Moleskin Maps II by Matt Jackson

I love maps. Ever since my first reading of Tolkien, maps have held a special place in my heart. From my cloth map of Ultima VI, to the Birthright campaign map, to the blue printed maps in the old TSR modules; maps permeate the hobby.

And Matt Jackson has been delivering fantastic maps. First he gaves Moleskin Maps I [my review] and now we have eleven more area maps in Moleskin Maps II.

Each map is two pages. The first page provides a small map and a worksheet for filling out the Location Name, Background, Key Locations, GM Notes, Wandering Encounters, and Major Treasure. The second page is the full-sized version of the small map.

As a GM you will need to do some work to populate the map; Then again, the GM is the best person to do the work.

Some of the maps are very simple structures with a few logical “rooms;” Others are more complicated structures with several rooms and passage ways.

If I had to name these locations I’d say go with:

  • Fault line cave
  • Bandit cave at the falls
  • Collapsed tower and cave stores
  • Fortification in the box canyon
  • Dwarf crypt
  • Shelter for the night
  • Owlbear den
  • River smugglers den
  • Pit slave quarters
  • Goblin warrens
  • Gladiator arena monster’s lair

Then again, who knows what thoughts they will evoke in you. Like its predecessor, Moleskin Maps II is a fantastic compliment for your GM toolbox.

Take On Establishments

I so much enjoyed writing my first “for sale” RPG supplement Take On Magic Items that I decided to write another one – Take On Establishments [purchase at RPGNow].

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the support I’ve received on my first offering. I had a 3 month sales goal of 20 copies and have sold 25 copies, all before you could purchase Dungeon World.

I recognize some of the people – thank you all – may well have purchased Take On Magic Items out of a sense of “obligation” that may not continue beyond my freshman offering and that is quite alright.

Take On Establishments came about as a brainstorm with my family. We were coming up with names of buildings, and what might be found there. I decided there was something in it, and began work.

Organizationally each Establishment/Location has the following elements:

  • Sight, Sound, and Smell – a quickly scannable section to set the tone for the establishment.
  • Person – a person, with a quick description, instinct, and some moves.
  • Location Move – A “when you do X, Roll+STAT…” move to help a GM kickstart something from that location.

There isn’t any explicit read aloud text, instead opting for scan-ability. I also wasn’t looking to create a specific village, but instead wanted to provide modular locations, drop them in the village where you characters are at.

I have also found the entire process of publication and pricing fascinating.

Publishing

I’m using iBooks Author to generate the PDFs. Its available on my computer and is free. I had originally thought about publishing to iTunes, but my initial foray suggested that I would need an ISBN to sell the book.

So I opted to sell via RPGNow. They take a cut of the proceeds and I don’t have to roll my own shopping cart and payment processor.

At one point, I thought about writing my own web application, but frankly, I do that for my day job, and I’d rather let Hobby Jeremy come out and play.

Pricing

I spent a lot of time hashing out the appropriate price, considering $0.99, $1.49, $1.99, and $2.49. Eventually I settled on the highest price, in part because I was expecting to sell about 20 regardless of price – after all how many Dungeon World players are there? I based my assumption on Kickstarter’s 2455 backers .

Of course I wonder how many sales I might have if I were to reduce the price to $0.99. Would the volume make-up for it? I guess I could run a sale and find out.

I really anguished about pricing Take On Establishments, as I don’t think it is “as exciting” as Take On Magic Items. In fact, on the first day, I kept making updates to the price – I didn’t know that the item had become published while I was doing these updates.

Gaming Violence and Children

I grew up the son of a liberal Mennonite pastor. My dad was, and still is, a conscientious objector. Instead of serving in Vietnam, he did mission work in Brazil.

I recall conversations at the dining table about people struggling with the idea of paying taxes that went to the United States military complex. I knew of people who had refused to pay huge chunk of taxes, withholding the amount that would’ve went to the military. They would instead give that withheld money to organizations that promoted peace and justice.

My parents discouraged me from playing with guns. But when your primary toy is Lego, guns are easy to make. My parents discouraged me from watching violent TV, but I would sneak in an episode of the A-Team or later the Dirty Dozen.

The summer before my 6th grade year, a friend introduced me to my first RPG: Star Frontiers. I was immediately hooked. I loved the thought of reenacting Star Wars and Star Trek. To explore. To pilot a ship through a dogfight.

My freshman year in high school, the first Gulf War was beginning, and I recall many brave students standing up in chapel – I attended a private Mennonite high school – and saying they were not going to register for the draft. This meant no federal aid for college.

By this time, I had been playing Rolemaster and Dungeons & Dragons, games that placed a tremendous amount of rules explanation on combat and fighting.  And I maintain that by placing emphasis on combat, combat is more likely to occur.

I also began playing Axis & Allies, Civilization, Diplomacy, Magic the Gathering, and Warhammer. All of these games had abstract combat, but the means to victory is always through conflict.

When it came time to register for the draft, I wrote “Conscientious Objector” all over the draft card. I also wrote a letter, which I assume is still on file at my high school, stating that my conscientious objector status was not something that came about on a whim.

And over the years, I’ve continued to play role-playing games; Some sessions are full of combat, others are very light on combat. And while combat can be memorable and exciting, I have always looked upon it as something somewhat competitive.

Combat rules, more than anything, seem to receive the most scrutiny. It is in this arena, where two or more players engage the rules with little concern for the mechanics. Hit points are abstract, just as the damaging attack is.

But violence, that is a different thing from combat. When I am playing, I am not looking to channel some untapped unpleasant destructive urge through my role-playing games; I am simply looking to engage with the game and seek an escape for me and my friends around the table.

There have been times during a game of Diplomacy, where violent thoughts most certainly crossed my mind. And there have been role-playing games where heated arguments turned somewhat ugly, but even then violence was not part of the equation.

Trying to then frame this all in the context of children, I have to look back with my paternal eyes upon my experience. I have always felt physically and emotionally safe playing role-playing games. I know this is not likely the case for everyone, but I believe that is more a function of who you end up playing with than the system you play.

Role-playing games are ultimately a framework for telling a collaborative story, with a focus on providing a means for conflict resolution. RPGs are simply structured “Cowboys and Indians” or “Cops and Robbers” or “House.”

For myself, in middle school and high school, I gained a tremendous amount of self-confidence through the mastery of the rules systems.

Here was an arena in which my friends and I were in control. We were the strong and athletic, the movers and shakers of the world. There was a comfort in having this control, as my country waged war and my parents divorced.

In my rather intense studying of games and rules, I learned about probability, subsystems, abstraction, mental arithmetic, project management, communication skills, managing meetings, planning, writing, drawing, expanded vocabulary, and likely a whole lot more. A long list of things to learn at the expense of engaging in fantasy violence.

This post is in response to Jeremy Garber’s winning comment in my 202nd Post Competition.

Dungeon World is Jeopardy the RPG

I enjoyed running last week’s Dungeon World game. First and foremost, the narrative combat was an absolute blast. The human fighter was using his hammer to drive two giants deeper into a pit. The elf druid turned into a badger while trapped in the loin cloth of the giant. It was messy and fast-paced fun.

What I have found when running or playing Dungeon World is to phrase things, as much as possible, in the form of questions. After all, we are all playing to find out what happens.

After resolving the conflict, the cleric who had lost his shield went looking for the deceased fighter’s shield; An ice giant had thrown the shield into the surrounding snow. I could’ve said “Sure you found it.” But instead called for a Discern Realities move, as I felt the location had to have something interesting present, what with the ice giants, the arrival of snow elves, a cave that had some mammoths in it, and ice pit trap.

Before I go on, take a look at the Discern Realities:


Discern Realities

When you closely study a situation or person, roll+Wis. On a 10+ ask the GM 3 questions from the list below. On a 7–9 ask 1. Take +1 forward when acting on the answers.

  • What happened here recently?
  • What is about to happen?
  • What should I be on the lookout for?
  • What here is useful or valuable to me?
  • Who’s really in control here?
  • What here is not what it appears to be?

The player had clearly stated his intent of finding the shield, had described what he was doing, and I informed the player it was a Discern Realities. There was a minor disagreement about the choice of move, but in reviewing the other moves, we agreed this was the closest fit.

The player said he only wanted to find the shield, nothing more. And I pushed back, saying “You don’t get to decide what you find, I do. Now, since you are looking for the shield with single-minded purpose, it is likely on a success that you will find the shield. However, if you get a 10+ you will have to ask the 3 questions.”

I made a ruling at that moment requiring that the player ask the three questions, because I strongly maintain that in searching around you don’t have a say in what all you might uncover.

There was further discussion, and eventually the player rolled a 7. He asked “Do I find the shield?”

I said “Do I find the shield?” was not on the list, pushing back, mandating that the list be used. There was further disagreement, primarily the player wasn’t interested in anything but the shield. Eventually he asked “Do I find something useful or valuable to me?”

“Yes, you find the shield you were so single-mindedly looking for.”

As GM, I was within my right to have the character find something more valuable, but it made narrative sense to have the player find the shield.

As we were arguing, I realized that I wanted to see the player engage with the narrative. To take a risk, ask a question that would influence the direction of the game. Sure, finding the shield was his goal, but maybe there was something more important to ask.

It its core, there was a fundamental play style difference. As a GM, I wanted my players asking questions, prodding for answers. Interacting, taking risks through moves. I felt that the disagreeing player was looking for absolutes. What is the Perception DC to find my shield?

But Dungeon World explicitly doesn’t go that way. In Dungeon World, as a player, you have ridiculously powerful moves at your disposal. Entering into the Discern Realities move, everyone should assume the state of the game is going to change – perhaps dramatically.

And when I look back at the flat Perception DC for finding my shield, I just don’t want that as part of my game; I want everyone, on both sides of the GM screen, to have a mechanism for moving the game/narrative along. And the moves in Dungeon World are a strong means of this happening.

I found that this was an important discussion to have at the table, and even more important to bring to light for those playing Dungeon World. Especially since Dungeon World is on a lot of people’s radar – congratulations on being a Golden Geek Finalist.

I’m hoping the player will provide the clarification in the comments, because he raised some interesting points, and instead of reinterpreting them, I’ll let him explain them.

And the Winner Is…

For my 202nd post, I ran a contest. My 203rd post is to announce the winners. There were only a few participants. The winner of my Personal Favorite post is Jeremy Garber. And the winner of the random dice roll – a D4 was used – was Greg Sommers.

Jeremy asked for me to post about my reflections on violence in gaming. I’m not a psychology expert, though I think one of my characters once was, but I’m interested in giving it a crack.

I also think that Jim Crocker’s about games that can be played in public is interesting. I don’t have a lot of experience, but I’m intrigued about thinking about this.

James A, I haven’t used Candle Magic in many of my games. I remember thinking the Candle Mage in Rolemaster was kind of lame. But I have some ideas, and if I make a Take On More Magic Items, I’ll definitely do some research.

And Greg Sommers, alas Dark Tower was a game I’ve only played a few times. It does not haunt my dreams. And regarding Cheap Ass Games, I’ve played a lot of Lightspeed and will be bringing that to Game Day – a fantastic game that balance speed, tactics, and spatial reasoning. I have also seen played Unexploded Cow.

But I’ve decided to award everyone a copy of Take On Magic Items – though I know one of the entrants already has a copy. So he’ll get a copy of whatever I happen to do next.

Thank you for reading my blog. And now it is time to tuck in the kids and get to work on something for National Game Design Month.