Tabletop Gaming on a Budget

Holy crap, is Cirsova participating in a blog carnival again? It’s been ages! Like, I may have been a guest-blogger at Dice Monkey the last time I did one of these…

Renaissance Gamer is hosting this month’s Blog Carnival with the theme of Tabletop Gaming on a Budget.

Money is usually tight following the holidays, and gamers are not exempt from this. You are likely going into January gift-rich and money-poor. Which isn’t a bad thing, but it might mean your tabletop game spending has to take a backseat for a while.

Or does it? January’s RPG Blog Carnival topic is Tabletop Gaming on a Budget: how to get gold piece value gaming supplies and resources for copper piece prices. Useful just after the holidays? Sure. But maybe you’re new to the hobby and want to dip your toe before diving deep into your wallet. Or you want to try some new games without breaking the bank. Have you considered taking the leap into game mastering, but the laundry list of GM supplies is daunting? This month’s RPG Carnival posts will help you play games without spending big dollars.

This is the anchor post for the month, so if you’re taking part in this month’s carnival drop a link to your blog post in the comments below. If you just want the tips, bookmark this page and stop back throughout the month. I’ll also post a wrap-up at the end of the month, bringing it all together. And keep your eye on the blog, I’ll have my own post on the wonders and delights to be found at your local Dollar Store.

If you’re seriously concerned about gaming on a budget or are new to the hobby, there are a few things to consider.

Don’t: Buy a full set of core books. In fact, I’d say, don’t buy any core books until you’re certain what system you’re playing or running. I’m also not a fan of systems that are spread out across multiple core books (sorry, most editions of D&D!); these can prove to be a big money sink for potential players who don’t know what they want from a game or if they really want to play this or that system. Do: Research the game you want to play. If you’re new to tabletop gaming, there are a lot of great systems out there that are less weighty in terms of both rules and the literal weight of the stack of tomes you’re asked to invest in. My favorite version of Dungeons & Dragons (B/X) can be found for a few bucks in PDF; many clones of earlier editions are available for free–OSRIC’s presentation of 1st ed AD&D is much friendlier than the original in terms of organization of content.

Do: Buy a full set of dice (d4/d6/d8/d10/d12/d20). Don’t: Go all out and buy weird and highly specific or ridiculous dice with prime-numbered sides (d3/d5/d7/etc.). If you’ll be playing in a game that needs these, you can probably borrow rather than invest in the rather pricey sets.

Do: Get some cheap loose-leaf paper, a notebook, and some pencils. Character sheets are nice, but not essential. Still, good ones can be found free online for nearly any system. Don’t: Spend top dollar on a moleskine notebook, day-planners, calendars, etc. IF you’re running a game, a dollar-store calendar might be a good idea, because keeping track of time in a game is an essential aspect of running a meaningful RPG.

Don’t: Buy a whole bunch of miniatures. Miniatures are a ton of fun, and are sort of a hobby in their own right, but having totally accurate minis is not an essential component of tabletop gaming. Do: Find some cheap, but durable tokens that can be used. Most editions of D&D use combat rules that hinge on some use of miniature combat–some folks like theatre of the mind, but for that to work, you’re discarding a significant chunk of the actual game rules, and adjudication becomes a fuzzy “eh, whatever” instead of a fair game mechanic. The same applies for dungeon props, tiles, maps, etc. Those can prove to be hobbies in their own right as well, but if you’re new or on a budget, they’re extraneous and can be supplemented with all sorts of things (my group breaks out a Jenga set sometimes). It’s not the right time of year for it, but Dollar Tree carries halloween miniatures and decorations that double as dungeon dressing for cheap (I’ve got a bone gazebo! For a dollar!) But again, it’s extraneous.


RPG Blog Carnival: A Map of Alfheim

Enderra’s running this month’s Blog Carnival with the theme of New Worlds, exploration and discovery.

Shadow Over Alfheim takes place in an Imperial colony situated in the old homeland of a race of wicked elves.  The colony has only been around for less than a century, but is showing signs of failure.  While most of the goblins live harmoniously with the human settlers, some tribes have recognized that should the humans flee from the shadow of a returning Elf-king, a vacuum and opportunity will be left for those who can make their hay quickly.

The party in my game is in the service of a wealthy imperial aristocrat in Portsdam with a fixation on collecting elven artifacts.  Some of these he is selling to the scholars of the Imperial University of Arcane and Human Studies back in the Imperial City to raise funds to undertake massive public works projects in the failing colony.  The others may be put to more insidious ends.

While my game doesn’t have the freedom of a hexcrawl, I’ve tried to keep it as sandbox as possible while maintaining enough rails that I can be prepared for wherever the party ends up choosing to go.

Map of Alfheim

RPG Blog Alliance Blog Carnival – Community

It’s been ages since I participated in an RPG Blog Alliance Blog Carnival, and figured it was about time to jump back in again. It seems fitting that this month’s blog carnival subject is the RPG Blogging Community and it’s being hosted by Dice Monkey, a blog that I briefly wrote for.

To that effect, I’ll use part of this post as an apology to Mark: I’m sorry I dropped off as a writer at Dice Monkey; it’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, it’s that my company changed our web settings to filter out game related sites, so I couldn’t post anymore. It’s a lame excuse, but I was also going through a really depressed time and didn’t think I’d be missed.

I did benefit a lot from my brief stint there, though, in that I’d totally hit it off with Dither of Rumors of War after my post about the ‘spear’iority of long pole weapons, and it’s been an endless back and forth between us on game design and GMing theory ever since.

Thanks in part to filters, but largely from being set in my ways, the portion of the RPGBA community that I’m involved with an interact with has shrunk down to a handful of my personal favorites. In addition to Rumors of War, I regularly follow Random Wizard, Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog, Tower of Zenopus, d20 Dark Ages (and the new site), and Teleleli (which got me involved not only in the RPGBA community but back into writing and blogging in the first place following my mid-life crisis).

I’ll also give a shout-out to Shortymonster, wherever he is. So far as I know, he doesn’t blog anywhere anymore, but he was one of my first real acquaintances within the community.

It’s awesome to know that I’m also out there on some side bar links and, of course, the Great Blog Roll Call.  The RPG Blogging Community has been a great boon to me and helped me cope with having to give up my life as a failed music magnate who once played offensive horror punk, grating industrial and sci-fi coldwave.

A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal Blogfest

Wow, this snuck up on me! I’ve been crazy busy and kind of sick this week, so it was almost by pure accident that I noticed a link mentioning that today was supposed to by our theme reveal for next month’s A-Z blog challenge.

I will be posting about…


…Fantasy settings, trappings and inspirations.

Yeah, big surprise, huh?


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Blog Carnival: Food & Fantasy

Welcome to the Food & Fantasy Blog Carnival! For the next two weeks (Jan 8th – Jan 21st), Cirsova invites you to share your stories about food and gaming. What? Cheetos and Mountain Dew? No! That’s not what we’re talking about! We’re here to explore the exotic cuisines of your fantasy worlds and the opportunities to bring them out of the game world and into reality, adding a unique touch to your game.

One of the things that makes fantasy games appealing is the diversity of peoples and cultures that inhabit the fantasy world. These worlds can be just as diverse or even moreso than our own world. And in our own real world, one of the most common ways to experience a different culture is through its cuisine! Most Americans have never been to Mexico, China, Japan, Italy, etc., but most have eaten Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Italian food or some synthesized American facsimilie thereof. Similarly, gamers have never been to kingdoms of dwarves, elves, orcs or halflings, but perhaps they can experience it through their cuisine or some synthesized gaming-table facsimilie thereof.

The food of a culture will reflect a lot about their tastes, the sort of livestock and produce they have access to, cooking technology, as well as any cultural or religious mores they may have about foods and eating. Perhaps a group of dwarves might have some equivalent to kosher or halaal dietary requirements?

In a game that a friend of mine ran, one of the towns had a signature snack that was served in all of the inns and taverns. The snack was a toasted bagel with pico de gayo and smothered with melted cheese (one party member was playing a Rabbi cleric so the spreads were a kosher snack). The session after these were first introduced, the DM brought the fixings, baked them up and let everyone have the real thing! It wasn’t fancy, and upon reflection was basically a variant on a bagel pizza, but it was something that was brought out of the game world into reality in a very tangible (and tasty!) way.

In Cirsova, the Marshfolk of Illi have a stew called “Gullodana”, which is a huge pot of slow-cooked fish and fowl and other things. Something like that might present an opportunity to toss some things into a crockpot, hope for the best, and serve to the players. If it’s weird and not particularly great? It’s a cultural thing, an acquired taste. “Man those Marshfolk eat gross stew!”

There are lots of things you can do! Do your players like to drink alcoholic beverages? Make homebrews that are world specific! Do dwarves like dark stout ales and elves like hoppy lagers? You can find handy guides online on how to make mead for your vikings.

For this carnival, share your stories about how food was worked into your games, ideas for developing fictitious cultures through their cuisine, any anything else food and gaming related you can think of (even if it is Cheetos & Mountain Dew)!

The Ice Shall Take Us

Originally posted here as part of the Winter Is Coming Blog Carnival.

This song arrives to us in a fairly ramshackle form, such that its origins and meaning may be open to debate for some time, however the grim outlook contained in the poem, its link to the lost Northern Civilization in context of what we know of them through Polaris, brings sufficient concern to the academic community in regards to how we perceive the Northern Civilization, how Northern Civilization perceived itself and how the Polarans perceive their relationship with the heartland Cirsovan culture.

The song itself is only known to have been committed to writing in recent history, not long after the rediscovery of far Northern culture.  A linguist from Delivals, who travelled with one of the first parties to entreat Polaris to open her doors to trade, claims to have heard the song sung in the court of Gaciall.  It is important to note that the linguist claims to have never heard the song in its entirety, nor did the song sound the same upon subsequent hearing.  The order of the three stanzas he preserved is an interpolation; and a note accompanying the manuscript remarks that each of the three stanzas was never heard in accompaniment with the other two.  It is therefore thought that there are either three different songs, with similar structures, themes and lyrics that were sung in the court during their visit, or a single long-form song that may have been sung over the course of many nights.  In either case, these three stanzas are all that remain of what is probably a significantly longer piece.

Also problematic, the text is based on an early attempts at phonetic transcription of the then unknown language of the Polarans (who, it is said, were able to pick up Cirsovan in a matter of days “…as though the tongue had been their own, once, in a near forgotten dream.”).  Since the poem was written down, much has been learned about the language of the Polarans, and from that, corrections, interpolations and a translation has been able to be made.  This translation, which has been more or less accepted by the scholarly community, was done (unfortunately) with little to no direct input by any delegation of Polaran academes, who refuse to acknowledge the manuscripts as anything but fabrication and deny that it was ever sung by the minstrels in the noble houses of Polaris.  Despite this insistence, the corroborating reports and similar transcriptions (which have been used to eliminate many lacunae in the earliest version), indicate that this song, or a variant thereof, was still being sung for a few years after initial contact. At present, the song is not sung in Polaris or anywhere else.

1          Someday, the ice shall take us,(1)

And thus we wait and dream.(2)

Our brothers and sisters have gone before us (3)

Taken by the ice.

5          What sins we must atone for,

Grave they were indeed,

That we must forget them, lest we commit them again.

Ignorance is our curse, to take with us to our grave

The unspeakable atrocity to our name (4)

10        That none below us know. (5)

Someday, the ice shall take us,

And thus we wait for death.

The wizards of old had conspired against us (6)

Condemning us with ice.

15        Their sins are ours and ours theirs,

Grave they were indeed.

We still remember in our dreams, where we commit them again,(7)

That which we forget upon waking, yet strain our thoughts

To remember that which we must remember to forget(8)

20        That none below us know.

Someday, the ice shall take us,

And thus we wait to starve.

When traders will not brave the roads for us,

And all remains is ice. (9)

25        Our beds and dreams are all we have

And Graves they are indeed.

We shall sleep a final sleep, and in dreams shall come again

To that distant land we called dominion, kingdom, home,

That we may escape our past (10)

30       That none below us know.

1. This line appears as the first in all stanzas, in all transcriptions, in all accounts of the various songs.

2. Because we know so little about the Northern Civilization, we are unsure if the use of Shuul is exclusive to Polaris or if it were ubiquitous throughout their culture.  As the ice sheet grew, more and more of their cities must have been either abandoned or destroyed.  Thus, it cannot be said with any certainty that the song originated in Polaris or was an older traditional lament.

3. The words here used for “Brothers and Sisters” are actually proper names (Tyurani and Velina), either of gods or historical figures whose name have become synonymous with Men of the North (“Tyurani”), Women of the North (“Velinai”), and when used together, as here, “People of the North” (“Tyuravelinai”). No Polarans have ever confirmed or denied that they are or refer to themselves as “Tyuravelinai”

4. Lines 5-9 refer vaguely to a crime or betrayal, but many of the Polaran words used here have awkward translations; some Polaran linguists claim this is best described as “the Thing Which Should Not” (be done, be forgotten, be remembered, etc.; this is a commonly used phrase in Polaran).  Some anthropologists argue that this may be a reference to the story of Jorgora. However, since neither this song nor the tale of Jorgora have any known dating other than that they were composed before Cirsovan contact, the Jorgora connection cannot be confirmed.  A more popular theory supposes that it refers to something which occurred deeper in the heartland of the Northern Civilization.  Whatever it was, many theorize it is part of a deep-seated cultural guilt on which they blame (justly or unjustly) the Ice age which pushed their civilization to ruin.

5.  The word Polarans use for outsiders, “wyhossa”, means “those who live below (to the south) of us”, hence the choice of translation for this refrain. Whether “wyhossa” here means outsiders (non-Northerners) or more literally “People to the south of us” is uncertain, muddying speculation on whether the song was Polaran or had its origins further North.

6. Some versions, “dreamers” instead of “wizards”.

7. Lines 15-17, again, the collective guilt for a deed they feel has doomed them.

8. Lines 18-19 are a commonplace riddle or tongue-twister, still used now and then in Polaris by Shuul users.

9. Though lines 22-24 appear to refer to the Long Road, the circumstances could very well be universal among Northern Cities that were falling victim to the encroaching ice.  There would come a point that the surrounding areas would be too barren to provide enough food for the populace and the city would be forced to rely on imported food to sustain itself.  As the cold moved further south, the cities could be cut off from roads and slowly starve.  One case made for the farther north origin of the song is that scholars question why Polarans were already singing of the trade-route closing just as it was being opened.

10. Lines 25-29: Little is known about the beliefs of the ancient northerners, but it would seem from this, and other writings, many preferred to remain in their doomed cities than migrate to warmer climes. Oddly, neither the word “Shuul” nor reference to “the Kingdom of Shuul” is found in any transcriptions. Again, we do not know if these songs reflect the contemporary and modern views of the Polarans, as the songs have not be sung there for some time.  Still, it gives us a fascinating glimpse into the outlook of the first Polarans encountered by the Empire, and perhaps a snapshot of a culture that had resigned itself to disappearance.

Blog Carnival – Writing the Game

Triple Crit is doing a blog carnival, Writing the Game, this month about writing in/and RPGs.

I don’t consider myself a particularly great writer. I’ve written a lot of stuff, and even write professionally, but sometimes it’s a struggle. Still, it’s a struggle I’m committed to.

In the times I’ve DMed, I’ve always had reams of paper, scribbled maps, stacks of stat sheets, pages of short speeches, responses and other canned dialogue, even things that looked like a cross between “Choose your own adventure” and a one act play. Cirsova (and every post marked “Encyclopedia Entry”) was partially born from such a stack of notes.

One thing I’ve always liked has been tangibles in gaming. They can add a lot to the feel you’re trying to establish. Something simple that the player can hold onto and maybe stuff in their character folder (or wad up in their pocket).

1. Letters

Your party’s characters don’t live in a vacuum (unless you’re running a space campaign). They might have friends, loved ones, acquantances, important contacts, bosses, etc., all of whom might want to try to get in touch with them from time to time. How touching, it would be, to receive a letter from a friend, family member or lover, wanting to hear from them. Or maybe it could be warning of trouble and pleaing for help. Maybe a benefactor has sent a parcel with a note. This gives you a great opportunity to add flavor to your world and give the players a bit more of an emotional stake in the game. Write the letter & give it sealed to the player who receives it. They can keep it to themself or share it with the party. It will make your players feel special that they got letters. Just be sure not to play favorites & spread the love.

2. Missives & Pamphlets
Maybe a local fellow has gotten ahold of a printing press and fancies himself Thomas Paine, writing political diatribes, and the lord wants you to see if rebellion is on the horizon. Or maybe your players are riding throughout the land, distributing the missives to rally the peasants to revolt against a cruel lord? In either case, how neat would it be for players to have the chance to take a peek?

3. Wanted posters.
Make up & print out wanted posters using original or stock art.

4. Books.
This can be a tougher one. Books are a part of any game world, and none has incorporated them better than the Elder Scrolls. You don’t need to write huge novels or anything, but if there are books that contain important information that is relevant to the story and the game world, it wouldn’t to write up a few paragraphs of actual text as well as a brief summary of what information is actually gleaned from it (unless it’s self evident).


Winter is Coming II Blog Carnival

You may have noticed I’ve got a new image link over there on the right.  That’s because i’m taking part in the Winter is Coming II Blog Carnival that is being hosted over at Dice Monkey.

Be sure to check it out!  I’ll have a guest post up over there on Friday.

Join in the fun!


Also, yesterday, Varg  told me that he might grant me an interview about his RPG  when it’s closer to being published.  I hope he means it!