How I prepare for a Star Wars one-shot

Sam posted in the Tide of Change group saying that it would be useful to see how some of the GMs prepare for their sessions, so over the course of the weekend I’ve maded this video outlining the process that I go through to create a Star Wars one-shot.

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[RPG] Using Scrivener for RPG Prep

I’ve recently been using a piece of software called Scrivener whilst writing my NaNoWriMo novel over the course of this month (you can find the website for Scrivener here for both PC an Mac) and have been very much enjoying using the software, at it’s most basic Scrivener allows you to break your novel, manuscript or whatever into a series of discrete chunks, these can then be annotated and assembled in any way you see fit and output in a variety of formats. Whilst writing my novel i’ve been very much enjoying the program’s corkboard facility where you can click on a chapter and see all of the sections that make it up, from here you can make notes on them and drag and drop to re-arrange the order that they appear in; as so often when I use a new program on my computer one of my first thoughts was ‘how can I use this for RPGs?’
The answer in this case, i’m happy to report, is ‘very easily’, since Scrivener is a content manager it could easily be used to divide up the notes for a RP session into sections and re-order them as necessary, Scrivener also allows you convert websites to pdfs and tuck them away in a research folder for reference as you write as well as adding other files, this might be handy for people who make use of pdf rulebooks or character sheets during a game. They could easily be put in an appropriate folder and referenced when needed since another great thing about the program is that when you save the file, your position in files also seems to be saved so that you can pick up where you left off later on, this is an absolute godsend when working through large or complex documents and you have to sign off or end your session halfway through.
Another aspect of the program that would be of potential use for the budding RPG planner/GM is that there are a number of template documents set up within the software, of course most of these are based around the needs of authors but many could also be applicable to RPG session planners; two that spring to mind are the location and character documents which give you a prepared blank document with headings to fill in. For example the place template has the following headings:
  • Role in story
  • Description
  • Plots involved in
  • Thematic Relevance
And the character template has the following headings:
  • Role in story
  • Physical description
  • Personality
  • Plots involved in
  • Relationship with other characters
These could easily be used to detail important locations and NPCs in a session and, since the templates themselves are saved as accessible documents within the project file they could easily be duplicated or changed to suit the particular needs of your campaign.
A project created in Scrivener can be set to automatically make a backup at regular intervals (I currently have my novel backed up to my Dropbox account so that if the worst happened and my computer blew up i’d still be able to get at it once i’d re-gained access to the internet) with the backups being essentially Zip files with all of your documents and materials stored in them. You can also compile a document into a variety of formats; i’ve only really experimented with the formats suitable for novels at the moment, but if you wanted to distribute your setting either during or after you’ve finished your game then you could easily compile it into a single PDF file from within the Scrivener software.
Over the next few days i’m going to be moving the notes for the Numenera game that i’m running online via Google+ Hangouts (you can find a link to the actual play videos here) onto a Scrivener file to see how useful it is during play and whether it will eclipse Tiddlywikis as my RPG information management tool of choice.
Scrivener costs $40 USD and is available for a 30 day free trial; as one of the sponsors of NaNoWriMo they are offering a special trial edition for participants (available here); all participants can get a 20% discount if they choose to buy the final product and, if they complete the November target of a 50000 word novel, can get a 50% discount off the final product.

Some of my planning materials from the last session of my Dark Sun Dungeon World game

I’m a great fan of notebooks and prepping stuff for sessions (without unnecessarily restricting your players) so thought i’d share some of the notes I made for my last Dark Sun Dungeon World game.
A couple of pages from my smallest notebook that I use to jot down random ideas and plan out sessions beforehand.

Some of the NPC cards that I use for my game, they most don’t include stats since Dungeon World is a very simple system to stat NPCs for, the notes mostly include personality, NPC goals, knowledge and appearance.

My larger notebook (a diary my wife bought me), used for jotting down what actually occurs in the session.

Mooks – Fate Accelerated GM prep time saver and one of my favourite things about the game.

Please note that in this article I am mainly talking about the mook/henchmen systems out of Fate Accelerated, however Fate Core has a similar (but slightly more detailed system) for the same thing and much of what I say in this article applies to that rules system as well (although the specifics of the actual rules differ slightly).

Recently I was preparing the session notes for my Serpents Fall Fate Accelerated fantasy game that I am running online for a group of friends via G+ hangouts (further details about this campaign can be found in previous blog posts and videos on my Youtube Channel), and I came to the oft dreaded part of the proceedings, generating the stats for the many NPCs to be included in the session. I often find this part of the session preparation fairly arduous and time consuming as I work out what stats the NPC needs to perform as expected; the complexity of this varies from system to system. Many may point out, it is possible to just fudge the stats of NPCs and run them in an improvisational manner, however I tend to prefer having something written down to maintain consistency in the setting.
In my opinion Fate Accelerated has an excellent solution that bridges the gap between improvising and planning the stats of NPCs and this is the section of the rulebook that deals with generating Mooks.
What are mooks?

Mooks are unnamed thugs and monsters that are there to provide a brief distraction for the players, to use up a few of their resources or to act as henchman for the main villain/s of the piece; they would be the stormtroopers in the Star Wars films or the legions of henchmen beloved of so many James Bond villains.
Effectively in Fate Accelerate you create these mooks by coming up with a couple of Aspects for them to reinforce what they are good and bad at and a give them 0-2 stress boxes depending on how tough you want them to be (this is relative, mooks cannot take any consequences and are taken out once their stress boxes are filled, player characters normally wade through them occasionally sustaining a little bit of damage). The only other stage is that you come up with a few descriptions of what the mook is good at and, when this applies, you add +2 to any rolls they make, you then come up with a couple of things they’re bad at, and these things apply a -2 penalty to rolls when applicable, otherwise the mook just rolls at a skill level of +0.
This delightfully simply system allows you to generate all of your background NPCs and henchmen (with accompanying stats) in a very short space of time, it still allows them a narrative impact and allows you to maintain consistency should this NPC (or NPC type) ever be used again; if a henchman should be “upgraded” to a main NPC it is a simple matter to add additional Aspects and full Approaches as you would do for a main character in Fate Accelerated.
Overall it took me about fifteen minutes total to come up with the stats for the mooks that were featured in my recent Serpents Fall game, I have included some of the stats below so you can see what a potential mook looks like:

Wild BoarAspect: Ferocious charge, Blind to pain.Good (+2) at charging, goaring, shrugging off pain, tracking. Bad (-2) at intelligence, resisting provoke attempts.Stress [ ][ ]

Saxon commander (Aedelred)Aspects: For the safety of the village, I fight for honour and my lord, the law must be upheld.Good (+2) at commanding his troops, throwing/fighting with an axe. Bad (-2) resisiting challenges to his honour.Stress [ ][ ]

Please note: The following stat blocks use the group rules from Fate Accelerated, which essentially just involves lumping a group of similar mooks together into a mob and assigning the mob one stress box for every two members.

Saxon warrior group (6)Aspects: Glory & honourGood (+2) at fighting in a group. Bad (-2) at fighting on their own.Stress [ ][ ][ ]

Outlaws (20)2 bands of 10.Aspects: We’ve given all we’re going to, rob from the rich, the woods are our home & shelter. Good (+2) at fighting from ambush/in the woods or when lead by a strong leader. Bad (-2) when fighting against organised opposition.Stress [ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]

In conclusion, the system is a great time saving and removes one source of potential stress from the storyteller/GM during session preparation, given that getting a session ready can involved a fair amount of work and plannning, anything to minimise stress has to be a good idea.

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.

The Great (Sky) Train Robbery – Planning a Wild Blue (Fate) One-off

Since reading the Wild Blue setting in Fate Worlds, Volume One: Worlds on Fire (written by Brian Engard, you can find my video review of the book here) i’ve been dying to run a one-off session using the ideas and rules from the setting; given that i’ve had a few questions via the blog and my Youtube channel about how I go about preparing for a campaign/session I thought that’d be a good idea to write up my thought processes during the planning stages of this session and post them to the blog.

What is Wild Blue?

Wild Blue is a very interesting mashup setting where the players are human members of a society descended from settlers on a magic-rich alien world; in a parallel to the colonisation of the Americas, when the settlers arrived they found the world occupied by strange fey-like people whom they took to calling the Folk. A huge conflict erupted between the settlers and the Folk and the indigenous people were driven northwards out of their homelands; over the next few years the settlers noticed that the high levels of ambient magic on the world had started to affect them and people were being born with strange powers. An organisation called the Queen’s Wardens was set up, recruiting empowered people to police others with powers.

Basically Wild Blue is a mashup western, super-power, space opera style  setting where the players take on the roles of Queen’s Wardens, each of them having their own unique super powers.

Planning for the Session

Since i’m only planning to run a one-off session at this stage (since i’m already running/playing in a number of campaigns and don’t have time really to start any more) I decided to base the setting around an iconic element of the western genre (where a lot of Wild Blue’s flavour comes from), that of the train robbery.

Now obviously it’s more interesting to actually be the robbers, but the game setting does presume that the players are taking on the roles of the Wardens/Sheriffs and, whilst I could just ignore this, I quite like the idea of the players having the law on their side and all the associated paraphernalia that goes with it, so I decide to flip the concept around slightly. 

What is the main aim of the session?

Return control of a hi-jacked sky train to the appropriate authorities and protect the lives of those onboard.

Since this is a one-off that will be run during a weekday evening I want to have an aim that is achievable within a few hours; handily the fact that the players are playing Queen’s Wardens with defined jurisdiction makes this very easy indeed to manage, I have decided to give them a limited amount of time before the hi-jacked sky train leaves their jurisdiction, if they haven’t manage to bring it under control in the time allotted then their chance is lost.

What is the Sky Rail?

The sky rail is a floating train track built of the mystical skywood (from trees that get lighter as their age, eventually uprooting and floating into the air) that links the main settlements via a series of towers/stations each a couple of hundred feet tall.

What challenges will the players face in this session?

I always like to note down the main challenged of a game, especially in a condensed one-off session since it serves as a useful checklist during the game to make sure that all the main points are covered.

  • Getting on to the sky train in mid-air.
  • Entering the train unnoticed.
  • Avoiding the criminals who are stationed throughout the train.
  • Stopping the train before it leaves their jurisdiction.
  • Ensuring that the civilians on board are not harmed.
Breaking down the challenges

At this stage I generally look at the list of challenges and try to break them down by jotting a couple of points for each of them:
  • Getting on to the sky train in mid-air.
    • Could be done if one or more of the players have flight based powers.
    • If not they may have use a cart to travel down the tracks or attempt to jump on the train as it speeds through one of the towers (obviously given the height this is very dangerous).
  • Entering the train unnoticed.
    • Can be done using appropriate sneaking and burglary skills.
  • Avoiding the criminals who are stationed throughout the train.
    • If the sound of gunfire or a conflict is heard onboard then the person driving the train will throw open the throttle and put the train up to full speed, this will half the remaining time before they leave the player’s jurisdiction and will create the Aspect “The Train’s moving too damn fast!” making it more difficult to perform certain actions.
  • Stopping the train before it leaves their jurisdiction.
    • The players could get to the front of the train and take control of the engine room.
    • They could attempt to de-couple the engine car from the rest of the carriages and the engine car continue on it’s way.
  • Ensuring that the civilians on board are not harmed.
    • The players could de-couple the cars containing the passengers.
    • They could attempt to remove the criminals threatening them.

Who are the opposition?

The train has been hi-jacked by a member of the Crimson Council (a group of Folk dedicated to taking back the lands stolen from them by the settlers using any means necessary).

Most of the Folk onboard will be fairly low level thugs/grunts with powers that are only minorly useful however there will be two antagonists who will pose slightly more of a problem.

  • The Leader of the Group: A cunning Folk who has bought this band together with the aim of hi-jacking the train and talking into the Outlands (the wild area that the Folk were forced into).
  • The Lieutenant: This Folk is the second-in-command and will be placed in charge of corralling the captives onboard, he is brutal and ruthless and will seek to initially quash any attempts at heroism by throwing a random passenger to their death out of the train.
What do the opposition want?

The Folk have hi-jacked the train because they have heard that Queen’s government has managed to treat Skywood in an experimental way that boosts powers whilst the treated wood is held and that it is being smuggled onboard the Sky Rail (this is an extra bit of flavour I added to give an additional dimension to the game). They intend to take the Sky Rail train onto an abandoned bit of track that leads into the Outlands, once there they will take the treated wood and use their powers to escape whilst the train plunges to it’s doom.
How long do they have?

As I said at the start of this blog entry I have a limited time window to run this one-off session in (although I may try to run character generation on a different day so that we can jump straight into the session when I run it) so I have decided that the players will have 3 hours (real-time) before the train reaches the ‘end of the line’ and plunges to it’s doom. Half an hour from the end the train will scream past the last station on the line (this will also give the players a notification that their time is running out).
What’s the setup?

Now i’ve considered most of my plot elements I like to jump back to the beginning and consider how the players are going to get involved with this; handily the Wild Blue setting contains an NPC called Amerille Quinn, Rail Captain, she is in-charge of the Sky Rail.
I intend to have the PCs be drafted in, the plan being that they will embark on the train at Cobalt and will be protected the train because it contains an unspecified package of importance to the Queen’s government; however when the train reaches the station it’s blatantly going to fast and doesn’t stop. Amerille Quinn tells the player characters that they have to get onboard and retrieve the item, if it fell into the hands of the Folk it could topple society as they know it.
How will I lay out the train?

I plan to use the concept of zones from Fate, I will have one zone for each of the train cars and then another zone representing the outside space around the cars.
In conclusion

I’ve pretty much got everything that I need to run the one-off session here, i’ve not gone into the opposition’s stats or the exact powers they have since some of my players read this blog; i’m very much looking forward to running the game and seeing how the players react to it.