Wednesday, July 30, 2014

GM Wednesday - Travelling Light

Well it seems my post about "How Much Is Too Much" had a high popularity. It behooves me to continue the trend then, though I don't know how long I can keep talking about less things. But that does seem to be the formula with people who offer free advice.

Today let's talk about mobility. Most of my games are away, as in not at my house. As such I like to travel light where ever possible and especially for cons.

First up, take a look at your game system of choice because that is where the most weight is incurred. Games like Star Wars Saga or D&D have a lot of additional books and they are hardbacks. They're nice to own but a pain to carry. If you have them on pdf, good for you. If not, try to pare it down to two essential books you just can't do without.

Next let's talk luggage. Some people feel the need to tow their entire back-breaking collection for a single game. If that describes you, then you'll likely need or already be using one of these...

I use something like this for my Pathfinder stuff when I run Society games, but I'm only towing it from the car to the game shop and back. My load is large because it is also carrying snacks and drinks so I don't pay through the nose for it at the shop every weekend. 

I would never take this to con although I do "run into" a few people with them. My shins have the bruises to prove it, and that's why I despise these. When you have a ton of people milling about, trying to squeeze through to see tables or just get past, then those of you with these little low profile obstacles really come off as D-Bags. Every time I see someone with one who is browsing a table, their little tote is kicked back behind them right into the lane of foot traffic. Please, if you absolutely must use one for your game, be mindful and keep it out of everyone's way.

But let's say you have streamlined your kit. Well these are popular with the cool kids...

...and I am not one of them. Unless you can keep this load under 5 pounds, this bag is going to make your back hurt. It pulls your spine to one side and two full-sized hardbacks are going to make you suffer needlessly. Satchels only have two things going for them...
  1. They're "in".
  2. Easy access to your books due to the flap over closure.
To me, being cool is about never trying to be cool. Since the pros don't outweigh the cons on this bag, I don't bother with them.

Finally we have the ever popular backpack...

...which I recommend. Distribute that load between both shoulders and your less likely to need the magic fingers in your hotel bed at the end of the day (unless you... well I'll leave that to your judgement).

Most Backpacks have a zipper "clamshell" opening in the top and that frustrates me when I am trying to dig out a book. Go with a flap over (like what is pictured above) if you can and make sure the straps are padded for comfort. You make not look trendy, but your back will be happier.

So now it's time for weight saving.
  • Bring generic wet erase maps like Paizo's flip maps, 1-2 of them preferred, if your game of choice uses tactical combat.
  • Use tokens or figure flats instead of minis and only bring those that you know you will need. Leave the epic army at home.
  • Leave the bucket-o'-dice at home as well. You can make a ritual out of picking your travel dice, sacrifice a character sheet to the dice gods, whatever you feel will make them lucky. Just pare it down to the essentials.
  • Pens, pencils, and a small note book should suffice. I also carry a small sketchbook but that's because I Art.
  • Only those game books you absolutely need to run an adventure. Preferably, you have pdfs loaded into a tablet. If that's not an option, make note sheets from the supplement books of the rules you need for your adventure. Bring the notes and leave the book behind.
  • Make sure there is room for a medium soft drink bottle or water bottle as GMing is thirsty work. Don't load up a 2 liter or a six-pack. In fact if you need flavor in your water before you drink it, carry a bottle and a few of these. They are light weight and water is pretty easy to find. You can get single boxes of them at Walmart as the Amazon site sells them in bulk.
  • Your adventure, either as small notes or the booklet if it's a published piece. They don't usually weigh much.
  • A paper folder for your paperwork. Leave the 3 ring binder at home as it adds weight and bulk that you don't need.
  • And lastly, pre-generated characters. At cons you don't need to waste time as people try to make new characters for a game they are likely to only play once. Also, they'll likely need all of the books for character creation to tweak their character just right and you don't need to haul that load. Still, make sure that you make a variety of characters so the players have choices. Don't just make 4 characters because you have 4 slots open on your table.
And now you're good to go. Like I said, the type of game system you play is going to be the biggest factor in GM encumbrance. Trim the fat as much as possible. Save your back and save room for sweet swag. I'll post my GM's kit as an bonus post sometime this week.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Friday Failure

Due to my upcoming move (which may be this weekend or next) I won't be able to post any Free Stuff for a while, at least for the next couple of weeks.

I will be back with some more alien races, some planet concepts, and maybe even some more sci-fi tech.

I apologize for the service interruption.

On a personal note: It's freakin' hot here. I know it's probably even hotter where you live and you have my sympathies. I grew up in Arizona, but since I moved away I just can't handle the heat anymore. My friends here in Seattle say they are tired of the rain and cold. I can't get enough of it. I mean, Weather! Right? Love it! I think I might slowly migrate further and further north over my lifetime. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Adventure Mondays! - Part 8

I've almost burned through all of my generic seeds. I wonder what will become of Adventure Mondays when I run out?

  • A Valuable Monster must be delivered unharmed.
  • Miners have uncovered something in the mountains and now it’s causing harm to the locals. The locals want it stopped, someone wants it for themselves, and everyone who has gone to investigate has never returned.
  • A child missing for years is seen running through the woods late one night.
  • The Heroes are hired to ensure the safety of a negotiation.
  •  The heroes are hired to hunt down a person or creature, but discover its mistreatment and may be compelled to let it go.
  • Strange lights and sounds come from an old ruin.
  • A contact claims to have information of a plot that threatens to destroy city or country, but winds up dead before he can pass on the information.
  • The heroes are hired to bring an affair to an end without the wronged spouse finding out.
  • A group of local natives are becoming restless and diplomacy is needed to avert a war.
  • Villains that the heroes have crossed before have unleashed a beast or bounty hunter to hunt them down.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Free Stuff Fridays! - Generic Character Tokens

As promised on Wednesday, here are new Generic Token Sheets for the GM on the go. They will work with either the 1" or 3/4" punches.

Here's a preview of the four types: Beasts, Villains, Constructs, and Bystanders

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

GM Wednesday! - DIY Tokens/Pogs

Today we are going to talk about Tokens, or pogs, or whatever you want to call them. These are flat counters that can be used to represent characters or enemies and can be made quite easily with the right tools.

But before you rush off to spend money and get crafty, let's talk about the advantages and disadvantages of using tokens in your RPG.


  • Relatively cheap to make.
  • Durable.
  • Won't blow over every time a player exhales.
  • "Fits" visually if you are using a 2D Map.
  • Easy to make your own custom pieces.
  • Stacks and transports very well. You could load an entire army in your backpack without too much weight (as long as you don't make them out of metal).
  • Two sided so can be flipped to indicate "Bloodied" or "Shaken" conditions.


  • A bit more expensive than paper standees.
  • 2D means the best vantage point to see what's going on is a high angle, so you may find your players standing over the map if you have a large table.
  • Usually, people prefer standees and miniatures for looks.

Despite the disadvantages, I like to keep a stock of these around. They are my "go to" for running games at locations where I need to travel light such as at conventions. The last thing I want is to be burdened down with a heavy pack, or to load up really cool minis only to have them get lost or forgotten on the game floor.

So here's what you will need.

  • Glue (glue stick or a bottle of Elmer's white glue will do)
  • A craft Circle punch 3/4 to 1 inch diameter (available at most craft stores like Michael's)
  • Token art printed on standard paper
  • Token bases (anything about 1" in diameter and flat)

For Token Bases, I like to uses 1" Wooden disks available from Michael's or other crafts stores. They are fairly inexpensive and lightweight, but still beefy enough to pick up without relying on fingernails to grip them. This pack has about 20 disks.

Because these disks have a beveled edge, using a 1" diameter circle punch would be too big so I use the 3/4". It's a bit tight for pictures and I'll probably switch to a 1" and see how well it fits when I get around to it.

The circle punches can usually be found in scrap-booking sections.

Warning!: Do not mount your images to chip board and then try to cut them with the punch. The punch is good for paper or cardstock only. You will break your punch trying to go through anything thicker.

As for the art, well unless I start uploading some for Free Stuff Fridays you will have to make do on your own. Just find some pics and print then out at 1" portraits on a sheet of paper. Don't worry about making them round since the punch will do that for you. Just try to frame them as best you can. Also, make a duplicate of the same picture and add an outer, red ring if you want to flip the token to indicate a special condition like "Bloodied" or in my case "Shaken".

You can also paint the tokens or used colored bases before you add the picture. This helps a lot with identifying tokens quickly. For instance, I make all of my villain bases black, my heroes red, and innocent civilian npcs in yellow.

You can see above that I have flipped a couple of these npcs to Shaken. These guys make great hostages. Innocent bystanders getting in the way of combat is an under-used combat environment, imho. Also notice I used just silhouettes for these portraits. That's because they are npcs so they are fine being generic looking. 10 generic npc tokens are enough for  all of my civilian npc needs. I also plan to make some generic "Monster", "Villain", and "Robot" tokens. It makes them re-usuable, and if I want the players to get a visual of what they are fighting, I can always flip a larger picture over the top of my gm's screen.

Tokens, as mentioned before, are also versatile. There is nothing stopping me from making corpse counters, fire counters, or any other environment hazard that needs representation. All in all, tokens are a useful GM tool.

I think I will add my generic Token art into a Free Stuff Friday Post after all. It will give me time to create the next Alien One Sheet.

Game On!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Adventure Mondays! - Part 7

And it doesn't get any easier...

  • A Useful Monster must be captured and trained.
  • Mischievous creatures have targeted the heroes for fun. They must be appeased or destroyed.
  • The Heroes are hired to lift a curse from a town that the town incurred through sinful misdeeds.
  • The Heroes are hired to prevent the extermination of a valuable local animal by poachers.
  • An experimental robot or creature has escaped and must be caught or stopped.
  • A haunted house contains valuable artistic items, which brave players could recover for profit.
  • The heroes are hired to put down a grass roots uprising.
  • An android asks the players for help escaping from its owner and becoming free.
  • Someone or thing is attack people and leaving them with no memory of the assault.
  • The heroes are hired to protect a merchant vessel.
On a personal note: Things may slow down on the blog around the end of this month and the beginning of August. I'll be moving so there will be a lot of packing, disconnecting, unpacking, reconnecting, screaming at Comcast/Xfinity or whatever new brand name they switch to.

Game On!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Free Stuff Fridays! - Alien Race Guide - Meet the Misorona

Last week I gave you an alien one-sheet about the Kesh. Today it's the druids of the stars, The Misorona.

These guys took a while to write up as they not only have their own Arcane Background, but they needed some specialized equipment since they shun lifeless technology.

If you have any ideas for a race, give me a comment and I will see if I can't add it into the Galactic Tour.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

GM Wednesday! - How Much Is Too Much?

No, this isn't a post about character backgrounds or GM room descriptions. This is about stuff in general, the stuff we accumulate in our hobby, the ten-pound dice buckets,  and the miniatures collections that fill our basements.

On the one hand, stuff keeps rpg companies in business. Like collectible card games, they need to toss out products as much as possible, and the easier those products are to manufacture, the better. So we see a lot of pre-painted minis randomized in boxes, custom dice, card add-ons, and etc. And while I agree that these often do enhance your game, one day you wake up and you see something like this.

And you realize you haven't seen the cat in a month...

I recently watched a documentary called Tiny House on Netflix. It's about people who buy some land and build a very small house, very inexpensively, to live in. The entire footprint of the building could fit in one of Gygax's ten foot by ten foot rooms. It's a new movement in America and I'm thinking this is what I might retire into.

You may think the idea is a little nuts but there was one message that stuck with me from this show. You see, living in a tiny house forces you to think "What do I actually need?" I looked around at my stuff, all of my stuff, and realized that I had accumulated some pretty useless junk. I'm not a hoarder by any stretch of the word, but I did have things just for the sake of having them and all they accomplished was to take up space.

In this article, collection is used as a bad word and is italicized. Collection implies "having for having's sake" and can easily become uncontrollable. Don't wind up like the guy whose Star Wars collection takes up every room of his apartment, forcing he and his wife and children to live solely in the living room. Don't be that guy.


Let's get back to the ten-pound dice bucket. How many dice do you actually need to play an rpg? I get that dice pool systems require a lot of d6s or d10s, but I have seen people change out through 15 different d20's in their bag because the last one "rolled unlucky".

I swore that I wouldn't succumb to dice hoarding, but you know what? I did. Game Science dice. They are hard to find now because the man who made them retired, but essentially they were dice that retained the sharp edges as opposed to going through a rock tumbler to smooth them out. They rolled more randomly than Chessex dice in my experience but they came in some ugly colors. When I found out they were being discontinued, I bought more. I collected them. Now I have about fifteen sets of them and I don't even use them anymore. It's time I got rid of these.

Now I use Jumbo Dice. They don't come in all of the cool colors that Chessex dice do, but I like them for a few of reasons.
  1. When you roll, that heft in your hand just feels good...powerful. Mwahahaha.
  2. They are so big that the manufacturing of them allows the edges to be rounded in the casting, not a random tumbler. Thus they roll random as opposed to favoring certain numbers. At least that is my theory and I haven't noticed anything to the contrary.
  3. They are easy to read for both me and my players (I roll all my GM rolls in the open instead of behind a screen).
I bought three sets, two white and one black. I don't carry all three sets with me, I just needed it to build my optimal set which consists of 2d20, 2d12, 3d10, 3d8, 3d6, 3d4. Since my black dice are "the special dice", you know like a Wild Die or a Luck Die or just in case I am rolling two attacks but need to know which is the primary and which is the secondary, I keep the d20, d12, 1d10 (the "ones" die), d8, d6, and d4. The rest is filled out with the white dice. The two other d10's in white are percentile. Here's my setup...

That covers a lot of different games, except those that require specialized dice. I may have to reroll d6s and d10s in dice pool games but I don't play them very often. I have never found myself wanting more dice, only better looking colors. I think I'll dye my white ones some day.

Miniatures & Maps

So if you have seen some of my previous posts, you'll notice that I love to paint minis. However, looking at my roommate's collection of minis and hearing him ask me if I wanted to paint them all for him was ...let's just say off-putting. I vowed that I would never collect armies of minis. I would only buy and paint those I would use as my own characters (or do the occasional paint job for a friend). I do occasionally buy a monster or two if they are really cool and look fun to paint, but those are rare and I never buy more than one. However, I will probably sell these off soon. The previous sentences are sounding like excuses to collect.

I did buy the Pathfinder Bestiary Boxes and NPC box, however. I did it because they are well made, easily stored, I play a lot of Pathfinder at the moment, and because I can use a variety of the monsters in other games or settings if I want. There's also an added benefit that my girlfriend pointed out while playing: when the heroes are minis and the bad guys are figure flats, it's very easy to tell who the enemy is at a glance, even at the end of the table.

Minis do enhance the game play to some respect. It makes the combat more visual, and in some games this level of tactical combat is necessary because the rules are built around it. However, back in the old days of AD&D, we didn't have maps or minis. We had narrative combat. The action was all in our heads and that was cool. There was a trade off when minis became standard issue in rpgs, tactical combat replaced cinematic combat. Suddenly we were "moving behind the couch to get that +2 cover bonus" instead of "diving behind the couch while emptying both clips at the Specter Hit Squad". Both are valuable ways to play in their own right, but you should ask yourself what style do you want in a game, and what are your players able to handle. I have met tactical players that can't seem to think outside of the box when it comes to narrative combat.

Well if you feel destined to play with minis, here's a few things to keep in mind...
  1. You need representative minis. This has the danger of become a collection and taking over your living space as well as your finances and free time. However there are cheats, such as figure flats, or using generic tokens (which I will cover how to DIY in Free Stuff Friday!).
  2. You also need maps. Again, if you are buying pretty maps like Paizo's Game Mastery Flip Maps, this can easily become another collection. They claim they put out a new one every month. Honestly all you really need is a set of wet-erase markers and either the Basic Game Mastery Flip Map (my personal choice) or a Vinyl Battlemat. And check out D&D's Map Fu for some hints on how to bring some life to your hand drawn maps.
You could go Digital with your maps. There is a plethora of software out for tablets and computers that mimic the tactical combat necessities. I choose not to use them for some obvious reasons...
  1. The map choices are limited unless you make your own, and many times it just faster to hand draw something than to art it out in the software.
  2. To use the software, first you must have a PC or a tablet which is very expensive when compared to just shilling out $12 for the Basic Flip Mat. Also the flip mat is much lighter in my bag. 
  3. 9/10 you have to also purchase the software.
  4. Tablets aren't very big so it will have to be passed around the table. Not everyone will see the action at once. I suppose you could build a rig and hook it up to a projector and ...STOP! Nononono! More technology is not the answer. Put down the power tools.
Game On!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Not Game Related But...

I'm finally getting a scooter! I have been wanting one forever and since my Ex got custody of the car, I have needed wheels since last September. However, what with my Ex killing my credit and my saving up for a house with my new girlfriend, my scooter dreams have been on the back shelf and I have been stuck in Pedestrianville for a long time. And, worse, all that walking hasn't trimmed down my gut, but that is next on my list.


 I got my friggin' Scooter!

Adventure Mondays! - Part 6

As promised, every Monday gets you ten more seeds for your games.

  • An Unstoppable Monster is coming to destroy everything. Who do you save and how?
  • The players are caught between soldiers and separatist rebels, and must choose sides.
  • People turn up missing right after a town reverses its fortunes. Has someone cut a deal with the devil?
  • The Heroes are hired to retrieve an important invention that their patron claims was stolen from him. Unfortunately true ownership is in question.
  •  Hostages have been taken and the heroes are hired to end the standoff.
  • An ancient machine or creature is accidentally set loose. Can the heroes stop it?
  • The heroes get wind of a slave ship in the area leaving port soon. Someone should put a stop to this.
  • Someone has arisen that appears to have miraculous abilities to heal and prophesize, but is there a darker secret to this gift?
  • A cursed item has been making rounds and wreaking havoc. The heroes must track it down before it causes more harm.
  •  A cult is selling a popular remedy that actually causes dire suffering.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Free Stuff Fridays! - Alien Race Guide - Meet the Kesh

So, Free Stuff Fridays takes up the most of my time per post. As such, I am bound to falter on the weekly thing, especially since my idea tank is running low. In fact my current mind state will be addressed in the next GM Wednesday post. 

Today's post is certainly last minute. I have forgone the typical paper craft standee upload today in favor of Alien One Sheets as a celebration of the Sci-Fi Companion and the hopefully soon to be released "Last Parsec" by Pinnacle Entertainment.

So lets meet The Kesh...

This was not just a weekly update, but an experiment with digital coloration. I admit I am a terrible inker and colorer, but I like to think I am getting better.

By the Way, if you are looking for "Truly Alien" aliens for your game, you might be disappointed. I prefer the Star Warsy type aliens of pulp to the "talking jellyfish" of harder sci-fi. I am trying to design aliens that are more than a simple rubber forehead away from humans, but near-human aliens are also a part of the trope and they will be making an appearance.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

GM Wednesday! - Improvising Conflict

Time to talk about Conflict.

Conflict is they key to an interesting plot. It doesn't necessarily need to be violent conflict. It could be as simple as getting information. The hero wants some information so he goes to a known street rat to get it. If the street rat gives it up immediately then there is no conflict. In other words it is boring and could easily have been narrated away without the player's input. It's more interesting if the street rat has reasons to not give it up, but to make the hero earn it. Maybe the street rat is afraid of being found out as a snitch, maybe he is greedy and must be bartered with for the information, or maybe he just sees no reason to help the heroes until they earn his fear or respect.

Here's another example: The heroes are sneaking through the villain's manor when one of the party guests wanders into the room where they are hiding. The guest isn't actively searching for the heroes but his mere presence can make their heart skip a beat.

When you improvise conflict, just remember this simple formula. The heroes want something, but then something gets in the way of that goal. That's conflict.

It could just be something as simple as the heroes want to search the room for treasure, but then there is an irate Minotaur in the way. That is the conflict of most early D&D dungeon modules (aka dungeon crawls), and in some cases that is enough.

This may read like it's all very basic stuff, but the panic of improvising can make you forget some very basic things.

So as your players drift from your pre-planned story line and begin to explore a different path, you must be ready to introduce Conflict.


Now it's time to talk about the art and the skills you will need so that you don't frustrate your players with the Conflicts you introduce.

While it's okay to throw a seemingly impossible task in front of the players every now and then that forces them to really think, it's bad form to do this for every Conflict. The more difficult you make a task, the more time it will take for the players to figure out a way through it. Too many of these tasks will bog down the game and your players will get bored. Try to keep some level of fairness in mind with your challenges with respect to the game world. The challenges should be solvable by your heroes, otherwise the game cannot continue. 

One GM I played with ran a Star Wars game where we as rebel mercenaries had to get our assignment from a covert operative on a space station. Weapons were not allowed on the station so we had to go in unarmed to get our assignment. The conflict our GM threw at us was that the contact was crazy (why then would the rebellion trust or use him as a middle-man?), he had an explosive vest strapped to his chest (on a station where weapons were strictly forbidden), and he wouldn't give us our assignment unless we paid him an exorbitant amount of money (that we didn't have). 

So paying him was not an option, reasoning with him was not an option, and threatening him was not an option. We did what any mercenary would do in that circumstance. We said screw the money and we left. Game over. 

It is the job of the GM to challenge the players, not to defeat them. After all you control the final ruling, the setting, and the infinite number of villains. What sort of challenge is it for you to beat the players when your are god.

Twists and Turns

Next lets talk about spicing up your conflict. Think about things that can add a twist to your conflict. Let's say the heroes want the info from that street rat. I gave you a bunch of examples of standard motivations and solutions but what about something not so standard. 
What if the street rat is desperate to free his girl from a drug den so they can run off and make a fresh start, but he lacks the strength and firepower to rescue her? So he has a price for the heroes, but his motive isn't greed.

Let's say the heroes are entering a cavern to slay monsters and get treasure. Here's a twist: The monsters are organized and have built defensive fortifications.

And Then the Ninjas Attacked! 

Sometimes the heroes may get confused and not know where to go. Or the players might be getting bored with too much character acting or puzzle solving. If the pace of your game starts to drag, it's time to send in the ninjas. BTW it's always good to have a generic "Thug/Ninja" npc statted out for your game in case your need one...or a dozen.

Throwing an action scene at the players should wake them up. Basically the villain has had enough of the heroes asking questions and sends a death squad to "take care of them" (I hate that cliched line). And oops, their just happens to be a clue on one of the death squad members that can lead the party back on track.

This is a good trick to keep in your repertoire. The players will be so happy that something is happening that it's unlikely they will complain about the obvious tactic.


So when you have to improvise a conflict, remember to make it a challenge but not an impossible task, especially if the plot cannot move forward unless the heroes deal with this conflict. 

Make it fit with the setting and what is going on. Always leave a path for the heroes to succeed. And given that this is improv, if your players come up with a cool idea to deal with the situation that you hadn't thought of, go with it.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Adventure Monday! - Part 5

Woop Woop! It's that time again. I hope these are helping people. I don't get much feedback, so it's difficult to tell.

  • A Monster has settled into an area that the locals need access to and it must be removed or killed.
  • While on a long voyage the heroes’ vehicle is waylaid by hijackers.
  • Two government’s dispute over ownership of a recent find threatens to drive the region into war.
  • The heroes are caught up in an attempted coup.
  • All of the children of a town have mysteriously disappeared.
  • A demon possesses a living person to fulfill an ancient obligation made with a person no longer alive.
  • A dying miner claims to have found a mother lode and asks the players to pass on its location to his kin. The people who killed the miner have other ideas.
  • The players discover an operation underway that uses slave labor. The slavers are cruel and armed.
  •  The heroes are hired to hunt down a person of noble intent who seems to have become corrupted by greed, power, drugs, or a cursed item.
  • There is a creature loose at the local shipyard and no one seems inclined to do much about it. The Dock-Masters offer a bounty but are much more interested in seizing the abandoned ships of the creature’s victims.

Last week I played the Free RPG day scenario "Risen From the Sands" in the Pathfinder Society. TPK (Total Party Kill) in 29 minutes at the first encounter. Skip this one. It really shows off the lack of playtest some Paizo products get.

I'm all for tough scenarios but the first encounter was a "Square Pyramid" (geometry buffs are cringing on that one) that Tramples all the heroes each round in a narrow corridor (no cover) and deals enough damage to drop any character in one blow (it's a 2-4 level adventure). BTW this "Square Pyramid" also has Reach (WTF?), over 50 hp, and Hardness of 8.

AND I thought I would remind you that this is a free rpg being run on Free RPG Day as a marketing ploy that is supposed to draw in new players. Wanna play an RPG? Oops, yer dead. Did you have fun? Paizo Fail.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Free Stuff Fridays! - Computer Banks

What is the point of invading an Imperial Base if there aren't any computer systems to loot? So here you are, some computer bank standees to provide hours of cover under withering Imperial blaster fire. I just hope it survives the barrage long enough for you to clear your browser history.

Computer Bank Standees

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

GM Wednesday - Improvisation/ Story

Today's post is about running off of the cuff, at the edge of your wits, and when things go so Wednesday that even you don't know how it's going to end. It's about the fun part of GMing.

Let start with the basics. There are three things that will require improv skills: Story, Conflict, and Dialogue. Conflict and Dialogue will be covered in later posts.


So you think you know how things are supposed to go. Unfortunately your players have decided that the most important person in the game must be the decrepit Hobgoblin on the outskirts of town who is trying to peddle his homemade snot-balls to anyone passing by. He was just a foot-note in your city description but your players think he is the Evil Mastermind of a yet undisclosed plot and they intend to spend the next hour or two getting to the bottom of his true purpose.

What do you do? Do you keep telling your players he is just a nobody and steer them back onto your plot rails or... do you go with it?

Here's the thing, if you go with it but don't let on that you're having to improvise everything that is happening, your players will think they have outsmarted you. They will feel a sense of accomplishment that they have bypassed all of your clues and found the real culprit. Just keep your mouth shut and smile, things are going your way. The Hobgoblin just got a promotion.

I like to add a big twist. Yes he is up to something, but it's not at all what the players think he is up to. Maybe he is a scout for an invasion force. Maybe his snot-balls are actually healing snot (taken orally) and the Hobgoblin is a prophet. Maybe he was hired by the real villain to keep an eye on who is coming and going to the town. That last option can be used to lead the heroes back onto your original plot if necessary.

Or you could provide them with proof of his innocence by making him the victim. Perhaps the real Big Bad Evil Guy needs something from the Hobgoblin Peddler and has sent some minions to rough him up.

The hard part here is pulling another story out of your brain pan. If you're used to playing things loose with the adventure you had in mind then you should be in good shape. If you have a very tightly woven adventure where things need to happen in a specific order, you are going to be frustrated and panicked (and neither is conducive to creativity).

The best thing you can do is just have fun. Make up something outrageous, and don't worry about the details too much. Flesh it out as you go. Answer only those questions that come up. It may sound terrifying but just trust yourself and let it go. Just make sure that it has a thread that ties it all together.

For instance, if my villain is a desert prince but I decide his servants are shark-men it won't make much sense for the two to work together UNLESS the desert prince has hatched a plan to flood his lands to make them more fertile (which will likely wipe out his neighbors ecosystems but what does he care). Newly submerged territory would be something the shark men would be very interested in. The water plot ties these two disparate groups together.

The GMs Secret Stalling Tactic!

Let's say your players have completely blindsided you and you aren't ready to bounce back at them. You need a moment to collect your thoughts and regroup. Don't worry, take a break. If you don't want to tell them why (and why should you?) just call for a bio break. Then take a few deep breaths and regroup. I don't recommend taking a smoke break. I used to smoke and I'm glad I quit. Also, I have never had a moment to think while I smoked because some of my friends would join me or take the opportunity to ask me questions. The point is you need to be alone for a few seconds so go to the bathroom...alone...preferably. Just don't take too many of these breaks or your players may become suspicious...or worried.

Now just focus on...

What You Need

Remember, the object is to keep yourself loose so you can spring in any direction you need to go. You aren't going to flesh out an entirely new adventure in the bathroom, and nor should you since your players will just derail that as well. All you need is an Adventure Seed (just like the one's I have been tossing your way every Monday).

You just need a Villain, a Villainous Plan, and an idea about the consequences should he/she/it be allowed to succeed.

Letting the Players Write Your Adventure

Okay, so we're back to that Hobgoblin. The players are convinced he's a bad guy. You've decided that he's actually peddling a narcotic while scouting the town for an invasion. Your player's don't know any of that yet.

Then one of your players says "He may be consorting with a demon. We should check that out. We'll follow him and use detect evil."

The Hobgoblin wasn't consorting with a demon a second ago, but that actually sounds cool to you so TAKE IT.

"As you follow him into the deeper forest he begins to radiate Evil," you say.

Player 1 - "Ha! I knew it."
Player 2- "Wait, why didn't he radiate evil before?"

Don't answer him. See if another player answers him first. This happens a lot at my table.

Player 1 - "Obviously there is something in the woods that keeps him from hiding his Evil."

That is how players will do all the work for you. Staying flexible. You have gone from the Hobgoblin being a flavor NPC, to a spy and drug peddler, to a Demon whose lair is deep in the forest. All you've had to do was change your adventure seed. After a while, your players will settle into the story and then you can start planning Conflicts.

Where Things Are Likely to Go Wrong

Information Gathering
In this part, the players learn about what is going on, what is really going on, and who the villain is. For mystery games, this is 75% of the adventure. For your typical Pathfinder Society game, this is the first 20% of the adventure because you are handed a mission, told what is going on, and who the bad guy is.

This is also the most likely place for your pre-planned adventure to go off the rails. It's the place where your players are still looking for direction and focus and may go off on a different tangent. That is one of the reasons Pathfinder Society skips that by handing you most or all of the information the PCs need up front.

The heroes are unlikely to enter combat in this section so you won't really need any NPC's with combat stats at this point. Honestly all you need is your adventure seed and a rough idea of where it is going to go. If you have proactive players like in the above example, they may end up creating this entire section for you.

At the end of this part, your heroes will have their story and now they just need to assault the villain's base and take him down or catch him in the middle of his villainous plot and stop him.

So Why Do I Like Improv So Much?

Because I'm not just reading an adventure to my friends and waiting for them to get the right response. I am thinking, planning, restrategizing, and I don't know what's happening next. In short, I may be running things but I am also playing. I think too many GMs don't actually play when they run, which is why I think so few people want to GM.

Game On!