Gaming

#200WordRPG: DOGMA

#200WordRPG is one of my favourite yearly traditions, despite how young it still is. This is my second year entering - last year's entry can be found here. If you're not sure what #200WordRPG is, well, it's a challenge to write an entire tabletop roleplaying game in 200 words or less, with no graphics or special formatting. It's all about the words (all 200 or less of them).
This year, I present to you DOGMA!

You and at least two others (there is no maximum) are an entire religion, throughout its timeline - from inception, to corruption and subversion.

Your religion is growing. It will do great things... Before it is twisted, and made rotten. We play to see it fester.

The first player describes a moment of SPIRITUALITY: a fact about the religion at its founding.
//Thou shall not kill.

The second describes a FABLE that explains it: written long after, it obscures the spirituality from morality into rote learning.
//St. Cain didn't kill the sinner, but cut off their hands, feet and tongue so they could never sin again.

The third describes a MISINTERPRETATION: long after the fable is written, how is it subverted and corrupted for personal gain?
//King Auger cut out the tongues of all non-believers, stating they were now, or would become, sinners. He declared their exsanguination was God taking their deaths into Her own hands.

A player who hasn't described a Spirituality begins again. New Spiritualities must reference or retaliate to a previous Myth or Misinterpretation.
//Suffer not the sinner to live.

The religion stagnates when everyone has misinterpreted something.
//Religion fades when spirituality is forgotten.

Record everything.
I also did pretty it up a little, and uploaded it here (and put it on my portfolio here).

If you play it, let me know!

A reply to a reply to a discussion about Losing


Some good stuff happening over at RPG YouTube right now. Matthew Colville began by discussing Losing in an RPG, and +John Harper followed it up with an add-on/challenge to that topic. I've posted both below, but also expanded on John's wisdom, based on how I've seen, run, and played games for the past many years.
Hold on to your characters lightly. When your characters experience adversity, that isn't happening to you as a player. Take the good with the bad, and accept that everything that happens to your character is part of the story. Look for how that can be interesting and dramatic, rather than good or bad, winning or losing.

This isn't to suggest that you shouldn't enjoy winning, but rather to encourage you to also enjoy losing, because even when you lose you can create great story. The Force Awakens would be a worse film were Han not killed (as gut wrenching as that was). Boromir wouldn't be as interesting a character had he not sacrificed himself. A Game of Thrones would not have been as compelling if Ned wasn't decapitated.

However, to cap this all off, I'm still a firm believer in what +Adam Koebel has now popularised: killing a character is the least interesting thing you can do to them. They can lose, and sometimes death is the logical result of a loss, but more often than not you can scar them, or defeat them, and allow them to live (and struggle) another day for a better story down the line.

Finally, regular readers may not that it's been a month since my last This Week - this has been somewhat intentional. I've needed a break, to refuel and to reorganise my thoughts. It's been very needed, and I feel a hell of a lot better after it all. I should be getting back into regular programming soon!

Curse of Strahd #2 - Into Death House...

Please note this is a continuing campaign diary. If you haven't read the first session, you should start there. Also, like last time, if you're intending to play in Curse of Strahd you shouldn't read this series. Whilst I've changed a great many things, and tweaked it like any GM will, this write-up will still give away many many spoilers for those wishing to play the game.

If you missed Session #1, please find it here!
(Image from Mike Schley.)
Face to face with a looming townhouse, with not another soul around except for two lonely and frightened children, our heroes had little choice. Though they were cold, wet, and injured from their journey through the woods, they could not ignore the pleas for help from the children - Rose and Thorn. They'd heard the sound of monsters in the basement, and their baby brother was still in his room in the attic... The party couldn't turn away.

Asimi scaled the front of the building, attempting to get to the top landing - in and out - with the baby. However, when she made it to the second story, a raven flew onto the perch she was hanging from. At first it cawed and danced back and forth, but when Asimi tried to shoo it away, it nipped at her ear. Arkaeous sensed magic emanating from the house and the bird, and shot at it with his Eldritch Blast, but the bird evaded and flew away. Seconds later, a great wind and a grim presence, spread over the area and threatened to tear Asimi away from the building and dash her against the ground. She managed to pry open the window shutter and slip inside to relative safety.
(Image from Wizards.)
Arkaeous also noticed that the two children were in fact illusions, and secretly gave this information to Rowena and Mizhena. Informed, yet playing along, they entered the house and instructed the children to wait outside. When they turned back around, the child-illusions were gone.

Inside the house, they discovered that all the rooms were dark. Everything seemed in good repair, but abandoned. Quickly, they began to ascend the central staircase to reconnect with Asimi, but on the way Mizhena inspected some of the wall hangings and moulded plaster scenes decorating the walls. Each one at first seemed beautiful - depicting scenes of youths dancing among orchards, or animals frolicking in the forest - but the longer Mizhena looked, the more darkly twisted they became. The youths weren't dancing, but fending off bats as they bit at their hands and faces. The animals weren't frolicking, but running from hungry wolves. Further, the more she looked at these scenes, the more she became convinced she heard them - the fluttering of bats wings, and the howling of wolves.
(Image from missquitecontrary.)
Eventually, the party reconnected with Asimi who had found herself in an old yet elegant ballroom with an ornate harpsichord in one corner. She had been inspecting the harpsichord and had discovered that several of the keys were rigged up to trip lines throughout the construct. She didn't know what the mechanisms did, but made a mental note and they continued upwards.

The party reached the third floor, where they discovered that the well-kept nature of the lower two floors did not reach the third. Thick dust, as if from centuries of disuse, covered everything. The floor was rotten and spongy below their boots, and the walls were faded and damaged from mould. Furthermore, they were confronted by a black suit of armour fashioned with a wolf's head helmet. Asimi moved to investigate, and the armour animated and began to attack. The fight was short but brutal, ending in an incredibly frustrated Rowena striking the helmet from the gorget, and destroying it entirely. Asimi recovered some valuable-looking armour shards and they pressed on.
(Image from enjin.)
The party found a large portrait of the Durst family - the owners of the house - showing the two children they had met, standing in front of a stern looking couple who were obviously their parents. The father held in his arms a small bundle which was obviously a baby - the children's baby brother. The mother, however, looked at the baby with obvious scorn on her face.

Mizhena continued to investigate the wall mouldings, and discovered a scene of writhing snakes. As she stared at it, she began to hear hissing and, pressing her hand into the wall discovered that it was a secret door that slid back to reveal a staircase into the attic. Without wasting time, the party journeyed upwards.

Upstairs in the attic, the wear and tear on the house was even worse. Cobwebs covered every surface, and the air around them was heavy with dust, spores, and the stench of ancient death. The party discovered a door held closed with a padlock that had rusted and fused into a brittle clump. With little effort, Mizhena was able to push into the room.
(Image from Andre Govia.)
On the other side, the party discovered a cell, with a barred window in the back, two small beds, a chest of toys, and a to-scale dollhouse of the house they were in. In the middle of the room, they also found the small skeletons of two children, as well as the shreds of clothes they recognised - these were the bodies of Rose and Thorn.

The party began to investigate the room when Arkaeous reached for the toy chest. A ghostly hand reached out to stop him, and the party were startled by the apparitions of Rose and Thorn. Arkaeous examined the ghosts and found them to be entirely different from the illusions - these were real, yet good-natured, undead.

The ghosts talked to the party, and told them that they had been locked in here by their parents, and had starved to death. Their parents spent a lot of time in the basement of their house, and must have forgotten about them. They also talked about their baby brother, who they revealed was stillborn. Further, as they talked, the party realised that the baby wasn't in fact their full brother, but their half-brother - a bastard child of their father and the house keeper...
(Image from Wizards.)
The party wanted to put Rose and Thorn to rest, but Mizhena declared that it would be impossible without putting them in their correct tombs. Rose told them that they had a crypt in the basement built for their family, and pointed to the dollhouse which showed the layout of all the rooms, including many from the basement. Rose instructed the PCs on how to access the basement - a code to be played on the harpsichord downstairs that would unlock a secret stairwell in the attic. The PCs decided to take the bodies with them to be interred.

When they tried to leave, however, Rose and Thorn became scared. They didn't want to be left alone again, and pleaded with the party to let them come with them. This, naturally, meant they needed to possess two of the party members. Feeling compassion for the children, Arkaeous and Rowena agreed to have Thorn and Rose possess them respectively. Whilst the two of them retained their own minds, they began to become agitated - Arkaeous became frightful, and Rowena became bossy (even more so than usual).

The PCs travelled back to the ballroom and played the notes. As each note chimed, apparitions were summoned into the room. First of twirling aristocrats, dancing to the tune. Second of a caped and regal figure, standing in the doorway to the room, looking in balefully. Third of a massacre, of the caped man moving blindingly fast throughout the room tearing throats and bowels from the revellers.
(Image from Halloween on Earth.)
After the third note, a loud clunking sound could be heard above as the secret door was opened. The party, terrified of what they'd seen, travelled upwards, entered the musty and cramped secret stair, and began their descent into the basement of the haunted townhouse... But not before Rowena caught a glance of her reflection in a strange mirror, seeing her face withered and aged beyond recognition. The vision lasted for a blink of an eye, but left her shaken. A portent of what was to come? Only the land of Barovia could know for certain...

The party made it to the bottom of the stairwell, and found themselves in a rough-hewn, clay-cut warren. They followed the sketched floor plan they had created by copying the dollhouse, and discovered the family's crypt. Inside, they laid down the bones of the children, and Mizhena gave them their final rites. A hush fell over the party, and the spirits of Rose and Thorn left Rowena and Arkaeous. The children were at rest, but the monster - the thing in the basement - and the constant chanting they could hear remained...
(Image from megalithic.)
The party continued to explore the warren, and discovered several sleeping chambers for far more than just a family. These chambers included the possessions of what seemed to be cultists, not servants, and spoke of potential blasphemous rites that the Durst family had been undertaking. Eventually, they found several locked boxes which Asimi threw open with the flick of her thieves tools. Within they discovered several objects of a fell disposition, as well as a silvered short sword and a sack of silver pieces.

Continuing on, the party came to a ritual room, dominated by a wooden statue of a man with pale skin and striking angular features - the same man they saw in the vision who butchered the revellers in the ballroom. With one hand, the statue held the collar of a wolf. In the other, he held a misty-coloured orb. Around the room were pillars upon which hung chains from which dangled the broken remains of a score of sacrifice victims.
(Image from Tribality.)
Arkaeous inspected the orb, but in his curious haste, fumbled it and it shattered on the hardened clay floor. Instantly, living shadows melted from the walls and began to attack. The shadows proved immune to the weapons of the party, save for the silvered short sword. Asimi tried to figure out a solution to their problem, as they were quickly being driven back, when Mizhena fell to the ground clutching her wounds. All seemed dire, when Rowena lay her hands on Mizhena, and then put two and two together: the silvered short sword repelled the Shadows, so she instructed Asimi to scatter the silver coins along the floors to create a wall. This delayed the Shadows long enough that with the aid of fire and spells, they were able to defeat them or drive them from the room.

The party, nearly broken and exhausted, slumped to the floor. They would set camp in this room, defend the doorways, and rest for a few hours before they pressed on into the Death House.

And that concludes the second session of our Curse of Strahd campaign! I hope you enjoyed it, and that you come back next time for more.

Edited by Amelia Sarif.

Curse of Strahd #1 - Enter, our Heroes!

A little backstory before I get into this... 

As I mentioned last week, I had never really intended to play Curse of Strahd so soon after Ameshirel: A World Undone, but found myself in a state of 'No Campaign Madness'. I collected a good group of friends, we made adventurers, and set off into the lands of Barovia. 

This is their story.

Note: If you're intending to play in Curse of Strahd you shouldn't read this series. Whilst I've changed a great many things, and tweaked it like any GM will, this write-up will still give away many many spoilers for those wishing to play the game.
I had to get into a Strahdy mood. It may have gone too far...
The party consists of four adventurers, all from the Forgotten Realms:
  • "Rowena" (formerly Jane Hull), a Human Paladin of Sharess – the Goddess of Seduction and Life's Pleasures. She's a vain, jealous person, who wants to evoke beauty and joy in the world... So long as it includes, and is somewhat focused on, her. Played by Alex.

  • Asimi Naftikos, a Human Rogue and former Ship's Girl, turned Mutineer, turned High Seas Pirate, turned Treasure Seeker. She's a greedy, treasure loving adventurer, through and through, who wants to seize enough riches to purchase her own ship. But she has a heart of... perhaps not gold, but something shiny. Her pirating ways are dominated by a desire to stand up for the rights of exploited sailors working under terrible captains and overly affluent merchants. Played by Amelia.

  • Battle Sister Mizhena, Stalwart of Tempus, a Human Cleric of Tempus, the Foehammer. She's proud and boastful, and quick to action. As the good Lord Tempus demands, she's fair in a fight, eager for adventure, with a lusty desire for glorious battle! Played by Danny.

  • Arkaeous, a Tiefling Warlock, addicted entirely to the magic gifted him by his patron – a terrible Pact Devil, beholden to the Demon Queen of Spiders Lolth! In his heart, he yearns for atonement for terrible sins he has committed in the lust after his magic, but yet he is unwilling to give up the baleful energy coursing through his body. Played by Sam.
Danny knows of the Forgotten Realms. Mention of Strahd and Lolth does not a confident Danny make!
Our adventure began in a nameless hamlet on the edge of civilisation, far to the north of the Dalelands. Here, our adventurers had been called by a friend of a friend, to come to the aid of Father Rennic – the local priest – to aid in matters of the undead.

Though at first they feared a necromancer, or other such evil, the adventurers were only able to find five lonely zombies in the woods. Dispatching them easily, and after weeks of searching, they concluded with the Father that their job there was done. Still, the mysterious, and thoroughly dated, ruffed clothing they wore, and the lack of evidence from where they came, continued to confuse everyone in the sleepy little hamlet.

On the night before they were to leave, there was a cry from the edge of the woods. Fearing another zombie, the villagers called on the heroes to investigate. They discovered it was no zombie, but a man named Arrigal, wounded and dressed in similar clothing to the zombies. The heroes questioned him, but he knew nothing of the undead, and had his own problems which needed their urgent attention.
(Image from Wizards.)
Arrigal told the story of his people - the travelling Vistani – who were beset by a pack of three werewolves. They had been attacked, but Arrigal lured the werewolves away. His Baba – priestess of their people – put a spell over their caravan which meant that until morning no outside eyes could see them.

Arrigal pleaded with the party to hunt down the werewolves before dawn, whilst he sought out his caravan. The party – foremost Rowena – distrusted Arrigal, and wanted to either go with him to his people, or to await the morning. Arrigal, however, was sly, and produced reason after reason to lure them into the woods. Unable to confirm their suspicions about Arrigal - and unwilling to let innocents be slaughtered, they set off... Not without first extracting promise of payment in treasure from Arrigal.

"How about this? I am a famous juggler among my people. I propose a wager  we Vistani have much treasure, and I shall juggle it all when next we meet. Any treasure that I drop, is yours to keep!"

With that, Arrigal disappeared into the woods, and the party set off in the direction he told them.

After many hours of walking, they became enshrouded in mists, first ankle, then knee high. Arkaeous determined that the mists were supernatural, and that they were growing behind them, preventing them from turning back. The party was now certain that they had been betrayed, and that they had been spirited away into a land unlike their own.
(Image from Dragon+.)
The howls of wolves began to punctuate the air, giving credence to at least part of Arrigal's lies. There were werewolves in these woods – at that revelation, a form moved through the trees and dashed out onto the road. Before they could see it clearly, it was gone - dissipated into the mist.

The party made their way to a great gatehouse, crossing a path that had formed in the woods. Wrought of black stone and cold iron bars, they journeyed through the gatehouse, into the other side. Arrigal sprang from the other side of the gatehouse, and locked the gates before they could move. They had fallen into his trap! All of a sudden, the great walls of the gate were gone – crumbled to nothing. The structure seemed to blink forward in time thousands of years in desolation. Arrigal himself, gone completely...

But they were not alone. 

On the road ahead of them, a great snarling sounded and they spun to confront a werewolf. Rushing into the fray, Rowena set up a strong position between the beast and her companions. Asimi was about to loose an arrow towards it when another werewolf launched from the forest and began to gore Rowena.
Pardon the orc and gnoll - we proxy a lot of our minis!
Finally, another huge werewolf (in wolf form) padded onto the road, but didn't engage – merely watching as its other pack mates fought. After several rounds of combat, the werewolf that had gored Rowena broke and fled – fearing the divine might of Mizhena. The fleeing werewolf called out to the other that was still engaged with the party, calling it "Emil" and begging it to flee as well.

The third, larger werewolf sprung on this opportunity, and dragged the fleeing werewolf away, preventing it from hesitating and getting back to Emil as he was cut down. The screaming werewolf transformed back into a human, a woman, and fought the large wolf dragging her away – confusing and building mystery for our heroes... Which was somewhat resolved when, picking over the corpse of Emil, they discovered a wedding ring with the name Zuleika etched into the band. With a dead werewolf on the road, and two very living werewolves somewhere ahead of them, the party didn't have time to rest. 

The momentary peace was punctured when Asimi stumbled upon a skeletal rider atop a skeletal horse, fully animated, watching them from the woods off the road. The rider looked to have once been a knight, given its torn and destroyed clothing, and the barding on its horse.
(Image from Tribality.)
The rider, unable to speak without lungs or a tongue, clacked and attempted to communicate with the party – Rowena in particular. It made the motion of a shield, and pointed at Rowena. It pointed west along the road, then back east the way they'd come through the mists. It shook its head in warning. Then it turned and rode slowly back through the trees.

Mystified by this encounter, the party pressed on – believing that Arkaeous's suspicion was correct. They could not leave this realm until they performed some deed to reverse the spell: started in the woods, and ended with the locking of the gatehouse. 

They made their way to a large grassy plain beyond the woods, but still upon the road. A few more hours, and they saw the gloomy shapes of a settlement in this forsaken land. Bunching up tight, they stepped into the shadow of the buildings, and noticed no one was around – even though it was early, perhaps 6'o'clock in the morning. They expected someone at least to be out. Worse still, Rowena was able to sense the presence of undead within some of the buildings...

Then, a cry. A young girl, dressed in rather fine yet strange attire, ran from her house to the heroes. She held the hand of her younger brother, and they both looked frightened and concerned.

"Help! Our parents are not at home, and there's a monster in our house!"

The party looked towards the daunting yet proud townhouse, with its swinging open iron gate, and felt dread for their adventures to come...
(Image from Wizards.)
And that concludes the first session of our Curse of Strahd campaign! I hope you enjoyed it, and that you come back next time for more.

My 7 Tips for Playing Well

I talk a lot about how to GM – mainly because GMing is the vast majority of what I do. But recently, I’ve been given the chance to play on the other side of the screen a bit, and it’s refreshed my perspective of how to be a good player.

GMs see good players every session we run (if we’re lucky – in which regard I am very) and as such we have a good view to give to the other side. This is the view as I see it.

Tip #1 – Be a Fan

Be a fan of your game, and your fellow players.

Just like when you watch your favourite TV show, you should be routing for the other characters. You should be excited when they win, and heart broken when they lose. You should be cheering them on, every step of the way. Now, just like in any TV show you watch, you may not agree with everything a beloved character does, you should always at least want to see what happens next.

And just like any fandom, you should feel the urge to tell the other players that you’re a fan of their characters. Tell them your favourite things they’ve done. Share the experience with them.

If you love their characters, they’ll likely love yours as well.

Tip #2 – Develop a Voice

Develop a voice for your character – not just how they sound, but how they respond.

Often people advise players to ask themselves “What would my character do?” I’m suggesting you ask yourself “How would my character do that?”

If you’re so inclined, come up with an accent to play as your character. Make sure you can keep it up, though! Otherwise, just think about how your character acts. Are they sheepish? Are they shy? Are they assertive? Are they full of jokes, or deadly serious?

And don’t just make this static. Always be open to fill in the edges. Maybe they’re normally pranksters, but take on a cold tone when dealing with blasphemers. Maybe they’re usually a hard case, but can crack a smile now and again with everyone else.

Whatever it is, this tip is about developing a voice, not having a voice already developed… The game is about who your characters are, and who they become. We should see them change.

Tip #3 – Don’t Begin with a Finished Backstory

I know how fun it is to write massive backstories for characters. Trust me. I’ve been there! But I don’t think it’s wise, or as fun, to start a campaign with a fully fleshed out backstory.

Begin your campaigns with a clear idea of your character, but leave the details up to development (as the above tip). Allow things to grow organically. Maybe you can work some of the events of the campaign into your backstory, to allow for more adventuring hooks!

By not beginning with a finished backstory, you allow your character to grow a little more naturally into the world. You might go to a tavern and decide that you’ve been there before. Hell, it might be where you had your first drink – and the kindly woman behind the bar? She’s your God Mother…

Of course, ask your GM about these sorts of things before you start out – but 9 times out of 10 I’d imagine they’d be thrilled for the added input. And any GMs out there that aren’t – well, you better have a damn good reason why not, otherwise we need to have a talk, you and I.

Also, feel free to improve on the spot. Do you know that your character’s family died in a fire? Are you looking at a burning building right now? Maybe this is giving you flash backs. Mention this to the GM, and everyone around the table can play it out a little…

Tip #4 – Build Connections

Look for opportunities to build connections – everywhere. Build connections between your character and the world, but most importantly your character and the other characters.

This tip feeds off the last one, but always look out for the chance to hook your character onto something another character does. Has a party member just buried an old companion? Why not comfort them and trade stories about your lost friends. Maybe you’ll find out you both knew the same person. Maybe you’re both carrying a missing piece of a puzzle.

Again, let your GM know what you’re doing. They should be willing to go along with these sorts of things. Which brings me to…

Tip #5 – Ask Leading Questions

Whenever you’ve got a good idea, ask your GM leading questions – but for the love of everyone around the table, please show your hand. Nothing is worse than the players trying to pull a fast one on the GM. The GM has enough to worry about – understanding the fictional position of the game world shouldn’t be one of them.

What this tip means is, if you have a cool idea, ask the GM if it’s possible, or how it could be done. Ask them if you can use the powdered sugar from the case of donuts to dust for finger prints. Ask them if Gnomes prefer gifts of gold or gems. Ask them what you know of Giant heroic myths.

By asking the GM these leading questions, you’re showing them what you find interesting and important. You’re giving the GM an indication that in this scene, at this moment, you want to express your agency. A good GM will see what is happening, and let you run with it.

Further, most GMs will have to stop and think. Hell, what DO Gnomes prefer? Sometimes they’ll make something up, and create a twist in your story. Other times, they might just throw the question back on you. What do you think? This is them telling you run with that agency!

Tip #6 – Relinquish the Spotlight

Just as it’s the GMs job to grant spotlight moments, so too is it the players’. If you notice someone around the table isn’t as engaged, then engage them in the story! Call on their character to aid you, or to ask them for their expertise. Allow them to show off their own character traits.

This comes back to building connections. You should always be looking for ways to make the other characters relevant to your character – and to give them time to shine when you do. This will make other players enjoy playing with you, and will also make your GM very happy. It can be hard to manage everyone at the table, so if the other players have their back, the GM’s job is much easier.

For example, say you’re playing a fighter with a military history. You notice some strange terrain features in a field. You know they look a little bit like fortifications, but you’re not sure. You could maybe ask your ranger friend if they’re naturally occurring. Or you could ask your rogue friend to scout them out. Once you find out they’re actually burial cairns, you could ask your cleric companion to which culture and religion they belong.

Say you’re a scholar, and you need some protection moving through a dungeon. Why not directly ask the fighter to take the lead? Tell them why they’re most suited to this task, and encourage the player to express themselves in how they bravely journey on first.

Try even making suggestions about possible links in the campaign. If you know your paladin friend is searching for an ancient mystical shield, and you see a shield on the wall of a far off tomb, shout out to them that maybe it’s the one! Then get out of the way, and let that player take over the spotlight for a few moments. They’ll be happy that you did.

Tip #7 – Take a Turn GMing

Every player should GM at least once. The very act of trying out the other side of the screen gives you so much perspective and appreciation for exactly what the GM does that it’s invaluable. You’ll be an infinitely better player for this one act than any other, because you’ll understand what the GM is doing, and be able to help them in little ways like wrangling the other players, or keeping track of HP, or whatever.

Tell your GM what you’re doing and why, and I guarantee they’ll help you in whatever way they can. GMs love making new GMs, and having a chance to sit back and play once in a while.

Play More Games!

And a final bonus thought for you… Play more games. All sorts of games. Play everything you can. You’ll learn lots (even if it’s just which games you like, and which you don’t).


Have fun out there!

#200WordRPG: MegaCorp

It's time for #200WordRPG again! This shall be the first year I'm participating. Pretty excited for it, to be honest. If you don't know what it is, you can read all about it here, or see an example from this year by Steve D here.
Please note, this game hasn't been tested. It might suck...
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You’re suits pulling the strings of a MegaCorp. But the ‘Corp is falling - you and your associates have been picking it apart for months now. You want as many assets as possible before it crashes. But not the most, nor seen to be responsible for the crash - they will be charged with fraud...
To play, gather: 2-4 players, a Scrabble set, and a Jenga tower.
Separate Scrabble vowels from consonants. Players take 5 vowels and 9 consonants each. Players make words in secret (minimum 3 letters). Oldest player begins.
Players have a conversation - when asked a question, answer it - attempting to goad the other players into saying one or more of their words.
When a word is said, the player who owns it immediately halts play, reveals it, and replaces the letters. They draw new letters of the same amount, then either remove or replace Jenga pieces up to the amount of letters in the word (minimum 1). They then restart the conversation.
The game ends when the Jenga tower falls, and the knocker loses. The player with the most Jenga pieces loses hardest. Whoever has the second most pieces wins.
Lather everything in Cyberpunk and describe it.
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I'll be playing it over the next few days to see what it's like. If you've got an idea for a 200 Word RPG, let me know in the comments below, and then submit it on the site!

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!

Versamus 30k: We Did It, Baby!

I'm very proud today. I'm proud because versamus has reached 30,000 page views!

That's pretty intense, I have to say... 30,000 is a lot more than I ever dreamed I would get way back when I started. My writing has changed a lot in the 3.5 years, and my life has changed a lot more. I've grown as an individual and, most importantly for this blog, as a Game Master.
This photo is a metaphor about how I've been standing still with my hands cupped in front of my for so long that a tree has started growing in them. It has no relevance to this blog. None. Nothing about Growth. I'm just bragging that I can no-hands photograph.
In the 3.5 years I've finished a major campaign, graduated university as a Games Designer, and begun working in the industry. I've even started freelancing! I helped release a WFRP 2e fan supplement, and began writing my own... It's been a busy few years.

To express the growth that has gone into this time, and to pay homage to the beginnings of versamus, I am going to rewrite, and re-release my first four articles on the site - Emotion in Gaming (1, 2, 3, 4).

Thank you to everyone who has ever read anything on this site. A second thank you to anyone who has ever commented! (I don't get many, so when I do, I get very excited!!) And a third and far-from-final thank you to those who have encouraged me along the way, shared my work, or let me know that anything I've written has actually been worth reading. You guys are the reason there are 30k views on this blog. Not me. I had very little to do with it...

Cheers, and I hope I'll be doing this for a lot longer :D

Where Have I Been? And A Monster For Your Troubles...

Greetings,

It's been a while. It certainly has been a very long while. Much has changed, and now that the effects of Tzeentch are beginning to wear off I am finding a little more time to talk about those changes and other topics which I do love to natter on about.

So here goes...

Since I last spoke, I've: visited Japan for 2 amazing weeks; changed vocations (now professionally working for a Games Design studio in Melbourne, Australia - Twiitch); gained a housemate; radically altered (and somewhat stalled, due to increased work) my WFRP 2e campaign, Marienburg: Sold Down the River; begun work on The Sands of Athla in ernest (and hired a team to make it possible); begun freelancing for some professional tabletop ventures; and prepared myself mentally, physically (*laughs endlessly*) and emotionally for the prospect of being best man at my best friend's wedding...

So, you know, same-old.

Most (maybe all?) of these matters are topics I want to discuss more, though I wont make the mistake of promising them now. Let's just cross our fingers, shall we?

What I will give you now, however, is a monster concept that I wasn't able to jam into my latest submission (and as such it would go to waste otherwise). I give you the Hiveworm for your troubles:
Some travellers marvel at the strange formations that mountain ranges take. The educated among them often see mountains which don't quite fit with tectonic science. To some, these would be curious exceptions, but for those surveyors who have investigated, they have proven to be the source of nightmares. These 'mountains' are in truth gigantic hive-cocoons for a race of worms know as Hiveworms. Hiveworms come in three varieties; the small Slaver which coils around the necks of larger species to enslave them in protecting the hive, the horse-sized Chrysalists which devour rock and extrude it in a film to build the great mountain cocoons, and finally the mountain-sized Queens which live within the bowels of these cocoons and breed he lesser two varieties. These beasts operate towards their own goals with an almost sentient level of intelligence - certainly staring into their black beady eyes one feels a being of hate and madness staring back.
Stat it up (or suggest systems that you want me to stat it up into) and enjoy!

Hopefully we will talk again soon (and I will get a chance to show you some of what I've been up to!) 

Spotlight: The Second Greatest Damn Art Resource Ever...

So, it's been a little while. I have quite a bit to tell you.

Sneak Peak style? Lots of work, lots of WFRP, and two weeks in Japan. I shall tell you all more soon!

However, in the mean time, I have another Art Spotlight recently discovered, in the same vein as the last one.

May I present Lidrael's Gallery!

Check it out, weep over the artworks, and let me know what it inspires you to create.

Good gaming, everyone!

Creating Impossible Worlds & The End of A-to-Z

Greetings all,

It's been a little while since I last posted. A great many things have happened, and in the end they got in the way of the last few posts I was going to do on the Marienburg A-to-Z. But, I am here to let you know what was happening, and what will happen next.

First of all, as I may have mentioned, Impossible Worlds was experiencing some problems. They are far to myriad and complex to go into here, so I am posting the link to the Post-Mortem for you all to read if you so wish:


Additionally, I am here to let you know that I am currently working on a PDF of the entire Marienburg A-to-Z series. This will include a polished up version of the posts made between A-U, as well as the unposted V-Z. I will release this freely on versamus, for all viewing pleasure.

On this, I am looking for a couple of artworks to scatter throughout. I might end up using some of the stuff in the Marienburg: Sold Down the River book, but if you know of any artwork that would be fitting, please let me know.

I hope everything settles down soon, and I can get back to my regular posting.

All the best, and I hope you have time to get in some gaming soon!

Marienburg is Born!

I do apologise for the lack of A-to-Z posts recently... I've been working a crazy amount at SportsBet, so I haven't had many evenings in which to write, and the next few days are likewise filled with lots of fun (though I will be posting about all of that), so the last few letters will have to wait a little while. I'll try and do a few tomorrow and stack them up, but no promises.

Last night I finally held my first WFRP related event since the end of Praag, and it felt awesome. Everyone gathered around at our usual gaming table, and we had a Round Table Character Creation session. We discussed the campaign, and I handed out the Starter Kits, and everything was in good WFRP cheer!

The collaborative Character Creation, though, was a lot more successful than I thought it would be. This is what I did:

  1. Everyone around the table had the chance to give a 1 sentence explanation of their character. This ranged from submissions as succinct as "Pirate", to multi-clause sentences about Half-Ogres and Blood Bowl teams.
  2. Everyone got the chance to veto or question any of the choices. Some questions were thrown, and ideas changed dramatically (I kid you not, one of the characters went from "Axe Cop", to what is essentially Vinculus from Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell - a charlatan who dabbles in fake magic, gambling, and anything to make a quick copper).
  3. Everyone expanded on their ideas, and added bits of flavour. This was anything to additions of back story, or what have you.
  4. Again, everyone could veto or question.
  5. Everyone described what they would be doing during a usual session, and we got some clear ideas of the party intentions. Surprisingly, there was very little combat focus, so the campaign is going to be more Everyman than I expected, which could be very interesting!
  6. I then laid out two scenarios for the party, and asked them where they would fit into the scenes - they got to colourfully describe what they would be doing*:
    1. The first was a bar fight, where all patrons are being involved in the scrap.
    2. The second was a carnival on a holy day, which was full of attractions that they could make up.
  7. Second to last, the players had to pair off with two different other players and create "memories"**.
    1. How this worked was that each player joins up with one other and creates a memory that they both share which is a "good memory". They need not know each other was involved, just so long as it is a shared experience in their past which they both find good. We had players inadvertently helping each other out, and some who became friends before the start of the campaign.
    2. The second was the same, but with a "bad memory", and another PC. This meant that every player would have a good and a bad memory, and would be linked to two other players. This necessitates that talking to any one of the players means that you can trace a web of interactions to every other player.
  8. And last of all, we rolled up our characters, using the Expanded Character Module as an aid in random skills, talents, trappings, and doomings.
* This process was perhaps the second best thing I did, because it gave the players the chance to directly tell me where in a situation they want to be.
** This was perhaps the best thing I've ever done during character creation, and I will likely write an entire article about this. It allowed the players to really understand each other, and to build a shared history for the city.

All in all, everyone ended up player characters that they otherwise probably wouldn't have thought of. We have a wonderful band which are stuck together due to a shared company interest, as well as a shared history. Among the characters are:
  • A male Halfling "Carpet Salesman" who specialises in rolling up corpses and throwing them off bridges.
  • A male Marienburg-born Norscan Bouncer who shares his Minstrel father's love of the innocent.
  • A male Tilean Painter / Art Forger who has deep ties with both the underworld and the upper class.
  • A male Marienburger Ferryman / Smuggler / Family Man who is always on the look out for more money-making schemes.
  • A female 15-year-old Bretonnian Pirate who has already done way worse things than any of the other characters have even seen in their lives.
  • A male Marienburger Charlatan / Mystic / Gambler / anything else that can con people out of money.
  • A male Half-Ogre Blood Bowl Quarterback who is looking for a leg up in the competitions.
  • A female Marienburger Ex-Black Cap / Rat-Catcher who is searching for the man who framed her, and a way to make her massively extended family proud.
Can anyone say GM fodder?! I'm going to have some fun!