Sunday, January 25, 2015

A picture's worth 1000 words

A Picture's Worth 1000 Words

By: Jesse C Cohoon

First of all before I start with this blog post I'd like to take the time to thank all my followers who have taken the time to look at the pictures and give me a +1 on them to show their support, as well as those who comment on them; I really appreciate it!

The reason that I post these images is not only that they are beautiful, but that they are inspirational for RPGs as well, and in some cases can be the cornerstone of an entire world. 

There are a couple of obvious ways of looking at the pictures. 
  • You can give them out as a handout for your players saying that they're at some vantage point and are seeing the image that you just presented them with. 
  • Place them in the scene saying that they're in the midst of this scenery, hiking down the trail, in the midst of the spooky centenary,taking the rapids down the river, or climbing the mountains. 
  • Use the scenery as a type of a map of somewhere where the players must go to meet someone, do something, or build their base. 
  • Use the scenery as a backdrop of a battle
  • Use the scenery as the entire setting, asking yourself
    • Who lives here? What caused them to be there? What is their story as far as why they are there? How long have they been there?  
    • Where is this? Is it the mountains, a prairie, underground, beneath the sea? What is it about this setting that is unique? Is it the ancient trees that stretch up to the sky? Is it the the crystal clear blue waters. Is it the unique cave features? Make that feature prominent in your game.
    • When is this? Is this before there are other races, during the "wild west," Samurai Japan, the modern day or the future? When is not only codified by technology/ magic/ culture, but by the type of government it has, the politics of the era, the attitudes of its people, as well as the religious atmosphere.
    • What are the problems that this area is facing? Why are they facing them now? What is causing the problems? What else is going on in the area?
    • Concerning the characters: Who are they? Why are they going to be the focus of the story above and beyond the fact that they got swept up in something bigger than themselves? More specifically why should they want to get involved? What's in it for them? If there's pay to be had (for instance they're guarding a caravan, getting rid of a marauding monster in the area,  guiding a mage, finding a cure for the king who's been poisoned) how much? If there's a time limit on these activities, what is is?
    • How will the group meet? Will it be in the vast woods searching for a lost child? Will it be while being guided through the caves and separated from the group? Will it be as a group of tourists who experience unbelievable things? Will it be as the survivors of a zombie apocalypse? Will it be at the death of a good friend? Do they all happen to be shopping at the time whatever happens to bring them together? Whatever the way that they meet it can be much more than "you meet in a bar" scenario. 
  • You can use a picture for an ally or an enemy. For a quick stat up consider: NPC class, basic stats, personality, basic equipment, skills, spells (if applicable), and any allies you might want to give them. 
    • If someone is new to RPGs, they might want to do a google search for the same types of characters that they wish to play. The image can give inspiration as to the type of personality, powers, and abilities that their character might have. 
    • This idea can even be expanded to such things as the mage's familiars, the druid's and ranger animal companions.
    • If they're to be given to the PCs as a follower, you might want to go a bit more in detail giving them some personality quirks, a bit of history, and a reason for wanting to stick with them.  Maybe they've just been saved from a life of slavery by the PCs, thought that it would be fun to go adventuring, or have some of the same goals as them.
    • If you're using them as an enemy, think about why they would want to oppose the PCs. Maybe it was the fact that the PCs accidentally (or purposely) killed their parents, and they want revenge, have a racial hatred towards one of the players, or the players are opposing the organization that they're a member of. 
    • They can be a neutral third party who happens to cross the PC's path and it's interesting to have an illustration of them that you can pull out if through their interactions they become an important person later on.
    • Regardless of the type of NPC, think about giving them a few lines when you create them, that way that you have less improving to do when you play them.
    • Personality  (110 choices)
      1. critical
      2. aggressive
      3. happy-go-lucky/ energetic
      4. touchy
      5. rude/ nasty/ inconsiderate/ thoughtless   
      6. careless
      7. gullible
      8. frank/ straightforward
      9. inept / powerless
      10. polite / agreeable
      11. charming/ charismatic
      12. emotional 
      13. powerful
      14. compulsive
      15. bossy
      16. grumpy / unhappy 
      17. boastful/ pompous 
      18. cowardly
      19. creative / entertaining
      20. depressive/ sad
      21. careless
      22. tidy
      23. cunning/ dishonest 
      24. insane
      25. dull/ dumb as a rock/ boring
      26. patient/ calm/ collected
      27. brave/ determined
      28. indiscreet 
      29. angry/ hateful/ intolerant
      30. patriotic
      31. unresponsive 
      32. wise-cracking
      33. intelligent/ intellectual / wise
      34. friendly/ personable
      35. outspoken
      36. superficial 
      37. religious/ dogmatic
      38. decisive 
      39. adaptable/ easy going
      40. adventurous
      41. ambitious
      42. aloof / condescending
      43. compassionate
      44. belligerent
      45. sensitive /shy
      46. needlessly cruel
      47. foolish / big headed
      48. unassuming
      49. lazy
      50. conservative
      51. detached
      52. harsh / arrogant
      53. impatient/ impulsive
      54. materialistic
      55. diligent  
      56. sneaky 
      57. ruthless
      58. pessimistic
      59. impish/ evil
      60. enthusiastic
      61. controlling / Machiavellian
      62. pioneering
      63. flirtatious
      64. miserly/ greedy 
      65. aloof/ detached
      66. clingy/ needy/ possessive 
      67. finicky
      68. proactive 
      69. witty / funny
      70. silly
      71. self-disciplined
      72. tough-as-nails
      73. jealous 
      74. brave
      75. vulgar
      76. stiff
      77. indecisive
      78. cynical
      79. impulsive
      80. romantic
      81. intolerant
      82. respectful
      83. translucent
      84. sexy/ naughty 
      85. good / righteous
      86. patronizing 
      87. nervous 
      88. hard working
      89. belligerent
      90. irresponsible
      91. courageous 
      92. thoughtful 
      93. dynamic 
      94. secretive 
      95. vain
      96. quarrelsome
      97. timid
      98. plucky
      99. self-indulgent
      100. optomistic
      101. sincere
      102. philosophical
      103. peaceful/ placid 
      104. competitive 
      105. diplomatic
      106. helpful
      107. sympathetic
      108. rational / problem-solving
      109. confident 
      110. impartial 

Places to find artwork for your games: (no guarantees on licenses... just don't try to sell them without doing your due diligence first!)
  • G+ artwork & photo groups 
  • for custom graphics
If you find my writing, shared pictures, or lists interesting, inspiring, or useful please consider donating some money to me on my Patreon page at 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Exploring New Worlds Blog Carnival Entry

Exploring New Worlds

By:Jesse C Cohoon

This month’s RPGBA Blog Carnival is hosted by Nils Jeppe at The theme for this month is A New Year, A New World. Nils describes the theme as follows:
This month’s RPG Blog Carnival is about new worlds, about their discovery and about the women, men, and other sentient humanoids who explore and colonize them.
Share your new lands with us, if you can do so without spoiling them for your party. Show off your maps and designs. How do you approach setting up your worlds? Share your favorite world-building tips!

New Worlds 

There are a variety of making new worlds while still keeping the exact same world that you have at present. Consider the following:
  • There has been a some sort of apocalypse
    • An asteroid crashes into the planet and destroys buildings, bridges, and possibly roads,
    • A volcanic eruption has wiped out an area or has sprung up in the form of a new island. Despite the fact that the lava has cooled it's still dangerous with hot pockets that haven't cooled all the way, lava tubes, and steam escaping from the ground
    • A disease wipes out many people and those quarantined inside must now venture out.
    • The effects of a war has decimated a city (or sometimes the entire countryside) and the maps may no longer be accurate
    • Earthquakes have changed the landscape, making giant chasms in some areas, allowing water to flood others, and changing how valleys and mountains look. 
    • Aliens come from outer space and decimate the planet. 
  • There has been some sort of large scale change 
    • The socioeconomic conditions, politics, or religious atmosphere of an area changed while the PCs were away and they now must navigate in this strange new political landscape
    • Monsters have taken over an area, changing the area in ways that your players might not expect, cutting down a forest, casting terraforming spells that changes the climate Natural climate change can also work much the same way.   
    • The extinction of a natural predator or introduction of a new one causes the swelling of a species or dwindling food supplies for others.    
  • A matter of scale: Consider how much adventure a character could have at the size of an insect in a room... and even smaller at the microscopic scale  
  • A matter of direction: a classic challenge that some video games have is to turn the entire game upside down. This can be done with spells such as "reverse gravity"
  • A matter of location. Maybe the maps that the players have are old, and so don't show certain features. Maybe there are no maps because no one thought of mapping them before - like under the oceans. Maybe they're  not mapped because they're secret, such as the secret passages to the Thief's guild

Monday, January 19, 2015

Examining Big Hero 6: Character Origins for your games

Examining Big Hero 6:
 Character Origins for your games
 By: Jesse C Cohoon

Big Hero 6 is a recent movie released from Walt Disney Animation Studios which tells the story of a young robotics prodigy named Hiro Hamada who forms a superhero team to combat a masked villain. Looking at the movie’s array of characters, it’s easy to glean some processes by which to make characters origins for your games by examining their interests, training, goals, connections, equipment, and secrets.

First, when deciding on a character’s origins it’s important to delve deeply into their interests. In the movie Hiro’s had an interest in robotics – an interest that was shared by his brother. Hiro’s interests were in fighting robotics, whereas his brother’s was in medical robotics. In your games you might want to ask “Why is this character into this?” It could be a natural affinity, family connection, mentor, or a hobby. Or it could be something like a debt, medical expense, or rivalry. Whatever the reason the character needs to have a reason for pursuing this area of expertise – sometimes at the expense of other areas. A fighter might be strong, but they might not be so smart. A bard might be entertaining and inspiring but they can’t match either a rogue’s or fighter’s skills. 

Secondly, when deciding on a character’s origins it’s important to examine a character’s training. In Big Hero 6, Hiro’s fighting robots were something that he developed on his own. Sometimes a character’s training has nothing to do with their loves. For instance, if a character’s background is that they are a slave, having to learn how to fight because it was how they survived. Another character’s fighting ability might be due to the fact that they were constantly bullied growing up, and learning how to fight was the only way they could defend themselves. Or a character’s magical training might be due to the fact that if they couldn’t learn how to control it, they might have become a danger to themselves or others – even when the character themselves might not have had any interest in learning it.  

Thirdly, when deciding on a character’s origins it’s important to examine a character’s goals. In Big Hero 6, after Hiro discovered that someone not only stole his microbot invention, but was mass-producing them, he wants to bring the culprit to justice, upgrading Baymax, the medical robot his brother invented, with armor and a battle chip containing various karate moves. After the movie the viewers had a sense that they continued their adventures. Some goals might be:

-          Become the best fighter/ spell caster/ thief out there
-          Get wealthy
-          Get out of debt
-          Clear my family name
-          Entertain crowds/ become famous
-          Spread the faith
-          Protect the environment
-          Invent nifty new things
-          Clear out the evil from the land
-          Find my family
-          Get back my memory
-          Get back the throne which is rightfully mine
-          Earn my freedom from X organization / become a member of X organization.   

Keep in mind that goals may not be simple to reach- or in some cases, even be reachable at all. There   
may be others who want the same thing, but go about it in ways that are disagreeable to the character, and they feel compelled to stop them by any means possible. In other cases there may be rivalries that cause the character to have to defeat them in some way enroute to thei
r ultimate goal. Additionally, there may be roadblocks from the society itself. Case in point: a person could need to leave town to get training for magic if the town has outlawed its use. Furthermore, the character may not get the help that she needs to be able to complete their goal. At each stage along the way, the character will be forced to ask themselves whether the goal is worth the problems that they are facing. Do they give up, or do they continue on despite the adversity? Each choice that the character makes helps to define their character.

Fourth, when deciding on a character’s origins it’s important to examine character’s connections. In the movie when Hiro’s brother Tadashi takes him to the college, he’s introduced to the future members of his superhero team: GoGo, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and Fred. Characters in games should have connections to other people, be they family, friends, lovers or merely associates. If done deftly, these can be the basis of an adventuring party. Some suggestions might be caravan guards, members of a guild or school, or people who all knew someone who passed away, all showing up for a funeral/ wake. Some ideas for a modern game might be people who all work at a company or in a high-rise office building, people who always take the same public transportation together (bus or train), or people who regularly attend a favorite restaurant or bar.

Fifth, when deciding on a character’s origins it’s important to examine a character’s equipment. In Big Hero 6, Hiro “inherited” Baymax from his brother. Likewise the various “powers” that the superheroes came up with started off as inventions that they were presently working on. In fantasy games that sword could be a family heirloom or stolen from a nearby noble family. That armor could have been the result of a shady deal or a fringe benefit of being on the town’s guard. Those daggers could have been crafted especially for you by your mentor, or worked off by manning the bellows at the local blacksmith. In a modern game, that rifle could be a part of a survivalist sect, from family members that like to hunt, or law enforcement. Many games are set up that a character starts with X amount of money (whatever the local currency is) to be able to buy their starting equipment… but maybe a system of connections where the majority of the character’s belongings are able to be gotten through such connections might be a better way of getting starting equipment.   

Finally, when deciding on a character’s origins it’s important to examine character and NPC secrets. In Big Hero 6, the heroes discovers a former lab of Krei Tech that was experimenting with teleportation where Callaghan’s daughter Abagail disappeared inside an unstable portal. At the end of the movie, it’s revealed that Fred’s father is a superhero. Character and NPC secrets can be something that’s reasonably harmless – like your characters has dragon blood ancestry and that’s why they’re such a powerful sorcerer, that they have more skills than they want to admit to which can turn the tide of a fight with a more powerful enemy, or that they have an old rivalry. Secrets can also be harmful – like the fact that they are being blackmailed to do X harmful thing against the PCs, are wanted for the murder of an important person, or they are being sought out for a massive debt. When examining why something is a secret the following questions might be appropriate:

-          Why is this secret supposed to remain a secret? What’s the big deal?
-          What would happen if it were exposed? Loss of reputation? Exile? Prison time?
-          Who would benefit from it being revealed? Who would it harm?
-          How would this character go about revealing it? What would need to change in order for them to do so?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Top 11 Ways To Get The Most Out Of Your Player's Background

Top 11 Ways To Get The Most Out Of Your Player's Background

Player backgrounds are important. They tell where characters have been, what their goals are, and who their friends and enemies are.

Character histories can tell you where campaign might go, how to get there and who to involve.

All characters should have at least a basic background. Here are some tips on how to get the most out of your PCs' histories.

#1 Limit Your Player's Choices

This is not to say you should write your player's background for them, but instead set boundaries to help them exercise their imagination. The more refined your limits, the better you can create a storyline together.

Think in this order: 

1. Locally

It wasn't until recent times that people could travel large distances. Most people didn't travel more than twenty miles from their home in their lifetimes. If they did there was major upheaval for them to do so.

Travel was tiresome and alternated between dangerous (sickness, attacks by animals and other people) and boring.

2. Regional or National

If a major regional event happens it will affect a character's life.

If there's a war and the King drafs people into service, how will that affect the character? Is the King even in the right in his actions?

If there's an outbreak of plague or a natural disaster causes people to flee from a region, and there's an influx of visitors, could one of the characters be one that's displaced?

3. Continent or World

Is there a great evil the players must travel across the world to confront? What adventures will they have along the way? What tools, abilities, alliances will they have to get to successfully face it? How did they find out about the evil, and how are they personally affected if nothing happens?

But don't be too strict. Work with your characters. If they have an idea, see how you can incorporate it into the game. If you can work with it, do so. If you need to change it so it works better in your world, go that route.

#2 Keep In Mind What They Did Before The Storyline

If the story is set in a classic fantasy setting, is the character a guard, a serf, a beggar-thief, an entertainer, an outdoorsman (either a druid or ranger), sailor/fisherman, temple acolyte or mage/sorcerer in training?

If the person was in the Weird Wild West, is the character a gunslinger, bartender, whore or steampunk scientist?

In more modern times a person could be a lawyer, computer programmer/hacker, restaurant worker, inventor, writer and more.

Was the character a prisoner and if so what were the conditions they were in? Were they a "protected guest" but unable to leave, or were they rotting in a dungeon cell?

Whatever the character was before the start of the campaign, they still have the skills they learned up to this point.

Maybe between adventures or during downtime, they are able to use their old skills as a means to earn money and introduce other skills, characters, plot lines or aspects of the setting.

#3 Don't Forget About Their Appearance

Is the character scarred in some way? If so, what is the story behind it?

Is the person amazingly beautiful? How do they keep that way?

Are there any incidents in the character's life that shaped them to be what they look like today? What are they and what are the effects?

#4 Remember Who They Know And Knew

Give the PC past and current relationships.

Maybe the character was involved in a war and knows the Captain of the Guard?

Did the character serve as cup bearer to the King?

Is the character a member of a guild, faction or secret society?

Who were the PC's friends and lovers?

Keep a bio sheet on each of the NPCs they knew. Keep track of how they met, whether they were friends or enemies. Also note what organizations, societies and groups they are a part of.

#5 Don't Forget About Those Working Behind The Scenes

Everyone has enemies. Or, at least, conflicts.

When dealing with character background, the PC may have made an enemy of some lackey of someone powerful. When the higher ups find out what the character did, the party may have some problems.

On the other hand, if the character helped someone who works for a powerful NPC, he may get unexpected help in the form of a follower, free or reduced cost equipment, the use of a library, etc.

#6 Keep In Mind What Else Is Going On In The World

Other parts of the world may have different societies, rules of magic, technologies/equipment, governmental bodies, ways of dress. When bringing in characters from other cultures, keep in mind how other characters will react to them. How has the character been reacted to a while wearing a traditional costume of their culture or performing ceremonies from their homeland? These experiences should deeply affect a character's outlook on life.

#7 Don't Forget Character Flaws And Skills

Maybe the character has spent their time reading by dim candlelight and has ruined their eyesight and must wear glasses. If they lose their glasses, they could be in a world of trouble.

A character could be an alcoholic, drug or sex addict. A character could have been abused in some way and has debilitating flashbacks. A character could have a severe phobia that paralyzes them.

Whatever the flaws are, there should be a story to them, and a struggle to avoid or confront.

Conversely, the oddest skills might have use. A person might be an expert game player and able to win contests of any stripe. A person might not have been trained as a rogue, but through practice and sleight of hand is able to perform legerdemain or able to pick locks.

I eliminate secondary skills in my campaigns because I've always found them to be annoying as a player. If a PC has a good background reason for having them, it shouldn't matter that they're not officially trained to do something, they just know how to do it.

I advise giving extra skill points for things in the background.

#8 Reward Roleplaying The Background

If someone is attacks a monster, and as they do so, remembers their training, reward that. If a bard sings a song, they could remember tearfully their instructor as they sing. A cleric or paladin could remember their mentor who was killed by an undead hoard.

If a player works their PC's background into a scene, give them an XP bonus, a bonus to their die, or both.

The more the player adds in those types of touches, the better.

#9 Remember Background Is Ongoing

Don't discard anything the characters do, good or bad.

That shopkeeper they were rude to in the first level could have moved to where they are currently and has formed a coalition with other shopkeepers to raise prices.

The small feudal lord they killed has a son who's now out to get them, and he's formed an alliance with other tribes to eradicate the characters and all that they love.

The first level cleric in the temple they said a kind word to long ago is now the leader of the temple and raises one of the characters from the dead for free or gives them valuable scrolls to fight the rising problem of werewolves.

The beggar who a character gave coin to was really a powerful NPC in disguise and now favors the character's party.

#10 Backgrounds Should Incorporate The Main Plot

I've always found it's a good thing to let the players know (at least in general terms) what the plot is, and how their characters fit into it.

Without this, the players may have a more difficult time getting involved. If the character is personally hooked in the situation, due to some unfortunate circumstance or tragedy, so much the better - it means they have a personal stake in the outcome. When it all works out in the end, they'll have the satisfaction they were there to help see it through.

#11 Background Should Be At Least Partially Played Out

Before the game, try to do a one-on-one session with each player to get them caught up to where their character is going to be starting.

This also gives the players a chance to wet their feet when it comes to playing their characters.

It also helps your players get more familiar with the world you're presenting.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

20 Caving Hazards

20 Caving Hazards
By Jesse C Cohoon
1.      Rocks falling from above
2.      Crumbling footing
3.      Flooded passageways
4.      Getting lost
5.      Insect Nest / Animal Den/ Wandering monsters
6.      Sharp rocks/ stalactites/ stalagmites   
7.      Dangerous/ exploding gas pockets  
8.      Meeting of cultists
9.      Other adventurers
10.  Hidden ancient temples
11.  Magic portals to other places/ dimensions
12.  Running out of food/ water
13.  Lack of safe rest areas
14.  Changes in temperature
15.  Lava flows
16.  Loss of ropes/ climbing equipment
17.  Traps left by intelligent creatures
18.  Unstable walls
19.  Falling
20.  DM’s Choice