Thursday, June 30, 2016


My good friend, and Google Hangouts GM Keith Jacobson requested a Campaigns I Have Known entry on my most memorable Japanese mythology/folklore inspired Fantasy game. Funny thing is, one of the fellows in that game just recently posted a 'Remember This...?' entry on my wall on Facebook.

Well that's too much of a coincidence to ignore.

I've run a number of games set in a mythical, feudal Japan, but my preeminent one was Shinto No Unmei, or 'The Destiny of Shinto', back in 1988-89. I used Bushido, the Japanese Medieval Fantasy RPG classic by Fantasy Games Unlimited, although modified as noted below.

Campaigns I Have Known
Proudly Presents...


The Mechanical and Creative Influences
for this campaign:

Bushido (FGU)
Land of the Rising Sun (FGU)
The Dagger of Kumi (One of my all time favorite animated films)


System: Bushido* (Fantasy Games Unlimited) - Additional Rules from Land of the Rising Sun (FGU), and House Rules.

*In truth, this campaign used a kitbashed system of my own making that was about 80% Bushido. The remaining 20% was a mixture of simplifying what was in the core rules, adding bits from Land of the Rising Sun (also from FGU), and a few house rules. The overall effect was, as I recall, very detailed while remaining highly functional.

Circa: 1988-1989. There were roughly a dozen sessions, each lasting 8-10 hours. For reasons related to scheduling conflicts we were never able to complete the climatic final battle and finish the campaign.

Sad panda.

Player Base: There were five players, all male, ages 18-20. All the players were present for all the sessions, and unlike a lot of my other games, there were no guest players, or characters.

Characters: I remember most of the characters from this game quite well, which in, and of itself is very interesting. Granted, this game was not as long ago as some of the others I've covered in the recent past, but I think it's more than that. This campaign was just that good.

Katsuhiko Otomo - Gakusho Shinto Priest / Shugenja (Played by Joe V.)

Katsuhiko Otomo was a Shinto Priest, or Gakusho, who initially hid the secret truth that his priesthood was a front for his real vocation - a Shugenja/Mage.

If I remember correctly, Katsuhiko was indeed trained as a Shinto Priest from the time he was a very young man. His ancestors came to him in a terrible dream, wherein they charged him with a quest to find a Ronin Samurai (Yoshi Yamashita) whose destiny would shape the future of Japan. Otomo was gifted/cursed with mystical powers to help him achieve this goal.

Katsuhiko was always the voice of calm, and good sense when the world around the PCs seemed to be spiraling into madness. At the same time, he was the most Human of the player characters in attitude, manner, and deed. He could be scared, get frustrated, and liked good food, drink, and a warm place to sleep when it was available.

Otomo avoided violence whenever possible, but could fight quite well with his Tetsubo (a knobbed bo staff/club), and various mystical powers, and spells.

Moki No Shingun - Neko Hengeyokai Kensai (Played by Eric F.)

Moki No Shingun (Moki of the March - Specifically 'Shingun' refers to a 'military march' or 'the coming of an army') was a strange young man with green eyes, and an oddly, eerily graceful way of moving. When first encountered, he was thought to be a commoner Bushi, a local warrior for hire. 'Moki' had developed a bit of regional renown, as he had defeated several bandit gangs with his enchanted sword, a very old tachi blade.

Like Nakagawa, and Otomo, Moki decided to join Yoshi Yamashita on his journey back home following the death of his uncle the Daimyo. It was implied that Moki may have had another reason for going as well. Something like, "I've been meaning to head that way. I would travel with you if you wouldn't mind the company."

Over time we learn that Moki No Shingun was a man of many secrets, including that fact that he was not really a man at all. Moki was a Hengeyokai, an animal spirit (in this case a cat) who could assume Human form. You could also become a seemingly normal cat, and with some effort and expenditure of Ki, a hybrid form with varying degrees of transformation**.

In addition to supernatural abilities from his status as a cat spirit such as amazing reflexes, balance, night vision, and stealth rivaling Nakagawa's, Moki was a Kensai, or 'Sword Saint'. His enchanted tachi was not enchanted at all. Rather, he spread that rumor to hide the fact that he had a number of Ki powers that could be channeled through his sword (or which needed a sword as a focus).

In one particularly awesome sequence, Moki and Shogu had taken a short cut through a forested area to come out behind an enemy. Yoshi and Katsu had taken the long way around the woods by traveling the main road. When Yoshi and Katsu arrived to enage the villain, they were surprised to have gotten there first.

It was taking an unusually long time for Moki and Shogu to get through the forest, which was peculiar since this was the short cut! Eventually, Moki used the Spirit Sight of his cat eyes to see that a curse had been placed on the forest. As they moved through it their speed bled away. Like a dream where you run, but go no where they were quite literally 'wasting time'.

Evoking the power of his Ki, and placing part of his spirit into his sword, Moki sliced through the curse, seemingly swinging at nothing, but in actuality 'cutting their time in half' (the player's description/explanation). Shogu and Moki then burst from the woods behind the enemy forces to see Yoshi and Katsu approaching from down the road.

Moki was an excellent swordsman, possessed of numerous special abilities as mentioned, and a decent hand-to-hand combatant. With not as proficient with martial arts as the other warriors in the group, he made up for it with remarkable speed, acrobatic skill, and the occasional claw attack.

Moki's full story is never completely revealed unfortunately. My idea, based on clues, suggestions, and other elements of the story was when the enemy forces summoned supernatural aid to assistance them with their plans, the Shinto gods sent Moki to level the playing field as it were.

Shogu Nakagawa - Profession Unknown - Definitely NOT a Ninja
(Played by Nelson M.)

Hailing from a small fishing village on the river, Nakagawa claimed to be the last survivor of a flood that had killed his family. Impressed with the wandering Ronin Yoshi Yamashita (and he with Shogu), the two quickly became allies if not friends (not right away anyway). Nakagawa decided to tag along with Yamashita on his journey to avenge his uncle, the former Daimyo.

Shogu had an interesting skill set that made him at once very useful, and at the same time difficult to categorize by way of profession, and station in the setting's society. At first he seemed to be a beggar from a fishing village that had fallen on tragedy. He could fight  very well unarmed using martial arts, or with a sword like a Bushi (a Warrior, or Soldier). He was quick, stealthy, knowledgeable about the woods, and knew various pyrotechnic tricks that lead some to believe he was a Shugenja.

Eventually, the group determined Nakagawa was an entertainer; an actor or performer of some kind trying to make a living off his skills. One thing was certain of course - since Ninjas were fictitious bogeymen long gone from the world, Shogu was definitely NOT a Ninja (an ongoing, in game line said as a running gag by one player, or another at least once every session).

The truth of course was that Shogu Nakagawa was very much a Ninja. He was the last surviving member of the Dark River Ninja Clan. A mysterious patron had hired the Dark River Ninjas to defend the Daimyo against an attack that was known to be taking place later that evening. The Dark River Clan, the Daimyo, and all his bodyguards, and forces present were killed in the attack.

It is unknown if the patron was honestly sending the Dark River Clan to help the Daimyo, but they were overpowered, or if it was all an ambush set up by the mystery employer.

Nakagawa primary weapon was a Tanto (Japanese samurai short bladed sword, or long knife). He would later use a Ninjato / Tanto combination, oddly mirroring Yamashita's occasional use of the traditional samurai pairing of the Katana and Wakizashi.

Nakagawa used a mixed martial arts style that was part Kung-Fu, part Jujitsu, and part Karate. He perfected the 'Flying Dragon Kick' - a devastating, Ki-enhanced, running leap kick.

Yoshiyuki Yamashita - Ronin Samurai (Played by David C.)

Youngest male of the Yamashita Clan, nephew of the great Daimyo Masao Yamashita. Yoshi was off delivering a message to Yamashita Clan allies when his uncle's fortress-like home was attacked and invaded. Word reached him while he was passing through a small town on his way back.

With his uncle dead and his father having passed on when he was a young boy, Yoshiyuki was now technically Daimyo of the region. Since he was not present when the Daimyo and his fortress fell, those familiar with his clan colors and emblem but who did not recognize his face assumed he was Ronin - a masterless samurai at best and at worst a coward.

For a short while he hid his identity and excepted the Ronin label to avoid the culprits of the attack targeting him before he could get to the bottom of what had transpired. Surviving brigands and assassins on his way back home, Yoshi befriended a wandering priest (Katsuhiko Otomo), a vagrant performer (Shogu Nakagawa), and a peasant bushi (Moki) who all decided to join him on his journey.

Evidence at the site of what could only be described as a massacre seemed to point toward foreign invaders, but the clever Yoshi, with the help of his new friends, soon realized this was a ruse.

Whomever the attackers were that slew his family, his clan-mates, and sent the region into chaos, they were not Buddhists, Chinese, or anything of the sort. They were Japanese, cleverly but cruelly trying to frame foreigners. In addition they had brought with them a supernatural element. They were evil, pure and simple, and they needed to be vanquished.

While skilled with the paired Katana and Wakizashi combo traditionally attributed to samurai, Yoshi more commonly utilized an Odachi, a long or 'great' sword that predated the Katana. This was especially true after he found the enchanted Odachi dubbed 'Ashita' (Japanese for Tomorrow).

Yoshi was also adept at martial arts, focusing on karate, judo, and an early form of aikido. He created his own close quarters fighting style patterned after Chinese Kung-Fu which he dubbed Mongoose style. It primarily consisted of very quick, short punches that started low on the opponent's body and then moved upwards towards the neck, face, and head.

Synopsis: I'm sure you can piece together a good bit of the campaign from the character write-ups, but to consolidate and simplify...

While on a mission to deliver a treaty agreement to his clan's potential new allies, Yoshi Yamashita, youngest adult male of the Yamashita clan, discovers that his uncle Masao, the regional Daimyo, was killed along with most of his family, loyal retainers, and samurai.

Yoshi immediately vows to return home, only to discover rumors have been spread explaining his absence at the battle that destroyed the Yamashita Clan as cowardice.

Travelling in disguise as a Ronin, Yoshi crosses paths with a wandering Shinto Priest named Katsuhiko Otomo, a strange Bushi called Moki No Shingun, and a beggar and performer named Shogu Nakagawa. Together they journey to the fortress home of Yoshi's uncle, which begins an intricate mystery as to who attacked and why.

Without the Daimyo's influence, the area quickly erupted into chaos, with numerous enemies and allies alike attempting to take control of the countryside. Only the Ikeda Clan, old and wise, stayed out of the competition - ready to assist whomever came out on top with the transition form the old order of the day to whatever new status quo resulted. Eventually clues and later hard evidence pointed to the Ikeda clan as the instigators and orchestrators of the entire predicament. Also, it seemed they had a supernatural ally, a Witch who may have been possessed by a Demon, or perhaps been a Demon herself.

With the help of his allies and the pure nature of his heart, Yoshi Yamashita showed his true identity as a man of loyalty, honor, and leadership. He assembled a volunteer army of mercenaries, commoners, and peasants and lead them against the Ikeda clan, and it's allies.

The final battle between Yoshi and the leader of the Ikeda clan, as well Moki and Katsuhiko versus the Demon-Witch, and Shogu of the Dark River Ninjas against the leader of the Fire Mountain Ninjas was, sadly, never run. It is one of my deepest, hell one of my only, gaming regrets.


In addition to the Action/Adventure Cinema nature of this campaign, it was also one of my first to go a little deeper and tackle social, political, cultural, and even religious ideals and issues. While there is definitely a focus on the hero's journey here, The Destiny of Shinto was also about more than that.

A lot of the game had a sub-context that asked, "What happens when a society and culture changes - whether from within or without due to outside influences?"

Are we better off changing and adapting with the times or do we fight for our established traditions and beliefs?

Although set at an indeterminate period in Japan's history, it is definitely a time one can roughly estimate with careful observation. Japan is aware of China in the campaign and the threat of 'foreign invaders' (as well as being the foreign invader) is very real. Buddhism is depicted as encroaching on the old ways of Japan's Shinto culture and religion. It is initially framed as foreign, different, and perhaps dangerous but eventually it is clear it isn't 'evil'. It is simply a different set of beliefs.

The death of Masao Yamashita and the 'old' Yamashita clan must be avenged by Yoshi, who seeks to carry on the memory and traditions of his ancestors. At the same time, Yoshi adapts to the changing times better than his predecessors. He does things his way. He doesn't lose who he is or where he came from, but he doesn't dwell in the past either.

Appendix N: The source material found in Bushido and Land of the Rising Sun was actually some of the best, most accurate material on Medieval/Feudal Era Japan ever produced for RPGs. Lee Gold, who wrote much of Land of the Rising Sun, would later go on to do GURPS Japan, another fantastic resource.

In addition to the games themselves I found information and inspiration in several books on Japanese culture, mythology, folklore, and religion in a number of libraries and Japanese bookstores (only one of which remains in New York City - Kinokuniya Books. Sadly Asahiya Books and Zen Oriental Bookstore are both closed).

Additional resources included Osprey Books, Akira Kurosawa films, and numerous Japanese Anime/Manga, especially The Dagger of Kamui, a huge favorite of mine. It really set the tone for much of the game.

Finally, I had two very special consultants on the campaign. One was a young Japanese woman I was friends with who was born in Yokohama (I believe). She only lived in New York during the school year, then returned to Japan in the Summer. I think her father was a diplomat, or something. The second was a friend of mine who was half-Japanese. He was an aficionado of Samurai era Japan.

Bonus Features:

I wanted to use as much, and as accurate, Japanese naming as I could (which wasn't easy in the days before the internet) but my 'consultants' really helped in that regard. That's true for any of the Japanese words we used, from meaning to pronunciation.

Dave and Nelson had been in a few games together.
Dave and Eric had been in a number of games together.
Eric and Nelson had been in games together.
Joe had been in games with Dave.

This was the first campaign I can recall where all four of them were PCs in the same game at the same time.

I didn't own a copy of Bushido at the time, nor Land of the Rising Sun. I borrowed a friend's copies in order to develop the campaign.

The phrase, "He's NOT a Ninja", in regard to Nelson's character Shogu, began honestly and naturally. The other PCs really didn't think he was playing a Ninja, but couldn't figure out what his profession was. When it became clear he was indeed a Ninja, we established in game that Yoshi had convinced himself of the delusion that his good friend could not possibly be one of those terrible, not to mention mythical, assassins.

Anytime some plays a Ninja or Ninja-like character in any games, of any genre, and part of the conceit is that they are hiding that fact, the phrase "He's NOT a Ninja" is uttered by someone in the group in the exact same way we said it back in 1988-89.

**Moki No Shingun could change himself into a 'Catman', though more often he only changed a part of his body. He was more likely to be a man with cat eyes, clawed fingers, padded feet, or have Anime style cat ears. I only recall once or twice where he did a full, hybrid transformation.

I apologize for the lateness of this post.

Originally done on June 28th, and edited on the 30th, I meant to post it that Thursday due fell asleep. I've not been sleeping well again recently - more so than usual I mean - and it's thrown off my posting plans. Hopefully this was entertaining enough to be worth the wait.


Barking Alien

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Love and Memory

This past Saturday, the 25th of June, a friend of friends of mine got married.

To each other that is.

I've known the bride for almost 25 years. I've seen her through two boyfriends, passing relatives, a girlfriend, or two of mine, my engagement, marriage, and divorce, and all manner of good times, and some less so.

She is a warm, funny, creative person, an amazing artist, and one of the best RPG players I've ever had the pleasure of GMing for. She was a member of the oft-mentioned, and much vaunted 'New Jersey Group' that I ran some of my best games with over the years.

It made me so happy to see her so happy. Her head was together, her sassy attitude in full gear, and her demeanor that of genuine bliss.

The groom, and I have know of each other for close to 20 years. We were never friends per se, but rather distant acquaintances.

I always remember him as a friend of my friends, yet always on the periphery. He never seemed close to those I was closest to in this particular group. Like a moon in an extraordinarily wide orbit.

I was very pleased to have had the chance to talk to him, get to know him, help him with some of the logistics of the day, and impart the tiniest bit of advice from my own experiences. Clearly I am no expert on marriage, but I like to think I let him know he had a friend in his corner whom he didn't know he had. If anything, I hope that took a little of the edge off his nerves.

It was a beautiful ceremony performed by another friend of theirs (and mine), and yeah, it was pretty awesome.


On a unrelated, related note...

Among the guests I encountered at the wedding were people I hadn't seen for the better part of a decade, or more. A few I have communicated with via Facebook, or email once in a blue moon, but for the most part it took a close look, followed by a literal double take in one instance for them to recognize me, and vice-versa.

Before the wedding, and at the party after, we caught up and waxed nostalgic about old times. As gamers are want to do, we reminisced about games of yore.

My pal Phil mentioned our old Star Wars game, and how it was the best game he'd been in. I thanked him. He told me about a new Star Wars RPG campaign one of the guys had started, and honestly it sounded pretty damn cool.

A little while later I got to talk to the fellow running it, and we shared notes.

Some time passed, the subject of the new Star Wars game came up again, and someone mentioned how I had run this amazing campaign that they all still talk about. I turned to see it was a fellow named Robert's very hard to explain the gravitas this fellow has. He is a true scholar. A brilliant, wise, thoughtful man. His health has suffered somewhat in recent years, but he still looks surprisingly youthful. When he speaks, everyone falls silent. He has the gift of great knowledge, but the know how to avoid being long winded. Astounding guy.

Anyway, I felt a bit embarrassed as he wasn't even in my old Star Wars: Ever The Brave campaign. As I started to thank him, but try to diffuse some of the praise, he went on to say that having seen it, and those who played in it, he had "never seen a game so evocative of its source material, that engrossed its players to the same degree. It was truly a work of art."

Again, Robert wasn't in the game. He had observed it many times, and knew many of the players in it quite well. As you can imagine, high praise from a fellow I respect a lot had me wanting to run a victory lap, and hide under a table in equal measure.

Finally, no more than a ten minutes before I had to leave I was in a conversation with the guy I mentioned who was running the new Star Wars game. He says to me, "You know what? We've been talking shop on and off all day, and I don't think I actually got your name"

I was embarrassed, and said, "My apologies. I'm Adam Di..."

"OH! YOU'RE ADAM! THE ADAM! You're the guy they're always talking about. You ran that Star Wars game they keep mentioning! You ran other stuff too. They're always saying you're the best."

Heheh. I've never been so happy to travel home by train. I don't think my ego would've fit in a car by the end of that day.

I miss my NJ Group. They are really, good people, and great gamers.

Hopefully, we can reconnect, and not wait so long between visits.


Congratulations to Lynn and Matt,

I wish you Wisdom, Harmony, Peace, and Love

Lynn and Matt
Art by Matt, Colors by Lynn

Barking Alien

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Getting My Bearings

A little status update before I talk about something more substantial.

Campaigns I Have Known remains one of my more popular series of posts, and I couldn't be happier. It gets a large number of views each time, and while it doesn't get a ton of comments, the ones I receive are complimentary, and really make me feel good about the endeavor.

If anyone has a game they'd like me to cover I'm open to suggestions. For the rest of this month I'm going to try to cover games that are atypical to what I usually address (Sci-Fi and Supers), but in the months to come I will be returning to my faves.

I know what you're thinking (my species is telepathic), "How can we suggest games for Campaigns YOU Have Known? We don't know what you've played." This is true of course, but I've played a lot of games. No, no. A LOT of games. If you suggest a game, and I haven't run it I won't choose your suggestion. Easy peasy.

Thing is though, I've played so many games, over so much time, that sometimes it's hard to think of one in particular that others might find interesting. A suggestion might jar my memory, while simultaneously letting me know what my readership wants to read about.

My planned Player Profiles series has been delayed, but I do intend to follow through with it as it's something I've been wanting to do for some time. Celebrating the players who've made my time in the hobby so awesome is the least I can do for all the hours of fun they've given me.

I've only been able to post a one Thorough Thursday this month, which as the posts themselves are noted for saying, "That's just wrong". I hope to get to at least the next two before month's end. If not, there is always next month, and onward.

What Other GMs Do Wrong went over well this month, but again, I really only posted one entry on it. I've been GMing for the most part, and haven't really encountered a situation where another GMs approach triggered my need to critique a particular gaming pet peeve. This is a good thing. It means I'm playing with really good GMs (or that I'm getting soft in my old age. Frell that noise! I'll find something to get agitated about if it kills me. Heheh).

That's about the size of it right now.

In the upcoming Summer months of July and August, I intend to get back to some older projects, expand on the series above, and discuss some of the new projects I've started. Plus August 25th, 2016 is 39 years that I've been gaming!

Holy Hortas in Hard Vacuum! Do you realize what that means? Next year will be...40 years.

Good grief.

Barking Alien

Thursday, June 16, 2016


I'm a few Thursdays behind in my plan to bring back Thorough Thursdays, but I'm glad to finally get back to the series.

This month I want to make a concentrated effort to not talk about Science Fiction, and Superheroes.

In addition to getting back to certain reoccurring theme posts, I was looking to address the fact that although I (like anyone else) have my favorite genres, subjects, and games, I've enjoyed and played a lot of different kinds of RPGs.

One genre that I rarely favor, but which has occasionally resulted in some really fantastic games, is Horror. However, we are looking at a very specific type of Horror - one with a dollop of Funny.

Follow me as I take a long look at a very specific game...


Prior to this post, I've only tagged Stalking The Night Fantastic, the supernatural Horror-Comedy RPG created by Richard Tucholka, Chris Beiting, and Robert Sadler for Tric Tac Games in 1983, four times before.

I've probably mentioned or alluded to it a few other times.

That's just wrong.

Original 1983 Cover and Third Edition 1990 Cover.

This game, and this entry, is a bit of an oddity.

Most of the time, Thorough Thursdays posts focus on a subject very near, and dear to me that for some reason I've never addressed in detail. This was the original idea of the series at least. Take a game, a TV show, a famous person or what-have-you that means a lot to me, realize I haven't ever really talked about that person, or thing, and rectify that situation pronto!

Then there are subjects that I want to discuss because they interest me, but the opportunity to do so just hasn't come up for one reason, or another Sometimes these are even favorite subjects, but they are ones I think about and would love to look at a little more.

Perhaps examine them more...thoroughly? Heheh. Ahem.

Stalking definitely falls into that later category.

STNF is part of a certain breed of game that was very popular in the early to mid-eighties, even if each individual game wasn't hugely popular among the masses. These games all shared the common traits of being cool ideas for RPGs that were then buried under incredibly crunchy, and complex mechanics.

Stalking The Night Fantastic has a number of interesting elements going for it. Not the rules of course, but interesting elements nonetheless.

First off, the overall tone of the game is a little bit tongue-in-cheek. Depending on how you read into it, the setting either has a hint of humor, or it's a downright comedy (best handled as a dark comedy in my opinion).

I personally ran it a bit more on the serious side (believe it, or not), with humor sneaking in through the use of clever, character banter and the occasional oddball NPCs. My take would fall in line more closely with Hellboy comic books than it would, say Ghostbusters (although my later take on Ghostbusters upped the scary factor as well).

The game itself focuses on a super secret organization known as 'Bureau 13' that investigates unexplained phenomena, and protects America from the strange, and supernatural. A mix of Hellboy's B.P.R.D., Men in Black, and the X-Files, the agents of Bureau 13 are not your polished, James Bond type spies. Rather, its field operatives are a mismatched assembly of former soldiers, police detectives, civilian researchers, and other assorted specialists.

In edition to normal men, and women fighting off the denizens of the dark, paranormal  agents were also possible. I recall a Vampire, a Spectre, a Sorcerer, and a Psychic among the various PCs to appear in our campaigns. A friend's campaign featured a Were-Squirrel PC. No, you did not read that incorrectly.

Agent McNamara was killed in action in the Summer of 2013,
and he STILL reports to work on time every morning.
What's your excuse?

The adversaries in Stalking The Night Fantastic are incredibly diverse, as well as over-the-top. It is here that you see comedic angle rear it's head in earnest. From the aforementioned Were-Squirrels to a few pun related beasties, truly anything is possible. The classics are still the best of course, and Zombies, Ghosts, Demons, Cult Members, Ancient Gods, Flying Saucers, and creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monsters are all fair game.

I've always felt this game had a lot of potential, more potential in fact than it's notoriety and popularity would elude to. I've run campaigns of it on a few occasions,  and I'm not even entirely sure I achieved the full potential of the game as I imagine it.

There is this amazing place that lies somewhere between Call of Cthulhu, Chill, Ghostbusters, B.P.R.D., the X-Files, and many other related settings that this game is perfect for depicting. The road to that place is hard to find for some reason.

Maybe one moonlit night, somewhere far away from the eyes and thoughts of the unbelievers, I'll find it.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Campaigns I Have Known
Proudly Presents...


Part II

Synopsis (Continued...):
And now the second half of the campaign, which features the two new players/PCs entering the fray following the departure of Aaron and his recently deceased Elf.

The story thus far...After being marooned on a mysterious island by a terrible storm at sea, two old friends, a Fighter and a Cleric, join forces with an Elf they met to find shelter. They discover Skull Mountain, the former home of a giant long since dead.

Strange creatures and fantastic treasures are found within the mountain. With each level deeper our intrepid explorers descend, the foes become more dangerous, and the rewards greater!

On the next to last level, the sixth level of Skull Mountain, a terrible creature slew the Elf as he tried to help his allies.

Now, with their Elf friend gone, the Fighter and Cleric swear to find out what is at the very bottom of Skull Mountain if it's the last thing they do! Before they can make good on their plan, another dreadful storm comes through, depositing a damaged boat, and two new castaways into their midst.

Jeff's Fighter, and Josh's Wizard had arrived! David's Fighter and Matt's Cleric brought the newcomers to their campsite, gave them food, and some first aid, and learned about the brothers' need to go home.

The PCs made a deal to aid each other in their respective goals. The newcomers would help the Fighter, and Cleric explore the lowest level of Skull Mountain in exchange for some of the treasure, and their help in repairing the boat. In exchange, the brothers would take the stranded adventurers with them to The Mainland**.

Fairly quickly, things became complicated. A series of phantoms accosted the newcomers, especially Jeff's Fighter. Luckily, Matt's Cleric had the magic amulet that let him see the ghost-like figures, as well as speak with them. They turned out to be ancestors of Jeff's people and they were trying to warn the brothers to leave the island immediately.

Josh's Wizard, and Matt's Cleric consider this, while the two Fighters refuse. Jeff wants to find treasure and weapons to aid his nation. Dave wants to avenge Aaron's Elf.

Boldly pressing onward, the party uses the pit entrance in an attempt to reach the sixth level quickly. Unfortunately, slippery ledges and loose rocks make it slow, and treacherous going. Exploring the area thoroughly once they arrive, they PCs discover it to actually be the den/nest of the creature that killed Aaron's Elf. In addition, they felt that the creature had been placed there on purpose by someone, perhaps as a guardian beast.

Was it the protector of whatever, or whomever was on the bottom level?

Finally, the PCs made it to the seventh, and final level, which turned out to be a cavernous chamber filled with seawater which formed a miniature lake. In the lake was a small island, and on that island was a domed, stone structure about the size of a small keep. Several other structures were found that eventually led to the party calling it 'The Domed City'.  

The Domed City is revealed to be the home of a race of Dwarf-like beings who saw Skull Mountain as both their home, and their charge. They felt it was their 'true purpose' to protect the mountain, and the giant's treasure to the point of seeing the PCs as invaders, and criminals. Even after an attempt to explain, the Dwarves felt compelled to attack the party. Luckily, the Wizard and Cleric were able to reason out the why of this.

The small people of the Domed City were the descendants of Mountain Spirits, and Brownie-like Faeries from the giant's house. They simply could not allow the PCs to go unharmed even if they wanted to. However, if the adventurers could take the treasure, and get it out of the mountain, not only were they free to go, the Dwarves were likewise free of having to remain in the mountain to protect it.

With clever thinking, lucky rolls, and the discovery of The Giant's Heart (a magic artifact that may, or may not have actually been the heart of the giant who lived in the mountain), the party was able to defeat enough of the Dwarves, and their minion beasts to get past them, find the treasure, and escape with it to the surface!

The campaign ends with the party at sea on the brothers' repaired carrack (boat) heading for a new chapter back on The Mainland**.

Appendix N: The other players (meaning not me) brought in influences from books, movies, cartoons, and other sources that I was less familiar with. Things like The Hobbit, Lords of The Rings, Warlord and Conan comic books, and more that I couldn't tell you.

I personally sourced (in addition to the stuff I mentioned in the preface of the previous post) a lot of folklore, just as I do today. Specifically, I used British, German, and Russian folktales, as well as some Greek and Norse Mythology.

Bonus Features:

*I came up with the idea of Signature Magic Items so that I could give the PCs cool magic items without having to keep giving them items. They would find one item that would get better, and better as they (the PCs) went up in level.

Signature Magic Items start as something like a +1 Sword, or an amulet that lets you see ghosts. When you go up in level, beat some difficult challenge, or something similar, you discover a Shield that is also +1, but makes both the Sword and Shield +2 each IF they are used together. The amulet lets you speak to ghosts as well as see them. That kind of thing.

This is an idea I still use when playing my D&D-But-Not style games.

**The entire campaign took place on a single island with a skull topped mountain on it.

World building was somewhere between simple, and non-existent.

At the same time, I believe that at some point I did sketch out what we knew of the world. Story elements from both the players, and some of the NPCs gave me just enough information to get an idea of where the campaign took place (if you're very lenient about the meaning of that phrase).

The original map is long since lost. It would look something like this:

The entirety of the world besides Skull Mountain Island was either The Mainland or the mysterious  'Lands Beyond The Sea', where Dave's Fighter, Matt's Cleric, and presumably Aaron's Elf came from. It is also possible the Elf came from The Mainland and was simply exploring the Lands Beyond The Sea just as Jeff and Josh's characters were.

The Mainland consisted of several small nations including Jeff and Josh's PCs' homeland, a number of warring neighbors, and The Hidden Forest.

While I primarily used creatures found in the Basic D&D rules, I felt the need to create a few original beasties to make the setting special. The monster that slew Aaron's Elf was inspired by the Dobhar-chú, an Irish folklore creature whose name means 'Water Dog'. The Dwarves of the Domed City were based on Domovoi, a type of Slavic Brownie.


As part of a series entitled, 'Dungeon Mastering As Fine Art', the site Zenopus Archives gives considerable attention to the map of Skull Mountain and the various incarnations it has had.

James Maliszewski, on the GROGNARDIA blog, likewise gave the locale some thought.


Well, ladies and gentlemen, that's all for this tale. It was a lot of fun reminiscing about this campaign, and I hope to do more 'firsts' in the future (my first Mekton campaign, my first Traveller campaign, etc.).

I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

See you soon.

Barking Alien

Monday, June 13, 2016


Barking Alien friend and frequent commenter Miguel de Rojas made mention on my last Campaigns I Have Known post that he loves this series. I'm serious! It's a quote. You can look it up. I have it in writing!

I have to thank Miguel as that seriously made my day. It also helped me to decide what this next entry would cover. I knew I wanted to shake things up and go with something Medieval Fantasy related (What?! Adam has a Medieval Fantasy campaign he remembers fondly? Yes. They're rare but they happen) but I wasn't sure which one to talk about.

Then it struck me - I owe you all something special. Something that really celebrates this series.

Welcome to the Summer of 1978 and my very first campaign of anything.

Basic (Holmes version) Dungeons & Dragons was the name and having no clue what I was doing was the game.

Now, this may require a little set up. I recommend reading this, this, and really this.

Where were we? Oh yes, 1978 - Summer Camp.

My friend David Pollack brings over the Basic D&D box set. I have to assume it was the Holmes version, the same one I started with the year before, but I recall there being something different about it. Perhaps one of the D&D aficionados who reads this can shed some light on the subject.

Because I was the only one who seemed to have prior experience playing D&D I was voted GM by default. It was Dave's suggestion but everyone seemed happy with the arrangement so it stuck. Besides, once I had tasted life on the other side of the table there was no going back. Well not literally but I was rarely happy as a player back then. Gamemastering was my jam and remains so to this day.

My very first campaign is, honestly, a very strange memory for me. I actually recall it pretty clearly. I forget the characters' names of course (a common issue for me) but I remember who they were, I recall the players, the stories we told and how it felt to have the players think I'd pulled off a great game. I don't remember some later campaigns nearly as well.

I guess it's true what they say. You never forget your first time.


Campaigns I Have Known
Proudly Presents...


Part I

Picture yourself a lower-middle class 9 year old boy living in Brooklyn, NY.

Not hard right? Ahem. OK, maybe that's just me. 

Well, If you would, try to imagine for a moment that you don't have access to the internet. It hasn't been invented yet as far as you know. No smartphones, no laptops, or desktop computers.

You're not yet very familiar with Anime or Manga. Video games consist of the Atari 2600. It will be months before Space Invaders hits the arcades in North America.

Numerous popular TV shows and cartoons are airing, some making their debuts in 1978. None of these are Medieval Fantasy related. Battlestar Galactica, Project U.F.O., Mork and Mindy, even Yogi's Space Race - all Science Fiction themed.

As far as movies go, a lot of great films were released that year. Although many of them came out that Summer, a lot more came out between October and December. Among them were Superman, Midnight Express, Dawn of the Dead, Grease, Animal House, and Watership Down. Ralph Bakshi's animated Lord of the Rings film would come out in November. As I'm starting my campaign in June, that's 6 months away. .

This is what the world was like for me at the time I came up with this campaign. Barely any clue of what Fantasy was and even less of an idea of what makes something 'Medieval'. I'd seen some old Errol Flynn films, a few cartoons with Knights and Dragons (notably Bugs Bunny), but overall I had to wing it in regard to what life was like in the default milieu of 1978 D&D.

But wait...I did have some Oz books, The Sword in The Stone movie, and...yeah. I can do this.



'Skull Mountain'
Illustration by Tom Wham
From the Holmes Edition of
Basic Dungeons & Dragons

System: Basic Dungeons & Dragons, Holmes version (1977), TSR.

Circa: Summer 1978. Between June and August. There were approximately 30-32 sessions, each lasting 4-6 hours long. Three or four of the sessions were run on weekend days and those were about 6-8 hours long.

Player Base: There were five players, all male, between the ages of 8 and 11. We started with three players, lost one during a short break, then two new guys joined. Our missing member returned for a few sessions toward the end of the campaign (See more in the synopsis).


As this campaign took place over 38 years ago I am unable to remember the characters' names. I know this has been a thing with me in some of these older campaign descriptions. I'm sorry about that, I really I am. My memory is surprisingly sharp in other areas. Promise.

An additional note: Back in those days characters didn't have elaborate backstories - heck, they rarely and barely had simple backstories - but as our campaigns progressed we added little character bits and background notes that enabled us to know something about our heroes beyond their class, level, and stats.

I think this write up will show how even early on my friends and I did things a little differently.

Human Fighter (played by David P.)

Initially serving as the party's de facto leader, David's Fighter was definitely in the vein of a Knight. He was strong, smart, and agile (Not your typical bruiser). He was an honorable fellow with a noble bearing. His personal code of ethics meant he would protect or rescue his allies as a top priority.

His primary weapon was a sword and he usually carried a shield as well. His armor was chainmail and he wore a helmet.

We learn very little of his origins except that he is from a land 'beyond the sea'. He was a warrior but made it clear he hated war, having seen 'too much bloodshed in the name of gold'.

His signature magical items* (discovered one by one throughout the campaign) were a Sword, a Shield, and a suit of Platemail. Each one was +1 to hit, damage, or armor class as appropriate but gained an additional +1 when used in unison. This means that if one person has all three items, he/she would have a +3 Sword, a +3 Shield, and a +3 suit of Armor.

Human Cleric (play by Matthew)

Matthew played our Cleric, an old friend of David's Fighter who worshipped never fully defined 'Spirits'. Matt's Cleric was very much what you'd expect from a classic Cleric - Wise, honest, faithful, and full of hope.

The Cleric's main weapon was a Mace but honestly he rarely used it unless he had no other option. Matt used his character very much in a defensive and support role, though we certainly didn't know those terms at the time. The Cleric was garbed in chainmail as well.

We learn even less about the Cleric than we do about the Fighter. There are interesting references to the Spirits that give him his powers however. He mentioned things like The Spirit of The Sea, The Spirit of The Wind, The Sun Spirit, The Spirit of Night, etc. We know that he came from the same homeland as David's Fighter.

Matthew's Cleric had a signature magic item* in the form of an amulet. This mystic necklace, known as The Amulet of Lost Souls (I think), gave the Cleric the power to see ghosts, speak with the dead, and perform other strange feats.

Elf (played by Aaron)

Oh Basic D&D, with your non-Humans as classes. Man, how I've no, actually I don't miss that at all. Always thought that was terribly silly.

While most of you are probably quite familiar with 'Race as Class', for those who aren't the Elf, Dwarf, and Halflings of Basic D&D were designed as Classes. An Elf was essentially a Fighter/Magic User, a Dwarf was a Fighter, and a Halfling was a Thief. You couldn't play a Dwarf who was by profession a Cleric for example or an Elf who was by profession a Thief. Elves were Elves, Dwarves were Dwarves, and that was that.

Aaron's Elf was someone Matt's Cleric and David's Fighter had met only recently prior to the events that began the campaign. He had met the two old friends while traveling with them on a ship heading for The Mainland**.

We learned as we went that there were few Elves left in the world. Most of the Elf's people had 'faded away' over time (we were never clear what that meant but Elves were supposedly very rarely seen in the world). Elves who didn't want to fade needed to travel to a hidden forest on The Mainland and speak with a Fae Guardian of some kind. Aaron's character was on his way there.

His main weapon was a Bow and Arrow but he also carried a short sword. His armor was leather if I remember correctly.

The Elf's signature magic item* was an Elven Gauntlet/Glove that only an Elf could wield (for most other races it did nothing special but if a goblin touched it they would receive burning damage). The Gauntlet could touch something and then bestow the key quality of that thing onto something else for one round. As an archer he mostly used it to touch things and then touch an arrow as he notched it.

Touch a burning torch, bestow fire on an arrow. Touch running water, bestow an arrow with the ability to put out a small fire. Touch the Cleric's Amulet, bestow upon an arrow the ability to cause 'physical damage' to a Ghost or evil Spirit.

Human Fighter (played by Jeff W.)

About half way through the campaign the make up of our group changed. Aaron wanted to do more camp related activities and hang out with some of his older friends following...well...that would be telling (see the Synopsis). It was cool with the rest of us and we let him know we would always save him a seat at our table.

Two new players joined up - Jeff and Josh Wolf - the Wolf Brothers (as we called them). The Wolf Brothers had been away for the first month of camp but ended up signing on for August. I didn't know them well at first but the older brother, Jeff, was a friend of a friend. The two of them had been playing for about a year already (same as me).

Jeff was tough to game with at first. I think he resented that a lot of people thought that I was a really good GM when I was two years younger than he was. Also, he had a better handle on the rule mechanics then I did and it came up from time to time. He wasn't a rules lawyer per se but he was a fellow to whom the rules mattered.

I eventually won him over with, well, a really good game I guess.

Jeff's Fighter was very different from Dave's in personality and style. He was tougher, stronger, and more physical in general. He was more headstrong, less disciplined, and more barbarian than knight, though not stupid nor completely brutish.

I don't know or remember enough Fantasy literature to make good comparisons but if Dave's fighter was Galahad, Jeff's was Fafhrd. A better comparison for me might be Captain America and Wolverine, complete with Wolverine's more layered and nuanced modern depictions.

Like Aaron's Elf, Jeff's Fighter had a bit of a history and a goal which he shared with his brother (the players decided their characters were also brothers). They had been on adventures 'far away' 
when they received word that there may be war brewing between their nation and a neighboring one. They were heading for The Mainland**, returning home to join their father (a chieftain or important warrior of some kind) and defend their country if need be.

Jeff's Fighter wielded axes, often carrying a large one in one hand and a smaller throwing axe in the other. He wore chainmail but we always imagined it piece-meal, with animal hides and such over it.

He gains his signature magic item a bit late in the game. It was a two handed battle axe called 'Sunder' that on a natural '20' would cleave whatever it struck in half, with any loose bits flying off in all directions. This included things an axe can't normally cut through such as a stone wall or a much larger than Human sized creature.

Human Wizard (played by Josh)

Jeff's brother Josh played Jeff's character's brother, which was great as it made it very easy to introduce them into the already existing campaign.

A fun character, the Wizard was nervous, apprehensive, and pretty much the exact opposite of the brash warrior Jeff portrayed. Fearing that his older brother would show him up, the Wizard put on an air of being wiser and more powerful than he really was.

He mainly carried a staff and a dagger, with the staff being his primary weapon. As with all classic D&D Wizards, he wore no armor.

Josh's Wizard found his signature magic item* in his second session. It was a wand that could gather magic from around him and release it as a blast of magical energy or he could add the power he absorbed to one of his spells. So for example, if an enemy wizard cast a Magic Missile at him (which normally hits automatically) and he had his wand out, he would make a sort of generic saving throw to see if he could catch the magic. If he made it, the Magic Missile would turn into swirling colored light around the tip of the wand. The wand wielder could then blast it back at the enemy or cast a Magic Missile of his own, using up a memorized spell, but causing double damage (since he now has the power of the first Magic Missile being added to his own).

I think he called it 'The Returner's Wand' or 'Wand of the Returner' or something.

Synopsis: Never having run a campaign before, I started with the idea that I needed a good reason for the party to be together and to go on an adventure. A purpose to it all.

I saw the illustration of 'Stone Mountain' in the Basic D&D book and I was suddenly inspired. The entire concept for the campaign rushed like a raging river into my head.

The PCs began the game by waking up on the beach of a fog enshrouded island. The ship they were traveling on had been headed for The Mainland** but was now dashed upon the rocks. They remembered a storm. There were no other survivors beyond the three initial PCs - Dave's Fighter, Matt's Cleric, and Aaron's Elf.

Past the short beach was a sad, desiccated looking forest and after that a huge mountain. The mountain took up the entire center of the small island. At the top of the mountain was a skull shaped formation. The PCs immediately dubbed it Skull Mountain.

The first thing they did was try to figure out their next course of action - should they build a boat and leave? There was another storm brewing in the distance so perhaps that could wait. They could explore the island and see if there were any caves to make camp in? Perhaps. A signal fire would be useless in the rain and wind. Then there was the mountain.

They reasoned that the skull on top was likely man-made and might be an ancient temple or dwelling of some kind. It could possibly serve as shelter. They decided to check it out. At some point they saw the flickering light of torches in the eyes and the mouth of the skull. It was indeed some kind of edifice! Perfect! They made haste for the skull.

What followed was a series of classic dungeon delves, with me planning what was on each level of the dungeon in the most general sense and then ad libbing the encounters. The overall idea I had was that the skull was actually the remains of a long dead giant. Other creatures had taken up residence in the mountain, the open areas of which were once either the giant's home or his innards.

Finally the PCs discovered that the giant had climbed to the top of his home, on the very tip of the mountain's peak, to avoid a flood. The water never went down (the island had once appeared much larger). He got stuck up there and eventually died.

"Why didn't the giant just swim away or at least try to?" asked the Fighter.
"Could he not build a boat?" asked the Elf.
"This was his home," said the Cleric. "No one wants to abandon their home."

The Fighter didn't believe this. This was a giant. He would save himself if he thought he would die, home or no home. Then he thought and thought and finally realized something. "If you are a giant, you long for treasure and might hide what you find in your home. He couldn't leave his treasure and died of greed in a manner of speaking. There is some great wealth or a magical secret hidden somewhere down beneath this place. Since we can't leave either, let's try to find it."

The others agreed.

Each level deeper down into the mountain was stranger and stranger and when they reached the sixth level they realized there was another way in. A pit high above could send you plummeting from the top of the mountain to the sixth level straight away.

As the Elf climbed up the pit to see if there was more to it or if it could be useful in any othere way, a foul creature came up from the seventh level; the 'bottom' as far as they knew. The monstrous beast attacked the Fighter and Cleric.

It was an epic battle and the Elf made his way back down to join them. In the end, the mighty monster was slain but the Elf lay dead as well. *Sob*

Aaron was mad but only for a bit. He handled it well. He went out a hero and the others promised to bury him and bring his gauntlet to the Fae Guardian of the Forest on The Mainland** if they ever got off the island. Aaron decided to take a break from the campaign for a bit but he returned for a few sessions towards the end, playing an NPC I created. More about that in the next installment.

Eventually the adventurers returned to their newly made camp site located at the base of the mountain. They buried their friend, swore vengeance against Skull Mountain, and planned to go to the bottom level as soon as they were rested. Unfortunately, another storm rolled it, and battered them with wind and rain.

They awoke the next morning to the sound of a distance crash! Another ship, much smaller then the one they had arrived on, had run aground on a beach slightly North of where they had awoken weeks (or was it month?) before. The new boat appeared only lightly damaged and might even be easily repaired! It was then that the Cleric and Fighter noticed two survivors has been deposited on the beach amid a handful of dead crewmembers.

To Be Continued...

(I can't believe I thought I could write up my first campaign in one post. Ha!)

Barking Alien

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Underseasoned and Overstuffed

The first of my Player Profile Posts is not quite ready at the time of this entry, so I'll go right into the return of one of my favorite reoccurring features - What Other GMs Do Wrong!

Now before I go ahead and accidentally offend any of my fellow Gamemasters with my snarky wit, and no-holds-barred criticism of the way they might do things, I'd just like to say 'Tough Noogies'.

Perhaps you weren't paying attention to previous entries in this series. That's kind of what it's about.

I all seriousness though, this isn't directed at any particular GM, nor is it a critique of any one particular campaign. If you feel it is - that is to say, if I know you personally and you think I am talking about you - please know I am not directing it at you. Also, you may want to listen to You're So Vain by Carly Simon [one of my all time favorite songs].

Of course, as I've noted before, if you think the comments and criticisms in this post relate to your game...maybe they do.


"I have this awesome setting! It's so different, and weird - it will blow away all your preconceived notions, and standards expectations of what fantasy is!

To start off though, we'll begin our campaign, and spend the next dozen session, or so here..."

This is Underseasoned.

"I have so many ideas for our campaign I'm practically bursting. I think I have it all organized though. I'll start simple..."

This is Overstuffed.

What's going on here? It's pretty simple.

Most GMs don't ^#@*ing know how to dole out content.

What Other GMs DO Wrong: Doling Out Content

I've seen this issue a lot over the past 10 years, and it manifests in two different ways. Either a GM tells you about all this amazing stuff that exists in their campaign setting, but they drip it out so slowly that even a camel would die of thirst waiting for the exciting parts to appear (Underseasoned), or the GM has the patience of hyperactive, twitch gamer and tries to shove thirty pages of world-building notes down your throat in a single 4-6 hour session (Overstuffing).

The former happens mainly with older GMs so far as I've noticed. Perhaps they've experienced one too many campaigns that got to the main plot, big bad, or climax point too quickly. To compensate, they stagger their best material out over a great length of time, hoping it will facilitate the campaign's longevity.

This is a reasonable assumption, and not even a bad plan at first glance. Look a little closer though - this is the 21st century. It's the age of twitter, snapchat, and attention spans shorter than a hair is thin. Even if that were only the case for younger gamers, we older gamers are getting old. We ain't got time to wait for you to make your game cool. Make it cool now! We have responsibilities, medication we have to take, and other such things. Our free time is limited! Make it count! Entertain us!

Do not make me sit through four, or five sessions of fighting brigands, and kobolds when before the game [to convince me to play] you talked about the roving bands of deformed, and twisted Humans with peculiar supernatural powers who'd been changed by Unseelie Fae. Where are they? Show me them!

What are you waiting for? Really? Do you think that once I see the cool stuff I'm going to expect you to top it every following session? No! Not unless you start doing that yourself. Some writers do try that. Each episode has to out awesome the last until they get into one-ups-manship arms race with themselves that there's no way to win. (See Star Trek Voyager).

As for Overstuffing...

This is much more common with novice GMs, and younger ones sometimes. I separate novice and young because they are definitely not the same. It's all about experience, and the habits you've formed, or hopefully haven't. It's much easier to adapt, and be flexible to new ideas and approaches if you aren't already set in your ways.

OK, enough life coaching...

What happens when you Overstuff your sessions is that you put in more material than the players can effectively process. Often this causes them to become confused, NPC names are forgotten, and at its worst, the process can make the climax of a story arc seem rushed. Why? Well in the GMs desperate attempt to fit every last thing into the story that they wanted to (and we're talking A LOT of material in this case) he, or she blows past the smaller details players may be interested in experiencing as their characters.

For example, if during the arc there was a subplot involving a PC, and their estranged brother, the player of that character may find that subplot pushed aside, or rectified rather quickly to accommodate the big final of an Overstuffed adventure.

An Overstuffed game is tough for the GM as well.

For one thing, the more you add, the more elements you have in play, the harder it is to juggle them all. You can easily get lost in your own attempt at awesomeness if you're not used to handling a large number of moving parts at the same time.

Obviously the idea of rushing a sequence [mentioned above] falls upon the Gamemaster first, and foremost. It is often difficult to avoid, as you work toward closing up loose threads,  making sure everyone has a moment in the spotlight (PCs and NPCs alike), and getting to the climax of the session, or the end of the arc.

Another issue is, well, a creative one. You have All These Great Ideas! What if...what if schedules conflict and the campaign is cut short. What if the players waste valuable game time investigating the broom closet instead of going to any one of the awesome locations you've so carefully designed. What happens if you create all this AMAZING content, and your group never gets to see any of it? What a waste! Better to shove it all in right now, right?

NO! WRONG! NOT GOOD! Don't worry about not getting to everything. As you'll see below, there are ways to get to the good stuff without your players, and your campaign choking on it.

What can you do about it?

Glad you asked...

#1. Build Slow from a Cool Foundation

A long ago I adopted the approach of noted Japanese Manga Writer, and Artist [and at one time big personal crush]  Rumiko Takahashi.

Takahashi, one of Anime, and Manga's most successful and influential creators, had a very particular style of introducing new characters, and concepts into her stories. Nearly every modern Anime/Manga artist/writer uses a similar approach to varying degrees of effectiveness.

As seen in her series Urusei Yatsura, Ranma 1/2, and Inu Yasha, Takahashi begins with a distinct premise and a cast of characters that either facilitate the working of that premise, or have the potential to flesh it out down the line (later in the story). She than introduces a single new character, or idea [or perhaps two related characters like a brother, and sister pair] for each new story/episode. We then follow that new element through to the end of an arc. When the next arc begins that new element is still there, now a fixture of the main plot, or the background, as we go on to meet the next, new element.

This approach means:

  • There is always something new.
  • However, there is only one, or two really new things at a time.
  • PCs experience, and become familiar with the new thing before the next new thing.
  • The new elements become regular elements, increasing the scope of your setting.
  • New elements that become regular elements can be moved back to center stage when needed.

Don't forget about the Cool Foundation. Paying attention to this part alleviates the issue of Underseasoned games. You need to start, right out of the gate, with at least one element to your NPC cast, and your world setting that has real pizzazz. Something that jumps out at the players, and makes them say, "Huh, I don't think I've seen that before."

If you can't quite do that, a least give them someone, or something that lets them know that they aren't in Kansas anymore (or Gondor, or wherever is the most normal for the genre your running).

#2. Notes for Now, Notes for Later

It can be difficult, but think long term.

Keep two separate sets of notes. It could be two separate notebooks, or just two sections of the same multi-section book.

In one section, the first of the two preferably, write notes, character ideas, locations, adventure hooks, or whatever, that you are going to need and use in the short term. This doesn't necessarily mean immediately, but the notes should relate to the story arc, or adventure you are currently running, or running next.

In the second section, write the notes on long term plans. Jot down things you want to introduce at some point. They can be fully formed ideas, half-solid concepts, or perfect world pipe dreams. It doesn't matter what they are, except that the all share the same basic quality...they are not ready to be implemented into your game.

The purpose of this approach is two fold. On a very simple, practical level, it helps organize your thoughts, and it makes editing the incomplete ideas easier. The bigger benefit, and one not so obvious perhaps, is that it psychologically fools you into waiting before you just throw everything you have into the pot.

By placing plans not yet ready to roll in a separate section from those that are, it automatically makes you give those longer term ideas more consideration. You may find they don't need much work, or that they need quite a bit. You may decide not to include them in your game at all.


They are a number of other ideas I have for remedying these specific issues, but for now I'll leave it at this since I have a lot of other subjects I want to post about. (Look for a Thorough Thursdays entry later tonight!).

As always, I'd like to know what you think. Please leave a comment if you have experienced underseasoning, overstuffing, think I'm way off base, or anything related to the post.

Talk to you soon,

Barking Alien