Gamemaster School 7: The Play’s The Thing

Non-combat encounters to some people comes across as an affront to their sensibilities. Who would want to do something like talking when you could be fighting and getting loot and XP, such as what you see in a lot of satire of the RPG genre. Those Munchkin style players are not wrong  in their own way, such as some of the great Knights Of The Dinner Table stories, but much like I explained how to use social skills, I want to talk about use of other skills for encounters.

Skills to perform or create something are simple enough to incorporate, such as someone using their skill as a cook to get into a place or making art to sell at a museum. However, beyond this, depending on how travelled and/or skilled the person is, it is possible they may have fans and critics who could bump into them. Also, some things can have whole contests designed around performance and craft skills, like the Japanese with tea ceremonies and other formal skills that they would even have things like poetry contests among samurai at court in times of peace.

Hamlet had the quote, as I used as this article’s subtitle, ‘The play’s the thing to catch the conscience of the king’, talking about how they may be able to use the play to send a message. Other times, performers have been cover to thieves, assassins or kidnappers, thus why people would fear gypsies as criminals. A sort of built in cover while you do what you needed to. (more…)

Gamemaster School 6: Use Your Words

In the last post I breached the idea of social plots being a large game event as opposed to small scenes, and gave some examples but it was mostly theory and some movie and video game references without a lot of in game system weight to it. This one I am going to talk about how to actually create a social encounter to take full advantage of your player characters abilities.

Primarily, you need to have some reason for the social event to take place. That will be the basis of your plots requirements, such as finding who killed a family member or where the money is hidden or how to get into the secure building. This determines how many interactions this will have, since an investigation into a secret society is going to take more asking around than finding someone who can get you out of town.

Next you need to know the type of interactions needed. It could be as simple as a social meeting between vassal and leige in a medieval type game or it could be an interview/interrogation type scene for a police character or it is an criminal talking to a mark or informant to gain information. There are any number of reasons that you may come up with socialising with people, so just find something that fits the story. These let you know the situational modifiers of stats and RP issues that you are looking at, so that you can keep the scene interesting. After all, you want to paint the image for them, so they can get a feeling for the scene and also they can take part in it as much as they might a combat, as opposed to it being busy work between encounters. (more…)

Gamemaster School 5: Aggressive Negotiations

I see a lot of plots where it plays out a lot like a video game, or a Hollywood Action-Adventure movie. Heroes get a mission and charge off after it, slaughtering various creatures along the way, come back to get rewarded, and then a new adventure is given (this would be a sequel for movies, usually another chapter in most video games). This continues for a while with the occasional break for shaking things up, like a boat ride or a desert caravan run, perhaps some sort of minigame.

This party has usually a similar distributon to a Gauntlet game, and usually the same mindset; kill everything and take their stuff. It’s why Munchkin card games are as popular as they are, after all. However, this normally leaves the more social type skills by the wayside and can completely eliminate some great options for games. I’m here to try and bring back the social elements, similar to some of the stuff in my Bard post, but I want to go further now and give GMs ideas on how to make the most of social encounters, so much so that it is possible to have a session where you never need to draw a weapon.

Now, some people may say Game system X uses rules that are better for social than system Y, and I agree, that is a problem in some ways. You can be a great liar (Bluff) but the moment you try to tell the truth (Diplomacy) you lose all your skills in being a social person. Or games have ‘Social Combat’ rules like Exalted and Song Of Ice and Fire, have skills that work better for it. That they do, sure. But it doesn’t mean any system does not have the possibility of playing a social character. (more…)

Gamemaster School 3: Weather Or Not: Environment as a Non-Player Character

Joss Whedon stated with Firefly that the ship was the tenth character of the show. So much so that they built the full ship as two sets, the upper and lower halves, allowing filming to be done in a fully constructed ship. Compare that to Star Trek:The Next Generation where a corridor set was made to be every corridor in the ship and they had to write a scene in the engine room for the pilot or they figure they never would have made the set.

Firefly is at its core a space western and Serenity is their ‘wagon train to the stars’. So, it does have its own personality, as many objects seem to. Car people will tell you their cars have personalities, we will say our computers are out to cause trouble when they don’t work right. All sorts of things like that. But what about the world in general?

Shakespeare’s work had weather reflecting the acts of men. Bad weather any time something evil was happening, echoing the actions and giving the world a bit of a personality. Something that would work well in a role-playing game. (more…)

Fourthcore and Seven Sessions Ago

I know that the idea is long dead and gone, and some people will hate me for bringing it up, but I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the concept of Fourthcore. It was an idea by some people trying to use a different design philosophy for the adventures and thus bring about a shift in the resulting playstyle of the game, and I think it is something that I agree with because of what I’ve seen in a lot of adventures in different games, though maybe worked in a slightly different way.

Their key principles are broken down as basically:

  • Adventures should be DIFFICULT
  • Adventures should be DEADLY
  • Magic and treasures should be GREAT
  • Everything should be OVER THE TOP
  • The world should be BLEAK


Gamemastering School 1: Tell The Story Right

This is another mutli-part blog series I am starting to cover different topics that may be of use for those looking to get into Gamemastery or Storytelling or Dungeonmastery or Refereeing or whatever your system chooses to call it. Some may be old news to GMs who have been around for a while, but give it a skim, perhaps it’ll spark some new ideas.

My initial concept for this was an article talking about how video games had a lot of things they could teach GMs, even without going into the storytelling tropes to get various twists and turns for plots, just fundamental game design topics that would play into whatever story in whatever system you’re trying to tell, sort of in the style of these Revenge of the Gamer Chick  ‘Everything I need to know about GMing I learned From…’ articles on  X-Files and Babylon 5. However, as the writing went on, I began to find myself looking at other media for certain examples of things and with that brought about the idea of breaking it down into different genres but instead, I think I will break it down into different topics. Today, we’re going to look at some of the key fundamentals of storytelling.

The very first one I want to start with is one a friend of mine told me about. Always have something your players are striving towards, to keep them invested in the game. Now, this doesn’t mean always keep the players under the threat of death or failure but instead, always have it so they have at least one thing to keep working on. A perfect example of this is the video game Civilization. To quote Sid Meier when referring to the ‘One More Turn’ issue with his game, ‘There was never really a good place to stop playing. I’ve often found myself playing and then realized I’m late for a meeting.’

Dehydrated World, Just Add Water

This is the first in a series of posts I plan to write on some things to consider when making a campaign world, or using a published setting. I don’t know how many parts this will be, but each will focus on a different section, likely starting on the macro and work to the micro scale.

Whenever you run a game, you need somewhere to put it. A universe of sorts to run it in. It could be as simple as a single campaign world (or continent, country, city, even a single building depending on the stories you’re telling), or it could be something as complex as the mutliverse that comic books have or alternate timelines in Back to the Future style or a galaxy of planets like Star Wars and Star Trek and Spelljammer. Once you know how big you want it to be, you can then begin to populate the areas needed; don’t build any more than you need at the time however.

There are many different rulesets you can use to make systems, people and cities, each with their own pros and cons. Games like Traveller and Alternity have rules governing the creation of star systems and the planets in it while games like D&D and Pathfinder have rules for the specific cities you’ll find. There’s even some stuff like How to Host a Dungeon that creates the backstory to why the dungeon came out the way it did and who the players in the area are. You could even do a procedurally generated style like what goes on in Dwarf Fortress, or in pretty much any random table generated dungeon or overland trek you had with encounter tables. As a side note, even if you don’t play the game, I suggest you take a look at Dwarf Fortress world generation to see the sort of complex world histories that can be created, with the various connections. (more…)

Lest Dispelled Journal #3

I thought I had seen most things with the people in this city. But today when I awoke, the woman friend of the innkeeper was wanting to talk to me, asking me to help save the innkeeper. Of course, what could I say but yes to try and help calm the poor girl. I have found that since this whole thing started, I am… changing, somehow. I can see that not all the members of these cities are as… closed hearted and minded as the majority and maybe there is hope between a balance of nature and development. Maybe, but we’ll see. She did give me a good luck charm that she said was special, and so far I have no cause to say otherwise.

Of course, it doesn’t help that when I was leaving the inn to head out to try and deal with some of the weird stuff going on about the city that there was a small crowd of animals of all types just… watching the inn. Almost as if she was somehow reaching out to them. I think there was something said about how this could be a side effect of what is happening with he,r but I don’t know a lot about all this magic stuff. The way I look at it is that hokey religions are no match for a good weapon at your side, especially since the bears and wolves don’t care what god you worship. I’ve never seen them ask anyway. (more…)

Gorrilaz In The Mist

You think it’s fictional?
Mystical? Maybe.
Hero who appears in you to clear your view when you’re too crazy.
-Gorillaz, Clint Eastwood

I found myself watching Alice in Wonderland the other night and I saw an ad for the new animated Oz musical, and it got me thinking about a concept I’ve had for a while, adventures that just take place in your head. There are a few different kinds of adventures that way, so I’ll go over them all in turn. (more…)

About Six Inches

This title is a reference to a comment about the difference between being a dick and an a-hole.  The reason for it is because of something I’ve been hearing a lot lately regarding people’s perception of certain GM styles or writing styles or the like and they espouse this belief and share it to anyone who will listen. The problem with this when it comes to GMing especially is that we have no real frame of reference besides what works at our gaming tables and what works for you may not for someone else and vice versa.

For example, John Wick is one of the two big sources of what initially got me into writing these sort of posts. His approach to challenging the way people thought got him a lot of hate and a lot of love. If you look at the first article in his book ‘Play Dirty’, Hit Em Where It Hurts he is quite tought with some things and not afraid of it, especially if you start looking at some of his later works.

He states later in his collection that he is not a killer GM who seeks to rack up a body count for sake of a high body count, instead he is a dirty GM, throwing challenges at the PCs that are designed to be difficult and complex to make them have to work to win, and sometimes in telling the stories, all people see is how he was being unnecessarily hard on his players, but apparently at his table, that worked. (more…)