of all is Kenyon’s writing style. In addition to making the science incredibly accessible, Kenyon’s words just flow past you. There are occasional sound bites of truly beautiful prose, but for the most part, the words are ignored and all you take away is there meaning. For me, with a novel about a concept world like the Entire, that’s the way I like it. Every paragraph flows seamlessly together into a constantly streaming narrative. It’s really craftsmanship of the highest order.

Overall: 5 out of 7 Roses.


Dungeon Masters, Game Masters, and Potatoes

After going back and forth with Tommi, I think I realized I should probably clear something up about some nomenclature I’m going to be using in my blog.

Firstly, I’m going to use the term “Dungeon Master,” or DM. Even though I rarely roll Dungeons and Dragons or any other D20 system. I just prefer the term to “Game Master,” or GM. Why? I don’t know. Nostalgia. The same reason people still ask for a Kleenex or use Google as a verb. The same reason I still call them stewardesses. Because some names and terms come with a certain cachet.

Game Master sounds so formal, Dungeon Master has that je ne sais quoi. I feel Game Master is to Dungeon Master as “You do 14 Damage” is to “You cut off his head with a dastardly blow.”

Also, while we’re working on a little nomenclature, I should clarify something else. I’m not prone to use the word ‘game’. I’ll use the word ‘session’ to describe an adventure, an evening with the players. I’ll use the word ‘campaign’ to indicate multiple, successive sessions featuring the same setting and the same PCs. I’ll use ‘setting’ to refer to the world of the campaign. And I’ll use the word ‘system’ to refer to the rule set. I will use the word ‘game’ to refer to HALO and Clue.

Last, but certainly not least, unless I’m specifically writing about female role players (Geek’s Dream Girl, I’m looking at you), I’m going to stick to the gender pronoun ‘he’. Nothing sexist, but it’s what I’m going to use. I don’t really feel the need to defend the decision.

That’s it. I’ll probably revisit nomenclature later.


The Mega Man Model

I’d like to make my inaugural World Building post about one of my favorite tools for campaign setting creation. I call it the Mega Man Model.

Playing Mega Man as a kid, I was always blown away by the brilliance of the level creation. They took one concept and ran with it. I remember thinking how the Metal Man and the Heat Man and the Wood Man were all, essentially, the same. Thematically, they were just different flavors of the same idea. Sure, beating Heat Man made beating Wood Man easier, but that just made it a game of rochambeau.

This idea stuck with me, and it’s one I’ve tried to incorporate into much of my campaign world design. If you can create one idea (“ice cream”), and then, flavors (“chocolate, strawberry, vanilla”), you can then run with the idea. Come up with a new idea (“popsicle”), and you’ve just saved yourself some work – you now have three new idea – Chocolate Popsicles, Strawberry Popsicles, and Vanilla Popsicles. You can do it again with each new idea – milkshakes, cake, Charleston Chews… You see where I’m going with this.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten myself a snack, let me walk you through how this works in campaign creation. Let’s take a hypothetical campaign. We’ll call it the Twilight Campaign. The world is governed by three mystical powers – Night, Day, and the Twins of Dusk and Dawn. These powers are Gods, they are the colleges of magic, and so forth. These ideas dominate the campaign setting.

First you build your order of wizards. The Midnight Circle, the Solar Brotherhood, the Dawn Sodality. You create your orders of clerics and warriors – the Knights of Nox, the Paladins of High Noon, the Monks of the Setting Sun. And then kingdoms, and spells and so on.

And where it really gets fun is when you’re rounding out your bestiary. A Night Elemental, a Day Elemental, a Dusk Elemental. Maybe a separate Dawn Elemental. Or dragons. A Moon Dragon, a Sun Dragon and a Star Dragon. Try it out with the cosmology – the Demons of Midnight, the Angels of Day, the Saints of Red Sky. Moon Zombies and Sky Zombies and Grey Zombies. Each idea creates its own twists, one for each flavor.

Now, you can’t overdo it. You don’t want your table to start feeling like a video game. (Well, maybe you do, but I would recommend not.) Your Players will need a little variety. While it can be fun to occasionally break this rule, generally you don’t want your PCs to descend into the Temple of Night, and then the Temple of Day, and then the Temple of Dawn.

That being said, this idea can do wonders for anticipation. If your characters fight a Daybreak Golem, and a Meridian Golem, even if you never show or mention a Gloom Golem, they’ll know there’s one out there, waiting, lurking, to kill them.

And not only that, but the Mega Man Model also allows a DM to occasionally weasel out on the prep work.  If a year ago your players delved deep into the Caverns of Sunset, and last month you had an epic, week long crawl through the Black Tombs, and you’ve got a session planned for tomorrow and no inspiration, well, the Diurnal Fortress it is!

Implemented poorly, this can make your campaign stale and predictable.  Used well, I think the Mega Man Model can form a strong backbone to a campaign, allowing the players to feel like they know aspects of the world without ever having experienced it, allowing both the Players and the DM to more fully engage the campaign.


Dreamwalker Revised

Via the Consonant Dude, I took a peak at Peter C Spahn’s new Dreamwalker Revised. And let me say, I liked it. I didn’t love it, but I liked it.

I can’t speak to the game’s production value, since I’ve only read the free online version, which is missing a lot of the artwork. That being said, the game still has a lot more artwork than many other free or not-free digital rpgs I’ve seen lately. Clocking in at over 200 pages and less than $0.01 to purchase, there’s really no reason not to go peak at it. I am rather fond of the inclusion of incredibly pertinent and apropos quotations at the top of the chapter headings, from Aliens to It to the Dark Tower.

Dreamwalker Revised Cover

Spahn says that one reviewer described it as “. . .one part The Matrix, one part The Cell, and two parts Quantum Leap with a healthy dose of Stephen King sprinkled over the top!” I would say that thematically, that’s pretty accurate. Unfortunately, structurally, the expansion to D20 Modern feels like it might have been written by Kevin Siembeda.

Spahn’s world is one where dreams can come alive, and it feels a lot like the World of Darkness (or of the Matrix), in that a select few are in the know, and the rest of the world stumbles along blindly, unaware of the war being fought in their backyards. Spahn has deftly created a universe where any number of genres can be effortlessly pillaged for extra value. The game obviously lends itself to a cyberpunk/gothic horror mythos, but since the backdrop of the game is dreams, your characters can enter a dream on the Starship Enterprise or the Land of Mordor with ease.

Once, when I was in middle school, first getting into D&D and role playing, a friend of mine (friend of a friend, really, but I was a nerd and couldn’t be picky) wanted me to fight a Turask. You know what I’m talking about. In the end, so that he didn’t kill my character (whom I loved more than my parents), it was all a dream. It was a really stupid idea. In Dreamwalker, it would have been nothing more than a poorly structured adventure.

Of special note is the Denouement, a rather insightful creation on Spahn’s part. Every adventure, in theory, has a point. Group of Heroes intends to accomplish Goal by overcoming Obstacle. (Okay, in middle school, I may be been on, and run, a few pointless adventures. See above.) Spahn has incorporated this goal into the Dreamwalker Cosmology – the Denouement is the dreamer’s intent, and the players frequently have to assist, or occasionally thwart, this goal. It’s a very nice piece of work, and something of which Spahn should be proud.

The Brood, the Taenia Spiritus, are the villains. It feels a little heavy handed, but it’s a good construction. It makes the game a little black and white for my tastes, but I’m sure it’s right up the alley for some. The different Broodlings are all well described, though their ephemeral nature as dream-kind seems to leave a lot of work up to the DM to design them.

The organizations in Dreamwalker Revised are solid. The Sword of Gaia and Project Dreamwalker are modeled perfectly on the Platonic Ideas of templars and government agencies. The Lost City of Revead is fantastic, feeling a lot like Sigil. And the Kingdom of Malice… kind of speaks for itself.

My one complaint is some of the more mechanical aspects. My main complaint is with the “advanced classes,” also known as prestige classes. Many of them feel a little… extraneous. I’m looking at you, “Government Agent.” The Government Agent class really doesn’t feel like it’s needed. I admit, I haven’t spent a lot of time with D20 Modern, but I’ve spent enough, and I don’t feel like the Government Agent adds anything that a bunch of feats couldn’t do. The Influence Memory ability might need to be broken down into two feats, but otherwise, there aren’t really any awesome abilities in the class.

The other prestige classes aren’t that awesome, either. The Tomb Raider (yes, that Tomb Raider) is a class that has almost nothing to do with the Dreamwalker mythos. Certainly nothing to do with the world of dreams mechanically. The Paranormal Investigator seems hackneyed at best. The Totemist and Arcanist are both interesting classes, but really don’t feel like they belong in the Dreamwalker Revised book.

Part of this is my problem with prestige classes in general. I feel like the entire concept creates a Palladium like atmosphere, where each book necessitates the addition of new classes, each more unique and powerful than the last, until the entire concept is relatively meaningless. Some of Dreamwalker Revised’s prestige classes really work, like the Dream Weaver and the Dream Warrior. Others, like the Brood Hunter and the Brood Slayer, feel like overused tropes that have to be included and tailored to this specific setting.

But enough. Over all, the supplement is fantastic. If you run D20 Modern campaigns, or any kind of “paranormal” campaign, then I highly recommend you go out and shell out for the full version of this game. Buy it and support it. If you don’t run those kind of games, download the free version and steal one or two idea for your next adventure.

Overall – 9 out of 13 stars.