Games Design

Tides of War—Mass Combat in WFRP2e

With On the Edge of Exile on the horizon, I've been thinking about mass combat in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition, again. Hacking WFRP2e has always beenpassion for me, so I dove straight into this, and came up with the following.

I hope you enjoy Tides of War!

Tides of War is an unofficial fan supplement for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition focusing on mass combat. This system is broad enough in scope, and general enough with mechanics, that it could easily be adapted to any RPG system, fantasy or otherwise, with minimal modification.


Download Tides of War now! 

Dirty Aces is on DriveThruRPG!

Today, as of 00:38 AEST, I became a published roleplaying game designer. Imma-need-a-minute, folks!

Dirty Aces is finally live on DriveThruRPG!

Check out Dirty Aces now!

(Mobile Link)



Dirty Aces is a tabletop roleplaying game about a group of wanderers, vagabonds, ne'er-do-wells, and unlikely heroes who are bound together by fate/Karma/ka - whatever you call it. They only have each other to trust, with the whims of the world set against them.

Who are these wanderers? Where are they passing through? What is biting at their heels? Dirty Aces is built for any situation that fits into the above - from Joss Whedon's Firefly, to Stephen King's The Dark Tower, or anything in between.

Inside you'll find:
  • A diceless engine utilising regular playing cards to resolve conflicts,
  • A simple character creation system so you can make your party and play all in a single session,
  • Fiction-first, success-with-consequences mechanics, so there's never a question about what comes next,
  • Tables for campaign creation seeds for you to create your own unique setting in the style of its many Touchstones.
Game Information:
Number of Players: 5 (4 + 1 Dealer)
Length: 2-6 hours
Pages: 19

Lastly, I'd just like to take this time to thank everyone involved in the production, playtesting, and support of Dirty Aces thus far. You're all amazing, and this work wouldn't have been possible without you. Love you, folks!

Do or Dice: Intent vs Action

I just read this article from Gnome Stew about Player Intent, and (apart from it being interesting) is a great excuse for me to discuss some of the design decisions behind Do or Dice.

As Do or Dice is leveraging both the Blades in the Dark and Fate Core systems, there are a list of skills that a player can have their character use to perform tasks. However, in Do or Dice, a roll is never called for - at no point should the GM say "I want you to roll Tinker." Instead, the first step of performing a task is to declare your intent - the player describes what outcome on the situation they wish to have.
(Image from Brainless Tales.)

Players don't say "I want to attack the guard", but instead "I want to kill the guard", or "I want the guard to die". This intent is then matched with a skill, but any skill can arguably be used - so long as the player can justify it. Are they killing the guard by Fighting them? Or are they Tinkering with a device that will kill them?
Once an intent and a skill have been announced, the GM can determine how difficult this would be to achieve, how risky, and how much effect the player would likely have. Everything, easily, flows from the fiction.

This process of intent completely removes the problem of the player's engagement with the mechanics missing the GM's perception of that engagement. The player directly states the cool thing they want, the GM sets opposition and announces what's at stake, the player can re-negotiate (if they want to), and then a roll is performed. Everyone - even other players - are allowed to sit on the edge of their seats during this roll because they know what every possible result could lead to (but not exactly what will happen)...

Whilst Do or Dice is still in testing and development, this mechanic of intent over action is central to the game and, as far as I can tell, isn't going anywhere.

If you enjoyed seeing this little glimpse into Do or Dice, please let me know in the comments and I can write more posts like this. It's fun to discuss what I've been working on for so long now!

Free Stuff: Remnants of War

Blades in the Dark version 8 (AKA "Release") came out this week and I've been insanely excited about it. The new rules are fantastic to read, and I'm excited to get back to running it (which is next week, I believe).

In the mean time, I've cooked up a mini-supplement called Remnants of War which focuses on the Unity War from the setting - a war fought between the frozen state of Skovlan, and the rest of the Empire, which lasted either 36-years, or 102-years, depending on how you count these things...

The supplement features a new Crew type: Legionnaires, as well as detailing the Imperial Military as a faction, and giving a few new bits of gear for military types, including ghostly weapons, Faraday Armor, and grenades.


(Image from the Imperial War Museums, edited by me.)

Global Game Jam 2017 Theme: Waves!

Woo! Having held onto the theme for nearly 24 hours, I'm happy to report that the GGJ17 theme is Waves.
Which, as you can imagine, has made my job a little bit more difficult.

How do you make a roleplaying game about waves? Well, you don't, really. At least I didn't. As with anything, my product has strayed from its brief. It's now a card game. But, basically everything else is the same. I'm still following 3 of those 6 diversifiers, and I've been following the Accessibility guidelines.

You can watch the GGJ17 Keynote, here!

No More, Molok! is essentially ready. I can't share it yet, but when GGJ is over, I'll link through to the website so you can see the entries!

Free Game: Rough Road Ahead

Over New Years we (that is, me and many friends) travelled to one of my friend's childhood home - a farm in the middle of Victoria, Australia. It wasn't fantastically remote, but it did give us a solid 3.5 hours away from any board or roleplaying games (oh, the humanity!)

So what did a car filled with three game designers do? Well, we made a game.

Then we tested it.

And now I've written it up properly, and am sharing it all with you.

Like my last game, this is is entirely free. Download it, enjoy it, etc.
(Image from... Me.)
Rough Road Ahead is a game that can only be played on the road, which doesn't have a GM. It can be played with any setting, and doesn't require paper, pens/pencils, or dice of any kind. All it uses is the road, and your imagination.

Global Game Jam 2017 Approaches!

Last year I went to Global Game Jam in Melbourne, and had an amazing experience. I created two games as a part of a team of four, and we had ridiculous amounts of fun doing it.
(Image from Global Game Jam.)
This year, between Friday the 20th and Sunday the 22nd, I want to do something different. I want to do something really difficult.

I don't know the theme (yet, obviously, and I won't be posting about it until Hawaii Jams too), and I don't have a team (yet: if the following sounds good to you, and you're in Melbourne, HIT ME UP!)

What I do have, is ambition. I want to create a roleplaying game that takes no more than 15 minutes to play (including character creation, if any) that covers at least half of the following diversifiers (sort of like mini achievements that make the games more intriguing): 
  • Don’t say a word (ESA Sponsored)
    • A multiplayer game that requires communication between players, without relying on text or voice.
  • Local Lore
    • Incorporate a local urban legend, myth, lore, or history into your game.
  • Game Legacy 
    • Each playthrough of the game affects the next.
  • Crowd Control
    • Your game must be played by 8 or more players.
  • Time Lord
    • Your game offers variations based on the time of day it is played.
  • To me, to you
    • The game must have a single playable character that is controlled by two players.
I also want to follow this Accessibility guide, and tick every single box (except for those which are not applicable because it's not going to be digital, but will be supplied in a PDF, so maybe I can do some of them?).
(Image from accessibility.blog.gov.uk.)

If I smash through the above guide, I then want to start moving through this Accessibility guide, again, going from Basic to Advanced as time allows, and where applicable.

Can it be done? I guess I have 48 hours to find out...

Once the game is done, I'll share it for free here for anyone to use and play!

Free Game: I'd Like You to Meet

I have a grand dream of someday spending all my time writing, making, and running roleplaying games. To be honest, I'm doing a good effort of that now - running a ridiculous amount of games, and actively working on more than makes sense. However, I am also forced to spend a lot of my time doing other things, like working, etc. Granted, that work is still in the video game industry, so I am not complaining. But my eventual goal is to transition 100% from video games to tabletop games - my true passion.

In the meantime, here's one of the games I've been working on. Actually, this one is fresh out of my mind with no active playtesting yet. I'll be doing that, and sharing my experiences, in future posts, so stay tuned. For now, let me introduce you to I'd Like You to Meet (was that as confusing as it sounded to me? Good.) 
(Image made with the help of Lorc from game-icons.net.)
I’d Like You to Meet (ILYM) is a “silent” semi-live action game for four players, played with a deck of regular playing cards, seated around a table. In ILYM, you play as one of four family members: The Mother and Father meeting their Child’s Paramour for the first time.


It's a little unorthodox, but that's sort of the point. Once I get around to releasing my other projects - specifically Slugball, Sorcery & Secrets! you'll realise that unorthodox is par for the course.

I've also been considering starting a Patreon account, to maybe kick this into gear. The funds I'd receive (if anyone was amazing enough to fund me) would help cover the costs of professional art, proof readers, what have you. I'd also like to start streaming some of my process, but that too would come with some costs. A Patreon would also enable me to just do this more which would mean more games being made.

If this is something you'd be interested in, let me know in the comments (or yell at me on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, or randomly on the street without context).

Anyway, enjoy I'd Like You to Meet!

Problems with D&D 5E: Combat - Mooks

The other day's article seemed to work nicely, and I still have some steam left over, so I'll tackle another issue of mine (that I briefly touched on yesterday). Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition seems to favour fighting big bad evil super-powered monsters... Except for one glaring problem. Despite how powerful a monster is, it still only gets to act once a round, whilst the PCs get to act PC amount of times.

This means either you make a monster so bullet-spongy that they can survive for long enough to act enough times to be compelling, or all your monsters become piles of goo before they get a chance to show why they're cool. The bullet-sponge tactic also has the short fall that often the amount of hp to damage a monster does is off-whack. Either they present no issue for beefy PCs (like Paladins or Barbarians) or they one-shot-kill weaker ones (like Bards or Wizards). This results in weird stilted combats...

One obvious solution to this is adding in Mooks - tiny monsters that surround the big one, and are threatening only in numbers. Mooks in a combat-heavy RPG are awesome - they give the PCs something to fight whilst presenting less of a challenge. They're meat shields for the bosses, and act as pockets of fiero for our heroes. It gives them the chance to throw their arms in the air and yell like the crazy Gnome Barbarians that they are (Flick, I'm looking at you!)

Great! Sorted! Except now you have to run combats with 20+ minis on the field, and a ridiculous amount of book keeping besides. But, as I said last time, 5th Edition is very easy to hack - and hack we will! Below are my rules for using Mooks by turning them into Squads.

I know it's technically Warhammer, not DnD, but just appreciate the awesome, ok?

Squads of Mooks


  1. Firstly, find the monster stat block you want to turn into a Squad. Anything squishy works well - generally creatures that will go down in 1-2 hits from your PCs.
  2. Next, decide how many you want in the Squad. This number becomes their "Magnitude".
  3. Now, make a mini-base, or use a proxy model, that would be of equal size to all the monsters together. So a 3x3 for 9 medium creatures in a Squad.
  4. This base moves and acts as a single entity.
  5. Give the Squad a special Action:
    1. Divided Attacks. The Squad may make up to Magnitude divided by 3 (minimum 1) melee or ranged attacks each turn, so long as they target different opponents with each attack. If they have fewer viable targets, they may direct their attacks towards the few they have.
  6. Give the Squad two special Features:
    1. Squad Combat. The Squad attacks together, and even though some may miss, eventually one blow's going to get through. If the Squad fails to hit an opponent with an attack, they deal half damage instead of missing entirely. The Squad loses this feature if their Magnitude is reduced to 1.
    2.  Stand Together. Whenever the Squad takes damage equal to or in excess of their hp, they immediately lose 1 Magnitude, and replenish their hp. Whenever the Squad would be the target of an effect that targets multiple creatures, instead have it effect that amount of the Magnitude. If this is damage, simply multiply it by the amount of targets. If the effect is a condition, count it as temporarily reducing the Magnitude of the Squad by that many targets. The Squad loses this Feature if their Magnitude is reduced to 1, fully or temporarily.
  7. And that's it! Now you've reduced a large group of Mooks into a single 'creature'.
Give this a try, and let me know if it speeds up play whilst not removing your ability to have lots of monsters.

Problems with D&D 5E: Legendary Resistance

There are two things many of you may know about me:

  1. I've been running Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition for about 2 years now in a campaign called Ameshirel: A World Undone.
  2. I hate Dungeons & Dragons.
Now, the second thing has always come in waves. I see a new edition, I play it, I like the new things, but the old shitty things continue to piss me off. I then realise that Dungeons & Dragons doesn't do the thing it claims to be best at any better than a handful of games. So I end up switching to something better...

But I've stuck with 5th Edition because I honestly believe it is better than all previous editions. However, that doesn't mean it is good. Just better.

Luckily, we can make it even better!

Now I'm not sure if this is going to be a series, or just a one shot, but I'd like to start looking at individual mechanics in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, pointing out why they suck, and then reworking them to be a little more interesting. The first one I am going to target is:

Legendary Resistance

AKA, "nah, fuck your cool signature spells... I'm a bad-ass and don't want to be hurt." AAKA "I'm a Game Designer and needed a way to make this super powerful creature actually powerful, but refuse to fix the broken system around it, so will instead invent a bullshit rule."
Legendary Resistance (3/Day): If the <creature> fails a saving throw, it can choose to succeed instead.
This ability is given to a number of monsters - basically anything that's considered a stand-alone boss fight. The problem is, with Dungeons & Dragons's weird combat system, stand-alone monsters aren't really feasible. The PCs will have infinitely more chances to act than them, making their super powers only useful a fraction of the time. And the amount of crazy PC abilities means they'll whittle it down before it's acted more than once or twice. So we see Dragons, and Vampires, and Demons, etc, all sporting this rule.

Why is this bullshit? Well, because spellcasters (and Monks) rely on saving throws for a lot of their abilities. These same classes also rely on limited resources (spell slots, Ki points, etc). They also, usually, don't get to do much in their turns except cast a single spell, or whatever.

So when you have the Wizard dutifully wait around until it is finally their turn (because combat in this game takes forever), and then to use their favourite spell, which they get to do for, maybe, 10 seconds in a 4 hour session, you pull this shit out. It tells the player that, no - in this case, for no apparent reason, your awesome ability didn't work. Doesn't matter what kind of saving throw, either.

White Dragons are massive, so they can probably resist Constitution saving throws. However, they're also described as being stupid. They're also, as I mentioned, massive! So it's arguable to say they can't dodge all that well, nor hold onto their wits like others can.

This rule decides to shit all over the lore, and just tell the players that, in this case, the monster is OK.

It also becomes a war of attrition. The spellcaster has 3 spell slots? Well Legendary Resistance has 3 uses. Looks like you're not getting your spell off - Tim the Enchanter. Oh, what's that, you DO have a 4th slot? Well we could either let you just use your damn spell, or we could waste 3 rounds of combat until the monster has no more charges left. Because that sounds fuuuuuuuuun.

I haven't ever used this ability against my players. And I never will. It sucks... Unless we can fix it.

Fixing Legendary Resistance

Now that my rant is out of the way, here are some ideas on how to make it not terrible.

At its core, it's a useful ability to have - it makes the big bad guys actually difficult to defeat. What can we do to make it better?

1) We give it specific saves it can bolster.

Firstly, we tie the ability into the lore. What is this monster good at resisting? What is it bad at resisting? We can foreshadow all of this in game as well, so that we give the players an early idea of how they might be able to win this thing. 

Is the monster afraid of cold attacks, and can't use their Legendary Resistance against anything cold? Then we put lots of warm fires in their lair.

Is the monster dumb, and can't use their Legendary Resistance against Intelligence saving throws? Then we make it perform stupid actions. It chases its tail if it isn't sentient. It can't speak properly, or bumps into things, or whatever... You get the idea.

This allows the players to strategically choose which spells they're going to cast. If they know this monster is super wise, and they're going to use a spell that needs a Wisdom saving throw, then they should second guess themselves. If they don't after all this foreshadowing, then it's their fault.

2) We make it a bonus, not a trump.

Secondly, we make the ability a bonus to the monster's saving throw, not a flat out "it fucking wins". Make it a big bonus, to reflect the nature of its Legendary status... However just by rolling - and rolling out in the open - we give the players a fairer chance. We're telling them that the mechanics are granting them the possibility of succeeding, but because this thing is a bad-ass, it's slim.

For argument's sake, let's make it a +10 bonus. Big, crazy, bonus.

3) We make it a strategic choice.

Thirdly, we tie it to a limited resource for the monster - like Reactions. Maybe we give them a second Reaction each turn, to make it more possible for them to use it, but we tie it to something like this. Why? Well, this allows the players to drain the monster's resources.

If the party knows the Wizard is going to lay down some hurt, but they need a clear shot when the monster doesn't have Legendary Resistance, they can help them out. They can purposely provoke Attacks of Opportunity, or they can cast minor spells to expend uses of counterspell, or whatever. Basically, they can set up the Wizard's spell.

The awesome thing about this? Well, it makes everyone involved feel responsible for the awesome spell going off. The Wizard made the spell, but the Monk made the spell possible. Now we've got some team work.

And GMs, don't choose to save the Reaction for the Legendary Resistance. If the players tell you they want to try to provoke the monster so as to distract it so it can't use its Legendary Resistance? Bloody well let them. That's awesome. That's tactics. That's what the game is about.

Conclusion

The age-old rule of "Yes, but..." applies to mechanics too. Don't make a mechanic that shuts a player down, or invalidates their favourite moves. That's not good game design. That's laziness. We're all better than that, and we can work together to make Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition better than that too.

Sorry if I've been too critical of the game. I do have parts of it I like. But I have other parts that I despise. Hopefully, if you scrape off all the vitriol, you'll get some good advice!

Research & Dragons: Fate Accelerated

Last night I ran the first game of a new project of mine - a series of RPG experiments where I take a new system, a new style, and run it in a method I have never done before. This session began after mid-day, and went until midnight, with teaching the rules, planning the game, character creation, and finally play all occurring at once. This is Research & Dragons.

For the first session of Research & Dragons, I chose the following variables to test:
  1. System: Fate Accelerated.
  2. Style: Period Political Intrigue.
  3. Method: Zero Preparation; Player’s Create the Setting (at the table).

Needless to say, I was terrified, but in a good way!

So how this is going to work is I will outline how the session went, and then I will break it down into an analysis of these three variables and discuss my findings. At the end is the Verdict, where I trace out my findings and advice. If you don’t have time to go through everything, at least read those three short paragraphs!


Session Rundown

We began play at 3:00 PM on Saturday 12th, September 2015. The idea for this particular experiment was born in the car heading back from a camping trip, and immediately after a short Facebook conversation about some themes, and organisation. We came to the idea of running a no-magic “medieval” courtly intrigue game with no direct combat. All ‘combat’ would be social intrigue. We had some ideas for the setting - such as a warmer planet with 2 suns, a culture of veiling yourself in public, and some ideas pertaining to noble title passing by right of virtue rather than familiar bloodline.

Then came game day. The limit of my preparation was to print out character sheets, the game creation sheet for Fate Core, and a list of names for males, females, and places (I chose Babylonian names, as I haven’t used them much before). With our materials gathered, myself and four players - Alex, Amelia, Felicity, and Genevieve - sat down to discuss the game.

I quickly sketched out the core rules of Fate Accelerated. In brief, you roll 4d6 (we used normal dice instead of Fate Dice, and substituted 1-2 for a Minus, 3-4 for a Blank, and 5-6 for a Plus) and add your Approach (a score from +0 to +3) to beat a target number or an opposed roll. You have Aspects, which can be words or phrases that describe a factor about your character. You can invoke Aspects to gain +2 to a roll, or to reroll your dice, but this costs a Fate Point. You regain Fate Points by having your Aspects be Compelled by the GM or other players to make something bad happen to your character as a consequence of their nature. Done. Rules sorted.

Next was setting creation. I began by prompting my players with a few questions, but very quickly they began riffing off each other’s answers, and I had to madly take notes. They developed in full steam ahead of me, with me throwing in suggestions here and there to liven up the tension. Using the Fate Core Game Creation Sheet I was able to guide this a little better, and asked them for the major movers and shakers, as well as the centres of conflict, and the current issue and incoming issue of the world.

In the end we got some truly unique results. In addition to the features I mentioned above during our Facebook back-and-forth, we developed that the world was in a pre-Dark Ages, Iron Age level of technology, with a political landscape similar to that of the Roman Empire, the Persian Achaemenid Empire, and in some ways the tribal nature of Dark Ages Scotland.

We discovered that there is pseudo-religious tension between those who worship the suns and walk freely beneath them, and the aristocracy which believes in veiling themselves from the sun and living nocturnal lives in veneration of the moon. We learned of the divided nature between ‘puritan’ aristocrats who believed in more traditional monogamous and insular (read: almost inbred) families, and the ‘liberal’ aristocratic movements where a matriarch and a patriarch of a noble house have countless suitors and mates, and the children of an entire house belong to everyone.

We discovered two guilds: The Guild of Roses, for female courtesans who traded their skills for the fruits of their own wombs (taking in children to use as wards and playing pieces in foreign courts), and The Guild of Thorns, for male courtesans, who trade in information garnered from their attentions. We learned of the strict laws that forbid the two from consorting with each other for fear of the power they would wield.

We also learned of a curious custom where nobles have “Senses” or “Censers” (the richer you are, the more you have) - servants who act as an extension of your body for that given sense. So a noble could have an Eye who is expected to observe and tell their master everything they see, or an Ear who listens to another noble’s Mouth, or even Feet who carry you on palanquins, and Hands who give and receive gifts and signs of affection. The play of veils, and the use (and ignoring/recognition of a Censer) becoming the main dance of these ridiculous nobles.

And the beauty of all of this? I did very little. I sat back, and watched as my players became not only engrossed in the world they created, but deeply invested and engaged - plotting and planning openly.

It was, therefore, time to move to character creation. We began with High Concept Aspects, and then Troubles, which were easy to determine given the nature of my players’ engagement. Next came, in a similar style of Fate Core a process of each player dictating a situation in their past for which they gained another Aspect. Another player would then jump in and dictate how they made it more complicated or helped, and in turn gained an Aspect and determined a familiar bond between characters.

By game start, we had a well fleshed and interesting setting, with 4 characters who were ripe for political intrigue. What we didn’t have, however, was a starting point. This was quite difficult for me, as the players and I knew the issues at hand, but the characters didn’t. I was faced with the weird job of cleverly and interestingly informing players about things they already knew. Luckily, my players were willing to just banter at each other, and the awkwardness I felt in my ability to deliver the beginning was quickly overridden.

We played for several hours, during which the characters learned of several interlinked plots to overthrown the Queen, a mysterious southern continent that was at the centre of this web, and also learned of the major players. We didn’t, however, have time to finish the session with anything remotely close to a satisfying ending, and perhaps this one-shot will need to be extended out to a mini-campaign (or more, depending).

My Findings


The System: Fate Accelerated

The Fate Accelerated system, augmented with bits and pieces from Fate Core, is truly wonderful. Whilst it required a little bit of explaining up front, the mechanics were simple enough that players were experimenting with them right out of the gate and having a lot of fun even during character creation!

The flexibility of the Aspect, Stunt, and Stress systems allow for exactly this sort of game. However, I am wary of the advancement mechanics and the utility of the system for anything more tactical.

Fate Accelerated seems entirely suited to political intrigue and social combat, with the Actions and Stress system making immediate and perfect sense. You try to butter up the Queen? That’s Creating an Advantage. You’re discrediting an opponent? Attack them with your Clever!

Interestingly enough, and this was proved through play, the mechanics work best as a player-vs-player system, which was incredibly enjoyable. Combat took some time to do, but it was mostly because we were working through heavy intrigue. Even still, everyone was keenly engaged during the play experience.

Perhaps my favourite facet of the system is the transparency of the game. There is no illusion that the GM is the authority, and that the other players are the audience for the GM’s story. In truth, I was a casual observer for much of play, and merely stepped in to provide rulings (and even then, it was a discussion at some points). This is a wonderful thing because, without prior rules knowledge, within a single session players (who themselves have never GMed before) were able to grasp and adapt the rules to the situation.

There is one thing I will say about the system, though. You cannot play Fate Accelerated, or Core I presume, and think to win. This is a standard of all roleplaying games, but in Fate it is painstakingly obvious. If you want to see your player characters succeed over and over, then find another system. Fate is about exciting and dramatic tales involving exciting and dramatic characters - and drama means things go wrong!

The Style: Period Political Intrigue

Political intrigue is hard. I was terrified that it wouldn’t work, and am entirely indebted to my players for it working. Without them as strong and motivated characters (and players), the game simply would have fallen flat and been an utter disaster.

However, there were a few key things I noticed that I can impart:

Fewer NPCs who have greater weight between them is good. If there are too many NPCs, it becomes confusing to follow, but if you have a powerful few then it flow a lot smoother.

Allow the PCs to drive the fiction. No matter what you as the GM may feel is interesting, the players are the ones who will engage and give you your greatest resources, so listen intently and throw back everything they do. For instance, one of the greatest points of tension came about because a player failed a Careful test in their scheming, and a powerful NPC just happened to be there. This was emergent - I had no intention of the Queen being near the discourse, but it was the most exciting and dramatic thing that could occur at the time, so I made it so!

I will definitely be running more political intrigue games in the future, and this single session has given me so much fodder and experience already.

The Method: Zero-Prep, Player Setting

This was terrifying. Honestly, don’t do this if you’re inexperienced. I’ve been GMing for 17+ years, and I found it stressful at times.

However, it was also amazingly liberating. This game was the first game where I truly felt that they players owned the fiction as much as I did. I don’t think anyone left last night thinking that I did a good job running it, but rather than we all ran it together amazingly!

Despite this, I feel there are steps to take to prepare oneself better for this kind of session. A list of questions to ask the players would be ideal, rather than a flat open expanse of nothing to come with. Whilst I was lucky enough to have the players run away with the idea and build it themselves, it could easily have led to Blank White Paper Syndrome, in which case a few ideas to bring it back on topic would have been useful.

I would also suggest reading appropriate fiction beforehand. I have been reading Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Quest, and I found myself more than once falling back on ideas and assumptions about how to improvise from the way the characters within the story act and improvise. Because the book is largely political intrigue, it enabled me to well picture how a session should run, and the outlines of the objectives:

Someone wants something for some reason. They can’t use violence to get it. They must convince, coerce, connive, and mostly corrupt to get it. Go from there.


The Verdict

 Fate Accelerated is an amazing game that can be taught in minutes, and can be extended out to infinite settings. It does seem, however, to be limited in the play styles it supports. If you’re looking for crunch or tactics, look somewhere else. You will not find that here. This is a system about flexibility without forsaking depth.

Fate Accelerated can be downloaded for pay-what-you-want at Evil Hat Productions.

Political intrigue is a tricky style to play, and requires deep player engagement. Do not attempt to use it with guile - ironically - because it won’t work. Be up front to your players that intrigue is the state of play and that there is no room for shooting/stabbing first. You can’t do that. It won’t work. But that isn’t to say you can’t defeat people. Political intrigue is all about rising to the top, and you can only do that by stepping on the people below you!


Zero preparation, in addition to letting the players create the setting on the day of the game is a scary but rewarding experience, and will allow you to grow as a GM. It isn’t for the inexperienced, but is something I feel every GM should try at some point. Lastly, even though it is zero preparation, prepare to be unprepared. Read what you can, know the rules well, and know your players. They are your setting, your cast, and your entire game. Play them.

Here's a Gift: Triskell's Tower

Hey, it's been a while.

I have a lot to discuss, but not enough time to discuss it all. So, I am going to give it all in dot points for possible later discussion!

  • My group finished Marienburg: Sold Down the River. It was awesome, and I intend to let you know more about it. It involved a prison break, a fight with undead elves, summoning a dragon, and a whole lot of death.
  • I started another game, called Ameshirel: A World Undone, which is currently being run live in a Hexcrawlly sort of way. Check it out on Obsidian Portal (as I've actually managed to convince my players to update it!) It is using Dungeons & Dragons 5e, which is a new and strange experience for me.
  • I'm now running a game using Fragged Empire, an indie RPG in development that was successfully Kickstartered a little while back. It is being posted up in Vod form on Another Dungeon, so check it out!
  • I got a new job! I now work for EA Firemonkeys in Melbourne, and am an actual paid Game Designer in full now. No more split titles here, no sir! I'm having a lot of fun, and working on Real Racing 3 for iOS and Android. You should check it out, because it is one of the best racing games on mobile.
  • I'm still planning Verum Arbitus, and it should be launching in a few weeks. Very excited!
  • I've been playing in lots of games, recently, including a Cthulhu Horror game using a hacked homebrew system, and a Terry Pratchett meets The Office meets Better Off Ted style game. Very odd, but loving it.
  • I've been watching a crap load of itmeJP's YouTube channel, especially Steven Lumpkin's West Marches and Adam Koebel's Swan Song. Check them out.
Anyway, because I have been neglecting you all so much, I decided to wrap up a present for you early and release it here!

This is an adventure / dungeon I wrote for Ameshirel, but it can easily be transported into any DnD5e game, or really any game, so long as you're willing to hack it a little. So enjoy the Mad Wizard Triskell's Tower!

(PLAYERS OF AMESHIREL PLEASE READ! Do not look at the PDF above. It will spoil the adventure. I mean, go ahead and read it if you want, but Triskell will know... And he'll get you.)

If It Ain't Broke, Make It Better

Hey everyone, please excuse the lack of posts recently. I've been writing for a website called Another Dungeon, and doing lots of projects on the side, so versamus has fallen somewhat by the wayside. But no longer! I have a few articles I plan to post in the near future, so that should be grand.

There is a very old and very wise saying that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. This sounds like good advice: if your chair works, then don’t go fiddling around with it. Your meddling might break it to begin with, but either way you’ll be wasting time.

This piece of advice is, of course, terrible for a games designer. Simply terrible.

When it comes to game design, I am a little bit Derridean - that is, I believe that pretty much every idea has already been done before at some point in time, and attempting to come up with something 100% original is pointless and impossible. Everything we think is based on our experience, so it isn’t possible to think of something that isn’t in some way referential to something that has come before.

This must therefore also apply to mechanics, story, and every facet of every genre of game design. So where does the creativity come in? By smashing those old, tired, and generic ideas together. Not only that, but by constantly questioning the choices that we make ourselves.

Now, let me be clear, this doesn’t mean reinvent the wheel - another very old and very wise saying. However, take those wheels, pull them off the monster truck, and jam them onto the tricycle.

Let me give you an example: Carcassonne.

Carcassonne is a great, classic Euro board game which is enjoyed by people worldwide. It has a sleek elegant design which makes it a quick game to learn, to play, and to enjoy. It is very fun-efficient, suitable for all ages, and has a nice combination of luck and strategy that make it a near-flow game.

However, Carcassonne isn’t perfect. No game ever is.

So I decided to change that. Now I’m not pretending I was the first person to do this - I have never seen it before, but it is such a simple change that I am certain someone else has done it before - but I decided to change the random draw of tiles at the beginning of a round of Carcassonne with a random hand of three drawn at the beginning of a round, which is replenished after each tile is played individually.

Simple change. I didn’t invent anything whilst doing it. I didn’t invent Carcassonne. I didn’t invent the concept of hands in a game. But I did cram one invention into another. But doing so does not a designer make. Game design isn’t about posturing. It is about playtesting. No idea is ever good until you play it and have fun - better yet, no idea is ever good until you play it and have more fun than you had before the idea.

So we gave Franken-Carcassonne a spin, and it turned out great! The addition of a hand allows for higher strategy, and faster gameplay. It removes the shambling randomness and incomplete feelings that some games of Carcassonne can create when the deck is shuffled particularly badly. It also allows for some rather spectacular back-stabbing and fiero moments when you execute an amazing play over a few turns.

The variant doesn’t unbalance the game, because all players have the same ‘advantage’, and are equally able to plan ahead. Yes, each players’ hands can still come out badly, but the hand size is big enough to allow for forethought and clever planning, whilst not big enough for a single player to monopolise all of a single tile-type.

This is just one example. And not a very good example. The change was small, and not very original. But it worked! It made for a different experience, if not certainly a better one (though I prefer it, personally), and got everyone at the table thinking about the game in a different way.

If you need any more proof that constant iteration on games is a great thing, just look at the amount of mods Skyrim has. That should convince you.

So the next time you pick up a board game, card game, or video game, consider the rules you are playing, ask yourself why those rules are in place, and then ask what you could do to change them. Yeah, some of the changes will suck. But some will be awesome. You won’t know until you try them out, and before you’ve realised it you’re a game designer.

Regent: A Free & Easy Card Game For Infinity Players

Regent is a game I came up with today on the way to work... Seriously, I'm not kidding. I wrote this in less than 10 minutes, and I have no idea if it will work or not yet, so I am hoping some of you play it and give me some feedback!

REGENT:
A Free & Easy Card Game For Infinity Players

Regent is a card game which can be played with any number of players above 2, with normal decks of cards (you need 1 deck per player) and probably 30 minutes or so to spare (though this is merely conjecture at this point).

Objective

The aim of Regent is to defeat the other players - all aspirants for the Throne - by destroying their Holdings, which represent their military and political might. The last player standing is the Regent and gains the Throne, winning the game.

Set-Up

To play Regent, you need a normal 52-card deck of playing cards for each player. Once you have these, shuffle them all together and place the massive pile that you'll have on your hands in the centre of the playing area. 

Deal 20 cards face down to each player. This is their Holding Deck. Then deal 7 cards to each player which they may look at. This is their Hand.

Everyone declare how many Royals they have. The player with the most Royals goes first. If you have people with equal amounts of Royals, then the one going clockwise left of the Dealer goes first. Play progresses clockwise from this player.

Playing The Game

At the beginning of their turn, players draw a card if they have less than 7 in their hand.

During their turn, players can perform up to 3 Actions and play a Court Member. Outside of their turn, a player may Defend, Exploit or Assassinate at any time.

Each Action is assigned to a particular suit of cards, and to perform that Action, play a card of that suit. The number on the card represents the power of that Action. There are four possible Actions:
  • Attack (Club): Pick a target. Remove Holding cards equal to the power. You must declare your target before defence.
  • Scheme (Spade): Look at up to power number of cards on the field (in players' Hands or Holding Decks) and rearrange them as you see fit, though maintaining the amount in each location. You need not declare your target before defence.
  • Favour (Diamond): Draw up to power number of cards and add them to your hand. Discard down to 7 cards before taking another Action or finishing your turn.
  • Heal (Heart): Draw up to power number of cards face down and add them to either the top or bottom of your Holding Deck.
Instead of using them as an Action, a player may play one Royal per turn to their Court, face up. Doing so prevents any other player from being able to use that same Royal for as long as that card remains in their court, though the player who owns that Royal may still use them in Actions. Additionally, if you have all three Royals of a suit, you gain +3 power to cards of that suit. This may only be done in your turn.

Additionally, at any time (in your turn or off-turn) you may remove a Royal from your Court voluntarily to use them in an Action (though they never re-enter your Hand, so you must use them immediately or discard them). Once this has been done, you may not add an additional Royal of that same type to your Court this turn. I.e. You may not have a King of Hearts in your Court, remove him, use him, and play another King of Hearts that you hold to your Court.

Defending can be done by any number of players when another player plays an Action, but each player can only Defend with a single card per Action. To do this, play a card of the opposing colour to the Action (Red > Black, or Black > Red). Reduce the power of the Action by the power of the Defence. If an Action's power is reduced to 0 it failed (but still counts to the total Actions used). This can only be done in your off-turn.

Exploiting can be done by drawing cards from your own Holding Deck. This can save you in a tight spot, but also harms your 'health'. This can only be done in your off-turn.

Assassinating can be done by playing a Joker Card and removing a Court Member from an opposing player's Court, thus allowing another player to add that same Royal to their own Court. This can only be done in your off-turn.


Winning The Game

Once a player's Holding Deck is reduced to 0, they lose, and their Court is disbanded (and discarded). When there is only 1 player left, they win.

Clarifications

Once a card has been used to perform an Action, Defend, Assassinate, been Assassinated, or is discarded, it goes into the Discard Pile. Once there are no more cards to draw from the Deck, reshuffle in all cards from the Discard Pile into the Deck, and keep going with play as usual.

Royals are worth the following amounts: Jack (11), Queen (12), King (13). Ace is worth 14, but is not a Royal and cannot join a Court. Further, Jokers are worth nothing and cannot be played in any way except to Assassinate another Royal. You may also never have multiples of the same Royal in your Court so as to "hold" the space. Only one Royal of each suit can ever be in a Court at any one time.

Cards used to Defend do so to their full amount. Any excess 'defence' left over does not get stored anywhere. Therefore, if you use a Defend card of 5 power against a 2 power Action, the other 3 power is simply wasted. So choose carefully!

As I say, please give this a try and let me know in the comments.

[EDIT #1] Thanks go out to Robert for making me realise I forgot some things in the original write-up, and for suggesting some changes. I'm a goof.

[EDIT #2] Thanks to Amelia, Laith and Sam for playtesting this over the weekend. It's fun, though a few issues need to be ironed out, so I will likely have to make a 2nd Edition!

Emotion in Gaming 2.0 - Part #3 - Involving the Other Senses

Woo! Back after a long break from a great many things, I am ready to start writing again. So, I'll get to continuing my oldest/newest series.

This is Part #3 of a 5-part series. For the other 4 parts, go to these links: Part #1, Part #2, Part #4, and Part #5.

Since the beginning of versamus my writing and my GMing has grown considerably. As such, I felt it would be a good idea to re-write the first series I ever released on here - Emotion in Gaming (1234). This post is a continuation of last post, Involving the Senses.

This series is useful to GMs and players alike who want games that really stay in your memory, long after the session in which it was played has come and gone.

Emotion in Gaming 2.0 - Part #3 - Involving the Other Senses


Last time I talked about Sight, Sound, and Smell in RPGs, but now I am going to finish up this 2-parter with Touch and Taste. Both of these are massive categories, so I had to split it up a bit.

You don't have to go full LARP to create immersion - though it couldn't hurt.

Touch

Touch is perhaps the most difficult sense to employ, but one of the best when used correctly. This comes in via props - in-game letters that you've prepared and handed to the players, 'magic' rings you've found, precious stones, coins, and the like.

Whilst making these items is possible, it can take a lot of time. Except in the case of letters, which are pretty easy (just get some parchment paper from your local craft store, and either print out your notes in calligraphic fonts, or get a fountain or quill pen and have some fun!) What you can do instead is raid local garage sales, thrift shops, and your parent's attic over the holiday break.

Anything from old jewellery, to pewter tankards, to a pipe, a hat, a broken doll, a wooden box. Anything. You should be able to pick up any old item like this and craft a story around it, or using it, or at least think of a way your players would love it. If you're playing a Sci-Fi setting and a friend of yours has a broken computer, laptop, tablet or other device, see if you can steal the broken pieces and make your own 'Tech' with it.

Coins, and in-game currency, has always been a close one to my heart. I've always wanted to be able to thrown down a bag of money in front of my players, and have them use it as they would in the game. However, currency represents a few problems: how do you get enough of it to be usable? And how to you make sure the use of it doesn't overshadow the game?

Several services now exist for in-game coins, the best of which would have to be Campaign Coins. However, Campaign Coins are quite expensive, and unless you can easily afford it, it is an expense that shouldn't be high up on the list for GMs (as coins don't add THAT much to your game).

Another alternative is to use metal washers, or other circular tokens. Again, getting enough of them is an issue, but can be done with a little investment. One method I have used is when I went to Japan I saved all the small Yen currency coins and brought them back with me. A few hundred 1 Yen coins work wonders as silver coins! Don't use native currency, as it has the issue of having immediate monetary value, and can become confusing if someone has their wallet out at the table.

Or, you can do what I do and offset some (or all) of the money with paper notes which can be printed in the same way as normal parchment notes above with a little photoshop skills to make the design. I've done this very successfully with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Dark Heresy in the past, so I highly recommend this! (And if anyone wants the files I made for these, feel free to ask)


Taste

Taste is probably my favourite sense to use in games, as I do love to cook. It can be done cheaply and quickly - serving coffee (or ReCaf) in a tin cup when your players are fighting in the trenches of Cadia - or slightly more expensive on time and money - by serving a full multi-course Russian meal when your players are the guests of honour in a Boyar's court. Cooking is great, because you can have everyone bring something else to the table when game day comes around, and it fills your play area with smells, and tends to get everyone in a good mood before play begins.

You may wish to serve food before play begins, eat, and then get into the swing of things, or eat during play, but remember a full mouth is a misunderstood mouth, and the GM may want to hold back during dinner time. My advice would be to either serve before hand as stated, or plan for some PC planning or discussion - an intrigue scene where you can talk as an NPC instead of narrating. Have someone bring the bread, and someone else the wine-spirits-or-beer as dictates, and either cook something yourself, or get another player who can cook better than you to bring the main course.

Trust me, it will make a memorable game. It has for me many times.

Next post will be about the Cardinal Emotions.


Have you ever used touch or taste at the tabletop to heighten the ambience, and create more memorable moments? Did it go well? Did it go poorly? Let me know!

What I Learned About RPGs from MCing a Wedding

Yesterday, Saturday December 6th, 2014, my best friends got married. They were both beautiful, and the wedding went off without a hitch... Which was surprising, considering I was both Best Man and Master of Ceremonies, so a lot of the screw-ups (which thankfully didn't occur) would have been on me!

The whole experience got me to thinking: planning and running a wedding is a lot like running an RPG as the GM. In fact, the two are so similar, that I wouldn't be surprised if that was why I was chosen for the role!

So here are a few tips for both MCing a wedding and for running a successful RPG session.
I swear to you I did better than this guy...
Tip #1 - Over-Plan, Under-Plot
When planning for the special day, I looked over several revisions of run sheets, spoke to everyone who may-or-may-not speak, collected together a series of items for the Groom in case of emergency, and ran through every situation in my head before it could surprise me. I also wrote a giant stack of palm cards with every step of the day marked out clearly.

Now, do you think the day went according to the plan? No way. Herding wedding guests is like trying to direct players - except you have about 10x as many, or perhaps even more! And yet, all this planning wasn't wasted.

Because I knew how the day was supposed to go and why back-to-front, I knew what I needed to change on the fly to get it back on track, or just as good. It also allowed me to be comfortable enough with the material that I could improvise when I needed to (which I did need to with several points).

For RPGs, I would recommend this sort of over planning, yet under plotting. Know who your characters are and what they want deeply (and why!), and then figure out how they're going to get their goals completed. Once you know this through and through, throwing a few players into the mix wont hurt so much. Your players will mess everything up, but your finely crafted NPCs will be able to reel with the punches and deliver some great dynamic game play!

Tip #2 - Get to know your guests and supporting cast
I spoke to everyone (or near everyone) on the Bridal Party, close family of the Bridal Party, and Church/Reception Staff before their roles were exposed to everyone else. I knew where their weaknesses were (Would they dance? Would they give a speech? Would they prefer to mingle early, or take a break from photos, etc?) 

This enabled me to know who I could rely on for what tasks, and to delegate out pieces of the evening. If I needed something for the Bride or Groom, I knew who to ask. If I needed to shuffle around some of the speeches, I knew who to talk to. If I needed to get the music changed, I had that covered.

Obviously I couldn't do everything at the Reception myself, and nor should I. The parents of the Bridal Party would want to help out on the newlyweds wedding, and I was more than happy to have their help! This delegation allowed me to focus more on the Bride and Groom, and also allowed the rest of the Bridal Party to feel more included, and to actively shape the happy night their children will remember for the rest of their lives, and that is truly special.

For RPGs, this advice boils down to: know your players, and know what they're good at. Do you have a player who is great at maths? Have them keep tabs of HP. Do you have a player who loves music and has a great ear? Have them run your playlists. Do you have a player who can bake? Have them bring some delicious treats for the rest of the players!

Keeping your players involved beyond just being characters enables them to build culture with the RPG group, beyond just in-game memories. You'll have your players talking about not just the two-headed Troll they slew, but also the sweet music going on in the background, and the delicious biscuits to go along side it! This sort of culture is, in my opinion, deeply important to RPG groups.

Hell, it's the reason the Bride and Groom are my best friends... I became close to them through my first campaign in Melbourne!

Tip #3 - It's ALL about the Bride and Groom
The single greatest piece of advice I received when planning for last night was that nothing matters beyond the Bride and Groom having a great time. Nothing. If they are happy, the wedding is going well, and in return they are happy, ad infinitum.

I made sure to keep my Bride and Groom stocked with drinks, food and anything else they could possibly need. I made them know that if they needed anything I hadn't offered, they could merely ask and I'd get it. (I also discovered a form of Wedding Sorcery - honestly, if you're ever on a Bridal Party, try going to the Reception Staff and asking for something for the Bride or Groom. They will drop what they're doing and run for it. I may have gone power-crazy.)

For your game, know that so long as they players are enjoying themselves, the game is going well. So what if you'd planned for a Dragon fight at this point - if they're having fun discussing court politics with the aging King, then damn well let them! However, if they're starting to nod off, have the Dragon come to them! Bring them the fun - don't make them find it.

Tip #4 - Be Sincere, Be Happy, Laugh When You Fall, and Help Up Everyone Else
My last tip is simple - don't take yourself or anyone else to seriously... At the Reception, I didn't write in jokes. I was nervous, and I just said what came to mind. I opened the night by standing like a dick in front of everyone chatting away. I thought, How will I get their attention? I picked up my fork and tapped it against the glass in front of me like I'd seen in the movies, and like I'd always wanted to do. Everyone shut up and looked and me, and I forgot what to say, so I said what came naturally to mind...

"I've always wanted to do that."

People laughed, I laughed, and I remembered everything I was supposed to do. I made myself a momentary prat, and then captured the audiences attention and empathy. We were all there to have a good time. They weren't there to listen to my verbosity - they wanted to see and toast and love the newlyweds.

Plus, the line became a running joke for the evening, bringing everything together. Whenever I needed attention, everyone looked over and laughed again, and it kept the tension broken. We could get on with the good stuff. During my speech, I spoke sincerely. I didn't shove in Buck's Night Humour as one cousin congratulated me on afterwards, but spoke from the heart, and matched how I felt. I hope I did them well.

And so my last time is this: Don't run your game like a TV Comedy Panel, trying to force entertainment on your players. They want to have fun along with you, not be entertained by you. They want to build their own fun out of a game session, and build it co-operatively. So let them. It will make your job easier, and make the sessions better! Just run a game as you'd tell a good story to a friend down at the pub. Your players will laugh in the right bits because you will. Your players will be tense in the right bits because you'll feel it. And they will laugh when you fall, and you'll laugh when they fall, but just as you should help them back up, so to will they.

Final Words
I love my RPG group. I really do. We are all the best of friends, and I feel comfortable around them in and out of game with anything. I've seen two of them fall in love, and two others get married now.

The game is nothing compared to the culture, and that's what I want to protect. We're an RPG Family. Thanks, M.O.R.T.E.




The Lightest RPG Ruleset Ever

Don't worry, I'm still writing the next part of my recent series.  I haven't forgotten! This is just something I thought about on my way to work this morning...

The following is a ruleset for a light RPG you can play in any amount of time, even less than 30 minutes. Character generation takes 10 seconds, and combat (if you even have any) takes a single dice-pool per 'side'. It can be used for any setting, ever.

Each player chooses 3 things their character is good at. This could be anything, from Strength, to Running, to Talking People to Sleep.

Each player ranks these traits from +1, +2, and +3. You have to use each, and you can only use each once.

To make a test, a player rolls a d6. If they are testing an action against something that they have a trait in, they roll that many more dice and add all the results together.

The GM sets the Difficulty of an action (or in the case of a contested action, the other party rolls and compares the highest). Difficulty 4 is the base-line.

If a player rolls equal to or above the Difficulty, then they succeed. If they get equal to or more than twice the Difficulty, they have performed a Critical Success, and they can describe the extra awesome things they've done.

Combat is fought by both sides adding up all their dice and rolling it as a single dice-pool. The side with the highest total wins, and the other side loses. It is up to the GM and the players to decide what this means.

Weapons and armour, and other gear add more dice, or have cool effects determined in the moment.

Rules of Thumb: Don't be a dick. Play to have fun with everyone. Trust each other. Do these things and the system will work.

Have fun!

Emotion in Gaming 2.0 - Part #2 - Involving the Senses

This is Part #2 of a 5-part series. For the other 4 parts, go to these links: Part #1, Part #3, Part #4, and Part #5.

Since the beginning of versamus my writing and my GMing has grown considerably. As such, I felt it would be a good idea to re-write the first series I ever released on here - Emotion in Gaming (1234). This post is a revision of the second part: External Influences, which I am renaming Involving the Senses. I'm actually breaking this one into 2 different posts, as it was getting a little long!

This series is useful to GMs and players alike who want games that really stay in your memory, long after the session in which it was played has come and gone.

Emotion in Gaming 2.0 - Part #2 - Involving the Senses


Often the greatest barrier between your players and their emotions is, oddly enough, your game. Not the story, or the characters, or anything on that kind, but the fact that you're all sitting around a table and playing something. Whilst true immersion is impossible (and not even ideal), you do want your players invested in your game world. The best way to do this, I have found, is by influencing your players' senses.

As I touched on last time, we have more than the 5 senses that good ol' Pliny put down, but we can hardly include proprioception into a campaign. What we can do is influence Sight, Sound, Smell, Touch, and Taste. Some of these tips are elsewhere, and last time I left them out if they were, but not this day.
Procrastination, always putting things off till another day.

Sight

Sight is the easiest and cheapest trick in a GM's book. A GM can go to really any length on this spectrum, from finding good image boards on Pinterest (of which there are many), and checking out the two Greatest Damn Art Resources(1, 2), to making PowerPoint presentations or AfterEffects clips showcasing the art, all the way to performing your own "holograms" like I described last time.

Really, anything can be mocked up easily for your players' benefit.

Not only is sight easy to trick, it is also quite effective at rallying your players behind a single mindset. A map is great to give a sense of scale to a journey, and a monster image will help build the epicness. But all of these techniques are surface deep.

The best use of sight I have ever done was in limiting it. By controlling the lighting in your sessions you can build fear and apprehension (much as I did, by making the corners of the room difficult to perceive). This can be done in any way from replacing electric light with candles (or those "electric candles" you can get from craft/homeware stores) to a dimmer switch.

Sound

Sound can be a great addition to the tabletop for building emotion, but it can be a distracting tool for the GM to use. Building playlists around themes may work for some, but I often find myself either ignoring the playlist completely, or tripping over it as the mood changes.

Luckily, fantastic alternatives now exist! Syrinscape, a subscription-based system enables you to more seamlessly integrate sound effects and music into your game. However, there is a lot there, and it might not be to everyone's taste. Therefore, a free alternative (though you really should donate!) is Tabletop Audio, a lovingly curated background ambience web-player. Check it out, if you haven't already.

Music should be played at low volume so that when only one person is talking (hopefully the GM, not players talking over each other) it can be heard in the background, but when everyone is getting into the spirit, it doesn't make you raise your voice. Sound works best to create emotion when you match the flow of your own voice to the music, so make sure to describe those dark caverns in a slow, deeper method than a pirate swinging from the riggings!

Smell

Smell is a very difficult sense to trick, especially so at the tabletop when you don't have anyone behind the senses. Whilst I used to think incense was a good idea at the tabletop, it can be very distracting if done incorrectly. Instead, I now advocate for mixing Smell with the other senses:
  • If you're using candles for lighting, consider scented candles (or maybe even church candles if you want to get that waxy smell really strong),
  • If you're cooking (see Taste next post), make sure you do it shortly before playing, so the house smells strongly of the food,
  • If you're not directly cooking, put some spices in a pan for a few moments, or brew some coffee, or make fragrant tea,
  • Spray a little perfume under the table at a pivotal moment,
  • And so on...
Smells should be used sparingly. Not everything needs a physical smell, but you should always describe it at least. However, if you have a villain who always smells like sickly lavender, and you spray some under the table every time they appear, the next time your players smell it yet you've said nothing they will go into frenzy.


Next post will be about Touch and Taste, my two favourite senses at the tabletop!


Have you ever used sight, sound or smell at the tabletop to heighten the ambience, and create more memorable moments? Did it go well? Did it go poorly? Let me know!

Emotion in Gaming 2.0 - Part #1 - Group Dynamics

This is Part #1 of a 5-part series. For the other 4 parts, go to these links: Part #2, Part #3, Part #4, and Part #5.

Since the beginning of versamus my writing and my GMing has grown considerably. As such, I felt it would be a good idea to re-write the first series I ever released on here - Emotion in Gaming (1, 2, 3, 4). This post is a revision of the first part: Group Consensus, which I am renaming Group Dynamics.

This series is useful to GMs and players alike who want games that really stay in your memory, long after the session in which it was played has come and gone.

Emotion in Gaming 2.0 - Part #1 - Group Dynamics


Emotions play a massive role in tabletop gaming, whether it is the anger felt over someone building your route in Ticket to Ride, or the sense of conflict-camaraderie when you push back the Barbarians in Settlers of Catan: Cities & Knights. Whilst these experiences are fun, powerful and memorable, they do not hold a candle to those had during a roleplaying game... Our group still shares a few moments of silence when Saint Ghanima's name is mentioned.
Is it that I don't like Catan? Or that Catan doesn't like me?
These emotional responses create long-lasting memories for players. Everyone around your table will remember the time when the young innocent barmaid is sacrificed for the greater good, or the villain slays a party member who then miraculously (and dangerously) comes back to life. (I'm getting chills writing these examples, as they are all excerpts from my Praag campaign!) These events will create a shared narrative around the table, and represent the height of the GM's craft - you've created events so real to your players that they count as 'memories'.

However, this isn't for every group. I'm lucky in that my group trusts me to run damn near anything. I've scared the shit out of them with sadistic cultists of Khaine, and I've brought (at least a few of them) to tears when their gruff mentor himself broke down weeping. I've been lucky in that my group are happy to experience these greater emotions. Not that we don't play for fun, but we are far from a beer-and-pretzels game.

But not every game is this way. Along with your Standard Table Contract, you'll want to discuss what emotions and topics people don't want to explore, and which ones they do. Some people love horror, others hate it. Some want romance in their games, others are uncomfortable about it.

To go through this, I advise three levels of gradation with each topic and emotion: 
  1. Green: The topic / emotion is completely fine. No issues with it being included.
  2. Orange: The topic / emotion is fine thematically, but keep it 'off screen'.
  3. Red: The topic / emotion is out-of-bounds. Keep it away from the game.
In the case of a Green topic, it's fine, just leave it, and let everyone know they can always flag it with Orange if they get uncomfortable. 

With Orange, discuss as a group how best to present it: "fade-to-black" is my personal favourite, where you say how it begins, and then allow the scene to explain itself in player imagination while you change the scene. 

With Red, just leave it out. If it is thematically necessary, discuss it with the group, but it is better to not have compromise. Nothing is worse than a player feeling out-of-character uncomfortable at your table.

Discussing these issues will help your game significantly, as it will allow your players an idea of the games you want to run, and the mindset that they should be coming to your game with, because at the end of the day, if the players don't want to feel a certain emotion, you're going to have a very difficult time making them...

Have you ever used a strong emotional response in your games? If so, let us all know! These tend to be the best stories from the tabletop, so keen to hear about them!