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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).

    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.

    Wow. Look at all the dust.

    It’s been a while since I’ve been here.

    My new campaign is scheduled to start soon. After the meet-and-greet the players and I agreed upon a system (Pathfinder) and a background (HarnWorld). So that left me time to try and crank out the best resource any GM can have – a binder containing a series of odds and sods upon which your game will rely. This time around I’m also keeping an electronic version of my binder this time — a series of directories and links to files on my computer.

    I did a lot of looking around, trying desperately to find the old articles I based my last GM binder on years ago. I found lots of good advice, but most of it was very generic–and very few folk seemed willing to post details about what their binder contains. I have the contents of my last campaign’s binder; but the older binders have long since been de-constructed, with some parts filed and others recycled. The last campaign’s binder lost cohesion and organization somewhere around mid-campaign, about when my plot went off the rails and various plot threads were completely lost. It’s something I’m trying not to repeat in this game.

    My binder has the following sections:

    1. Cover. This is the first time I’ve created a cover page for my campaign. It’s an letter page poster in black and white featuring the name of the campaign as well as a short piece of poetry designed to give a general feel for the game. It was fun to create and helped me focus the game and come up with the game’s theme. 
    2. Places. These are the places in which the game will run. I won’t copy everything into here; a piece of the gaming map, a few small articles of the places the party will live in or travel through should be enough. Often, if the article exists elsewhere, I’ll include a blank page with the name of the article and where to find it.To start the list is pretty short, but it will grow with time:
      Place name Citations
      Dunir Kanday module pxx, xx, xx; Dunir article; \Harn\Kanday\Dunir\
      Kanday Kanday module; HarnWorld pxx; HarnDex pxx; \Harn\Kanday\


    3. People. This includes both copies of the PCs as well as lots and lots of NPCs. I start with a randomly generated list of names using EBoN and the Harnic chapters. I tend to create a list of about 100 each: female first names, male first names, clan names, other race names (25 elves (Sindarin), 25 dwarves (Khuzdan), 25 halflings, 25 orcs (Gargun)). These are just lists (no space for anything else); usually done up in 3 columns.I also include a grid that looks something like this:
      Person Race/Age/Sex Notes/location/Appearance/Game Info
      John Smith H:M:42 Local bloke on the road to Dunir. Brown hair-balding, brown eyes, average height/build, ruddy complexion. See Stats pxx.
      Thomas Public H:M:33 Local farmer. Likes his pigs. Just north of Dunir. Brown hair-curley, brown eyes, tall & thin. Animal Handling (pigs) 12, (other) 6
      Jane Smith H:M:18 Unmarried. Shy. Won’t talk to the PCs if her father’s not there (John Smith). Dunir. Brown hair (long, straight-under a cowl), blue eyes. Petite. Cha 14
      Peter Principle H:M:22 Talkative but doesn’t know much. Willing to help, but clueless. Random. Brown hair-straight, cropped short, average height/build. Bookish. Knowledge (local) 6

      The grid lets me keep track of NPCs without worrying about stat-blocks. If an NPC requires something more than a single skill or stat (which I list in the notes on the grid), then I’ll make a stat block and reference it in the grid.

      This time I’ll also create a quick reference sheet of names for the locations (especially to detail the people in the party’s home town).

    4. Rules. This section includes house rules, conversion rules (in my case from 3.5 d20 to pathfinder — a free download from Paizo), and any other small articles that help me run the game. If we limit the number of books available to be used, I’ll include that list here too.
    5. Background details. Typically I include a price list, articles on general lore, and any other small article that seems relevant to the background setting. I also include copies of anything given to the PCs as well as rough notes as to when and why the item was given out. Often, as the campaign progresses, most of the additional details I add to a location are stored here.
    6. Logs. Notes about the campaign. I start with the date and the weather and the party supplies all the rest. By keeping notes I can better deal with unfinished plots and party interests. Some nights the notes are detailed, other nights they aren’t. I usually try to go back and write up my thoughts on the gaming session — as much for creating a summary for the next game as to help with plots.
    7. Adventures. If I run an adventure, I either print it out and add it to the binder, or at least make a notation that the adventure was run. I try to include a brief summary of “how it really went”. This section is a summary of the logs and deals only with the adventure and not all the other events that occurred while the adventure runs.
    8. Monsters, Treasure, and Monies. This section (I hope) will be pretty slim. I don’t want to recreate the universe; but I will use it to keep track of what monsters the PCs fight, what treasures they get, and what they spend their money on. If there’s anything unique to the game–I’ll include its details here.
    9. Maps. These are empty (unlabeled) maps of various places the party might visit. I collect random maps that fit my setting and rely upon them heavily. If the party visits one I’ll include a rough page of details and label the map so that, should they return, the ancient alter, secret hide-y holes, and pigeon coups will be right where they last found them.

    And that’s the details of my GM binder. I’ve got a fair bit of work to do before it’s ready to be used.
    Next step: making characters and fleshing out the starting point for the adventure.