Roleplaying is a skill you can learn. Now, there is a textbook for it.
The Creative Roleplayeris a guide for those of you who are hungry for more. Whether a Player or a Game Master, this guide will elevate your game to the next level. Rich with simple, practical advice, it will transform the way you do everything. This system-neutral advice works with D&D, Pathfinder, FATE, GURPS and many more.
Inside, you will find:
tips for creating unique characters,
tools for building cities and civilisations,
advice on making the story memorable,
techniques for drawing your character (without needing artistic skills),
body language tricks for captivating your fellow players,
simple hacks for memorising stats and playing from memory,
And many more vital gaming skills. Every tool is fast and effective, optimised to give you the greatest result from the least effort. After applying these techniques, your game will run smoother and transfix your party. Your creations will be more memorable than ever.
Your imagination is wonderful. The world deserves your mental designs to be the best they can. With this guide, we can achieve that together.
A great way to enrich your roleplaying experience is to take your setting and mix it with a new one. D&D and Pathfinder tend to be high-fantasy: a world where no one is skeptical about magic. No one doubts the existence of gods. Humans live beside impossible creatures.
Where the fantastic is normal.
I’m a fan of Lovecraft. I love existential horror – that is, horror that threatens your view of the universe. If we discovered that evil, bloodsucking vampires live among us, I would rejoice. It would be a relief to find something objectively evil for the first time in human history. No moral grey areas – killing a vampire is a good act. Phew. The simplicity would be refreshing.
That’s different from learning that Lovercraft’s vision is true. The universe, beyond the tiny speck we inhabit, is impossible to comprehend. No matter what humanity achieves, no matter what utopias we build, our species is destined for dark, ignoble extinction. There are forces beyond our understanding that could wipe us out without effort. We survive by floating unnoticed as pond scum on the surface of reality.
Now that’s scary.
So, can we add Lovecraftian elements to, say, D&D? The answer is obviously yes, as the official setting has done exactly that. The Far Realms is a Lovecraftian location full of Lovecraftian monsters. But adding elements is easy – can we take it further?
As the Angry GM pointed out recently (and what got me thinking down this path) is that there is a fundamental mismatch in the settings’ themes. D&D is inherently optimistic – all fights can be won, all evils can be vanquished and characters can literally ascend to become gods. Lovecraft is ultimately pessimistic – victories are unlikely, costly and barely delay the inevitable destruction of the world.
When you combine the two, something has to give. Angry gave a great example in the above post about a Lovecraftian campaign in D&D. But, as he said, he compromised the pessimism. The threat was defeated, which means it was beatable. It seems like a small compromise, but it’s a compromise of a core principle.
I liked his setting. It got me thinking. Here’s my take on the same problem.
I’m a big fan of the public domain. While copyright, trademarks and patents serve their purpose, for me – the little guy – they can seem like obstacles. All too often I find myself needing an image, a character, some music – something that I don’t have the time, money or talent to acquire.
Fortunately, there are options. Copyright-free and royalty-free images and resources are plentiful. There are billions of materials (yes, literally billions) that have no rights or restrictions on their use. The trick is finding them.
But before we begin, three disclaimers. The first rule of all this is: always verify something’s legal status before using it. If you can’t find any licencing information, assume whatever it is is covered by copyright. If you think an image is public domain, check. And check again. It’s not worth the headache of getting this wrong.
The second disclaimer is that I’m not a lawyer. This is not intended to be advice, merely a summary of information pulled from elsewhere – a list can be found at the bottom of the article.
So, how do we avoid this perilous fate? Thankfully, images that are safe to use are often clearly labelled as such.
Creative Commons 0
An excellent place to start is to become acquainted with the Creative Commons site. Here is where you learn what you are looking for. While the rules vary from country to country, there are a few overarching principles.
Copyright provides the owner of material enormous power over that material. It restricts who can copy, distribute, modify and sell the material, among other protections. Creative commons, in contrast, lets people waive some of these rights. A person might decide to allow people to distribute their work, for example, but keep them from modifying it in any way. Someone else might say that people are free to do what they want with their work as long as it isn’t for commercial purposes. The exact protections vary.
It’s worth having a read of the different levels of protection. The granddaddy of them all, the gold standard, is Creative Commons 0 (CC 0). Anyone can use any material labelled CC 0. You can take it, share it, modify it, sell it, slap it on the side of a missile, whatever. If you see CC 0, you are good to go.
Well, almost. There’s still one thing to check.
If you ever see “some rights reserved”, check out what that means.
There is one restriction that can (though doesn’t always) apply to CC 0, and that’s attribution. Essentially, you can use the material for whatever, but you must include a link back to the original source. That’s not a bad deal, given that you are getting something for free. Still, it’s an easy thing to overlook. And if you forget to include attribution, your use of the material is not covered.
Some folk are very nice with this and explicitly state that they do not require attribution. In that case, you are under no obligation. Still, it’s a good habit to get into. I keep a text file in my Pictures folder. In it, I make a note of the link of the source material and the date I accessed it. If and when I use, modify and/or distribute the image, I attribute it.
Attribution where it’s not needed is overkill. So is Creative Commons 0, if you are using it for private use – there are different levels of protection that will cover you just as well. Still, it’s better to be safe than sued. And there is so much CC 0 stuff out there that it hardly seems limiting.
[Speaking of attribution: the Creative Commons logo I used as the header image is available through their website.]
I keep it bookmarked so I can easily search for photos, music, whatever. Note the disclaimer:
[Creative Commons] has no control over the results that are returned. Do not assume that the results displayed in this search portal are under a CC license. You should always verify that the work is actually under a CC license by following the link.
Some sites, like Flickr, have different licences for each photograph. In Flickr’s case, the licencing information is usually detailed near the image. There’s also the Commons category for public domain images.
Other sites such as Unsplash, Graphic Burger and Pexels only host CC 0 materials (in these cases, they are attribution-free as well). If a site has a licencing page, read it carefully before using any of the images.
The following sites are a wealth of public domain material. You can use these in your own projects, even if you modify them or are using them for commercial purposes. Always check material before you use it – look for CC 0 and remember to give credit to the source (just to be safe).
The mad wizard Golbern has awakened the Scorpion Legion from its eons of slumber. When they last arose, they almost destroyed the world. A mighty Archer, wielding the powerful Bow of Wisdom, eventually defeated them.
Before his death, the Archer buried the Bow. He believed that it was too great a weapon to remain in the world. But, should the Scorpion Legion rise again, clever and brave heroes could follow the clues that lead to its resting place.
The party found the Archer’s map in some ancient, forgotten library. One the back was scribbled the first clue…
Over the past few months, I’ve churned out some art based on humanoid races. I’ve experimented with different styles and techniques. Some of this art has been posted on Twitter, some of it has been used elsewhere in this blog. Some of it is fresh from my fingers.