Monday, April 13, 2009

GM Styles, Part II


Jake. I use his real name because I didn't know him long enough to know his handle. I met Jake in prison in 2002. He's a slender man, seeming almost frail in body, but his mind was sharp. He was always running a game of some sort, be it CarWars, Starfleet Battles, Battletech..

When we got out he invited me to a Shadowrun game. I've always loved Shadowrun. The gritty cyberpunkish world with a mix of fantasy rolled in to a thousand d6 and a dash of Karma. Of course Sage and I jumped at the chance to play. I created an elven decker and wrote up a background in the format of a media interview. Sage ended up with an orc street sam and there was a joke in there somewhere about taking it for the team that she didn't appreciate but was really funny at the time.

Jake's GM'ing kept us interested, kept us moving, got us into some serious roleplay that even my shy wife, playing with three strangers, stepped out of her shell for a bit to experience. It was prolly the third adventure before I realized that Jake was running us thru premade modules. He had all the details from the module written on notecards so he didn't have to keep checking it. Probably one of the best GMs I've had the pleasure of.

Jake, when you get out I'd love to be invited back to your table. What's in the past is in the past and no hard feelings.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

GM Styles, Part I

I've had a few GMs in my life. Some good, some bad. Today I'd like to start a mini-series and discuss some of the GMs I've had and what I thought made their styles good or bad. I'll mostly use handles or nick names, because i think its better to keep them anonymous, plus i like handles better for the interwebz.

Volgren. One of my longest running game masters. He led us through dungeons hand drawn on 30 sheets 8x11 1/8" graph paper taped together in a monsterous 6sheet x 5sheet map that made our palladium RPG characters cry, sweat, and bleed. His adventures were epic in scale, endless in detail, and fantastic in creativity. He was thoughtful to the rules, using those that worked and ignoring or changing those that didn't, and he was good at making his point. He was an excellent artist, intelligent conversationalist, and a good friend. (Miss you, man. If you're out there and you read this, drop me a line.)

One time after a very long argument between Volgren and his twin brother, Shrine, about the feasability of making a powerful laser out of a leather wrap, a couple magnifying glasses and an eternal ball of light (yes, some GMs would have allowed this to be a flashlight, but Shrine was set on it being a laser, and we were 15, so yeah), he was fed up and ready to make his point that he was the game master. Instead of continuing on our D&D game, he opted for a side of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So we spent the next couple hours rolling up our mutant animals and outfitting them as completely as possible, writing backgrounds and how they know each other, etc.

Our mutant animals were in a world populated by their kind, so there was no hostility to deal with, no hiding. We were mercenaries for hire, and damn good ones, at 4th level, and ready to rock. Our first mission we meet with the contact and he tells us that an object of his is being held in a secure warehouse on the other side of town. We agree to a price and head out. Volgren gives us the time we need to plan and purchase any additional gear, and we head out.

We reach the warehouse without incident and case around it, looking for trouble. Finding none, we approach the side entrance and jimmy the lock, entering quietly. The warehouse is packed with crates and boxes stacked high overhead. We stealthily move through the shadows of the warehouse in search of our target.

Suddenly, there is a loud metalic clang on the door we entered, and the high windows are shuttered with metal slats. A skylight opens in the roof and no less than twelve grenades are dropped around us. They begin to spew a sickly sweet smoke.

"Do you have gas masks?"

Hurredly we check our inventory sheets, only to discover that we do not.

"Aww, that's too bad. The nerve gas begins to work its sinister magic and you die slowly and painfully, crippled and paralized, until your body is unable to work the muscles that breathe. Suck to be you."

Shrine is pissed. He begins yelling and throwing dice. Volgren leans back and smiles. I laugh. Hours of creating these characters, only to have them killed in the first encounter without ever seeing our enemies. Harsh, yes. Immature, sure. We were only 15. But definately effective for the situation and the stubbornness of his brother.

His point was he is GM and he has the power to play nice or not. He has the power to decide the rules and we must understand and live with that. Shrine wasn't interested in playing nice. He wanted it his way. But after that he was more accepting of Volgren's rule.

Sometimes the only thing that works is an object lesson with nerve gas.

Pic of the Dungeon Master linked from Saga of the Amazing Human Man! posted on 12/06/08 by Shawn

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Using Skill challenges in social encounters

Was over at the Chatty DM just now and he mentioned something that I thought would make a good post. Of course, I'm sure he's going to post more on it another time, but I gotta take my inspiration where I get it.

This follows right along with my previous post about role playing. Most of my old party (I don't have one right now, sadly) was not into roleplay. They were hack and slash crazy, but when it came to the finer points of conversation, they'd fumble their tongues a bit and then reach for the dice, proclaiming what they were trying to accomplish.

"Umm.. Where are we going? What are we getting? Oh, geez. I don't know what to ask. Gather information check."

At first I was reticent to allow such a sham. No roleplay in a roleplaying game?? Heresy! But I am nothing if not diplomatic and was not going to chase my few players off by making them act, so skill challenge it is!

I would still do my best to roleplay the reaction: horrible voice, squinty eye, and everything. But it does leave something out of the experience. I think that Sage and Sinister would be more apt to roleplay if the whole group was into it, but with Lone, nothing is more complicated than: I hit it with my axe.

Still, few gamers I have met were trained actors. The one Vampire: The Masquerade game I played was the closest I've been to LARP. Everyone dressed the part and was in character the moment we walked into the basement. The prince of the city had the meeting table set up and it was very engrossing. I miss groups like that.

I think in the end I will continue to suggest and encourage any role play first, but am glad the skill challenges are there as a backup.

How do you handle conversation in your own games?

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Puting the Role back in Roleplaying

This was actually supposed to be a response to Ambrose's post about role playing, but I got some strange error when trying to comment so decided I could make it a full post.

Roleplaying can be fun and I try to do some whenever I play, most usually with personality or some sort of quirk, like my caustic cleric that healed by scoring the flesh with blessed needles (i'd pick up bobby pins and chase my intended target around the table).

I don't do voices much. When I do they're over the top squiggly or something (think the old Jack-in-the-box commercial with the Earl of Sandwich screaming "Silence!"), or I'll just squint and growl for an old man, that sort.. but when one of our party members tries to do voices, he usually just ends up with the same Russian Slavic accent no matter who he plays or in what system. We thought it was period and interesting when it was in Ravenloft, but Dark Heresy?

Sage generally flat refuses to roleplay. I get it. She's new to the game and the world, uncomfortable with being out of her box as it is, much less trying to be someone she's not. But I would like at least a feeble attempt at it. She did pretty good in our Star Wars game, as mentioned in a previous post, and I was very proud of her.

I guess I get my roleplaying base from text-based rpg's (moos like Sindome or muds like Harshlands) where the roleplaying is enforced, immersive, and really does wonders on the suspension of disbelief.

I crave that level of roleplay in my face2face games, but there is pos def something to be said about the anonymity of text and hiding behind the screen. When the other players can only see what you give them it changes the perspective quite a bit.


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Friday, March 13, 2009

Not a surprise for him, was for me

Was running around rpgbloggers.com and came across MTHOMAS768's post on what D&D4E character are you. He wasn't surprised by his outcome, but this is something I wasn't expecting. I've never played an Avenger. It's a new class in the PHB2 that I don't have yet. But I'm real interested...


D&D Home Page - What Class Are You? - Build A Character - D&D Compendium

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sage's moment of Triumph

I set up an encounter to push my heroes a little. Have them think it over. Make them work for victory. They're 5th level now, and I wanted to kinda worry them.


I had an ambient youth run up and had a datapad to my wife's hero, a small flying assassin droid named T1-NK, and tell her that he was paid to deliver the message.

The datapad told her that someone knew why they were there and wanted the heroes to meet him on such and such landing pad at 0200 (yes, its mostly a twist out of DoD e3. i was rewriting it and keeping some of the elements to assist in flow).

So the party decides that they will scout the landing pad out early and just send in the assassin droid, not all of them. The kel-dor scout goes in 2 hrs early to an empty landing pad and passes thru the atmosphere shield, locking his magnetic boots to the outside to watch.

Time goes by.

A well dressed man in a uniform enters and stands on the landing pad, gazing out at the glow of the planet before him.

Tee-One enters a few minutes later, alone.

The man hears the doors and turns, smug, but is slightly startled when he realizes the droid is alone. He was expecting more. "Well, no matter," he says, "We'll catch up with your companions later. Now. Drop your weapons and... float down to the deck." At which time ten heavy stormtroopers enter behind her and line up pointing their blasters at her back.

Tee-One drops her blaster. A small panel on her back opens and from a spring loaded launcher flies a thermal detonator, landing right center of the group of storm troopers. One bloody mist cloud later, the storm troopers have been decimated and the commander stands stupidly slack jawed.

Tee-One, without missing a beat, "You had some information for me?"


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Saturday, January 17, 2009

House Rules

This could also be subtitled as, "Big name publisher made hundreds of rules to control your little imaginative world, but you thought of stuff they didnt think of and made even more".


I read on a forum recently that it is a good idea to write down your house rules so they are not forgotten, misunderstood, or at least so there is a reference of them so the players don't think you're just making stuff up arbitrarily.

So, here's my top rules that follow me pretty much any d20 (or similar) system I play:

  1. Character Creation - When rolling ability scores, roll 4d6, dropping the lowest die, re-rolling all 1's. If you roll a set and you aren't happy with them, you can roll again, up to four times, but you can't go back to any previous set you've rolled. You have to use one of those five sets.
    Typically, this gives us heroic characters. Like... very heroic characters. If we compare our current Star Wars character's ability scores to the point buy system (which recommends 24-28 points), my party characters range more around 48-54. Are they overballanced? Maybe. But c'mon.. They're heroes. And no one likes to have an 8.
  2. Encumberance - This is kind of a tough one. I view it more like the video game equipment. You are not encumbered by things that you won't be using. Such as the seven suits of storm trooper armor that you plan on selling in the next shadowport. But all your gear that you wear and use on a regular basis should be accounted for.
  3. Ammo - You have enough ammo for just about any situation, unless you roll a 1 on your attack. (because rolling a 1 on attack is so confusing about what should happen, I like this rule. No worrying about if it blows up or shoots your buddy instead.) If you roll a 1 on the attack, roll 1d4. On a 1, you are out of ammo. Looks like you should have remembered to recharge that e-clip, or the e-clip failed. I might expand this to make 2-4 do other stuff on fails, but for now, I'm happy with that.
  4. Party bag of holding - I did this one to help with my wife's need to loot abso-freaking-lutely every baddie they kill. She sells the majority for 50%, keeps all grenades and explosives in this party bag that anyone can grab from. It's just for little stuff like grenades, that can be easily shared, without having to worry about who had them. I guess I can see the challenges that can be part of: "I throw the thermal detonator at the four clones and the badass bodyguard coming to capture me." "Nope, Sorry. Elzebub has them and she's on the other side of the station, " But i'm more of the mind that worrying about inventory takes away from the fun part. So, yeah. bag o' grenades ftw!
  5. Shooting into Melee - If you miss the shot by more than 5, random roll to decide who it hits. Damage is base weapon damage only, no bonuses of any kind. (level, sneak attack, etc) If you miss by more than 10 or less than 5, complete miss.

What are some of your house rules and where did they get their start?

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Game Theory - The Total Rewrite


This phrase really freaked me out when I first heard it. What could be cooler than a theory of games? But you know what? It isn't the cool new college course that all the design publishers are looking for, its actually military strategy. Which kinda works, if you're playing Total Annihilation. But I'm not talking about military strategem, or TA. I'm talking about design.


My first major campaign for Star Wars Saga Edition is going on. We are up to the third episode, and since I didn't care for the original RPGA written episode 3, I'm rewriting it.

Now, I've got to tell you, this is not just an easy throw something together thing. There is real thought and planning behind building an episode for an existing established campaign. I wanted to keep some of the same elements in the game so that key things that took place in the original will still happen in the rewrite, but will fit my new setting and events.

But it doesn't work to just cut and paste areas of the text, because they are very different in content.

For example, I just couldn't bring myself to put my very aggressive players thru four days of playing cards. It just wouldn't have worked. They would have been killing random npcs by the second day. So that had to go. But there is a purchase / exchange that happens during the card game. Now I have to have that purchase / exchange go down anyway, but in a diffent manner, and to where the players discover it anyway, and make it more interesting than hiding in shadows evesdropping or sitting somewhere high up and watching thru macrobinoculars.

So. For the first installment of my new RPG focused hobby blog, here we have:

Episode 3. Rewriting the Adventure.

  1. Keep the NPCs the same, just change their role. Rather than your Rodian being a scoundrel card sharp, throw him in position of the Noble. Dress him up in fancy clothes and give him an entourage.

  2. Keep the setting similar, just change the location. The original may take place on Jabba's Sail Barge over the dune sea. But that doesn't fit your new setting, since you aren't including Jabba, or the Tatoonian Dune Sea. How about a five day-six night stay aboard the luxury star cruise Correlian Star Resorts Cruise & Travel.

  3. Keep the main plot of the episode, just change the detail. The original was a rescue of the princess from the evil Empire's new space station detention facility before she's executed. Well, perhaps in your game, the Empire's base is an underground facility, and the rescue of the princess is freeing slaves. Plot: Rescue. Details: location / rescuee.

  4. Add in new stuff that makes your game different, but similar. Basically not all the encounters from the original episode are going to work in your new location/setting/goal. But coming up with interesting encounters can be a challenge. You don't want your episode rewrite to be the same. you want to give it your own flare and creativity. Let's say in the original the heroes were going to come across a datapad that would lead them to an NPC that knew what they were looking for. Well, that's a data encounter. How about instead, your hero's droid slices into the central station computer and that data that was going to be provided from the NPC is available there.

  5. Make it exciting. No matter how much you didn't like the original write, something about it made it exciting to the writers. Try to capture that element. It's okay to borrow from their example to do it. Just as the heroes save the princess and disable the tractor beam, escape from the big bad evil super villain (BBESV), they blast off into space only to discover their hyperdrive has been disabled. Dun dun DUN! Now they have to fight off waves of TIE fighters and fix the hyperdrive at the same time before the shields give out!

Yeah, keep that part.

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All of Soulie's RPG (paper and dice) related articles that will be published on RPG Blogger's Network.

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