Monday, October 31, 2011

Baby Sitting

Spent the weekend with some relatives. Again I am thankful for my current lack of children and that my relatives don't as me to babysit. One of them decided that they were given milk in the wrong kind of cup and proceeded to lay face down on the kitchen floor, screaming into the ground. I laughed. This probably means I would be a horrible parent. Or that I find other people's suffering amusing. Must be why I'm such a good DM.

Art from here
LooneyDM out

Saturday, October 29, 2011


I have been blessed with a lack of players who want to play evil characters "FOR TEH EVULS!1!" But now and again you run into them regardless. Of course there are always a few tell tale signs and for some reason the players don't want to accept that it might give them away. "Why, why does huge black feathered wings make people think I'm evil." "Why do my demon horns make people run away?" Sometimes there is no explaining. Just head shaking and sighing.

Art from here
LooneyDM out

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lava Moat

Did you know that in 3.5 D&D there is a shark that lives and swims in acid. Isn't that awesome? It's a templated creature so you can even make other aquatic creatures that live and swim in acid. You know, like an elasmosaur. Nothing better than an acid pit full of sharks than an acid pit full of dinosaurs. Now lava is a little different but there's still D&D monster from elemental planes of fire or flamey death that live happily in lava. So stock up your moat full of lava and lava monsters. The heroes will love it or burn trying to cross it.

Art from here
LooneyDM out

Monday, October 24, 2011


Your true friends are the ones who will follow wherever your quest leads. Even if it takes you into the depths of the underworld. Or you know they're truly over the edge of lunacy. Speaking of being over the edge of lunacy it's been a while since there were quotes. Have some quotes. I'm too lazy to give races and classes so figure it out by going back in the archives if you really want to know.

Haruhi: "Right, no hitting on the demon, guys"
Boddywyn: "Says the psychotic cat..."

guardian: "You leave a trail of blood behind you?"
Haruhi: "Only if my sandwich isn't totally cooked"
I'kishaeila: "It's a terrible medical condition."
Boddywyn: "More often than I'd like" *mutters*
Pliny: "It's a very managably amount of blood."

Pliny: (( ...Action-NAP ))

I'kishaeila: (( and for my minor, I grumble. ))

Haruhi: (( we did all the roleplaying stuff ))
Haruhi: (( it's important to do that so you know who you're supposed to be killing ))

LooneyGM as fiend: "I shall escort you back to the shaft."
Haruhi: (( hurr hurr hurr you said shaft ))

Haruhi: "Iki you owe me a cake"
I'kishaeila: "So I do. I should suggest you be terrified. If Varna is still standing, it won't be when I finish this cake."

Pliny: (( VAMPIRE GAME ))
Pliny: (( We brought stakes, right? Or! We can stake him with one of our wands! ))

I'kishaeila: "Fire will chase the bugs out nd takes care of the people infesting the city."
Haruhi: "But if we burn the whole city how am I going to get my cake?"

Haruhi: (( oh you are SO going to get my furious counterstrike right in your teeth ))
Haruhi: (( hang on tea ))
LooneyGM: (( furious counterstrike waits for no man, but it does wait for tea ))

Art from GIS for sulfur mining
LooneyDM out

Friday, October 21, 2011

Tavern Brawl

You know why your PCs went to the tavern. It's certainly not for the atmosphere. It's certainly not for the plot hooks. Probably not the vittles either. Yep, the fighter just punched the ugly guy at the bar, time for a good old fashioned tavern brawl! I believe there's even a game specifically based around tavern brawling. A rather comedic one if I recall correctly.

Art from here
LooneyDM out

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Possibly NSFW. Hooray for female armor or lack there of. They must be either super dextrous or be receiving a magical bonus from somewhere for armor like this to be worth it. Or perhaps she's a caster and doesn't wear armor anyways. Also it's game night and I am sort on verbage as it's going all to the game.

Art from here
LooneyDM out

Monday, October 17, 2011

Killer DMs

We've all known killer DMs. Or at least we've heard the jokes and horror stories. Thankfully their type seems to be dying out. Though you never know, they could make a resurgence. A really annoying resurgence. I'm not a fan. It is one thing to play a game against a highly skilled opponent. It's completely another to play with an antagonistic person in a system where they hold an inordinate amount of power over the game. I know some people enjoy the challenge but it's not for me. I came to RPing late enough that a DM or GM who worked with the players to create a great story and create fun for everyone wasn't a foreign concept. All in all a good deal. That's how I roll.

Art from here
LooneyDM out

Friday, October 14, 2011

Tabletop RPG over the internet: The Long Haul

Note: This is the 4th part in a 4 part series about RPGing over the internet. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.

Inventory time! You've got a group, you've got a medium, you've got a game. Now let's look at the last piece of the puzzle. How to avoid burning out on GMing over the internet. There are two ways I use to keep myself from running out of steam for the games I run. The module mindset and the prep lite mind set. There are also tricks I use to lower my workload. I'll discuss those last.

The module mind set is a new idea to me. I'm testing it out in one of the games I'm running now. The thought process behind the module mindset is not to use modules like the name might suggest, but to frontload all the prep. I'm working to create all the encounters for a set part of the adventure rather than prepping in the week before. I'm doing this before the game even starts to offload the stress. If you plan far enough ahead you can finish all your prep before the first session rolls around. This takes a lot of stress off you as you only have to shuffle things around based off player actions during session. The downside is this can be fairly inflexible if the players decide not to take your plothooks.

The prep lite mindset isn't new, either to me or the rest of the internet. Lots of people run in prep lite settings, or simply don't prepare anything at all. This takes pracice, and a system that supports it. Many heavy mechanical systems need prep time to make sure encounters flow properly. Improv skills are a plus, as well as the ability to play off of your players. The base point for prep lite is the plot hook. You don't have to flesh anything out, but you need your starting point. From there you can springboard from where your players lead.

Every GM needs a bag of tricks, especially when preparing for games. I'm going to open up mine and let you have a look inside. Being a programmer by training, I try to create reuseable everything. Maps are the big time saver for reusability with online tabletop programs. Build a library of images that can be placed generically or non-generically with a few modifications. Being able to draw the encounter boundary, fill it with base terrain, and drop in a few set items is much faster than creating a new map every encounter. There are piles of free tile sets and textures out on the internet you can add to your library. The same goes for tokensets and other images. A map for a forest road/clearing encounter can be reused at a later date, or in another campaign. Don't create from scratch if you can avoid it. Use encouter based maps instead of mapping out every square of the dungeon in your online tabletop (though that can be lots of fun for a game. If you do map out everything, make it simple). See how much you can reuse if you start a game in a new setting. Many fantasy creatures look fairly alien and sticking a different colored filter over a desert map can transform it into an alien landscape. Make sure you have plenty of time to add to your library if you can't reuse for your new setting.

Finally, take a break! Always always take a short break between campaigns to give your brain time to rest up and for you to prepare what you need to run the campaign. I give myself at least a week off between campaigns, sometimes two. Take a few months if you're really toasted.

I hope you've found my musing useful to your endeavors to play tabletop rpgs over the internets. Here ends the series. Next time back to your regularly scheduled random posters.

Art from here
LooneyDM out

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tabletop RPG over the Internet: Tools

Note: This is the 3rd part in a 4 part series about RPGing over the internet. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

Let's take a quick inventory of where we are. You decided to run or play RPGs over the internet. You've pulled together a group. Now you need to decide what medium to use to run your game. I'm going to run over play by post, chat, and various online tabletop programs with a bulldozer to see what turds and diamonds pop up. And away we go!

1. Play by post (pbp)
I'm going to preface this with a warning. I dislike play by post. I have not had a good experience using the pbp medium for RPGs. Ever. I'll still try to give it a fair shake on the pros and cons. Most likely I will fail, but here goes anyways. The good part about pbp is the convenience. Since there's no scheduled game time it is much easier to attract a group of players who will commit to updating on a regular basis. It's much easier to participate in multiple pbp games because of that same convenience. That's it as far as good points. On to the bad. Pbp games suffer from a unique problem. A player can leave the game or forget about it and not only may no one know about it for several weeks, but it can cause the game to come to a complete stop. Unless there is another method of contacting the absent player besides the forum you won't know if they've left the game, forgotten, or had something come up. It can kill the game if the DM doesn't step in and skip their turn within a reasonable amount of time. Pbp games additionally suffer from being unsuited to turn-based game structure. The more a RPG mechanics care about who does what in what order, the more pbp games grind to a halt when using that particular system. I don't recommend pbp games, but again I'm biased. I have heard anecdotes about successful pbp games. It may be you don't have any other options. Perhaps your experience with pbp will be better than mine.

2. Chat
It's possible you recruited your group entirely from chat. This makes setup quick. Simply create a new room and invite all your players to join. The downside to chat is similar to pbp, but not as debilitating. People can disappear off chat without warning and you won't know if they're gone for good or not. The easiest way to deal with this is deadlines. For example, I give players 15-30 minutes to show up after the official start time of the game. If I have enough (3 or more) by then I run the game. If not, I cancel the game for that session. This way a single missing player only cuts a little bit of game time. I start looking for a replacement if a player doesn't show up for 5-6 sessions in a row and they're not in my "core". Chat games can have issues if you're running a highly tactical system (4e D&D) without visual aids. Even with visual aids it is a slow process. I recommend running rules light or medium systems for a chat only game. You will need a dice roller if you don't want your players rolling meatspace dice. Dice rollers are easy to find, and some RPG specific chats even have dice rollers that can be invited to your private game room. The big upside to chat games is the technology is simple to set up and the downsides are easy to overcome. I started my online RPGing running chat only games. I recommend chat only games as a starting point for anyone looking to run tabletop games over the internet.

3. Online Tabletop Programs
You're not the only geeky person out there who wanted to play RPGs with people over the internet. Some of these geeky people got together and built programs to create a tabletop experience over the internet. First, I'm going to give you an overview of pros and cons that all online tabletop programs share. Then I'll give you a list of online tabletop programs and recommendations. The downside to online tabletop programs is the technology setup. Hands down, online tabletops require the most tech knowledge and time investment of all the RPG over the internet mediums. Hosting the server for these programs can be a nightmare. Your server can stop working mid-game. Learning the ins and outs of the program can take weeks or even months depending on your dedication. The advantage to working through the tech stuff is a near replica of your tabletop. Maps, minis, chat, dice rolls all of these take place in real time. It's very shiny and adds a lot to the game. I don't recommend using an online tabletop program on your first game. You'll have enough stress from wrangling players and prepping. You don't want to compound that with a technology failure. Once you have the experience of running online, then takes you steps into finding a tabletop program you like. On to the online tabletop programs.

ScreenMonkey( Pay software that has a trial/demo version. I found screenmonkey to have speed issues, even on strong internet connections. This seems to stem from the fact that the clients all connect over a web java interface. While this does mean anyone with a web browser can connect to your server it causes slow downs and server/client sync issues. Unless you have an environment where your players refuse to download any software to their computer I don't recommend this one.

OpenRPG( Free software with pay for modules and maps. This tool is fairly comprehensive in its offerings tool wise. The downside is it is not really in development anymore and only supports windows. If you have mac users in your group they are out of luck. If you rely heavily on modules for your DMing and don't mind paying for them this is a decent choice.

GameTable( Free software. This tool is quite barebones. It has chat, a dice roller, minimal maps and customization. The good part is there isn't much to learn outside of the basics that come with all online tabletop programs. The bad part is there's not much room to customize to tailor to your game. I recommend this one if you're looking for a simple program.

Maptools( Free software. Runs on java so any device that can run java can install the client and run it. From my experience this is the best supported, highest feature online tabletop out there. It is the photoshop of online tabletop programs. If you want to use it for its basics the learning curve isn't steep. If you want to dive in deep the curve is steeper, but it is matched by the customization you can obtain. The same site provides other tools for managing your game, but none are required to run. Except token tool. If you're not using tokentool you need to have your head examined. One cool part is your players can gain value from maptools even if you choose not to dig in deep. I personally don't use the macros, but my players do. Maptools is what I use for my games and I recommend it for anyone who wants a deeply customizable online tabletop program.

My final online RPG medium recommendations. If you're new to the online RPG experience, try out a chat only game backed up by a dice roller. This will give you a feel for how online tabletop games flow. Then give online tabletop programs a shot when you're ready to step out of your comfort zone. Next time I'll cover long-term questions and address the issue of burnout.

Art from GIS for iphone dice
LooneyDM out

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tabletop Gaming over the Internet: Getting Started

Note: This is the second part in a 4 part series about RPGing over the internet. You can read part 1 here.

I'm assume that since you're still here reading that you've decided to give RPing over the internet a try. Or you're looking for ideas to improve your online RPing. Or you're just here for the posters. If you're in the third group you can stop reading right now. I'm not going to make any comments about the poster. If you're going to RP online you need a place to start. The first thing you need to start is a group. No group, no game. In today's post I'm going to cover finding, building, and then keeping a group on the internet. So where does one find a group on the internet? Well I'm glad you asked.

1. RPG related Forums
There are a whole host of RPG related forums out on the internet. Many of them have places where you can find other players who want to play the same RPGs that you do. These places make it easy to jump in feet first to games with people on the internet. Here's a short list of RPG related forums along with my recommendations about their suitability for finding players and a group. Homepage for Dungeons and Dragons. I'm only including this one because I know people will ask. It's not a good place to find players for online games. There are no forums specific to finding players and the only locator option directs you to playing D&D Encounters. EN World Forums. A robust, highly populated forum for RPGs. The forum includes play-by-post subforums along with a gamers seeking gamers subforum where you can recruit or be recruited for a variety of online gaming mediums. Large forum, but not focused on online play. Mythweaver forums. A friendly community specifically aimed at connecting people to play RPGs over the internet. You can browse the recruitment forum or search for games based off system and/or medium of play. Smaller than others, but entirely game focused which makes up for the smaller numbers Forums for the Order of the Stick comic. Also home to a fairly lively community of people who play RPGs online. The forum includes play-by-post subforums along with a player recruitment subforum where you can recruit or be recruited for a variety of online gaming mediums. Forum for Maptools (a tool I'll cover in the next installment). They have a looking for group forum specifically for people looking to play RPGs using Maptools. Good if you're looking for a maptools game. Forum for OpenRPG (a tool I'll cover in the next installment). They have a looking for group forum specifically for people looking to play RPGs using OpenRPG.

2. Chatrooms
Many of the previously mentioned forums have chat rooms. Most of them exist on IRC (internet chat rely) though some use other mediums. I'm not going to delve into the mechanics of IRC here as there are lots of better written guides on the internet that you can find with a simple search for "IRC". Chatrooms differ slightly from forums in their pace and their lack of enforcement about off topic discussions.

Let's talk about building a group now that you know where the RPers are on the internet. This part is specifically aimed at DMs and GMs, but you can be a group builder and organizer even if you aren't the one DMing or GMing every week.

1. Building the Core
I have a set of 2-4 players in each of my online groups that I consider to be the "core". These are the people that reliably show up session after session(obviously no one has perfect attendance). These are the people who let me know in advance when they can't make a session (provided they have warning themselves). These are the people that play well together and with others. These are the people that follow you when you switch campaigns. Note that your "core" can change over time. So how do you get your core? Become a member of the community. Pick a forum or chatroom and become a member. I don't mean just signing up for an account. I mean post in threads other than recruitment and the games you're in. Ask to watch games you're not in to get a feel for how the community plays. The more you participate the more you will be able to identify the other members of the community who would be a good fit for your "core" and the more they can identify you. It also lets you look for non-"core" players to fill out the ranks. When I run a RPG online I try to recruit the maximum number of players I can handle (around 7 or 8 depending on system) so when someone inevitably has to miss a session the game doesn't have to be cancelled(I run if at least 3 players show up).

2. Retaining the Core
So you have your "core" and you want to keep playing with these people for years. How do you keep them coming back? Several ways. Be consistent, don't change your session day or time mid-campaign or at campaign switch unless there is a significant consensus among your "core". Find a groove. Your "core" should all enjoy a similar playstyle. You need to find that and provide it. You can experiment, but make incremental changes and watch the reaction from your "core". Uninvite players who don't fit, especially if they're not part of the "core". It may sound rough but it's better to have a great group of 4 players than a group of 5 with 1 player whose playstyle conflicts heavily with the rest of the group. Give them options. When I end a campaign I take a week or two off and put together 3-5 campaign proposals for what I'd like to run, then have my "core" rank their choices.

I've gone over where to find players willing to participate in tabletop gaming over the internet, how to assemble a "core" group of players, and how to retain that same "core" of players. Hopefully this gives you a good start into the world of tabletop gaming over the internet. Next time I'll be talking about the tools you can use to facilitate tabletop gaming over the internet.

Art from here
LooneyDM out

Friday, October 7, 2011

Tabletop Gaming over the Internet: Why and Why Not

Tabletop Gaming over the Internet: Why and Why Not

This is part I of a IV part series on the basics of tabletop gaming over the internet.

Since you're reading this I'm assuming you have an internet connection. Unless by some bizarre happenstance someone has printed out this blog and you're reading a dead tree edition. I'm also assuming you have some interest in roleplaying games. Perhaps you play RPGs over the internet. If so, you can get lost as this series isn't for you. Okay that's a lie. This blog series is meant to be a primer for people looking to start playing RPGs over the internet but it should provide some insight for long time internet roleplayers as well.

First off I want to address the whys and why nots of RPing over the internets. Starting with why nots because I like getting bad news first. That way the good news comes as a happy ending, assuming the bad news isn't just worse news in disguise. But enough dwadling, on to the why nots!

1. Gaming over the internet is unreliable
Unlike video gaming over the internet where you can engage in pickup games with total strangers over matchmaking services, you're relying on the same set of people to show up at the same set time each session. In my real life group we all have each other's phone numbers. We call if someone is late and didn't let us know they weren't showing tihs week. Not so on the internet. In many cases you'll be lucky to know the real names of the people you're playing with and maybe they'll give you an email address or chat id. Because of this anonymity it's much easier care less about missing a session. This goes extra for groups that are just starting. Real life happens and next thing you know you're several players short of a functional group.

2. RPing over the internet takes longer.
RPing over the internet takes longer for several reasons. Most people talk faster than they type and listen faster than they read. Live audio moves faster than typing in a chat window but is still slower than face to face converstation. People get up from their computers for any number of reasons. These reasons are usually more numerous than at a live game table. When they return they need to either read back in chat or be brought up to speed on the conversation. Each individual instance may only take a few moments longer than if you were playing in real life, but over the course of an entire session it adds up. The end result is less time spent RPing. As a rule of thumb I find that online sessions accomplish about 2/3rds the amount of their real life counterparts

At this point you're probably wondering why someone would even bother with tabletop RPing over the internet if there are big pitfalls. The good news is the pitfalls can be overcome. I'll cover those in part II. Which brings us to the inspiration to RP over the internet. The whys

1. Game group breaking up
Real life happens. People move out of city, out of state, out of country. Your long time or college or high school gaming buddies are scattering to the four winds for job, romance, or more schooling. Real life gaming is now out of the question. Enter the internet. You can keep your gaming group alive in a different medium as long as everyone's schedule can accomodate it. It will take work to get used to the new technology but it is absolutely worth it to keep those gaming connections.

2. Can't find a real life group
Perhaps RPing isn't big in your location. Perhaps your location isn't big enough to have a thriving game community. Perhaps you live in Alaska in a town of 30, counting the local pets. Internet to the rescue! The internet as a collective has a larger pool of RPers than even big cities. The larger pool means not only an easier time starting games but an easier time finding games. Finding people who can game when you can game is a huge advantage if you don't have time to set aside an entire weekend day every week. This also applies to the amount of gaming you can do. I run two games, one on wednesday evening, one on saturday evening, and play on another saturday morning. The evening games are on the internet and only run for ~3 hours a session. Without the internet I wouldn't be able to have this much gaming.

3. Adventurous/Niche RPers
RPers on the internet have a wealth of information available at their fingertips. Because of this they are more informed about systems that aren't D&D. This knowledege can make them more willing to try new systems. You can also find fans of niche systems or RP styles that don't exist in your local area. Tired of running D&D dungeon crawls but all the local RPers don't want to change? The internet has lots of RPers who share your desire! Found a new system and your group doesn't want to try it? There's people out there on the internet who do!

Good grief that got long winded. To explain, no there is to much. To sum up, you should join us crazy RPers on the internet. You can find the time! Tune in Monday for part II of this blog series

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Point Buy Systems

Point buy systems are fun. Lots of fun. Sometimes most of the fun is finding out how far you can push the edges of the system. Or in this case the beard of the system. I always thought it was weird that I enjoyed 3.5 D&D even though it was a class system when other class systems just didn't appeal. Then I realized the terrible truth. 3.5 D&D builds like a point buy system with the class levels taking the place of "points". It was a bizarre realization brought on by the design of 4e D&D. Even though it was complete accident in the design it made me appreciate the 3.5 D&D mechanics more. Still hate the christmas tree effect all around but what can you do when the system math requires it?

LooneyDM out

Monday, October 3, 2011


Hope is a wonderful DM tool. Keep it alive in your players and you can end up with incredible situations. Let it die off to soon and the epic encounter turns into the frustrating downer ending. It's all about the management. Keep them looking to the dawn, keep them on their toes, and don't drop the castle off the cliff until someone says "at least it can't get any worse".
On a different note, I'm going to be starting a series here on my blog about the 101s of running a tabletop game on the internet. Seems like a silly thing to put on the internet but I don't want to assume everyone out there knows all the ins and outs of RPGs on the internets. Hence my introductory series. That and I want to collate all my thoughts on the subject into one place outside of my brain.

Art from concept art for Epic Mickey,
LooneyDM out