RPG a Day: The Essentials

27. What are your essential tools for good gaming?

At the root, the only essential elements for me to have a good game are a few friends who want to play “pretend” together and for approximately the same types of stories, rules, or experiences.

Then again, we all love our toys, tricks, and hacks.

I have mentioned before some of the things I always bring with me to a game convention, particularly my beloved All Rolled Up filled with pens, index cards and dice, dry-erase media such as my Noteboard, and a variety of card decks as oracles and visual inspiration. I also carry a blank book to take game notes and sketch scenes, and lists of names to draw from for new characters.

And here is another one I keep mentioning, but there is always one new reader who may find it useful: Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering, by Robin D. Laws (Steve Jackson Games), an excellent, easily read, and inexpensive primer for new GMs.

#RPGaDay2017

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RPG a Day: Fan-Made Resources

Scrapbooking tools

22. What are some awesome fan-made RPG resources?

Today’s default question was too similar to others I’ve just answered (”What RPGs are easy for you to run?” calls for an answer that’s pretty close to the one I gave for “What is an awesome RPG you enjoy adapting?”) So I decided to ask myself a different question, and answer it. 🙂

I want to celebrate fan-made and shared materials. There are so many, so I will just point to a few of different types.

Yes, I do realize that the distinction between fan and professional is very subjective in the world of role-playing games. I’m just trying to shine a spotlight on quality resources created for love of the game and generously shared.

#RPGaDay2017


Credits: Image by Ali Edwards, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

 

 

 

Mouse Guard Must-Have

photo-sep-08-4-48-55-pmI’m very late in discovering this, but the hardback compilation Mouse Guard: The Black Axe is a must-have for all readers of the Mouse Guard comics (David Petersen, published by Archaia) and especially for players of the role-playing game based on the comic, the Mouse Guard RPG (Luke Crane & David Petersen).

It’s full of information about what the Guard Mice do, the art is as inspiring as ever, and the book offers a nice appendix full of maps, illustrations of locations, genealogies of famous mouse clans, etc. (You can see examples of location art here, but the ones in the book are different and contain much more information.)

RPG a Day: Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize!

ARU14. Favourite RPG accessory

Ah, by now you know that I have a terrible time trying to narrow down favourites. Let me share not one, but several of my favourite accessories:

  • All Rolled Up, Fil and Paul Baldowki’s creation to carry your gaming kit in style. I have the Harker Adventurer and I love it.
  • backstory-boxmockupBackstory Cards, to help quickly create strong character and setting ties.
  • Deck of Fate, which can serve not only to replace Fate dice, track initiative, or substitute for fate points, but also as an oracle or inspiration.
  • The Noteboard, a folding dry-erase mat with grid on one side.
  • Blank plastic cards, dry-erase/wet-erase
  • Plastic card stands and other game parts from Spiel Pro.
  • Dry-erase sheets
  • Transparent acrylic table stands—a letter-size one for the game poster (used at conventions) and small ones for individual character pictures.
  • Small standing dry-erase board as initiative/precedence tracker.
  • Sticky notes of all colours and shapes!
  • And online: Roll20, Google Drive, Vyew.

#RPGaDay2015

Erasable plastic cards, index cards, playing cards

Saying Yes: Firefly RPG

Firefly RPG coverIn recent weeks I wrote a series of posts on game-masters who say “No” to player ideas, and how GMs can dramatically increase everyone’s fun at the table by learning to listen and say “Yes.”

Then came Big Bad Con 2014, where I was scheduled to run events using three different games: Atomic Robo RPG, Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade, and Firefly RPG. Let me be honest: after all these years, I’m always jittery about my convention games right before I run; but this time, I had just increased the pressure by kvetching about bad habits of GMs, and how it should be done instead… Thankfully, Big Bad Con is particularly notable for the incredible calibre of players it attracts. Three tables full of superb players was just what I needed to restore my nerve, and we had great adventures. I can proudly say that I successfully stuck to the advice I’d been giving, and things worked out magnificently.

So I thought I would turn the experience into posts where I would share mini-reviews of the three game systems, step-by-step examples of my game preparation and GMing, and my original game notes for anyone who might want to use them.

Firefly: The Baboon, the Browncoat, and the Chrysanthemum

1 – Prepping

A few weeks before the convention, organizer Sean Nittner was looking for someone to run the Firefly RPG, so I volunteered. Sean puts a lot of effort into lining up a good variety of games and recruiting GMs so that there will be plenty of choice for attendees. He even lent me his beautiful autographed book, then contacted Margaret Weis Productions to ask if I could get a PDF convention kit. Thanks to David Robins and Monica Valentinelli at MWP, I got everything I needed to run a game.

So I had to add my game to the schedule ASAP but I did not have a plot in mind yet, so as for my Atomic Robo game, I went for a title that would sound intriguing, and a generic game pitch:

The Baboon, the Browncoat, and the Chrysanthemum
They can’t take the sky from you, but the Ching-wah TSAO duh liou mahng sure can make it ruttin’ uncomfortable. How were you to know this little job would blow up like that?

(If anyone noticed that I had sneaked the Big Bad Con initials in the title, no one mentioned it.)

My first decision to make: use the characters from the television show, or some of the many customizable templates provided in the book? I asked around in my online circles and received much useful advice. In the end, I agreed with the majority who recommended using the Serenity crew in order to build on  players’ shared understanding, but set the adventure a little prior to the television pilot and limit the cast to Mal, Zoe, Wash, Jayne, Kaylee, and Inara. Continue reading “Saying Yes: Firefly RPG”

Saying Yes: Tianxia – Blood, Silk and Jade

Tianxia Front CoverIn recent weeks I wrote a series of posts on game-masters who say “No” to player ideas, and how GMs can dramatically increase everyone’s fun at the table by learning to listen and say “Yes.”

Then came Big Bad Con 2014, where I was scheduled to run events using three different games: Atomic Robo RPG, Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade, and Firefly RPG. Let me be honest: after all these years, I’m always jittery about my convention games right before I run; but this time, I had just increased the pressure by kvetching about bad habits of GMs, and how it should be done instead… Thankfully, Big Bad Con is particularly notable for the incredible calibre of players it attracts. Three tables full of superb players was just what I needed to restore my nerve, and we had great adventures. I can proudly say that I successfully stuck to the advice I’d been giving, and things worked out magnificently.

So I thought I would turn the experience into posts where I would share mini-reviews of the three game systems, step-by-step examples of my game preparation and GMing, and my original game notes for anyone who might want to use them.

Tianxia: To Live and Die in Băo Jiāng

1 – Prepping

On Saturday afternoon I ran my first game of the wuxia fantasy Tianxia: Bood, Silk & Jade from Vigilance Press, which builds on the Fate Core system from Evil Hat Productions. I believe this was the only Tianxia event at the convention. I decided to expand on one of the story starters provided in the book, setting it during a big Moon Festival for colour and action. Here is what I wrote for my game summary in the program:

To Live and Die in Băo Jiāng
Forgery, theft, treachery, ambition. Diplomats, courtiers, and Imperial scions. A holy day and a parade. And kung fu. All of Băo Jiāng is topsy-turvy when a secret treaty is negotiated under cover of the Moon Festival — while daring thieves plan to rob the Imperial Seal. And did we mention kung fu?

The scenario in the book includes a premise (the imperial seal which is in the hands of Princess Ju, travelling incognito, will be “borrowed” and counterfeited by a master forger), suggestions of ways to entangle the player characters and possible consequences, and the stats for the two main non-player characters (the princess and the forger). While I liked this beginning a lot, I needed a backdrop that would incite to action as well as additional story hooks, because I had to drive all this to have lots of action and some sort of resolution in a four-hour time frame with a group of relative strangers at the table. Hence, adding the secret treaty negotiated under cover of the Moon Festival. Continue reading “Saying Yes: Tianxia – Blood, Silk and Jade”

Saying Yes: Atomic Robo RPG

Atomic RoboIn recent weeks I wrote a series of posts on game-masters who say “No” to player ideas, and how GMs can dramatically increase everyone’s fun at the table by learning to listen and say “Yes.”

Then came Big Bad Con 2014, where I was scheduled to run events using three different games: Atomic Robo RPG, Tianxia: Blood, Silk and Jade, and Firefly RPG. Let me be honest: after all these years, I’m always jittery about my convention games right before I run; but this time, I had just increased the pressure by kvetching about bad habits of GMs, and how it should be done instead… Thankfully, Big Bad Con is particularly notable for the incredible calibre of players it attracts. Three tables full of superb players was just what I needed to restore my nerve, and we had great adventures. I can proudly say that I successfully stuck to the advice I’d been giving, and things worked out magnificently.

So I thought I would turn the experience into posts where I would share mini-reviews of the three game systems, step-by-step examples of my game preparation and GMing, and my original game notes for anyone who might want to use them.

Atomic Robo and the Invisible Invaders of Inverness

1 – Prepping

On Friday afternoon I ran my first game of the pulpy action science game from Evil Hat Productions, Atomic Robo RPG. It is based on the Atomic Robo  comic book by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener, who were also involved in creating the game along with Mike Olson.  I confess, I had never read the comic until Evil Hat started announcing the upcoming game, so I caught up by reading the free samples on the Atomic Robo website, then buying a few of the collected trade paperbacks. When it was time to schedule games for Big Bad Con, I thought this would be a good choice since the RPG would only be a few months old and a lot of people might want to check it out.

We ended up having several other Atomic Robo RPG events at the convention, but I think mine may have been the only one set in the current day. Anyhow, at the time I put my games on the schedule I did not have a plot in mind yet so I went for a title that would sound in-genre, and a generic game pitch:

Atomic Robo and the Invisible Invaders of Inverness
TESLADYNE INDUSTRIES IS HIRING! All departments — Armory, Intel, Research & Development, and Transport. We need capable young Action Scientists who have what it takes to get the job done! From its humble beginnings in Nikola Tesla’s lab on Houston Street in New York City, the company formerly known as Tesla Heavy Industries has grown into the global phenomenon it is today. Tesladyne offers competitive salaries, a matchless benefits package, and the opportunity to travel while working on cutting edge Science!

This is actually important to my approach to GMing. If I have a more specific idea for a story hook, I will certainly throw it in; but I try not to go too far down the scripting path. Continue reading “Saying Yes: Atomic Robo RPG”

Hands-off game-mastering: Yes, this means you

The Big Adventure, by zazBI wrote a post recently about the single best way for game-masters to improve their role-playing games: Let go of the story in your head, shut your mouth, and listen to what the players are saying. I received a number of comments on this blog and in social media, essentially: “Yes, it’s true, except in this specific case when I do have to drive my players along the plot because X.” I wrote a second post about one of the values of X: “I’m using a module, how can I let go of the plot?

Today I would like to answer  a few more X objections. In all of these, I’m going to assume we are talking strictly about whether or not to give priority to the pre-determined plot over player ideas. I’m also going to point to my husband’s companion post, which addresses why GMs should rarely say “No” to player ideas. Continue reading “Hands-off game-mastering: Yes, this means you”

OK, so how do I do that?

Now You Be GoblinsYeah, this is yet another post about role-playing games.

On Tuesday, I wrote my pro tip for the single best way for game-masters to improve their games: shut up, forget the story you’ve built in your mind, and listen to what the players are saying. But of course, that seems easier said than done: how, practically speaking, do you run a game without a plan? And what if you’re using a published adventure? So let’s walk through the process.

(Note: All this will assume that everyone in the group is showing good will. Personality problems and player sabotage are outside the scope of this discussion.)

Some Background Resources

Before we get into the details, let me point you towards some useful resources. If you can only get one, I urge you to read Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering from Steve Jackson Games, by Robin D. Laws. It’s only eight bucks for the PDF and no GM should be without it.

If you’d like to read more along those lines, you may want to take a look at three books from Engine Publishing: Never Unprepared, Odyssey, and Unframed. Many published RPGs also offer excellent GM advice; my favourite of all times is found in Josh Roby’s wonderful game Full Light, Full Steam (Callisti Press).

Letting Go of Your Story

So in order to prepare, the GM has to have some idea of a story, right? How can a GM run an adventure for a group of players without a story in mind?

The answer may not be “No story” so much as “More stories.”

In the resources I listed above, you will find different ways of preparing plots so that players are not forced to go through all you prepared scenes in order and exactly the way you envisioned them. As you probably already do for all adventures you create, start with a situation that will make the player characters want to act; add interesting non-player characters to interact with, and give them agendas; set up some locations where interesting things could happen; and let the players come up with the rest.

This makes your role one of attentive listener and entertaining describer, alternately.  By all means, give your descriptions and explanations, but then zip it! and listen as the players come up with their own plans and ideas. If they fall prey to analysis paralysis, nudge things forward by having events unfold as the NPCs pursue their agendas, leaving consequences which the PCs will need to deal with.

The secret is not to plan the end of the story, but to sketch out many different ways it could unfold. What if the PCs try to talk their way past the opposition rather than fighting? What if they sneak, or bribe the guards? What if they don’t rescue Sir Bedevier in time? You don’t have to come up with the details in advance, just sketch out a few different ways things could unfold and have at least some idea how this would impact events.

Chances are the players will come up with something you had not planned on anyway and they should be rewarded for it, not punished. If they decide after all this that they will use a wheelbarrow and a holocaust cloak, for heaven’s sake, let them unless it’s really inappropriate or game-breaking in an irretrievable way. Everyone at the table will have more fun playing through the groups’ own spontaneous ideas than your scripted plot.

Let’s Be Goblins

VorkaAnd what if you’re using a ready-made adventure instead of writing your own? Does that mean you can’t use these wonderfully time-saving modules? Of course it doesn’t.

I thought it would be both useful and fun to work through an example of published scenario and how to bend it to an open, listening game-mastering style. Two of the failed adventures I discussed in my previous posts were official organized play events run under the auspices of the Pathfinder Society, I thought they would make good case studies, especially since the scenarios are available as free downloads: We Be Goblins! and We Be Goblins Too!, both written by Richard Pett, were released in 2011 and 2013 respectively as Paizo’s contribution to the annual event Free RPG Day, and won acclaim as whimsical, delightful romps offering a break from classic dungeon-crawling.

Let me clear up a couple of things this is not about: it’s not about the two particular GMs who ran these adventures, except inasmuch as they are part of a general trend. I believe whole-heartedly that they were doing their best and wanted the players to have a good time. It’s also not about the published modules, which are well written and entertaining. What it IS about is how one can use a published scenario without turning the adventure into a railroad operation.

Naturally, there are spoilers ahead, which I will hide behind the cut. I think it’s perfectly possible to run through the modules and fully enjoy them even after reading them, but I would hate to ruin someone else’s fun if you prefer to maintain the surprise. Continue reading “OK, so how do I do that?”

Outfitting a gaming tablet

MiTraveler 97D16WFor Christmas some dear friends gave us a $100 Amazon gift certificate. We held on to it for a whole because we wanted to put it on a tablet we’d use for tabletop gaming. We wanted something large enough to comfortably read our many PDF games, so in the 10-in. (25cm) range and with enough memory; and we wanted to be able to play sound effects and soundtracks. We lurked on Amazon waiting for sales and also for enough free spending money in our budget.

Finally, a few weeks ago we decided on an Android tablet, the Tivax MiTraveler 97D16w, a 9.7-in. tablet with 16GB of Flash memory and 1GB of RAM, running on Android 4.2.2. We picked this one , and not the 10-in. model, because of its 0.744 aspect ratio (3:4), which is well suited to reading books while the 10-in. model had an elongated aspect ratio optimized for watching movies. Since I had an 8MB MicroSD card I wasn’t using in an old phone, I popped it in immediately to expand storage space.

While I use an iPhone for work, this was my first introduction to Android, and I still have much to learn. I’m currently collecting related manuals and resources, and I appreciate any good ones people can suggest.

I’ve also been adding apps related to tabletop gaming, but as usual it seems very hard to find ones that are not designed so tightly around D&D/Pathfinder as to become useless for other games. This post is intended to be a repository and mini-review for useful apps I find. Once again, feel free to post about your favourites! Here is what I have so far:

Gaming Tools Proper

Dice Roller RPG: Free, with small ads. It offers the classic 4-, 6-, 8-, 10-, 12-, and 20-sided dice, plus two-sided (coin), 30-sided, percentile, and Fate dice. You can select the number of dice and the modifier to apply, and even roll combinations of different dice.

Fate Dice: Free, with small ads. Another dice roller. Offers a graphic roll of four Fate (a.k.a. Fudge) dice, that’s it. Displays well in portrait format, but shows only three of the dice in landscape mode.

FiascoMobileFiasco Mobile: $1.99. This is SO worth the two bucks! It puts all the basic official Fiasco playsets and a large number of fan-made ones at your fingertips.

RPG Initiative Manager: Free. This initiative tracker was built for Pathfinder, but it can be used fairly easily for a number of other games. It does not show in my list of open apps if I switch to another while gaming, but when I reopen it from the desktop icon, it’s still in the right place and has kept all my info. It lets you enter character names, initiative modifiers, and initiative dice rolls for each encounter; you can then click on “Next Turn” to update the dice rolls. It sorts the list in order of highest to lowest initiative every time, and saves sessions.

Sound & Multimedia

Sound Effects Soundboard: Free, with small ads, and a nag screen asking you to rate the app every once in a while. I believe there is a paid version that offers more choices of sounds. There are multiple categories such as “Animals,” “Weapons,” “Vehicles,” etc., each offering multiple sound effects. Most effects are very short, a few are surprising long. You can pick up to nine sound effects you want at your fingertips at any one time and assign them to shortcut buttons, which is probably enough for several scenes. Seems to display only in portrait format.

Syrinscape interfaceSyrinscape Tabletop RPG Sound: Free, with two or three free soundscapes; a paid version offers many more choices of soundscapes at $4 per soundscape or $20 for packs of six soundscapes. Each soundscape is an extended track, like in a video game, each comprising multiple segments or “moods” that offer different atmospheres, such as “Something’s Out There” or “The Battle Is Joined.” Moreover, each segment includes multiple sound sources like “Distant wildlife” or “Battle music,” with mixer sliders so you can adjust each component to suit. You can save your custom moods. Finally, I like that when you switch from one sound to another or just turn it off, the app transitions smoothly. If you like playing with sounds and having a custom soundtrack, this is really neat and the purchase of extra sets probably well worth it.

Skype: For virtual face-to-face gaming, though we have yet to use it on the tablet.

Reading & Writing

PDF readers: I tried a number of PDF readers; I’m not sure I’m settled on this, but I’m currently using Foxit. It seems faster and easier to use than many others, although it doesn’t give access to advanced features like the ones in Void Star Studios’ Nova Praxis RPG.

Google Drive, of course. It’s my most used collaboration tool.

Dropbox, also very useful to share documents and images.