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.

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.

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: 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 13 – Learning from Legends

Today we talk about the Legendary stories we’ve come across and just a tiny bit of what we’ve used them for on the table.

Taking ideas and characters from the different stories we talk of and how we use little tidbits to create deeper stories for our players and keeping a big galaxy in our minds.

Continue reading “Episode 13 – Learning from Legends”

Episode 8 – Playing in the Sandbox

Come out of the blowing desert winds. We take a look at beginning sandbox campaign creation, running them, and common pitfalls.

We have a few ideas for campaigns we want to run and seeds that will eventually let us make them.

Items and sites mentioned in this podcast:

Donjon

Fantasty Name Generator

The Galactic Campaign Guide

Grand Admiral Zaarin

You can find us at @DeuteriumIce and @Xphile101361

You can find us and much more at TheHydianWay.com

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Or you can pull up a chair as we look over the Crater Sea and listen to the episode right here:

Episode 5 – Deep in the Edge

Welcome to another episode of Tales from the Hydian Way

Join us as we talk about a variety of ways to combine the three career books that have come out for Edge of the Empire.

Far Horizons, Dangerous Covenants, and Enter the Unknown give up their story telling secrets and bring new life to your characters.

Continue reading “Episode 5 – Deep in the Edge”

Episode 0 – The Tales of Two GMs

Thanks for joining us with our first episode of our Story-centric Star Wars RPG podcast.

We touch upon what brought us to the Star Wars galaxy for story telling and a few things we’ve come to like about the system from the dice to initiative, but mostly the groups and families that you create with other players.

We’re off to a start and looking forward to getting the ol’ CR-90 off in a good direction and ready for trade, misbehavin’, and maybe even some of that weird glow rod swinging.

We’re on twitter: @DeuteriumIce and @Xphile101361

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Our website is: http://thehydianway.com/