It’s not cheating. It’s really not.

2011 April 5
by Dante

My good buddy Vanir recently posted a lament for his innocence over at Critical-Hits.  You see, Vanir has recently began filling the role of Dungeon Master and he’s having to grapple with the reality of how situations tend to unfold behind the screen.  It’s approaching a decade since I first took up the mantle and began running games, and one of the cardinal rules of filling this role was summed up concisely on page 18 of the 3.5 Dungeon Master’s Guide in a section titled “DM Cheating and Player Perceptions”:

Do you cheat?  The answer: The DM really can’t cheat.  You’re the umpire, and what you say goes.  As such, it’s certainly within your rights to sway things one way or another to keep people happy or keep things running smoothly.

Other editions of the D&D rules have stated the case in similar but slightly different ways, and ultimately the responsibility comes down to you and the DM to take the appropriate action to keep the game fun or running smoothly.  Please note: this does not define what “keep people happy” or “running smoothly” means.  In my games, I considered my plot an outline… a mere suggestion… so that the players can choose to stay in the lines or to color way outside them.  Vanir often chose to color way outside the lines, onto the table, all over the walls, and perhaps two or three houses down the block.  I have always enjoyed letting my players define the world that they act in to a certain extent, allowing them to define where the railroad tracks get laid down to get the story from point A to point B.

So what’s a man to do?

To address Vanir’s problem specifically: every good DM cheats.  The trick is to provide the players with enough breadth so they don’t necessarily see you cheating.  For example: we’re fighting a long battle.  The players are expending their abilities and skills and it is depleting them, but not far enough that they are in any real danger of dying.  Could I run this encounter out to the very last hit point that the bad guy contains?  Sure I could.  Would it be boring, providing that the bad guy can’t really do enough damage to exhaust the group?  Absolutely.  So you fudge the bad guy’s hit points a bit to make the encounter end.

What I don’t like doing is (unfortunately) what Vanir did in his campaign: not being used to his players acting off-script, he magically teleported them to the next plot point.  There’s nothing really WRONG with doing this, but I do like some cause and effect to occur if the players act differently than they should have.  Just leading them to the next battle or skill challenge can feel pretty obvious to the players and take them out of the story.  I’m not beating up on Vanir any more than he already has himself, but better ways to deal with this type of situation mostly come with experience.  Figuring out a few contingency plans for what will happen if the players don’t take the plot hook or interact with NPCs in a non-ideal way will help to smooth these bumps.

The other main thing that Vanir mentions in his article is the loss of innocence from being a player.  Now you KNOW the fudging that can occur, and you start to ask yourself if every fun or exciting moment in a campaign was because of the DM acting to favor the players in some way.  The only advice I can give is this: sit back and enjoy the ride.  Have some caffeine and sugar, and let the game unfold.

It’s actually pretty fun sitting in the player’s chair again to see if you can detect when the DM is making stuff up.  I’ve found a few of them have a “tell”… they shuffle some papers, roll some dice that have no outcome on the encounter at all, or stare at the players with a blank or angry expression when things aren’t going as they anticipate.  It’s also fun to see how they resolve the situations as well, you can learn something from their responses too.  If I possessed the insane ability to play off-script player characters like Vanir does, I would be doing that all the time and see how the DM reacts.

But back to the main point: you never really can “un-know” the fact that the DM does some trickery to make the game move forward.  Just know it’s part of his job, and it’s part of your job to enjoy the story and be invested in your player character.  That’s the real fun anyway… building up a hero based on your own imagination.  There’s no rule set or die roll that should affect that aspect of roleplaying games one bit.

We may be stupid, but we’re not Fools…

2011 March 23
by Dante

We had a great first week over at Loot!, so we’ve decided to share the love with an exclusive treat just for our loyal StupidRanger readers.


Now through April Fool’s Day, use the coupon code: IMWITHSTUPID to get 10% off any daily deal!

Check it out now, and if you like what you see don’t forget to sign up to get each day’s offer via email.

Announcing Gamerati Loot!

2011 March 14
by Dante

I’m pleased to report that my sizable absence from the blogosphere was for a good purpose.  I have partnered with my buddy Ed Healy (of Gamerati fame) to present to you Gamerati Loot!, which will feature a deeply discounted product each weekday.  We’re focusing primarily on roleplaying games, board games, and gaming products initially, with an eye toward expansion in the future.

This has been a fairly large undertaking to get going, and I’m happy to report that we received our first order only 8 minutes after the site going live.  Ed and I happened to be on Skype and the time, and much rejoicing was done over the Interwebs.  The first product that we’re offering is Nobis: The City-States at a 50% discount, brought to us by the fine folks over at Pantheon Press.  Nobis: The City-States was nominated for Best Supplement at the 2010 ENnie Awards, and is a well-regarded high fantasy setting.

This book is only on sale until 11:30 PM EDT, so hurry on over and grab a copy.

While I am very excited about this project, I will limit myself to only posting up information about products that I know will be of interest (i.e. D&D, Pathfinder, etc).  I don’t intend on posting up every item each day here, so if you are really interested in keeping track of what Loot! has to offer, be sure to sign up for our mailing list at the website or via the Gamerati Facebook page.

Miniatures, we hardly knew ye…

2011 February 9
by Dante

Shortly after my last post on my Beholder’s Collector Set, Mike Shea provided a very moving eulogy for D&D Miniatures over at Critical-Hits.  As I have said in numerous articles, I am conflicted about this news.  Just as I started to embrace more miniatures in my game, now they are gone to be replaced with the cardboard tokens as featured in the Dungeon Master’s Kit, Monster Vault, and the D&D Essentials Red Box.  I really enjoyed the tokens upon my first experience with the D&D Red Box, at the time I wondered aloud whether this was going to be the next genesis of monster indicators.  Turns out I was right.

I am also interested in what this means for future miniature offerings.  If Wizards is focusing their efforts more on the collector’s sets and player miniatures, that could mean some iconic and very cool special edition miniatures are coming down the pipeline.  Personally, I think they should continue down the line of gods and produce more large scale figures, like say Bahamut or Llolth.  Pretty much any god or goddess that could provoke a pants-crapping response like the Orcus figure.  More of that would be excellent.

Rest in peace, random miniature booster packs.  Long live the tokens!

Beholder Collector’s Set: The Eyes Have It!

2011 January 23
by Dante

It was either this, or “it really is in the eye of the beholder.”  All terrible puns aside: I picked up the Beholder Collector’s Set.  Clearly, I resisted the urge to purchase this set when it came out last November.  But there it sat… at my friendly local gaming shop right next to Orcus.  Beckoning me.  What swayed my hand, you ask?  Up until today, my collection of minis was distinctly lacking any Beholders.  They are among my favorite classification of baddies, so I had to have them.

So what do you get for your $35?  Honestly, not much.  There’s a nice collector’s box, the four beholders (painted quite well and rendered in varying styles of transparent plastic for ultimate coolness), and stat cards for use in the miniatures game.

Is it worth it?  I don’t know.  As we have covered here, I have had a lukewarm relationship with miniatures in my D&D games.  I don’t collect them, but I do enjoy using them in my games.  In the past, I have struggled with the random nature of the miniature booster packs and balked at paying the going rate on Ebay for the desirable few.  In fact, at GenCon I was fully prepared to purchase a Beholder at the miniature booth and was stopped short by a $20 price tag.

I will fully accept the criticism that I am being too cheap.  I judge most of my gaming materials in the form of how much utility I am going to get out of them, and unless they have some serious bad luck or are set in a specific storyline your standard adventuring party doesn’t happen across a Beholder every day.  (Unless you make that happen, which… well… best not to get into that.  My players are reading.)

I suppose part of it is the Beholder Set being advertised as a “limited edition” although try as I might I found no edition number on the box or any of the figures.  Which likely means “limited insofar that it is limited by how many we can sell to people.”  I’ll happily retract that statement if someone can point me toward some way to determine how limited this run will be, but I view this approach as a convenient way to get people to ignore they’re paying extra for a fancy box and far less miniatures than you would get buying $35 worth of booster packs.

Don’t misconstrue this as regret for my purchase.  The set is very cool and I am happy to have them, I just would’ve been much happier with a cheaper price tag.  No doubt my opinion will change dramatically when I get to roast my adventuring party with those lovely little eye-stalks, but that is a matter for another day.  If you really like Beholders, you will not be disappointed by this set.  If you really like to get a lot for your dollar, you might be disappointed.

GenCon Badge Registration

2011 January 17
by Stupid Ranger

For those of you planning to attend GenCon this year (Aug 4-7), here’s your friendly reminder. Badge registration opens next Sunday, January 23 at noon Eastern, and housing registration opens on Tuesday, January 25.

In-Depth with Gamma World! (Caution: Redneck Cockroaches)

2011 January 17
by Dante

The real world has done a very good job of disrupting our gaming schedule thus far in the new year, however tonight a shining beacon rose on the horizon in the form of a Gamma World game for my normal D&D group.

The Good

Most of the group was very excited for Gamma World, specifically the guys who were familiar with previous editions.  Everyone came with their creative hats on, and character creation was a blast (just as it was with our last excursion into Gamma Terra).  We had several memorable characters in the group last night, my favorites being a Seismic/Empath named Briq, who was a mutant comprised of trapped souls inside of a brick wall from a foundry, and a redneck Plant/Cockroach named Six who drives a rusty pickup truck and opts to chew anything he finds on the ground like chewing tobacco.  Six happens to have several other charming characteristics, none of which I feel like detailing in the polite company of my readers at this time.

The other players in our group presented some strong character concepts, but I will defer speaking about their qualities until another time.

The Bad / The Ugly

Once again, character creation took far too long due to the lack of multiple copies of the rulebook.  Pro Tip: think ahead and make copies of the mutant traits and powers (I wish I had!)  Our game got off to a slow start as a result, and thanks to cramped space on the Gamma World Character Sheet a few of our unfamiliar players were waning in enthusiasm by the beginning of the actual game play.  Thankfully, we were saved by the colorful characters that had been created and started things off with a “getting to know you” roundtable that got everyone re-energized.

Here’s another tip from the trenches: spend a little time with box set prior to playing with a group.  The backstory for the provided adventure is a little sparse and there’s not a great deal of motivation for the players to actually follow the plot hooks provided in the campaign preamble.  Both times I have attempted to run this story, the group had retreated into the village for information and I was left somewhat flat-footed.  Ultimately, everyone ended up in the right place and the fun could begin.  I found a few additional clunky spots in the first two encounters, but nothing a little deft DM magic couldn’t spackle over.


Gamma World is fun, however it didn’t seem to be everyone’s cup of tea at our gaming table tonight.  A few members of our party are definitely excited to play more, but there were an indifferent few that will be unlikely to grace Gamma Terra again for awhile.  There were a few additional moving parts in the Alpha Mutations and Omega Tech that confused or perturbed some and excited others, it was pretty interesting to see these two factions plead their case.

As with any other roleplaying game, it seems that predispositions played a big role.  Those that were excited about the game at the beginning enjoyed it, those that were lukewarm or newcomers enjoyed it markedly less.  Personally, I love the randomness of the setting and the propensity toward creative characters that can be strongly roleplayed.  That keeps me coming back. If you want to see more Gamma World coverage, check out this great review over at Geeks Dream Girl or the positively astounding amount of material at Critical-Hits (including the mysterious and powerful Junkulator!)

More soon!

Happy New Year!

2011 January 3
by Dante

Happy New Year from StupidRanger!  We’re all very excited for the coming year, which will include both personal and gaming related changes.  As previously reported, Stupid Ranger and I will be welcoming a baby girl into the world in late March.  This is likely to impact our gaming schedule dramatically, but thanks to several friends with flexible schedules (and a tolerance for kids) we should be able to continue gaming as much as humanly possible.

Here’s the current line-up for 2011:

  • My D&D campaign continues (along with Stupid Ranger), firmly entrenched in the Paragon Tier.
  • The Deadlands campaign that I am playing in will carry on, so more Weird West action can be expected.
  • I received Low Life for Christmas, a strange Savage World setting by Andy Hopp that I want to play this year.  (More on this one soon!)
  • Much, much more Gamma World.

Stupid Ranger chimes in with her lone gaming resolution: “I want to play Dragon Age 2 as much as possible before the baby comes.”  Seeing as how the baby is due on March 26, that might be a tall order!

Is there something else you want us to write about or cover this year?  Mention it in the comments and we’ll see what we can do!

Deadland Tales: Rocky Mountain Oysters, Weird West style…

2010 December 14
by Dante

We were stuck in the bowels of Lost Angels, helpin’ an acquaintance find his lost buddy when some bad varmits got the drop on the ol’ Starr Gang.  I got separated from the group thanks to my insides briefly becoming outsides thanks to a deadeyed bandit and his Colt .45 Peacemaker.  Thanks to all them extra meals and a little bit of luck, I was only shot in the guts enough to take me halfway to the Reaper and was able to drag myself inside an old boarded up mercantile to escape death’s icy grip for a few more minutes.

That’s the thing about fightin’ with the Book of Hoyle on your side… sometimes the cards just plain don’t come up your way.  I’d already expended what little favor I had gained with the manitou that sits on the other side of the shade from me, and I couldn’t catch a break.  The last failed attempt at hexslingin’ fried me so bad I can’t even bring myself to handle my deck of cards right now, but that’s a story for another time.

After the ruckus quieted down outside my hideout, I was able to wrap up my wounds enough to go out searchin’ for the rest of my gang.  I came around the corner and that’s when I saw one of the damnedest sights I’ve ever seen… my cousin Dustin, writhin’ around on the ground like the Devil himself had him by the ears.  Then I saw why… he’d been shot bad.  He’d seen the bad end of another Peacemaker, and this one got him… well… polite company calls it the unmentionables, but others call ’em Rocky Mountain Oysters, Juevos Rancheros, the ol’ Family Jewels.  And they was shot plumb off.

He was lucky to be alive, but all the same it’s hard to console a man whose manhood was now a fine paste on the boardwalk in front of a saloon.  I was able to wrap him up enough to prevent him from dyin’, but they’ll be callin’ him Stumpy from here on out.  Life in the Weird West is a bitch sometimes.

This post was brought to you by our weekly Deadlands game, some really poor die rolls, a desire to write character fiction, and the letter W.  Please stay tuned for your standard programming, already in progress.

Gamma World: First session!

2010 November 27
by Dante

Today I was thrilled to join a group of my friends in our first Gamma World game.  I am pleased to report that not only was I impressed, it exceeded expectations on the Grand Unified Fun Scale.  Here’s just a few reasons why:

Character Generation

As I postulated yesterday, character creation was a really fun aspect of the game.  We opted for the traditional no-holds-barred random character generation to excellent results.  Our party consisted of:

  • A mind breaker / plant hybrid
  • A highly intelligent yeti android with only three Charisma
  • A human-sized felinoid / cockroach named Mittens St. Cloud
  • A plant / gravity controller clad in cast-off street signs
  • A rat swarm / empath named Thwack

Before character creation was even complete, the group was brainstorming ideas about how their characters would act.  “Can a length of highway guardrail be a heavy melee weapon?”  Absolutely.  Can my yeti android communicate by angry yelling even though he is Intelligent?” Sure he can!  “Can Mittens St. Cloud have a monocle?  Of course he can!  And so forth.  I didn’t even have a character to roll and I was already enjoying the carnage.

There were some confusing aspects, which were compounded by only two of us having the rulebooks from our box sets to go around.  There were some questions about whether we had healing surges or how that worked, and some digging around in the rules indicated that healing was stripped down even compared to 4e D&D (which was fine).  The skill bonuses were slightly confusing, with many wondering if they got BOTH skill bonuses from your origins or just one.  We worked that out fairly quickly, but the character sheet wasn’t extremely clear on some of those details.


Gameplay was very reminiscent of 4e D&D.  The provided adventure is a series of combat encounters (so far, we only made it through three combats) but the players made up several creative solutions.  No, they didn’t want to just open the locked tower doors… let’s have the android yeti ram their pickup truck into it while yelling furiously!  Naturally, that approach worked and they made quite an entrance into encounter number two.  The presence of largely improvised weaponry (outside of the Omega Tech) and random junk to use in their adventure lends a MacGuyver-esque quality to the game.  The players enjoyed finding random junk alongside their Omega Tech treasure, and made heavy use of their Alpha mutations to help them dispatch the angry band of mutant badger guards.

There has been some controversy around the trading card aspect of Gamma World.  I think they enhance the game, but are unnecessary to enjoy the game itself.  Matt, one of our players, generously donated each player (and myself) a Gamma World booster pack.  I matched this donation so each player could pull from their own Alpha mutation and Omega Tech deck, and I think they enjoyed having their own cards to use.  One player said “I’m attached to these mutations, so I sure hope you don’t want these cards back at the end!” so clearly there is some enjoyment to be had there.

First Impressions

In short, I am a Gamma World fan.  It breeds irreverent, fun, laugh-ridden game sessions with unique characters that change as much as the whims of our players.  It is fun to run, because of the creativity caused by random junk and the use of alpha mutations.  The rule system is lightweight and open to some interpretation which keeps the game light and enjoyable to everyone, there wasn’t a lot of digging around in the rulebook to figure out how things should behave (this was helped by the fact that most of our players were experienced in 4e).

I’ll be playing a LOT more Gamma World as the months tick by.  I hope that expansions for the game are plentiful, and it would be GREAT if we could buy the rulebook on its own for casual player characters to use during character creation.  I really want to play this game with Vanir, I can imagine that the fruits of his brain would lend themselves well to Gamma Terra.  In the meantime, you can check out the great Gamma World coverage over at Critical-Hits if you need more of a fix.

More soon!