Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Situations develop

In jumping into the wider-world of D&D blogging over the past couple of years, I've learned about different DM styles and techniques as well as different gaming styles and techniques and it has given me some perspective on how I run a game.

I think that I run a fairly rail-roady game.

That is to say, I think of some grand scenario before dice are ever rolled - The Necromancer of Diggly Dell is manipulating the Baron Louis Santos to further his plans for world domination.

Then I try to hook the players into the situation. In the above scenario, the actions of Baron Santos would somehow rub the PC's the wrong way and thus they would be set upon the path I had planned.

I would have a clear idea of who the antagonists are, what their goals are, and how they plan to achieve those goals.

During character creation, I would stipulate to my players that whatever kind of character they roll, he/she/it must start the game in the Hamlet of Vollage. While they are there, some bad things happen and the capable PC's are asked/paid/coerced into helping.

The Writings of Uncle Figgy tell us that there are three great motivators: Curiosity, Fear, and Greed.

To involve a player in any Thing, First attempt to pique interest, failing that, make being involved in the Thing mortally preferable to not being involved. Lastly, pay them or otherwise make it financially preferable to be involved with the Thing.

A character not motivated by one of those three things must have a powerful reason for ignoring them. Use that instead.

In this way, any character will take your hook. Gladly.

You will then have  certain amount of foresight into their actions and will be able to plan appropriately.

I generally "hold hands" with my players until level 3 or the first Big Bad Thing, whichever comes first. And even after that, I try to avoid character death. In pursuit of that dictum, however, I will not sacrifice logic or common sense.

Beyond this, my players are free to take whatever action they feel, even abandoning the quest wholesale.

This has never once happened.

Your players are playing a role. They should act as they have designed their characters to act. That makes them predictable.

In that predictability, you have the DM's greatest tool. You can virtually predetermine what the characters will do in any given situation because the players have given you full disclosure.

It is when you develop situations that you don't know the answer to that things get very interesting and very fun, because your players will not know the answer either.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Stream of barely-conciousness - Villiany

I'd like to have a really good villain.

I want a Darth Vader (sans prequels) in my games.

Despite owning more than one tome detailing how to stick a nefarious ne'er-do-well into a game, I've never succeeded in doing so. The enemy has always been the environment, and those what dwell within it.

Wait, wait, wait...

I take that back.

I DID have a villain once. In a Travellers game.

They called him: Squa'ti Mu.

Henchmen just called him "The Mu".

He had an awesome plan, the player's had bought into it hook, line, and sinker.

Big badness. Fate of the galaxy. Betrayal. Moral dilemma. High drama.

But my players quit playing.

Was it rail-roady? I don't think so. Manipulative? Definitely.

I first decided what Mu's goal was - to become Emperor of the Known Universe - then gave him a plan to accomplish that goal. Traveller's character creation system is tailor made for inserting plot hooks into each character's background, and so before play ever began, everyone had a reason to hate him.

All I had to do was give the players an opportunity to move against him. This, of course, was something Mu anticipated, and planned for.

Plans within plans within plans within plans within plans.

I find that is hard to make players invest positive emotions in NPC's. Encouraging character's to feel fondness for an NPC is hit or miss.

Hate, however, flows easily.

Provided your characters give a shit about anything.

Just have your bad guy destroy he/she/it, and/or otherwise bomb in and shit in the player's Post Toasties.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Wizards just did this.

And I came. Hard.

Yes, it's all available free online from some neckbeard with a scanner, but damnit, I'll pay for high quality, searchable, indexed PDF's.

More exciting is the company's changing attitude to its back catalogue.

Please believe I'll be picking up the AD&D 2E reprints, I just almost grabbed the AD&D set.

I need to go home and change.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

There's no point to any of this and no one should ever read it.

I originally started this blog with the idea of extolling the virtues of AD&D 2E, which remains my favorite system.

2E seems to be the least represented of the editions, not old or new but middle school fifth grade like junior high, to quote the bard.

2E has flaws, like any system and rules that can be confusing, and has the black marks of being the first version of D&D sans Gygax as well as having been hit with self-censorship.

At the time I started playing however, I had no idea who or what Gygax was, didn't understand the TSR situation, and had never been exposed to a previous version of Dungeons and Dragons.

AD&D 2E was fucking magic.

Still is.

I won't go on and on about how awesome roleplaying is and how it positively affected my life, many others have testified to that with more eloquence than I can summon.

I won't even preach the gospel of 2E to you. I think It's fantastic, you might not. It is worth a look.

If there's a published system that gives it a run for its money, however, Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying does it.
It's the one game I've played so far that I've found myself thinking, "This could replace 2E as my go-to game," But there are still things that really grind me about it. My players seemed to like it and we went from "Let's play" to "Holy shit, we're all going to die" in about an hour.
It wasn't unusual for us to set aside our first session just for rolling characters in 2E. In LotFP, it's easy for a relative novice to roll a character by herself during the game, after her first is killed by a swinging log trap.

Lately, I've been play-testing my ol' buddy Edward's game. It's heavy on the RP light on the G and if that's what your group is interested in, it works very well. If they want to see who can roll the biggest numbers on a D20 with arbitrary bonuses from made up bullshit, then they need to get the fuck out. For their own sake.

It's hard to describe Eddy's game without sounding like a tool, you'll have to trust me that 1. I am not a tool. 2. Eddy is not a tool.

In its current state and in my opinion, the games rules serve as minimal descriptors to arbitrate an imagined reality. AND THAT'S IT, MOTHERFUCK. Then they shoot you through the bowels and you die. No saving throw. Any character development is up to you and is less about acquiring larger numbers and is more about if and how your character's personality changes and the things he/she/it accomplishes and experiences.


I guess all this was to say, "I used to only play one game, but now I've played others and I like some of them."

Monday, January 14, 2013


So I bought a hard copy of Vornheim: Complete City Kit as recommended by the author of said tome Zak S. of D&D With Porn Stars fame.

Initially, I purchased it because "Hey, I've been reading dude's blog for a while now. I like his ideas and wish to support him in his endeavors."

After spending some time with the product, it's pretty damn cool. As advertised, it's less of a "Here is a city," and more of a "Here are some good tools and techniques for running a game in a city,".

Though, it is designed to let you create and run city adventures in a medieval fantasy world on the fly, I'll be using it in my upcoming Mass Effect game with minimal modification.

I've been so pleased with it that I plan on transporting Vornheim and the surrounding environs wholesale into another setting I've been cooking up that will incorporate several other ideas lovingly stolen from TotGaD.

Maybe on payday I'll buy a hard copy of his book, too.

I might pick up a PDF copy of Vornheim as well. Many of the charts and tables are things that I'd like to have printed out so that I could paste them to the back of a GM screen, or stick in a binder.

At any rate, if you've been thinking about getting your own copy of Vornheim, well, why wouldn't you?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Brain Stew

Everybody has a different process for doing everything.

Time to talk about mine.

Process, that is.

When prepping for running a game, I make brain stew.

I fill my head full of interesting things and then vomit that onto my games.

One of the things I've found to be true is that he who preps least, preps best. When it comes to me at least. I've tried in the past to write out detailed scenarios that would span months of gaming sessions and end in a satisfying way and, in general, what I find is that the more detailed and exacting your outline, the more doomed to failure it is.
The best sessions I've ever ran have been completely off the top of my head. It makes the game exciting for both your players and you and you're players so long as you can keep improvising and riffing off what they do. The game becomes a lot like free form jazz, except fucking awesome.

I do a minimum of prep work. 99% of my prep is making sure I have papers, pencils, and dice. But that last 1% is equally important. I take the bits about the setting, the bits about the system, and (if I have them already) the bits about my player's characters that I dig and just think about them. Usually in the shower or while pooping. Sometimes I just lay in my bed let all those elements stew for a while.

Once you've got a good pile o' shite in your head, it's time to start work on the "Gel de Groupe" which is only about half as gross as it sounds.

Why the hell would the player characters ever hang out together? Very rarely players will make characters who naturally fit well together, but most times, they create a motley assortment of undesirable and anti-social scumbags. How do you get the one-eyed half-jackal necromancer and the Priest of the God Who Punishes the Naughty work together with cannibal man who also a secret homosexual?

The short answer is you don't.

In my games, that responsibility (if there is one) falls squarely on the players. The most I do is give them a nice nudge. I say it's storming and have some NPCs recommend the same tavern to all of them, or have only one bar open that night or they all get arrested and share a cell. For the most part, I just demand that all the characters start off in the same city. That's usually enough.

Once you've got 'em all grouped up, make something happen that they all can find a reason to care about or at least be paid to care about.

Bandits attack. The well is poisoned by goblins. Plague sets in. Rumors of fantastic unguarded wealth. Just whatever. Anything to get the ball rolling. Everything else can develop organically from there.

What is important is to get a head full of ideas, all swimming round yer brainbox in a thick stew. Then ladle it out to your players and add hot sauce as needed.