Dungeon World Map Making

For those of you who aren’t aware I’m currently running a Dungeon World campaign for my Sunday group, charting the progress of a group of heroes who have discovered a strange sickness or blight that seems to be plaguing the land. I wanted to try out the Perilous Wildrules supplement for this campaign, which deals with hazardous journeys and provides some additional stuff for followers and advice on running your campaign.

One of the sections of this book that intrigued me was the advice on map making; essentially the players and GM take it in turns to come up with areas, sites of interest and places that are important to the PC (a couple for each player character).

We sat down and did this for about hour at the start of our last session, since we’re running on Google Hangouts I screen-shared a paint window and roughly sketched out the map below:

Okay so it’s not going to win any art prizes or anything like that, but you can already see (I hope) the potential for adventure in these areas and some of the interesting stuff that my players came up with; after the session I fired up my trusty copy of Hexographer and created a slightly more visually pleasing version of the map.

In keeping with the GM advice in Dungeon World I’ve left lots of blank areas to be filled in as the PCs explore, although I have added some of the stuff that has already been discussed within the game. I was really happy with how the map creation section of the session went and highly recommend the Perilous Wilds rules if you fancy doing something like this, can’t wait to see what my PCs get up to on this map now.

Fate Star Wars Idea

I’ve recently had the good fortune to play in a Dresden Files Accelerated game using the preview rules that Lloyd ran, I very much enjoyed it; one of my favourite bits of the game was a mechanic dealing with a new type of condition that effectively acted as a power pool for some of your other abilities, each one normally came with a condition that you could tick to refresh your pool at the cost of gaining some sort of longer term complication or disadvantage. I’ve been thinking about how this could potentially be used for Star Wars in Fate:

Unique Condition – FORCE SENSITIVITY OOOOO

Check one of your Force Sensitivity boxes to create and use a stunt on the fly or make a roll to perform an impossible action that is justified by the Force, you recover Force Sensitivity at a rate of one box per session.

Unique Condition – LURE OF THE DARKSIDE O

Check this box to instantly uncheck all of your Force Sensitivity boxes, however, you gain an Aspect representing that you have given into the darkside that remains until Lure of the Darkside is unchecked, once this box is checked you may not recover boxes of Force Sensitivity until you have either given in to the Darkside or redeemed yourself as determined by the GM, be prepared to spend at least a session doing this.

 

GM Tips: Preparing for a Campaign Part 2 – Scheduling Prep

Scheduling your prep

I generally try to be organised when it comes to getting my prep done for a campaign, some people prefer a more seat-of-their-pants approach but I like to know what I have left to do and organise it into managable pieces, it helps me get the prep done and also helps relax me at the start of a game session. If I know that I have the necessary prep done I can go into a session confident that I am prepared and ready for whatever the players throw at me.

When I say ready for whatever the players throw at me, I don’t mean that I’ve scripted everything down to nth degree, that would make for a not very entertaining game, I mean that I have enough of my world and campaign prepared so that I feel comfortably able to create consistent details if my players do something unexpected.

Try and do some of your prep in advance

This relates to my previous point, however it can be a difficult balance to strike, you don’t want to prepare everything in advance and then not end up using any of the prep, but by the same token, you don’t want to find yourself on the back-foot and panicking when the players do something odd or unexpected, and they most certainly will at some point, trust me on this one.

Take your cues from the characters you have.

Even without specifically discussing it with your players–although that’s never a bad idea–there’s a lot you can intuit about what sort of campaign they want from the characters that have been created. If you’re running a wild-west game and the players all create Pinkertons and Marshalls then it’s a fairly safe bet they’re looking to fight on the side of the law, bringing criminals to justice and preventing larcenous deeds, whereas if they create a mixture of different townsfolk perhaps a more widely focussed game dealing with the challenges people living in the american west face might be more in order.

Ask for brief character backgrounds from your players.

Make it clear to your players that you’re not expecting a massive novel from each of them to cover their character background, but that having some details would help make sure that you feature interesting stuff in the campaign. Some players are more comfortable with writing character backgrounds than others, I recommend creating a background question sheet that you ask players to fill in, this helps players who might otherwise struggle, it helps keep the background brief and makes it easier for you to reference during the later stages of your prep and during sessions.

Look through the character backgrounds and highlight anything that you find interesting.

It’s very easy to forget about a potentially entertaining point of someone’s background once your neck-deep in your new campaign and are trying to juggle all of the various tasks that a GM has to do, you want character backgrounds to be as easy to reference as possible so that you can check through them occasionally during your campaign. One way of doing this is to produce a background question sheet as detailed above, but there are other ways such as asking the players to submit their backgrounds as bullet point lists or even going through the backgrounds and highlighting major points once you receive them.

Do I need a session 0?

For those of you who don’t know, a session zero is effectively getting everyone together who will take part in the game, creating characters, discussing aspects of the game etc without actually playing a session (although some GMs do a mini-session to play out elements of a characters background here). Whilst these sessions are far from 100% necessary for a campaign game, they certainly can help since it gives everyone an opportunity to ask questions, work up some enthusiasm for the game and also for anyone who is less sure about things like character generation to ask for help.

In my mind one of the main advantages of a session zero is that talking about the campaign and getting player input makes them feel invested in the game and also starts to build up that group cameraderie.

Decide on your prepping schedule

Don’t try and do too much.

With the best will in the world real-life stuff is going to interfere and other priorities will crowd in, clamouring for your attention. Trying to take on too much prep work will just result in you not being able to manage it, at that point frustration can set in and the task of prepping your games can start to feel like an impossible task. You should know roughly how much free time you have in your normal week so set yourself realistic goals, it’s far better you do less prep a week but are productive and maintain your enthusiasm about the game than you set yourself an inachievable target, don’t manage it and become disillusioned with your own game.

Try and set aside regular time to devote to prep

It’s generally far easier to manage your time if you set yourself an hour or two on a regular basis where you sit down and run your prep, since I tend to get up early I generally do my prep on Saturday and Sunday morning or occasionally in my lunch-break at work if I don’t need my books. Don’t beat yourself up though if sometimes you can’t stick to your scheduled prep, it will happen on occasion, try and find some other time where you can fit the prep in and then get back to your schedule next week.

Work in bite-sized chunks

Sitting down and trying to design an entire kingdom or pantheon from scratch can be very daunting and might even put some people off before they’ve got started, a far better way to do this is to break the work down into smaller chunks and work on those. This is similar to techniques recommended for people taking exams or tests, rather than trying to do everything at once and overloading yourself, concentrate on smaller parts of the whole.

Identify what parts of the background you are working on the PCs are likely to run into first and work on those.
For example: If you’re creating a kingdom work on the village or town where the PCs start in a little more detail and then lightly sketch in the rest of the kingdom, you can then use the PCs actions and direction in your session to guide your prep.

Motivate yourself with fun things

We all have bits of prep that we love and that sing to us personally, and we all have bits that we don’t find so motivating, for me writing up the stats of bad-guys and NPCs isn’t particularly exciting for me in most systems whereas I love coming up with the motivations, backgrounds and quirks of said NPCs. Try to spread the bits you don’t find so fun between those bits you do enjoy, doing this means you’re more likely to get them both done.

For example: With my example of the NPCs, if I come up with all the concepts and quirks for the NPCs (the bit I enjoy) I’m then left with this huge amount of stats that I have to slog through and generate, whereas if I work on a couple of characters at a time, get their concepts/backgrounds and their stats done before moving onto the next, I can still look forward to coming up with some new concepts for the next bunch.

< < < Click here to see Part 1

Star Wars Notes from Heart of Darkness

I often get people asking me about making notes or prep for role-playing sessions and it’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a while, I’m always torn between making notes in session and making them afterwards. I record my sessions partly because I can watch them back and update notes, this can obviously take a fair amount of time though, however if I write too many notes during a session I feel like I am not giving full attention to running the game.

I don’t have a perfect solution yet and am continually experimenting, if you have any suggestions feel free to post them in the comments.

You can click on this link to see a sample of the sort of notes I make, these are taken from my current Star Wars: Heart of Darkness campaign

GM Tips: Preparing for a Campaign Part 1

A while back on a YouTube video I did about preparing for a Star Wars game Fábio Fontes requested some more advice on prepping for a more long-term campaign; I’ve been thinking for a while about how best to do this, and I think that doing it as a video probably isn’t the best way since the videos would end up being massive, so I’ve decided to write it in my blog instead. The topic is an extensive one, I’m not going to create an exhaustive treatise on it, but in the interests of avoiding a huge wall of text and of splitting my workload–I discuss this later in this series–I’m going to break the advice down into a series of blog posts.

The focus of this series is not building a specific campaign world or what rules-set to use (although these topics may be lightly touched on), but general prep advice for planning long-term campaigns.

This the first post serving as both an introduction and an opportunity to talk about the sort of thing you should be thinking about before you even start gathering players or putting pen to paper when it comes to campaigns.

Things to Think About Pre-Campaign

How often are you going to run your games?

Is your game going to run weekly, bi-weekly, monthly? It’s worth thinking about because the closer together your games are, the less prep time you have between sessions, however the advantage of games run closer together is that the players (and yourself) have less time to forget what happened in the previous session and it’s easier to maintain energy levels about a game.

Once you start recruiting players you will also have to factor in their ability to attend game sessions, it may be easier for some people to make a once a month game than it is for them to commit to regular weekly sessions.

For example: In the Heart of Darkness Star Wars campaign that I have just started, a couple of the players had prior-commitments that made it difficult for them to do a weekly game, but since I’d inherited the group (with one addition) from a previous game, I knew they could all do a bi-weekly game so decided to stick with that.

How many players are you going to have in your group?

The number of players you plan to have playing in your campaign can have an influence on your prep, since you will have more characters running around in your world, so potentially more stuff you have to deal with, however, an increased number of players can mean a larger mine of potential inspiration–backgrounds, character goals, etc–for you to work with and pull on to create stories.

At this point you should try to be realistic with yourself, think about how many players you’re likely to be able to get to commit to playing a long-term campaign, this is often more difficult that getting people together for a one-shot or a short-term game since if you say to someone, “Hey do you fancy playing a D&D one-shot this Saturday?” the commitment required is relatively small, whereas if you ask them to commit to playing twice a month on saturday, potential for a year or more than that’s more of an ask.

I generally go with 4 or 5 players in a group, since this gives me a good-sized group to work with but means that people aren’t constantly tripping over each other or having to wait for ages for their turn to speak, as can happen with significantly larger groups.

What will you do when players leave/join?

In a long-running campaign you’ll inevitably reach when for some reason or another one or more of the original players has to drop out of the game, this could be that their schedule has altered at work, they’re moving away from the area or any number of other reasons. You should give some thought at this stage how you plan to deal with this and whether or not/how you plan to introduce new players to bolster your numbers, getting it worked out at this stage will save you panic and stress further down the line.

Some things to think about:

  • What will happen to the departing players PC? Will they have a dramatic death scene? Depart the group in-game? Continue as an NPC?
  • How can you introduce a person to the group without upsetting an established group dynamic?
  • How can you introduce a new PC and have them continue to adventure with an existing party or group?

How long do you envision the campaign running for? Is it going to be an open-ended campaign?

Open-ended campaigns are those that have no specific end-goal or aim, whereas a more closed campaign deals with a particular story arc. For example: My recent Storm & Sail game was about a group of pirates trying to locate and recover the fabled philosopher’s stone, of course they did other things along the way but the game ended when that main objective was achieved.

The longer a campaign runs, the more likely it is that you will suffer from player attrition and have to replace some of the original group, this isn’t a problem if you’re prepared for it, but it can also be difficult to keep your enthusiasm as a GM if you’re running a really long campaign. There are some things you can do though to prevent your interest flagging in an open campaign:

  • Give the PCs a variety of potential quests/stories.
  • Introduce a new threat or part of your game world, be careful of over-using this though.
  • Have something about the setting change, this could be something small such as the owner of a local tavern retiring and his son taking over the business to something much grander like the death of a king or the beginning of a war between nations. Again you should be careful not to overuse this tactic or it will become commonplace.

At the moment I tend to go for something of a middle-ground when it comes to campaigns, I generally base them around a main story or group of stories and guesstimate how many sessions I think it might take the PCs to accomplish that story, so for instance, in my Storm & Sail game I estimated it would take about 10 sessions to complete the game, since my players moved quite quickly through some of it, the campaign only actually took us 8 sessions, but at least they had some idea of the level of commitment required at the start of the game.

The advantage of this approach is that you can sell the game to the players from the start, so instead of just saying “lets play D&D” you can say something more dramatic like “in this campaign we’re going to play out the rise and fall of the dread necromancer.”

2000 YouTube Subscribers

I’m pleased to announce that a few days ago our YouTube channel passed the 2000 subscriber mark, I’m pleased that people find the videos I put out entertaining and/or useful enough to subscribe and stick with our channel and blog. To mark the occasion I filmed a combination intro/thank you video for the channel.

Matters of Fate: Random Tables

Love them or hate them, random charts and tables have a long history in RPGs, whether it be to determine wilderness encounters, a random bauble gained at character gen or any number of other potential things.

What do random charts do?

You might be asking yourself why you need random charts? After all with it’s focus on narrative and the invoke/compel mechanics of aspects it’s very easy to run a Fate game without any use of random charts, one thing random charts are good for is adding an element of uncertainty into the game, they also allow the GM to shift the balance of his prep. For example, if you have created a wilderness encounter table keyed to a certain area of your campaign world and your players decided to go there on a whim when you have nothing prepared, you can turn to your random encounter chart to buy yourself some time or at least give you an idea of the sort of thing that they should be encountering.

They can also be very useful for more exploration themed games where the GM wants an element of chance to influence the players discoveries, if you want character skill to have an impact on this, perhaps a player can change one dice for every point above zero they have in the appropriate skill. These charts also keep the game fresh and surprising for the GM, in heavily scripted games the GM tends to know everything and it’s only when the players do something unexpected that the GM has to think on their feet and has an element of uncertainty, random charts just add in a dash more.

So how do I create them?

In most games creating these charts is fairly straightforward, you simply have a chart listing the numerical possibilities on the dice and which options correspond to them, however, what do you do with Fate? Well there are a few different games that have posted examples of different ways to do random charts in fate and I’ve messed around with it myself, but I tend to go for a chart that looks a bit like this:

random-chart-f

In order to read the chart you simply move one row down for each minus you rolled and one row to the right for each plus you rolled, you ignore any blank dice you got unless you rolled all blank dice in which case you use the result on the top left of the table.

In order to make this easier for people to use I’ve uploaded a template version of the chart above in Excel format so that you can play around with it and use it in your own documents should you wish (Excel format stuff can be copied and pasted into Word and a lot of other software).

Update: As pointing out by Shokon–many thanks for the catch–there are a number of spaces on the table above that cannot be reached by rolling 4DF, so I’ve replaced the template link below with a new one where these spaces are greyed out, thanks again Shokon 🙂

Update: Thanks to Bean Lucas and several others on Google+ I have been able to update the template so that it shows the chance of rolling particular squares on the template.

Click here to get the template

In order to make the most use out of this template you will need to have the Fate Glyph font file installed on your computer, you can find it by clicking here.

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