Travis Loves Giant Robots

It is time to tell you a tale, a tale of how giant robots have influenced my life. You see, I am all about story telling. It is part of human existence and I love it. Long before we had books and science, we sat around camp fires telling eachother epic tales of mythical heroes and deeds. Storytelling is in the roots of how we learn, and giant robots make it effing AWESOOOOOOME!!!!

When I was 4 years old, I did what all other little boys did, I watched Transformers.

No. NO! Not those! Damn you Michael Bay!

 

 

Yes. Yeeeeeeees. Hell yes! That’s what I am talking about!

You see, the cartoon was all about marketing cool toys to kids. From a storytelling point of view there wasn’t really anything special about it. What was special was the movie, because it was NOT for kids. It’s a movie that could never EVER come into existence today. At the time it was made, it was assumed that anything animated was for kids and to this day, the movie has a G rating despite being filled with cursing, brutal murder and effing genocide.

The villain of the movie is a giant ass robot named Unicron. Now when I say ‘giant ass’, I mean space monster big as a effing planet giant ass. In the opening scene of the movie, before the opening credits even role, he eats a freaking planet. It’s a planet of robots, so I guess they didn’t count as people as far as any adult was concerned, but my four year old mind made no such distinction. There were robot children playing in the streets, robot people going to work, and genuine terror in their eyes as the sky turned black and the inescapable gaping maw of Unicron filled the horizon, come to swallow everything they had ever known and loved alive.

…what the hell Travis!? Yep. Seriously. Unicron eats an entire civilization alive. There are two scientist dudes that see him coming and have just enough time to attempt an escape. “The ships! Get to the ships! It’s our only chance!” one yells to the other. They run to two small ships as the runway crumbles around them, being sucked into the sky. The second guy stops for a moment to look up in terror before he climbs into his ship. That moment cost him his life, because his ship was a split second slower to take off and was sucked into Unicron’s hungry mouth of annihilation. Of an entire planet of people, there is only one survivor. (Spoiler alert, later on in the movie he is fed alive to robot sharks. Which death would have been better?)

That is just the opening scene! The opening credits haven’t even rolled yet! Nobody even freaking watched this before they gave it that G rating! No person in their right mind could watch that scene and honestly tell you it was OK for children. But, it was awesome. I think being forced to think about such deep and scary concepts at that young age kick started my mental development, in addition to scaring the hell out of me. The rest of the movie showed me my childhood heroes having their heads blown off, ripped apart and melted by acid, including the legendary Optimus Prime. One of my earliest memories is crying my eyes out as he delivered his dying words to his surviving followers.

Anyway, I’m not here to traumatize you, I’m here to talk about storytelling! There are two parts of the movie that expanded my horizons in terms of imagination, and one part that I just want to tell you about because it remains one of the most bad ass things I have ever seen.

About half way through the movie, they are flying through space in two spaceships. The spaceships get separated and crash land on two different and bizarre as hell planets. The first planet blew my mind because their ship crashed in a robot ocean, filled with all kinds of robot fish, robot plants and even a giant robot squid. How can such a place exist? my child mind pondered. Wouldn’t everything rust? What is the water made of? I dare to say that these questions started me down the path of being interested in chemistry, because I vividly thought about that planet years later when I had my first chemistry class in high school.

The second planet was made out of effing space garbage. Just scrap metal, trash and whatever floats around in the cosmic empty void. It seemed great at first, the good guys got out of their ship and starting fixing it by welding the holes closed with scrap metal. Because, you know, that’s how you fix spaceships.

That’s when the garbage bots attack. An entire civilization of robots that are made of and sustain themselves with garbage. There is an epic fight scene as they fend off an army of mismatched monster robots, set to the soundtrack of Weird Al’s Dare to be Stupid. That’s right, Dare to be Stupid. After the battle they end up becoming friends, and they find out that everyone on this planet has learned how to talk by intercepting and watching old earth TV signals. That’s right, everything they know about the universe comes from TV. They all talked like they were news anchors, or like they were straight out of a daytime soap opera.

How could such a place exist? What was truly strange to me, was that it worked. Something about the music, and robots and garbage planet all came together to make sense, and it was really cool. They convinced the robot people to help them fight Unicron, and they all got onto a giant spaceship chanting “Destroy Unicron! Kill the Grand Poobah! Eliminate even the toughest stains!” over and over. When I imagine civilizations in the stories I write, I still think about that planet.

Let’s switch gears for a second (Ha! Get it? Because robots…) and talk about one more time when giant robots influenced my life. I had grown up a bit (well, kinda) and I was like, 15 or 16 and in high school. A glorious show called Gundam Wing came on TV after class and one scene in particular made me think in a deep way about personal goals. If you watched the scene now, it would be corny as hell and you would think I am a moron for saying that. The thing is though, when I was 16, I WAS a moron! So it worked.

The thing about high school is, there is a period of time when pretty girls rule everything. As a young man your worth is determined by popularity, if you have a girlfriend, and what people gossip about you etc. There is always that group of pretty girls that control all three of those factors and can get what they want from anyone. Be it someone to help them with their homework, attention, or just to cut to the front of the line at lunch. Furthermore and more importantly, pretty girls dominated stories. Every hero was on a quest to save a princess, every action movie star got the girl in the end and everyone was obsessed with sex and romance. That was true in my world, until that scene in Gundam Wing came along.

The main character was a high school age kid (like me!) but instead of being a dipsh*t boring regular person, he was the pilot of a giant robot death machine. He had come on a secret mission to destroy military bases, fight other giant robots and kill bad guys. However, you can’t blow sh*t up ALL the time, so during the day he pretended to be a regular high school student to blend in. The thing is, he was a loner (like me!). He didn’t make any friends and his personality was off putting (uhhhg, like me.).

However! This was his lucky day, because he was noticed by the school’s prettiest and most popular girl. The thing is she accidentally saw him with his giant robot of death once, so she knew his true identity. Out of the goodness of her heart, in front of a crowd of other students, she handed him an invitation to her birthday party. The students applauded and I imagined what I would have done. I fully expected the main character to be stunned, clearly he was an a-hole because he didn’t get any attention and all he needed was some love in his life and a girl to fight for, just like every other hero ever.

Without a word he tore the invitation in half. Sixteen year old Travis was stunned, how could the main character be such a jerk! The crowd of students went silent, and the pretty girl was so hurt a tear welled up in her eye. “Why are you so cruel?” she asked. He wiped the tear away from her eye, and leaned in to speak. I whole heartedly expected him to apologize or explain or give some excuse, but instead, cold as ice he said:

“I’ll kill you.”

He strutted away, and she was left with horrible realization that this guy does not give a f*ck. He isn’t here to save anyone or get a girlfriend, he is here to blow sh*t up and kill people. She knows his identity, so she is going to die. And that was AWESOME. Sixteen year old Travis had never imagined being so dedicated to a goal, and it planted the seed of the idea that exceptional people don’t let anything stand in their way, and they don’t care what anyone thinks.

Now you know a little bit more about Travis, and he hopes you have a wonderful week!

How to Spice up Encounters!

While not what I meant, fighting an evil pepper would sure as heck be a change of pace.

We all get stuck in a rut sometimes. The party is traveling through the world and encounters the all-too-predictable group of wolves, bears, or goblins that sends the players into a glassy-eyed trance where their only hope for maintaining their sanity is to lay waste to the meaningless HP values before them.

So how do you spice it up with encounters? Well, evil fire-breathing peppers are one way. Not really your style? Consider the concept though. Sometimes you need to throw something completely out of left field in order to keep your players engaged. Every now and again they need to encounter something just weird enough that they remember you run this sh*t.

Just the other day, I had my players battle against “Actual Cannibal Shia LeBeouf” and it was glorious. I’ll go into details specifically about it at a later time, but it completely caught them off-guard and I had their attention locked onto the game!

So what are some good ways to keep them engaged, spice up the encounters, and keep things fresh, fun, and mildly spicy? Let’s take a look.

1. Throw in something different: Like I mentioned above, look through the Monster Manual and find something that looks great, yet would be a good fight for your party. Do a little research and find the encounter that looks just right to engage your players, catch them off-guard, and remind them what a serious fight looks like.

That’s not all though! Perhaps you have a tendency to throw in a lot of melee, some big tanks or heavy-hitters to topple the players. Try sprinkling in some basic spell casters, or some ranged attackers! Perhaps give one of the ranged attackers poison arrows, and point that out to the party so they can decide how they want to try focusing that guy down.

Consider setting up a fully-balanced rival party! Your players will have to think carefully before proceeding, as they know full-well how hard that Barbarian hits. Yet they know they can’t afford to ignore the cleric, or the Wizard readying Prismatic Spray. As long as this isn’t something you use terribly often, it’ll really spice things up and you might be surprised how much coordination your party can put together!

Or use evil peppers. Seriously.

2. Use the environment: I’ll admit, this is a huge area of opportunity for me. Plan the encounter using the environment! Have your mages partially covered, forcing the party to advance or get pummeled. Position your archers set up at high points, protected by a hammer-wielding murder machine ready to slaughter any who step up. Or have a weak little mage who is protected by a massive effing iron golem who holds the party at a choke point (tried this and it worked beautifully).

Once you get a little practice, get creative! Allow the party to use things in the environment! Is a dragon or demon attacking the city the players are sworn to protect (until they inevitable kill everyone)? Why not throw them a ballista or two? Encourage them to interact with the environments and reward them for creativity. I always loved dropping the lanterns and torches into the oil in Skyrim, so I like giving my players the chance to do the same thing.

You can even let your players throw you a bone! If they’re battling a horde of monsters within a cave, and they’re looking for a weak point in the ceiling to cave in, why not let them? Maybe it goes against your plans, but perhaps there can be collateral damage. Besides, it’ll make them feel awesome for coming up with plan that works.

3. Guide their attention: Battle can become a drawl sometimes, depending on how many missed attacks there are. But you can capitalize on this! Rather than simply stating “the barbarian attacks you and misses” take the time to describe what is happening! Don’t settle with “you shoot an arrow and miss”, sell it to them! Tell them how they drew back the arrow, how it whooshed through the air, and struck the wall right next to the wizard’s head.

Along with that is taking the moment to capitalize on danger in a fight. The other day, my party faced a group of brigands, one of which was a berserker. As he raged, rather than just stating he attacked and missed, I fully described it. “How his eyes were wild with fury, gripping his blade white-knuckled and driving into the ground as a player barely deflected the otherwise fatal blow that crushed the floor boards, sending splinters of wood scattering throughout the room.”

And you know what? That scared the hell out of them.

By taking something meaningless like a missed attack, I let the players know just how dangerous their adversary was, and it completely turned the course of the fight. Think about moments like this, when can you describe a seemingly simple action like a miss, a dodge, or even a look, and tell them a little something extra? How can you focus their attention where it should be without being direct?

 

Sh*t, the taunt check passed…

Some of these things take practice, but with trial-and-error you’ll surely find something that will work for you! Take what you’ve learned and keep those combat encounters suitably spicy! Drop me a line and let me know what you think. Until next time, happy gaming!

 

Nick, Patrician of Peppers

thelordbaeron@gmail.com

Travis’s Vegeta Dream

Preface:
I had an excellent dream this morning. So excellent in fact that I feel the need to turn it into a short story and share it with all my friends and family over the internet. I call it ‘Vegeta Dream’ because my actions in this dream are best described by the character Vegeta. For those of you who don’t know who that is, you can think of him as an evil Superman.

Vegeta Dream:
I walked alongside some of my friends in a depressing barren small town. I am in a group of settlers that were sent to a shitty planet to make a colony. It looks like a run down old west town, with half built buildings and roads made of mud. There is some nice grass through. As I walk I see two large Boeing passenger jets fly overhead. ‘Fucking alien invaders!’ I thought to myself. Although they look like passenger jets I know that they are actually space ships, no doubt carrying an invasion force to conquer our shitty little old west colony. I decide that I can’t possibly stand for this, so I leap into the air and fly after them. After a neat flying chase scene I get close enough to the first spaceship to see it more clearly. It looks a lot more like a spaceship up close.

 
I wondered how I would get inside it, but I found an airlock near the front. I bang on it and yell ‘Help! Let me in! Help!’ There are some people on the other side that freak out, and they let me in. Suckers! As soon as I am inside I shoot energy beams from my hands into their chests, killing all three of them. They look like humans, but I know they are aliens. I look to my right down a short corridor to where I know the cockpit is. I consider going there to crash the spaceship, but then I look to the passageway on my left. I suppose it is reasonable to give these guys a chance, I will explore a little bit and see what they are about before I kill them all. Yes, perfectly reasonable. I walk about acting like I belong there, I look just like them so nobody questions me right off the bat. I find a room that is build sort of like a lecture hall, with nice wooden bleacher style sitting. People are taking their seats to listen so I sit down too. Turns out to be something of a mission briefing, and they are describing how they are going to collect native life specimens for study. There is a hologram of a clear capsule looking thing that swoops down and scoops you up. Yep. Fucking alien invaders, I knew it!

 
Clearly the best thing for me to do is go to their engine room and screw up the engines so the whole place blows up. So I leave that room and start looking for the engineering section of the ship. A group of soldiers rush by me in the hall. I rationalize that someone must have found the people I fried at the airlock. I walk right past them but one guy at the back realizes that I don’t belong and he breaks away from the pack to chase me. I run down the hall and he chases me, and I lead him into some sort of gymnasium room. He tried to fight me, but I just kick him in the chest and he flies across the room. I taunt him that I am going to blow up his ship, and run off to continue my search for the engine room.

 
Then I found it! There was a long line of what looked like factory workers. They were lined up to go through some kind of security check point, they are checking ID’s and searching people and the like before they let them near the engines. I run past them and rush the gate. Somebody sees me and sets off an alarm, then a gate starts to lower over the entrance. I try to run fast enough so that I can slide under it, but I am to late and it closes right before I get there. The first gate that comes down is like an iron portcullis, like on a castle. As soon as it is in place, it activates a purple forcefield. And THEN after that another barrier comes down. It looks like a big plate glass window so I punch it a few times. It is WAY harder than a plate glass window, but I did break off a chunk.

 
By now security has caught up to me and there is a row of military types points guns at me. They tell me that the barrier is some kind of polycarbonate diamond laced super enforced unbreakable blah blah blah sort of material. ‘How can you possibly break it?’ they ask me sarcastically. I pick up the chunk off the floor that I had punched off and hold it up. ‘I will break it like THIS!’ I grit my teeth at them and crush the bit of super material with my bare hand, sending little specs of it flying everywhere. To their looks of astonishment I spin around and fucking SPEARHAND my entire arm through all three of the barriers. The forcefield burns my arm like hell, but I drag it though cutting a small doorway for myself. I feel them shooting me, but naturally I am focusing my chi to create an energy barrier around my body, so they don’t hurt me. I crawl through the hole I made in the barriers and rush up a big steel ramp to the engine.
However it doesn’t look the way I expected. When I get up there is it actually a huge circular bed, with nice white sheets and big pillows everywhere. It is then I notice my cat Milo from when I was a kid. He is mostly white with orange stripes and a wet pink nose. I forgot that he was here, so I sit down to pet him and play with him a bit. He purrs and presses against my check with his wet nose and it is adorable.

Then I woke up.

P.S. I never actually had an orange cat named Milo.

Evolve From Dungeon Master to Dungeon Painting Master!

Why not also be a master of painting dungeons?

 

Nick here to talk about a program I picked up the other day. As you may recall, I really hate making maps. I’ve recommended numerous products to relieve the unending pain of crafting maps, the ceaseless pain in the ass of adjusting images, and the torment of adding the finishing details.

Just after the holiday season, I picked up Dungeon Painter Studio on Steam, thinking I’d give it a shot. It’s actually a pretty easy-to-use program with a lot of flexibility. There are a lot of pre-made options to make it easy to create local maps, dungeons, towns, and even world maps! It is admittedly pretty clunky, but it gets the job done with relative ease and allows one to create some pretty marvelous maps–if you take the time to practice.

Fortunately, the team behind Dungeon Painter Studio have created a variety of video tutorials, explaining everything from basic techniques to more advanced techniques (which I still suck at). While I’m definitely less-than-stellar at creating intricate professional-grade maps, I’ve found that it’s easy and intuitive to create some decent-looking maps with ease.

 

 

The region of Dusant, in all its glory! I made this baby with Dungeon Painter Studio

As you can see above, this is a prime example of a world map that you can make with this program. I’m by no means an expert either–there are a lot of beautiful maps created by people who are very well-versed with the program, proving that it’s a powerful tool in the right hands (not mine).

It’s worth noting that Dungeon Painter Studio not an all-encompassing art program like Photoshop, though–oh no, this program was designed for the express purpose of creating tabletop maps. It does have a lot of convenience and interface features that are common in art programs, but all the tools are specifically for map-making.

Another really great feature of this software is that it is made to easily print as well as import to online D&D sites, such as Roll20. This has been great for me, since my campaigns run on there. I’ve made a few maps in the past and they turned out pretty decently. My current party sees the world map above fairly often as they travel through the surrounding regions of Dusant.

Feeling a little curious, but not quite ready to commit? That’s fine, you can try the product online for free! The developers put a free trial version online for people to try before they buy! Even the trial version alone is sufficient to throw some quick maps together so you can see how kick-ass it is!

April’s GM Tools

Tips for GMs:
– Player’s love it when the game is so difficult that they die all the time. Keep in mind that all the rules in the DM guide about balancing encounters are actually just guidelines. It shouldn’t just be hard, it should be totally hopeless. D&D is at its best when your friends make new character after new character to throw into the jaws of an undefeatable monster. The most rewarding thing after creating an in depth character backstory is to watch that character die horribly.

– Use a totally bonkers and off the wall campaign setting. It’s a common mistake to believe that players will be alienated by a setting that they don’t know anything about. The opposite is true, players hate a setting where they already know most of what’s going on and how to relate to everything. They would rather start in a world where everything is totally different from everything they have ever known. A steep learning curve is very enjoyable.

That’s why you should try the barbie campaign setting. There are several different kinds of barbies to serve as races, careers to serve as classes and tons of equipment. The players could go on a quest to get that pink convertible, the adventure almost makes itself.

 

 

 

 

– Don’t listen to any of your player’s ideas. In the words of one of my good friends “D&D is the only game where the monsters are always listening.” Players metagame by making assumptions about the game world based on what they know about you, and you can metagame right back by paying close attention to casual remarks they make. They will often betray what they think would be cool if it happened, and they often assume motivations for the main villain that are way cooler than what you were actually planning. Stay the course my friend, you always want to stick to exactly what you originally had in mind. Improvising never leads to anything fun.
Tips for players:
– When you are playing it is a good time to catch up with your email, text your friends and watch youtube videos. You don’t need to pay attention to anything until it is your turn. You have a whole table of friends who would love to catch you up on what’s happening and remind you which dice is which. The game basically plays itself anyway, just let the GM and your other friends decide what to do and where to go. If you participated by actually roleplaying or taking a creative action you probably wouldn’t have any fun.

– D&D is a casual game, so you don’t have to worry so much about being on time. Let everyone else get there on time while you are fashionably late. That way you can start playing as soon as you get there, and you get to skip troublesome things like the session recap. The only thing people love more than explaining what happened last time, is explaining what happened last time… twice!

– You want the party to have as much variety as possible. Chances are your adventuring companions all have some goals in common and a reason to adventure together. You want to spice the story up a bit by making a character that has absolutely no connection to any of the other characters, or anything they are questing for. That way you won’t have any motivation or reason to go along with the party on any adventure, and your character can go off on its own.

GM’s really love it when they are forced to make up a reason on the spot to force your character to go along with the plot. Even better is when they main adventure on hold and make everyone else wait while the make up a mini-quest for your character to do all by itself.

Have a terrible day!