Heroic Undercutters

A recent comment by GMSarli resulted in me recalling an old segment from The Tom Green Show, which is a reference that I know dates me quite a bit. After reading his comment, included below, I immediately thought of Undercutters Pizza

What is Undercutters Pizza? Glad you asked! Tom Green poses as a pizza delivery man and follows a genuine pizza delivery man to a house. When the genuine delivery man attempts to sell the pizza to the customer, Tom Green comes in to offer his pizza at a lower price. He attempts to undercut the competition. The magic of the Internet allows me to include the brief 2-minute clip below:

Upon reading GMSarli’s comment, I thought it would be intriguing to develop a rival adventuring party to follow and undercut the genuine pary at moments during the campaign. The idea seemed frivolous at first, but during a discussion of the idea, it seemed to have some realistic applications to a campaign. Below, I offer four potential uses for a Heroic Undercutters group that a DM could incorporate into her or his game.

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Ego Check: Tracy Barnett, Designer of Sand & Steam

Welcome to another installment in the Ego Check interview series. One of the interesting things about running this site is the opportunity to meet new people doing creative things in the roleplaying-game universe. Last month, I was contacted by Tracy Barnett, designer of a new campaign setting, Sand & Steam. Tracy was kind enough to discuss his design process, which includes the unique approach of building his campaign setting on the mechanics of three different gaming systems – Pathfinder, Savage Worlds and Fate.

Welcome, thank you for agreeing to talk with me. Can you introduce yourself to those that may not be familiar with your site, Sand & Steam?

Hello, all. My name is Tracy Barnett, and I am the creator of Sand & Steam, as well as a guy who just plain loves gaming. Especially gaming at conventions. Sand & Steam is a multi-system, steampunk/technomagical campaign setting with a twist: rather than writing the entire setting for the systems I intend to use (Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, and Fate), I am breaking the setting into chunks, and using different systems for different parts of the setting. I think that each system tells certain kinds of stories more effectively, and that there are parts of the setting that lend themselves to those stories.

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Scarcity! When The Loot’s All Gone But You Must Go On, It’s Scarcity.

The title is much more effective if you start singing Tragedy by Bee Gees. And you are quite welcome since the song will likely stay in your mind for the better portion of the day! The good folks that brew and market beer for Saint Arnold Brewing Company have taught me a valuable lesson today. Saint Arnold is a local microbrew, and I am a huge fan of their products. Each year, they release “Divine Reserve” beers that are limited-edition and quite difficult to find. For several months, Saint Arnold has teased their customers with information about another limited-edition release for the Fall season – Saint Arnold Pumpkinator.

The release of the Pumpkinator was today, and it set off a frenzy by those hoping to get a taste of the beer. Calling different stores to see if they had any in stock resulted in the same-sounding weary and exasperated clerk answering the phone and stating before I could even utter a word, “We are out of Pumpkinator.” My wife attempted to call a few stores and one clerk laughed, “What is the deal with this pumpkin beer? Everyone is calling about it.”

Saint Arnold has a brewery in town and certainly a strong presence in local stores, but there are not mountains of advertising blasting the product. They have weekly tours, send out news bits through email once or twice a month and the company (and also the owner) posts through a Twitter feed. They have cultivated a rabid following, and their release of Pumpkinator is a testament to how well their strategy is working.

They are giving the customers what they want, but they sometimes make is very difficult for the customers to find what they want. It’s a tough balance act. The scarcity of Pumpkinator is driving interest and motivating people to drive all over the city in search of a single bottle of the brew. I find myself wondering, “How can I use scarcity to engage the players in my D&D campaign?” Perhaps I could do some things to create a similar sense of urgency to build up the players’ energy between and during gaming sessions. Continue reading “Scarcity! When The Loot’s All Gone But You Must Go On, It’s Scarcity.”

Ego Check: Andy Aiken, Creator of Masterplan

When I returned to the saddle for my first DM session in over 15 years, I was more than a bit anxious about the endeavor. I have previously discussed preparing music for the campaign and buying terrain to add bells and whistles to the night’s proceedings, but the task of organizing the rest of the materials required was also cumbersome. I printed out monster stats from the offline Monster Builder and carried books for background information and possible rule clarifications. I printed out lists of NPC names and possible plot points for the adventure that night. Needless to say, I was a frantic, unorganized mess!

It was months later that I learned of Masterplan through a post at NewbieDM. The brief post indicated the software was designed to help a DM create, plan and organize single encounters and lengthy adventures. I downloaded the program, and after muddling my way through without reading Tutorials, I learned to love Masterplan. I currently use it to plan out various adventure paths in my campaign, run combat and maintain an encyclopedia of NPCs, towns, objects and places. It has reduced my stress level and assisted me with being more organized and fluid at the gaming table.

Weeks ago, I came into contact with the creator of Masterplan, Andy Aiken. I was thrilled when he agreed to spend some time with me for an interview. Throughout the discussion, we cover the genesis of Masterplan, Andy’s philosophy in terms of upgrading the program, his relationship with Wizards of the Coast and future plans to develop tools that could enhance the DM’s ability in plot management. If you have never interacted with Masterplan, then check out the interview and learn more about the possibilities that lie within. And if – like me – you have used Masterplan to simplify your life as a DM, then read on to learn more about the man behind screen making it all happen.

Andy, thank you for agreeing to spend some time with me. I have been using Masterplan to organize my homebrew Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition campaign for well over a year now. However, could you explain the application for those that may have never used it before?

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The Prisoner’s Dilemma

A couple of recent events influenced the direction of this article. First, I was summoned for jury duty last month. It was the first time I attended a jury summons; I previously found a way to delay the summons and since I’ve moved around so much, I never had to step foot in a courthouse (knock on wood). I figured it was time to complete my civic duty and the eight hours I spent being screened by lawyers was quite fascinating. To keep myself awake throughout the process, I was examining everything from a psychological perspective and analyzing the direction of the questions and how other potential jurors were responding. It turned out to be an interesting day, but I was not selected for the trial.

The second event was listening to a recent episode of The Exemplary DM Podcast. In the episode, the hosts discussed skill challenges and roleplaying scenarios that involved the party interrogating NPCs or the party being interrogated by NPCs. My group has had their fair share of Jack-Bauer 24-style “WE’RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME!” interrogation moments, but I’ve yet to turn the tables on them and have them forced to explain their actions.

I set my mind to work on how a DM could engage the players with a unique challenge that is not decided merely by die rolls. My mind eventually remembered the fascinating principles posed in The Prisoner’s Dilemma. You may not be familiar with the term, but if you have watched The Dark Knight, then you have seen it in action. Below, I present The Prisoner’s Dilemma and discuss how a DM can engage their adventuring group with the game.

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No Assembly Required – Aurora Izel

Last month, I introduced a new monthly column I am contributing to This Is My Game. The column, No Assembly Required, features a monster that can be inserted into a Dungeon & Dragons 4th Edition campaign. Each monster in the series includes comprehensive information including Origin, Lore, Combat Tactics, Power Descriptions and Stat Block. Visit This Is My Game to review this month’s monster, Aurora Izel.

Aurora Izel is a Paragon-Tier monster, but I used her for the finale of my Heroic Tier campaign. Her origin presents the adventuring party with interesting questions regarding diversity and religious tolerance. One of the driving forces for creating Aurora for my campaign was to increase the amount of diversity in my campaign, both in terms of gender and other factors. Below, the concept art for Aurora can be seen, which was illustrated by the spectacular Grant Gould.

Aurora Izel

Enjoy the new monster, and please post any questions or comments here or at This Is My Game, and come back next month for a new Heroic Tier monster