Information Overload

I just collected a stack of books from the Embassy regarding the JET program, which is great because I now have answers to many of the questions I’ve had.

The Stack, as we’ll call it, includes a General Information Handbook (In Japanese and English) that covers everything from preparing to leave to returning home. I’m busy going through it now in preparation for the Q&A session in June. The second book is Japanese for JETs, a book I’ve been able to go over for a few months thanks to the friendly staff at the embassy. This book includes the poster I have on my study door and two CD’s of language lessons. Japanese for JETs specifically targets JETS by using common situations as examples. The last book is an insurance policy guide, at 71 pages, so we’ll hopefully be covered if things get shaky.

So the task now is to read and learn like there’s no tomorrow. Luckily I finished my role-playing module writing commitments for the year yesterday, so I can now focus on preparing for Japan. I’ll still be blogging and you can follow my role-playing blog here.


Nihon: The Japanese word for Japan. Also “Nippon” if you want to be more formal. The fact that there is a formal and less formal form of the countries name should tell you a great deal about the country and the levels of formality and etiquette.


The Embassy of Japan is most helpful and friendly and I’ve had many opportunities to deal with them, both through Iaido and the JET program. You can find out more here:

Starting a New Campaign

Campaign Journal

In this series I’ll be taking you through our bi-monthly Pathfinder campaign that began at the start of 2011. Mostly I’ll just focus on the story, but will also point out some of the lessons we learnt and fun ideas that came up. Unfortunately, it looks like I will be missing the last half of the campaign, but I’ll see if I can organise someone else to continue the story where I left off.

In this post I want to focus on how we got started and all the ground work that was laid before we started playing, which I hope will give you some ideas for your own game.

Picking The Team
The biggest question when we set out, and in most RPG groups, is who is playing. There are always people with different levels of commitment or difficult schedules and finding a time that suits everyone is a bit of a logistics nightmare, especially when everyone is working and has a family. I missed the 2010 campaign because of my busy schedule which left me with only Wednesdays and Fridays open during the week, and Thursdays nights were more convenient for the rest of the guys.

So, we set up a meeting for all interested parties to discuss times. Some of us have played together since meeting on-line, ( for South African players), others were relatives or friends of other players, and so on. We drew up a grid of each day and who would be available when. We decided that we would choose one week day and play every two weeks, which would also mean that the impact on our weeks would not be too unmanageable. Wednesday was chosen and we keep our game days to that, although busy schedules and wierd holidays have meant that we’ve played less that twice a month, it does mean that people try and keep Wednesday open.

A number of potential players have not yet pitched for a game and some players have only played a single session, but our core of six players has remained pretty solid. Instead of choosing one person to be the GM, we are taking turns that span a few sessions. This method worked well for the guys in their last campaign, and lead to some interesting results, including a multitude of villains that had it in for the party, each villain the brain child of a different GM.

Picking The Rules
Our next decision was picking a games system. In the 2010 campaign the guys used Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, but there were many other possible available now with our collections of books growing as they have. In the end we chose Pathfinder because it is 3.5 and lets us use all the 3.5 stuff we have.

Picking Pathfinder meant that we didn’t need to learn new rules. This is worth mentioning because, although it is 3.5 compatible, Pathfinder does make some changes. The key though is that when we look up a rule, we look it up in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, and we haven’t really needed to invest much time learning.

For interest sake, some of the other games that were listed as possibles included Mouseguard the RPG, Call of Cuthullu, World of Darkness, Warhammer Fantasy Role-play and Dungeons and Dragons 4, which at least 3 of us are currently involved in a campaign of.

House Rules
At this point, let me just mention that if you do have a session like this to plan your campaign, be sure to order pizza. In fact, if you remember nothing else from this post,remember the pizza. Good friends and good food makes all the admin seem like fun.

With the rule set chosen we defined a number of house rules, some more bizarre than others:

We use a critical fumble table for 1’s rolled in combat. If you fumble, not only do you miss, but now bad things happens to you, such as loosing your weapon and so on.

Each play must bring a white board marker, since we use a glass pane over a grid map to mark out encounter locations. If each player brings one, we always have a choice of markers and it’s not an issue if someone forgets. You could easily do the same thing with bringing map tiles or maps.

Halflings have hairy feet. This was an odd one, and I brought it up, because I’m a Tolkien nut. Discussing the world makes it more immersive, in my opinion. If you imagine the same things, you share the experience more deeply.

Keep the beer lids. We are keeping beer lids to make into a suit of scale mail. The Yaya Sisterhood have their jeans, we have our scale mail.

Story points. Players can accrue story points both in game and out of game that they can then use to affect the game in a way not normally available to players in Pathfinder, such as to get a re-roll on a dice, changing something in the story or bring in an NPC. You may only ever have 3 story points and you can spend 1, 2 or 3 points to get various effects:

One story point: Re-roll a dice, make an acrobatic move you could not normally make or get extra information from someone.

Two story points: An extra attack, an automatic crit or convince an NPC of something.

Three story points: Avoid death, invent an NPC or change the story.

Character Creation
We decided that any Humanoid character was legal, resulting in a party consisting of a Catfolk, two Tieflings, a Giant, an Elf and a Blue. We discussed the party make-up to try and get a balanced party, and ended up with a multi classed rogue wizard, a wizard, a bard, a monk, a ranger and a paladin. I’ll be introducing the characters in the next Campaign Journal post.

Many other aspect of character creation were decided after the meeting. In fact, nothing was actually decided regarding characters on the day, but the first GM requested that each player send him an email with class, race, name, a short description and a backup character class. We could then go ahead and create a level one character.

In Summary
I think the planning session was very valuable, and our games would probably not have gone as smoothly as it has without the planning meeting. It surely saved us a great deal of email. It was also fun, and we got to shared many war stories and got to meet other role-players, have some great pizza and just laugh about our adventures.

Have you had a similar planning meeting for your campaign or group, please tell us about your experience.

UPCON 2011 – The Highs and Lows

It’s been awhile since I was last at UPCON, and it’s always interesting to see what’s new and what hasn’t changed. My main interests at any con are always role-playing games and boardgames, with a little LARP or Animé on the side. I’ll focus this post on the shopping and organised play specifically with regard to role-playing, since that’s our main interest at Rising Phoenix Games.

I was impressed by the range of boardgames available and I’d say that South Africa is enjoying a wide range of games and vendors, so you can usually hunt for a good bargain. Role-playing games, however, were poorly represented, except for the gaming sessions, and I’m supposing this is because of great sites like Drive Thru RPG. Various hobby gaming vendors have told me that they are struggling to get stuff in, particularly Wizards of the Coast stuff (which is generally the stuff I’m looking for), while on the other hand many book stores are able to get role-playing titles in and at much more reasonable prices. Dice, on the other hand, is almost always available at any con, and in more colours than Joseph had in his amazing coat, which is probably why you’ll catch a role-player wide-eyed and drooling talking about “shinies”.

I played in two sessions of organised play and honestly had the most awesome game of the year and the worst game of all time between those two sessions. The best game used the Pokethulhu rules and was part of a campaign called “Ses van die Bestes”, which means “Six of the Best” in English. The game revolves around a team of six heroes and an alternate reality with South Africa as a focal point. We had an excellent GM and a table of great players, and I felt like everyone tried their best to contribute to the story which resulted in me laughing so hard throughout most of the game.

The second session I played was written by a writer who’s games I actually really appreciate, and this made it the third game I’ve played of his. However, the GM and the rest of the table had been playing in this particular campaign for some time, and the character had pretty much degenerated from what I saw on my hand outs into a bunch of over sexually charged miscreants. So, at the point where the session started, things were pretty much a hard-core porno. Now, I know that role-playing games are meant for adults, and that we can expect explicit content, but there is a line. There is always a line, and I think any half able GM should be aware of it, otherwise players will leave the table, which is exactly what I ended up doing. To me though it illustrates the difficulty with this kind of game, at the end of the day a group works well if everyone is of a like mind. Just because we are role-players does not mean we all agree about everything, and that’s cool, but it can make game play impossible if GMs in particular are not sensitive to the feeling of other players.

On the bright side, my own module at UPCON went well. Since I was playing at the time, I only listened in every now and then, but the players were having a ball, which is what every writer wants and the end of the day. Feedback was all positive and I’m looking forward to putting some of the ideas from the feedback into a more finished version of the module.

Well, UPCON 2011 is over and done with, which for me as a writter was in the works for almost half a year. There were highs and lows for me for sure, but I’d say it was worth it, even if just for that one great game. I won’t likely be back next year though, since I’ll most likely miss all the cons till 2013, but I’d encourage you to get to any conventions in your area and see what’s on the go and be involved in the hobby.

Till next time!

Playing it Solo

I love role-playing games, but sometimes I just can’t find anyone who wants to play with. Recently I bought the Dungeons and Dragons Red Box and played through the solo introductory game, and Ghost Tower of the Witchlight Fens, which was a blast. The game is not the same without other players, but I still enjoyed it and found it a great way to test out a new character build, or the workings of some power or tactic. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d share some of my own ideas about solo play, specifically in terms of playing without a pre written adventure.


Army Soldiers

When I was small I’d play with my little green army soldiers, those heroes of a thousand battles. There were no rules, you just moved them around and made appropriate sound effects. You used your imagination and the game went the way you wanted it to (at least if you were playing by yourself). Similarly, in a solo game, you play the GM, so you need to direct the game in the way you see fit, but give your PC (or PC’s) enough challenge to keep things interesting. In my current solo game my PC, known as The Gray Priest, a cleric, has come to a town in search of a long lost book. Picking up from the adventure in the Red Box, he has hired town guardsmen and set out on a number of forays to try and beat off the enemies forces. I play out the encounters as I would if I was the GM, making perception checks for the goblins before they would be ambushed and fighting with the best of my ability when playing either side. Game balance can be tricky, but many RPG’s include a good system for balancing the fight, which makes it possible to keep things interesting without loosing your character during every bout of combat.


Campaign Journal

In a normal campaign we might keep a campaign journal and in a solo game you can and should do the same thing. My only difference is that I write it like a story, which helps me imagine what is going on, and I use that to focus the role-playing aspects of the game, writing as I play. Again, you need to be the GM too, so if your character says the wrong thing, make the “NPC’s” react accordingly. That’s part of the fun. The campaign journal otherwise offers you the same benefits of a regular campaign journal, and I recommend recording things that you would keep in your GM notes, so that you can keep track of the greater story.


Tables versus Imagination

Many solo games use tables for a number of random events in the game, and there is a wide range of tables you can use already available in most RPG’s. Furthermore, you can write your own to suit your campaign, including elements you choose and having them occur to your own predefined frequency. Unless you want more of a simulation game than a story game I recommend not using too many tables, since you may find it takes your story in a direction you do not want. The key is really to play around until you’re happy with the game you are playing. If you find you are doing more accounting than game playing, then you just need to simplify. But if you need some random direction, by all means, use a table.



No, not the band. KISS stands for “Keep it simple stupid” and it’s a key factor in good solo gaming. Keep your story simple and limit the elements that are interacting in the world. For example, my character and four town guard took on nine enemy units. It was a relatively long fight for one person to play out, but if there had been more units and more HP to keep track of, I doubt things would have been as much fun. The nice thing is that KISS does not mean that things are boring, you simply add complexity as you can manage it.


Dealing With Death

While you may have more than one character in a solo game, you will most likely still have a smaller party than the usual 4 or 5. Death then can mean the end of your solo game, and if you’ve invested time in your game, then that’s a very sad thing. However, you do have a couple of options to keep the game going.

Most quests are important enough that someone will take up the cause when others fail, and heroes often have friends, even if only a few they can really trust. Death of one hero means you can bring in a new character to take the place of the fallen character. You may find you only play with this new character until you can resurrect the old one, and that’s fine, because it makes for a more interesting story when you include the adventures of others.

Secondly, death is only the start of another journey. Think about the adventure your character can have in the Halls of Valhalla before their god sends them back to complete their quest.



The best tip I can give for anyone thinking about playing a solo game is just to give it a try, you will learn more from actually playing than thinking about it. Consider what you enjoy about each game or session and what you dislike, and where appropriate make a house rule if it will help keep things fun. I’d suggest keeping sessions relatively short, since you’ll need all your concentration to play it properly, but play as often as you can and please share your findings with us here.

Do you play role-playing games like D&D or Pathfinder as solo games? Let me know what you think and share any mechanics you have. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Upcon 2011 is around the corner.

Hey everyone.

If you’re in Pretoria, South Africa, then make your way to the University of Pretoria on the 7th and 8th of May for UPCON 2011. One of our Dungeons and Dragons modules is being run, and it promises to be a kicker.

There is something for everyone, with collectable card games, Role-playing, LARP and Animé all represented.

See you there.

Lunatic Labyrinth – One Page Dungeon Contest 2011

I have to applaud the efforts of the organizers of the One Page Dungeon Contest. Nothing gets people thinking outside the box quite like being forced into a “box”. The one page limitation really forced me to look at adventure design in a way that regular adventure writing does not.


Imagine the scene: A long stone corridor lit only by your sputtering torch, as your hasty foot steps echo off the hard cold walls. Behind you, some unimaginable evil chases you, bent on your demise. And then you turn a corner, into a dead end. You can hear claws clattering on the tunnel floor now, gaining ground every second. Then, in a moment of clarity, you remember the ancient stone key in your pocket. You draw it out and hold it aloft, and with all the air in your lungs you shout “laloona”. The wall before you creaks, sending dust billowing out as the wall grinds past, revealing a new corridor. You run forward, shouting the magical word behind you, as you flee. Turning back to where you came, only a stone wall remains, you can hear the frustrated clawing on the other side of the wall, and know you have escaped death this time. But what mysteries and terrors lie ahead of you in this labyrinth.


The Lunatic Labyrinth is more than just a dungeon, it’s a shifting maze of monster filled corridors that gives the delvers a new take on the good old dungeon and gives the Game Master a new tool for their gaming kit. But I’ll let you be the judge. Download the latest version here.


I would love to hear your comments, especially if you have used the Lunatic Labyrinth in your own game. Happy delving.

From the ashes…

Welcome to the blog of Rising Phoenix Games! The aim of this blog is to be accessible to both new and experienced role-players, and not just the Game Masters out there. We’ll be sharing tips, giving advice, having a laugh and going on a few adventures together. Join us, it’ll be a blast.

Be the Hero