Quick-Prep

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.)

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!

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!

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!

Co-GMing & One-Off GMs

First of all, let me say that it is nice to get back to posting. I've had a crazy few weeks what with starting a new job (having money is really nice) and Impossible Worlds being registered and the website built (more on this later). I've had plenty to talk about, and have half-written more than a few posts, but I haven't been able to take the time to sit down and get anything major out. So I changed that.

Co-GMing & One-Off GMs

Let me just preface this post by saying that, whilst this is an article about advice for GMs and RPG groups, it is also (like so many of my posts) an exploration into my own campaigns, explaining how I came to the advice I am giving as well as how I am employing it.

Having said that now, let me describe to you a little system I have cooked up for my up coming campaign Marienburg: Sold Down the River (for those of you who have been following me for a while, my RPG group, M.O.R.T.E. finally cemented down which campaign we will be playing). The system is based on the results of a difficult issue I was having a little while back wherein I had so many players that normal games were becoming impossible to run whilst maintaining the fun. It is also based on my love of getting new people to GM.

Put simply, during my campaign I will be having 2 fellow players act as Co-GMs to a small degree - they will be informed of the main NPCs, places and plots of a given session, and they will be tasked with running those facets as a normal GM should the party split up. This information will be shared week to week, based on what the party is doing, so it will be given in small, easily digestible chunks.

However, I have added some craziness to this original idea, and that craziness comes in 2 parts.

Crazy Part-A: Rotating Co-GMs

I have decided that the role of Co-GM will not be static in my campaign, and that players will have the option, week-to-week, of electing to be a Co-GM. At first I will choose my 2 Co-GMs as normal, and for the first session (probably first few) they will stay in the role. Then, I will open the job up to others.

It will work on a first-to-volunteer gets the job, sort of deal, with the first player to put their hand up getting to run it. However, there will be a few extra rules in place.
  1. One of the two Co-GMs assisting me has to have done the job before.
  2. A new Co-GM always takes precedent over one who has already Co-GMed (so even if they volunteer after, if they have never done the job before, they will bump to the front of the queue).
  3. A Co-GM Combo can be vetoed by me at any time (this is just to prevent two Combat-specialist Co-GMs from running together when I might need a Social-specialist Co-GM for a session).
Co-GMing will grant the player extra XP for helping me out, as well, so there is some incentive beyond just the fun to do it once in a while.

It is my hope with this system that A) the starting Co-GMs get a chance to be normal players every now and again, and that B) a player who would otherwise be terrified of committing completely to Co-GM would feel free to jump into the shoes at least once so they can test the waters. If they don't like it, fine, it is only for one night. But if they like it? Well, they can go onto Crazy Part-B!

Crazy Part-B: One-Off GMing

In addition to the rotating Co-GMs, I have decided to add in interlude games. Once every X weeks (I am yet to decide the exact amount, but it might be anything from 4 - 8) I will open the floor to a player who wants to run their own adventure. For this adventure alone, their character would be on the side-lines (not even featuring) and they would command the same authority as I would otherwise as a full GM.

Like all Sold Down the River adventures, their adventure would be planned as mission that could be completed in 1 session, and they would be accompanied by Co-GMs (one of which will always be myself).

I would sit as a Co-GM only to guide the proper GM - making sure that nothing happens which crosses any continuity in an irreparable way, and making sure that nothing gets out of hand for the GM. I would only actually take the reins on the request of the GM, and would for the most part just spectate and "play".

That being said, I (like any Co-GM) will be fully briefed on the adventure before hand, and will have a cheat sheet on the NPCs, places and plots taking place.

Much like the rotating Co-GMs, there are a few extra rules:
  1. One-Off GMs are "first-to-volunteer gets the job", with players who have never GMed in the campaign taking precedent.
  2. To be a One-Off GM a player must have already been a Co-GM.
  3. The One-Off GMs other Co-GM must have also already been a Co-GM.
  4. The potential One-Off GM must first pitch the adventure idea to me before being sworn in as a One-Off GM (this is merely to make sure the adventure idea fits the tone of the campaign / makes sense with the rest of the campaign / doesn't cross any boundaries with any of the players).
It is my hope with this system that I will get a chance to introduce every one of my players to GMing in some way. This system would work great for new GMs as it is an established campaign with established NPCs, places, plots, rules, and everything, meaning that all the new GM has to bring to the table is a willingness to try and a cool idea. It will also means I will have less to prep some weeks!

Have you ever had a Co-GM in one of your campaigns? Have you ever held a similar role for your GM? Have you ever wanted to GM but felt intimidated with the prospects of a new game with new rules standing in the way? Let me know what you think in the comments section!

Grand Concept Documents

I've always enjoyed the idea of a unified campaign - one where, before play starts, the GM and players both understand what the game is about, and the general flow of how it will work session-to-session. However, I have always relied on implied notions of what a campaign should be, which often leads to a situation where everyone is confused about what they're supposed to be doing.

Not any more.

I've come up with a very simple template document for GMs to fill out before players generate characters, that should help in guide the entire party towards its intended play-style.

Please note that this doesn't mean railroading, or forcing people to play a game other than how they want to - this is about getting a thematically consistent player base before play begins, so no one makes a wise-cracking Vampire Ninja for your Historical Rome game... This is about laying out some guidelines so that your players have somewhere to look for their character, instead of running head-first into a crowd with a crossbar, playing the first thing they hit.

Grand Concept Documents

As you should all know, I love showy titles, and this is no different. With the GCD, you will be presented with five points, each of which should be answered in no more than 2 sentences. I will outline and explain each one below. But please remember, these GCDs are made for the players eyes, so don't write spoilers in them!

I will go through and fill the GCD out for my current in-planning campaign, Marienburg: Sold Down the River, so you can get an idea of how it should be filled out.

Campaign Name

Here you want to give the campaign an evocative title. It should be something that instantly captivates and inspires a certain type of focus for the group. Think of it in terms of a TV show - Buffy the Vampire Slayer is obviously about a Vampire Slayer called Buffy, Supernatural is obviously about supernatural things.
That's not slaying, and you damn well know it...
I chose Marienburg: Sold Down the River for three reasons - firstly, it is the name of the source book which was originally written for Marienburg, so it is instantly relevant. Secondly, whilst I am using the 1st edition source book, the game is being run for 2nd edition players who have never known 1st edition, so it is a call back to the hobby's past. And thirdly, it instantly ingrains in the players' minds that the campaign is about the city of Marienburg, and about Money.

Campaign Tag-Line

Here you want to give the campaign a snappy sub-title - something that sums up the tone of the campaign, and gives it a nice ring. It should foreshadow the big events in the campaign, and constantly keep the players guessing as to its relevance, whilst simultaneously showing its head throughout. Think in terms of Star Trek, with "Space, the Final Frontier". Hearing that straight up tells us that the main characters are going to be going to new worlds and exploring what hasn't been explored before. We know the sorts of stories that will be told.
Or maybe it's about sweet dance moves?
I chose to go with "When everything is for sale, what is your Honour worth?". This perfectly foreshadows the tricky decisions that the players will have to make, and reinforces the cut-throat nature of Marienburg, and the campaign's focus on money. The players KNOW that at some point, they will have to make the choice between their integrity, and their next meal...

What Is The Campaign Question

As I have discussed before, I believe every campaign should have a Question that it answers - like a good Sci-Fi novel. This can be anything, but it should be something that you've never attempted to answer before hand. Consider Asimov's robots, bound by three laws which make them our slaves. What happens when a Robot breaks the rules? I can't really direct you in how you should choose this question - it just has to be something that you want to explore, and that your players want to explore.
My next campaign: What if Isaac Asimov was 8x the size of the Earth?!
For M:SDtR, I chose to go with the question: What if the PCs aren't heroes, just regular Joes trying to make it in the world? This question completely changes the regular flow of an RPG - instead of high adventure on the seas, or delving through dungeons for glittering gold, we have PCs taking the dirty "adventurer" jobs because that's all they can get, and they simply need to eat. PCs will be motivated by money, not from a power-gaming, +10 Sword getting point of view, but from a lust for a dry roof over their head, and a warm meal in their stomach.

Who Are The PCs

Here you should briefly explain what the general idea behind the party as a whole is. This doesn't mean, what classes, races, etc are available, but more the concept behind them. Consider Firefly, where the heroes aren't heroes as such, but Space Cowboy/Pirates. Simple enough. You can go into more detail, such as with Star Wars and say Rebel Heroes fighting the Evil Empire, each emphasising an aspect of the Hero's Journey Archetypes.
Maybe they are heroes... Big damn heroes.
I went with Vagabonds and Ne'er-Do-Wells who need a Fresh Start. Each character has a clear in: they pissed someone off and need to flee to Marienburg, or they've run up a list of debts and need a quick copper to settle them, or they're chasing adventure, running from a boring farmer's life. However, it doesn't restrict the party options - from this they could be anything from Rat Catchers, to Thugs, to Watchmen, to Smugglers. In fact, I hope they are all of these things - Marienburg would suit them nicely!

What Are They Doing

Finally, briefly describe what a typical session would be like. Don't go into plot points, but consider this the "TV Writers Guide" of your campaign, and you should reference this when planning. What are the PCs doing, and how are they starting it? The other points should basically write this for you, but it helps to outline it clearly so your players are on the same page as you. Consider the X-Files, each episode, the main characters Hear About Something Strange, Investigate, and Come to a Shaky Conclusion. In this, we know the formula for most episodes. The audience knows that they're going to get mostly investigation and intrigue - not much action.
Why?! It seems everything you come across is terrifying...
I went with Find a Contact, Get a Job, Do Something Underhanded, Get Paid. The players know that the campaign is likely going to be filled with the wrong sort of NPCs - everyone stabbing each other in the back, and trying to get backroom politics done which are so backroom that they're in the alley behind the building. There could be lots of combat, or there could be spying, or thuggery, or whatever. But they also know that their reputation will be very important - if people know you get the job done, they'll give you more jobs. If they know you're likely to stab them in the back, they'll send men to stab you first.

I hope this layout gives you and your players a much more consistent and even campaign! Let me know how it works out for you!

Character Profiles - Jorn Hussen

Greetings all!

My apologies for my lack of posts recently. Between looking for work, and Impossible Worlds, I've found far less time than I would like to devote to writing for versamus. However, I have managed to whip something together for you all, in the vein of the old Altdorfer character cards.

I present to you Jorn Hussen, first of my Character Profiles series - a stream of NPCs that I will be creating using the Expanded Character Module produced by the fan-community for WFRP2e.

Feel free to download a copy, tear him apart, feature him as is, or whatever you please.

Enjoy!

Hunger, Thirst and Fatigue in RPGs

Hunger, Thirst and Fatigue in RPGs

One thing has always irked me in RPGs - the PCs tote around enormous amounts of money, but they never seem to spend it on anything other than weapons, armour and bribes. They can always save up perfectly for the next sword that they want, or can always just wait out a situation. Travelling faster than normal - like forced marching - never affects them, so why would they choose to travel at a leisurely pace? Walking through the desert for 40 years wont affect them, because water skins are forever filling, or not even mentioned.

Some GMs have attempted to ratify this with complex systems of accounting and economics, but really, who has time for that? My players are here to game, not to have a 4 hour shift as an office clerk. We need something simple, yet robust enough to have proper mechanical effect.

The Baseline Mechanic

My proposition is that we add three new "Health" systems to the game - one for Hunger, one for Thirst, and one for Fatigue. Warmth can be brought in there if you wish, but most of the time this can be handled with GM fiat. If you want it in there, it will work identically to the others.

Each new stat is equal to your Toughness Bonus (WFRP) or 4 + Constitution Modifier (DnD) or equivalent. Each stat further has a half-line, which is 50% of the total value, rounded up.

Hunger

Hunger drops when the PC hasn't eaten for a day, and it drops by one point per day of not eating. It replenishes by one point for each Average Meal (I.e. enough food for a proper lunch, for instance), or to full if the PC has 3 meals that day (or one particularly big meal, like a Banquet).

If Hunger reaches its half-line, then the PC suffers a -10% (WFRP) or a -2 (DnD) on all actions until it is restored. If Hunger reaches empty, the PC suffers -30% or -6 on all actions.

Each day, the PC may attempt a Willpower (WFRP) or Wisdom (DnD) Test, after the modifier is already applied, to ignore the effects of Hunger for that day. If they fail, there is no adverse affects, but they cannot test again that day.

Thirst

Thirst drops when the PC hasn't drunk water or equivalent for a day, and drops a further point if the day was particularly hot, or the PC over stretched themselves that day (full day of marching, etc). It replenishes by one point if the PC drinks at least a litre of water (one water skin) or equivalent (beer, etc), and replenishes to full if the PC drinks in excess of 3 litres (three water skins).

If Thirst reaches its half-line, then the PC suffers a -10% (WFRP) or a -2 (DnD) on all actions until it is restored. If Thirst reaches empty, the PC suffers -30% or -6 on all actions.

Each day, the PC may attempt a Willpower (WFRP) or Wisdom (DnD) Test, after the modifier is already applied, to ignore the effects of Thirst for that day. If they fail, there is no adverse affects, but they cannot test again that day.

Fatigue

Fatigue drops when the PC hasn't slept or rested well for a day, and drops a further point if the PC over stretched themselves that day (full day of marching, etc). It replenishes by one point if the PC sleeps for a night anywhere outside, such as a camp or bedroll, or in a tavern common room, and replenishes to full if the PC sleeps in a proper bed, in a private (or shared with the party) room. PCs can also "sleep in", by sleeping for 1.5x their normal sleeping hours to regain 2 points.

If Fatigue reaches its half-line, then the PC suffers a -10% (WFRP) or a -2 (DnD) on all actions until it is restored. If Fatigue reaches empty, the PC suffers -30% or -6 on all actions.

Each day, the PC may attempt a Willpower (WFRP) or Wisdom (DnD) Test, after the modifier is already applied, to ignore the effects of Fatigue for that day. If they fail, there is no adverse affects, but they cannot test again that day.

Death From Harsh Living

If a PC ever has all 3 stats at their empty stage, they must pass a Toughness (WFRP) or Constitution (DnD) Test after modifiers each day or suffer a 1d10 Damage (unmodified by armour or TB) (WFRP) or 1d6 Damage (automatically hitting) (DnD).

Managing Vital Stats

If the PCs just maintain a standard meal, a water skin of liquid, and camping in a bedroll every day throughout their adventures, then all should be well. Nothing should feesibly go wrong. However, if they ignore these vital aspects of life, things will start going poorly very quick.

As a last point, if PCs are travelling very far, and don't want to have to uphold all of these issues for each day of travel, accept an easy stance of of the following:
  • If travelling at normal speed, each PC needs 1 meal, 1 water skin, and adequate rest per day of travel time to survive at full potential.
  • If travelling at double speed (marching), each PC needs 1 meal, 3 water skins, and double rest time per day of travel to survive at full potential.
Don't let this become a case of accounting - just simple logistics.

I hope this gives your games a little more realism and strategy, without bogging it down in the details. Let me know how it goes!

The Player Starter-Pack

By Ben Scerri

Recently I've read a lot of articles pertaining to GM Binders. (For those interested, here are the best ones; Newbie DMThe Crafty DMRoleplaying Tips Weekly, and RPG Blog II) But one thing keeps coming back to me:

The GM gets so much love, so much time to prep for his game, and so many resources to do so... But players don't get that same love. What about the players? What about a Player Binder?

Now, I encourage players to keep folders or binders of their characters/sheets, etc, but what I'm talking about is a goodie-bag full of stuff that the GM gives to their players before the campaign starts for them to get settled in. Consider it like a show bag...

The Player Starter-Pack

I am going to do this very thing as a test run with "The Sands of Athla". If it works, I will expand it to all my games. Here's what I'm going to do...

First of all, I'll need a folder, or something to put everything into. I recently had the chance to get my hands on a nice black cardboard folder and was informed that it was sourced from OfficeWorks. So, I guess I will be headed there for that resource. Something awesome and official looking that I can attach the campaign name to would be great.

Second, I need to fill it with stuff. Thinking on it heavily, I've decided the following things are most important for the style of campaign I am running (a hexcrawler):
  • A campaign map, printed in colour on A3, folded up and slipped inside.
  • A fresh character sheet, with a quick primer on the rules for character burning (this is Burning Wheel, after all).
  • A campaign calendar, with slots for the days, months, and years, with enough room for the players to write important dates down.
  • A small notepad, with room for the players to make notes during the campaign about rumours and things they'd like to look further into.
  • A set of blank index cards for the players to write down loot items, NPC contacts and powers they gather for ease of reference.
  • A short "travel" pamphlet on the setting, detailing on one A4 page the world, nation, and city they are in, as well as what surrounds the city, so they have some leads on where they might like to check out.
  • A primer on the cultures and races of the world, all on one A4 page.
  • And finally, a mechanical pencil and eraser.
All of this will snugly fit into the folder, and be at the player's finger tips when they need to reference something. Therefore, no longer will I have to root around for the campaign map, nor everyone crowd around to see what is going on. I wont have to remember every date in the campaign, for the players will record their own important happenings, and they will already know enough about the world before they make their characters to be informed enough.

Has anyone else ever done something like this? How did it turn out? What did you do differently? As a player, what would you want in there yourself?

RPG Puzzles: A Post Mortem, Part 1

RPG Puzzles: A Post Mortem, Part 1

In my weekly Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition campaign, my players recently stumbled into a secret underground, Chaos-infused, giant magical lair. Yes, it is as ridiculous as it sounds.

This lair had at its front a giant door with four keyholes, and the party had it explained to them that they needed to solve four separate puzzles to open each lock and progress.

When planning for this session, I wanted to make 4 separate and unique puzzles, each that will reward the players in a different way. Whilst we haven't finished all four of them yet, the players did complete the first two last night, and so I am going to break them down, go into what worked and what didn't work, and then analyse the results.

Puzzle #1: The Hall of Paintings

The Hall of Paintings was the first puzzle my players encountered. It consisted of a small room with 5 hooks on the walls, 5 empty and unique picture frames, and 5 unframed pictures. The players were given 8 clues between them, and 'control' over the clues they were given (I.e. they held the clue note, and chose where it went and how it applied).

The puzzle was essentially a logic puzzle, except that I printed out and created the frames and paintings for the players to actually hold and assemble as they saw fit. In retrospect, I think this is what sold the puzzle to them. Further, the clues were essentially riddles - short and to the point, which hinted at one aspect of each painting and each frame. The players had to determine if the clues referred to the placement order, or the framing, or what.

In my experience, puzzles such as this without the visual components, often become a situation of everyone sitting back bored whilst the one or two smartest puzzlers in the room figure it out on a sheet of paper. However, with the visual aids, everyone could see what was happening, and everyone could move the components around.

When I introduced a penalty for placing the wrong painting in the wrong frame, tensions rose and everyone around the table took it in turns to place one painting. You could have cut the suspense with a knife.

It was perfect!

Conclusion

Logic puzzles and riddles can work great, despite their general dislike in the RPG community, so long as the GM provides a visual aid for the players. Always have something that everyone can look at and get their hands on. Just like combat needs a battle map and miniatures, puzzles need puzzle pieces.

Feel free to download and try out the Puzzle for yourself! (Note, GMs only. If you want your GM to run this puzzle for you, ask your GM to download it, as it contains the solution and spoilers.)

Puzzle #2: The Hall of the Hydra

The Hall of the Hydra was the second puzzle encountered in the crazy lair/laboratory. This puzzle consisted of a Hydra with four different heads (one for each Lesser Daemon of each Chaos God, so there was a Bloodletter head, a Plaguebearer head, a Daemonette head and a Horror head), as well as a pattern sequence surrounding the Hydra, which had the four icons of the Chaos Gods in the following order:

Slaanesh, Nurgle, Khorne, Tzeentch.

The Hydra would attack the closest player to each head each round with their special abilities, until such a time as the players figured out the puzzle. I wont give away the puzzle here, for I intend to upload it so that other GMs can run it for their players, so...

WARNING: IF YOU ARE A PLAYER, AND YOUR GM MIGHT RUN THIS, PLEASE SKIP TO THE CONCLUSION SECTION.

The trick lies in the sequence with which the players kill the Hydra heads. If they kill a head out of order, it regrows and sprouts a twin. Thus, the players need to systematically kill each head in correct order, otherwise they will be knee deep in Hydra heads.

Every GM out there should be shaking their heads at how moronically simple this puzzle is, and how obvious it would be for the players, but it was surprisingly effective. The players enjoyed the ability to overcome the puzzle and figure it out. They took great pride in not spawning a single extra head throughout the entire battle, and I rightly congratulated them at the end for their cunning.

Conclusion

Simple, combat-based puzzles can work really well if they are based on a clever trick which doesn't take a genius to over come, but if failed, can really hamper the players. My players enjoyed this puzzle because it gave them a chance to all shine in combat whilst tactically defeating an enemy in a way they had never had to before (one after the other, instead of a mass murder-fest).

Never underestimate the power of praise and the joy people feel from understanding the rules and using them to success. It is the same reason board games and strategy games are so fun, so why wouldn't it apply to tabletop RPGs as well?

Final Conclusion of Part 1

Puzzles tend to get a lot of flak in the RPG community, but, so long as they are used sparingly, and not the focus of every session, they can be a great set piece that the players will enjoy greatly and remember for a long time to come.

Just remember, though, that your puzzles can't be static - there has to be some limiter (wrong moves = penalties/a time limit/something trying to eat you, etc) otherwise it becomes boring, and you end up with one engaged player and the rest sitting bored and left out.

I hope you enjoy the puzzles, and I hope you make some of your own. If you do either, let me know how they go!

Starting a New Game with New Players

I added something new to the Bucket List. Check it out. It is going to be rad...

Recently a few friends of mine have all been talking about starting their own games, with either new or experienced players, new or experienced GMs, or some permutation of the two. Essentially, somewhere, someone is doing something new.

So, I thought I'd jot down some advice I've picked up from various sources and that I've learned myself to help this process along, for as you all should know I love it when new people join our hobby.

Starting a New Game with New Players

Starting a new game is always scary, but if it is scarier than it is exciting, you should definitely try to change that! As a new GM or Player, you should be at ease with your role if you want to have a good time and if you want everyone else to have a good time with you. As such, I've broken this up into five areas: things a GM should do for their players and themselves, and things a player should do for their GM, their fellows, and themselves.
This is what GMing is like. Exactly like this.
Always remember that a roleplaying game is a COLLABORATIVE game. If at any point you're not having fun, there is a problem, and if at any point another player isn't having fun because of you there is a problem. This problem may not be your fault, but it never hurts to help try and fix it.

So lets jump in!

Things a GM Should Do for Themselves

First of all, every GM should get a firm grasp on the rules and setting they are planning on playing in. For a first time GM, this should be an established setting and rules system. You may want to jump in and make your own, but this is suicide so early on.
Hell, even Gary Gygax was a long time wargamer before inventing DnD.
Secondly, you're going to want to prep out your first session really easily. Write down a few things - who is the bad guy, why are they bad, and what are they doing at the beginning of the session. Grab some stats together for the guy, and you should have the basic bare bones for the game.

Next think up where he is doing this bad thing and why the players should care. Usually the players will handle this one for you, but it is a good idea to think it through for yourself. If at any point in time you wouldn't care, then how can you expect your players to?

Lastly, grab a map to represent the area. There are hundreds of thousands online, just a Google search away. If, however, you can't find anything good, drop me a line and I'll email you a bunch.

Also, remember to take it easy. GMing is supposed to be fun (in my opinion, the funniest part of roleplaying), so stay cool and just go with it. If you stop having fun, so will everyone else.

Things a GM Should Do for Their Players

Next you're going to want to jot down a few things for your players. They will have a lot of questions and make it well known that you will answer anything they ask. But try and answer it in the barest way possible that still leaves questions dangling. They will become intrigued enough by what you say to ask more questions and so on. You don't want them becoming bored at any time during this early stage.

Make sure you have some notes detailing the basic concepts in the game. If you're running Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, make sure to mention that whilst magic exists, it is dangerous, rare, and mistrusted by nearly everyone. Mention that Elves and Orks and Dwarves exist, but your average Human wouldn't interact with them on a day to day basis - if (hopefully in the case of Orks) ever.
Friendly Orks. They come around to your house and eat all your legs!
Then set aside an entire session just for Character Generation. This is going to take a loooong time and you need to be ready for it. Don't just expect to be able to breeze through it in an hour.

Also, remember the rule of "Yes"! Saying "Yes" is infinitely better than saying "No". Unless there is a damn good reason why something the players' suggets wouldn't work, just let it. Trust me, it will be way more fun for you anyway.

Things a Player Should Do for Themselves

As a player, you're going to want to try and grab a hold of as much of the setting as you reasonably can. If they exist, pick up a novel based in the setting and give it a read - even the blurb will do. If it is a good book, it should tell you enough for you to get a quick grasp of the setting. Is it fantasy? Is it sci-fi?

The first page of all Black Library books is great for this.
Literally everything you need to know.
This will also give you an idea of the sorts of characters you could play. For your first character, don't be afraid to base them heavily off your favourite book, TV or film character. Even experienced players and GMs do this, as it is a ready made outlook you can adopt. Later on as you get used to the concept of roleplaying, you can tweak it, and make it your own, but copying at this stage is fine. Just keep your GM in the loop.

Looking up some pictures doesn't hurt, either!

Also, give yourself a break. Roleplaying is fun. Make sure you remember the playing part of roleplaying and you should be fine.

Things a Player Should Do for Their GM

Next, you're going to want to ask your GM a lot of questions. A lot. Like... Seriously... Heaps. If your GM is a good GM, they will be excited about the campaign enough to answer your questions (perhaps even answer them too much). If they don't want to answer any questions, then that should be an indicator that perhaps you shouldn't be playing under this person...

You should also endeavour to help your GM build the world - suggest things you want to do, or parts of your back story. Work with your fellow players to tie your story in with their's. Trust me, your GM will love you for this, as this is the hardest part of their job.
Be this guy. This guy is keen.
Finally, MAKE SURE YOU MAKE AN ADVENTURER. So many players go into games with a good heart but then dodge the conflict saying "It's just what my character would do".

That is boring and pointless. You're playing a game of heroes, so make a hero and don't be too cautious with them. Some of the best playing experiences come from character deaths; don't be silly, but don't be so careful that you don't do anything... You may as well not play if that's your plan.

Things a Player Should Do for Their Fellow Players

One of the greatest things all new players - actually all players - need to remember is that everyone is there to have fun as a group. Share with everyone, and everyone will share with you. Don't play an island. Islands are dicks.
See, what a dick. Oh, excuse me, just belongs to a dick...
Be courteous, be polite and be interested in other people's characters. The best part of playing is inter-party communication and activity. This can only happen when you talk to the other players. Seriously.

It is best to prepare an opening scene or dialogue for your character - a sentence or two of what they're doing when the other characters first meet them. Even if your characters know each other in their back story, the first time your character comes "on screen" should be memorable, and it will stick in the minds of everyone at the table.

Also, a name card never hurts!

Hopefully this advice has been helpful, and will lead to smoother first games for all!

Here is another great article on a similar subject, and I encourage everyone to read it!

The Dangers of Playing with Established Canon

The Dangers of Playing with Established Canon

Who could resist, honestly?

When it comes to running an RPG in an established setting, there are pros and cons everywhere. Many would agrue that the cons outweigh the pros (and would push for a homebrew setting) but I disagree. I'll try and outline my thoughts on it below... Let's see how this goes. 

The Benefits

I'll start with the benefits of playing with established canon/settings.

No! Nothing like this... Oh Sigmar, nothing like this please.
Firstly, for the lazy or busy GM, one of the greatest benefits is that more than half of the work is done for you - in session and pre-session - in that you have tonnes of material already written and (hopefully) balanced to the game world. Not to mention art to go along with it, sometimes novel series, and if you're very lucky, music and movies. You can throw together a perfect immersion track, or give your players an info dump without having to hold a seminar... Just lend them the book, or have a movie night. Plus, you can steal their favourite aspects of these things for your campaign. They really like Hoth? Well, set an adventure there. They are massive on Spiderman? Well, have your new Supers meet him.

Secondly, feeding off the first, is that you don't have to re-establish mood. If you're working with a setting everyone is familiar with, you shouldn't have to explain the sorts of characters you want, nor the feeling of each session. If you're playing Hellboy, then they know what to expect. This means you can focus on key points which make your game cooler - as contrast is easy to build here. They know what should be, but if you change that, it is way more effective.
Hopefully they wont look at you like this, though!
But the biggest thing is probably player expectation. You'll find your players riffing off of the setting a lot more when they know it intimately. In a homebrew Sci-Fi setting you might have players in a bar ask "Who can I go to for spare robot parts?". In Star Wars, you'll have "I look for a Jawa so I can buy some spare droid parts." See the difference? The players know what the world holds and will be able to seamlessly play in it without feeling like they're stepping on the GM's toes doing so.

However, it isn't all sunshine and daisies...

The Problems

Sorry to kill the good times, but I should probably mention the bad things that come along with established settings.
It isn't all this...
One of the worst ones for a GM who likes to world build is definitely the constrains on creative freedom. If you change something too big in someone's favoured setting, they're going to let you know. Very vocally. Some, in our sub-culture, will even let you know vocally for minor things; insignificant to you in the face of a good story, but heresy of the worst kind to them... This can stifle a GM and make them resent planning the sessions because they can't tell the story they want to tell. And be assured of this, nothing, nothing, NOTHING, breaks a game quicker than a GM who hates his job.

Next, and again somewhat feeding off the first, is that is becomes very difficult to break existing tropes. For instance, if you're playing in a Golden Age Superman game, there probably wont be any death. If you put in death, someone is going to become upset, or doubtful, or confused. Likewise if you give your 40k Space Orkz a Welsh accent instead of Cockney Hooligan... People will look at you funny and you'll break immersion pretty quickly. This can cause in group arguments and halt game play for the evening. I know, it sucks, but as I've already said, our culture is based on knowing way too much about something, and introducing cognitive dissonance into that mix rarely works out well.

Lastly is more on cognitive dissonance. If someone knows something, and they are told differently, they are very unlikely to believe the new information. The more that new information conflicts with what they already know, the more likely they are going to disbelieve. Imagine the following scenario: you're GMing a game of Dragon Ball Z, and the players are talking to Goku's father, Bardock, who they've found. Whilst chatting, he reveals that Goku is actually half Human, with a Human mother! Wow!
What're you saying about me?!
This could fly. Goku is unlike most other Saiyan's we meet, and he looks Human enough. Fine. The players might accept this. Instead, say that Goku's mother was Namekian. Yeah... No dice. People are going to argue this. He can't regrow limbs, doesn't have green skin, doesn't shoot eggs out of his mouth when he dies. He has absolutely no Namekian traits whatever... You simply wont get away with that.

But never fear! There are definite solutions to these problems...

Solutions to Said Problems

If you're planning on playing with an established setting (which I hope you do, as there are many great ones) I would suggest using the following solutions to avoid the above problems.
But what are the dragons doing there?
The easiest fix to the continuity/conflicting problems is to set your game somewhere else in the setting. Pull a Fantasy Flight Games and set your 40k RPGs in the Calixis Sector, a previously unheard of portion of space. It is just 40k enough that everyone who loves 40k can get involved, but removed enough that no one kicks up a fuss about all the apocrypha. Perfect!

Just grab a map of your setting, look for a section that isn't detailed much (trust me, unless you're playing the most ridiculous settings out there you shouldn't have a problem with this) and plonk your campaign down in it. Or, alternatively, grab a section of the timeline where nothing much is happening and put it in there. This way you get the locations everyone loves without fiddling too much with everything. I would suggest putting it far enough in the past or future that no one would alive in it that is alive in the canon setting.

But probably the best way to go about it (only if you have an understanding group) is to add into your gamer charter a section detailing the rule YMMV - Your Mileage May Vary. Basically state that this version of the setting is the group's version (don't say your version, but the group's) and that it is alternate to the canon one. It still has everything in the canon one +/- some of the stuff you don't like...
Midichlorians anyone?
But set up a Nolanverse or a where you can do no wrong, and that everything odd is just a quirk of this version of the setting. This solution wont work for every group, but if you have understanding players (and if you include them in the change making process sometimes) they may be more forgiving and just let it slide and enjoy your setting for its oddness.

I hope that has settled some of the problems with using established universes, and I hope it has encouraged you to give it a try! Have you ever had good experiences with established canon? Bad ones? Let me know!

NPC Quick-Prep: The Chunk Method


[Once again I have come to apologise for my slackness… I cannot promise this will not happen again, but I solemnly swear I will attempt to prevent it. Anyway, here goes.]

NPC Quick-Prep: The Chunk Method

Lately, the idea of having a method for quickly generating NPCs very quickly has become important to me and (apparently) to many other RPG bloggers out there. As such, I thought I would have a swing at the conundrum.

DNAPHIL, over at Gnome Stew wrote a wonderful article back in February about Wireframes and Skins and what that analogy has to do with prep-lite NPCs. After reading that again, I think I can take it one step further:

Convert NPCs into ‘chunks’ then create new NPCs by rearranging them.

Simple in premise, simple in execution.

What are Chunks?

Chunks are basically NPC building blocks. They are standard sections of a character (like his ability to fight, etc) which can be matched up with other chunks to create endless types of characters whilst only prepping for a few different chunks.

Defining your Chunks

This step is where most systems will vary, but the same advice can cover practically everything. Look at what your system needs most: different kinds of combat characters? Different kinds of intrigue characters? A mixture of the two? This will help you discover what different kinds of chunks you will need.

Once you have these concepts created, you can start thinking about the chunks within each category. Here are some chunks from my A Song of Ice and Fire RPG game:
  • Leader: This chunk details skills and attributes relevant to a command or charismatic role. Generals, Kings, Viziers, Commanders, etc get this chunk.
  • Honourable: This chunk details skills and attributes relevant to an honourable character. Knights, (some) Kings, (some) Thieves, Guards, Gentlemen, etc get this chunk.
  • Wild: This chunk details skills and attributes relevant to a less civilised character. Barbarians, Thieves, Bandits, Tribesmen, Woodsmen, etc get this chunk.
  • Warrior: This chunk details skills and attributes that govern a fighting type. Knights, Guards, Warriors, Barbarians, etc get this chunk.
  • Rogue: This chunk details skills and attributes that govern a stealthy type. Thieves, Bandits, Courtiers, Assassins, etc get this chunk.
  • Schemer: This chunk details skills and attributes that govern an intrigue focused character. Viziers, Courtiers, Gentlemen, Kings, etc get this chunk.
There can be many more, but this is just a sample, and you can make them as you need to. Now, from this pool, you can get a thousand characters. For example:

Leader + Honourable + Rogue could equal an honourable Bandit Lord, or it could represent a court Bard, or a Pirate Captain, etc. Just change one chunk, maybe ‘Honourable’ to ‘Wild’, and you have Barbarian Kings, tribal Shamans or Wise Men, etc.

Stating Up your Chunks
 
Once you have your chunks defined, you are ready to give them meaning. Simple alterations on the standard model human, or elf, or dwarf etc are required (if your system has one such model. If not, make this another chunk). So, a ‘Wild’ chunk might give access to Frenzy skills or a 1 to Strength, etc. Further, they might give negatives to things, such as to Willpower etc.

This is purely dependant on your system and your definitions, so I’ll leave this one up to you.

Combining your Chunks

Now, simply add your stat blocks together and you’ve come up with a character! For characters that are stronger than others, simply give them a chunk twice, or thrice, etc. If a character is more a Leader than he is a Warrior, then give him the Leader chunk twice and the Warrior chunk only once.

I prefer to write these all down separately on index cards and then draw them randomly when I need a random NPC. This is VERY useful when surprised. Furthermore, when prepping for your game, all you need do is make a make next to the name of the NPC saying which chunk cards to use and you’re done!

What do you use for speeding up prep? Tell us in the comments section below!