Month: February 2018

“Cursed” Weapons

Here is my idea of using cursed weapons or items.

Make the item great. Make the Player have to make a choice of using it.

Imagine a party of Heroes have +1 items. Then they discover in an old crypt a +2 item. Everyone wants it! But this one comes with a curse.

  • The weapon hates the users, and natural 1s cause a nick doing 1D6 damage.
  • The cloak is nosy, and all stealth checks made in its presence is at a disadvantage.
  • The ring causes the Hero to have minor Tourette, and all diplomacy rolls are at a disadvantage.
  • The helm causes all food to lose taste and potions have no effect on the Hero. Yet, poisons still affect them.
  • A suit of armor offers no protection against followers of an enemy god.

Whatever you want really. You just pick something kind of bad to attach to the weapon and see if the players now want to use it. Most of the time someone will. But now there is a cost.

Here is the other thing. Most GM has cursed items are seen as something you need to have removed. Go find some NPC and have them cast Remove Curse spell on you.

With these types of cursed items, the players just need to disown them. This means that as long as the Hero claims ownership, they receive the curse.

The game is best when players have choices. Not just between two roads, but on everything.

This includes items. And choices are best when they are not easy.

An obvious choice is, do you want a +2 sword? If you have a +1 sword that is simple. But if you have a +2 sword that doesn’t allow you to ever use a potion, now you have to make a choice.

Next time, they find a +3 Armor but is causes them to do (-2) damage. Not as clear-cut. A ring that allows them to become invisible, but they do not heal naturally! And so on.

In my time as a GM, I have had more than one cursed weapon sold or thrown away. Because after a while, the player realizes the item has too much of a cost.


The Clock

This subject is going to be super obvious to a lot of people. Yet, I swear there are players and GMs that do not get it. I really believe if everyone fully understood what I am going to talk about, it would make the gaming community better. Here is the concept:

In-game time is different from real-life time. And that the real-life time is more valuable than the in-game time.

Obvious, huh? But still, there are enough players and GMs out there who seem to forget this while role-playing.

I am going to present two terms.

World Time

    How long something takes in-game to happen.

Let’s say we want to travel to a city on the map. We ask the GM, “How long to get there?” He says, “Two weeks.” Great! This is all World Time.

The Clock

    This is the real-life time it takes for something to happen in game.

It comes to the question of how many minutes of my real life will it take to get my Hero to that city on the map?

This is a much more complicated question.

Some of those factors are out of your control. Is the GM going to make us role-play the trip? Will there be encounters? Will Bob stop talking about a TV show he saw last night and say, “Yeah we go there.” These all affect the Clock.

Getting to that city can be as fast as the GM saying, “You get there.” To it being an entire campaign taking six months of the Clock.

Your Clock time is limited. I personally often have as little as three hours to play. Some people have less time. Whatever Clock time you have, it is always burning down. When you are out of the Clock, you are out of the game. So the most valuable commodity to a player isn’t gold or levels, it is the Clock.

Everyone at the game must take in the Clock into account when playing. It should be on the back of your mind. In the RPG community, preserving the Clock should be like good manners. Like saying please and thank you. It is just something you do to be polite.

Sometime solo-ing adventuring is needed.

There is this old idea of “do not break the heard.” It is good advice. There are times when a Hero needs to go off by themselves or as apart a smaller group. When this happens, it better be worth it.

They must be trying to accomplish something meaningful for the party or story. Because during that solo adventure they are burning the Clock by themselves. The rest of the group is watching.

As GM, you need to be aware of the Clock. Forcing players to role-play out the mundane and uninteresting is just not being respectful. Making players go through extra meaningless steps is not being respectful of the Clock.

In the end, the attitude of the players and GM should be the following:

We want to accomplish the most we can while consuming the least amount of Clock.

This isn’t to say if your group is really into the role-playing you cannot do this. But role-play out your meeting with the King, your plots to defeat the villain, and when bargaining to save the city. Don’t role-play out, what you eat for lunch, what shoes you are buying, or how much you are going to tip a barmaid. Especially if it excluding other players.

I was a player in a group, and we were divided.

The Rogue was ahead of the party by 20-minutes in World Time. Once the party united, we were going to ambush some villains. All the Rogue had to do was say, “I wait for them,” and we get to have an epic fight.

Instead, he thought he would “help” the party by making a roadblock. Afterall he had 20-minutes of World Time to kill. He thought he might slow down the enemy an hour of World Time. In his mind, his intentions were good. In reality, the extra hour of World Time was meaningless. It didn’t hurt or help the party in any significant way.

The player of the Rogue told the GM that he was going to chop down a tree in the path. But the GM asked him about if he had a hatchet. After going over all the different tools he thought he could use and the GM rejecting them, he had a new idea. He would start a fire. The GM told him that was impractical. They argue about that for a few minutes. So he went back to the idea of chopping down a tree. He wanted to break some branches and drag them into the road. Finally, it was allowed. But then he had a new idea and wanted to use his rope between the trees. The GM asked him about the idea. They finally agreed. It was done.

This event took 10-minutes of the Clock. It had at best a minor impact on the enemies. But more importantly, it excluded the other 4 players from playing for 10 minutes of a 3-hour session! When the whole time, he could have just said: “I wait for the party.”

Be mindful of the Clock in your game. It is the most important commodity you have. By doing this, you will be a better player and GM.

Google Translator

This is one of the better tools available for a GM.

On the forums I visit, all the time people asking how to come up with names. Mostly names of NPC, but on occasion names for class, places, spells, items, etc.

In these cases, I like to use Google Translator for inspiration. I will assign an Earth language to a race, region, religion, etc. Then start doing some translation. In this way, the different names I come up with all have the same feel.

In the Wildworld, this is the world setting for my game Age of Swords, here are some of the languages I use.

  • Centaur is Polish.
  • Elven is French.
  • Orc-en is German.
  • Anquis is Latin.

Here is an example from my own life. The following is an adventure I plan to run soon. It is about in an ancient temple devoted to a forgotten evil god. I think the Heroes will be in the area for a while, and so I want to have put in some details. This area will have lots of goblins and other villains the Heroes will interact in and out of combat.

I go to Google Translate. I pick a new language, I choose Indonesian.

The Story

A village hires the Heroes to go kill some goblins who have been raiding their crops. The village has little to offer the Heroes, but sad faces and “pleases.” The Heroes go into the jungles to kill goblins.

After killing lots of goblins, the goblins surrender to the party. They beg them to come speak to their chieftain Besar (boss). Besar tells the party that in the ancient temple known as Yang Buruk (bad place), there is a human named Bajingan (asshole). That Bajingan has been killing their hunt, and they are starving. This is why they have been leaving their homeland in the search for food. If the party will go into the depths of Yang Buruk, kill Bajingan, they will award them their most prized possession. This is a magical club called Menghancurkan (crush).

Yeah, it can be hard to pronounce these, but they can be shortened. I would change Menghancurkan into Mengcurk. But the point is that there is a flavor to the naming that is constant throughout. And if the Heroes decide to return to the shadow of temple Yang Buruk one day, any name I come up with will come from Indonesian.

Stop using Random encounters and use “Random” encounters instead.

I believe that as a GM, you should never have a truly random encounter. Okay, perhaps there are exceptions, but I am not interested in those.

Overall, random encounters are poor storytelling.

An RPG is all about the story. It is a shared collaborated story that is driven by the actions of the players, but it is still a story.

What I do as GM is writes “Random” encounters I can toss into the storyline when I needed them. Why would I need a Random encounter? Here are a few reasons that instantly pop into mind.

  1. I need to fill time before another event happens.
  2. I feel there is a need for combat/roleplaying in the story.
  3. I need to bridge two story segments together.
  4. I want to change gears in the story.

Sometimes I have a plan for the night, and someone doesn’t show up. Or they are late. Or they need to leave early. If I continue with the adventure as planned, I know the party will all die. This situation is a perfect time to have a “random” encounter.

The real question then is what do I mean by a “Random” Encounter?

A “Random” encounter is something you have already outlined or written. These are encounters that you have worked out the story of it. You have developed them. As GM, you should be stockpiling encounters ideas for when you need them. If you don’t use one, you keep for another day to use.

Imagine GMing, the party is resting for the night, and you decide to roll for a random encounter. The chart gives you wolves. So you tell the party:

Five hungry wolves enter the camp. Boy, they sure look hungry. Roll initiative!

Now let’s turn that into a “Random” encounter. Remember you planned this out long beforehand. This is the same encounter with five wolves.

Hours before camping, the party hears the howls of a wolf pack. At midnight, the Heroes are woken up by the sounds of growls, barks, and the yelps of animals nearby. Everyone gets ready.

Suddenly, a large elk, blooded with wounds to its legs and side, runs into the camp. It is followed by a pack of wolves with blood on their teeth. The elk tramples through the campsite ignoring the party. Immediately, a pack of wolves chases it. Within moments they are gone. The sounds of the hunt getting further and further away.

The party feels it is over. But then, five hungry wolves enter the camp. Stragglers of the pack, without the taste of blood on their lips. They slowly pace around the campsite, looking for an opportunity against this new sport they have found. They growl and then leap forward. Roll initiative!

It is the same encounter but there is a difference. I have other reason for not using the random encounter here.

Also with the “Random” encounter, there is the following advantage as I get to pre-plan the treasure found, create names for NPC as needed, and weave in sub-plots. I am not figuring this out on the fly.

This advice is for the 80 and not the 20!

There is this tendency for some people to say, “You don’t need this! I make great story content and use charts!” That is magnificent. However, not everyone is excellent at writing on the fly. And my guess is that a little prep work would make the best impromptu GM even better.

The truth is we all make better encounters with more details, flavor, and story when we prep. We can tie them into events of the past and future.

And if the party ends up side-stepping the random encounter, we can put it in a folder to save for a future campaign.


Experience System

This is the system I use for Age of Swords. But it could be used with any game system. You just have to use the table provided instead of the one that comes with your game.



As the Hero adventures, they will progress in level.

The class level represents the Hero’s capability compared to others. The higher level the Hero, the more powerful they are compared to the world’s average.

Earning Experience

There are 4 ways to gain experience during play.

  • Hourly Rate.
  • Story Achievements.
  • Wintering.
  • MVP player awards.

GM Notes

This system does not give any experience for meaningless combat, shoe shopping, or filibustering. The majority of the points come from defeating bosses, achieving goals, and playing the game in general.

Without an award for combat, players should not feel a need to kill everything that comes across their path. Instead, the big XP amounts come from completing adventures, advancing themselves in the world, and reaching personal goals.

Leveling Chart

The following chart is used for all classes.

Level XP Needed Accumulative
1 0 0
2 +100 100
3 +150 250
4 +150 400
5 +200 600
6 +200 800
7 +200 1000
8 +300 1300
9 +300 1600
10 +300 1900
11 +300 2200
12 +300 2500

Hourly Rate

Players earn 10 XP for each hour played.

If they miss the session, they earn 5 XP for each hour that was played without them.

This serves two purposes. It rewards players who show up and play. At the same time prevents people who miss a session from falling too far behind.

Story Achievements

There should always be 1 or more stories going on with the party. Even when playing in a sandbox style game, there should be stories building.

When the players have major achievements in one of this story, the GM should award extra XP. It can be any amount, but here are three recommendations.

Minor: Winning an important battle, discovering a significant clue, or coming to a needed decision. These are worth 10 XP.

Major: Defeating a major Boss villain and saving the day. This is worth 50 XP.

Epic: The end of a long adventure arc. This is worth 150 XP.


If the Heroes spend three months relaxing and enjoying themselves in a city or town, they earn downtime XP. Each winter, the GM should encourage the Heroes to find a place to relax, enjoy themselves, and spend gold.

This is about entertainment, training, and socializing. It is a means to represent the lifestyle of the Hero. Some examples of spending time without downtime: sea travel, in a dungeon, in the wilds, in a small village, or traveling.

The more gold the Hero spends during downtime, the more time they have to focus on their own lives. Note the gold amounts are for the game Age of Swords. For 5e D&D, x10 the amount.

Gold Description XP
0 Poverty 0
1 Low class 5
2 Good life 10
5 Wealthy 15
12 Rich 20
30+ Aristocratic 25

Why does the money earn XP?

The money spent gives the Hero more time to improve themselves. It is hard to practice and learn spells if the Hero has to cook their own food, wash their own clothes, or work for extra silver.

At the higher spending, their life includes going to music halls, lectures, and dinner parties with informed people. They have more opportunity to expand their reason and knowledge. They will have access to private libraries, trainers, and other people who can help them.

MVP Awards

At the end of each session, each player awards a Hero 15 XP. Or they can award themselves 10 XP. They can use any justification how they award these points.

The following are some examples:

  • Exceptional Role-playing.
  • Heroic Deeds.
  • Mentoring another Hero.
  • Selling to another (in the form of services or training).
  • Under threats by another (Hero is forced into servitude).

There is a concern about this being meta-gamed. Mostly by raising one Hero to be more powerful than the rest of the group. If this is how the players have their fun, then so be it. After a while of watching 1 Hero dominate over the others, they might change their strategy.

In the Game

Giving a Hero, you MVP point represents giving them your time and attention.

If your Hero has been forced into giving the MVP award, imagine serving a cruel leader. You cook of them, doing their laundry, or spend your days teaching them.

If you volunteer to help another, you might be mentoring them or training with them. They might be your friend. Or you might for some reason be doing their chores.