GE17: Meet Ben and Brent

Ben Gerber & Brent Newhall cover for Jonathan while he’s engaged with real life stuff for his first home.

Brent and Ben sneer at real life, preferring to spend our time on the internet. Where it’s virtual, and friendly. They do what comes naturally, which is talk about themselves.

They discuss their upcoming projects, talk a bit about board game design, and Ben also does a month in the life of a indie publisher, where the cover about the numbers. Total units “sold” (including free stuff), total gross and total net $$$ and the fact that a lot of people who get a free copy to review it, don’t end up reviewing it.

Many thanks to Ben and Brent for covering for me while I was indisposed.

Don’t forget to listen to Episode 16: 5 Great Soundtracks, if you haven’t done so yet.

Continue reading “GE17: Meet Ben and Brent”

Monsters of the Shattered World #3: A Clutch of Kobolds

Monsters Logo 1300x1300In this episode of Monsters of the Shattered World, Andreas and his band finally reach the island of Prima, where they search Granfeld Crag for information about strange rumors. They journey into the jungle and into an abandoned temple, much to the consternation of a clutch of kobolds.

For those of you new to this show, Monsters of the Shattered World is a storytelling podcast. It’s about a young scholar out on his own in the world, encountering strange monsters and writing about them. Each episode is 5 to 10 minutes long, so it won’t overburden your iPod.

New episodes are released every month. If you want to hear it more frequently, we’ll release a new episode every two weeks if we get more than 100 listeners. So tell your friends!

Credits: This podcast is written and performed by Brent P. Newhall (a.k.a. Dr. Worldcrafter), and amazingly edited by Quinn Conklin (columnist at Troll in the Corner and author of Toys for the Sandbox). The show’s theme song is “To The Ends” by Kevin Macleod.

Monsters of the Shattered World #1: The Sea Devils

Khairul Hisham - Sahuagin
Khairul Hisham – Sahuagin

Monsters of the Shattered World is a new podcast debuting, well, today on Troll in the Corner.

This is a different podcast: it tells a story. It’s about a young scholar out on his own in the world, encountering strange monsters and writing about them. Each episode is 5 to 10 minutes long, so it won’t overburden your iPod.

New episodes will be released every month. If you want to hear it more frequently, we’ll release a new episode every two weeks if we get more than 100 listeners. So tell your friends!

In this episode, our hero travels to a remote island to investigate an attack of sea devils.

Credits: This podcast is written and performed by Brent P. Newhall (a.k.a. Dr. Worldcrafter), and amazingly edited by Quinn Conklin (columnist at Troll in the Corner and author of Toys for the Sandbox). The show’s theme song is “To The Ends” by Kevin Macleod. Big thanks to Khairul Hisham for the fantastic piece of artwork for this episode.

DNDNext First Impressions

So, for those of you that missed it, the upcoming rules set of D&D has entered a public beta, and you can sign up now over at Wizards of the Coast (be careful, there’s still some server load and issues with download links. Check their Twitter for help if needed.)

I’ve been looking forward to the public beta, not only because D&D is what brought me into roleplaying, but because I might actually get to play some D&D with it.

I tried to get into 4E when it came out, but among a great number of the people I might actually play with, it wasn’t really popular. A great number moved on to Pathfinder, the rest clung to 3.5 because the new version was “too complicated” and they “got bored during character creation” (actual responses when I tried to get a few to play – they refused my help with explaining it to them, too). I’ve been hoping that the new rules might make them realize that there are other versions of the game they love so much, and whilst they might not play exactly the same, fun can still be had playing them.

Now, I want to stress that I haven’t finished digging through the playtest materials, but I’ve gone through them enough to mention a couple of highlights. I also haven’t played the game, but that’s happening next week, so there will likely be a follow up article about that.

So, on to my first impressions.

It feels like an amalgamation of the different editions of D&D. I’ve not got a lot of experience with the earlier stuff, but I can see some of it coming through. Some quick (though actually a little detailed) highlights:

  • Each ability is also used for a save. Strength can be used to escape grapples, Dexterity too, but obviously in different ways. Strength means batting aside falling masonry; Dexterity means dodging it to start with. Constitution can ignore poison and petrification; Intelligence resists spells, so does Wisdom (but again, different spell effects are implied); and Charisma helps against compulsions. Obviously, abilities have other uses too, but this stood out.
  • Advantage and disadvantage. No more +/-2 checks; just roll 2d20, and choose the best or worst roll depending on what you have. Certain effects give you each, and it looks like it can come down to DM judgement/table consensus too. If you’re hidden, you get advantage on attacks. Aiding another gives them advantage on their rolls (presumably providing you aid successfully; I’m still reading).
  • Surprise is now a -20 to your initiative check. Seems sensible. Even rolling a 20 when surprised by someone who rolled a 1 means the surpriser goes first.
  • There is actually a heading in “things you can do in combat” labelled “Improvise,” which suggests coming up with cool stuff and using an ability check to do it. Obviously within reason, but I liked the inclusion enough to point it out.
  • Minor actions are gone. Most of them are now free. Effectively, everyone has the equivalent of the Quick Draw feat.
  • Hit points work out a little different. At first level, add your Constitution score to a hit die roll. Every other level, add hit die roll OR Con modifier, whichever is higher. Helpful for weak wizards I suppose. At the other end, you’re unconscious and dying at 0 HP, and dead at Con score plus level in the negative. There are death saving throws, like in 4E. Healing also stabilises/brings you to 0 HP before gaining your HP from the healing.
  • Speaking of healing, Long and Short Rests allow you to heal up. Short rests can give you a boost of a hit die plus Con modifier for as many hit die as you have levels, though you only have so many hit die to spend in a whole day (one at level one). Long Rests heal you up fully (8 hours rest).
  • Armor has set Armor Class values, but allows you to add your Dex modifier, depending on the armor. Light armor adds Dex modifier to AC, Medium adds half the modifier, and Heavy doesn’t add.
  • Weapon Finesse is folded into the weapons themselves. Weapons come in flavours of Basic, Finesse, Martial, and Heavy. Finesse lets you use your Dex to hit, if you wish. Small characters can’t use Heavy Weapons (no Halflings running around with Greatswords, it seems). Also, using a Bastard Sword two-handed upgrades the damage die.
  • Spells seem to have verbal and somatic components (remember them?) so if your hands are bound and your mouth gagged, you’re probably not casting your spells. Spells use spell slots, though wizard cantrips and cleric orisons are the equivalent of 4E’s at-will powers. Using a higher level spell slot for some spells means nastier results. Spells can be cast as rituals, but they use up some expensive spell components and take a while to cast (tens of rounds).
  • The characters themselves are interesting enough to me, although I’ve heard people saying the fighter isn’t very interesting. The way the different races look interests me, but the Backgrounds and Themes for the different characters look great. The Dwarven Paladin has a Knight background, so he knows how to handle an animal, and might even get free boarding if someone recognises him. The Halfling Rogue’s Commoner background gives her a profession, and others in her profession might be more willing to talk to her. The Themes give a starting feat and seem to follow a progression track, with some other feats at later levels. There is some fine print on the sheets advising removing Background and Theme for an Old-School game.

I’m excited by the adventure, The Caves of Chaos, which is part of Keep on the Borderlands. I’ll be playing this week with a small group, so I can get back to you more on the adventure then, and how the game itself plays. From what I’ve heard of hints from the closed playtest contingents, I’m excited to see how well it all works together.

There are still a few things I’m unsure about. The Dwarf’s starting damage with his Greataxe is 2d6+7, and I can only account for +6. And why does a wizard have 10 torches in a backpack if they can cast a light spell at will?

EDIT: I’ve been having more of a dig around. There are some more discrepancies than a simple +1 modifier for the Fighter – Greataxe in equipment is listed as 1d12 (which is the 4e damage value). For now I’ll run as the sheet says, but make a note for feedback.


Well, that’s my two cents for now, more after I’ve played the game itself, probably with more commentary once I’ve had a better look at the rules. What are your thoughts so far?

Geeks Explicitly – Entering Ear Canals Soon

Do you remember me asking if you would listen to a Troll in the Corner podcast? No, I didn’t think so. I did, though. Pinky swear.

That post was my not so secretive way of telling all of you that Troll in the Corner is taking podcasting more seriously. We’re drilling into your ears with shows on a myriad of topics that you simply must listen.

The first of these new shows is Geeks Explicitly. Geeks Explicitly, oh yes I did just use the podcast’s name to both end one and start another sentence, is a 15-20 minute long show co-hosted by my buddy Drew McCarthy and myself. We chat about geek life in general. Anything from movies, gaming, TV, music, comics, toys, our jobs, our lives and MORE exists under the umbrella of Geeks Explicitly.

Continue reading “Geeks Explicitly – Entering Ear Canals Soon”

Poaching from the best

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

There comes a time where all storytellers realise that their stories are less original than they’d hoped. But that’s fine. Georges Polti claimed there were only thirty-six possible plots in our narratives, and having looked over the list both on Wikipedia and in the fourth edition of Legend of the Five Rings, I’m inclined to agree. I certainly couldn’t think of any more that weren’t simply combinations. Polti’s claims were based on Greek and French literature, but I still think this holds true.

So how does this affect the humble RPG storyteller? How do you pull one over on the players, without them realising? My latest ploy is to cheat, wholesale.

As the title of this article suggests, it’s a lot easier to steal plots in part or in full, and then piece them together. In a recent game using Greg Christopher‘s Synapse system, I managed to pull the players through the fist part of a novel I read years ago. None of them have any clue as to the novel itself, and I think that’s because I chose something suitably obscure, and hoped that none of them had heard of it. Obviously some adaptation was needed. There was no journalist character in the novel, for instance, or a soldier with PTSD. I resorted to pulling in other stories – there’s theme in the second novel in the series regarding integrity and truth, and some journalism. I’ll be borrowing heavily from that for his character plot hooks.

The point that I’m trying to make is that we shouldn’t be afraid to poach or outright steal narratives for our hobby, since it seems unlikely we’ll manage to be truly original. There’s plenty of advice for creating characters based on poached ideas – have you played a Star Wars game without a cocky kid or clever droid? The problem is that there’s less advice out there for the story itself, at least regarding most core rulebooks. And I think that, especially when the players don’t know the poached narrative path themselves, there’s plenty of opportunity open for them to play what makes sense to them.

In the case of my example above, what felt right was apparently the narrative of the novel. They barely strayed at all somehow, despite the introduction of three almost completely divergent characters. I wonder whether that will still hold true next time we play, or whether I will unintentionally railroad them in the direction of the novel. Time will tell.

Adding extra sensations to your game

Used under Creative Commons license, from Wikipedia user Emmbean

There’s an important rule in GMing: show, don’t tell.

Now, when you put a setting together, you of course tell the players various things, but once the game is in full swing, it’s obviously much more important to involve the players in as many ways as possible.
So, here’s a few fun things I’ve been toying with, and that are talked about sometimes by various designers (John Wick springs to mind from Blood and Honor).

Pulling your players in by giving them extra stimuli for their fun makes them more involved, more eager to learn more about the setting, and usually means we all get to try something new.

Adding in aged maps as props is easily done, and a very effective tool, as are using miniatures for action scenes so everyone can easily see the actions.
Outside of action, advice begins to falter, but we can always take good cues from print fiction.
I’m told George R. R. Martin makes a big show writing about the food in his books. A confession: I haven’t read them (yet!), so I can’t really talk too much on that other than what I understand. But then why not have a feast happen in your game, and really celebrate it. Describe it in lurid detail. Pigeon and partridge pie, persimmon and bearberry jam, roast swan. Or even roast owlbear, Elderwitch wine and triceratops egg omelettes. Or spoo. Mention sizzlings and dripping and guzzling and bubbling and steaming. Vivid and effective.
My favourite example of this neat description comes from Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch series. Two characters are sat around during a rare moment of downtime between magical blasts of madness. They are drinking vodka, eating pickled cucumbers and sauerkraut. A simple little meal, but the way the food is described as crisp and fresh and complimenting the vodka made my mouth water when I first read it and now.
Sometimes, that effect is paramount to really motivating players.

The next step of course is the real sensations.
If you have a friend with armour and swords, see if you can get them involved in your game (if they aren’t already). Failing that, go stand in their back yard with your group and get everyone to hold a sword at arms length. Or go to an archery range if there’s a beginners event. Or a renaissance faire (I assume, we don’t have those where I’m from).
Burn incense in temple scenes, or when the players are soon to encounter a dark ritual, or when they have to resurrect a friend. Or attend their funeral. Make a big deal of it.
Add food to the gaming table. Avoid pizza as the group source of sustenance, and make a choice between setting or situation. In a setting like Wolfgang Baur’s Free City of Zobeck, maybe you’d favour goulash or borscht. In a game based on Arabian Nights, sugared dates and baklava. A samurai adventure gives the players sushi and wasabi and sake.
Now consider the situational changes to foodstuffs. The group has to hike through the mountains with only basic rations? Dried fruits, bread, cheeses and cured meats. The group finds itself in a despicable hive of scum and villainy? Break out the blue food colouring. The Elves/Dwarves/Goblins have a delicacy that few humans have ever tasted? Pineberries, or bacon chocolate, or sweet and sour mushrooms, or pitta breads filled with jerked goat. There’s a deli around the corner from me that sells olives stuffed with gherkins, and the taste and texture are suitably odd you could drop them in any setting easily as ‘something out of the ordinary’.

Immersion breeds exploration and involvement. So why not immerse your players with every sense at their disposal?

Review: The Game Master by Tobiah Panshin


I thought I’d do something a little different and review something slightly more out of the ordinary. I’d originally planned to have this up and online in November when I first heard about it, but I’ve been putting it off repeatedly. New Year’s Resolution to the rescue!

The Game Master by Tobiah Panshin is a thesis on what it means to be run a game for a group, and draws upon his personal experiences across different systems and genres of the roleplaying hobby to give advice on how best to go about it.

The book is split into four sections, detailing how to put together a group, how to design and maintain a campaign, how to start an adventure as excitingly as possible, and an advanced section that both recaps and adds detail to what’s already been talked about. Of particular use is that each section contains a rule to govern how you deal with each aspect of being a successful GM, as well as a full summary list of these ‘Laws of Game Mastery’ at the end of the book.

As a tool for first time GMs, I think the book would be an invaluable help if the task of putting together a game seems insurmountable. Having been roleplaying for over a decade, and spending the majority of that behind the GM screen, I found it easy to identify with some of the problems posed, such as maintaining fun and dealing with difficult players.

I was particularly impressed with the ideas I hadn’t come across before, such as setting out a contract with the players to make sure they have fun and at least giving them enough of an idea about the upcoming campaign to make worthwhile characters that will remain fun to play after a few sessions, and that they will agree to create an ensemble group that can adequately work together to overcome challenges.

Another useful piece expounded how best to piece a story together from various plotlines, and how to allow yourself as a GM to realise that it is perfectly allowable (especially when putting together a group for multiple different adventures) that not every player character needs their own plot device in every game. If players can happily share the spotlight, then letting them help each other quest for their own macguffin whilst also advancing the group plot should be a cinch.

Tobiah Panshin has clearly put together a useful resource that is a great resource, and his examples of actual play really bring home how effective the ideas in the book can be at a gaming table. The entire 172 page .pdf is available free to download, however I strongly urge you to make a donation to the upkeep of the website. If you feel unsure if the book will help you at all, I downloaded and read the book, and made a donation when I was done (particularly because I’d already adapted ideas for my own games).

An Overdue Introduction

Hello everyone. I think it’s about time I introduced myself, since it’s been three months since my last post here on Troll.

Considering the next move in a lengthy game of 'Tension Tower', as the game box called it.

My name’s Benedict, used in full to be less confusing with Mr. Troll himself, Ben Gerber.

I’ve been a tabletop roleplayer now for twelve or thirteen years, since the days of school lunch breaks playing D&D, not too long before news of 3rd Edition surfaced. I fondly remember the arguments over the proper pronunciation of ‘paladin’, and being far too lenient on the players because I hadn’t worked out how to scale power levels, and the overuse of owlbears that our group seemed to encourage.

I tried to branch out early, but couldn’t get my head around the mechanics of Alternity so soon after embracing D&D, and that remained more or less the same for years, with a handful of unused books sat on my shelves good only for generating storylines and hooks.

Once I reached university, I met a much larger and more diverse group of players, finally playing classics like Vampire: The Masquerade and Legend of the Five Rings. I also managed to run the roleplaying and wargaming society for a year, though I don’t know how successful I made it. It still exists, so I can’t have ruined it.

I’ve been excited enough by the chatter of the worldwide roleplaying community on Google+ to actually try and make a name for myself with some chatter of my own. I’ve got two of my own ongoing blogs, the Kingsmead Chronicler detailing an ongoing development of a fantasy setting (mostly in the 4E rules set, back to being regularly updated in the next couple of weeks I promise!), and Loca Imaginaria, which I use to explore various ideas and talk about what happens in any of the various games that I play in. I’m on a big FATE kick at the moment, so expect that to come out in what you see there.

Here on Troll, I’m going to try and focus on GM tips, reviews of new products, throwback reviews of classic products and maybe dropping the occasional list of things I’ve been getting my nose into. For now at least, it could all change.

I’ve got some big plans for 2012, and regularly updating you on my view of the gaming community is probably going to come into that. Talking from the British angle and view of events, I hope I can convey something different to my American compatriots. I’m going to be working on various projects throughout the year, and try and throw some of my workings towards you for what the academics would call ‘peer review’, as well as to give my two cents on what I see going on in the industry  and where I’d like to see it going (I promise no D&DNext viewpoints for the next month at least!)

And that’s me. Find me on Google+ or talk to me in comments here.

Author’s Note: I’ve still yet to play Alternity, despite finally understanding it, and buying several other books for it in a charity shop a few years ago, but I’ve got big plans for the year ahead. I’ve still got untouched books on the shelf that need some life breathed into them. I’m looking forward to doing that real soon, and hope you’ll all enjoy anything that pops out.

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