Confessions of a Newb GM: Making the Obelisk Smaller

I’m going a bit more in depth on what you can do with the language used on Obsidian Portal today. I do have a tiny bit of programming knowledge which helps me find what I’m wanting on the dense reference page linked by Obsidian Portal. Here are several things I’ve found and bashed into working for me. I’m going to be referring back to my Draeks page quite a few times, so it might be useful to have it open in another tab.

General Formatting:

Formatting for the fluff is pretty simple. Treat it like normal paragraphs, or at most highlight and use the nice little icons at the top of the text box, these are the same that you find in forums almost everywhere. A few recommendations to keep it from becoming unweildy:

  • Keep bullet points to a minimum
  • Choose one heading size and stick to it. The page is already sectioned off into two major halves, anything more no one is reading.
  • Link everything
  • Link everything

The Period:

Textile lets you mess around with commands in its language and combine different commands easily, you can smash together alignment, bold, and size changes all at once with a single leading string of seemingly nonsensical characters followed by a period. It’s the period that tells textile the random stuff that came before are commands to follow.

Linking:

Linking can be easy if information is treated simply. Having long wiki titles and character names becomes unwieldy when more and more entries show up to look through. Tags and the insert links can help, but become a hassle for simple entry. The reason to keep the slugs and the titles short is the ease of Quick Links.

Character Quick Links can be put in with a double square bracket and a colon before the slug. [[:icor]] will bring up and display Icor Brimarch and link to his page with decidedly less typing and creating a link. The colon is what tells Obsidian Portal that the link is for a character.

Wiki Quick Links are a little trickier because you can’t create slugs for them. This is why you want to have the name as short as possible and preferably unique. I can link to The Lepskin Void by putting square brackets around it like so [[The Lepskin Void]] and it becomes hyper linked. The problem stems from long page names and a desire for nicknaming things. The Void, Lepskin Void, and The Lepskin Void all would go to different places. The easiest way of dealing with this is use a short but practical name that can be chosen from a list.

Modifying Links:

Quick links are great, but you can do another thing to them that makes them even better. Quick links can be modified to display whatever you want by placing a | between the link and the description.

Examples:

[[:icor | Bantha Express Executive]]
[[:draeks | Fuzzy Commander]]
[[sullustan brotherhood| smugglers]]

 Tables:

Tables are a little weird but easy to implement if you take time to deal with them. The thing to remember is width; you want to make it as easy to remember the width as possible. The Obsidian Portal back end automatically widens the column to the width of whatever is in there, a long sentence will become a really wide cell which makes for a very wide column. Textile has a few cute tricks that I’ve learned to use. This is the result of my meddling with my little table.

Dreaks

Surprisingly enough the usual width of stat blocks works, either the D20 eight or the FFG Star Wars six. Underneath the header cells can go the values for each header and this makes it easy to figure out what number go with which attribute.

The reason you want it to be as condensed vertically as possible is ease of grouping. If you have two rows of things that people are looking at and they are aligned vertically it’s easy to pick out what is being done, and easier to maintain while adding more stuff without reformatting, adding layers and layers to a big table club house sandwich.

As you can see I have double width columns for skills/talent names as well as implying one thing describes two separate stats. Towards the bottom I have full across lines that are there for equipment. This is allowing extra information to be stored while not making a single column become too wide and looking ‘weird’.

Basics

The very basics are vertical lines | and they are the start and end of a cell, they split up everything you want to split into another cell on the same row. Vertical breaks are dealt with by line breaks in the edit field, what’s on one line stays on that line and what is on the next line goes on the next line. With just that you can make a stat block.

EG

|Brawn|Agility|Intellect|Cunning|Willpower|Presence|
|1|2|2|4|3|3|

Creates

Brawn Agility Intellect Cunning Willpower Presence
1 2 2 4 3 3

Splitting Cells

The ‘fun’ is when you start wanting to combine two cells to either make room for more stuff, such as two longer words, or giving the implied use of one header to two lower cells. This is also used for making one cell take up more columns such as where I’m using a whole row as a title line. You can also have a cell become two high making it apply to the two things next to it. The command for this is a slash followed by a number followed by the command period to activate it, before the entry in the cell. The slashes have meanings \ means a horizontal amount of cells being combined and / means a vertical number of cells being combined. The number is the number of cells combined and they can even be combined so that |\2/2. Turns into a 2 cell by 2 cell block where you can put whatever text you want.

EG:

|\2.Defense|, |/2. Weapon quality|.

Slight Tweaks

Every table needs a few tweaks to get it to display the way you want. There are things like the _ that turns cell into a header cell and gives the contents an emphasis (normally bold unless you get really creative) and centers it in the cell. There is the justification groups < left, > right, and = centered. If you have a large cell and want justify you can use the left and right together to tell it to <> justify. In tall cells you can do ^ to put it on the top, and ~ to put it on the bottom.

Out of the Cell

Most of the tweaks can be used for a paragraph, the p tag, or headers, the h1 through h6 tags, as long as you follow it with a period.

If all you want to do is mess around with only a few words out of a whole, you can. Using _ on both sides of a word make it italicized, using * on both sides of a word makes it bold, and using + on both sides allows it to underline (yeah programmers make little sense).

Medium Tweaks

I like making my tables with color, what I’m using for it can apply to just a cell, a whole row, or an entire table. The difference in usage from coloring a cell and a row is fairly minimal. The main part of the code bafflegab that the color is formed is {Background:#hhh} the ‘fun’ part is that after the # comes a web safe hex color number (first two digits on the left hand side and the last on the top). Using the same basic structure we can change the text color, while inside the cell and next to the text you want to color put in the bafflegab of {Color:#hhh}  using the linked color palates. To change things across an entire table a line before the first | is put in Table{anyofthecommandsyouwant}.

A Closing

What I’ve described here has been the virtual entirety of what I have used to create the Lepskin Rising site. This has been fun to detail and next week I’ll be getting back to more on efficient planning.

Episode 91 – The Modified Tale

We look at Special Modifications this week and find that there is a surprising amount in such a small book.

We have a bonus sized episode for you to make sure we at least got through the start of the character stories.

Continue reading “Episode 91 – The Modified Tale”

Confessions of a Newb GM: Through the Dark Glass

While listening to potelbat Ep. 18  I was introduced to Obsidian Portal, I looked at it and thought, “This is kind of cool to use as a repository for all things campaign related.” Working with Obsidian Portal proved both easier and harder than I expected.

I created my one free campaign to see how things would work out from the GMs side of campaign creation and to see how quickly I could break it. I’m glad that the programmers linked to a textile help page so I could start muddling with how I can get tables and different things to display properly.

 

Dealing with Obsidian Portal is a bit of a bear, especially for the uninitiated. I’m going to give a few examples of what I do for player characters, NPCs, and general wiki entries. I’ll also show a basic layout that allows for quick reading while getting across as much info as possible.

Today’s article is going over the basics of the character wiki pages. In the next article I am going over how Slugs are used, how links are created and modified, and how tables can be used to simply create a quick character sheet without CSS.

Character Creation:

The first two things that are needed are what you’d need on paper. Generally I’m copying off of scratch pad or filled character sheet anyway. Obsidian Portal provides a Description and a Bio; both are useful though I’ve mentally separated them into crunch with leading flavor text in the Description, leaving all of the fluff that you and the player want.

Since this is about the character sheets specifically, I’ll touch on a few of the entries that come up only on character pages. For all examples I’m going to be using Draeks from the Lepskin Council.

Character Name:

What it says on the tin. This is what the character is called and what will be displayed at the top of their page. This also will become the slug seed if a slug isn’t chosen.

Slug:

The slug is the most important thing you can adjust. This is how everyone for this campaign links back to the character. Preferably this is something simple such as first name, last name, nick name, or generic description. It is important to keep it short and unique since other people will use it and can use it when not mentioning a character by name, such as Gands.

Examples:   Han1, Bothan3, itswhomnotwhat, or Fettissarlacfood

Tags:

This is the way to order your characters and wiki entries. This works just like the ones on The Mad Adventurers Society, click on them and you get taken to a page with all of the things tagged with this. Usually this is done at creation, but anyone who has access to the page can add tags. Again, this calls for brevity in what is put in. I can put in Lepskin Council as a tag, but Council or The Council would be preferable, unless there is more than one Council. Normally I toss in everything I can come up with, for Draeks I put in tags to show his links and where he can be found. It’s not crucial, but it doesn’t take long and it’s quite recommended to do at the time of character creation since it is so easy to forget.

Examples for Draeks:   Bothan, Council, Commander, Rebel, and Catiwhinn

Quick Description:

This section is a small description that everyone who is browsing the character section will see. Leaving this description blank is an option, but one that should be exercised rarely since it just becomes a list of names without anything for context. Even short three word phrases work and can be enough to spark some imagination for what the character is.

Description:

This section has two uses. One is a description of how the character is and acts and should be short, manageable paragraphs to keep from painting people into corners when thinking about the character. The description is also for putting ‘the crunch’.

The crunch is the hardest part to do since all it contains is numbers and simple descriptions’; making it readable is near painful. Obsidian portal is putting together a series of Dynamic Style Sheets that use Cascading Style Sheets and information skimmed from the description section. Sadly the one for Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion is nonfunctional and ends up overwriting existing information in spots.

For this I have thrown together a table that looks okay and is fairly serviceable for putting things in an organized fashion.

Biography:

This is where the fluff goes, even if you don’t put anything in this section the vestigial section still shows up for everyone. Character history blurbs are great but a new character or NPC doesn’t need a long one since the character is at the start and everything before should be more boring than what is about to happen, or the character is about to die. A slowly growing journal adding a paragraph or two after each session or adventure is a good idea and gives a bit of history to an established character, this also allows for people to remember what happened a year ago in a fast moving campaign.

The Check Boxes:

Check those that apply. Having people constantly e-mailing updates to other members or their GM can quickly lead to either ignoring notifications from Obsidian Portal all together, or cause the one receiving the notifications to take a negative view of the one causing them.

 Note:

At the time of writing this I don’t know CSS and haven’t played around with it much beyond fixing other peoples pages. It is something I hope to get good at since it seems to be easily learn-able.

Episode 90 – The Art Tale

We look to the art of Fantasy Flight Games to glean inspiration for adventures and even campaigns.

Work coordinated and curated by Zoe Robinson has been an inspiration during her time at FFG, and this is our tribute to her work as she departs to Blizzard.

Continue reading “Episode 90 – The Art Tale”

Confessions of a Newb GM: A Plan Comes Together

Most adventuring parties only see an innkeeper as the provider of ale and food with the possibility of lodging and rumors if things go well, but the innkeeper can become the gateway to the whole town when the players look deeper. In a quick pass through town, or as a single adventure without a twist that the innkeeper is involved in, nefarious things are all that’s needed, but, when it won’t be just a single adventure, it becomes more important to know why the innkeeper is doing things. Having the innkeeper be knowledgeable about the shady things in town is a common trope and makes sense if they’re the classic bartender like Shotglass, but it can take on a sinister tone if the information they feed the party leads to cleaning out a potential competitor or if they use the party as the heavy hand of the thieves’ guild. The innkeeper in a small town is a huge source of wealth that wouldn’t normally be available and this wealth filters down to the artisans of the town such as the inn’s chef, the town brewer, tailor, farrier, miller, and surrounding farmers; allowing the innkeeper to behave as town leader as far as the party is concerned. How the innkeeper, or other NPCs, are connected to the world, matters.

When you come across a  GM character once, most people pay them no mind, but when they start to become part of the world, it brings a much better connection to the narrative. One of the tricks is to find  points of connection you as a GM already have that the characters can fill. The junk dealer that the party uses as a fence turns into an agent for the local governor to keep tabs on the underworld. The captain of the guard that gives the party quests is underpaying the party and pocketing the extra money that would pay for the squads of soldiers that the party is replacing.

On to the Council

The Lepskin Rebel Council presents an interesting challenge; it’s easy to see the council as a separate section, but it overlaps with the sector in general. They have jobs and motivations, creating simple characters, which continue on beyond what the players will see. This is one of the ways that Obsidian Portal shows its worth as a framing device. I find it easy to deal with the council as a single entity of people and the sector as a single entity of planets, the two together is much hazier. These two seemingly separate sets have common points and should allow for ideas to grow as different aspects are worked on. Working on The Council gets me thinking about the planets these people are associated with and then how that shapes them.

My best example of this is a five link chain that is linked through a set of coincidental ideas. The links go from Catiwhinn, an up and coming maintenance yard on the fringe is the seat of The Council, to Icor Brimarch, a member of The Council and the vice president of business expansion for Bantha Express Transportation, and finally to Axel the headquarters for Bantha Express.

Normally my thought process would connect two of these things, because it’s in Icor Brimarch’s character description that he is part of the Bantha Express, but not the rest of them. Thanks to the linking of the rebel council to Catiwhinn and Icor Brimarch’s position on that council I now have another link for the character, and a reason for him and his company to be so far from their home system.

I find that these unexpected links are what make a setting seem more real. Having them in mind, or at least easily available, is great for when players want to do things that you’d never normally think of. The ways this knowledge can impact and be used for plot purposes is delightful but even moreso if the players link these things themselves without huge glowing signs saying “Shreb is tied to Rooksense” or something similar.

A wonderful part of Obsidian portal is that some of this linking can be visible to only to the GM and select others which allows for the rabbit hole to go much deeper than in a single sheet that the players have unfettered access to. Creating these links ahead of time allows for less work when a player tries to do something almost unthought of. It can be looked up while having a quick planning break.

Thin Skin of Reality

This can be a level deeper than most players want to go, but it can be rewarded with making difficulties just a little bit easier if the players are looking for how it’s interconnected and want to play off of it.

This depth of thinking about a relatively throw away concept I find useful. It brings me deeper into knowing what I’m helping to create and helps me to think beyond swinging the group from trope to trope. I know if I start to put in a few not so hidden gems for characters I can allow the players to start seeking it out on their own. A rescued tech in one adventure gets hired onto a repair shop at the end of another and finally takes it over at the end of the next campaign. Growing the world around the players allows for a reality to form, instead of just being able to cause relentless devastation while being an evil raiding party.

Episode 89 – The Challenge Tale

Two listeners asked us about skill challenges in Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars system and we decided to give our thoughts on it.

From outlining what they are for those unaware, to ways the advantage and threat skew how you can use them.

Continue reading “Episode 89 – The Challenge Tale”

Confessions of a Newb GM: The Council is Sitting

Last time I talked about the Lepskin Sector and some of the places that players can go. Today I am talking about the Lepskin Rebel Council and what they bring to the table and a few things that I can do with them.

A Little History

The reason I’m using a council set up has a bit of history to it that could help with understanding why I’m hoping to use it. I was fortunate enough to play in a test of the Quinoth system and the council idea worked well for me, it was a Fiasco style game with a few great players and @Fiddleback doing the job of the rest of the council. This experience was quite fun, with the reversals and a few of the more charismatic people getting their way. After the council we had to create a communication going from the council member to our operative in the strike force (played by a different person) detailing what happened and our intents. The full narrative use of a separate council came from having muddled communication between “The Council” and the main play group(s).

Since playing in Quinoth I have found out about and have played Executive Decision and think it fits this style just a little better than Fiasco. The big difference between a Fiasco style and an Executive Decision style of game play is in Fiasco having all players being equal based on their role play ability, where Executive Decision is much more directed with the players are trying to convince the GM (The Executive) to follow a particular track. This style seems better in a council setting and the one that I’ll use.

Character creation is a difficult beast, most of the time you want something that provides something unique to the player themselves but also doing some form of Cast Calculus (careful, TV Tropes link). Until reading and starting to understand the Edge of the Empire system I didn’t consider the story of a character to be a driving factor and only looked to characters with the view of them being a token on the board.

I have become excited since I started to learn about how these attributes can bring story to the front and thought of the interweaving it can bring if the participants let it. This brought to me an idea of how to create simple characters with short back stories that don’t overshadow what will be coming. Taking the obligations, or duties, for reference then adding their species, motivations, and the career together to create a base character has become a small game to figure out what sort of characters these attributes dictate.

The council starts as a body to be trusted and obeyed but as the players see what is going on at ground level, and not all of the council members do, this should cause fractures and a more interesting meta-narrative for the players and I. The council is limited to having an idea of what’s going on but not having direct control, trusting the players to run the actual missions. The single line of communication between the players and The Council allows for the concept to be completely cut out if there isn’t an interest in it and for an unreliable set of communications if the GM wants to include such a plot device.

 

 Now On To The Cast:

Amenta Olies: A human historian grieving for Alderaan and wanting to strike out at those who hurt her. Amenta brings her deep knowledge of history to apply against the trials of the present.

Ayyn’torthal: A twi’lek financier that thinks his fortune and safety is in the deep Lepskin Void. Feeling he is destined to become the one to free Ayyn’torthal, he seems reckless in the plans he puts forth.

Char’bana: An amazingly cunning ex-dancer, this twi’lek is looking to raise the downtrodden and help free the oppressed.

Coden Tazi: A haunted duros sniper who lost himself when his family was killed and hasn’t found himself again by raining vengeance on those who did it.

Dun Sund: A brilliant fleet captain who values his subordinates and knows how to use them well, he looks to bring to justice the admiral of the Lepskin fleet.

Icor Brimarch: The wealthy son of Bantha Express owners, the corporation has fallen under direct imperial scrutiny due to Alderaanian ties. Icor heads the transportation operations of the council.

Pashnia Niathal: A freed Mon Calamari, Pashnia is a genius with keeping everything going and brings her dedication to the organization that freed her.

Scara Harend: A know-it-all pilot, Scara has been transferred to lead the sectors nascent star fighter corps. Few realize how determined she is to do right by her people and see each one of them return home.

Tamar Dangr: A fallen Lepskin Sector senator, Tamar was in line to be the sector Moff but his own local connections bit him politically and now he seeks to free the good people from the far away rule of the Empire.

Yattitcu: Young for a wookiee, Yatticu is a master slicer that knows how to get information from the deepest nets. She’s become invaluable, both for her ability to collate data as well as her burgeoning network of spies.

Episode 88 – The Stowaway Tale

We were asked how to make being on a ship more then just piloting or shooting the guns. We come up with a few ideas that expand on your normal star ship scene and give some breadth to your scene creation. Continue reading “Episode 88 – The Stowaway Tale”

Confessions of a Newb GM: Introducing the Lepskin Sector

Before I get into describing my battles with Obsidian Portal, or Roll 20 let me take you through the reason why I have bothered with these tools that need dedication to learn.

Today I describe the basic setting of the Lepskin Sector, next week will be the Rebel Council, and the week after will be a few of the things I’ve learned putting both sets of ideas into Obsidian Portal and how doing so can create a better setting.

I understand and encourage players to be spontaneous and I want to give the players in my group a place that isn’t just a set of random set piecess made up from flash cards. I want it to be epic with weird and fun places, as well as dark corners where criminals willingly tread, and to get this a heightened sense of connection to continuity helps. This creates a short hand between the players and the GM to change and detail interactions based on where they take place. A talk in a smoke filled and dimly lit tavern is going have a very different feel and expected outcome than a brightly lit pastel walled open air café.

When coming up with places I used a few tropes to setup specific places for players to know almost exactly what is going on, and others where I try to subvert what the players are expecting. The places then begat a small initial narrative and the two styles together have brought many notable Non-Player Characters (NPCs).

I’ve been working on a setting called the Lepskin Sector. This setting is on the outer fringes of the Star Wars galaxy, but still has a connection to the core and civilization. From a basic narrative standpoint, to be useful to the player, the long term game world needs a few things.

Two Cans and String

 

The first thing the party needs is a home base for them to come back to and lick their wounds and provide communication to higher ups. For this I created Catiwhinn, an asteroid complex that allows for ships of fairly large size to dock and be repaired. The Rebel Council has ties to the station giving preferential docking and repair rates to the player group. The station is newly located on a trade route that allows for secretly shipping almost anything that people reasonably need and can pay to have smuggled into the sector with little hassle.

An integral thing to any campaign is a change to the status quo. The players are charged with preventing this change, or to channel the change in a new fashion with failure being an unwanted option. Usually this change is a McGuffin that the ‘Big Bad Evil Guy’ is controlling and using to impose their will. To start the first campaign we’ll have a deep space shipyard to deal with. The story is that after ten years spent fixing the yard, the current Imperial Governor is using it to amass a fleet to control the entire sector and expand it into peaceful neighboring systems.

Since The Shipyard is hidden, the party needs a public enemy camp that is identifiable and dangerous to the group. I created Jambat to fulfill this need. Jambat is a planet that is mostly a savanna with small hills and deep gorges carved by wandering rivers. Settled a long time ago, the remoteness of the planet has caught the new governors’ eye as a training facility which has been constructed just recently. This very controlled planet is training a massive amount of troops to help supply the shipyard with crews and personnel.

From that beginning a simple adventure could be had, but I want something more for the players to connect with. The sector needs places for high society and high power shenanigans. Here I have created three places to catch the players’ imaginations.

The Big Three

Slovant is the home of a corporate colony sent out to follow up on reports of a vast natural cave system that was rich in minerals and had enough heat to grow food from the geothermal energy. This corporate sponsorship of the colony has directed it ever since it was founded, from mining to processing and finally manufacturing. The people working know that their conditions aren’t the same as the contracted working conditions across the sector and have been able to wrest reasonable working conditions from Sienar Corporation.

Xix started off as a place to put those too ‘independent’ for easy integration into the larger colonies on Lepskin and Slovant. This has caused much tension as the planet turned into an easy place to start manufacturing and has quickly overtaken the original colonies in its ability to produce saleable items. The independent corporations of Xix have become a driving force in the sector while trying to turn a blind eye to many of the excesses of the ruling oligarchy.

Lepskin is a colony that was sent as an academic campus from the Coruscanti Academy and connections from this slowly led to the planet becoming the sector capital. While there is a united front against any perceived or actual external threat to the sector, the intra-sector politics have become almost deadlier than the senate floor. The collocation of government and academic studies has led to resentment from several of the manufacturing worlds that believe their voice is drowned out because of the closeness of the Intelligentsia. The government understands how precarious its position is and the governor has taken militaristic steps to ensure the control of Lepskin is inviolate.

A Better Idea

With these five planets, and nineteen more, I can send players across the sector on almost any sort of mission allowing for a ready built tone wherever they go. After introducing them to a planet or area I can bring up each of them as settings and the players know what they’re getting.

These broad strokes are what the players, and you, have access to read and start to look at and possibly create links between. Any suggestions will be considered; specifics have a good chance of being integrated while broad concepts could take longer.

Episode 87 – The Grand Combat Tale

We talk about montage scenes in your game and mass combat in a way that makes every roll matter for your campaign and the fantasy world writ large.

Continue reading “Episode 87 – The Grand Combat Tale”