Jul 222013

I understand that it is widely known, understood, and lamented in games mastering circles that plans do not survive first contact with players. True, it makes for an interesting game, keeps us on our toes, and means we rarely run the risk of being thought of as predictable, because we’re often just making it up as we go along, but it can be a little tiresome at times. After many years as a GM, this is something I have not only come to accept though, but to look forward to. At it’s absolute worst, it can be highly frustrating, and today I want to talk about one facet of this issue that has struck me twice in succession; never knowing who the players are going to trust.

When I create NPCs, I don’t just make up a bunch of antagonists. At the start of any campaign, it’s quite nice to know that there’s at least one person who has the best interest of the player characters at heart, and might just be able to keep them out of trouble for a while. This isn’t some catch all plot device to steer them away from mistakes; they are more than entitled to make as many as they would like. This is the person who gets them an early contract, maybe even gets put on retainer by their boss to help keep them supplied. Not every trip down to Guns & Ammo needs to be part of the adventure, so having a valet or some such to nip down and pick up things that could eat up adventuring time should be a good thing.

Since I also like creating interesting NPCs just for the fun of it, I tend to make them more than just two dimensional caricatures, but instead give them a reason to be involved in the plot for more than because someone higher up tells them to be. This has in the past been because of a desire to find answers about a missing relative – that the PCs have some information on already – or the need to get a particular voting block on side in time for a Presidential Primary. On both of these occasions, the NPCs in question went above and beyond the call of duty in assisting the player characters in any way they could.

So of course, the players thought they must be up to something, and promptly began to suspect their every action as having sinister undertones. *sigh*

Not the end of the world though, as I got to role play out some rather righteous indignation, and storm off – figuratively, as I was still the GM – when the players continued to call into question the motives of one of the these NPCs. While admittedly fun, it can get in the way, and cause massive delays to the game, which sucks when you GM on a yearly schedule. What is there that can be done about this situation then?

Well, the simplest seems to be to stop using friendly NPCs and let the players flounder around without help, as that is exactly what they deserve. Yeah, read that back and realise just how petty it sounds, so we won’t be doing that will we? We’ve all (hopefully) moved away from a generally antagonistic relationship between players and GMs by now. What we can do though is cut down how important these friendly and helpful NPCs are, and it shouldn’t make too much of a difference. But as I mentioned earlier, that could mean missing out on some great opportunities to role play while GMing, and also run the risk of these characters being the two dimensional puppets we were hoping to avoid.

Instead, I think it could be time to subvert the players expectations, by giving them almost exactly what they expect. Let the NPC get mad, let them storm off with the players feeling proud of themselves for getting one up on their presumed enemy. An enemy who will now be looking for ways to strike back at them, but subtly. Let the NPC maintain the charade of a good working relationship after apologising for leaving in a bad mood, and continue to have them help out wherever possible. But things start happening a little later than the players would like, and substandard help is all that is now provided. The players will soon complain again, that much is a certainty but now the NPC just meekly apologises, biding their time.

They have been inside the machine of the player character’s organisation, and could jam any number of spanners into the works, all while being the most contrite bugger in the world. And when enough damage has been done, and the PCs really need some help to get their arses out of the fire, the friendly NPC who wanted to help is nowhere to be seen.

That’s just one idea of course, and I imagine that this has happened to a lot of the readers of this blog, so why don’t you share those stories below, either from a Gm stand point, or what any payers out there might think about this.

May 202013

We buy rule books for role playing games at the drop of a hat. We buy for them for the interesting setting, the pretty pictures, and the promise of the fun we can have when we get together with our group of friends and throw some dice. What’s strange though, is that in almost every case, most of the pages are given up to something that we are told fairly early on is optional. If we don’t like the way a rule works, or if it doesn’t fit in with our style of play, chuck it out or change it. And today, this is what I want to talk about.

As the keenly observant amongst you may know by now, I’ve spent a good few months running a Cyberpunk 2020 game. I have spoken briefly about one little addition I have made, but since it doesn’t really change the rules at all, rather the way in which the outcome of a ruling is described, I can’t really include that in this larger discussion. I have changed a few things however, and they fall into two vague categories; things changed before the game began, and things made up on the fly. As for the former of those, it came down to combat.

I like my combat to be quick, involving as few die rolls as is possible, but still giving a nice range of options and probabilities. I think to this day, my favourite combat system comes from a game that a couple of my friends are putting the finishing touches onto now: Orbis. One percentile roll – modified by your opponent’s defense score – lets you know if you have successfully hit, where on the body the hit lands, and how much bonus damage you’ve done as a result of hitting stronger/more precisely. After that, you roll the actual damage dice – modified as mentioned above – and you’re done. Bloody simple, but still gives plenty of room for tactical combat if that’s your bag. I wanted to make CP2020 a bit more like that, but keeping the essence of the system.


Click for image source

As it stands, the rules require a combat “roll off”, with attacker and defender trying to get the higher result. Then hit location, followed by damage. This takes just a bit too long, so I figured out a rough formula for calculating a “Dodge/parry” score based on skill sand stats already in play, wrote that on the character sheets, and combat had one less dice roll to worry about. Not the most all encompassing solution, but it worked for me, and the players seemed to like that combat was less about rolling and counter rolling, and more about trying to engineer the encounter so that their Parry/dodge score was higher than it should be. Now, that’s all well and good, but I think the harder part of the GM’s job comes about when a rule call needs to be made mid-game, and the time it would take to flip through the rule book for a long forgotten bit of trivia is time wasted.

This is when you need to be a games designer in the heat of the moment. The reason for this is that the ruling you make shouldn’t be made for that one situation. If something like this happens again, then you’re going to want to make the exact same calling, and for it to still make sense. If you’re wondering why this is so important, the simplest reason is a complicated word: verisimilitude. You want your players to know that if the world works in a certain way one day; then the next week, it’ll still be the same. So, it needs to make sense in the wider context of the system that exists, and also the way the game is currently being played.

In the past few years I’ve returned to being a GM much more frequently, and I find the challenges invigorating, but I was surprised at how often I was having to make such calls. Years back, I would have had a much higher degree of familiarity with the rules system, and would only really need to make on the spot rulings if a situation arose that simply wasn’t covered by the rules in any way, rather than because I couldn’t exactly recall something. The more I have been doing it though, the more comfortable I became, and the more I was happy to make calls, knowing that they would be consistent and fair. Even things that weren’t really rules calls, such as the price of an item that wasn’t covered in any of the massive shopping lists that are a huge part of the Cyberpunk 2020 game books; I came close to asking my player to hang on while I tried to find out the price, but then a few seconds later realised that most expedient way to continue was to just name my own price, jot it down in the book, and move on!

So, all that said, is this something that other people enjoy, or are you happier to hold off on a ruling and look it up later? I’m not going to ask if you’re happy to pause the game while you look it up, as I imagine that you all know better than that by now.

Apr 292013

I suck at poker. I understand the game, and have a high level of familiarity with the rules, but I am usually the first or second player out of a group to lose all their money. This is down to my atrocious poker face, and it’s becoming something of a hindrance during my current game.

When I GMing, I like to run games with a hint of mystery about them. Luckily, a lot of my players feel the same way, so I get to indulge this habit fairly regularly. What’s becoming a problem though is the same as it is when I pay poker; I tend to get quite excited about what’s going on. When you have two aces in your hand and a third sat on the table, getting excited means no one will take your bet, and you stand to lose a few chips. When it happens during a role playing game, you can give away valuable plot point information and reduce the investigation element of the game to naught. I don’t think I’ve been that bad so far, but I know I have been pushing my luck.

I’m sure all GMs have had that moment when they grind their teeth a little, silently screaming things such as, “You were given this clue last week!”, or, “Share the information, it’ll all make sense then”! But players don’t often do what we want or expect, and that’s a great thing. After one particularly worrying moment in my Cyberpunk game, the players wandered into a meeting with a very important person after receiving a tip-off from someone that I thought they would trust that the VIP was almost certainly going to kill them. He told them to stay the hell away from the meeting, and to not even go back to their homes. He even left them a substantial amount of money so that they could go on the run without having to worry about where their next meal was coming from, or keeping a roof over their heads until they got settled.

So of course, they went up to the meeting, and were promptly held at gun point by the VIP’s personal goons.

Should I have been surprised by this? Of course not. No GM should ever be surprised by the actions taken by players in their games . But I did get a bit exasperated, as it was far from a subtle clue that something was amiss. It was a comment from one of my long term players and best mate ever that really made me rethink my response though, and also made me want to get some thoughts down on the blog, “dude, you’re forgetting that we don’t know the script”.

Now of course this is true, but I have found myself giving the game away on several occasions recently, not just because the group went against the grain, but often when they did something that I really wanted them to do. Awarding experience for coming up with a great plan, or putting together a bunch of disparate clues to come up with an answer that makes sense is a great idea. Doing it the moment they come up with said plan is a very explicit way of saying that they’re on the right track. Even worse though is just straight out complimenting the player in question for figuring something out. If they know they’re on the right track, they have little reason to explore other ideas even if it would make sense for the characters to do so.

Luckily I have once again been blessed with players who role play to the hilt and really don’t let themselves get swayed by my inability to keep things under wrap, but in a different group, this could be a real problem. So from here on out, I promise to try harder to keep a straight face. To only give the player characters clues that they would get from in character actions rather than through rewarding them for doing what the GM wants. This should be no problem, as instead of handing out XP as and when they do something impressive, I’ll just be keeping a tally during games, and handing it out in the post game wrap up. Hopefully this will mean that they won’t know exactly what it is that they’re being rewarded for, and will incentivize them try out new and cool ideas.

I would hope that this problem doesn’t affect too many other GMs, but if it has been a problem for you in the past, either as a player or a GM, I’d love to hear from you, especially your solutions.

Apr 152013

If you have been following my other projects of late, you might think it a bit odd that I’m writing a blog post about not using published adventures less than a fortnight after I uploaded my very own adventure onto DriveThruStuff. Bear with me though, as it will all make sense.

A while back I wrote a little article about a way of cutting down on prep time for running games without sacrificing quality. I think this is very important to a lot of GMs who sometimes don’t get the chance to put the love care and attention into their stories as they would ideally like. We all have lives away from the table, and even when I was young and just starting out in this wonderful little hobby, and had little in the way of responsibility, there were still occasions when a game needed to be run, and there was little prepared in the way of plot-lines and rounded out antagonists. When this happens, it can be sorely tempting indeed to pick up an adventure that someone else has written and put in all the leg work on. It might seem like you’re saving yourself a lot of hassle and time, but sadly, this is very rarely the case.

It’s easy to think that because it’s all laid out there in front of you that you won’t have to do so much to run said game, but I have never found that to be the case. The last time I ran a  pre-written adventure was to try out the system for Only War, a Fantasy Flight Games RPG set in the popular Warhammer 40k universe, all about the Imperial Guard. I went in very prepared for this, and had read the entire Dark Heresy rulebook before hand, as the adventure only had quick start rules, and I didn’t want to be caught with my pants down. Metaphorically speaking…

Even that wasn’t enough though, as I was constantly worried that I was forgetting things that the adventure had included that could be important later on. I am in fact fairly sure I missed out one entire NPC, and got two others mixed up, but I hope that my players never realised. And this is my biggest problem with written adventures; since I never came up with the idea, I feel bad about changing any detail, as it could change the ending, or at least the conclusion. If I’m running an adventure I have created myself, I know the exact thought process behind every decision made when writing it, and where any thread could lead, because I was the one doing said writing.

If I’m working with someone else’s intellectual creation, I don’t know why they made the decisions they did, and sometimes these questions can only be answered by actually playing the game. At which point – if it goes wrong – it’s a bit late to back-track and reevaluate as your players will already have seen the fumble.

Now, there are exceptions to this, as there to everything – except the second law of thermodynamics – and these are adventures written with multiple paths within them. The best example I have seen of this recently was in an adventure I was lucky enough to be able to review as part of Modiphius‘ campaign to back their Achtung! Cthulhu! Kickstarter campaign. From the get go, this laid out a few paths that could be taken, dependent on the wishes of the players, and the abilities of the characters.

This is a much better way of writing an adventure, but can still take more time to prep than if you are running your own adventures, because you still have a written conclusion that really should be the final aim. Going into an adventure expecting it to end in a certain way means being prepared for all the eventualities that a group a of players will throw at you, and when doing so within the confines of another person’s ideas, it can be tricky to do so without it coming across as the most rail road-y of rail roads.

Is there still a time to run published adventures? Well, of course there are! The adventure I keep subtly linking you to was written for a gaming tournament. It was supposed to be played over two session split by a lunch break, and in such a way as to be as close to the same as possible for two different groups, so that they could be judged fairly against each other. This is an extreme example, but I’m sure that a lot of GMs out there write adventures ahead of time if they’re going to be running a game at a convention. This is the kind of time we really like having the leg work done for us.

The important thing to remember though, is that just because some has started the job for you, that doesn’t mean you get to put in any less effort. If you want the payers to have a good time, then you need to know the adventure just as well as if you had written yourself…

Apr 082013

Everyone in their gaming life has had that one awful game, the one that totally ruins the system and setting for you, even if the fault is with neither of them. Today I will talk about my own, and hopefully steer any budding GMs who happen by this page, the hell away from making the same mistake as one certain GM did. I don’t want to name names here, so for the sake of anonymity, the GM in question will henceforth be known as ‘Betty’.

werewolf-rpgBetty made a mistake that it’s all too easy to do when you’re starting out in a game. She fell head over heals in love with a game based on her experiences with it while playing one particular character. The games was Werewolf the Something, and she had created a kick-ass Garou we shall name ‘Philip’. (Creating random names is not my strong suit as a GM.)

Betty had a marvelous time playing Philip, for the whole month that game lasted. It was meant to go on longer, but the GM and all the players were a tad unreliable, and after a month the whole thing just fell apart. It happens, and there really was no one to blame. I was only aware of this game after it had collapsed, and after listening to young Betty wax lyrical for some time about how awesome a game it was, and how sorry she was that she never got to get any further under the skin of Philip, a few of our mutual friends suggested she pick up a rule book, and take a shot at running it herself. One thing you want – if not need - from a new GM is a certain level of enthusiasm. Betty had this in spades, and due to her infectious enthusiasm, it wasn’t long before about half a dozen of us were looking forward to playing it too.

At this point I already had some experience in the World of Darkness, having spent around a year playing in a live action game of Vampire, the thing-a-me-jig, and it is there that I acquired my now permanently in place nick-name. So, I had a vague idea of what to expect, but there were still surprises to be had. What shouldn’t have been a surprise was how short a time it took for the player characters to meet a certain wolf named Philip.

Click for image source

Click for image source

I couldn’t tell you the mission we were to be involved in, all the fine details of that game have faded from memory, replaced by one very tragic fact. Betty loved Philip a hell of a lot more than she loved the game. And by game, I mean the system, the setting, and the actual sessions she was running for her players. We first met Philip about one round into the opening fight scene. I have since been led to believe that it is possible to run a game of Werewolf without there being fights in every other scene, but at the time I would have found that hard to believe.

As a player group we were holding our own, but getting a bit bruised. Then, out of nowhere, sprang Philip, and we watched in dumb amazement as he tore his way through the enemies leaving behind him a fine red mist and enough hair on the floor to cover 17 barbershops. I don’t think we were quite as grateful as we were supposed to be though, as a very big deal was then made about cool it was that he’d saved our lives, and that he was going to help us get to where we needed to be. When we got there, some high ranking elder wolf told us that the mission we were to go on was obviously too dangerous for us, so it would be best if Philip tagged along.

Now, if Werewolf the Roleplaying is not a game you are familiar with, it will be difficult to get across how much a pain in the arse this was. Imagine a similar situation in a D&D style game. All the player characters are half way to picking up that fabled second level, and the GM thrusts a level 9 fighter into the mix and says that it’s because we’re not good enough. That my friends, is not cool.

Any time a GM feels the need to pull the players out of fire, it shows that they might not have done such a good job of setting up the game – I’m going through something similar myself in my Tuesday night game, so I’ll report back on that later – but this was a very different problem indeed. There might even be an actual term for this kind of thing, but at its root, we go back to the article title; Player characters make for terrible NPCs. Betty didn’t want to run a game, she wanted to carry on playing Philip, and when that happens, you need to rethink your motivation for picking up a whole fistful of dice.

If this has happened to you; please, back away from the character sheet. Put it in a clear plastic envelope and restrict yourself to sharing stories about how rad they were. True, this will still be a bit annoying, but it is a far better solution than alienating your players.

As a post script to that session, I turned up the following week, hoping it wouldn’t be that bad again, to find that only one other player had shown up at all. And it was worse. Betty didn’t even bother rolling for the other characters who were without players, instead letting Philip do just about anything that needed to be done. One week later, I was reliably informed that no one turned up to her game. Poor Betty. I hope her and Philip were happy being alone together…

Mar 262013

RPGBlogCarnivalLogocopy1-227x300Kobalt Enterprises are hosting this months RPG blog carnival, and I’ve been wracking my brain to think of something suitably epic to qualify. True, there have been some excellent moments in games I’ve been in, and I don’t want any GMs to feel bad for not being the one who got a personal mention. That is why I have made a very self referential decision and decided to show off about one of my moments of epic GMing.

I know this is going to sound big headed, but please, bear with me. As I wrote recently, I was not the easiest gamer to get along with back in the day. I thank all of my current friends for sticking with me as long as they did, giving me the time to grow into the capable and socially aware gamer/GM I am today. The reason than I’m picking a moment of my own GMing for consideration is that it came during this rather bloody awkward phase of my life. I had bought my first full RPG system, the original Deadlands game, and had been running it for a few months with mostly positive results. I then decided to try something a bit different, and if it had gone wrong, it could have been catastrophic. What I did was simple in its way. I invited the players to tell me stories instead of having me tell them one for the night. It was a bit more involved in than that, and if you want the full details, and maybe even to try it out for yourself, then head on over to Stuffer Shack where I wrote about it as part of my weekly column.

It went superbly, and I can’t thank the players enough for joining in. It might seem like quite a bit of extra effort, but trust me, the pay off is worth it. So there you have it, a moment of GMing epicness, and it came from a rather annoying young man who had only just discovered the thrill of being a GM. Take from that hope, all new GMs, that when you have a crazy idea about doing something that seems totally off kilter, it could just end up being something that people still talk about for years to come.

Mar 182013

Unless it’s part of the system and will be expected of my players, I rarely run games that are action packed. I like it this way, as it gives my players time to think about what they’re doing. It also gives me time to think about responses to what they’re doing. This is especially true of my current game, as the plot is very loosely written, and depends an awful lot more on what the players choose to do. This means that several times a session, I have to contend with something that I never would have thought of, and then need to integrate it into the plot. This is no way a complaint, as I love running games this way.

I try my best to make player agency very important, to let their actions decide the fate of the story, and maybe even sometimes the world. It also means that I need to be able to think on my feet and not let things slow down too much. Sadly, this has been happening a bit more than I would like recently. The game I’m running uses the CP2020 system, but is not set in that world. Instead of action, I was looking for in investigation based game. this is all down to talking to the players about what they would expect, and I think I’ve been living up to my end of the bargain.

The last three weeks’ games have been very intense. Things have gone wrong and needed sorting, conspiracies abound, and all that jazz. But for the 3 sessions before that, it hit an almost snail like pace. Looking back, there was one big reason why it got bogged down for a while, and that was people going shopping in character. CP2020 has all manner of great things that can be bought for the characters, from weapons, to computer programs, through sub-dermal video screens and a whole array of cyberware. I wanted to try and limit the amount of time that would be spent shopping for obvious reasons.

The group doesn’t meet up apart from the time we spend gaming,so shopping needs to be done during the game, and really sucks up time. True, my girlfriend is in the game, and she can take care of her shopping out of the session if she wants to, but even that doesn’t work if it happens half way through the game, and she really needs a new voice box. One way I was cutting down this time sink was by keeping money a rare commodity. This was only ever going to be a stalling tactic though, as they were trying to earn money, and I had no real in game reason to stop them, nor would I want to. Punishing the players to make my life easier would very much be considered a dick move.

Plan B was to keep the various chrome books and weapon catalogues out of their hands. I have played and run CP2020 long enough to have a pretty good idea about what’s available, and even if it isn’t I would be able to quickly make something up for them. Keeping books full of shiny toys away from the players proved harder than I would have liked though, and thus explains some reason for the slower game. But there was something else.

The plot line had plenty of downtime written into it. True, there are deadlines for completing certain portions of the plot, but my players have been kicking ass and taking names, and are currently ahead of their deadline by a few days. This means that I either invent busy work for them, or just declare that a couple of days has passed and move on.

Busy work generates its own problems, as it just adds extra threads that can be tugged at, and when they don’t lead anywhere, it is obviously going to be frustrating for the players. I could fudge things and tie random encounters into the plot, but doing it in a way that seems realistic is pretty hard considering I’m doing an awful lot on the fly as it is. I could also just let them carry on with the threads, adding story to them if that’s the way they want to go.

This has been very tempting on more than one occasion. There’s a whole big city out there to explore, full of people and stories, but I have a time frame of my own to work with, and the more I deviate massively from the meta plot, the harder my job of giving the players a conclusion to several months of gaming that would be worth the effort. So, neither of those options are great in the long term. Instead, I’ve been letting the players use their down time in character.

This has meant trips to the casino, drunken flirting with wealthy widows, and setting off explosive devices inside giant robots; none of which has anything to do with the plot. It has meant that on occasion, players have little for their characters to do while others are getting more attention. Far from an ideal situation, I think you’d agree, but better than skipping over some chances for character interactions and some top notch role playing.

If you find yourself in a similar situation then, my advice would be to let the players set the pace. Don’t keep them busy with things that don’t concern them, and give them the chance to explore the world at a speed that’s right for them. Just keep an eye on all of them, and do what you can to lessen the breaks when one or more of them just sits around waiting for the rest to catch up.

Jan 142013

I spend a wee bit of time on the RPG sub/Reddit these days, and I love a lot of what gets posted on there. Something that turns up every couple of days though – usually after the last one drops from the front page and into the ether- is someone talking about a problem player in their group. What I’m offering may not work for everyone, but sums up a good 95% of the problems that seem to affect people around a table. Simply put, player ‘A’ is not playing the same as players B through F, and this is causing problems in the group. Are they playing the game wrong though?

That’s a big problem when talking about any game; is there ever a ‘right’ way to play it? I’ve220px-Dartagnan-musketeers seen a couple of posts discuss this is in the past, and most come to the simple conclusion that there is no wrong fun. I actually agree with this, and if you’re interested I wrote a little piece about why I wouldn’t want to be the Gm for the Three Musketeers. Did I think that they were playing the ‘game’ incorrectly? Absolutely not. For the time period, setting and genre of the piece, they were behaving exactly as they should do. And in all honesty, I’ve played games with similar set-ups, and had a bloody good laugh swashing my buckles with the best of them. But as a GM, it wouldn’t be my cup of tea to run that kind of game. This is a personal choice, and not a judgement on people or the way they play. I know as absolute fact that not everyone likes the style of games I run, and have seen someone lose interest so quickly it was scary.

The thing is, if you’re running a game for the group, or playing as part of one, the group as whole should be what decides how the game works. Lets go back to our original problem of player ‘A’. Imagine him (yes, I’m using the male pronoun. This is simply for personal 200px-Sherlock_Holmes_Portrait_Pagetease, as I’m a bloke, and as such find it easier to think like one) as a player who loves the thrill of an investigative game. He will spend hours poring over facts and clues, and won’t enter into a risky situation unless he has a few contingency plans, and knows almost exactly what to expect. The rest of the group however, bare a much closer resemblance to Athos and co. They’re always flying the face of danger, taking huge risks, and putting plans into action after a few minutes discussion over beers, with the most pertinent point being ‘who gets to look the coolest during this plan’.

There is nothing wrong with either of these play styles, and I’ve enjoyed both, as a player, and even – on occasion – as a GM. But after a couple of session, player ‘A’ is getting fed up. He never wants to throw his character into the same situations as the others, so often volunteers to be the look-out. Since a lot of the game drops regularly into combat rounds, he spends most of his time sat twiddling his thumbs, playing on his mobile, or doodling. The rest of the players try to include him, but soon get frustrated and take his desire to remain safe and sound as an unwillingness to engage with the group, and start to think of him as being useless, if not an actual inconvenience. After all, get a different player in who likes the same kind of fun, and there’s another character to help in a fight instead of sitting it out.

As a GM, you should be able to spot this happening, and the sensible thing to do is approach the lone player first and find out what the problem is. There could be any number of other factors that the above example hasn’t even touched on. Things that happen away from the table can often impact what happens around it. If there is something that can be done, then as a GM, you should make some effort to do it. The more likely problem will be that they just don’t like the way the game is being played though.

This is a bigger problem to deal with. You don’t want to change everything so that one player has fun while the others sit bored; that will only exacerbate the problem. You could try to include some elements of game play that better suit the expectations of player ‘A’, but be wary of going too far down this route. The other players may have no interest in such activities, and you could end up with a near permanent group split, as player ‘A’ deals with the investigation side, and the rest get into fights. I don’t know about you, but I try my best to keep party splits to a minimum, as they can end up with one or more players spending a good chunk of game night with nothing to do. Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave too many other options, and the most effective can be the hardest to convince yourself to take.

Sometimes you have to realise that players can end up in the wrong groups. If you’ve tried talking to them, seeing if there’s any solution that won’t involve changing the nature of the game – or how the majority of players enjoy it – then it might be time to bite the bullet, and sit down with player ‘A’. This won’t be an easy conservation, and you have to be mature in the way you handle it, even if player ‘A’ isn’t. Don’t disparage their way of playing the game, tell them that during other games, you’d love to get more under the skin of the adventure and see what’s what. But for this game, you have to concede that the majority of players want to not think too much, and throw themselves into the action. That being said, as a GM, you can’t change the whole game to suit one player, and if they’re not having fun, it could be time for them to drop out of the group. You don’t even have to make it a permanent thing, but they need to understand that other groups exist who want to play the same way they do, and will find their methods far more fun than kicking in the door and seeing what happens.

As I say, not a fun conversation, and please, if you follow my advice, remember to include all the steps leading up that conversation first. But if a group isn’t working, then sometimes the only option is to fix the group. As always share your thoughts below, even if you massively disagree with anything I’ve said. I invite all manner of feedback, and look forward to a debate. Of course, if you do agree, and have had to resort to this course of action yourself, I would love to hear from you too, and how it all went down.

Dec 172012

This post is about an argument I’m having with myself. In a previous game, I’ve insisted on there being absolutely no Out-Of-Character (OOC) between any of the players/characters. This worked very well indeed and without it, I don’t think the game could have survived as long as it did. I’m thinking about how best to implement this in other games I’m going to run, or if I should. Or if I even need to. So, expect Pros, Cons, and examples and by the end, me pleading for other input, as I would love to know what other people think about this concept.

What do I mean by this rule? Well, simply put it means that any information possessed by a player in my game, is also known by the character. I find it safe to use this as a blanket statement, even though it’s not true. Does the character know the player’s mobile number? Of course not, I’m only talking about things in relation to the game.

The main reasons for this rule is to protect all the players and characters from people who choose to abuse trusts and play the game in what could be considered a less than fun way for everyone. A scenario that has happened in other live action games that lead to this rule being put in place, runs as follows: player one tells player two about this great idea they have to screw someone over. The conversation takes place away from the table, at a bar in a purely social situation, not even on the same day the game is going to run. Player two thinks it’s a killer idea, and they both have a laugh about it. Player one then uses his plan to dick over player two. When player two tries to prevent this plan from coming to fruition, player one bitches to an ST that player two is acting on out of character information and that they shouldn’t be able to do what they can to keep their character alive.

Now, a good Story-Teller should be able to sort this out, but in the middle of a frenetic game, it can be hard to King Solomon your way out of it in a way that keeps everyone happy. So, we drop one simple rule; if you tell anything to another player about your character, then you have also told their character. Get drunk and let something slip; same deal. It’s your best friend, and you’d happily trust them with your progeny? Same. Deal. With no OOC it means that everyone is on the same page, and there is no way to cheat your way into an advantage.

The game it worked in last time though, was a bit different from most other games I’ve run. I’ve spoken before about the live action Vampire game that me and my mate ran. One of the things that made it so much fun, was the intrigue and power plays between the players characters. Sure, NPCs were constantly trying their hands too, but the real struggle came from ‘blue on blue’ role playing, or PvP if you prefer. For this to work effectively, the players had to be careful about revealing their machinations – going so far as to keep certain things from the story tellers even – or at least revealing them to other characters. Now, outside of a PvP style game – and don’t get me wrong, there was also a ton of cooperation involved – I wonder if this level of secrecy is really justified. Would it matter what people were getting up to, if everyone was working on the same team for the same goals? Would it make the players suspicious if I instituted this rule?

In my experience, even a team of characters who all have the same driving goal, will on occasion butt heads over personal motivations for actions, and if this means a little bit of going behind the players backs then having this rule in place would protect everyone. If it’s in place right from the beginning, then if one player character suddenly gets turned against the rest, it won’t look as obvious as dropping it in after they’ve joined the dark side.

Pretty good reasons to have it in so far then, but not still not enough for me to push forward with it. On now to a very strong reason why it shouldn’t be included: Player Diaries. I love these things, as you will know from some previous posts from me, both about my own write-ups, and those of the players in my current game. All the write-ups I get are written in character and available to be read by all the players. I think this is great fun as it gives all the players a chance to look at their current situation from a few different angles, and they’re also usually just a blast to read. The no OOC rule would do away with these write-ups, or at least make them available only to myself and the player who wrote them, and that takes away a lot of the fun of writing them in the first place.

So, there you have it, some good reasons to do it, some questions as to whether or not it’s necessary in the first place, and some reasons to just not bother. What do you, my loyal and attractive readers think? Please sound off below with any ideas you may have.

Dec 032012

Welcome to this, my latest look at historical weapons that make their way into fantasy games. I’m going to say right from the get go, that most of the time I think this particular weapon is portrayed reasonably accurately in the games I’ve seen them in, but there are way more to them than most people realise. Usually they are seen as reasonably easy to use weapons that don’t do a ton of damage and don’t have a minimum strength requirement. This absolutely fine for a very basic crossbow, but that is far from what you can do with this amazing bit of kit.

Take a look at the image to the left there, and you should notice a couple of things which aren’t always obvious in more fantasy themed depictions of the weapon. First, there’s the stirrup at the dangerous end. This was an almost universal component on crossbows, and was used every time the weapon was cocked. It would be placed point down, and the user would put his foot through the stirrup, and then use his entire body’s strength to draw the string back until it locks over the trigger mechanism. It would be near impossible for a regular archer to put this much strength behind each draw of a long bow, and gave the crossbow a rather impressive range.

This was not quick to accomplish though, and as such makes it unusual to see them on an open battlefield. Check out an earlier post to find out what happens when a bunch of Genoese crossbowmen were sent out to fight against British archers without shields to duck behind when cocking their weapons. It is reasons such as this that the weapon was favoured by those inside a castle under siege. With two men cocking and loading, and a third to shoot through the narrow slits in a castle’s outer walls, you could continuously rain bolts down onto the besieging army without ever being in danger of their arrows.

The other noticeable difference in the image above is the winch. This was to be found on weapons with an even larger draw strength. The crossbow was held in much the same way, a foot in the stirrup, but the strength needed to draw it was so great that a winch would need to be used. This made the weapon very popular, as you would not necessarily need to have a strong army to use it. Even young boys, old men, and injured soldiers could wind the winch. The power that such a crossbow looses its bolt with is staggering. Even using the entire body, as mentioned above, would not do as much damage. It’s worth mentioning at this point that games systems that have an accurate amount of damage listed for a crossbow cocked this way are few and far between. One shot from one of these things would almost certainly kill you.

Cock it with a winch, and we get to a whole new level of damage. To fully appreciate it, I would like to draw your attention to a rather wonderful French film called The Brotherhood of the Wolf. Sadly I have been unable to find a video clip of this scene, but the entire thing is worth picking up if you see it anywhere. The scene involves three protagonists preparing for a big show down, using flintlock pistols and throwing axes and what-have-you. Well, two of them are. The third, a young French Noble is quietly winding a winch throughout the scene, as he watches his friends destroy pumpkins arranged on spikes for target practice. When he’s finally ready – and it does take a while – he knocks a bolt, aims and fires. The pumpkin is obliterated, and a marble statue behind it explodes into sharp fragments. Now, I know this is a film, and not to be taken too seriously, but bear that amount of damage in mind when you think about what a crossbow can do in your next game.

I was seriously contemplating giving up a separate article to repeater crossbows, but in the end decided that would be a bit of a waste, as I would just end up going into unnecessary details. The short story is this; repeater crossbows are weak sauce. By necessity, the mechanism that draws back the string is small, simple and light. This means that it just does not have the power to fire a bolt with anything like the strength of a hand-drawn weapon. True, there are huge mechanical devices that break this rule, but siege engines are a topic for another time. No, handheld repeaters are not your friend unless you have few other options. To put it in a bit of context, if a standard – hand cocked – crossbow would do d6 damage, then something that requires the whole of the users upper-body strength to cock would likely do d8-10, with a winch powered weapon doing at least d12: a repeater would be lucky to manage d4.

As always I hope that some of the above was useful to my readers, but feel free to weigh in below with thoughts of your own.