Monday, February 18, 2019

It's Ok To Go Off Your Notes. It's Also Ok To Not Get Through Your Notes.

"No plan survives contact with the enemy" is a good piece of wisdom that is almost universally applicable. In RPG terms the joke version is normally "no plan survives contact with the players" and it can be true. The fact is, you never know where your players are going to go. All signs might point to them going to location A, only for you to sit at the table and the players to head for Location Z. Alternatively, maybe you expect something to be done quick, but the players decide to linger. That is also alright.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Discussion: GM Notes

How do you set up your notes going into a session? I've been trying to work out a better style for myself. I'm currently testing out the way Mark Hulmes suggests in the video linked below. What about you? How do you prepare? What do you prepare?


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Who Was Your Character Before The Game?

One thing I like about D&D 5e's character generation is the emphasis it puts on who your character was before they became a level 1 PC. It's a simple enough idea. Your character starts with skills and training, so where did they get those? What was their life like before they decided going into caves, tombs, and dungeons to fight monsters to the death over a bit of coin was the right answer for them?

Other games like L5R kind of have this built into the system. Your character was born a samurai, they were being trained to be an adult samurai, and so that kind of comes with it. Even then though, it is good to think of who the character was before they became an adult.

Monday, February 11, 2019

GM Error Killed a PC, Here's How We Are Handling It

On Friday a PC died in the D&D game. Several player errors were made in handling the fight that could've kept the player alive. However, in reviewing how the fight played out and mechanics involved I realized something else: GM error was the biggest reason.

The monster the PCs were fighting had an ability to hide in Dim Lighting. However, 3 of the PCs have the ability to see in Dim Light as if Bright Light, meaning to them the creature couldn't hide. The shadows it was able to camouflage itself in simply didn't exist for them, so they'd just see it hanging out. However, that wasn't something I realized or considered in the moment.

This is different from a player forgetting to use a mechanic, or not realizing/employing an ability properly. This was me, as the GM, restricting actions and artificially inflating the difficulty of the encounter.

So how did we handle it?

First Step: Realize and Verify The Problem
The first thing you need to do is realize where the problem is, and verify that the problem had an impact. For example, during the session I didn't let an action trigger until after the death happened. This was in error. However, said action would not have stopped the monster so it isn't really a problem. On the other hand, ruling that the monster couldn't be seen was both in error and did impact things in a significant manner. It effectively robbed the PCs of 2-3 actions that could, and would have been used to attack. If only one of those attacks hit, the dead PC would have been alive.

So I know for a fact, GM error killed this PC.

Second Step: Discuss With Chief Victim
After knowing I have a problem, I talk to the person most wronged by the error. In this case, the player whose character died. I do this because as the biggest loser from the action they deserve to both hear from me directly and first about the error, as well as to be involved in what we're doing to fix things.

I try to have options already in mind for this. For particularly egregious harm - such as the death of a character - I am willing to rewind the game to fix it, or to find the path of least altering that brings the PC back. Either way, I apologize and it is made a note of to ensure the error doesn't happen again.

Third Step: Present to the Group
After I've talked with the chief victim, I bring it up to the group. They also deserve to know what happened and what is being done. If the impacted player and I didn't lock things down - or if the lock down involves changing the session - this is presented to the group to give their opinions on and be heard. It is their game too, after all.

I also spell out here exactly what the mechanics in play were, how it was ruled, and what the correct ruling was. I do that so everyone knows the way things are supposed to go. That way they can help keep things smooth in the event of a future error.

Fourth Step: Put Plan Into Action
Finally, you put the plan into action, and then keep running as normal.

Final Word: Don't Be Embarrassed
There is nothing to be embarrassed about with a ruling error or GM error. You're only human. Mistakes happen. Own it, learn from it, and move on. You wouldn't expect a player to feel shame because in the heat of the moment they forgot a random character mechanic right? And that is all the player is responsible for. You're balancing all the rules and monster stats and mechanics.

Mistakes happen. They're how you learn.

Friday, February 8, 2019

When You Need A Setting For Game Quickly...

I recently found myself in need of a setting for a game. My brain went a little crazy, started building a world, and then built itself into a corner it couldn't get out of. Bad news that, and not worthwhile for what is likely going to be a glorified one shot. Today I started fresh on the problem and came up with a much more reasonable solution. Once complete, I had a full setting I could use for one adventure or beginning a whole game. Even better, it had adventure seeds already built in.

Step 1: The Random City Generator
I've really grown fond of this random city generator by Watabou. You can have it give random parts of city, choose a size for the city, and let it go. I tend to not use the names for the city preferring to go with one of my own creation, or from something like Donjon's Random Town/City Generator.

Once you have a map and a name though, you're ready to go on to step 2.

Step 2: Six Facts About The Setting
To start off we're going to define six facts about the setting. We are only defining six facts, and we are defining six facts. However, since we're defining only six facts, you want to focus them on things that make the city unique, or that are otherwise needed to ground yourself in the setting.

Also remember, these are facts about the setting and not about what is going on in it. So your city has a King that is chosen by lottery goes on here, but not the plot to assassinate the current king to have another lottery. That comes later.

Step 3: Six Truths About What Is Going On
In fact, it comes now.

Once you have the six facts about the setting, it is time to define six things about what is going on. These can be anything, but they should be basic enough to be public knowledge. The six things don't have to be, and in fact shouldn't be related to each other. Try to hit a breadth of topics. They should be strange happenings, things people might comment on. More to the point, they should be tied to potential adventures - and multiple truths even if they appear different can be tied to the same adventure.

That's It
Once you have that, you're more or less all set. You have a setting, you have some interesting facts about it to ground you in the world, and you have events to build adventures off of. The rest is just fleshing some of those ideas out and seeing what your players go for.

Aguila City
Six Facts About The City
  1. Aguila City is named for “The Aguila”, a pirate ship that sought safety from a terrible storm on the coast. The captain started a settlement (more of a hideaway) and over the course of a century it grew into a city.

  1. Aguila City has a proud history of being a “City of Crime” or a “City for Criminals” but while its early days were quite chaotic, things are much more civilized these days. At least, on the surface.

  1. Aguila City is ruled/led by a group known as The Silent Council. It is not public knowledge who is on the council, but it is said to be a council of 5, 7, 11, or 13 powerful people in the city.

  1. The city sits in the shadow of two colossal statues that were there when The Aguila first came ashore. They are both of male warriors and are referred to as “The Brothers” or “The Left Brother” and “The Right Brother.” Time is told by saying where the sun/moon is in relation to the brothers (i.e. an early morning gathering could happen before the sun reaches the right brother’s spear.)

  1. Aguila City has three large temples, one to Oma (NE Goddess of the Sea), one to Mannan mac Lir (LN God of the Ocean), and one to Huros & Tempos (CN, Twin Gods/Goddesses of Storms.) It is customary for captains to make donations to all three before setting out on a voyage.

  1. The city guard are known as The Staves for the 6’ staves they carry while on duty. They further identify themselves with blue tunics, helmets, and/or armbands while on duty. There is also the Silver Masks who have a higher authority and serve directly under the Silent Council.
Six Truths From The City
  1. Several factions - identified by colored arm bands - are vying for control of the city. So far fighting has been restricted to shadows and alleyways.

  1. The past month has been incredibly hot and humid, even for the summer

  1. The ‘Twin Swords Adventuring Guild’ has opened in Aguila, offering training, tools, supplies, and job opportunities for anyone willing to put it all on the line for the sake of adventure!

  1. Goblins, bugbears, oozes, and other monsters have been reported in the city but not by reputable sources.

  1. A circle of magi erected a tower off the docks and declared themselves the Council of Tides

  1. Everyone is excited for the upcoming Mid-Summer Festival and the Balls and Parties that will happen during it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Slow Sessions Are Ok

Shopping Sessions have a bad rap in my opinion. While some people love them, other people hate them. I can get behind the idea that some people don't like shopping - or watching other people shop - that's fair. However, I dislike the complaint that nothing happens in a shopping session.

See, there's two parts to this. One, is that it's not just on the GM for things to happen. Two, is that you need slower sessions on occasion to help break the tension. Let's unpack that, but in reverse order.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Know How Your Players Have Fun

On Wednesday, Matt Coleville started the MCDM D&D stream with the first episode of The Chain. During the session a thing happened that sparked a lot of debate in the community. It didn't take long before you started to see the full verdict from numerous people whose only interaction with Matt, or his players, was watching them on the stream. Things like "I'd never do this" got phrased as "you should never do this", and that is to keep things polite.

Along with the accusations of things done wrong were the assurances this player felt awful, was pissed about what happened, and had been completely shafted and treated unfairly. The fun thing is, from a conversation Matt Coleville posted after, that couldn't be further from the truth.

Ultimately it boiled down to two lines of dialogue:

"I would be so pissed if this happened to me in game."

and the response.

"That is why I would never do it to you if you were at my table."