The Secret Language of Character Sheets: Theory

There is perhaps no less fruitful question in my daily life then “what do you want for dinner?” The perfect answer is something direct and attainable like “grilled cheese sandwiches with ham like you made three weeks ago”. Acceptable answers include “pizza”. But the most common answer is some version of “I don’t know.” It’s frustrating, it’s unhelpful, and it is completely reasonable.

In my experience, rarely does it actually mean “I don’t know.” It usually means something much more nuanced like “I want a meal that’s warm and hearty but not too heavy, strong on umami but light on salt, preferably heavily sauced, but right now I don’t have the wherewithal to express that.” A person typically knows what they want to eat, but they can’t express it in language. They just know a particular dish or place or culinary style sounds good or bad, and they consider those dishes and places and styles rather than finding the links among them to get a picture of their current perfect meal. That’s neither wrong nor surprising. It takes knowledge of food to be able to say what you want in food terms, and it takes knowledge of self to be able to even begin looking at your wants in that way, and most people don’t have both in sufficient capacity.
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Campaign Write-up: The Eight Arms and the Day That Wasn’t

I don’t spend a lot of time here talking about how my current campaigns are going. I generally only mention what we’re doing week-by-week when it’s something I can apply to gaming in general or an opportunity to make fun of my bad luck. There’s probably some fun to be had in a narrative, in-character description of what we do each session, but that’s not really in keeping with a GMing advice blog.

Luckily there are other blogs, and one of my players is keeping an online journal for our campaign. Please thrill to the adventures of Dael, written by a player who heard me say “I want this campaign to be darker and more serious” and decided to play a drunken master of a monastic order founded on a typo. If you really what to go blog diving, this is the same player who brought us Egan Mospru, another character in the same setting, and Lao, Laotzu, and Lao!ze, the latter of whom is in this setting by virtue of becoming a god. I’m pretty sure this character will survive the campaign and complete his story, but it’s my first go at 5th Edition. So far I’ve only almost killed three characters in three sessions, so fingers crossed!

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Campaign Report – Monster of the Week

In July I finished my first non-d20 campaign. Having played in and more or less enjoyed campaigns in Fate, Icons, and a Powered by the Apocalypse system, I wanted to apply that sort of narrative, rules-light feel to a campaign in the Eight Arms universe and see how it mapped to somewhat stereotypical D&D. We’d already been giving the rules a bit of a light touch in Pathfinder and I thought running in a system that actually supported it was the next logical step. I settled on Monster of the Week as the system because it matched the feel and the presentation I wanted; most PbtA systems I see are about settings more than anything else, and finding a system that worked in multiple settings was an unexpected boon. Our group applied one of the ideas we’d had while faffing about one week, of a group of low-level folks who begrudgingly dealt with a high-magic world, and gave it a whirl.

It didn’t go great. To put it pithily, the the campaign ended more than a month ago and I’ve only recently separated myself from it enough to have a logical opinion on what happened. It was not a crushing failure, but it wasn’t a rousing success either. I went through several rounds of blaming myself, blaming the players, and blaming the system, in that order, until I think I’ve come to a point where I can look at what we did, what went wrong, and how to handle it in the future, all without burying any of the people who decide whether my characters live or die next week. My general takeaway is that while the campaign might have had its good points, this confluence of GM, player group, and play style was not a good match and I’m probably not going to do it again.
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Static Representation of Constant Motion

We generally accept that what’s happening on the game board isn’t necessarily exactly the same as what’s happening in the game. The most common example of this in my games is usually when minis stand in for other minis, but there are several examples enshrined in the rules: creatures aren’t actually five feet wide, they’re moving around their space looking for positioning; monsters have reach based on their size, regardless of how long the arms on their figures are; attacks that deal hit point damage don’t always draw blood, etc. In our games we’ve added a principle to this pantheon to remind us of how the narrative is playing out and encourage more interesting, dynamic play.

We call this principle “static representation of constant motion”. Continue reading

Posted in D&D 3.5, D&D 3rd Edition, D&D 4th Edition, House Rules, Pathfinder | Tagged | Leave a comment

Themes: Competitor

Actually I think I don’t have anything to say about this one.


You live for victory. You constantly seek to improve yourself, and your greatest triumphs come at the expense of others in your field. Your focus may be on individual accomplishment like a master of games, working with allies as in a team sport, or proving yourself in combat against ever-more-deadly threats. You won’t rest until you’re not only the best you can be, but the best in the world, with all the recognition and perks that entails.

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