RPG Blog Carnival – December 2013: Taking Charge

The RPG Blog Carnival is an idea to get groups of bloggers to all writing about a monthly topic, the aim being to build a dialogue across many different blogs, providing different viewpoints and ideas to the viewer. The way it works is that a blog discussing a monthly topic will post the RPG Carnival Logo and will link back to the ‘hosters’ post.
This month the topic is taking charge.
Original post :

“Taking Charge. This could be interpreted in any number of ways, such as (not limited to), outlining ways a group of characters can be more proactive in their affairs, a group of players choosing to improve their existing gaming habits (including the GM), players stepping up to make more effective use of their agency as co-conspirators an contributors to a campaign, and/or getting a good grip on a game that is out of control and going nowhere. It could entail fiction, examples of actual play, discussion of tools like social contracts or statements of purpose, and more. As the year comes to a close and people get retrospective (and wonder why there is so much left-over turkey still in the fridge despite days and days of sandwiches) a topic like ‘taking charge’ might take a tone of cleaning house, evaluating the current state of affairs in your own game, or your chosen niche zone within the hobby, or setting the stage for what will come next at your table, real or virtual. There are many places this topic can take writers and readers during the December Blog Carnival. “

Okay, i’ve arrived fairly late at this months RPG Carnival post, slipping in on the final day of 2013 just as the shutters are being drawn and moments before the ‘closed’ sign is going to be turned on the previous year, however, I think the concept of “taking charge” is a great one to discuss because it is a topic often raised during RPG sessions and campaigns and has a lot in common with recent discussions on GM roles amongst the Youtube RPG brigade (my video response to this topic can be found here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aURyyMSXFqM ).
Campaign Preparation Sessions
One thing I have been looking at recently following my reading of the Odyssey Campaign Management Guide (which is a very useful book and I review it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-350PrvUUA on my Youtube channel) is the idea of having either one or several structured meetings with the players when you first start to plan an RPG campaign to ensure that everyone gets what they want (as much as is possible) out of the game that you are going to run and that you, as a GM, also get a level of enjoyment from the session. I think this is very important because i’ve seen and run a few campaigns where one or two players have gone along with the campaign concept because others liked it and haven’t really invested in the game as a result, this is a sure-fire way to end up with players losing interest and perhaps dropping the game altogether; by the same token i’ve also seen (and been in this situation myself) GMs so bent on ensuring player enjoyment that they forget or sacrifice their own enjoyment in the game, since such a lot of the campaign management (both during and between sessions) rests on the GMs shoulders, although it’s certainly possible to delegate and share some of this work amongst your player group, having a GM who isn’t enjoying themselves rarely leads to a long running campaign and usually in my experience results in a campaign slowly sliding towards inevitable collapse as the GM becomes burnt out and loses all enthusiasm.
So how does this relate to taking charge?
Well, if you just ask your players what sort of game they want, you are taking a scatter-gun approach to the whole thing and will inevitably end up with a whole mess of ideas that do not work together or that you have to wade through in order to get to any useful information; a far better way to manage these initial brainstorming ideas is for the GM to take charge and direct the course of the discussion. Asking specific questions from your players will normally yield better and more targetted results that asking something vague like “what sort of game do you want?”
What sort of questions should I ask?
My Rogue Trader campaign will be coming to an end soon (probably within the next 3-6 games depending on player action) as the players resolve the nefarious actions of the Word Bearers chaos space marines in the Endeavour system and, wanting to plan a little further ahead than I normally do after reading the excellent Odyssey Campaign Management Guide, I gathered the players for my next campaign together recently and sat them down with the intend of discussing what i’d run for the next game.
I came in with no real preconceptions of what sort of game we might end up with, but I did note down a few things about my players:
  • One of the players prefers heroic fantasy.
  • One really enjoys a sense of place and recurring background NPCs that change and can be interacted with.
  • One of the players generally prefers to play a mage or something magical.
  • The other player is pretty flexible and will try most games.

When I sat them down I first of all asked the following questions:
  • What sort of genre would people prefer to play in?
    • My group, having been currently engaged in a dark science fiction setting wanted to try something a little different and after a bit of discussion decided that they wanted to play a fantasy setting, but not the normal faux-medieval fantasy that we were all so familiar with from a number of previous games.
  • What rules system would people like to use?
    • After a bit of a debate the players were quite keen to use the Dungeon World rules, having played a couple of one-offs we all really enjoyed those rules and wanted to keep to a fairly fast-paced, story-based system but, given that the current game is Fate based (and i’m already running an additional Fate game), wanted to try something different and Dungeon World seemed like a good match; it also encourages a group world creation and collaborative story-telling between players and GM, something that we have all been enjoying in recent games.

So armed with the knowledge that my players wanted to play a non-standard fantasy game using the Dungeon World system, the next thing I asked them were what their ‘must-haves’ (their ‘deal breakers’ if you will) were for this game and, after some discussion we eventually whittled it down to the following list:
  • A rougher, grittier, more survival based game.
  • The PCs playing underdog heroes fighting against overwhelming odds.
  • A semi-permanent base of operations/game area with a number of background NPCs.
  • A Robin Hood-esque feel where the PCs are outlaws fighting for the right against an oppressive government.

With these four deal breakers in mind we started discussing whether there were any sort of campaign worlds available that met these criteria and, given that Dungeon World has very much a D&D feel, we started with D&D campaign worlds and eventually chose the Dark Sun world of Athas, with the player characters working outside the law to overthrow the despotic sorceror king of a small city state. A quick question fired off to the Dungeon World G+ community (https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/100662698267895582168/communities/100084733231320276299) and some judicious scouting on the web revealed that some people had already kindly produced some DW material for the Dark Sun setting and also lead me to the official Dark Sun website (http://www.athas.org/).
So how did taking charge help?
In addition to allowing us to more quickly get to the meat of the matter at hand rather than spending hours talking around the subject (and probably getting nowhere) directing the flow of conversation into specific channels resulted in making us all aware of the elements that interest the various players (and myself), this will be great for the health of the game since (as the GM) I will be able to refer back to this list and ensure that I am including elements to draw all of the players in and keep them interested in the game.
The meetup we have done so far is only the first of several that I plan to do in advance of creating the campaign, and in the following meetings I also intend to take charge and target the discussion at specific areas, in the next meetup I intend to discuss some of the particulars of the game area and highlight whether the players actual want to run the game within the Dark Sun setting or whether they just want something similar.

MPTW – very useful tool for GMs looking to plan a campaign

Just a short post to highlight a resource that I have found (and continue to find) as a very useful method of storing campaign notes; i’ve been asked to make a video of how I start/manage a campaign and, after reading through the Odyssey: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Campaign Management, i’m shortly going to start transferring my notes for my Serpents Fall game over to a tiddlywiki using the guidelines provided in the book (video to follow shortly).
So what is MPTW?

The software is available for download from here: http://mptw.tiddlyspot.com/

Effectively it’s a small wiki that you store locally on your computer (although it can be stored online) and includes more than enough functionality to cross reference your notes and organise them in a way that makes it very easy to reference during a game or between sessions when you are performing campaign maintenance.
Warning: Although it is possible to open a wiki created with MPTW in Google Chrome, currently the browser does not allow you to save from within it.
Firefox can also have some issues with saving (only in the latest versions of Firefox) but this can be sorted out by downloading & installing the TiddlyFox extension (available here https://github.com/TiddlyWiki/TiddlyFox) – personally, this is the setup that I use when creating my own wikis and i’m looking forward to copying over my Serpents Fall notes.

And incase you fancy using MPTW but are stuck on the formatting, here is a link to a userful ‘cheat sheet’

Handling Absent Players in Fate

Handling Absent Players in Fate
We’ve just gone through the lean winter months of RPing running up to Christmas when family events and real-world commitments start to really make it hard to get a game going, even regular groups start to experience trouble (unless extremely commited) as plans have to be made and re-made in order to accomodate all the many various social events and other things that occur in the time surrounding Christmas; having had to reschedule a number of games recently due to this my thoughts have recently turned to how to handle absent players in my online Fate game.
I’ve recently been reading “Odyssey: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Campaign Management” (a review can be found here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-350PrvUUA), and it contains some good advice for setting down the rules of the social contact between the GM and the players in a roleplay group; from that and my own ideas i’ve been able to start formulating some rules that I intend to adhere to in my game going forwards to help minimalise last minute disruptions/cancellations, i’ve noted them below and then gone into my reasoning in a little more detail.
  • Choose a more regular time for the game to take place.
  • Determine how many players are the minimum for the game to go ahead.
  • Come up with rules for how to handle the characters of missing players.

Choosing a more regular time for the game to take place
At the moment we tend to negotiate the date for the next session when we reach the end of the currently running one, initially this was because the players had trouble committing to a more regular time (due to altering work rotas, etc) and it was thought that through choosing it nearer the time it would minimise the amount of absences; this hasn’t really proven to be the case and I feel that not having a regular time causes players to feel less committed to the game or likely to be able to make plans around a session date, so it is my intent (at the beginning of next session) to discuss a regular day for the game with the players, if someone can’t make the odd one then hopefully the next couple of points should still allow the game to progress.
Determine how many players are the minimum for the game to go ahead
My current minimum of number of players for whom i’ll run the normal game is going to be 50% of the player party (in this case 2 players), should I have lower than this then, rather than abandoning the game, I will run a flashback/side-quest for the player that I do have, filling in some part of their character’s history and will then return to the ‘present day’ of the game when we have 50% or more players.
Come up with rules for how to handle the characters of missing players
My current plan is that the characters of any missing players will be available as an Aspect that can be used to aid the players who are present, for example, if Gunnar Kron’s player can’t make it then the group will gain “Gunnar Kron, haunted norse warrior” or something similar as an Aspect, although Gunnar would not take part in a combat or encounter normally, if a PC found themselves in a situation where Gunnar could conceivably help then they could spend a Fate Point and invoke Gunnar Kron like any other Aspect.
I’ve not yet decided what i’d do regarding potential compels on these Aspects.

Numenera style Fate Accelerated character generation

Just before this Christmas I spotted a copy of Monte Cook’s Numenera RPG in my FLGS (Spirit Games) and, having read some interesting reviews on the book (and being quite a fan of Monte Cook’s variant D20 supplements) thought i’d treat myself to a copy as an early Christmas present. The setting is an intriguing blend of science-fiction and fantasy sent in a future version of our own world, but many million years in advance of present day; the inhabitants of this world call it the ninth-world since eight great civilisations have risen and fallen back into the dust before the beginning of the game, each leaving their mark upon the game world. A large part of the game involves the inhabitants of the ninth-world digging in the ruins of the past, discovering oddments and technology that can help them survive in their own world.
So how does this relate to character generation in Fate?

I hope to do a full video review on Numenera for my Red Dice Diaries Youtube channel, I wasn’t massively sold on the rules system, but the background and the blending of sci-fi and fantasy (along with the theme of exploration and discovery) is a great one and extremely compelling.

One of the mechanics that I did like was that a short sentence is used as a character descriptor that takes this form: “I am adjective noun who verbs.”


For example, a suitable description might be “I am a tough warrior who carries a sword forged from dragons scales” or “I am wise shaman who speaks with the spirits of the dead.
In the Numenera rules the adjective helps to determine your character stats, the noun determines character class and the verb determines your characters focus (the various cool abilities that you can call on during the game).
It will come as no surprise to those who know me that, as soon as I starting reading this, my mind turned to how this could possibly be used in a Fate game; although I plan to give this more thought after the Christmas period, my current idea is that it could be used to aid character generation in a streamlined version of Fate.

So how would that work?


Well the player would start with the sentence and would pick one of the Fate Accelerated approaches as the adjective, the noun would be the high concept of the character and the verb would be a stunt.

For example: “I am a quick pirate who is captain of the ship, the Crimson Dagger.

The player would get a default skill roll of +0 for all approaches and a +2 for the approach chosen in their adjective, the noun would represent the high concept and could be invoked/compelled in a normal way; the verb would be a stunt using the normal Fate Accelerated rules for stunts (either a +2 bonus in specific circumstances or a 1/game rules exception).
For example: If I created a character with the sentence “I am a sneaky thief who is deadly when striking from the shadows.

This character would get +0 on all approaches besides sneaky (one which he would receive a +2), could invoke/have compelled the concept of thief as per the normal rules and would have a stunt that allowed them to gain a +2 when striking from the shadows.

This isn’t a 100% foolproof or completely defined method at present, but I certainly think that it has potential.

RPG dilemnas – Fate and Encouraging hesitant players

It occurred to me recently, following a character genning session that took an awful lot longer than I expected for a Fate Core game (so long in-fact that we had to reschedule the game for another evening), that a character creation system that seemed so streamlined and simple for myself may not be so for other; as a die-hard Fate fan I personally find the creation of Aspects and generating a character very simple and easy to do, because i’ve always got a fair few ideas for characters and the system allows me to create something that matches these ideas.
But what about people who perhaps don’t have such a lot of character ideas buzzing around in their head? This doesn’t make them any worse roleplayers by any means, however, whilst there has been some discussion about the fact that Fate adopts a certain approach towards a game and that it doesn’t suit all games equally (after all no one system is going to be perfect for all styles of game “out of the box” as it were), perhaps the default method of character generation isn’t necessarily suitable for all people.
I observed a few main “issues” during the character creation for a repeat of my Wild Blue one-off during character generation (I have put some suggestions for resolving this in blue underneath each point):
  • Some players had difficult thinking up suitable powers or working out how to frame them within the rules system.
    Greater familiarity with the rules would help here and perhaps creating a list of example powers would have given them a good starting point.
  • There was some trouble with thinking of reasonable ways to link the different characters together using the ‘three phase method’ listed in the Fate Core rulebook.
    Perhaps toning down the number of phases to just having a starting story/phase for each character and then allowing them to come up with their Aspects in a more freestyle manner; although doing this would then require a different method of linking the characters together.
  • Stunt creation caused some notable pauses as the players struggled slightly with deciding on what they wanted their stunts to do.
    The example stunts listed in the Fate Core book helped in this regard as did referring back to the characters core concept.
I think that in retrospect I would probably have been better to create some (either fully or partially complete) pre-gen characters that the players could choose from and perhaps tweak to make more to their liking since, whilst I think having a full session for character generation is all well and good for a longer running campaign, it seems a little OTT for a one-off. Hopefully coming up with some pre-gens in future would also make it a little easier on those people who struggle with getting over that initial imagination ‘hurdle’ when it comes to creating a character idea.

Rogue Trader Campaign Log – Session 19: Death & Rebirth?

Oberlieutenant Jurgen Borsch wakes in the medical bay having been unconsious for a number of days following injuries sustained during a battle against a chaos sorceror in the ruins of a fighter craft on the moons of Strive; the med-techs have struggled with the severe and sorcerous nature of the injuries but finally, with a little help from the Emperor Oberlieutenant Jurgen Borsch pulls through and regains consciousness. Hearing the red-alert klaxxons sounding through the corridors of the Venerus Oberlieutenant Jurgen Borsch hauls himself unceremoniously to his (still shakey) feet and totters out of the medical bay, dismissing the med-techs who attempt to persuade him to go back to bed he staggers towards the ships fighter bay.
Meanwhile Admiral Fortunus Black had decided that they need to join Enginseer Prime Pak on the moon below them, a battle rages there following the descent of an armada of escape-pods and small craft planetside, fallout from a decisive battle between the fleet of Rogue Trader Admiral Fortunus Black and the traitor forces lead by the renegade Adeptus Astartes Lorgar Khan; bidding goodbye to his wife Lady Decusis-Black and leaving her in command of the great ship Venerus the Admiral dons his regalia and begins striding towards the shuttle-bays. On his way Admiral Fortunus Black meets the slightly pale figure of Oberlieutenant Jurgen Borsch who is climbing into his fighter jumpsuit; relieved to see that Borsch has recovered the Admiral explains that they defeated the chaos sorceror although he escaped and that they are still in a state of red-alert following the battle with Lorgar Khan’s forces. Admiral Fortunus Black tells Borsch that although they won, the cost of the battle was severed with the Venerus and Rod Hant being the only surviving vessels, Enginseer Prime Pak is planetside attempting to gather survivors from the fleet and the Admiral intends to help him; unsure of what dangers may lurk down on the moon of Strive the Admiral tells Oberlieutenant Jurgen Borsch to ensure that himself and the rest of the Void Kraken fighter squad are ready to fly if he needs them.
Admiral Fortunus Black’s shuttle lands near the last known position of Enginseer Prime Pak and he sees that the Enginseer has been gathering the sruvivors to him and attempting to build make-shift fortifications, cannibalising what small vessels and weapons they have to make something more permanent. Admiral Fortunus Black is happy to see that his cousin Polaris Black (ex-Captain of the now destroyed Lunatic Pandora) has survived, but sudden signal on their voxx frequency interrupts any further re-union; flying in the lower atmosphere alongside the other Void Krakens Oberlieutenant Jurgen Borsch informs Admiral Fortunus Black that his long-range scanners are detecting weapons fire around the central stone building in the largest native settlement.
“Multiple traitor astartes closing on building, am picking up signs that Chief Baldur and a dozen or so other natives are trapped inside” – Oberlieutenant Jurgen Borsch
“Buy us time to get there” – Admiral Fortunus Black
As Admiral Fortunus Black and Enginseer Prime Pak race towards the building in a commandeered vehicle they are just in time to witness a devastating strafing run by the Void Krakens that slays all of the traitor Astartes closing on the stone building, although the triumph is short lived as they see flashes of gunfire inside the building and recognise the sound of bolter fire.
“Damn it! Looks as though some had already got inside!” – Admiral Fortunus Black
As they enter the ground floor of the building, the heavy thudding of bolter fire can be heard coming directly from the floor above them, Enginseer Prime Pak and his men pour weapons fire into the ceiling causing it to collapse and unceremoniously dump the traitor marine onto the ground floor, before he has chance to rise the Admiral plants a boot on his chest and drives a power sword through one of the eyes of the traitor, who spasms for a few moments then lies still.
Returning from a re-arming run to the Venerus (where the lieutenant requested promethium bombs be fitted to the fighters) Oberlieutenant Jurgen Borsch and his squadron are circling back round for another run when they see a number of angry looking natives wielding primitive weapons running towards the building; unsure of whose side these natives are on they elect to abort the attack run for now. From inside the building Enginseer Prime Pak spots the primitives and recognises some of their primitive chanting as belonging to one of the Slaktin worshipping tribes that allied itself with Lorgar, ordering his men to follow suit Enginseer Prime Pak opens fire on the approaching primitives and, seeing this, Oberlieutenant Jurgen Borsch releases his promethium bomb, engulfing the natives in a napalm-like flame that swiftly burns them to death.
“Find me the sorceror!” – Admiral Fortunus Black
Using the fighter squadron as a relay, Admiral Fortunus Black contacts the Venerus and has their Navigator York Benetec use his psychic powers to search for the presence of the sorceror, York Benetec confirms that the sorceror is present in the building; nodding grimly, Admiral Fortunus Black has Enginseer Prime Pak patch him through to the voxx-unit built into the cybernetics they fitted to Chief Baldur and gives a warning for him to get out of the building before contacting the Void Krakens and given another order.
“Destroy that building!” – Admiral Fortunus Black
As they run from the building themselves, hearing the screaming of the approaching fighter craft, Enginseer Prime Pak spots the body of the fallen traitor Astartes and feels a twinge of human longing that he had long thought purged from his body as he spots the large power fist attached to one of the marines arms. Admiral Fortunus Black throws himself behind cover as missiles streak overhead towards the building, he looks around to find that Enginseer Prime Pak is no longer with him. At the very last minute the techpriest hurls himself behind cover, being caught in the last flash of the explosion, several of his metallic components buckled by heat and his flesh blackened, however, he grins at the power-fist gripped in his hands.
Walking back over to the ruins of the building they spot what appears to be some sort of energy globe protecting a small area and, inside it, the chaos sorceror who is injured but appears ot have survived using his unholy sorery to conjure some sort of force-field; as they approach the sorcerors energy gives out and the field collapses, sneering Admiral Fortunus Black responds by pouring fire into the body of the sorceror, as Enginseer Prime Pak joins him the sorceror finally collapses dead, his foul gods apparently deserting him. Admiral Fortunus Black can’t help but wonder though whether Lorgar was actually in the building and whether they’ve seen the last of the traitor marine.
As Oberlieutenant Jurgen Borsch and the Void Kraken fighter squadron are mopping up the remanants of the hostile forces, Admiral Fortunus Black has the Venerus perform a surface scan to look for the Thunderhawk gunship that the sorceror was last seen boarding; it is swiftly located secreted behind a nearby forest, Admiral Fortunus Black quickly rounds up a group of men to investigate and voxxes Oberlieutenant Jurgen Borsch to investigate from the air. Oberlieutenant Jurgen Borsch attempts to swoop in on the position of the Thunderhawk unseen but is unsuccessful and the guns of the craft begin to open fire although the fighters do not sustain any damage. Using this distaction Admiral Fortunus Black, Enginseer Prime Pak and their soldiers have approached the Thunderhawk’s position, but are horrified to see that, fore-warned by the presence of enemy fighters it has begun to take off; acting instinctively they both grab hold of landing struts and are lifted into the air.
The Thunderhawk flies upwards, obviously planning to enter low orbit, whilst Enginseer Prime Pak tries frantically to interface with the machine spirit of the craft and open the door, but several security measures send painful electrical impulses surging through his synapses; in a last desperate attempt as the air begins to thin Admiral Fortunus Black slices the locks from the door with his power sword and they climb onboard to be met by weapons fire from two guards in the cargo bay. Returning fire with their own weapons Admiral Fortunus Black and Enginseer Prime Pak make short work of the guards and hurl their bodies unceremoniously out of the open Thunderhawk door.
Outside the Void Krakens have been attempting to crowd the Thunderhawk and force it to land, but the traitor craft attempts to ram them instead; following the training maneuvres that they had practiced Oberlieutenant Jurgen Borsch and his squad jink around it an are unharmed. Onboard the Thunderhawk, Enginseer Prime Pak has managed to interface with the machine spirit and opens the door to the cockpit, snarling curses at them the traitor marine pilot hits an eject button and the cockpit window flies off as his seat jet boosts the vile renegade Astartes into the air. There is a brief cavalcade of fire and small pieces of armour rain down as the Void Kraken lock their weapons on the ejecting marine and destroy him utterley.
Now interfaced with the machine spirit Enginseer Prime Pak is able to effect a landing but the landing struts are severely damaged in the process; Admiral Fortunus Black voxxes for a shuttle to take him back to the Venerus, promising to send more tech-adepts down to assist Enginseer Prime Pak salvaging the Thunderhawk. As he leaves the Admiral receives a signal from Polaris telling him that they have met up with Baldur (who survived the explosion due to his bionic imnplants) and that, with the help of the other survivors and the fighter squadrons from the Venerus they are driving back the enemy; Polaris explains that Baldur has asked Admiral Fortunus Black to give his people sanctuary on the Venerus, the Admiral appears to ponder the matter for a minute then agrees before breaking communication.
A few hours later back on the Venerus, Enginseer Prime Pak unveils the damaged recording device entrusted to him by Baldur, he has repaired it so that it should play the full message; as they activate it a shakey projection of a large Astartes with pronounced canines bearing the iconography of the Space Wolves chapter reveals that he was the only surviving marine on a ship carrying Astartes geneseed through this sector when they were attacked and forced to set down on the large moon. Injured beyond human endurance and slowly dying the marine left the surviving thralls and what little technology he could on the moon, hoping that some day they would return to the bosom of the Imperium; knowing that he could not allow the geneseed to fall into enemy hands he climbed aboard his ship and set it on auto-pilot for the systems sun.
“So that was what Lorgar meant by rebirth, the ship must still be out there somewhere.” – Admiral Fortunus Black

The Great Skytrain Robbery (video)

Very enjoyable Fate game in the Wild Blue setting, thanks to the players Captain Gothnog and theSwamper 🙂