Tag Archives: gm tips

GM Tips: Use Pinterest for RPGs

I’m sure most of you are already aware of Pinterest, effectively an online corkboard where you can post links to any images, web pages or articles that take your interest; this is made even easier by a variety of add-ons and extensions for most popular browsers, allowing you to right click on images and such-like in order to quickly add them to your account. Pinterest also allows you to create different boards so you can group your pins by certain themes, for example, I have the following boards on my account:

  • Interesting RP articles
  • RPG Imagery – Fantasy
  • RPG Imagery – Horror
  • RPG Imagery – Science Fiction
  • Fiction
  • LARP kit inspiration pics
  • RPG apps
  • Fantasy airships/tech
  • Fantastic landscapes
  • Spaceships
  • Weapons/equipment

Pinterest works great for quickly saving those images that you see on the net now and again but can’t think of a way to use them in your game immediately, don’t risk losing them, just a couple of clicks can add them to your board and in future, when you need some inspiration, you can look through the images and see if anything strikes your fancy.

If you want to have a look at my own Pinterest boards you can find them here: https://uk.pinterest.com/largejo/

Picture is part of a Doré wood engraving illustration from The Divine Comedy labeled for reuse on Google Image Search, the original image can be found here.

GM Tips: Introducing people new to RPGs

On 15th March Tim Kearney posted on the RPG Brigade Facebook group asking how you would go about introducing someone unfamiliar with RPGs to this great hobby of ours, in my initial response I posted the following:

I would start with something like Fate accelerated but I would introduce the slightly more gamey elements of it gradually, also setting the game in a world very much like our own using familiar setting elements from a film or a computer game that the players new.

I actually did this with some friends of mine and ran a Grand Theft Auto/Cthulhu Fate mashup as one of my first online games:

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwYzttPDj7E
Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-JV1i1Xa0Bg

I wouldn’t mention the numbers behind the various verbal descriptions of stat levels, I’d handle the number just asking them to give a word rating and would take them through a very simplified stunt process (luckily Accelerated has only two simple stunt rubrics: you either get +2 for certain actions due to skill, equipment, training, etc or 1/session get to do something cool) and then jump straight into the game.

I’ve been thinking about this more since posting my original response; like any hobby the longevity of RPing depends not just on existing players and GMs but on bringing new people into the hobby, luckily the prevailing attitudes towards fantasy, sci-fi and other such things have changed from being solely the province of the geek or nerd to gaining wider acceptance (you only need to look at the popularity of TV shows such as Game of Thrones to see that). However, this increased acceptance is counted (at least to some extent) by other forms of entertainment that clamour for people’s attention, game consoles, HD films, etc.

So, keeping that in mind I thought I’d write this article containing a few pointers about getting new people into RPGs, please note this list is not exhaustive:

  1. Use a genre that your prospective players are familiar with and enthusiastic about
    If your prospective players are always bending your ear about how much they love Star Wars, the works of HP Lovecraft, Conan or whatever then consider running a game set in a version of that universe, not only does it mean that the player will be comfortable with it, providing one less barrier for them to overcome, but if the subject is popular and well-known then it will make your internet session research a lot easier.
  2. Choose a very simple rules system
    It must be very disheartening for someone potentially interesting in RP to sit down and then have to trawl through a really lengthy and tedious number crunching session to create a character, you want as few barriers to their interest as possible; either choose a very simple rules system or, if you must use a crunchy/simulationist system, try to take some a lot of these rules onto your own shoulders leaving the player free to concentrate on the exciting story and getting involved.
  3. Emphasise the element of personal choice
    One of the main differences between tabletop RPing and things like computer games it that the PCs can attempt almost anything within a TT RPG whereas you are normally restricted to pre-programmed responses in a computer game. Make the player aware from the start that they can do anything they want within this fictional world (although there may be consequences in game), I would also advise having a few pre-genned encounters tucked away though, if the player struggles with what to do then you can always wheel one of these encounters out to keep it interesting.
  4. Make your plotline simple with a definite goal
    For the person’s initial game you want them to come away with a sense of accomplishment and having enjoyed the game, this makes them more likely to come back, the player will be getting to grips with the idea of the game during their first session there is no need to further bamboozle them with some intricate machiavellian plotline, make your first plot simple, a few suggestions are given below:

    1. Rescue someone from a villain or monster.
    2. Retrieve a treasure or item.
    3. Explore a dungeon or ancient stronghold.
    4. Bring a villain to justice for a crime.
  5. Sell your setting and the hobby
    Assuming that you want the person to become a regular player than you really need to sell the setting and the hobby in general to them, make your descriptions vivid and interesting, put on some silly NPC voices, if you have them use some props and pictures to bring in a visual element, that way you can be sure when the person goes away they enjoyed themselves and were enthused by the game, this makes them much more likely to return.

 

Picture is part of a Doré wood engraving illustration from The Divine Comedy labeled for reuse on Google Image Search, the original image can be found here.

GM Tips: 5 Tips to Help Describe a Scene

GM Tips articles offer advice and ideas for gamesmasters to help hone their techniques and run their games, these lists are not exhaustive but provide some tips to point a GM in the right direction.

In this article we offer five tips to help with that most important of all GM skills: describing a scene.

1. Make liberal use of adjectives

Adjectives are words that describe a noun or object (for example: ancient, bleak and deserted), using a slightly different term to the usual can help to reinforce your description of a scene.

For example: Rather than saying

You approach the old house.

Try saying

You walk towards the decrepit, abandoned mansion.

The second example has far more impact and builds more of a picture in the player’s minds, if you need some samples to get you going you can click here for a handy list of adjectives.

2. Don’t neglect the other senses

Although vision is a keep sense for most of us and features greatly in our descriptions, do not neglect the other senses, how does a place feel? What is the temperature like? Are there any sounds? Is there a taste in the air? All of these sense can help to boost your description, to use our abandoned mansion example

You walk towards the decrepit, abandoned mansion, the air feels cold and there is a coppery tang to the air.

3. Show, don’t tell

If it’s possible, rather than telling someone that a building is old or that a pathway is much used, show this using the environment; perhaps if the town is abandoned then buildings are literally falling down or plants have overgrow much of the architecture, or perhaps the cobbles of the path are worn smooth by the passage of many feet.

You walk towards the abandoned manion, it’s cold and there’s a coppery tang in the air, the windows of the building are broken and cobwebs cover the building.

4. Encourage your players to fill in some of the details

When you’re describing a scene, if possible ask the players some questions to have them fill in some of the finer details, this can take a bit of getting used to if you are accustomed to a more GM-heavy style of game, but it not only saves you some work, it also gets the players more invested in the scene. That said, if the player seems to be struggling for an idea, don’t hold up the game waiting for them, tell them not to worry about it and move on, either throwing it open to the group or making up a detail for yourself.

You walk towards the abandoned manion, it’s cold and there’s a coppery tang in the air, the windows of the building are broken and cobwebs cover the building. There is a peeling sign on the lawn, Micheal what does the sign say?

5. Have your NPCs and events reinforce the theme of the description

If NPCs are really at odds with their surroundings this can be quite jarring, for example if a bouncy young estate agent came skipping out of our abandoned mansion; if that’s the effect you want then great (perhaps the building is due for renovation and the estate agent represents progress or the gentrification of the area), however, if you want to reinforce your description then the NPCs and encounter should reflect it.

You walk towards the abandoned manion, it’s cold and there’s a coppery tang in the air, the windows of the building are broken and cobwebs cover the building. There is a peeling for sale sign on the lawn, sitting in a rocking chair on the veranda is an ancient man with a wrinkled face and a white beard running down past his knees.

 

Picture is part of a Doré wood engraving illustration from The Divine Comedy labeled for reuse on Google Image Search, the original image can be found here.

How I use Fronts in my Jadepunk Game

Recently I chatted on-air with James Chambers about the organisational aid called Fronts that is featured in the various ‘powered by the apocalypse’ games (Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, Monster of the Week, Tremulus, etc) and how they could be used in other games to help a GM organise their plots and keep track of what is going on. You can find the video here:

You can also find more about Fronts and how they work specifically here: http://www.dungeonworldsrd.com/fronts

Essentially a Front is a GM tool where you create adventure and campaign fronts, each of which features a number of dangers (opponents, hazardous lairs etc), an impending doom (how the world will be changed for the worst if the plot reaches it’s conclusion) and grim portents (events that occur as your campaign progresses to move your plot forward). Each of the PbtA games offers a number of different potential dangers (related to their theme and type of game) and sample moves or actions for those dangers to take.

For example: An oppressive government might have “kidnap an enemy” as one of their potential moves.

This great as a GM tool because it allows you to create your fronts and have them written down for easy reference, the abbreviated form forces you to think about what is important for this particular plot rather than going OTT and writing hundreds of pages that don’t end up getting used and also any time you have a spare moment or a lull in your game you can have a look at the list of moves for the dangers on your Fronts and use one or more of them to move the plot along.

 

I think Fronts are a great way of GMs keeping track of their information and it is a technique that I have taken to using in most games that I run; below are some examples of Fronts used in my currently running Jadepunk game.

If you are one of my players then please do not read this until after the game has concluded.


 

Campaign Front

  • The 13th Governor’s plans for Kausao.

Dangers

13th Governor (warlord, dictator (Apoc World), impulse: to control)
Impending doom – Tyranny (creating a world government with Kausao at the head)
Grim portents:
1 – Uses Windrider crash to justify more draconian laws.
2 – Recruits volunteers to create a new organisation ‘The All-Seeing Eye’, building a new facility on the site of the old Council of Nine building.
3 – Marries Kaiyu Misake, Empress of the Kaiyu Nation.
4 – Uses black jade clockwork and allies to take control of Aerum Nation.
5 – With two of the major nations behind it Kausao becomes the new capital of the world, Governor declares himself Emperor with the head of each nation serving as his viceroys.

Isaku Sota/Sota Family (grotesque (Apoc World)-crave mastery, impulse: to create a clockwork empire)
Impending doom – Pestilence (the replacement of weak flesh with machinery, and the rise of clockwork over primitive biology)
Grim portents:
1 – Provides clockwork warriors in return for access to black jade.
2 – Performs horrible experiments in an attempt to understand black jade.
3 – Manages to create the worlds first “synthetic jade” blood jade.
4 – Discovers a way of using blood jade to create intelligent clockwork creatures.
5 – Sota’s clockwork warriors forcibly convert their creator into a clockwork creature like themselves, he becomes the Iron King.

Kaiyu Misake (impulse: absorb those in power & grow)
Impending doom – Tyranny (ensuring that the Kaiyu nation (and herself personally) become one of the pre-eminent world powers)
Grim portents:
1 – Misake becomes Empress of the Kaiyu Empire following her father’s death.
2 – Brings Kaiyu navy to Kausao to support her husband, becomes a devout follower of a deviant sect of the Way of Suffering.
3 – Calls upon Kaiyu allies to help overthrow the Aerum Empire.
4 – Begins to host lavish parties for nobles, encouraging debauchery and that they take joy in their exalted status.
5 – Is given control of the All Seeing Eye, Kausao becomes a place where no-one dare speak out against the Governor or Misake lest they be arrested by the secret police and enslaved to one of Misake’s Sybarite dens.


Adventure Front

  • The Aerum War on Kausao

Dangers

Kausao Government (ambitious organisation, impulse: maintain the status quo)
Impending doom – Usurpation (replacing the current Aerum regime with one more sympathetic to Kausao)
Grim portents:
1 – Isaku Sota presents the Governor with mechanised armour for his soldiers (adapted from his own clockwork armour).
2 – Using the mechanised armour the Governor launches a full scale assault (backed by the Kaiyu) on the airship fleet.
3 – The Kaiyu are unaware that a group of Shadow Warriors were dispatched to the Aerum Nation as soon as the Governor received word of their potential dissatisfaction; the Shadow Warriors strike and kill Aerum Koji the ruler of the nation.
4 – Using agents in the Aerum government a puppet ruler who follows Kausao’s lead is chosen; he then requests the assistance of Kausao in putting down rebels.
5 – Governor sends mech-armoured troops to back up his puppet ruler, Aerum nation now becomes a satrapy of Kausao.

Aerum Koji/Aerum Nation (Horde, impulse: to grow stronger and overcome all resistance in Kausao)
Impending doom – Tyranny (annexing Kausao and making it a province of the Aerum Empire)
Grim portents:
1 – Aerum Koji realises that Governor is moving to a pro-Kaiyu stance and realises that the Windrider incident was designed to disgrace their nation as a prelude to most overt hostile actions by the Governor.
2 – When word of the wedding is received Koji dispatches an assault airfleet to demand the Governor stands down.
3 – Airfleet come under attack from the Kaiyu Navy and the Governor’s forces, eventually they are defeated by the new mech-armoured troops.
4 – When word of Koji’s assassination occurs and word of his replacement reaches the airfleet many of them realise that the Aerum Nation belongs to Kausao, and rather than give in they take their ships and retreat into neutral lands becoming rebels and hoping to one day free their homeland.
5 –

Uddoratto Syndicate (ambitious organisation, impulse: to infest from within/take by subterfuge)
Impending doom – Impoverishment (seeking to prolong the conflict so that they can get maximum profit out of it)
Grim portents:
1 – The original plan was for the Kausao forces to wait until they were fired upon first, a member of the Uddoratto accidentally ordered a bombardment from the Kaiyu navy to begin.
2 – Uddoratto members attempt to leak plans for the mech-armour to the Aerum forces.
3 – During the chaos looting is widespread, many of the goods stolen fall into Uddoratto hands or are fenced by them.
4 – When the Aerum are defeated, it is a member of the Uddorratto Syndicate who is elected to rule the country on the Governor’s behalf.
5 – Under their rulership the Aerum Empire becomes a dark place ruled by bandit lords and brigands.


 

 

The Importance of Feedback in RPGs

No-one starts off as the world’s best GM, when I think of how truly shocking that very first game of WFRP I ran was I give a little shudder, but at the time we all had fun and we learned a lot from that first game; I always say to people that there’s nothing wrong with not being a perfect GM as long as you’re always trying to improve and you’re putting that effort in.

One of the best ways to improve you games is to solicit feedback from your players, now you can ask players for feedback in the aftermath of a game session but some people don’t feel comfortable giving feedback in-front of others or need a bit of time to reflect on the session and get their thoughts in order; I find it best to ask for feedback a day or two after a session has completed. One other issue with feedback is that it can be difficult for players to know where to start or what sort of feedback you are looking for, after all someone just saying “the session was crap” might be accurate in their eyes but it’s not particularly helpful from the perspective of a GM seeking to improve their game.

So what can I do?

The best way that I have found to get feedback is to make a feedback form available to players shortly after the session that asks them to rate various facets of the game and also asks specific questions, this not only makes it easier on the players but also ensures that you get the sort of feedback that will be useful to you as a GM.

You can find an example of the feedback sheet that I use for my Jadepunk game by clicking on the link below:

Click here for Jadepunk Player Feedback Form

feedback-t2

Plot inspiration

When it comes to planning out roleplaying games, particularly if you’re running a long-term campaign then the search for inspiration is never-ending, after all, you don’t want your game to become stale and boring. For the past few days I’ve been updating my plot notes for my Jadepunk game Skyless City, and I’m always on search for things to inspire me; my mind wandered back to some of the games (not all of them successful) that i’ve run in the past and I thought about several campaigns i’d started that seemed to be going well and then ran out of steam and ended up either just fizzling out or being bought to an unsatisfactory conclusion because I ran out of interest in them.

I’m more prepared for campaigns nowadays and rarely have dedicated games that go this way, so I thought that I’d jot down a few helpful pointers for people running campaign games to keep your interest in the game up and hopefully help inspire you during your games.

  1. When you start your campaign, set clear beginning and end goals.
    If a campaign is allowed to drift with no real goal then it can be difficult to sustain enthusiasm, i’m not saying that you should have the entirety of a campaign scripted out, but having a rough idea of where it’s going and when it will end can help a lot.
  2. Look for sources of inspiration everywhere.
    Read books, comics, watch films, anything that has even a vague connection to your game could spark an idea in your head and fire your enthusiasm for incorporating it into a game.For example: In the Jadepunk session I’m running this evening I have taken inspiration from the Babylon 5 episode Day of the Dead.
  3. Try to set aside some time for thinking about plot and writing your notes down.
    Whilst it’s posssible to train yourself to produce material in a very short space of time (and some folks even thrive under that kind of pressure) most of us need a little bit more time, so give yourself time to mull things over and really think about them, after all, why add pressure if you don’t have to?
  4. Write your campaign notes and any ideas down somewhere you can easily access.
    It can be helpful to go back through your old notes and refresh yourself on what has happened in your game so far, maybe there was an old plot thread not resolved or an NPC who could show up again that you’ve not used for a while. I store the notes for my Jadepunk game on a Tiddlywiki in my dropbox, but you don’t have to go to these lengths, a notepad and a trusty pen can do just fine.
  5. Talk to your players and other GMs.
    Most GMs are in the same boat they’re always looking for inspiration or getting ready for that next great session, talk to them and bounce ideas off each other (there are several social media based communities that are great for this).

So there you are, a few ideas to help keep your enthusiasm going and get inspiration whilst running a campaign, don’t forget to write all your ideas down, no matter how wacky they may seem, after all, you never know when that idea is going to become the next great plotline in your game.

Happy gaming all 🙂

[RPG] Using Rory’s Story Cubes as an Idea Generator for RPGs

Using Rory’s Story Cubes as an Idea Generator for RPGs

I’m sure we’ve all been in this situation at one point or another in our lives, you’ve got a game to prepare for the end of the week, you’ve been staring at your notes while the seconds tick by and waiting for some sort of inspiration to strike; given all the other pressures in life that can pile up and demand our attention it can be sometimes very difficult to get over that initial hurdle and get the ideas flowing to create a session. I’m a big fan of anything that either jump starts this process or helps give the GM a little creative boost to get the mind working.

A couple of weeks ago I saw an advert on the internet for a product called Rory’s Story Cubes; the concept is a fairly simple one, each story cube is a six sided dice containing a number of small pictures rather than numbers, you roll nine of these cubes and then use the imagery on them to inspire a story.
The basic set of Story Cubes is the orange box shown above and contains a wide variety of initial pictures from light bulbs, to moons, draconic shadows, fish, torches and globes, all of these are designed to be fairly ambiguous so that they can be interpreted in a number of different ways when you tell your story; the point is not to see a flower and say, well i’ve rolled a flower so i’ll have to put one into the story, your tale might not mention a flower but it could feature other vegetation, the concept of beauty, growth or any other idea spurred in your imagination by the imagery.
For example below is a sample roll using just the basic set:
In that initial roll I have a shooting star, a crescent moon, a flower, a dice, an L plate, a mobile phone, a light bulb, a pyramid and a high rise apartment building.
So why is this any use for RPGs?

Well although the basic idea of the Story Cubes is to tell a narrative inspired by the icons, to me one of the central facets of RPGs that makes them very enjoyable and that keeps me coming back to the table year after year, game after game, is that RPGs are essentially a group narrative, a story, but one created by the collaborative input of all of the people involved. An RPG isn’t just me sat tapping away on my computer keyboard with a mug of coffee or can of cider next to me (as i’m doing whilst writing this) and with only my ideas going onto the page, it’s a group creative space where lots of people can throw their ideas into the ring and where the result often exceeds the sum of it’s parts.
But doesn’t the GM have more control in the game than any of the players?

There are some schools of RPGing that believe that the GM should have a lot more control than the players and that can work in some games, however, i’ve always been a fan of getting the players involved in games I run and giving them almost as much control over the narrative as myself; this means that occasionally i’ll get surprised or not know what shape a session is going to take, it can be scary, concerning and occasionally a lot of work if things really go off track, but it’s never boring and i’ve had some truly magical moments in RPGs when the players have taken that narrative ball and have really run with it.
So using Story Cubes for RPGs

The core Story Cube idea is to roll nine of the dice, these might all come from the orange basic set or there are two additional large sets (covering voyages and actions respectively) and some smaller sets (I have three, enchanted, clues and prehistoria, each containing three dice).
You take a number of dice from your sets totalling nine, roll them and then create a story based on the imagery. The instructions suggest that you select three of the dice to represent the beginning of a story, three to represent the middle of a story and the remaining three (unsurprisingly) to represent the conclusion of the tale.
Now of course roleplaying games are a little different, when it comes to planning an adventure you aren’t defining the whole story, since the actions of your player characters may alter it significantly; there are a few ways that I think Story Cubes could be useful during RPGs though:
  • Coming up with adventure ideas

If you’re stuck for adventure ideas then the Story Cubes could help give you some ideas to get you started, since you’re not going to be determining the middle and end of the adventure beforehand, i’d suggest that instead of rolling 9 dice and splitting them into beginning-middle-end that you roll 3 dice per adventure that you want to create (so you would get three adventure seeds out of the default 9 dice pool).
As an example i’m going to make a roll below and use it to create three adventure seeds, these will all be set in a standard tolkien-esque fantasy world for ease of example (since most people are familiar with that setting) but you could do the same for your home-made campaign world or any purchased RPG campaign.
This example was created just using the basic orange pack.
And here is my roll, I have grouped the dice into three lots of three and below them are three potential basic plot/adventure seeds that I have come up with using them as inspiration:

  1. Herd animals are dying across the world in a deadly plague that is spreading in an unknown fashion, leaving animals twisted and mutilated, people have begun to whisper that perhaps more than a simple disease is behind the deaths.
  2. A strange mask has been discovered locked in a seal compartment within the fortress of an ancient and noble race whom no longer walk the world, all those who discovered the mask died in mysterious circumstances shortly afterwards.
  3. An ailing noble has discovered a reference amongst some ancient papers that he purchased at auction to a wizard having unlocked the secret of immortality, he now seeks people brave (or foolhardy) enough to venture to the desert ruins of the sorceror’s previous lair to recover the elixir of life.

These are just three possibilities for different adventures all from a single 9-dice roll, there is plenty more potential in the basic set and even more once you add in dice from other sets.

  • World Events
The same technique can be used to create world events, things that are occurring in the background of your world and that may or may not directly involve the PCs, having these events in your game though help to create the fiction that the world exists independently of the player characters rather than it being a simple stage set that depends on the actors to give it life.
The example below was created using the three dice from the three smaller sets that I own:
  1. Strange creatures that hunt only by the dark of night have been hunting along stretches of river that supply several kingdoms with water.
  2. The unsolved murders of several prominant citizens, all reputedly linked to the founding families of the kingdom has lead to an increasing city guard presence and further draconian laws being introduced in the kingdom.
  3. Seismic activity amongst a local mountain range has caused several herds of animals and more dangerous denizens to venture down into populated areas, panicked town authorities are currently looking for a way to deal with the unwanted animals whilst fearfully eyeing the smoking mountain tops.
NPC occupations

The Story Cubes can also be good for finding out what sort of occupations or activities a random NPC is engaged in, we’ve all had those encounters where the PCs have stopped a few random bods in a town or city and it can be difficult to come up with occupations and activites for them; rolling a single dice (or a few if you wish can help give you some ideas.
The rolls below use dice from the blue ‘actions’ set:
In the examples below I offer a suggestion for both an occupation and an activity.
  1. Action – “Oh I was just here looking for a friend of mine.”
    Occupation – Scout.
  2. Action – Looking for someone to stash something important.
    Occupation – Builder.
  3. Action – Travelling to a nearby well to fetch water.
    Occupation – Alchemist or apothecary.
I hope this blog post has given you some ideas for how Story Cubes could be used to help you create some interesting adventures, world events and NPC activities/occupations; obviously the cubes don’t do all the work for you and there’d still be a lot of fleshing out to do, but if you’re stuck for an initial idea or you’re coming up a blank with your starting concepts then the Story Cubes could at least get you up and running. Personally I found them easier to use than a random table because I tend to be quite visually minded and something about seeing a picture (as opposed to a line of text) not only got me thinking more but it also allowed me to make broader interpretations.