Session Zero Mapping

We recently did a session zero for our forthcoming OSE campaign set in a fantasy world loosely inspired by the feel of Colonial America, the heroes are the first of a group of pioneers who have arrived on boats in a recently revealed landmass once shrouded in great glaciers. As they adventure they’ll also be trying to help their village prosper and survive.

I love a session zero because it gives everyone a chance to get involved and invest in creating the campaign setting, of course you need to make sure your players are comfortable with that, but I’ve gamed with all of our players before and was sure they’d be up for it. Taking a tip out of the Perilous Wilds (a book designed for Dungeon World) I basically laid down the coastline, a river and the location of their village, we then alternated between us adding in areas and creating rumours related to them.

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Pre-planned vs. Sandboxes

In this episode we’re talking about the differences between pre-planned games and sandboxes, along with some of the pros and cons of each:

Band of Blades Session 0 – Part 1

We’re starting up a Band of Blades game following the conclusion of our recent Scum & Villainy campaign, I’m often asked about session 0s and preparing for games and so–with the kind permission of all involved–I’m putting our session 0 on this podcast, splitting it down into a number of episodes.

Reaching for the Index Cards

I’ve used all manner of methods for storing campaign notes for games over the years, from tiddlywikis, to Obsidian Portal, to Bullet Journals, but when I need to jot down some notes quickly during a session I reach for a stack of my faith index cards. The cards are portable, easy to write on, can serve as bookmarks if you need them to and are just all round handy.

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Podcast Episode 53 – State of the Bullet Journal

In this episode I talk a little bit about how my bullet journal notes are shaping up for our Rose of Westhaven campaign:

Title Music Shinigami by XTaKeRuX:
http://freemusicarchive.org/music/XTaKeRuX/Empty_Grave/Shinigami Used under creative commons licence:
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Alas for the Awful Sea: Session Notes

On Saturday 13th January I ran a one-shot of Alas for the Awful Sea, a Powered by the Apocalypse game from Storybrewers Roleplaying. The game focuses on the strife and struggle for survival in 19th century coastal towns. If you’re interested in watching the actual-play video you can find it here:

One of the things that makes this game great for one-shots in my opinion is the guidance that the book provides for getting your game up and running, there are also some cool reference sheets and templates that you can fill in to plan out currents (bundles of plot that interact with each other) and any towns or villages.

Towns and villages are a central focus of the game and–in a manner similar to Dungeon World’s Steadings–the game provides a design sheet that encourages you to think about the industrygeography and size of the settlement. For our game I created a raggedy, old postal fishing village known as Newport, it’s main industry was fishing and it was a small settlement with less than 500 people in it.

The sheet also has space for three distinct groups operating in the settlement, since I wanted to go for a tradition vs. innovation theme in the game, I went for an old-moneyed family, the traditional local fishermen of the village and a group of smugglers whose enterprise is threatened by the new innovations in the area.

There is also a sheets for designing currents, the games way of grouping plot together, effectively you create a conflict (the book provides several examples) and then detail a number of NPCs who motivations either directly support or oppose one side or another of the conflict. The GM is encouraged to create currents that link to each other but not to plot out everything 100%, simply setting up the motivations, dropping the players into the middle of it and then seeing how things play out.

For our game I created two conflicts, one involving the conflict between innovation (in the form of a new mechanised fishing vessel created by the old-moneyed Waincroft family) and the villagers of Newport who cleave to their traditional ways of life. The Waincroft family is represented by two NPCs:

  • Hercules Waincroft: Patriarch of the family, an ex-Captain in the British Army whose family became rich from war-profiteering but who now seeks to give back to society with the invention of a new mechanised fishing vessel, designed by his son.
  • Bobby Hess:  Foreman working for Mr Waincroft, has far less lofty goals and isn’t afraid of applying brute force to ensure his master’s will is carried out and his position maintained.

The villagers are represented principally by:

  • Matilda Harris: A young woman from Newport, in order to give her a personal reason to oppose the new vessel I decided that she believed her husband had been killed by the vessel.
  • Ben Harris: The brother of Matilda’s husband, a more moderate voice amongst the villagers who is looking to find a non-violent way out of the conflict.

Because I’ve not run this game before and wasn’t sure how long it would take to work through the main plot I decided to create a secondary plot-line that could be brought in if necessary or ignored if not, I went for a Romeo & Juliet style secondary plot where the young son of Hercules Waincroft had fallen in love/was having an affair with Emma Harris the daughter of Matilda, an affair disapproved of by Verna Waincroft (Hercule’s elder sister) and aided by Father Francis Richmond (a kindly local priest). Although this plot-line was referenced in the session, it didn’t really need to take centre stage since the players got so involved in the main plot, it was good to have it stashed in the background though, if necessary, it would not have been difficult to bring it out.

There is also a sheet where you can jot down details of important locations for your session, I noted down four of them (one of which didn’t really get used), but it’s always handy to have things available to reference easily while GM-ing a session.

Alas for the Awful Sea–like many PBTA games–encourages the GM to create questions and not to answer them prior to running the session, but rather to leave them and actually play the game to find out the answers.

I just jotted down a few simple questions, most of which were answered during the course of the game. I find this a very useful method of getting myself into the right frame of mind for running a game, and it also helps keep things interesting for me as a GM. After all if I know everything that is going to happen in a game session then it’s a bit flat and not particularly interesting for me, that’s why I love it so much in games when players–and their characters–do things that confound and excite me.

The sheet also has some space for additional NPCs and for making Custom Moves, their are guidelines for this in the rule book but I didn’t really use Custom Moves in the one-shot.

During the game I made some simple notes on a few A5 sheets of notepaper just to keep track of what was going on, from the first two sheet you can see the notes I made whilst we were doing the character discussion and questions at the start of the sessions.

The third sheet of notepad was used for random notes that I made during the session as I created some NPCs on the fly (using a random name generator to help), just noting down some brief details helps me maintain a degree of consistency, even during a one-shot.

At one point I’d noted down in advance that I wanted the innkeeper to be called Maisie, but for some reason I spaced on the name when it came up and I said Bessie, no problems though, I just scrubbed out the original name and ran with Bessie for the rest of the session.

I had a great time running the game and will definitely look to do so again in  the future, the play-aids and reference sheets are extremely useful, as is the advice in the books. Our session ran with me only having read through the book a couple of times and noted down a few details in advance, a large part of this was thanks to the play-aids. I think ‘Alas for the Awful Sea’ is a great example of a PBTA game and really helps set the GM up for running a good session.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.