Confessions of a Newb GM: Making NPCs That Care

Getting a group together and sitting down to play can be fairly nerve wracking for a GM. Building the world that people are living in is a weird sort of skill to expand. I see the expectation time and again in many RPG products, GMs are expected to be able to go create something and make it wonderful for players off the top of their head. Continue reading “Confessions of a Newb GM: Making NPCs That Care”

Eyes Up: Rewarding the Player, not the Character

Let’s talk about rewards for players. I have yet to meet a GM or player who doesn’t get the basics of rewarding players with experience points. In some systems it’s an equation as simple as putting monsters in at one end, running them through the shiny bladed grinder of players, and dropping at the feet of the players blood splattered items of surprising usefulness. This is all well and good, and keeps the characters growing in power, but this can be minor to rewarding the players for their actions instead of just their characters. Continue reading “Eyes Up: Rewarding the Player, not the Character”

Confessions of a Newb GM: Clunky Randomness

I’ve been talking with my D&D 4th Edition DM over the last couple of weeks. After trying to bring my DM to The Mad Adventurers Society and The Angry GM blog, in an attempt to bring the perverbial horse to water, we were discussing how the two of us envisioned a 5th Edition campaign. He wanted to wait for the 5th Edition DMs guide and delve into its depths before he was willing to run a new adventure. The biggest reason he gave for this was his memory of the DMs guide from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons with tables upon tables of things that can be rolled on. He was describing why this was a great thing, but there are some concerns when it comes to random encounters as a base for a campaign. Continue reading “Confessions of a Newb GM: Clunky Randomness”

Confessions of a Newb GM: Scaling the Story

As I have done more and more planning for different campaigns, I find that beginnings and endings to have to be the most solid points. Without these two points set in stone the wild twists and turns that the players throw at me have a knack for throwing me into a tailspin that takes quite a bit to recover from. Continue reading “Confessions of a Newb GM: Scaling the Story”

Confessions of a Newb GM: Loudly Thinging

Creating a good atmosphere with your games locations is both amazing and hard to accomplish. Adding to the tale that is retold over drinks another day is a great feeling for a GM, but a problem arises when the setting is all there is. A carefully crafted setting can bring great excitement and create an eerie mood, for instance, but if the encounters are all similar the setting slowly loses its majesties. If every room and hallway that the players get into is of a similar style, everything around it becomes routine; making any positive impressions made fade into a faint grey shroud. Continue reading “Confessions of a Newb GM: Loudly Thinging”

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: 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.

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.

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.