Saturday, September 10, 2011

How to build a campaign the Axeman way 101 - Part 1

Setting. Start with setting. The setting is an anchor point for your campaign. The first setting decision is shared world building, published campaign setting or home-brewed.

Home-brewed Pros and Cons

I use a home-brewed campaign setting. I know it well and have been developing it for decades. The biggest difficulty with home-brewed settings is getting player buy in.  They tend to feel it is your world they are playing in and can have trouble feeling allowed to add to or change its details. You may also find yourself having to explain a lot more, or being defensive when you have to remind players that magic functions differently in “your world”. The biggest benefit is having a world that you can share slowly and change to fit the campaign without insulting the “fan boy”. In my own campaign the gods tend to be heroes from past campaigns. It is rich with PC history both as founders of kingdoms and tombs of forgotten heroes. There is a certain amount of creepiness to walking about your own characters tomb, hundreds of years later.

Published Campaign Settings

I plunder liberally from published campaign settings. My trouble with them is at least one player will have a beloved setting that they know more about then you do. This creates frustration when you try to introduce something new that they don’t agree fits with the “feel” of the setting. Players less versed in the setting are at a disadvantage. If you are unfamiliar with the setting there is a bit of reading to become knowledgeable. However, they do make for less work in the long run. There are great fan based sites for most of them with ready made wiki’s and histories. Maps galore are plunder-able from the web.

Shared World Building

This is a great approach that I only have experience with in theory. I have yet to find a set of players that love world building the way I do. I have shared DM duties with a co-DM in the past. Based on that experience I would say that this could be a wonderful approach. Allowing players to add things to a blank slate world in a flash of group creativity sounds like a lot of fun. My only caution is Sacred Cows. Any time a group project comes up; there is always the one guy that wants his concept to be used in even if the rest of the group sees it as a square peg in a round hole concept. Organization becomes the key to this type, designating sectors or roles are a possible solution. I imagine this is a lot like working on a D&D source book in that you need a lead designer to oversee the product.

Once you’ve made up your mind up on the overarching setting its time to move on to location. Every campaign needs a starting location. Taverns, caravans and throne rooms are pretty cliché but work in a pinch. I tend to drop a new village or city on my home-brew map in a location that has not yet been explored. This could be the location of a published adventure or module, like Keep on the Shadowfell or the Red Box adventures. A location setting like Gloomwrought, Hammerfast or Frandor’s Keep. It also could be just a name to identify the meet place for the PCs. I borrowed liberally from Frandor’s Keep and filed some LFR adventurers away as possible side adventurers. LFR home play is a great resource as long as you keep in mind that the adventures were designed for characters just meeting each other every session.

Next I decide on a time setting for the campaign. This is a twofold decision. First, if playing with existing players does it come before, after or during the campaign that is wrapping up. If so how did the players’ actions impact the world, these answers may take time to develop. If this is a new campaign, relating it to current events is a good starting point. Don’t worry about detailing the full history off the bat, but you will need a central conflict when you do your prep work. Secondly, you need to decide what the flow of time is going to be like from session to session. Does the adventure exist in game time only, ie is what the players experience the minute by minute parts of their characters lives or does each weeks session take place days, weeks or even months apart?

Currently, I am designing a campaign for existing players, so I moved ahead 48 years. It’s enough time to show the beginning impacts of their actions but not so long to worry about large ripple effects. In my campaign I chose to structure it around episodic adventures that are cut-scenes for the characters lives. A week on a caravan where no raids happen stays on the cutting room floor, while the caravan raid where the party is attacked by gnolls and have to rescue the merchant’s son makes the cut. The players have options to start families, interact with NPCs and get into trouble between sessions via our on-line forums.

At this point I share my intentions with the players and make sure that my desires to run Campaign Type X fits with their expectation of what they want to play. No sense going further if no one is interested in the type of game you are looking to run. During this discussion listen to your players and notate any concerns or ideas they might raise. I like to ask my players to start thinking about the characters they would like to play. If I have any restrictions or house rules I want to put in place they are announced now. This could be race or class restrictions, feat restrictions, use of the inherent item bonus system or story elements you want highlighted. My latest list looked something like this.

1.    Races – each race has an entry on how the inhabitants of the keep viewed the race with warnings for races with negative reactions. (I won’t say no to a race, but I want a good reason why and an experienced role-player to take the reins. Attacking NPCs because you chose a race with a warning flag doesn’t fly at my table)

2.    Items – Low Magic, I intended to cut down on the workload of locating and balancing items. So, I chose the inherent bonus system and am awarding 1 rare item every 5 levels for each PC. These items will grow in power every two levels and be central to the PCs character concept.

3.    Feats – Feat Taxes have been bothering me. Not taking implement/weapon expertise is an optimizer's nightmare. Allowing it in game just make some Characters better. Since, 90% of my group takes it I eliminated it and dropped the monsters defenses (-1 for Heroic, -2 for paragon and -3 for epic). After discussion with my players I decided to allow it for sub-optimal builds. Ie with a stat of 17 or less in your primary attack stat you can get the bonus for the feat. So far no one has taken advantage of this fact and the rule is having its intended purpose. (I don't dislike optimizers, they keep me on my toes, but I do like to challenge them in the same regard, especially when they become lackadaisical and depend on the same feats for their combos.)

4.    Backgrounds and Themes – I still haven’t bothered to catch up on understanding the impact of themes on the game. This is bad DM’ing on my part. I eliminated the background “Born Under a Bad Sign”, four PCs had used it with this group and I was looking for them to broaden their horizons a bit.

5.    Action – I let PCs know that their char was going to be central to the story. The interactions of their group and with the NPCs are the story I want to tell. This isn’t a rush to save the world or the kingdom type campaign. This story is more of a slow simmer with a bang rather than a roiling boil with a boil-over. I warned my players that Frandor’s Keep is in the Hell’s Throat pass. A place of legendary dangers. It is entirely possible to run into creatures beyond your level or strength. There may be times when talking, clever tactics or running for your life is in order. (Do Something Cooler thanks to D'Karr over at Loremaster)

Once you have made any adjustments based on player feedback, its time to lay out your campaign plot line. Its very important not to let this document become set in stone. These are guidelines at best, garbage material at worst.

Step 1 – I gather all my plot hooks from scattered adventurers, modules and my idea book and enter them into the document (My Campaign spreadsheet). This is mostly copy paste form LFR. I do this for published adventures also, and I’ll tell you why in a moment (Step2).

I use a spreadsheet for ease of look-up, it’s possible to leave these in their published books but I tend to miss or forget some along the way and I don't like to mark up my adventures. I notate where the hook came from in shorthand usually a book and page number. I also like to notate the level range of the adventure and any type of terrain etc involved, ie river adventure, ocean adventure, mountain, forest etc.

Step 2 – I break these plot hooks into three parts.
Part 1 is factions. Who stands to gain from the adventure and who stands to lose?
Part 2 is quest. What needs to be done? What obstacles are in the way? Be general not specific.
Part 3 is reward. What is the faction offering in tangible rewards? (Ie cash, items etc) What is being offered in intangibles? (XP, story awards, favors, reputation, allies etc)

This pre-work makes some later stages easier. Once, my characters go through the process of providing character backgrounds et all. I can change the factions to fit their stories (Step 4) etc. Note: You will have to adjust the adventure to fit these changes before running it later.

Step 3 – I open my regional map with the meet location as the center. This map may be blank except for the dot for the meeting locale or it may be detailed with mountains, towns, streams and rivers. I open up my Swirly-gig and place it over the regional map. You can use Photoshop or Paintshop but I prefer GIMP. The GIMP is a free ware version of Photoshop. Though missing some of the advanced features it is way better then paint and nearly as functional as Photoshop, but at zero cost. With the Swirly-gig on its own layer, I adjust the size and rotate it to match the terrain, if any. I then place my adventure locales starting at the epicenter and winding my way out to the extent of the Swirly-gig. Place the encounters in an ascending level of difficulty. To mix things up, throw a couple of higher level adventures closer to the epicenter. This way by the end of the Swirly-gig’s loop I should be about level 10 and ready for adventures that leave the region and span the realm or continent. I notate the possible adventures in short hand on the map and save it as a DM version. Some logic and knowledge of the adventures helps here as you can fill in terrain or adjust the orientation of the swirly gig to fit terrain from the adventure to your existing map.

The Swirly Gig
The Swirly-gig idea came from CSI Las Vegas. In the episode, they use a similar pattern to show the escalation of a serial killers victim profile. This seemed an excellent way to have expanding adventurers of slightly greater distance from a fixed point. In a traveling campaign it sees a party going back across the same region multiple times allowing them to utilize their knowledge and familiarity with the area to their advantage or choose new routes over the terrain for exploration purposes. In a home-base style campaign it sends the party out from the mid-point in different directions. Each trek is into a gradually widening area without constantly going up the same trail every time. This allows the players to revisit trails they impacted later in the campaign. Forestalling questions of, what ever came of us clearing out the dungeon or stopping that dangerous magic effect?

Swirly Gig - Adventure Locales Identified in White Lettering. (Original Map Courtesy of

Step 4 – Incorporating player ideas and character backgrounds. There are a lot of different ways to go about this. The one that works best for me is to ask for three allies and three rivals/enemies from each of my PCs. This can be as simple as a faction ie the Temple of Bahamut in Westfold, or as complicated as a jilted past lover and the army he now commands. I look at the first three levels of play and orient the factions that make the most sense together. Maybe the Paladin’s temple of Bahamut is concerned about the army the jilted lover is gathering. I try to find a match tying each PC’s allies to another PC’s enemies. In this way, I can ensure party unity over the life of the campaign. This is especially important for the first encounter, being able to tie all of the party together in one fell swoop is a big win. Some players will do this work for you, but having something in your back pocket can nudge the players in the right direction during the first session. (Another great way to tie story to characters is Critical Hits 5x5 method. (Found here and here)

Step 5 – With the adventure site or sites mapped out, I now focus on turning my plot hooks into rumors and plot hammers. Rumors are the plot hints for future adventures I sprinkle into earlier adventurers. They are vague enough to hint about things going on outside the current quest, but not detailed enough to draw your players off mission. They are the star burst pattern on a saddle of a scout seen at distance, the vague note found amongst the dead or a signet ring in a saddle bag full of silver. Plot Hammers on the other hand are rumors with substance, a lead to follow. They can be as simple as a NPC saying go here and do this and I will reward you thusly. This has two forms of choice built into it. Either accept the mission or don’t accept the mission. (Most players won’t consider this a choice, so I rarely use them) Or, choose how to complete the mission.

Better IMHO, though are the Plot Hammers that give real choice. A set of goblins are attacking a wagon of pilgrims being led by a friar. While one group of goblins sings harsh songs and keeps the friar at bay, another group drags prisoners off into the woods. The PCs now face an immediate choice, save those remaining in the wagon or try to cut-off the group dragging people off into the woods. Saving those in the wagon, means they may have to track and locate the fleeing band later. Cutting off the fleeing band still leaves the enemies at the wagons to deal with and what ever unchecked damage they might do in the meantime. With this option, you may have more trouble locating the goblin stronghold later. If each of these goblins is branded with a distinct mark what does that portend? (Rumor) Using the Swirly-gig, now centered on the adventure site, you can plant rumors and plot hammers in a pattern around the adventure. With the most vague rumors at the extent of its limits and the nearest to the center being the plot hammers. During any session players could stumble onto two un-related quests and have to make a choice. Players also have the option to ignore the attacking goblins if there current mission seems more dire. I update my GM map with these rumors annotated on it. The overlaps could be connected adventures or simply things seen at a distance. For example the scout mentioned before or a dragon flying high overhead its dinner grasped in a claw.

Next time I will talk about actually prepping the adventures and keeping the players' choices at the core of that process.

Rumor Locations based on Adventure Locales (Original Map Courtesy of

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My DM Credentials - with back-story

My Early Days with 1st Edition

Back during the OD&D days my father was known as Raymon the Barbarian, my mother was a Cleric of Corellon. No, this isn’t me starting a character back story, but maybe I am relating a bit of my own. In 1982 and 1983 I used to lay awake in my bed and listen to the late night gathering of my parents and their eight or so friends rolling dice in our basement. Fortunately, growing up my room was also in the basement. A magical world opened up to me, this was the first touch I had with D&D. A few years later my father read all of us kids “The Hobbit”. We stayed awake late on weekend nights to watch B-movie awesomeness like “Hawk the Slayer”, “Beastmaster” and the “Dragonslayer”. At twelve I checked out the Lord of the Rings. At this point I hadn’t yet picked up any dice, but my younger brother and I played pretend walking home from schools. In some ways a gamer was born.

Moving to Second Edition and Older Brothers

My eldest brother inherited the box containing my fathers D&D modules and rulebooks. His friends gathered and gamed in various peoples houses around the neighborhood to play. I followed them around a lot trying to get on their game. Some much so that they nicknamed me hawk. They meant it as in “being watched like a hawk” but I took the nickname in stride and pretended it was because of “Hawk the Slayer”. In those days the only requirement to play was to be able to calculate THAC0. I spent a lot of time learning the rules (when I could get the book from under my brothers bed). Eventually, I got my shot. It was “TOTALLY WICKED!” The group broke up shortly thereafter, hanging out to play fantasy games with your little brother isn’t as cool as hot girls and faded blue jeans.

No One to Play With

For the next couple of years, I started writing fantasy short stories. They weren’t good. My obsession with world building began when I discovered the bargain bins at the local comic shop. A whole new set of worlds opened up with Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms and Grayhawk sourcebooks at my fingertips. I collected and read everything I could afford, including some Battletech books that I never actually used to play. For the next decade I built a world centered on my collected knowledge. Imagining I was Tolkien, I would sit for hours in my room sketching out maps and realms of kings and their histories. It was during this time that my brother was gifted Heroscape for his birthday. We quickly exhausted the scenarios included with the game and I started coming up with my own. Eventually, my father was drawn in and dusted off the persona of Raymon the Barbarian

Moving into Real Roleplaying

Before I left for the Navy, I was visiting my brother when I discovered Magic. He had picked up a pack of cards from somewhere and we sat on the back porch drinking and playing with a set of alpha’s. The game was a ball. More tactical then D&D, but still with a bits of story attached on every card. I continued my magic obsession throughout boot camp. Yes, I am from that generation that played Magic rather than Poker in the military. When I got to my first duty session people where playing something called Third Edition. We rolled up some characters and broke out some dice. Soon, it became a regular thing. I don’t know if our DM converted his Ravenloft adventures or if they were something published, but that campaign was the hay day of gaming for many years.

War-gaming Era

When I got out of the military my brothers and I played table top war gaming for a while. Mostly war hammer and war hammer 40k. We picked up the CCG Warlord and I still have the cards in my collection of miscellaneous games. It was a good game but it didn’t have the following of Magic and died off. I stacked away the setting in the back of mind like so many other things.

Hack-master and KoDT

For many years I worked away and started my own family. Time and effort for gaming faded to be replaced by the need to raise and feed small children. I stumbled across Knights of the Dinner Table while talking to a co-worker. That lead me to Hack-master and the game reminded me of my dad and brothers old sessions. For many years, the comic strips kept the gamer in side of me alive. Jolly Blackburn and the guys at Kenzer Co. are simply amazing.

Virtual Tables 3.5 and 4E

Between postings my little brother brought home a game he had been DM’ing in Korea. For his short leave we played a few sessions and the things I disliked about 3E seemed to have gotten an overhaul. He soon departed, a year later he called me and directed me to a site owned by Smiteworks. I downloaded a program called Fantasy Grounds II. We were connected. No matter where in the world my brother was stationed we could play. I felt like a little kid again. He put together a group and soon Orcs were mowed down and ogre’s chased us from their lairs. Good times. When my brother came home from Germany, WoTC was unveiling 4E. Some very creative gents put together a rule set and a small adventure to demo. My brother and I signed up and played from the same room via the VT with guys around the world. That first dungeon crawl had us hooked, he cast sleep on the dragon in the final room. When it was bloodied it tried to flee and my range twin striked it hitting once and missing once by just two. The dragon fled with only my missed arrow sparing its life.

We quickly put together a new group, some of our previous group made the switch and others didn’t. My brother DM’ed for the first six levels of that campaign and then handed over the reins when he got dispatched to Iraq. Since then I have been running the gaming group. The first campaign started at 6th level and continued on until 30th. We just rapped up a campaign thru 20th and our starting a new one now.

Enough Back-story

So this is my unleveled DM back-story. All this leads up to where we are today. I recently read Strange Magic’s/The Action Point’s articles on GM Merit Badges. The real cause for this whole article. This lead me to wonder about the type of game my player’s expect at my table. In an effort at transparency here it is:

1. Let the dice fall where they may - I roll my attacks etc in the open, the software can hide ‘em but I don’t. I only hide my rolls or ask my player’s to roll “in the box” for things they shouldn’t know they succeeded at. Whatever number on the dice comes up, I let stand no fudging.

2. Run - If it looks big bad and terrifying, it very may well be. I don’t protect my player’s from the unknown. At any level my encounters contain everything from house cats to elder dragons. If you run into it you should be able to deal with it, out think it or out run it. Going out into the wild is what the brave do. If you’re not brave buy a tavern.

3. PC Death - I have never had a TPK, I have come damn close. One character, the ranger, hiding in the woods with a single hit point left while the goblins search the country side. If you make a tactically dumb move I will kill your character. Ask the thief who was trapped in a ships hold with a dart trap. The trap triggers on a failed check, if the PC takes a short rest and heals, no death. WoTC lowered the skill check DCs six months later. I lowered them a month later.

4. House ruling -I will house rule a broken rule, or change a mechanic if it will bring the player’s more fun or add to the story. I won’t house rule a combination because it trivializes a single encounter and I won’t house rule something to make the game more tedious. If it improves the entertainment of combat or the story absolutely, change the rule. Stunned and Dazed slow the game down, I use them for very Iconic monsters or not at all.

5. Challenges - My challenges are meant to not only threaten the Player Characters but invoke the minds of the Players. Puzzles use the PC’s talents but need to have the gray matter of the player involved. My Character sheets all contain the Do Something Cool power set.

6. Player vs. Player - If you are taking out your frustration about another player out in character seek medical or psychiatric help, we are playing a game after all. If your characters actually come down on opposite sides of an issue and there is no way in character to solve the dilemma, I will not force a player to capitulate. I don’t believe in the excuse but that’s what my character would do. However, I have seen two players make decisions in character that have led to cross-party conflict down  the road. Example: One player, a paladin, promises to find a characters murderer, and another player, the rogue, swears a god oath to rescue an innocent man from being hung. The players at the time didn’t know it was the same guy. If it comes down to blows, so be it. If both individuals know out of character that its not personal. Let the dice fall where they may. That being said I don’t find the situation entertaining but I won’t hand wave it away either. I don’t use alignments.

7. Story - My story doesn’t matter. Your story does. My campaign is all about exploring your character, his/her/its weakness, strengths or values. If you come to bash heads you may not be as entertained as if you come with some idea of what you want to happen. Your characters goals drive the story. The more believable and heroic the goal, the more central to the story it becomes.

8. Mirror - I said it above, it's about its your story, I just fill in the mad libs. If you have a cool idea or a cool moment, I will take it and make it bigger and deeper and feed it back to you. So I guess I am a fun house mirror.

9. Improv - Nothing is set in stone. I will end conflicts early, never start them or turn a peaceful situation into a battle all on the attitudes and motivation of my NPCs. The adventure is a baseline. The city is interactive, the mission is abandon able, the quest a choice. The players choices make the story.

10. In Charge - I am in charge. If you know a rule I don’t, reminders are welcome. Debating the realities of the situation vs. the rules or my interpretation of the rules in game is a no-no. After the game I will listen to whatever evidence you can provide and make a ruling. Once, the ruling is made it will stand until new evidence is provided.

11. By the Book - If the rule exists and you can find it fast, amen. If not see above. I use the book to the letter unless I house rule it. House rules are announced at least a week before a game and put to a vote via the forums. Objections are raised and debated and a final group ruling posted. I am willing to change the situation as the story unfolds.

12. Maps - I make my own maps as time allows and plunder shamelessly. I always have access to thousands of maps and if push comes to shove will draw one on the fly for those spots that are marked here be dragons. If I have a map, I know what the challenging hindering, threatening terrain, single-use terrain, and hazards are. If not I have a chart for those maps I draw. The map is pretty colors so you can interact with it. If a map and description differ… the map wins.

13. Disturbing - I see mapped terrain in 3D. I see powers much in the same regard. When you behead that kobold with a critical hit. Bits of brain goo will fly up into your face, and blood will roll down his face. If you are eating or squeamish you better warn me. Before that warm bit of intestine spills out of your enemies gut and pools upon your brand new forest green elvish hunting boots.

14. Frightening - My bad guys are bad, they may have reasons and deluded justifications for why they are doing what they are doing, but they commit horrible acts that make my skin crawl. I want you to hate them. When I can pull it off ghosts and dungeons are creepy and full of the weird and fantastic.

15. Tactics - It’s a game, part of it is tactical combat, part of it is tactful negotiation either way the stakes are based on your ability to play your role in a group. Lone rangers tend to die. Groups that don’t work together lose characters. Groups that don’t think on their feat get eaten. Sometimes they get thrown up, most times not.

16. Drama - The dramatic element is your character living out his life. Its your choices and choices have impacts good and ill. Nothing happens in a pure vacuum and everything has unexpected results both good and bad. “In life I have failed more than I have succeeded but I love my wife and I love my life and I wish you my kind of success.”, Jerry McGuire. Stories are full of struggles and set-backs. You are never guaranteed victory, but you are guaranteed a climax.

17. Fate - You are fated to be a hero, so act like one. Get up when you get knocked down. Escape when you are captured. Die and have the love of your life fight the demon’s of hell to keep them from taking you. Heroic tales are not guarantees. Sometimes a hero doesn’t come home and we tell his tale any how.

18. Unknown - If it ain’t covered above then it can only be covered by saying “Don’t be a dick”, if you play nice with others, work together and have fun you will get no problems from me. If you are disruptive, rude, cruel, distracted, or down right no fun then I will tell you to hit the bricks. Everything else is a negotiation.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Keeping the oral tradition alive

Recently, NETFLIX released STNG to their instant programming. (STNG is geek speak for Star Trek the Next Generation). This gave me a chance to subject my children to the Klingon Civil War and my favorite Trek episode of all time “Darmok”. I was a little surprised by my children’s lack of understanding of the concept of communicating via “Oral Tradition”. When the episode originally aired in 1991 (Epidode 202 ,Season 5) I was already familiar with the oldest heroic story, Gilgamesh, which is referred to in the episode. I also was well versed in Homer, from my name sake Troy, and Beowulf. After all who doesn’t love Vikings. My kids had none of this knowledge to draw on and thus the episode’s meaning eluded them. After some intense discussion we came around to D&D, ie something that as a family that we have in common. I asked my eldest if I said Keidwe at Gosamar’s temple, what would it mean to him? He said, “A traitorous bard, who died.”  Eventually, we got it all sorted out.

Which reminded me of the dwarves in Barb and JC Hendee's "Through Stone and Sea". In the series the dwarves, a literate race, choose only to record the greatest achievements. The reason of course is that writing in stone is hard and takes real effort. Therefore, most of their history is taught and learned by rote. They believe that a person's words are a commodity to be traded for and just as valuable as silver or gold. Its an interesting concept and creates some difficult interactions that I won't delve into here. (Did I mention, I am a huge fan of dwarves?)

This brings me around to the real point of this article. D&D is a form of oral tradition. Everyone has been cornered by the guy who wants to tell you about his character or campaign. We communicate the histories of our adventures in much the same way as Homer heard the telling of the Illiad and the Odyssey or the Grimm brothers absorbed the Fairy Tales of the Black Forest. Over the last few weeks as I thought about the writing styles of these Epic tales an idea struck me. I almost cried out, “Sokath, his eyes uncovered!” Homer uses the oft repeated terms swift footed Achilles or glancing-helmed Hector. Even when Achilles is moping in his tents or Hector is in council with his father, these terms are used in place of their names. A moping Greek warrior is hardly fleet of foot while sitting on his hind-quarters but Homer still uses the term to refer to Achilles.  This method of description helped Orators with a catalog of characters, some minor and some major, to remember each name and their place in the story.

As I prepare my current campaign, a 4E version of Frandor’s Keep, I noted the names that the Kenzer Co writers used that stuck in my head.  Kiparus “call me Kip”, or Kylamar “Shorty” the Prophet are just a few examples. These NPCs stick out in my mind because their names are descriptive and not simply a series of letters. Kiparus is memorable due to the fact that he is friendly and draws the PCs in under arm as he says call me “Kip”. Shorty on the other hand is a tall lanky delusional.

Chris Perkins, among other writers and DMs, talks about making NPCs memorable with distinctive voices, quirks, gestures and habits. I am slowly coming to realize that naming a NPC Stuttering Stan not only triggers my memory for how to present him, but also triggers a mental image for my players even before I speak in character. Players calling out to go see the stuttering man, helps me to locate him quickly amongst my files without having to worry about a spreadsheet that can be sorted by name as well as description.

The telling of tales is a part of human history and culture. Despite the growing uses for the internet, it is sometimes the ancient methods that shed light on the play of today.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Gilgamesh, a king. Gilgamesh, a king. At Uruk. He tormented his subjects. He made them angry. They cried out aloud, "Send us a companion for our king! Spare us from his madness!" Enkidu, a wild man... from the forest, entered the city. They fought in the temple. They fought in the streets. Gilgamesh defeated Enkidu. They became great friends. Gilgamesh and Enkidu at Uruk.
Captain Dathon: [faintly] At Uruk.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: The... the new friends went out into the desert together, where the Great Bull of Heaven was killing men by the hundreds. Enkidu caught the Bull by the tail. Gilgamesh struck him with his sword.
Captain Dathon: [laughing] Gilgamesh.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: They were... victorious. But... Enkidu fell to the ground, struck down by the gods. And Gilgamesh... wept bitter tears, saying, "He who was my companion, through adventure and hardship, is gone forever."
[Captain Dathon dies]