6 Ways to Save Your Campaign from the Holidays

This week is Canadian Thanksgiving and my campaign is taking a week off. Halloween, U.S. Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year are all right around the corner too. Holidays are awesome, but they can create challenges for GMs running a scheduled campaign in the weeks at the end of the year. Today on the Campaign Trail I’m providing 6 ways to save your campaign from the holidays.

Get to Know the Erinyes

We’re official into October. For many people I know, October means one thing: Halloween. While I am certainly not opposed to a fancy dress party, not to be confused with the Fancy Dress Party, I’m not exactly someone who goes crazy for the holiday. I like making stuff, but going to a party means I have to socially interact with people, all of whom might realize at any moment that I am the worst. Rather than have it be proven, I prefer to stay at home to cultivate my mystique. I might have veered from the point. Regardless, this time of year sees a whole host of devil and fallen angel costumes, of the classical, re-imagined, scary, or sexy variety. A kind reader (you can tweet to @tribality or @standsinthefire if you want me to cover something, or just complain about/to me) asked if I would cover demons or devils in the new future, and this time of year is perfect for it. Without further ado, let’s talk about one of my favorite devils: the erinyes.

Azer | Kenku | Giants | Scarecrow | Erinyes

Get to Know the Kenku

Last week, I spent a little bit of time talking about a creature I thought was cool and didn’t get enough recognition — the azer. The response was overwhelmingly positive, so I thought I would discuss one of my other favorite creatures in D&D: the kenku. For the unaware, kenku are awesome crow people (except for when they are hawk people), and have an entire weird culture built, on the surface at any rate, around the idea that crows are clever thieves. Kenku are much more than that, and have some pretty great backstory that is modular and capable of fitting into many a campaign.

Get to Know the Azer

One of my favorite creatures of all time is the azer. Even though they have been around since 1983, I have never played in a game in which azers have featured, nor have I heard of games friends and acquaintances run that feature them. This is a shame, because azers are incredibly interesting, and are a great alternative to traditional elemental representation. Even better, the lore is easy to insert into a variety of situations and games. If you are looking for something underrepresented to feature in a game, then look no further than the azer.

The Personality of Ron Weasley (and Backgrounds)

With the advent of new Harry Potter material, what’s old is new again, and I can talk about the Wizard World without feeling old or silly. Let’s ignore the fact I don’t want to discuss the play⸺I’m a big believer in the idea a play should be experienced and not analyzed from the script or note. Instead, I want to talk about Ronald Weasley and the background system of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Specifically, I want to discuss the idea that Ron Weasley is the most all-in of any character at the Hogwarts gaming table.

Puzzles in a Pinch

If you had asked me a decade ago, I would never have said I would be in a spot where I need to have multiple puzzles ready to go at a moment’s notice. Well, time makes fools of us all. I’m not saying I’m a world-class detective with a top hat, courtly manners, and a weird orange shirt, but I am saying I run a few games with a variety of players and mediums. This means that I need to have a similarly diverse spread of puzzles. This can be a tricky feat, as puzzles can be time consuming to create and difficult to run in a satisfying way. Over time, I’ve found some time-saving, but still satisfying, solutions to this problem. Hopefully, these techniques will save some time for a GM in need.

Burden of Knowledge Design

One of the common usages of “burden of knowledge” is describing a situation where you need in-depth exposure (often first-hand) to understand something. For you to perform something to the highest levels, others have to also attain a high level of mastery. Conversely, your mastery might be so thorough that no one can successfully compete against you. The knowledge base is so deep, or so well hidden, that there is never a really equal playing field.  There are many possible barriers to entry, but system mastery isn’t easily overcome. This is especially problematic when you are talking about things that are attempting to be easily accessible, as cooperative and competitive games often attempt to be. Let’s look at a timeless game—chess.

Keep Summer Safe: A Look at Conflict Resolution

It’s no secret I love Rick & Morty. I’ve been on record for several years now stating it is the best and sharpest show on television. In my crushing need for the third season to finally arrive, I’ve been rewatching the show for the altogether-too-many-th time. As always, I spent a lot of time critically analyzing some of my favorite episodes (Rick Potion #9, Meeseeks and Destroy, Rixty Minutes, Morty Night Run, Auto Erotic Assimilation, Look Who’s Purging Now, among others…), and I came across the The Ricks Must Be Crazy. During the episode, I found myself thinking about the nature of conflict resolution, particularly as it applies to characters in tabletop gaming.

The episode is a masterclass in the nature of conflict, the morality in the choices made to resolve a conflict, and the compromises we make to achieve our goals. What’s more, this is the B-plot of the episode, conveyed in eight minutes or so. The most fascinating thing about this is how closely it parallels PC decision-making when it comes to resolving conflicts. As such, it’s a great chance to not only look at why they are making the decisions, but how, as a GM, you can change and re-prioritize conflicts to present interesting and new challenges to your players.

The Earl of Lemongrab and Antagonists

“I have to use my sound sword now! It’s a sound sword!”

-Lemongrab, Earl of Lemongrab

The current trend of power fantasy poses some interesting challenges for the modern GM. Anecdotally speaking, players are less fearful than ever, and engagement is only the barest of excuses to quip and preen. Again, this isn’t every game. Nor is it every player. It’s just a common enough trend amongst the people I know and the games I hear about to warrant some discussion. Let’s say you are in this situation. Fear isn’t something the party is willing to acknowledge, and being continually on the edge of death in combat can wear on any group. Variety is the spice of life, bro. So, what can you do to present a challenge to the players that encourages players to engage on multiple levels without violence and fear? When life gives you lemons, make Lemongrabs.

Independence Day: Resurgence and Wasting Good Design

Zir’an can wait one more week. I absolutely must discuss Independence Day: Resurgence and how it represents the very worst parts of bad fantasy and game running. As weird as this sounds, this movie is half insanely gonzo awesome and half waste. It’s by no means a good movie, but it presents a plethora of great setting ideas… only to squander most of them in pursuit of a by-the-numbers sequel affair. Fortunately, we possess the capability to learn by observation and to extrapolate from seemingly different fields. This movie provides several lessons of inestimable benefit to anyone running a game.