Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Story vs. The Dice

I was listening to the Matt Coleville video about fudging dice rolls, and something he said got me to thinking. During the video, Matt posits that RPGs like D&D aren't story telling games - though you can tell stories in them - because it involves dice rolls. The idea is that the dice are random, which is different than fate. His argument boils down to we use dice because we're not story tellers, but game masters and it's our job to run the game. He then further says that we fudge dice rolls because we are story tellers, and it's our job to create drama. Today I want to talk about that a bit.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Campaign Binders

Over the course of a campaign, there can be a lot of information you need to keep track of. Any named NPC could come back at any time, from either the GM or the PCs. I can't tell you how many times I've had PCs randomly remember someone they helped, or that helped them, over a year ago in real life and want to go back and talk to them. The same can be true for locations, and many other things.

To prepare for this, many GMs use various means of organizing the information. Online works well, but even then I find I prefer a physical binder. It's easier to flip through a binder at the table than go searching through my G-Drive or some other online cloud service.

Lately I've been meaning to re-organize my binder. I am thinking of the following sections, and am posting it here because it might be of use to others. Also, maybe someone will have a crazy good idea that I need to hear and will share it in the comments.

PC Section
I like having a place, at the front of the binder, to keep the PC's character sheets. This keeps the sheets with the game and means that as long as I remember to bring the binders, everyone will have their character sheet. It also lets me review characters during preparation. It's no good making a situation hinge on a particular set of skills or spells if no one has them - even if I think they're obvious good choices. Finally, I can also use this section to keep cheat sheets for magic items and other custom stuff.

In my current binder this section is called 'Maps' but I want to change it. I want to change it because I often need more information than just a map. Maps are great, they give you a visual, but written information makes the map more. I can have a map of a city, or I can have a map and a write up for the city. This puts context to the picture and explains what I'm looking at.

A location section should also have sub-sections for any major locations. A grouping of maps and write ups for a big city, while another place may only have one map and a few scribbled notes on things.

The beauty of this is it can be as detailed or not as needed. If I have an area well planned out, I can have computer generated maps and typed up write ups. On the other hand, if the PCs end up in a village that I have to make up on the fly, and all I have is a quick hand sketch map for the general shape of the village and a couple hand written notes about what the PCs did there, that can be put into the section and developed later, or just kept as is in case the PCs need to go back.

Previous Sessions' Notes
A place for notes from the past several sessions is always useful. This lets you flip back if something needs to be referenced or if you just need a reminder for what is going on. I'd recommend keeping at least all the information for the current arc in this section, but the previous arc may also be good. Obviously, once older than that these notes can be kept elsewhere (or summarized and disposed of.) But it's always good to have a record of the last few sessions. Even if just to help prepare the next few.

Blank Lined/Graphing paper
You have to take notes on something, and graphing paper can double for quick maps in a pinch. Enough said?

Used Monsters
In D&D the Monster Manual can be a royal PITA to juggle when you have an encounter with several monster types. Even worse if one monster is in the default Monster Manual, one is in Volo's Guide, and the others are in Mordekainen's. I do have the Deck of Many Monsters box sets from Deck of Many, but they don't have everything covered. So often I'll end up with print outs of sheets from the book, or of Copy and Pastes of the stat blocks. These are handy to keep track of because monsters can be reused - sometimes reskinned but same stats - and why print it out again and again?

NPC List
I like to keep master lists of NPCs. I normally do these in Google Sheets because it lets me have a master list, a list for each PC, and a list for other big items in the game all derived from that master list (spreadsheets are magic, you can't convince me otherwise.) At the very least I like to track

  • Name
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Job
  • Location
  • Affiliation
  • Friendly/Hostile
  • Notes
Notes gives me a place to write any quirks or other specific things (i.e. if a PC owes them money or something). Having this information easily at hand can be a life saver for finding who that NPC was that time in that place. At present I have near 100 tracked named NPCs for one of my D&D games. The other has a lot less but it's been running for a lot less time, and well, I've killed a lot of NPCs in that game.

Having some variant of this - or at least notes for major/plot worthy NPCs in the binder is also good. For the Queen of a close country I have a whole page write up on her and her personality. I reference it often, and she has come up a lot in the last few arcs, so it's been good to have it in hand.

What Else?

Friday, October 12, 2018

Discussion: Do You Use Holidays In Your Game?

One aspect of World Building I feel I've been bad on is holidays. Holidays are common and popular. They can be local, regional, or even global depending on what is going on. We have examples of those in our own world too. Massachusetts is one of the few states to celebrate Patriots' Day in the United States. The U.S. and Canada are two of the only countries with Thanksgiving - albeit on different days of different months. Finally, holidays like Christmas and Easter are near global due to the wide spread nature of the Christian religions, and backed up further by the Hallmark Holiday status.

But what about in your fantasy universe? Royal birthdays, commemorations of important events, days celebrating specific aspects of gods or events in mythology. These all make great ideas and uses for holidays. Furthermore, holidays can help give a good sense of character to a location with not only what it celebrates, but how the holiday is celebrated.

So do you use them in your game? Any good examples of holidays that have gone particularly well?

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

In Game Racism

Many RPGs, particularly fantasy and sci-fi games have multiple races for characters to be, and some of those races have racial prejudices built in. This leaves the games open for having issues that are drawn along race relations come into the game. How you handle that depends on your table, but it's worth bringing up. Today I want to talk about that.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Abandoned House Adventure

On Friday I talked about my favorite setup for the spooky adventure. Today I want to talk about how I set up that adventure, and how it has worked out well for me in the past. Consider it a suggestion on prepping a session or multi-session arc for a game, especially if looking to do something spooky.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Discussion: Favorite Setup for a Spooky Adventure

It being October, Halloween is mysteriously on the mind. October tends to be the month that cinemas fill with horror movies, scary books come out, and well, ghost stories are on the mind. I know multiple GMs like to go a little extra with spooky themed adventures and on.eshots. So today I want to ask, what is your favorite setup for a spooky adventure?

Do you like ghost stories? Haunted houses? Headless horsemen? What have you used? What do you want to use?

My personal favorite, and probably the easiest to run, is the empty house. It doesn't have to be a house, it can be a starship or anything. The point is that whatever it is is void of people, and the mystery of where they went is the adventure. The lack of anything going on, nobody around, and scattered hints to what might have happened can just naturally ramp up tension and the spookiness factor.

I've had players jump in their seats because someone elsewhere in the house left and tension was that high. It can be a lot of fun.

The hard part of course is you need a pay off, and that can make or break the session. But as long as you know the cause of the mystery having an even break isn't super hard to get.

What about you?

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Death Penalties

What happens when a PC dies in your game? Does the player get to bring in a new character? If so, does the new character come in at equal level as the one that was lost? Slightly lower level? Weaker relative to the rest of the party? Or start fresh at level one? Different games have different ways of handling it. Today I want to talk about some popular methods, the idea behind them, and why you might not want to employ any of them.