Monthly Archives: May 2017

Make The Mundane Tasks In Gaming Fun And Playable

Before I had a lot of GM experience I would sometimes encounter game sessions that did not go so well. Sometimes sessions were spectacular…but there were always those sessions where it seemed like the players were not as interested, the adventures were not as fun, and the challenges just didn’t do it. It just wasn’t entertaining!

As I got better, I realized a few things about these game sessions:

  • When I got bored, the players got bored.
  • The best sessions were the ones where something memorable happened. For example, a boss battle, some kind of confrontation, a mystery developed.
  • The sessions where everything seemed to drop out of the middle were usually the ones in the in-between stages of the story.

For example, the battle at the castle would go great, but when it came time for the PCs to travel to the capitol (one week’s travel away), game play would get tedious.

The problem was these in-between sessions usually went too fast. In an effort to get the players to the next scheduled confrontation, I would shuffle them from place to place quickly. This left the game play boring and caused us to miss out on a lot of detail.

A lot of GMs focus on the intense, big things: the battles, the clanging of the swords, the fire coming out of the dragon’s nostrils. But these quiet sessions, when there are not hordes of orcs to fight, are the ones that give you the opportunity to explore detail in a finer and grittier sense.

In a recent session in our game, the players had just gone through several roadblocks to find some treasure they sought. In addition to traveling several days through the mountains on horseback, they also:

  • Fought a horde of goblins.
  • Raided the goblin cave, finding an even bigger horde of goblins.
  • Got stalked and attacked by a pack of large, magical wolves.
  • Found the treasure cave, swam through a murky stream to find a hidden passage, and crawled through the mud into the cavernous treasure room.
  • Upon entering the room, they were greeted by a wall of spider web…and were attacked by two giant spiders who could wield moderate-level magic. One of the players got caught in the web, and the others had to save her from being spun up and eaten!
  • Fell off the cliff they were trying to climb down on their way home. If it were not for the party druid and her magical healing spells, they might have had a rough time of it!

Well, the high point was over. The treasure was found (a magical sword that held the presence of a once powerful wizard). But now what?

Back when I was an inexperienced GM, I might have asked “what do you want to do now?” However, having been here before, and seeing how game play can go downhill fast after an adventure, I explained some of the following. All of them were facts, but they were facts the players would probably not have noticed on their own.

  • The PCs had killed a lot of goblins, and the goblin blood all over their clothes was starting to smell like rotten food.
  • The characters were full of mud, their clothes were in tatters, and they had worse body odor than an orc in a blacksmith shop.
  • Neither they, nor their horses, had eaten or drank water in about 24 hours, so they were on the verge of falling over from fatigue.
  • I pointed out the party ranger was almost out of arrows, the druid was almost out of darts, and the entire party needed new clothing. Theirs was completely ruined.

All of these things were true, but they are sometimes not the first things we think about while running a campaign.

Well, there was a small trading village about a day’s ride from the PCs’ location, and they decided to head that way for new clothing, weapon upgrades and possibly a bath!

Once the characters entered the city, I again tried to take a mundane task and turn it into something interesting. When the ranger went to the general trading post to sell wolf pelts he had taken from their battle with the wolves, the shop owner was utterly repulsed and half angry the ranger even dared to come in! Why? Take your pick:

  • The ranger had not bathed in a week.
  • He was wearing smelly, dirty, foul smelling leather armor over tattered, blood stained, muddy clothing.
  • He was trading un-tanned pelts. He just skinned the animals. Therefore, the pelts reeked of dead animal flesh. The store owner told him “You should pay ME, just to dispose of these nasty pelts for you!”

Here is another example. When the half-orc barbarian sought out the inn to try and scrounge up a bath the woman behind the inn counter was utterly repulsed at the sight of him and ordered him out of her establishment. He proceeded to buy clothes and a bar of soap at the trading post, and made his way to the river to bathe. Well, this was another mundane task, so I decided to throw something interesting in.

When he rounded the corner, he spotted a female halfling sitting on a rock, dangling her feet in the water. She did not even come up to his waist, and she was dressed like a rogue. She struck up a conversation with him that went something like this…

Halfling: “So, you taking a bath in the river?”

Half-orc: “Ya”

Halfling: “Why don’t you take a bath in the inn?”

Half-orc: “Uh, the inn keeper told me to leave.”

Halfling turns up her nose. “You are going to smell like fish after bathing in this river.”

Half-orc: “Well, I smell like death right now…I figure fish is something to aspire to!”

Halfling: “Well, don’t mind me. But since you mentioned you are headed south, I was wondering if you might be interested in hiring someone with my talents?”

The players got a good laugh out of this, and after a meeting, they decided to hire the halfling. They now have an NPC with them who has talents no-one else in the group possesses. Something positive came out of it, and it was not even planned. Just spur of the moment.

To finish off my article, here are some tips to make mundane tasks memorable and interesting.

* Take your time. Do not rush through the session. Add realism and detail. Make sure you are completely done with a task before rushing onto the next thing.

* Take a moment, at least once per session, to point out some obvious things the group might not notice. For example, do they smell bad? Are they out of gun powder? Is the fighter’s shield damaged from that troll’s club? Do they need food? Do they need a haircut?

  • Introduce a new and interesting NPC at least once per session. This could be an old guy sitting in the tavern, a halfling rogue by the river or a mysterious wizard who asks them if they need any healing potions.

Sometimes they will just nod their head and go their separate ways, but you never know when you might be able to use this NPC to great effect. Perhaps the players will invite the character to join their party or do some sort of business with him?

  • Throw curve balls in there once in awhile. Make them easy to avoid, but make them tempting. For example, maybe the elven handmaiden takes a fancy to the group’s ranger, or maybe there is a cute wolf pup for sale outside a local trading store. The PCs might not even care…but maybe they will!
  • If there are NPCs traveling with the PCs, stir up some conversation. Perhaps the druid NPC did not approve of the way the wizard PC used a fireball to take out a helpless enemy after the battle. Perhaps the druid even begins insulting the wizard, and cursing his arcane magic, calling it a “bag of cheap tricks.”
  • Another provocative tactic is to make NPCs throw racial slurs at the PCs. Some examples might include an inn keeper that does not approve of them “half orc folk,” or how that human princess does not trust the “pointy eared ones.”
  • Explain things that happen in detail. Instead of the shopkeeper “taking the money and handing over the hardtack,” you might say, “the shop keeper, eyeing the ranger one more time, reluctantly took the money and half-tossed the hardtack back at the PC, murmuring something about how he needed a bath and a shave…”
  • When the party travels long distances by horseback, do not just fast forward to the next day. Throw some things in there. Maybe they come across an abandoned cabin, meet a group of fishermen or get stalked by a pack of wolves. Maybe a horse steps into a groundhog hole or bandits try to hold them up. Maybe they find an abandoned wagon beside the road, only to find a cursed necklace in it that (they learn later) brings bad luck.

Remember a few simple rules.

  • Slow down
  • Pay attention to detail
  • Enjoy every moment of the session
  • Do not miss a single opportunity to make the game memorable
  • Find epic gaming in the mundane. Use well-played normalness to make battles seem all the more intense and awesome. If the PCs are used to fishing and haggling with traders (and enjoying it) then having a group of evil paladins attacking them with katanas will seem intense!

Know More About Idle Hands are the DM’s Plaything

Recently at Necromancers Online, I wrote an article about DMs who don’t have enough time to do their DM work, and what sorts of steps they can take to improve their game.

Today I’ll be approaching the opposite problem:

If you’re a DM with a lot of extra time, what can you do to take your game from good to great, and drop your players’ jaws to the floor?

1. Create Unique Mechanical Effects For Your PCs (And Villains)

Everyone likes to feel special, and nothing says special more than having some power or ability that no one else has. Further, many players have ideas for things they would like their characters to be able to do, but which don’t translate directly into the rules.

For example, I once had a player who wanted to tweak their druid PC’s normal ability to change his shape into that of animals. In exchange for having the potential to transform into slightly better shapes than normally allowed, all his transformations would be determined randomly – he might be a woolly mammoth, or he might be a dormouse.

It took a fair amount of work. I scoured sourcebooks for appropriate monsters to fill out the list; balanced the distribution of good shapes versus bad ones; and created some additional fine print to keep the ability from being too abusable, mostly by also having a random chance he couldn’t change back for a certain duration.

Eventually, I had the whole thing rigged up in an Excel table, and with the push of a button I could determine randomly what he changed into and how long he was stuck that way (if at all).

In a smaller-scale example, another player played a gloura (a kind of Underdark moth fey) ice mage. He thought that, between the ice and the moth angle, it’d be cool if she was afraid of fire, so he wanted to have the cold subtype for free.

If you have time to put the effort into it, sit down with each player and talk about their characters from a flavor perspective. Find out what makes the character tick, and what sorts of things the player would like to see happen with that character.

This is a great way to get plot hooks and other adventure themes based on that player’s character. You can also use it to look into giving special benefits, such as providing mechanics for the character’s existing flavor, or expanding on that flavor by granting the character some kind of new power. Perhaps a paladin receives a magical blade that passes harmlessly through anyone with an innocent heart, or a wizard receives a custom spell allowing her to do something that no other spell can do.

Also give a few special and unique powers to your villains to make them stand out on the battlefield as something to watch out for, especially if those powers are interesting or different enough from the sorts of things you already see a lot of.

2. Add Embellishments To People, Places And Things

If you have the time, you should consider adding some extra details and flavor to your existing NPCs, treasure items, and locations. A +2 flaming sword is basically just a bunch of numbers. A magic sword carved with mystic runes is cool. A magic sword with a golden eagle for the crossguard and an engraving along the blade which reads “Unos Salos Victus” (which I’m told means “The Last Hope of the Doomed”) is even cooler. That same sword is cooler still if a successful Knowledge (history) check can identify that such swords belong to the Brotherhood of Pillars, an ancient and secret order of knights who are sworn to protect the kingdom from the shadows, appearing whenever a great crisis threatens the land, only to disappear again once the dust clears.

By the same token, a fat innkeeper is a placeholder, and the players will most likely pay him little mind (and be in the right to do so). A retired adventurer who opened his own inn is better, especially if he has a few scars and maybe an unusual monster head mounted on the wall somewhere. But when he has a few adventuring stories to tell over a round or two of drinks near closing time, whether simply entertaining stories about his triumphs or potential plot-hooks about treasures that got away, he starts to become a more interesting and well-rounded character. Perhaps he’ll even get the itch to go out and do some more adventuring, and the tavern will be handed over to his cousin or niece for a few adventures while he’s gone. These sorts of little details allow your campaign to feel more like a living, breathing, organic entity than a cardboard backdrop stage for your PCs to wave prop-swords around on.

3. Create Mini-Adventures That Reward PCs Who Take An Interest In Them

This is definitely an “above and beyond” sort of DM work, as there’s a good chance that your PCs may never even notice this happening. Suppose the PCs come across a giant pile of coins. These coins are ancient, and are minted with strange symbols the PCs have never seen before. Now, the PCs can use them just like any other gold pieces, and if they do, that’s the end of that. On the other hand, if they take the trouble to track down the right collector (not necessarily an easy task), maybe they can get some more value for them. Alternatively, perhaps the coins all have strange markings on the back, and by putting them together like a puzzle, the PCs can create a treasure map to an even greater hoard. If the symbol were evocative enough, the PCs might be able to determine from it that the coins are extraplanar, and may even be able to use one in place of the “tuning fork” required to cast plane shift, allowing them to travel directly to the City of Brass, or wherever strikes your fancy.

Similarly, the man staying next door to the PCs in the inn room might have some secret agenda, which the PCs can get involved in if it piques their curiosity, or can ignore if they don’t. They might get invitations to dances, balls, and other social gatherings, where they can have some fun with political intrigue.

Ultimately, the sorts of things that I’m talking about here are “side-quests” of a very small scale, which simply provide your players with optional diversions. Not only can this make for some fun gameplay, and allow for some breaks from the “main plot” (which, by the way, is important and helps enhance the plot. That’s why so many TV shows these days will have two separate, unrelated plots in a single episode), but it also helps to further flesh out your world and help give it depth, as with Tip #2.

4. Create Fun And Interesting Terrain Features For Each Encounter

I don’t know about you, but personally, I read about a lot more interesting terrain feature ideas than I ever see in play. This has nothing to do with being a game designer–to the best of my knowledge, Necromancers of the Northwest has never really done anything with interesting terrain features (with the possible exception of a couple in The War of the Goblin King), and my knowledge is pretty extensive when it comes to NNW–but simply from the fact that I just don’t see terrain features pop up that often in games I play (or, for that matter, run).

This is a shame, because terrain has a lot of potential to really spice up an otherwise so-so encounter, and because there are so many potentially cool ideas. I vividly remember reading about a suggestion for a battlefield comprised of a bunch of platforms on chains, which rise and fall in 5-foot increments each turn, and another involving blasts of steam in a maze of pipes, etc. You could also go full-on magical about it, with a chessboard (or similar) where each “square” (possibly more than 5 feet) has a different magical effect, or a hall of mirrors where the mirrors reflect spells, or serve as portals to navigate the maze, or create illusory combatants, etc.

The main problem with terrain, I think, is that it usually requires relatively complex rules, and always feels like a secondary threat when compared to the opponent, so it mostly feels like a nuisance. With a good deal of forethought, a DM can help cut down on the amount of trouble the terrain causes at the table by being sure he has mastered its mechanics, and can make sure that it’s both fun for players and a convincing threat for their characters.

Becoming a Pro Video Game Shooter

Shooters are quite possibly the most popular genre among games, and you don’t have to know every detail about each game to play like a pro. There are some simple tips that apply to almost every shooter game, whether the game revolves around first person shooters, third person shooters, tactical shooters, or a combination of these shooter types.

Using these tips will help you be the best at your game.

Game Options: Optimize Them to Your Tastes
One of the easiest ways to become better at a game, without ever playing it, is to adjust the game settings to something to which you are familiar. Most shooter games come with a few standard areas that can be tweaked to your liking, such as brightness, X and Y axis sensitivity and inverted look.

Did you say adjust the brightness? Some games are so dark at the default settings that you’ll miss many of the details. Adjusting the brightness to a higher level will help you spot those details more easily; once you’ve become more familiar with the game, you can re-adjust the brightness back down to the default level, for a more realistic gameplay experience.

Inverted look and the X and Y axis sensitivity fall under a similar category. If you find yourself looking up when you are trying to look down, chances are you need to invert the look.

 The same goes for the axis settings: If turning to the left or right seems too slow, then the X axis should be adjusted up a bit so your character moves more quickly (same for up and down, and adjusting the Y axis will resolve the problem). This is a setting that needs to be continually adjusted as you become more familiar with the game.

Targeting – If You Can’t Hit ’em – You’re Toast

General Tips to Meet Your Mark
One of the most basic principles is to make your shots count. Firing aimlessly towards enemies does little for your game unless it is specifically meant as suppression fire. One common mistake many people make is firing too soon. However, you should never fire until you have a clear shot. If the enemies don’t know you are there, they won’t fire at you, so you’re somewhat safe as long as you are undiscovered. This is much more common in stealth shooters, where the main objective is to go through the game primarily unnoticed.

I Was ‘Dead On’ Target, But Missed, Why?
If you were on target and still missed, there are several factors that could be hindering your effective targeting. One of the most obvious is weapon selection. Different weapons react in different ways, it is a possibility that the recoil from the weapon is changing the exact point of impact, or it could be that the game you’re playing is so realistic that you will need to lead your target.

Get To Know the Weapons and the Maps

Your Weapon Is Your Partner – Choose Wisely
As stated earlier, choosing the right weapon can have a drastic impact on your results, and this varies quite a bit from game to game. In the next example, I’ll refer to a couple of weapons in Rainbow Six 3, a tactical shooter available on PC and most consoles. Many people recommend using the G3A3 rifle for use in RS3, and for good reason; it is the most powerful rifle, bullet for bullet, in the game.

However, it also has some major drawbacks. First off, it only holds 21 rounds per clip, where other weapons will hold over 30. It also has a significant recoil, enough to make you miss more often than not. For these two reasons, I actually prefer the TAR-21, which has a 31 round clip and much less of a recoil. While it may not have the 3.5x scope, it does have a 2.0x scope, and I can get double the kills with this gun by using the methods described in this article.

Know and Use the Maps to Your Advantage
Knowing the maps extremely well will only be helpful in multiplayer games, but knowing the terrain on any given map will serve more than one purpose. Single player and multiplayer games use the environment to avoid enemy fire. Use every outlet the map and environment give you, ducking behind barrels, hiding behind walls, whatever it takes to stay safe.

One key tip during times when taking heavy fire from enemies is to stay behind cover until you hear them reload, then come out from your safe haven and start shooting.

Practice Makes Perfect

Practice as Often as Possible and Reap the Rewards
Sure it is an old cliche, but it holds true in the case of Video Game Strategies. Of course, your first experience with a shooter game likely won’t be perfect, and you’ll likely find yourself dead more times than alive. As time goes on, building up your skills in one particular shooter will help you across all games in the shooter genre

Important Tips For New PC Gamers

If you are thinking of joining the PC gaming community exclusively or broadening your horizons from being a console game to a multi-platform gamer, there are some things you should know about PC gaming. Here are 20 of the most important tips every PC gamer should know.

Thanks Gameranx for the awesome video which you can watch at the bottom of this article.

1. Download Steam

In many people’s eyes, Steam is the best way to play video games. It is a digital distribution platform that ensures you always get everything as soon as it comes out. Steam keeps all of your software, automatically updates your games, has community features such as groups, instant messaging and in-game voice chat to name a few.

2. Always check Reddit

If you missed a Steam sale or you are just looking for some excellent PC game deals, you should always check out /r/gamedeals. There are always some awesome CD-key deals as well as discounts from various sites you might not have found otherwise.

3. Don’t rush into buying a game

If you don’t absolutely need to play a game right now, you should wait for Steam sales (for example the Winter Sale going on right now) are an excellent way to get games even if you are broke; but watch out, there are some terrible games on Steam you should avoid buying even at a discount.

4. Use the Refund option

Earlier this year Steam introduced a new feature called “Steam Refunds”. If you are unhappy with a game or it does not perform well on your PC (for example Batman: Arkham Knight). Please keep in mind that if you play a game for more than two hours (or request a refund after 30 days), it is much harder to get a refund, so check it out and request a refund if it’s not the game for you.

5. Broaden your horizons

PC gamers aren’t just stuck with Steam when it comes to amazing deals and purchasing your games online. For example, Good Old Games (owned by CD Projekt who also owns CD Projekt RED, the makers of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt) is one of the best sites out there, selling DRM free games.

6. Grab a bundle

Online Bundle stores are also an excellent way to grab games at a discount. For example, sites like Humble Bundle (you also help a charity by purchasing from this store) and Bundle Stars sell games in bulk and sometimes have some excellent deals to explore.

7. Clean PC, happy gaming

To keep your PC running at its maximum potential (and low heat), you have to keep your PC’s “insides” clean from dust, hair and anything else that could have gotten into your case. The best way to keep your PC clean is to blow the dirt out with a can of compressed air. Don’t use a vacuum as it creates static and don’t blow on your PC’s components with your mouth, as your breath contains moisture.

Recommended reading: Game Smarter – 4 House Cleaning Tips to Improve Performance

8. Don’t bother with a Steam Controller

The Steam Controller “might look futuristic and cool, but it is not as effective as you might think it is”, even though it is built entirely by robots. For games you want to use a controller on, rather use the Xbox One or PS4 controller.

9. Nvidia GPU user experience

If you are running an Nvidia graphics card, go to their website and download the GeForce Experience software. The software will keep your GPU’s drivers up to date at all times. You can also optimize individual games within the software so that your games can run at the optimal graphics setting for your GPU.

10. Get up from time to time

Playing games on your PC is glorious and enthralling to say the least. However, you should always remember to get up and move around from time to time. “It is legitimately unhealthy to sit for long periods of time without moving your body. It can result in heart disease and even limbs that don’t function properly due to blood circulation loss”.

11. Play with your settings

Regardless of which hardware you use, for example AMD or Nvidia GPU’s, don’t be afraid to play around with your in-game settings to get the best possible performance out of your hardware.

12. Install mods

Some games are just better on the PC due to high quality mods and a brilliant modding community. For example, Fallout 4 gets better by the day with new mods you can use to add cool features to the game or even increase graphical quality. Read my colleague Han Cilliers’ article posted earlier today entitled “A look at 2015’s Top 10 Mod Of The Year Winners”.

13. Get yourself a gaming mouse

A decent mouse will reduce input latency so your actions will register faster. It might not be that important for a single-player game, but for multiplayer games such as CS:GO where success or failure rests heavily on twitch reactions, a good gaming mouse will make all the difference. Further, you “should always disable the Mouse Acceleration” option in the game you are playing.

14. Open your mind to different genres

You will notice that PC games span a wider variety than consoles. For example, MOBAs and strategy games which are almost exclusively on the PC. The reason being that a mouse and a keyboard is just so much better when it comes to these two genres. Don’t be afraid to check out a genre you are unfamiliar with, it might just become your new favorite game type to play.

15. Check out Twitch.tv

It can be a lot of fun just watching professional eSports players or gaming personalities play on Twitch.tv. However, you can also stream your gameplay sessions yourself, which can be pretty satisfying as viewers can comment and give you feedback. If you do manage to get a lot of followers, you can also make a large sum of money just by playing games! For our local audience, I would also suggest backing South African Twitch.tv streamers.

16. Don’t bother with “gamebooster apps”

Actually, stay away from them altogether. For one, they don’t work. You can do more by just using your windows task manager and “ending” some unnecessary processes that take up a lot of resources. “In some cases, gamebooster apps can even get you banned from Steam, as they can be interpreted as a hostile program”.

17. PC Exclusives

There is always a lot of talk surrounding exclusives when an argument arises about which console is best. You should know that PC gaming also has a plethora of exclusive titles, for example Dota 2, World of Warcraft and League of Legends, played by millions of gamers worldwide.

18. Watch out for the ports

Some PC gamers detest console ports and rightly so. Some ports are well done (check Steam reviews before buying) while others make the news as some of the biggest failures on the PC, for example the Batman: Arkham Knight debacle.

19. Groups and message board

I mentioned earlier that Steam has great community features such as groups. Use those groups and message boards to find more people to play with and friends to share your experiences with. Not only will you become part of a game’s community, but you can also find guides to help you through difficult aspects of a specific game. For our local readers, check out our article entitled: “Where to find SA Steam Communities”

20. PC gaming isn’t all that expensive

One argument that comes up a lot from console gamers is that PC gaming is very expensive. Yes, it is true that you can spend a lot of money on a gaming rig, for example a GTX 980 Ti will set you back around R15,000. However, you do not need a GPU like that to enjoy games on the PC, as entry level budget cards can reach the same performance as a console.  “You can spend around the same amount of money (as a console would cost) on building a PC that is better than a console.”

If you take all the amazing bargains on games into account, you might even save money in the long run. Further, you have to pay a subscription to play online on a console, while with PC gaming you can play online for free. Read our article entitled “Affordable SA PC builds to play 2015’s AAA games” to find some great ideas for a PC build