Eyes Up – Taking the Boring out of Randomness

GMs have to strike a weird balance in ongoing campaigns. Don’t do too much preparation; so that when players go off the blazed trail you aren’t starting the nights campfire with your notes. But, also have enough structure so they aren’t just spinning on the log flume again and again going nowhere. All while having a little bit of fun while doing it. Many people look to random tables to solve the preparation issue to avoid burning out from creative fatigue. The problem with that is many of the encounters I’ve seen using encounter tables have been horrible; worse than just throwing a dart at the index. There is little life to the encounter and the GM doesn’t understand how the monsters are to be utilized in the scene.

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Confessions of a Newb GM: Thoughts for an Epic Fight

Massive battles aren’t what role playing games are good at. I have yet to see mass combat rules that are functional at a narrative level or that maintain the spirit of the rules set out in the core book. The rules don’t matter to playing on this scale. The conceit that you’re commanding armies of people often abstracts the rules to such an extent that you are either playing a board game with its own rules or the rules you started with no longer apply at all. Continue reading “Confessions of a Newb GM: Thoughts for an Epic Fight”

Confessions of a Newb GM: Communicating Trust

I’ve just started a group in my Lepskin campaign. I trust that they’ll be playing to have fun and to try to tell a good story while working to bring what is cool to them to the table. They trust that I am making adventures that have direction to them, but also that I’ll let them go and explore the sector I have made up a framework for.  I’ve advertised that the players are able to make a sizeable contribution to this campaign setting and, at the moment, I’m trusted to follow through. Continue reading “Confessions of a Newb GM: Communicating Trust”

Confessions of a Newb GM: Rising Action

There has been much said in the last few years of making the results interesting from dice rolls. There has been a really good micro-cast about creating a story from the results of a roll. Creating a narrative is what an RPG is best at; while a board game always has an emergent story to it, normally it has nowhere near the depth of an RPG. A large issue is that people are trying to create a narrative from nothing preceding it. Continue reading “Confessions of a Newb GM: Rising Action”

Confessions of a Newb GM: Disinterested Interest

Player Engagement is a precious thing. If you lose a player to an outside distraction it takes quite a while for that player to come back and be fully engaged. When players are bored they show it in a multitude of ways, from glancing at their phone, to planning out their next level, to looking up arcane uses of their current skill sets. The ability to be distracted gets heightened online when you have a browser in front of you, it’s so easy to slip over to twitter, to a chat room if you’re on Twitch or any number of other things the giant calculator can do. Continue reading “Confessions of a Newb GM: Disinterested Interest”

Confessions of a Newb GM: The Forever Fight

A few weeks ago I was in a Dungeons and Dragons 4E combat that lasted an epicly long time. The sad part, in retrospect, is that it will not be remembered by anyone who fought in it. The reason being is that nothing substantial happened. Let me repeat this, after an 8 hour fight nothing of value happened, no useful loot was to be had, we didn’t go up a level, no characters came close to being killed (one did get reduced to below zero health one slot in the turn order before being healed). Continue reading “Confessions of a Newb GM: The Forever Fight”

Confessions of a Newb GM: Played to Death

As a GM, am I out to kill my players?

In a way I am, but it’s more complicated then a yes.

Every role playing game I have played has opportunities for players to die. In campaigns, I have had very few of my characters die since I’m normally very conservative in how I play. When I’m in one-shot adventures I’m not expecting to play the character more, so I try to play to the archetype of the character and choose characters that are different from my normal support styles. Continue reading “Confessions of a Newb GM: Played to Death”

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.

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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.

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.