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Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #448

8 Tactics for Mooks



This Week's Tips Summarized 

8 Tactics for Mooks

  1. Wear Down Resources
  2. Terrain and Traps
  3. Combat Maneuvers and Strategy
  4. An Edge
  5. The Battlefield
  6. Forethought
  7. I Got Friends
  8. Illusion

For Your Game: Magic Item Backstories

Gamemaster Tips Summarized

  1. Alternative to Candles
  2. D&D 4E Resource
  3. Gaming Podcasts
  4. My Favorite RPG - Mythworld
  5. Simple Game Master Improvement Process
  6. Post-Apocalyptic Weaponry

Johnn Four's GM Guide Books

Ditch the notebook. Get a wiki!

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Obsidian Portal allows you to create campaign websites for tabletop RPGs. Every campaign gets a shared blog/wiki to showcase their story, as well as integrated tools to help track NPCs, locations, treasure, and all the other details that make up the game.

Roleplaying Tips subscribers can get a special bonus by using the promo code 'rptips2k9' on signup!

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A Brief Word From Hannah 

Faerie Books

I've read a couple of books recently which have given me a whole new way of looking at faeries.

The first one is Midnight Never Come, by Marie Brennan. I love everything she's written, so I overcame my misgivings about intrigue-y books and picked it up. It's set in Elizabethan England, and follows the lives of courtiers in both the mortal court and the faerie court hidden beneath London. If I had to summarize the book in one sentence, that sentence would be, "Seven hundred pages of reasons not to mess with the fae."

If you're looking for the perfect blend of fantasy, history, and manipulative cunning, I suggest giving it a try.

Midnight Never Come

The second book is Blood and Iron, by Elizabeth Bear. It is similarly full of faerie intrigue, but set in modern New York City, among other places. Faerie is gradually being overcome by the mortal world, which fights battles with iron and magecraft rather than names and glamouries.

This book gives even more reasons why crossing - or even catching the eye of - the fae is a bad idea, even in a world where steel girders keep the faeries from one's threshold more surely than horseshoes ever did.

Blood and Iron

Gaming with Children

It seems all anyone can talk about these days is how to game right, who's doing it wrong, and how difficult it all is to tell it apart. A refreshing change from that is the story of a father running through Keep on the Shadowfell with his seven year old son:

It's full of inspiration for gamers of all ages, great ideas for running games with kids, and more than a few "awww" moments.

Hannah Lipsky
AIM: DemonIllusionist

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Advanced Adventures #10: The Lost Keys of Solitude in PDF

Advanced Adventures #10: The Lost Keys of Solitude will hit stores in June, but you can pick up your electronic copy now at, the publisher's cooperative. This OSRIC(TM) module is designed for 6-8 adventurers of levels 6-10. Explore the terrors and treasures of Solitude!

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8 Tactics for Mooks  

By Ian Winterbottom

Encounters in the early days of campaigns are harrowing and exciting. Nothing beats the feeling of accomplishment that comes from overcoming a real threat by the skin of your teeth.

As your PCs get more powerful, though, this old zest might fade. The joy of desperation and the excitement of winning begin to disappear as the group cruises through encounters without feeling threatened. There is hope though, as you'll see below. Following are a few ideas for making mooks deadly for even tough parties.

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1. Wear Down Resources 

Use strategy, tactics and missiles to whittle away PC health while causing pain and frustration. This makes the character's fantastic +5 Holy Avenger into overkill; smiting the evil ones is suddenly using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Make them also waste spells, magic, oil, holy water, etc.

Have whoever gave them directions to get here be hopelessly wrong or even evil, but now out of reach.

Maximise frustration, minimise abilities. Have the mini- enemy insult the character, and also have him beaned by a rock; only one hit point is lost, but the player feels singled out. Make sure the monster seems uncannily accurate.

Make the most powerful character, who thinks himself indestructible and invulnerable, feel vulnerable and even targeted. And make his ripostes seem useless; there is nothing worse than getting shot at when you cannot fight back effectively.

This has the added advantage that each foe they dispatch -at possibly high cost to themselves - nets them a relatively low reward in terms of treasure and the experience.

Contempt can also be a useful tool. If players despise the lowly attackers, they are more likely to get careless and more likely to allow lost tempers to cloud judgment - how dare these pesky little blighters challenge real men?

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2. Terrain and Traps 

Have the contemptible mini-attackers use missile weapons, ambushes, or preset traps towards which they herd the PCs. Caltrops, rockslides, collapsing floors and pits.

Have archers and crossbowmen use cover and surprise, lie down or kneel, and open fire from a high and impregnable position. With any luck your PCs will waste time, hit points and energy trying to take a position by frontal assault, before trying to figure a way around it.

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3. Combat Maneuvers and Strategy 

Charge and swarm tactics by even the smallest or lowliest of opponents can take down an overconfident character. Above all, remember there are a lot of them.

Nets, ropes, and tripwires can immobilize characters or render them helpless.

Small characters might be swift to claim their bonus to avoid being hit by larger characters. Who's to say that smaller, swifter, sneakier goblinoids don't enjoy the same advantage versus that hulking fighter?

Even an extra point, or better, two, in defense will make them that much more elusive.

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4. An Edge 

Give your monster some relatively tiny advantage - what the old-time gunfighters used to call an edge.

Perhaps they can fly, if only for short distances. Some form of camouflage ability; can they Blink, or just Hide in Shadows, even become invisible for a short period?

Any of those render them capable of a surprise attack, possibly while a PC, who should be able to shrug off their attacks, is busy attending to several of their mates. Remember that flanking and rear attacks often get bonuses to hit.

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5. The Battlefield 

Have the battle occur in some place that maximizes the creatures' advantages and minimizes those of the PCs. If some obstacle such as magma or a chasm is separating the PCs from their adversaries, have the baddies maximize its use.

Even better, if the enemy is atop a mesa or cliff, the PCs need to climb to reach their adversaries, leaving them at a disadvantage when they reach the summit; they must spend at least a few moments reorganising themselves before battle is joined. Have the monsters attack while the PCs are busy climbing and sorting themselves out.

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6. Forethought 

Planning ahead doesn't only apply to dragons. Just because they're only kobolds doesn't make them stupid.

They will know the terrain in which they live, and will have taken steps to fortify it. They might set up cover, pre-laid traps, or blocked escape routes or attack routes that nevertheless seem inviting.

If the PCs don't take enough trouble with reconnaissance, it is their own fault. Secret passages can be a two-edged sword; as well as leading the party in behind enemy lines, they can quite easily lead to an attack on your own vulnerable rear.

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7. I Got Friends 

Maybe the crafty kobolds have befriended someone or something a lot bigger than they are. Who's to say that just around the corner from their hidey-hole, in what looks like an inviting route to sneak up on the pesky creatures, they haven't installed (or at least made a pact with) a brutal and bestial ogre?

He, she or it is willing to cooperate to some extent because the kobolds have promised him that if he lays off them, they'll do their best to lead succulent adventuring parties right to his front door.

They might even promise him the lion's share of the loot. If you are only two feet tall, a double headed axe twice your own height is not much use to you, nor is a two handed sword; but the ogre could use it, if only to trim his fingernails.

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8. Illusion 

Not necessarily magical. Remember these little buggers know their home turf, and have had plenty of time to think out ideas to defend it, and to make the lives of those invading it nasty, brutish and short.

Perhaps there is a cave somewhere where the voice of even a kobold echoes like that of a god? One could hide there, hurling the most vile of insults; "stunty" to a dwarf, "pointy-ears" to an elf.

Don't overdo this, but if some fact about the adventurers is in your opinion obvious from their appearance, let the voice use it, giving the impression of supernatural knowledge.

To further that illusion, might they not leave the aforementioned axe or double handed sword in plain view, fostering the impression that whatever is making all the noise is big or mean enough not to need such a weapon, and has simply discarded it?

And while the party's attention is focused in the direction of the disembodied big voice, the friend from above can attack from the other direction.

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For Your Game: Magic Item Backstories 

1. Rifle of Magic Missile

From: Tommy

Two factions are about to begin fighting and tensions are high. During this period forces begin to arm themselves as best as possible. An alchemist or mage offers the PCs' side certain rifles that never miss their mark. This suddenly shifts the advantage towards the one side.

This is a problem. The mage/alchemist is an enemy of the PCs and by selling his rifles he is going to gain large amounts of wealth and power. This is something that would definitely be harmful in the future.

The PCs are therefore left two choices: allow him to gain power and face him in the future, or confront him now and risk him switching sides. They should also consider if they can beat the other side without have his help.

2. Ring of Sustenance

From: Brandon Echols

A talented sorcerer decides to call it quits after a youthful career of adventuring. Having had enough of life on the road, he retires to his home community for a life of peace and quiet. There's just one problem: his beloved ring of sustenance.

Over time, he's become so used to having it that he finds it nearly impossible to readjust to requiring food, or drink, or more than a couple hours of sleep every night. Taking it off throws his entire life into chaos, and so he resolves to simply keep it on.

Who wouldn't, when such a problem presents itself? After all, a ring of sustenance is a great little item to have. Of course it is; as long as you're keeping watch every night in the wilderness, going days without food in a dungeon, and crossing great deserts by night.

Living in a small town is a bit different. The common folk - not knowing the ways of magic, especially sorcery - being to make subtle warding signs when he passes, because they never see him eat or drink. The lamps stay lit in his home all night. When he dines at someone's home, he acts as if food and wine are foreign concepts - as if he has not eaten in a long, long time.

He is never seen in the local food market. There is no garden at his house. Eventually, the rumors start. People begin to suspect that something horrid happened to him on one of his adventures. Local "experts" on the subject suspect he might be some sort of undead creature, or that some fell power has taken hold of him.

Slowly - so slowly he barely notices - he becomes an outcast within his own community. The somewhat-bizarre behavior of sorcerers does not help his case, and it doesn't take much for a mob to form after a few men get particularly drunk and brazen in a local tavern. Taking farm implements and torches to his home, they crash through the gate and drag him into the street.

Although he tries to explain that "it's just my ring!" the people are in no mood to have their suspicions allayed, and he ends up being driven out of town by the horde of armed citizens. A hundred spells come into his mind, but he is too good of a man to use them on the townsfolk. Later, he watches from a nearby hilltop as his house and all his treasured possession are turned to ash.

That's when something dark and twisted awakens within him, and he vows to get revenge. He decides he'll never lose anything, ever again, because of his simple-minded morality. He begins to wonder if such things as "law" and "ethics" and "common decency" are what have been holding him back for so long.

All because he did not want to take off a simple, innocent, little ring.

3. Dwarven Cure Potions

From: Brent Jans

Far and wide the dwarven people are renowned for the strength and unique tastes of their brews. While everyone can name at least one dwarvish ale, porter or stout, few outsiders are aware this same love of brewing is present among dwarven clerics.

Competition - friendly and otherwise - is fierce between the clerics of the various dwarven deities to see who can brew the most flavourful, and above all, potent, potions.

Although each faith can lay claim to superior brewing of one or two more exotic (expensive) potions, it is the humble curative potions that inspire the hottest competition. Clerics vie continuously to create better tasting and more powerful curative potions than their brethren of other faiths.

Holy festivals are held so that each church may present its best brews for judgment. In this way churches gain prestige both for their brews and their deity.

The Hook: Shortly before one such holy festival, the Head Brewer of the Church of Moradin goes missing. He was working on a secret curative brew that he had assured his superiors would win them the festival competition.

Naturally, suspicion falls on the other churches. Not that they would hurt a fellow cleric, no; but they might "misplace" him until after the competition. But was it one of the other clerical orders, or is there something more going on? And what the heck is in that secret brew?

4. Food-fixing Buttons

From: Aaron Bianco

The wine waiter at the expensive restaurant rolls over a small cabinet with several wine bottles inside. He offers the patron a sip of a bottle and ask if it OK, or if he would want something slightly sweeter, or dryer, to suit his tastes.

As this expensive restaurant is all about style, atmosphere and wealth, the waiter tugs on his cuffs to bring down his sleeves and reaches in to grab another bottle for the patron to sample. Once the patron is satisfied with the sample, the waiter again straightens his appearance and then bends his knees to get the unopened new bottle from the bottom rack of the mobile cabinet.

Unbeknownst to the patrons, the wine waiter is adjusting the dryness of the wines using the magic cufflinks.

This is not the only magical jewelry that operated in this five star establishment. However, one of the owners has gone missing and taken the other pieces with him.

Each of the other items was a button on his shirt which, when activated, changed the food in one of several ways. Each button on the shirt has a flat face with the following symbols: an orange, a honeycomb shape, a type of pepper (almost like a zucchini), a spider web pattern, several round circles with very numerous circles of smaller and smaller shape.

These buttons, when pressed, affect food in the following ways:

  • Increase the "orange" flavor in a food or drink
  • Sweeten a food or drink with a honey flavor
  • Increase the spiciness (heat) of a food or drink
  • Detect poison
  • Made a drink effervescent

Alas, the owner who always "sampled" a food from the kitchen to make sure it was to the "personal tastes" of the patron, has gone missing. It is important to not only find out what happened to him, but to get the buttons back.

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Twin Rose Software Launches New Site

Twin Rose Software, creators of the Campaign Suite line of RPG Management tools, has launched a new web site featuring downloads, blogs, forums, articles and more! New content is added daily, as well as updates and previews of the upcoming Campaign Developer Suite. Webmasters can promote their sites, post their blogs, and more.

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Gamemaster Tips 

Have some GM advice you'd like to share? E-mail it to - thanks!

1. Alternative to Candles 

From: Jeff

One alternative to real candles are the many varieties of battery powered candles now on the market. From small tea lights to tapers and larger pillar candles. Safer because there is not hot flame to deal with. Especially if the game host has pets or small children in the house.

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2. D&D 4E Resource 

From: Mike Evans

I don't know if you've ever been to this site or not, but it has some good helpful sheets for 4 players.

Thought I would pass along the love!

Dragon Avenue D&D 4E Resources

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3. Gaming Podcasts 

From: Paul Ramer

Check out Role Playing Public Radio (available free on iTunes). They have some sessions of live games recorded as well as other content.

The official DnD podcast is also pretty good (on iTunes). It's now obviously always 4th edition but still worth checking out.

From: Jason Schaumberg

I listen to a number of excellent RPG podcasts. Fear the Boot, Have Games Will Travel, All Games Considered are all excellent.

For actual play I'd recommend Role Playing Public Radio first and foremost.

From: Johnn

A few more actual gameplay podcasts or audio files:

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4. My Favorite RPG - Mythworld 

From: Paul Cardwell

Mythworld is one of those little desktop jobs you won't find in the game stores, but still has an abundance of ideas to improve the state of the art in game design. It was originally designed as a proposal for RuneQuest 3, but was rejected as being too detailed.

The game is sub-titled Realistic Fantasy. This is not an oxymoron. The laws of physics are relatively intact. Except for the traditional fantasy factors of polytheism, magic, and many intelligent species, it is like our world in the early iron age. Many players base their characters on actual cultures.

Mythworld is easy to learn. If you don't know the rule, you can usually figure it out. After a character is generated, about the only chart a player will consult is in the unhappy event of rolling a fumble. Charts are for the players to make characters and for the scenarist to determine the weather and other natural phenomena that may affect the story. Otherwise, they are not used in playing the game.

There no levels for the character, only for their different skills, which are on a percentage-to-accomplish basis. These skills can be improved either by training or experience. The effect of the thousand meter fall depends on terminal velocity, not "level" (yes, it is covered in the rules and is in metric - the math is easier). Characters can get injured. They don't carry on as though nothing happened until the last hit point is used and then drop dead. They can lose abilities and even consciousness and still survive. Beginning and experienced characters (or players) can participate in the same game with no problem.

All characters have a trade and a religion. Trades come in handy at the oddest moments in an adventure and the religion is the source of magic ability, with some spells that are unique to that religion. These are covered in the books on Skills, Spells, and Outfitter.

The Bestiary has such useful details as actual movement speeds, life-cycle chronology, population density, etc., and was once used by the Dallas Museum of Natural History for an Olympics tie-in exhibit on animal running speed and jumping distances because it was the only single place with those details. There are even permission-used Gloranthan critters left over from the game's RuneQuest ancestry.

There is no alignment. Real people don't have it, but are a mess of sometimes conflicting loyalties to self, family, nation, religion, job, political party, hobbies, and other groups. Game characters should be just as complex.

There are no experience points for the nasty referee to hand out or withhold as the mood strikes - or more precisely, EPs are intrinsic in the game. Learning can be by experience, there is the lawful loot obtained in an adventure that may be used directly or has monetary value, and there is income from one's trade. All can be used to obtain training, equipment, and supplies, but training takes time as well as money.

Mythworld is anti-hack'n'slash. The adventurer operates under far more restrictive rules than a modern bounty hunter. A live prisoner is worth ten times that of a dead one. Many adventures will have no combat at all.

Character generation takes time - which is often intimidating to beginning players. The character sheet is four pages, although one is for mounts and most of another is equipment inventory. However, you will start with a well- rounded character - a bit weak in some essential skills, but they will develop. Once, at a convention, we discovered the handout characters were missing so three experienced players generated ten fully developed and detailed characters in one hour to make the event.

Cooperation between PCs and often NPCs is essential. There is at least one NPC essential to the success of the mission, so violence is never a first choice. There is an established way to divide loot (weaker gets the item most needed to correct the weakness). There is a lot of teaching of skills within the group since that keeps the money in the group and thus increases the power of the group as a whole. Indeed, the most unrealistic aspect of Mythworld is that one can often make more money teaching than from the loot on an adventure.

Disease and injury exist. There is even coverage of altitude sickness for those stupid enough to seek a hippogriff egg (hippogriffs are viviparous). Resuscitation exists, but is not the cheap grace of D&D. It requires a shaman capable and willing to perform the ceremony, and is dangerous to both the shaman and the PC.

There is an introduction scenario in the boxed set, and three separate scenarios have been published, with more on the way once the revision is complete. Of course, those for other game systems can be adapted with varying degrees of difficulty.

The game is currently in revision (the first since the original in 1985), but includes an update of the changes so far in testplaying the revision. Assistance in testplaying is welcome. Further questions and order requests can be directed by e-mail to [email protected].

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5. Simple Game Master Improvement Process 

From: Loz Newman

To paraphrase the immortal Alan Demming:

  1. *Perceive* a need
  2. *Develop* a potential improvement
  3. *Check* its effects
  4. Repeat steps 1 to 3 in order to *Act* to correct the unwanted side-effects or install more improvements.
  5. (Optional) Raise your base-line acceptable minimum to meet new standards.

Repeat 1 to 5 as needed to continuously improve.

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6. Post-Apocalyptic Weaponry 

From: BetraM

re: Roleplaying Tips Issue #445

Good day,

I was just looking at Issue #445, and noticed the part on post-apocalyptic weaponry.

It reminded me of a chat I had with a friend once, over the absurd level of technology featured in some games, such as the Fallout series. There were basically 3 levels: spear- chucking tribals, then a sudden leap to just-pre-war weaponry, and then the slightly futuristic laser/plasma weapons.

It was kind of weird that most of society was seemingly still perfectly content with the supplies the past had given them, with minimal production. There was no middle-thing between the tribals and the 21st century.

I would like to point the distinguished GM to, home of a German indie RPG, (translation in progress) centered around a post-apocalyptic Europe, one of the meteor-struck kind. It has a very interesting Bazaar chapter that assigns to all items a tech-level, which a city must have reached to produce any given item.

The levels are fairly simple:

  1. Nomadic tribes, items mostly made of stone and bone
  2. Junk gets molten and turned into tools, nails allow the construction of buildings and ships, swords and farms
  3. Early muskets and cannons, manufactures
  4. Automated conveyor belt production, modern guns
  5. Actual computer networks, possibly even government- sponsored education
  6. Magical fairy wonderland, pre-war cities

The possibilities are quite interesting; imagine desert rangers coming across a Napoleonic army, or a band of Libyan slavers cutting down knights on horseback with WWII era machine guns. I for one also enjoyed parts of the fluff text, some of it was quite atmospheric.

There are levels of technology between the stone age and the 21st century. Use them in post-apocalyptic games.

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Johnn Four's GM Guide Books 

In addition to writing and publishing this e-zine, I have written several GM tips and advice books to inspire your games and to make GMing easier and fun:

Inns, Taverns, and Restaurants - new

How to design, map, and GM fresh encounters for RPG's most popular locales. Includes campaign and NPC advice as well, plus several generators and tables

Adventure Essentials: Holidays

Advice and tips for designing compelling holidays that not only expand your game world but provide endless natural encounter, adventure, and campaign hooks.

GM Mastery: NPC Essentials

Critically acclaimed and multiple award-winning guide to crafting, roleplaying, and GMing three dimensional NPCs for any game system and genre. This book will make a difference to your GMing.

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