Jun 242013
 

The short answer will be a resounding “no”, but that would make for a very dull blog post indeed, so allow me to go into more details. If I pick up an RPG set in a fantasy world, I would expect the game play to be a bit more than the generic, cliched, predictable fantasy. One of the many things that the TV show The Big Bang Theory gets wrong about role playing is when the guys are playing Dungeons and Dragons, and when they go into  a dungeon they encounter a dragon (don’t get me started on the horrendously inaccurate talk about girls playing D&D at all).

One character complains, saying that “it’s a little on the nose”, and is rebuffed by the line, “if you’re playing chutes and ladders, do you complain about all the chutes and ladders”. You know what, if I was playing any board game, I think I could go in with an expectation based on the name, or maybe a quick descriptive bit of text on the back of the box. Role playing games aren’t board games though. The stories they tell aren’t limited by the genre they fall into, and even traditional gamers in the mood for a dungeon crawl would almost certainly expect something a bit more exciting than crawling through a dungeon. Preferably something a bit more unexpected than a dragon.

So with that in mind, how do we apply it to our own games? To help, I’m going to invoke the literary hero that is Joe Abercrombie. So far the chap is six novels into his genre fiction career, plus I’m sure a whole bunch of short stories that I have yet to discover. The first three – The First Law Trilogy – were great, but were in terms of story and style, fantasy at heart. They quite rightly get compared favourably to the works of George R R Martin, as they can be read almost as works of historical fiction based on medieval politics, with a hint of magic rubbed on for flavouring. Do not take this as a negative; they’re amazing books, and he is a consistently impressive author.

What he does remarkably well though, is to take genre conventions down unexpected avenues. The three books he has had published since the first trilogy have all been set in the same world, and have even had recurring characters (I don’t want to spoil anything for readers, but when a familiar face turns up in the latest book, it gave me goose bumps!). What they’re not, is a continuation of the theme of epic fantasy. The first was a story of revenge that would have worked fantastically well had it been directed by Chan-Wook Park. It was down and dirty, and you just knew that come the end of the story, no one was going to be happy, even if they managed to get everything that their stained little hearts desired.

Following on from that, we were given a war story. Next to no hint of magic or fantasy elements in this bad boy, but some of the best written depictions of war your humble blogger has ever read. The chapter that jumps a narrative shift as each previous narrator is killed by the next until we finally land on a character we know and hope to hell doesn’t die is a true pleasure to read. Along with a rather excellent TV show, this book played a massive role in inspiring me to run my next campaign; an original Deadlands campaign where all the players are part of the armed forces.

And finally, we have a western. Although it is true that a lot of western movies have similar tropes to that of revenge flicks, this does stand on its own, as it also explores themes of exploration and the importance of family, and a past that will always catch up with you.

All of these ideas would work perfectly in any genre role playing game that I could think of, so next time you want to tell a certain story, don’t worry about fitting it to a system, or setting; instead you should find a game you love to run, and use it to tell the story that you want to, rather than the narrative that is expected.

If you’ve already done this, and had some success/failures, then please share them below.

Jun 172013
 

I live in a large town in the north of England that used to be known for its woolen industry. These days we seem to be little more than a net importer of students, but that’s not a bad thing, as it keeps us fairly well stocked on new recruits for our gaming society. One other thing my home town does pretty well is places to grab a drink. True, a lot of the pubs I drank in as a teenager, and even in my early twenties, have long since closed their doors, but there is still a huge array of choice for the discerning drinker. This is how it should be in any large settlement, but in most fantasy settings, pubs are either bawdy taverns or gentile gathering places. I’m going to show you some other options.

One of my favourite watering holes. Click for pub website.

One of my favourite watering holes. Click for pub website.

The Adventurer’s Rest. This is what i think of as a typical tavern in fantasy settings, and even in some cyberpunk and sci-fi worlds too. It tends to be run by someone who used to make their living in much the same way that the player characters do now. There’ll be a board with adventuring opportunities, and plenty of shady corners for people to smoke pipes in. All much of a muchness, so lets move on.

The Student Bar. Most large cities have some form of higher education institute. Just think about Ankh-Morpork of Discworld fame. Although the Unseen University is by far and away the most famous – and in other fantasy cities, a Mage’s college is not too difficult to include – each guild could reasonably have a training college. So imagine a city of thieves in a fantasy world. There would almost certainly be either competing guilds, or one large one in charge of most municipal affairs. Having a college devoted to teaching anyone who can afford it the finer arts of sneak thievery and cut-pursing would be a great way to make more money. And the moment any kind of institute of education opens up, local publicans are quick to cater to young people with spare cash and a far from restrictive schedule.

Adding such a watering hole to a campaign world is pretty easy then, but why would the characters go there – unless students themselves, in which case; job done – for a pint. Hiring a student to a do a job is far cheaper than bringing in professional help, although risky to say the least. It is also not unheard of of faculty to share a drink with the students, and could be a way of getting an informal audience with someone whom has no desire to converse with adventurers.

The old man’s pub. I’m half way through my thirties, and have been a fan of this kind of pub for a very long time. I like being able to chat with friends rather than shout over other noises, and the choice of ales that are available are usually top notch and more varied than the more popular watering holes. In a game world, this will be about as far removed from the bawdy taverns and nightclubs as it’s possible to get. I know it doesn’t sound very interesting in role playing terms, and using this may get differing mileage for different GMs, but it can be quite good fun.

Seething resentment can be well hidden in such venues, with cliques that have existed for decades still sharing the same 12 foot of bar with their bitter enemies. New people coming into the pub are treated with suspicion, and if you’ve ever seen an American Werewolf in London, you’ll know the kind of thing I mean. There are usually bar games to play though, and I imagine that a lot of retired adventurers are much more likely to be found in such a pub. Not everyone likes having it rubbed in their faces that they’re too old to do what they were great at only a decade or so ago.

The Sports bar. They exist in any world that enjoys organised sports, even if the GM has totally made them up himself. Decorated in local team colours, with prints on the walls of famous players, and maybe even a trophy cabinet. The atmosphere will certainly seem jolly from the outside, but team affiliation is key in some of these venues. Walking in wearing the wrong colours can be enough to ensure you don’t walk back out, in the rougher class of drinking houses. They do have their uses though, as mobs can quickly be formed from their patrons, and famous folk from around the city like to call in to show their devotion to a team.

In some worlds, it’s far from a stretch to imagine that organised crime cartels would have something to do with such establishments too. Book making and contest rigging are sure fire ways to make money, and if a sport is very popular indeed, it can do a gangster’s credibility good to be seen with such respected public figures. Hell, maybe the characters are just fans of the sports team, and fancy a drink in friendly pub, what happens after that is up to the GM.

So there you go, just a few examples of how to change your drinking holes into something a bit different. I hope some of it was useful, and feel free to share your own ideas in the comments section below.

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.

gamemasters

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.

May 132013
 

So, in my last weekly game, we lost a character. I have written recently about death in Role Playing Games, and I’d like to think I managed to fulfill my own short criteria. The character bowed out with a greivous head wound in a high pitched battle with the US secret service, as government operatives were torturing a prime suspect in an abandoned night club, and a Senator was fleeing the scene on a pleasure boat.

For people who don’t know this, the Cyberpunk 2020 combat system is actually pretty brutal. I have changed a couple of bits of it to give it a slightly more cinematic feel, but it still has the possibility to drop a heroic character with a single round from a handgun. Although I am always happier when the combat is more interesting than that. We’d already seen it happen once, but due to the very high tech medical aid that’s available the character in question got better, and was only out of action for a few days. Still injured when they got back into the fray, so they had some negative modifiers, but future science is almost as good as magic when it comes to healing, or at least, that’s how I see it.

Not actually Diesel, but close enough...

Not actually Diesel, but close enough…

This time, the dice gods were not happy, and the first attempt at healing actually made things worse, meaning that the second attempt failed, and what with time passing, there was sadly nothing to be done.  Diesel died. He died well, and it has created some already kick ass role playing with some of the remaining characters. Mainly talking about Ed Winchester here, but others have really brought their “A” game to the table with regard to role playing.

What a lot of you might not know is that my game is almost over. I had a fixed time frame to run this game, and I expected it to last me until June, and that’s coming up fast. The party – or what’s left of it – have been given an option to get closure on their plot, and the choice about how they want to see it resolved. There’s more than one power block in play, and the characters could end up siding with either, or going it on their own. But what to do with the ex-Diesel?

This close to the end, it seems a bit of a waste of time and effort to create a whole new character, and the player has admitted that she doesn’t really see the point of it. I tend to agree, so instead, I have picked one the main antagonists from the campaign, and since he was at death’s door when they found him, he was no real threat, giving the player free reign for some challenging role playing. All I need to do is drop in a few bits of information that Christ had been keeping from everyone that are crucial in bringing the storyline to its apoplectic finale.

And this is the crux of this article: What do you do when a player character bites the big one? Does your answer change depending on system, or even on when the character dies in the story arc? DO they come back as level one – if the game supports such a thing – or of comparable power to the current characters? Do you feel comfortable handing control of an important NPC to player whose character had been happy to see them die? I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on this, and the comments box is just down there.

May 062013
 

I read a lot of books. In this I’m sure I have a hell of a lot in common with almost everyone who plays RPGs. One of the authors I used to read a lot by is Stephen King. I mention him as a fan of his work, but mainly of his short stories rather than novels. In these smaller works of prose he writes with a sense of urgency, and doesn’t use a sentence when a word will suffice, and very quickly gets to the of the horror.

In his novels, he has the time to fully explore ideas and concepts, and for an awful lot of his written work, this is done masterfully. I am not picking out any particular novel though, because when I say most of his work, I mean most of any individual novel. The thing that has effectively stopped me reading novels by Mister King is that he doesn’t seem to know when to end the story. Two examples that I have read in recent years are Bag of Bones and It. Bag of bones may not be quite so well known, and it’s easy to see why. The story is OK, and moves along well, but we don’t get any startling new ground broken. And then, he ends the story well. Maybe not a happy ending, but it satisfied me greatly as a form of closure. For some reason there then followed two more chapters.

Pennywise_shower

Click image for creepy creepy stuff…

It” is a slightly better known story, mainly due to the stellar performance of Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the movie adaptation. The novel is amazing, and I know of a friend who simply couldn’t finish reading it alone at night. It is a huge read, coming in at a tome like 1300 plus pages, but once again I can tell you that a big bunch of stuff at the back end is almost totally pointless. We get a great resolution to the story, or at least as good a resolution we could expect when dealing with eternal evil. What follows is just uncomfortable and unnecessary padding.

And it’s this kind of thing I want to talk about today. In a previous game I’ve run I ended up having to write a couple of endings just because I wasn’t too sure what my players would do. They had the chance to take the money and run, and the consequences of that action would mean the horror would come to find them. I ended up being in a position to bribe them into taking on the final job, and they got a huge cataclysmic ending at an abandoned country manor haunted by a ghostly child with enormous powers. And that’s pretty much where I ended it.

I then gave them a very brief description of the return trip back to base of operations and what life was going to be like afterwards, but that was all, and it took me less than ten minutes. What I didn’t do was have random encounters on the way back to the City. I didn’t have them role play the meeting once more with the troops that defend the walls of said city from undead incursion. All of this certainly happened, but it would add nothing to the sense of accomplishment that my players were feeling.

Even the stuff I did talk about was largely derived from what they said they wanted, and I think this is the way I’ll be taking it next time my campaign ends. Instead of running through quickly what happened to them, I’ll open it up, and let the players take the time to think about what their characters would do once the dust has settled. Part of my worries that the characters will suddenly become the super awesome bunch of people they have always thought they were but never quite managed to become, but that’s selling my particular group of gamers short. I think that they would relish giving their characters an end that they felt they deserved, and since the tone of the game has been fairly consistent, I know I can trust them to maintain that, even when it doesn’t really matter that much.

What about the rest of you; how have you handled the ending to a long campaign? If anyone was left alive of course…

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…

Apr 012013
 

This is still an idea in progress if you get my drift, but I’ve been thinking about fight scenes lately, and how to avoid repeating myself. I dislike fights that run along those oh so predictable lines of ‘hit with sword’, ‘take X damage’. I’m sure all gamers at some point have ‘been there’, and almost all of you will have ‘done that’. Sometimes the creative juices slow to a drip, and if combat drags on past the fourth round, it can become a rush to get to the end of it, and back on with the game. So keeping instructions simple saves valuable time.

As I said though, I dislike it, and as a GM, I try my best to add descriptions of damage dealt and received to the numbers handed out in terms of hit points lost or wounds gained. I take great pleasure in getting quite visceral, as I don’t want any of my players to take combat lightly. It should be seen as deathly dangerous, and each wound should matter. So I talk about cracked bone fragments, the sounds of blood spattering against windows and other such delights. Even that though can run its course. Well today I ended up over at Beyond the Pale Gate, and in the middle of a post about OD&D combat, there was a sentence that struck home about damage taken in combat, but not necessarily directly from a weapon used to attack.

Click for image source

Click for image source

I really like this idea, and my brain went into Cyberpunk mode as that’s the game I’m currently running. Below is a short list of possible other damage sources that could be applied with a bit of dramatic licence. Be wary of keeping such things in mind as players wanting to know that the huge hand cannon they’ve bought is capable of doing a whole heap of damage, but other than that, I think this could be fun. As long as you let them roll all the damage dice and make sure that every point is applied, I think most players would be up for a bit of inventiveness.

  • The gun shot goes wide, shattering the plate glass behind you, and the large shards fall, cutting through armour and flesh.
  • The arrow/bolt (I know, it’s Cyberpunk, but trust me, the archery weapons are amazing in CP2020) sinks right through your arm and pins it to a wall mounted vid-screen, the electricity running through your body as you twitch helplessly for a few seconds until it short circuits.
  • The Wolvers slash your shirt front open, but you duck backwards out of the way. sadly, you step off the sidewalk and the wing mirror of a passing sedan shatters against your back, tearing the skin open almost to the bone.
  • You’re hit with such force, you stagger backwards trying not to fall, your foot goes back hard, through the plexi-glass of a data booth and you lose balance, your ankle twisting out of joint as you fall hard.
  • The bullet goes wide and hits the wall you’re using for cover, the shards tearing the flesh away from your face, coming close to taking an eye out as you reel backwards.

That’s just a few, and will need to think fast to come up with environmental hazards on the fly in the middle of combat, but I think that the pay off could be worth it. If it goes well, I might think about doing a similar list for some more fantasy/medieval environmental dangers.

This was written a couple o days before my last CP2020 game, and I’ve since had the chance to try it out, and the players were very responsive to it. I did have to explain what I was doing as some damage done seemed to ignore the bullet impact, but once they knew what was going on, it flowed really well. I would advise everyone to at least give it a shot, and if you have any ideas of your own to add to the list, then please feel free to drop them into the comments section.

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.