Episode 96 – The New Worlds Tale

Ross Rockafellow from Dice for Brains sent us a message about wanting to answer some listener questions with our group of opinionated GMs. Little did he know that we wanted to ask a few questions of our own.
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Episode 95 -The Menacing Villain Tale

We start with an impossibly powerful villain and try to figure out interesting fashions to make them feel menacing without having them feel staged or forced.
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Episode 94 – The Bar Brawl Tale

David and Ben talk about how you can get a brawl happening in a bar without your players going murder happy.

From how to split a scene into two encounters to why it’s okay to do so we dive deep into brawling in public.

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Confessions of a Newb GM: Calmly Adventuring

An RPG is about people telling a communal story and having fun while doing it. If all that people do is get together to get in fights and kill things there is Warmachine or that other, more expensive, one. Players and GMs get the fun of a common goal that they work towards, the players slowly chipping away, up and down action, the GMs frantically trying to spin a story from whatever cliché they can think up in that moment. The putty to fill in the gaps between expectations and what is delivered comes from everyone buying into the premise of having fun together doing the same thing. This is the same reason why people get together to do various sports with friends, play board games, play cards, watch movies, or even just to have a few drinks together.

The difference with RPGs is that while there is a game, there are also roles to play; I mean it is right there on the book jacket. During setup everyone gets their role, depending on their desired outlooks for the game: the face, the muscle, the tinkerer, the sneaker, the mob of other people. This make up requires communication. If you’re playing a random Lord of the Rings derivative RPG and your players all have fighters, as the GM you shouldn’t spend time with a with a rogue based sneaky portion to save the party from a massive fight. Everyone ends up feeling frustrated at not being able to use their fun abilities.

To help facilitate group creation the GM can give an elevator pitch for what type of adventure is going to be happening. Even a list of a few movies or books you’re going to riff on is a good idea. A blank page can lead to anything, one person wanting to do cowboy horror and the next to create a werewolf teen basketball star, guidance is needed. Everyone sitting down at the table needs to say what their intentions are for their character.

The Long Campaign

As has been said before a miss-matched group of characters leads to inevitable headaches. I normally want to talk over with the players ahead of time what sort of campaign we all want. I may have my own ideas for the campaign, but I may be spurred on by a cool idea that a player has.

Party creation can be done in its own session and usually it helps with setting expectations for everyone. If it’s with old friends it allows for a nice relaxing time, if it’s with new people you can size everyone up and the emergence of a table leader starts to happen. This isn’t throwing away a session. You’re gathering ideas and honing them into a larger notion of where you’re going with it. It allows for the players to decide what they’re taking and to make sure that any particularly visible holes can be dealt with.

The holes matter in a long campaign, especially if you as the GM want to play around in one of the areas that the players are weak in.

Party balance is a weird beast depending on the RPG system you’re in. If you’re in a more narrative system where people are able to do pretty much anything and it’s the story that matters it isn’t as crucial. With narrative games it does still matter when considering the “odd one out.”

When I was in the playtest of @Fiddlebacks Mask of Ordo (a great module, I cannot recommend it more) we had two to three combat orientated people and a sneaker, the GM tried to let the sneaker get ahead and do stealthy things, but the rest of us didn’t let him because it wasn’t in our character’s natures.

If you’re in one of the d20 alum games it matters an amazing amount. If you are chronically without a healer that means slower going due to natural healing, no one to control the enemies for more than a round, and your damage dealers are having to evade without dealing damage. Not enough damage dealers and the fights take too long and people get bored.

One Quick Shot

One shot adventures are a completely different beast, whether it’s at a convention or wanting to try out something new. These don’t always require a balanced party, as @wood-jasond rightly points out, but it depends on what people are trying to do with it. You need to be aware of the experience you want and what you’re trying to accomplish. Is it a convention game with a bunch of hardened players for the system? Are you doing pregen characters? Can that adventure be used to welcome new people to it? Do you really want to do that one and only time you GM a zombie adventure now?

Making sure you know what you want out of the adventure allows you to give the players an idea of what is coming up and how it will affect them. Knowledge of the adventure paths allows you to also decide if player party balance matters to you or if it’s more advantageous to have a completely tilted play group. Can three fighters and a mage slay that dragon or does it need to have the rogue and cleric as well?

Adventuring Together

I’ve gone through my two types of adventure thinking here for both campaigns and one shots. I hope it helps with figuring out how much you want to know about the party before starting to plan an adventure. Planning ahead is wonderful for a campaign, but a series of independent adventures that focuses on each player can  allow for greater enjoyment.

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: Inspiration Strikes

As you’ve probably surmised I’m setting up an online campaign while I’m still running an offline game. I have great fun with this group and we have just finished going through Beyond the Rim from Fantasy Flight Games. While I do have The Jewel of Yavin I do not want to run them through it yet,  since the feel is wrong for the group. The party has a Trader/Big Game Hunter, an Outlaw Tech/Demolitionist, an Assassin, and a Doctor.

For a while I was stumped about what to do next that would keep things interesting for my goup and I. Since we were just out exploring, I wanted a session or two where we were having fun in the high tech setting of Star Wars instead of out in the wilderness dodging more nexu and kobolds (or the local equivalent). The only thread I had for an impetus was the Tech’s criminal obligation triggering for three sessions running. In doing some administrative upkeep for the campaign on the private Obsidian Portal site an idea struck me as I saw what skills they haven’t been using of late.

I want them to steal a McGuffin.

They have the two needed archetypes with the Tech and the Assassin to pull off a simple heist, but they have a talker and an indeterminate doctor as well, so I figure they could be doing some grifting and investigating, too.

Realizing that the Tech’s obligations keep weighing on his mind, I thought to put this to use. He is ‘accused’ of stealing and smuggling but hasn’t been caught or prosecuted, so having someone show up with evidence of this would be a great way to hook a  player who is normally meticulous. I came up with a mouth piece for a Crime Lord and a basic idea for what I wanted them to do. Now that I knew the party is being blackmailed into crime, really the worst of the oil slicked slopes, I started to wonder who they’re going to steal from.

Since their skulduggery isn’t the best, I thought they might want to charm or negotiate someone unaware of their nefarious plans. I ran through the general species they’ve seen in play so far and looked to Donjon for available random names and came up with a Mon Calamari woman.

Now that I have an aquatic woman that the players might have to charm, much to my amusement, or steal from, the question shifts to what does she do? The last thing I want is for her to be a push over so I glanced at the talent trees and came up with the idea to combat the parties’ trader with a trader. I decided that the party will need to have access to one of her computers for the caper. The data the blackmailer wants is shipping manifests from the Mon Calamari’s  small company so that he can smuggle ill gotten goods in these shipments while the company itself remains unaware.

But wait, there’s more.

If all I wanted was an adventure, I’d finish with a few notes on her office security and a few of her after hours activities and be done; but this will act as a prologue to the real adventure. The tilt will be  the party finding information during this fairly simple data theft that results in them racing off to a planet in search of Mr. Techie McGuffin. The longer campaign will be one of exploration and lost technologies and if I tie this in it wouldn’t feel like a rest stop adventure but something that connects it all together.

I’m working the longer plot threads into the data breach scenario and need to find out what other sorts of incriminating data can be on the system. My first thought is that she is smuggling for the rebellion, but I am suspicious of that because it’s too easy. If we stick with a theme from Beyond the Rim it could be staging for an excursion to find a damaged CIS transport ship that held a major battle station part.

The twist will be a great find for someone wanting to discover cool old technology, or trying to sell these secrets for a nice profit. This brings two player’s desires to the fore and links them into a common goal. Not wanting players to feel left out, I’m going to draw each of the players into this in the most melodramatic way possible. I am going to bring the two other character’s obligations and motivations into play. The assassins’ motivation and obligation is to protect his friends and to find his family that had been slaves at one time or another. Using this, I would say his father was the stated captain of the transport ship that was lost. Lastly, the player for the doctor latched onto the Richard Kimble story, so his character has been framed for the murder of his roommate by a one armed Bothan who I’m putting as the head of the Mon Calamari’s expedition.

Now the fine detail

This gives me enough frame work to start populating all the smaller details like an opening speech to start them on their way, a couple different ways for the data to be accessed, possibly a double cross from the instigating crime lord and it should be done with a definite direction for the party to be going on that isn’t just wandering about aimlessly.

Confessions of a Newb GM: Learning From Mistakes

Finding the right way to go back:

I have had the Lepskin Sector bouncing around in my head for a while. The creation of it sprouted from my offline Star Wars: Saga Edition campaign. The crew was a little down on their luck, the rebellion was disappointed in them, and they needed a place to go to recover their good name and their confidence. I came up with a sector of 25 named planets, I have no idea how the names came about, and a big McGuffin, a deep space manufacturing facility.

Based on my past experience with this group I had expected it to go with a bit of investigation and branch out into a sneaking assault on the facility causing it to either explode or for the group to pull a ‘Red October’ and steal it. The party had a history of stealing ships and repurposing the captured ships as their own so I was betting heavily on them going straight for the facility and taking it over leaving time for me to develop a plot. This bet backfired to the dismay of everyone.

I had it in my head that I could wing it completely, my problem was I didn’t have a series of goals for the players.

I didn’t give hints leading to the bread crumbs to take them to the next piece of the plot because I hadn’t thought through what the meta-plot should be. My players, being players, upturned my plans and decided they wanted to go on a tour of the sector and try to start a business. Due to the lack of planning I wasn’t able to herd them in a direction closer to a plot and from there it turned into Star Wars Tycoon.

Since that time I have played in games outside of my little group as well as coming to realize that there are some good people out there in these forums and a few other places. By absorbing as much as I can, from how to plot out books, adventures, and TV, I’ve learned how to make something more cohesive than just “I have a great idea” and have started to put it into action.

I am now approaching the Lepskin Sector in a dramatically changed fashion now that I’m going back. I really like the idea of an open sector where almost anything the players do has an effect and creates ripples. The problem I had with my first implementation was that I was using the sector as the campaign, not as the backdrop. This blinded me to what the players were doing and the failings of what I wasn’t doing. The campaign setting can be a very living and cool thing, but it isn’t the campaign; the campaign is the adventures that go towards the goal and I had lost sight of this. My plan for the first campaign in the Lepskin Rising saga is to blow up, or steal, the same deep space facility. This can be done in a variety of ways depending on the characters and archetypes chosen by the players.

Actual entry into the campaign is always dependent on the players; they need to choose what type of group they are and how they react to each other. A great method of doing it is the introductory session which, for this campaign, will be an explanation of how they get in the sector and to the secret rebel base that’s ‘cleverly’ hidden. After this, it shifts to one of two methods, if there is enough interest I’ll do a prologue event in the style of Executive Decision, otherwise, I have several bread crumbs already worked into the cast of rebel characters that will provide the first adventure inside the sector. From this beginning I can create incremental adventures leading to the harrowing resolution.

It’s this focus on incremental adventures and planning that is different for me. Before, I had a large plan and thought that it would hold out over many sessions, and that my players would want to follow with me to the end, because obviously I thought it was awesome so they would as well. On reflection I have found the grand idea was exciting, but the session to session was boring. Session to session is where game groups live, if it is boring from time to time it’s okay but consistently boring will kill a group.

Having a one or two part adventure that solves a portion of the puzzle without having a true idea of the final picture is a much better idea than having the picture of the puzzle and not realizing five pieces are missing.

Episode 85 – The Lead By Example Tale

We look at Lead by Example and poke it with sticks, trying to find interesting ways of playing the new specializations along with some ideas on how to use the new special abilities.

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Episode 84 – The Conflicted Max Tale

We talk with Max Brooke about how to use the Dark Side in your Star Wars game.

How do you make it more nuanced, and not just good vs. evil? How do you deal with people that don’t respect the force and player force users that aren’t major nemesis?

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Episode 78 – The Whole Party Tale

David and Ben talk about making a party and not just a bunch of characters, how this requires more then just a few lines and some deep thought.

Then Ben challenges them both to make a party that is going to show up in Meet the Party soon.

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