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It’s the second most common question every GM ever hears (the most common being – so what are you running now?). For me, it’s always a tricky question. I’m far more interested in backgrounds than in systems, which does absolutely nothing in reducing the possibilities.

  • HarnWorld / HarnMaster – HarnGold. My old favorites. With Rethem now published, I’m tempted to run a campaign in the “evil” kingdom. Or perhaps in Kanday (the “good” kingdom) which lies right next door.
  • Golorian / Pathfinder. There’s the new adventure path: Jade Regent. It’s a getting-there-is-half-the-fun type of adventure that ends up in the far east.
  • Thieve’s World / d20-ish. I loved the books and like the background almost as much. Not sure I could run a full-length campaign in Sanctuary, but the Tales of the Vulgar Unicorn adventure I have looks really good.
  • DragonAge / DARP. The game has an incredible background; dark, gritty and low-fantasy. I know nothing of their system, but it’s received good reviews.
  • Steampunk RPG. A free system/background that lends itself to my current twists of f antsy.

I’d like to run one or two really good mysteries set in an interesting background.  Using Ellis Peters (Brother Cadfael) and Michael Jecks as guides, I have a lot of potential plots that I could flesh out and present as adventures … assuming, of course, that I can pick a background and a rule system.


“I shouldn’t be able to hear the banging down here!”

The laws of physics are mailable thanks to magic in the campaign world. But trying to describe a situation, an ecology, or worse-still the effects of a natural disaster (no matter what the real cause) is tough.

Banner from Obsidian portal

Obsidian portal banner

Obsidian portal has become my GM binder for my Rise of the Runelords campaign. My latest campaign has a series of pages there along with all the PCs character sheets & a mish-mash of background material. As with all my past campaigns — my plans to post information are always far greater than the reality that I seem to accomplish. Still, calling it a work in progress or the unfinished pages never seems right. The site acts as a GM’s guide to memory and a PC resource. Technically there are 2 players who are “members” of the site, while of the other 3, at least 2 visit from time to time.

Obsidian portal has the basic list of folders/sections that I require built into an easy-to-use wiki. It lets me download backups that, while not very viewable as raw HTML, at least allow me to retain the text entered on the various pages. And I have complete control of such things as banners, content, and who gets listed as a player. The site is public (with only a few pages marked as being GM-only information), and updates regularly. I can mark pages as GM-only or player/public.

The Obsidian portal is a site with several (horizontal) tabs. I use the following tabs as “sections” in my onling GM binder.

  1. Cover.  An introduction to the campaign with a bit of cover-art. Fortunately, for me, one of my players is very graphically inclined. He provides almost all the art on my site (through various means). The banner is, however, completely my fault.
  2. Adventure Logs. Written by a player, this is a PC-generated log of events. At first I thought I’d include a GM note (or five) below the adventure summary when there’s things I am supposed to finish/do before the next time. And that I’d link all the NPC names to the Characters stored on the site. Most times I don’t even remember to add the XP breakdown to the GM section of the adventure log, the treasure they collect, or the stuff they miss.
  3. Characters. One page per character. The site now has dynamic templates; but they’re a really handfull to try and fill in manually. Most of the NPCs are nothing more than a picture and a line or two of description. Ideally there’d be more in each, but I am rarely inspired to update these characters. A player in my game started (at one point) updating the NPCs with information he learned in session, but I’m not so sure he’s kept up with it. I know I haven’t.
  4. Wiki. This holds almost everything else. Here I keep an XP tally per game, background articles detailing the places the party has been, longer notes about religions or people, whatever and everything. There are no maps, however. Since I tend to “borrow” maps for my game, I don’t feel comfortable publishing them after the fact to the web. The formatting (such as it is) comes from advice found in the forum discussions.
  5. Items. This is new, and I’m just starting to use it. As the magic items get more and more complicated and customized, I add the details here. The downside is that now there’s some items in the wiki and some here – they use different formats (and that really should be cleaned up). And I should get to work trying to find images for these items. I agree with the blog post, in that having a spreadsheet-like interface to track loot and spending would be very handy.

A few things that are missing:

  • The campaign map. There’s a place to upload it but I’ve never quite gotten around to it.
  • A way to track changes. Between myself and one player – the site sees pretty regular updates; unfortunately there’s no way for him to see what I’ve changed, or for me to see what he’s changed. It’s not a question of trust — I trust that he’s not changing things without cause or reason (and vice-versa); rather it’s a question of purest curiosity. Did he fix a typo, add a power, or rewrite something? My failing memory is insufficient to be able to tell.
  • A way to group the NPCs together. If we keep going the way we have, there’ll soon be 100s of NPCs on the site. I have about 20 to add from the party’s recent adventures in Magnimar (political and religious figures they’ve met, a couple of powerful families, and some friends/family members, guards, soldiers etc).  They’re all tagged as to where they were first encountered, but it would really be nice if we could create sub-pages based on those tags.
  • Wiki-wide formatting (CSS and/or sidebars). I really wish the sidebars could be defined and updated in one place, then reappear throughout the campaign’s site. Updating my current format is, at best, incredibly painful – with each page having to be manually edited for even the slightest of changes.

I like using Obsidian portal, and I follow their forums for advice and help (even if I don’t post often). The forums have some interesting topics on how to format your campaign, use the dynamic templates, campaign of the month competitions, as well as a lot of creative folk asking questions and trying to solve problems both with the site as well as with their campaigns.

Speaking of the campaigns hosted on Obsidian portal, there are dozens (and dozens…) of Rise of the Runelord campaigns. Some are updated regularly, a few are finished, and a majority seem to be abandoned; but all have slightly different sets of information. In many cases it’s just the adventure log or a few PCs; others, however, have detailed back-history, unique locations, magic items or NPCs. All this stuff helps me figure out what to add to my own campaign. I can also mark another campaign as a “favorite”. This keeps me updated when that other campaign is updated.

Overall, Obsidian portal provides the infrastructure for a campaign website that is lacking on many free-wiki websites. Grouping the content of several games (different systems, different adventures) all on one site is a neat idea and it often saves me some time and effort when I am looking for information.  Next time you’re building a  GM’s binder, take a look at Obsidian portal as an alternative to the pen-and-paper or build-it-yourself options.

    Never fails. Every game I play, I manage to find something that’s broken. This time it’s Pathfinder-related.

    1. Sorcerers are not considered a favored class of gnomes (a highly magical race).
    2. Pathfinder does not allow a favored class to be a prestige class.
    3. There is no obvious way for a Monk throw an opponent (leaving them prone) and do damage to them (or at least stun them) in a single attack.

    1. Allow gnomes to take sorcerer as their favorite class (and thus get the extra spell slot/level). This contradicts the specification in the APG, but I prefer the Core idea that each player can choose their favorite class.
    2. In my game a prestige class can indeed be a favored class.
    3. Great Throw (from d20 Oriental Adventures) should be the solution. Its description is in the Oriental Adventures errata (ZIP).

    Date: August 26, 2010
    Game Date:  October 7, 2032

    Everyone heads to the school in groups of two. Mike says the child is evil, and E- confirms what Shannon saw.

    Regina, wearing a sky-colored sari, takes to the air to watch the child of interest during the school lunch break.

    After much discussion, Sam gets the sheriff to walk by the school and identify the child as Joanna Pouchio. We learn that her father died when she was 2. Last summer her brother (a popular boy named Carl) died at the local swimming hole. It was assumed to be accidental death by drowning and so no autopsy was performed. The mother, Shirley, works at the school as a cook and grounds-keeper. They live some 10 houses down from the school, relatively near the edge of town.

    We are left with a ton of questions.

    – How many other drownings have there been in that swimming hole and over what time frame.

    – Are there other animal blightings occurring outside this town’s jurisdiction?

    – How, exactly, did father Poucchio die?

    We need to talk to the sheriff to get more answers. We also divide the night into shifts of two with Mike standing as agent-on-call throughout all the shifts. Shannon has some barrettes she can cast magic into – granting us protection and possibly night vision. E- can cast a spell that will let us see heat. We start planning the night shift, intent on watching JoAnna over the next few nights to see if we can catch her red handed.

    Date: June 29, 2010
    Game Date:  October 6, 2032

    We had dinner at the hotel. While there we garnered attention from two guys at the bar. Sam learned they were “Female Body Inspectors” – head agents here in town. Tom Renolds and Joey are both local boys. There was a lively discussion as to how they could be “pressed” into service.

    Game Date: October 7, 2032

    Up early and at practice.

    Markus and Regina visited the local doctor, Doctor Richard England. He promised to send over what birth records he had for the town, but said it would be easier for him to work from the town’s census report and fill in the blanks. He knows of only one person in town with abilities: the individual can make small objects a little bit colder. Otherwise there seems to be no powered inviduals here.

    Sam and Shannon visited the local Methodist church to meet Father Hathor. He said his congregation included about 80 regulars. He might see 200 souls at Christmas. There are other churches in Harpers Ferry, and a few smaller congregations hold meetings in nearby homes are barns. He knows of a Baptist and a Lutherin group. The newest folk in town are Mr and Mrs Wahlroos. They have two children – a 4 1/2 and a 6mo old.

    After lunch, Sam and Shannon visit the principal’s office at the school. They introduce themselves and warn the principal that they are in town and that they are looking into the strange animal deaths in the area. It’s assumed kids and parents will have questions, so the agents are trying to head this off. The principal is appreciative, but doesn’t really know of anyone who might do such a thing.

    On the way out Shannon catches view of a young woman with a powerful signature. Shannon steps back to get a second look and inadvertently gets the whole classes attengion.

    Markus visited the post office in an attempt to get a map of the region. The general store’s clerk also works at the post office. Maps are scarce and hard to come by.

    We meet up back at the hotel and start to chat about what we’ve found out.

    Date: July 17th, 2010
    Game Date: October 6, 2032

    The Grayson farm is the furthest east from town. It’s a small, family farm that raises mostly sheep and performs a bit of subsistence farming. Mr Grayson, his wife Helen, and his two children: Joanna (9) and Paul (12) live and work at the farm. It is the children’s responsibility to let the animals out of the barn in the morning, and see to it that they have water. Throughout the day the children act as shepherds to the flock. The land has been in Mr. Grayson’s family for 7 generations; having been carved out of the trees some time ago. Neither he, nor his family, could think of anyone who had a grudge against them, or a reason to attack their flock.

    On the night of the incident (September 30th), the Graysons saw nothing amiss. Around 1am they heard the dogs yapping, but it did not raise their alarm. They agreed that the dogs sounded like they were playing more than anything else. The next morning the children discovered the animal dead. Their father, having heard of previous incidents of healthy animals dying without exterior visible cause, brought the animal to the local vet.  She called him back the next day to admit that she had no idea what caused the death. Theirs was the 4th animal to die.

    We spoke with each family member, and none could offer further information; each telling similar variants to this tale. Mr Grayson took us to the spot where the animal died. A detailed search of the area turned up a single silver hair-pin with a flat top. It was found 15′ from the treeline, about 55′ from the site of the incident. None of the family claimed its ownership or could name its owner. We bagged it for evidence.

    The next farm (some miles way) belonged to Mr. Dickerson. It is a much bigger spread, with several different types of animals (pigs, sheep, goats and cows), numerous dogs, and farmhands about.  A farmhand stopped us as we approached the house and then went to inform Mr. Dickerson of our arrival. We were met and ushered into the house. Mr. Dickerson is in his 50s and in good health. His story was similar to that told by Mr. Grayson; there was nothing amiss the night before and in the morning the animal was found dead inside the outside pen, where the flock was kept. The dogs at this farm are quite … twitchy.

    We were brought to the site of the incident, and spent time examining the area. The pen itself is 70′ square. The animal died about 10′ in from the edge. The nearest treeline or cover is some 120′ away. While nothing physical was discovered, Shannon and Markus mused that the assailant would either be a very powerful and accurate marksman, or using magic to make the dogs like them. The assailant may even have made themselves invisible to be better able to approach their chosen victim.

    We said our goodbyes and went back to town. We found Mike in the hotel. Regina and XX had gone off to talk to the vet. With neither team having found sufficient evidence, we are still guessing and have neither means nor motive for the events. We began planning our next move: a way in which the entire town population could be scanned for magical or shard capacity.

    Date: June 17th, 2010
    Game Date:  October 6, 2032

    We spent a quiet night in the local hotel near the highway.

    Up with the dawn, Markus, Mike, and I worked out while the others slept. By the time we came back to the hotel, Shannon, Regina and XX were up and heading out to practice. Over breakfast, we made plans.

    We would all go to the sheriff’s office and see if another event had been reported through the night. If it had not, Markus, Shannon and I would visit the veterinarian, then start visiting the farms where the incidents took place. The others would start visiting the farms right away, working their way towards the Dickerson’s farm (north of town). We’d meet up back in town by mid-to-late afternoon.

    A quick visit to the Sheriff’s office proved nothing had been reported through the night, so we split up.

    The Veterinary was the one who reported the incidents to the police. She could not discern the cause behind the injuries that caused the animals death. With her help we reviewed the corpses of the four beasts she had present (2 goats, a sheep, and parts of a cow). In all cases, blighting of the heart and part of the lungs was present. In one case (a sheep) the spleen and liver were also affected, but not as severely. An animal born with an unnaturally shrunken and decrepit heart would not have survived to maturity.  There is no discernible evidence that this was caused by a wound or touch exterior to the body.

    Preliminary toxicology tests came back negative for known diseases or virus, but perhaps more important, the local vet had never seen or heard of anything like it. I found it reminiscent of the wounds caused by the blight crow; but without an exterior path. The animals otherwise appeared to be in good health.

    It took some time to review all the animals. The cow had been divided to better fit in the vet’s freezers, but there was no damage to the skull or hindquarters, except where the divisions took place.

    So, after a week or so of asking for ideas, one player out of six has offered up suggestions. I’m forced to assume that the others are too busy, not interested, and/or have no ideas. So our second meeting will be to make characters, and figure out where they come from and why they are together. These three ideas are pivotal to my campaign. Without knowing the answers, I’m finding it nearly impossible to organize much of anything. My campaign binder is mostly empty.

    I still have some lists to finalize and print out, and a bit of organization to figure out.
    For example, my kitchen table will barely fit 6 people, and I have 6 players in the game. Which means we have to play in the living room. This would be fine except one player brings her younger daughter which expects to watch her DVDs on the big TV to amuse herself. The office is not kid-friendly. I could set up my laptop in the bedroom so she can play and watch TV in there; but that means being forced to use only paper during the game.

    The game world has changed since I was last here. It’s now set in Golorion, the Pathfinder campaign setting. The change has meant a ton of work for me — mostly in learning a new background as well as a new system. A daunting amount of work has been done. I have maps (mostly too small to use with character icons), mostly completed characters, and ideas on how to scale the adventure to a group of six.

    There’s still so very much to do. I got a lot of information, maps, and ideas from the Paizo message boards. Players of this game: please, don’t read anything relating to the Rise of the Runelords adventure path without checking with me first. Anyone else thinking of running this adventure path – start with the Paizo message boards. The amount of community-created stuff available for use and download is truly amazing.

    Pathfinder links

    Binder downloads

    • ShadowWorld. Downloads of item cards, monster info cards, and a great calendar. It also has a lot of really good images from Rise of the RuneLords: Burnt Offerings.
    • Epic Tale’s links to RPG map tiles. A good collection of mapping bits.
    • Flickr photo set. Here’s the biggest collection of images from Rise of the RuneLords, but there are others on Flickr too.
    • Community created stuff. This includes maps, creature counters, lists and so much more. This list of stuff gave me lots more time to read.

    Things I should have done.

    • Print out the encounter maps in a scale I can use on the table for combat.
    • Found more item cards.