Friday, September 22, 2017

Discussion: Clutch Moments, Win or Lose

Gaming is full of clutch moments. The person getting the nat 20 to end a fight before someone dies. Making the desperation Athletics roll to pick up the unconscious PC without losing speed while fleeing a collapsing castle. Heck, even just nailing a diplomacy roll can come back around and save everyone later when your allies roll up right on time.

What are some of the biggest clutch moments you've seen in your games? How did they pay off? Did any of them fail? The whiff factor is often talked about as a bad thing, but sometimes losing can be as fitting an end to a story as winning.

My favorite as a player came up in a Scorpion game a friend ran years back. The group was a black ops team, and we were having our first test to see if we were mission ready. One player was captured and being held in a holding area where the others could visit but not actually help. The hope was for the caught PC to pass on vital information, but despite two attempts he failed to do so - not wanting to get caught and risk total failure.

It was a huge moment for the game, and thankfully one that we got a second chance for later as it led to the group as a whole failing the test. It changed a lot of the characters in small ways, and the dynamic of the game. Failures have a means of doing that, but the fact that it all came to one person in one moment, and in that moment they failed to pass things along was also a huge part of what made it so impactful.

How about in your games?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Your Players Want To Be John Wick

When I say John Wick, I mean the movie character and not the game designer. Granted, some of your players are going to want to be game designer John Wick - and that's ok. Like on Monday when I said your players want to be John McClane, I don't necessarily mean they want to be the character specifically, but the do want to have some of the key elements of the story for their characters. That said, lets go into why your Players want to be John Wick in your game.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Your Players Want to Be John McClane

One of the keys I've noticed over the years I've been GMing to a truly great session, one that the players all love and talk about for years, is that you need to make them feel like John McClane from Die Hard. When I say Die Hard, I mean specifically that. Not the sequels. The original. Maybe two and three to some extent, but somewhere along the way - and that changes depending on whom you ask - the writers forgot what made Die Hard and John McClane work so well, and that essence is what you need to catch for a story line that will leave players grinning and going "Damn, that was awesome."

Friday, September 15, 2017

Discussion: Beginnings and the Tavern

This video got me thinking about how we begin our games, and how with a little work the classic beginning can also be the best beginning. I'm curious your thoughts on it as well. Also, if you're not checking out Matt Coleville on the regular, you should fix that.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Katabasis, also known as the Journey to the Underworld, is a key part of the Hero's journey that is often reflected in some way you know. It can be as obvious as Orpheus going into the literal underworld to save the person he loves, or more subtle such as Luke's turning himself over to the Empire in the hopes of restoring his father to the Light Side.

Odds are you've had some form of katabasis in your games somewhere along the way. I know I have. However, I've never done it intentionally, and while the Katabasis is meaningful I've never really played into what that could mean. It's something I'm toying with changing in the near future, but it's also worth talking about.

To make it simple, and per the Wikipedia article, Katabasis is done to reflect several things. First off, the nature of being able to go into the realm of the dead without being dead yourself is a sign of the hero's specialness. Then there is the act of returning. The quest fulfilled properly, the hero returns with something that makes them stronger be it an ally, a salve for their wounds, or just a bit of wisdom or knowledge to keep them going.

It's this final aspect most katabasis-esque events in my games have been missing. Yes, people have gone to the underworld, and usually with reason, but it wasn't special or significant in any particular way aside from just something they did. And then...and then there's Neil Gaiman's influence.

In the Sandman comic there is a volume where Dream and Delirium go on a trip to find Destruction. All three characters are more than gods if you haven't read the comics. They're the anthropomorphic personifications of concepts. At the end of the volume, one of Dream's enemies says that because of his quest he had sealed his own doom. Afterall, one does not seek destruction so willfully and return unscathed.

Combined, and I think katabasis could in a way make a hero 'more special' if special is defined simply as 'other than mortal.' The realms of the dead are not meant for the living, and the various realms are frequently jealous hoarders of what is theirs. The dead are also often depicted as hungry for life. So what happens when a group of adventurers travels to the underworld? What does the realm take as it's due tax? What do they have to leave behind? And what does that mean for the rest of the game going forward?

It's not much in the way of advice I suppose, but playing with concepts and themes is a good way to give more meaning to upcoming sessions or a game as a whole and make it deeper. If you've played with this theme, how did it go? How did it play out? Were you happy with the results?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Character Build: Story vs. Power

When it comes to building your character, how much mechanical power are you willing to sacrifice in order to match the story you have for your character?

It's an interesting question. A lot of places online tend to frown on people sacrificing story for power, but no one wants to end up with a character that can't pull their own weight when the chips are down right? And if you're being honest with yourself, it's pretty easy to bump that story to justify that powerful ability you'd love to grab and try out in the game.

Still, it does come up sometimes. How much do you sacrifice to keep your story together? How much of the group's power? Does the group's benefit factor in at all when making the build?

I find myself in this situation with my Dragon character in an l5R game. I recently hit Insight Rank 6, having just finished Mirumoto Bushi at 5 and am looking where to go. I've spent several hours looking through books and schools but nothing grabs. So what to do?

The question though is one I'm curious of in general. SOme characters are easy to work with mechanics, others harder, but when the choice comes down how much power do you sacrifice for story? How much story do you change for power? Where does your style sit?

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Self Review: The Key To Improvement

Ask anyone, or look anywhere, about how to get good at any particular skill and you'll see a lot of the same advice: self review. This is no different with being a GM. However good - or bad - you are as a GM right now, you can improve and self-review is a big part of that. Today I want to talk about how it works, and I'll be giving examples from my recent D&D game where I killed the party cleric.