The Season for Giving…XP

January 6, 2017 at 8:43 pm

“Just as a puppy can be more of a challenge than a gift, so too can the holidays.”

— John Clayton
krampusx1Like many game masters, we at the Aerie have been thinking about the holidays. Not only the real-world holidays that lead to cancelled games, but in-game holidays that your players’ characters share with family and friends.  Whether they are simply analogues to real-world celebrations (like a mid-winter Yuletide) or something specific to your game-world (Happy St. Cuthbert’s Day!), holidays can add detail to your setting and help connect player’s to their environment.

There are many ways of going about creating holidays for your game worlds (like here, here, and here), and an equal number of ways that they can be celebrated. You want to make each one unique, with their own foods, music, modes of dress, and activities. But beyond adding fluff for PCs to wander through on there way to killing things and taking their stuff, what can you do with a holiday backdrop to add excitement to an RPG scenario.

As our gift to you, here’s a few ideas:

Cities Slicker series: Fantasticism

December 22, 2016 at 7:26 pm

“As a kid, I lived in a fantasy world. I used to believe ants could talk. Not once did they say thank you.”

—Willard Wigan

gettyimages-98345265I think many of us create and play fantasy role-playing games as an escape from reality and way to explore ideas that aren’t bound by strictures of our societies, or even our natural laws. So it seems slightly odd how much effort we put into plausible structures and believable rationale for our fantasies as we strive for the vague Gygaxian “verisimilitude”.

And sometimes these efforts undermine the magic of our creation. Our desire to create a logical hierarchy to the Church of Grognar Brighthelm might just throw shade on his holy radiance, or building a food chain where dragons have a steady food source might starve the joy from your questing knights. Sometimes its enough that Grognar shines, or that a dragon’s diet consists entirely of princesses.

Its a game, so don’t sweat the small stuff (like gnomes).

City Slicker Series: Realism

November 21, 2016 at 10:14 pm

“Ours is a culture and a time immensely rich in trash as it is in treasures.”

― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

farmCreating cities for fantasy games is a complex process that requires you balance several different aspects. You want them to seem believable, and at the same time fantastic. You want them to vibrant, open, and intriguing — but they still need to serve the overall plot thread of the game. Much more than dungeon or a wilderness encounter, urban environments require a lot more juggling on the GM’s part. For this installment, lets just talk about the realistic elements that can help make your cities relatable to players.

Making Cities Slicker

October 24, 2016 at 7:57 pm

“What strange phenomena we find in a great city, all we need do is stroll about
with our eyes open. Life swarms with innocent monsters.”

― Charles Baudelaire


Basic RGBPerhaps not as much as haunted ruins or mysterious towers, but cities have long been a staple of fantastic literature. Lankhmar is as much a character as Fafhrd or the Grey Mouser, and the mental image of the circles of Minas Tirith has stuck with me since i first read them in middle school.

Fantasy cities provide characters with the opportunity to spend their hard-earned gains, seek out wise counsel, or simply stir up trouble. But they can be some of the hardest locations to design and manage for the game master. Everything that makes them enticing — the freedom, the choices, the opportunities and risks — make them difficult for a GM rot handle and players to make the most of.

Unlike dungeons or wilderness areas, most urban areas are too large to be fully detailed (unless you have far more time than I do), and the ‘goals’ may be harder stay on top of. Further, urban areas make it far easier for player groups to separate and force the GM to juggle multiple stories at once.

Organization, man

September 13, 2016 at 2:37 pm

“The triumph of anything is a matter of organization. If there are such things as angels, I hope that they are organized along the lines of the Mafia.”

― Kurt Vonnegut

illuminati-512Fantastic literature is filled with powerful organizations both noble and sinister, from the Jedi to the Illuminati. But this can often be difficult to replicate in gaming situations. Organizations become either over-generalized and amorphous, or single-issue zealots without nuance.

And while many game systems offer mechanical systems for gauging an organizations influence, resources, and prominence, we are more interested in creating organizations that make sense within your game-worlds. Organizations that can drive storylines and provide reasons fro your players to interact with them.

Inside Mesus: Rulership

September 7, 2016 at 10:54 pm

“Towns are like people. Old ones often have character,
the new ones are interchangeable.”

— Wallace Stegner


Our recent discussion on fantasy world governments made us want to dig a little deeper into our bronze age starting point— Mesus. Our city-state is roughly 10,000 people, with 7500 of them crowded around either side of an ancient canal that connected an inland lake (now a polluted, monster-haunted cauldron) to the ocean.

Who’s in charge around here?

August 26, 2016 at 5:44 pm

“To rule is easy, to govern difficult.”

— Goethe

Nebukadnessar-II-coinRegardless of how involved the gods are in your game world, your players’ characters will undoubtedly interact with powerful forces of a more earthly sort. I’m talking about ‘the man’.

Governments and other power blocs are an important part of most campaign worlds. Unless your heroes are exploring an unknown land of glaciers, or are deep in uninhabited space, they are bound to come across someone (or something) that claims to have authority. But who are they?


Myth Conceptions

August 9, 2016 at 7:58 pm

“Ray, when someone asks you if you’re a God, you say yes!”

— Winston Zeddemore, Ghostbusters


ZeusIf you are running a fantasy RPG, its only a matter of time before before someone call out for divine assistance. Even in games without specific rules for divine magic, there still might be devout characters or villains in service to dark entities from beyond the veil. The question is then, who are these gods and what is their relationship to those who worship them?

Five-point Foundation

August 2, 2016 at 3:45 pm


“We need the tonic of wildness…at the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things.”

— Henry David Thoreau


Probably following the arc of expanding power in many zero-to-hero role-playing systems, most GMs have said the scope of their adventuring world grows as a campaign continues. This is commonly called ‘bottom-up’ design, where you start small and build up as the players explore further and expand their knowledge.

This is probably the most time-effective way to go about it. There’s only limited value in detailing the lands and cultures of the reptilian swamp satraps when the players’ immediately set off for the mountains. This also lets you react to your player’s individual interests and gives them input into the shape and color of the world.

Village Idiom

July 21, 2016 at 10:58 pm

“Civilization is a race between disaster and education.”

— H.G. Wells

villageFollowing the conversations across Facebook and the web, it seems that those who don’t carve out complete continents and ages of history before they unleash players into their creations like to keep it small. So let’s do that.

The idea here is to create a ‘starting point’.  Like a player who comes to a first session with a fully fleshed out backstory featuring years of adventures, great deeds, and tragic mishaps; you don’t want to create a starting village that is already at the end of its story. You want just enough to fire the players’ curiosity and encourage them to explore further.