Sunday, January 27, 2013

Soothing the Savage Beast

"Sing us the song of the century" 
- Green Day, Song of the Century

Like many people, I love music.  In my spare time, at work, while driving, I tend to usually have something going.  When I get into the zone with things, it helps me stay there and get stuff done.  In one word, music is immersive.  What else do we look to immerse ourselves in?  How about our D&D games?

Many DM's (myself included) seek to include elaborate maps.  Others include fantastic descriptions, create awesome encounters, and so on and so forth.  While all of those things are great, I think finding new and exciting ways to interject some musical themes in your games can be just as fun.

I don't believe in playing music for the sake of playing music.  I'm not somebody to just put on a playlist and play D&D.  I've read about it, and another DM of mine did it once, but it didn't really do it for me.  Was it cool to have various instrumental pieces playing in the background?  Yeah, but it didn't make me feel like I was more in the game or created any more investment.  It simply made me feel like I was sitting around a table listening to music and playing D&D.  I don't know how the other players felt, but it wasn't for me.

Had the situation been slightly different though, I would've been all for it.  For example, in the Vellyn snow and ice game, the players were investigating an old shrine to Cryonax.  In the large center of the shrine, they would meet a frost witch, Julnaara, who was working on completing a ritual.  Due to the architecture of the shrine, there were various hollows and ways for the sounds in the center of the shrine to carry to all the other rooms.  Therefore, in the shrine, the players could hear Julnaara's chanting of incantations.  For this, I decided to use a piece of music from Final Fantasy X, the Hymn of the Fayth.  Because I needed a female singing it, I went with the Shiva version.  It can be found here.  I simply played it on repeat in the background of the gaming session until the players came upon Julnaara and confronted her.

Many of my other games around the Genkarian area involves ships.  With a player like P@, such locations are where he's at his prime in acting and becoming his character at the gaming table.  Sometimes, a little background music can be used to prompt a character to further get into the character and dive into the game.  In a situation like this, I could describe the crystal water and the wind rushing through the hair of the passengers.  I would look to Niz to try and create a conversation/talk about something, and create a mood.  For such an event, I would use a piece of music.  I love this duet of Gerudo Valley from the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.  While the original version sounds like it belongs on the plains, this piano duet sounds like it could work very well on the sea.  It can be found here.

I also think sound effects can add a lot of the game as well.  While fighting Sahuagin, the party had to either dispatch them quickly or allow the sea devils to raise the alarm.  They failed, and the other sahuagin began calling to one another.  I used various Trandoshan sounds from The Clone Wars TV show.  That soundboard is located here.

 I've also used various lyrics, as they sometimes can sound like pieces of a family crest or saying.  I've taken a line from the Misfits song "Dig Up Her Bones" and put those words over an archway in Sierett Manor.  

"And death climbs up the steps one by one, to give you the rose that's been burned by her son"

In conclusion, sprinkling various important events in your games with music is a great idea.  Better yet, you can look to your favorite songs to provide inspiration for adventures, or even villains.  I cannot count the number of times I have listened to "Powerslave" by Iron Maiden and thought about what a great desert villain I could have.  What ideas has music given you for D&D?  Leave your comments below, and be sure to follow me on Twitter @artificeralf

Monday, January 21, 2013

Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons

"Snow goons are bad news."
-Calvin, Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons

It's funny when you have a bunch of ideas in your head, yet you can't seem to organize them/put them onto paper.  I'm at that place right now for my Vellyn (ice and snow continent) campaign.

There are ideas I've been sitting on for a year, and when I first got them, they weren't even Vellyn.  I had run a couple of adventures with my friends, and then planned on sending them into the Shadowfell.  While there, they would have to explore a location called the Library of Lost Secrets.  I planned on having them fight dark yetis, shadows, and evil snowmen.

Yes, you heard correctly, evil snowmen.  My middle school years were heavily influenced by Calvin and Hobbes, and I'm proud to say that those ideas carried over into Dungeons and Dragons.

 I even went on to start making some of my own snow goons out of Crayola model magic, toothpicks, and a marker.  I eventually settled on making them Large, because bigger monsters are just more fun to fight at the gaming table.

While I've been building continents and cities for my D&D games, I've mostly let those things grow naturally.  Genkar started as a city, then the guilds came into play, then the outlying territories.  Most of this stuff grew out of what the players wanted to do in the game.  I talked with P@ about fleshing out another piece of the world, and he told me to not force it and to just let the game progress naturally.  So, it's hands off.

Not necessarily the same for Vellyn.  Due to this being an entirely new continent with which I'm going to run this campaign, I'm trying to create some things as a baseline for the players.  I wrote about Vellyn back in August, and I'm still brainstorming things.  Brainstorming for Vellyn has given me some ideas about D&D campaign brainstorming in general.  

My two favorite D&D books (and granted, my knowledge is somewhat limited due to mostly hanging around a lot with 4E) is the Dark Sun Campaign Setting and the Neverwinter Campaign Setting books.  Why?  For starters, they both offer lots of adventure ideas and options while presenting the location.  I've tried to group locations and ideas for Vellyn in this way.  However, I think one of the best ideas in both books for designing a campaign location is found before Chapter 1 even begins.

Each book has about 8 characteristics which represent what a Dark Sun campaign and what a Neverwinter campaign is.  They present ideas that the DM should be thinking about when they construct the campaign and present it to the players.

So, here are my Characteristics of Vellyn.

1. Vellyn is frozen.
Don't look for temperate weather around Vellyn.  It doesn't exist.  The continent is located so far north that the seas around it are full of thick, frozen ice that only allows ships to pass through 4 weeks of every year.  This ice rock is an isolated, grim location to dwell.

2. Vellyn is primal.
If the cold won't kill you, the environmental threats will.  From snow blindness, to bitter cold, Vellyn is prepared to bury the unprepared in a cold grave.  Avalanches, blizzards and glacial rifts all cause once familiar landmarks and objects to be buried in snow.  Those who don't understand where they are or where they are going could soon find out they might never make their way back.  The number of predators lurking throughout the lands don't help either, be they yetis or Makta'Khala.
3. The War of Winter was fought here.
Legends say that when Khala, the old goddess of winter, sought to cover all the lands in eternal snowfall, she made her worldly realm here, causing endless snows and frozen wastes.  It seems that Khala's effects up on the land still remain, despite her having lost the war.  Relics and secrets of what happened during the War of Winter still lie buried amidst the snowy plains of Vellyn, unseen for centuries.
4. Vellyn is rich is residuum.
Magic flows through the land here as residuum, a silverish powder that can be used to fuel rituals and other spellcasting abilities.  Due to the isolation and difficulty of reaching Vellyn, many of these sources are untapped.  However, a few groups located south believe that it may be time to invest in Vellyn and profit.
5. Settlements are scarce.
The largest settlement on Vellyn is a coastal village in the south called Tilch.  The other are scattered throughout the lands and mountains, full of superstitious half-giants and shifters.  Occasionally, fey explorers stumble through various crossings, but for the most part, civilization doesn't exist here.

6. Exploration Awaits
Vellyn, unlike many other places in the world, has very few maps.  Most of the land lies unexplored.  Whatever ruins, dungeons, and places of wonder lie beyond villages like Tilch are unknown.  Many secrets lie on this continent, waiting to be discovered.

7. Expect the Unexpected
Due to the bitter cold, many races common in other places of the world aren't encountered here.  There are no goblin tribes.  No kobold warrens.  Instead, new dangerous predators lurk within the wilds.  Yetis roam the tundra, howling into the night to communicate with one another.  Makta'Khala, primal animal-men rumored to have been cursed by Khala, hunt stragglers and those lost in the wilds as prey.  Expert monster fighters come to Vellyn and learn they are sorely under-prepared, realizing they have no knowledge that can combat the cunning of these winter predators.

With that, I've defined Vellyn for myself and for my players.  Some of my players will like this, others won't really care.  I'm fine with that.  As a DM, I want to cater to all my players, and sometimes that includes different ways for each.

The only other ways I really prepare for the games I'm going to run is figuring out what materials I will need.  Generally this means poster maps, and various miniatures.  For the Makta'Khala and Yetis, I don't have monster tokens, so I've been investing in some Star Wars miniatures.

I hope this article has helped.  I've started to realize I'm the opposite of a Lazy Dungeon Master (heck, I think I always knew), but I enjoy this part of the game a lot.  Sometimes, it's nice to be creative and plan things.  I even started a Pinterest for my ice and snow ideas, found here.  As always, leave your comments below, and follow me on Twitter @artificeralf

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Few Words About Myself

"Who are you? I really wanna know."
 - Who Are You, The Who

Last week I interviewed Teos Abadia.  He answered seven questions for me, then suggested I answer the seven questions I gave him (slightly altered) about myself.  So, here we go!

1. What's the origin of the ArtificerAlf name?
When I first started playing Dungeons & Dragons, the first class I played was an artificer.  I thought it was fun making potions, items, and magic weapons.  When I started the blog, I wanted a cool sounding name that reflected my first experiences with the game.  For some reason, Artificer's Intuition jumped into my head.  I think I was subconsciously influenced by the Magic the Gathering card of the same name.  When I joined Twitter, the name @artificersintuition was too long, so I went with a nickname I've had all my life, based off my middle name.  The name was Alf (some have said I look remarkably like Gordon Shumway, but that has nothing to do with how I got my nickname).  From there @artificeralf was born.

2. What about the Feywild makes it your favorite plane/setting for a D&D adventure?
The first D&D book I ever purchased was the 4E Monster Manual.  Through my initial read/flip through, I noticed how every creature had a different origin.  As I continued to read, I noticed that a lot of my favorite creatures (elves, satyrs, dryads) all had the fey origin, meaning they hailed from a plane known as the Feywild.  As I learned more and more about the game and the various planes, the Feywild seemed the most interesting.  When I first read the Prince of Frost ddi article, I thought it was the greatest D&D lore I had ever read.  It inspired me to try and create a campaign around the character.  I bought 4E's Manual of the Planes just to read the Feywild chapter and get more information.  Needless to say, I was extremely excited for the Heroes of the Feywild book, just for a chance at some more Feywild-centric art and information.

I always found the concept of the Archfey and the Court of Stars fascinating, and was always on the lookout for snippets about them.  I had spent some time brainstorming some ideas about them, and was extremely excited when The Trinket Lord was accepted as a proposal and later published.  I am proud (and humbled) to have help create an Archfey and another permanent addition to the lore of Dungeons and Dragons.

3. How did you get into Dungeons and Dragons?
Back in February of 2010, I was at home on college spring break.  I was seeking internships with various companies, and in extreme pain due to rheumatoid arthritis which had struck from nowhere.  I was not in very good spirits, and felt pretty discouraged.  I was in constant pain, could barely move, and I wasn't sure if I would ever be able to go anywhere job wise.

One of my friends was back from his school on the other side of the state.  His roommates were into the game, and he wanted our group of friends to start playing as well.  I told him I had no idea about the game, but I would definitely give it a try.  I used the free character builder, and built a goblin artificer, as it seemed interesting and off-the-wall, even though I had no idea what I was playing.

We played a week later.  At this point, I had been to the doctor (before they knew what was wrong with me), and gave me some steroids to try and "re-align" my system.  I would be on steroids for a week, and during that time, I felt no pain and was completely myself again (for a week at least).  I spent all Saturday taking the steroids at the intervals I was supposed to.  By the evening, I was able to move without pain and felt like my normal self again.  This was the time that we were first supposed to play D&D.

I went to my friend's house, and we all gathered around.  One of my other friends, Peachey, had grown up playing D&D with his uncle and brought all sorts of books and modules.  We started by playing The Sunless Citadel theater of mind, with a few crude maps and dice to represent certain tactical layouts (when needed).  We met Meepo the kobold, and we were off and running.  We were running 4E characters for an adventure of a different edition.  It really didn't matter that much, since none of us knew that At-Will powers were allowed to be used all the time.  They just seemed so magical and awesome.

We played until about 1:30ish, at which point I drove back to school.  Due to the steroids, I was wide awake and pumped.  My creative ideas were back (they had be frozen at the end of high school to junior year of college), and all of a sudden, I felt renewed.  I wanted to keep playing this game.

The rest of that semester was torturous for me.  The steroids were eventually done, and the arthritis pain came back.  By the end of March I received my diagnosis.  I slept all the time and lost a ton of weight.  Thank goodness my genetics class was online, as that made my time easier.  Walking to class was a struggle.  Yet because of D&D, I had an escape.  I could think about the last game I had played.  I could think about one coming up.  I fleshed out my character.  I watched the Robot Chicken D&D Games on youtube.  I let myself be creative.

Three years later, I'm fine.  My arthritis is under control, and I can run and play frisbee and do all the activities I enjoy doing.  The thing is, I still remember those first few D&D games I played where I didn't know any of the rules and just played for the sake of story, feeling wonder, mystery and awe as I escaped from the issues I was facing at the time.

4. What's your D&DNext play experience been like?
I've written a few times about my experiences with the different playtests, so I'll give a quick summary about what I played.  In the first packet, my friends and I took turns running different encounters to get a feel for the monsters/combat and the different classes.  The next playtest, I played a character and DM'ed as we explored the Caves of Chaos for a bit.  Lastly, I ran the largest playtest I've done so far, a gigantic, 8 hour playtest involving me converting the Evil Tide adventure for play.  Ultimately, I'm happy with a lot of the small things, like Level 1 heroes can still hit a dragon, and the emphasis on storytelling and outside of combat abilities.  I don't think I'm great at determining if damage output is too high, or if monsters are too bad and the like.  I just try to focus on telling the stories I want to tell.  Generally, that always works out fine.

5. Who is your favorite D&D character you have played?  What made them special?
I would have to say my favorite character is my goblin artificer, Kov Nitikki.  This was a character that the rest of my group hated, simply because he was a goblin and was trying to help out his clan-mates and make people want to help goblins more.  The rest of my friends could care less about him, but the little guy was always healing them and sticking his nose out for them.  He once used his action point to grant an ally a saving throw against domination!  Despite all this, he was always a repugnant little stinker to everybody else.

I also enjoyed that he was an alchemist and an artificer.  Both things allowed him to tinker and build and carry large amounts of vials and components on his bandolier.  Out of all the characters in our adventuring party, he always had the most gear, the majority of it mundane, simply because he was always trying to be prepared.