Wow. Crazy times.
Two weekends ago was the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. I had a great time with new friends, old buddies, wonderful people, great beers, and excellent classroom times. It was one of the better PPWCs that I’ve been to, and this year was #8 for me.
Last weekend, my mom was in town for a long-overdue visit. She was only here for 5 days (if you count the travel days), but it was awesome to have her around to hang out with my wife, my son, and me.
These two events took lots of planning, prep, coordination, and time. I wasn’t even able to get a post prepped early at all. Therefore, we have two MEGA EDITIONS in a row! I’m getting this post put together a bit early on Thursday. This means I might miss some links from Friday posts, and I’ll definitely miss Saturday posts because as this post goes live, I’ll be in a regional park in Colorado with my son and our Cub Scout pack. I hope it’s not as cold this year as it was last year! Either way, I’ll most likely be huddled around a campfire when this post goes live keeping an eye on the (hopefully) sleeping kids.
Enough talking about my crazy-ass schedule. You’re here for some links!
Let’s get to ’em.
Each time I’ve tried to include factions into my games, it’s always devolved into a “The party against all factions.” It’s like my players don’t want allies… beyond someone throwing gold their way as an employer or patron. It’s weird. Maybe I’m doing it wrong. Not sure. I always try to make my factions “gray” (in other words, not morally right or wrong, but definitely self-interested), and this could be the issue at hand. I feel this reflects reality, but the players always spot the “wrong” part of the “gray” and go against it. Mike’s post here has given me some food for thought on how to approach factions from a different angle. Maybe I’ll dive back into that aspect of gaming and see what happens….
This is a great overland map. I know Dyson is more known for his dungeons and buildings and ruins and such, but he’s really done something spectacular with this map. Great work!
Hrmmm…. I’ve been selling my “never-to-be-used-again” RPG books to an online outfit for store credit toward future purchases. I have a second, large batch of books that need to go out the door. This makes me wonder if my local library system would be interested. I should go check that out. While I’m doing this, I highly recommend checking out Lori’s article on how to support gaming in your local library system.
Ahh…. MUDs. Not my first RPG experience, but definitely an influential one in my life. A good friend of mine introduced me to MUDs (specifically one called “Edge of Darkness”) and the Internet all in one fell swoop. This was circa 1994. I made many good friends on Edge of Darkness (and probably a few enemies). As a matter of fact I met my future wife on Edge of Darkness. She was in Montana and I was in Texas at the time, and there was literally no way for us to even know the other existed without the Internet, and more specifically, this MUD. We sparked a friendship that lasted a few years before things turned romantic. I ended up moving to Montana while she finished up college. Once she graduated, we roamed halfway across the USA to land in Colorado, where still are to this day. Even in these modern times of great graphics and huge worlds of MMORPGs, I really do miss the text-based gaming that MUDs provided. It was so much more cerebral and interesting to me. I wish I had more time to delve into online gaming. If I did, I’d definitely dive back into playing a MUD over a graphic-based MMORPG.
Hey! Another post on factions. This article by Mike speaks to me on different levels. I can see applying the knowledge he imparted to my fiction writing by creation in-depth factions for my characters to encounter, deal with, ally with, and oppose. This is pure gold, to be honest. It’s also given me a great deal of food for thought on how I create factions within my RPG campaigns. I’m definitely on board to push factions back into my games and see where they lead. Thanks, Mike!
I’ve always preferred “light setting” games. With a new RPG that comes with a new setting, I find my work multiplied by the fact that I have to learn new mechanics, new world(s) (and all that entails), and how those two things inter-operate. Once I think I know all of this, I then have to teach my players, and they’ll invariably find gaps in my knowledge. This sucks for me. Now that I’ve read Phil’s article on how to teach settings, I think I have a better grasp on things. I’m not as daunted by the prospect of teaching a new game with a new setting. I still prefer to the “settings light” versions of games, but the “heavy settings” aren’t as scary anymore.
This is a pretty good breakdown of taking damage, dealing damage, and the use of magic in two different systems: 1st Edition AD&D and GURPS. This comes from Peter’s experience in both games, and I agree with everything he says here. If you’re interested in seeing how two very different games stack up against one another, go check out his post.
All good things must come to an end. Campaigns (even beloved ones) are no different. Fred’s broken down several ways a campaign can end. This is great information because if you don’t want your game to roll to a close, this is a great list of things to avoid. Here are two more things I’ll add to his list: Too Many People Move Away and We All Became Adults. Both of these are real-world influences on games. I had a great Lankhmar (2nd Edition AD&D) game going until all but one player moved away for college. None of us were ready to retire from the game, but this was in the early 90s and the influence and capabilities of the modern-day Internet gaming just weren’t there to keep us going. Likewise, I had to kill off a long-running, monthly Pathfinder game because my adult responsibilities became too much. My “adulting” overwhelmed me, and I had to walk away. Since I was the GM, the game died.
2016 sucked. Lots. This was myth for some and reality for others. For me, it was somewhere in the middle. Mike’s article, however, ties this all together into a great game-design RPG post. I love the numbers and research he’s done here because it reflected the same research I did at the public library back in the mid-90s for my own RPG. I did tons of research into medieval mortality, lifespans of the time, causes of death, and so on. I incorporated that into the game as part of character creation. I did a bit of the “Traveller” thing where a character could die during the character creation process, but this does take some concentrated effort and risk taking on the player’s side of things make this come to fruition. I really enjoyed Mike’s article because it reinforced the research I’d done way back when.
Water! Caves! Bridges! Tunnels! Great looking! All things that I love in a map and there’s a cool backstory to go with it. Another wonderful Dyson map. Thanks.
I’ve heard of the “Yes, And” premise for RPGs. I’ve used it. Lots. However, I’ve never heard of LARCH before. It breaks down to stand for Location, Action, Relationships, Characterization, and History. This is a great read and you can learn tons about improving your improv gaming (as a GM and player) from this article. Go check it out!
I use similar concepts to what Mike has put forth in this article when planning/plotting/outlining a novel. Before I actually jump into putting outline to paper, I sit down with a blank “mind map” and start throwing down characters, activities, goals, relationships, and so on. I use a program called Scapple to do all of this in. It makes things really easy to drag ideas and characters around, to link things together, to colorize ideas, and so on. This often leaves me with something too complex to visualize or keep straight in my head, which is fine. These are novel-length concepts, and there needs to be quite a few things in there to get up to the proper word count. Mike’s article here fairly well reflects my thought process as I go through this mind mapping exercise. Of course, once my mind map is done, I start jotting down ideas in a chronological fashion to reflect what’s going on. I’ll even sometimes have to outline “off the screen” things that are going on to ensure that non-point-of-view characters’ actions line up in time with the point-of-view characters. It may sound overly complex, but it’s really not. It’s very organic for me. I’m just capturing those organic thoughts in an organized manner.
What? Don’t split the party!!!! That’ll lead to a TPK for sure. Oh. Wait. Maybe not. Michael’s article is pretty sweet. Lots of great ideas in there on how to handle starting a game or campaign with a party that’s not yet assembled or has been fragmented by something that happened in the backstory. This can lead to tighter relationships between the members of the smaller parties (especially if you have a larger group of players). It also allows more spotlight time for each PC as things get rolling. This will help the players identify with and become more bonded to the characters they control. I think the key piece of advice in this article is to have a solid plan for the meet up between the disparate groups. If this isn’t handled right, they might view the other group(s) as rivals or enemies, and this can be disastrous or lead to some pretty hokey role playing as the different groups force the friendly meeting and join up with each other.
There are little kingdoms. There are huge kingdoms. There are even itty-bitty kingdoms. I’ve been to Lichtenstein as a teenager, and if it weren’t for the rough, mountainous terrain, it could probably be easily traversed by foot in a single day. Technically, Lichtenstein is a principality, not a kingdom, but you get my point. (Note: The world’s smallest kingdom is Tavolara, and it’s tiny.) Small places like Lichtenstein and Tavolara have fairly minor concerns when it comes to logistics and communications as compared to something like the British Empire during the height of its colonial period. When building out your kingdoms as part of your world building, please keep in mind the logistics of travel, communications, resources, and administration. You might discover that “the mighty empire” just won’t work properly because of these factors, and to reflect reality, it might be wise to break it down to something smaller. Of course, magic and high-tech solutions can alter these concerns considerably.
Most people think of improv as something to do when the PCs take a left turn instead of a right. It can also pop up when they engage with an NPC that the GM was prepared for them to bypass or ignore. There are tons of opportunities for improv acting, game mastering, and role playing to appear. How about with creating an adventure? Can that be done off the cuff? Absolutely! In my world of writing novels, it’s called “discovery writing” or “being a gardener” as opposed to using structure and outlines to guide the writer through the process of creating their fiction. I can totally see throwing an adventure out that you’ve never prepared for and running with it. Mike’s article walks you through how to approach doing this. My one piece of advice is to create a “mini bible” of facts and figures that you’ve created for the improv adventure. This’ll keep you from saying, “The abandoned tower is four stories tall,” at the start of the adventure and then adding a fifth floor later on. Of course, magic and such can explain this away, but on the surface, this kind of error will have your players doubting your ability to run the game or the stability of your sanity.
Yeah. I’m right there with you, Marty. 100%. I love saying “yes” to my players, but I hate it when they assume I’ll say “yes” to everything and start pushing boundaries that shouldn’t even be approached. Then I have to say “no” or “let’s make this more balanced” and all of a sudden I become the Bad Guy instead of the Lich King they’re trying to track down the dethrone. This is why I tend to pepper in a “no” or “work with me” in among the “yes” answers early in the game. Sometimes, I’ve had to stop the game and call out the absurdity the players are trying to pull. Once, I had to kill the game because it had just gotten too far out of hand. I think a good approach to avoiding catastrophic approval of everything (or the betrayal of saying “no” once) is to set up some expectations at the start of the game. Let the players know that you’re on their side, but that telling a fun story with some dice involved is the most important thing. Don’t try to break the game (story-wise or mechanic-wise), and everything will go great.
Yeppers. Been in these shoes before. You’re launching a new game as a GM, and you really want to impress the people that you’re running the game for. You’re so afraid of screwing everything up, you forget to relax and have fun. The worst time I’ve done this “self-induced stress” to myself over running a game was a few years back. A good friend of mine and her friends wanted to play an RPG. She invited me to lunch to invite me to run the game. I knew her well and had met her husband a handful of times. The rest of the people (from what she told me) ranged from very experienced to mid-level experience in gaming at the table. I agreed to run the game and we talked over genres, systems, play styles, and so on. I basically interviewed her (since she knew all of these people) to get a feel for what I should prep for. I had high hopes and expectations for the game, and this amped up the stress I put on myself. Fortunately, I had two months before we could launch the game, and this gave me ample time to get into the flow of creating a rough storyline and setting things up in my head. Once I started doing this, the old habits of being a good GM fell into place, and I relaxed. I’m glad I relaxed. We ended up having a great time at the table until real life dragged me away from the game, and I had to bail on the group. I still feel bad for not finishing out the campaign properly, but it had to be done for my own sanity from external forces.
Like most people, my first exposure to isometric maps was the castle map from the classic Ravenloft adventure. Like most of those people, it was really hard to read that damn thing. I was beautiful and wonderful and depicted the rooms well enough, but the myriad of staircases and levels and traps (spoilers!) into chutes led to a difficult map for figuring out spacial relations between the different areas. Since then, I’ve developed an eye for figuring them out. Why do I bring this up? Because when Dyson does an isometric map, he does it with such clean lines and clear intent that it’s near impossible to get lost or confused. I realize he’s doing simpler work than the full castle from “I6”. What I’d like to see from him is a larger, more broad-scale isometric map. I think that’d be cool, so I can compare apples to apples.