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Posts Tagged ‘GM prep’

Demons Conceptually

There’s a wide range of possible definitions of Demons given in the book (pg58), from “fallen angels” to “fighter jets with AI.” I’d like to stick to a fairly traditional definition of Demons for our first game: extraplanar spirits, banished djinni, ghosts of the dead, something like that. Beings that have a crappy half-existence Elsewhere and really prefer to mix it up with humans on our own plane. But I’d also like to avoid anything that smacks of a biblical angels-vs.-demons-type cosmological struggle. The game should be about sorcerer vs. demon (or, vs. self, really).

Do all Demons know each other? Is there some sort of common demonic agenda? Or are they all purely individual? What do Demons look like in our game? Things to decide as a group.

Your Demon’s Desire and Need: with reference to the examples given on pg57-58, I’m open to any of those, or similar ones, except the “Trivial” ones.

Demons Mechanically

Demons are just as detailed as PCs, but with more options available. If we are rolling up starting Demons together, then we’ll certainly need two planning sessions before play begins. Let me know if y’all are comfortable rolling up your own demons and sending them to me at least 1 week before the start of play.

Note that PCs do not control their Demons. They can ask or tell or Command their demons to do stuff, but compliance is always up to the Demon.

Yes, your Demon can go off on missions on its own. And yes, you are morally responsible for its actions. If you send your Demon to spy on Mr. X, and it kills someone in the process, you’ll be rolling a Humanity check!

Note that at the start of play, your PC already has his starting Demon. We don’t have to play out the Contact and Summoning rituals (and the attendant Humanity checks – whew!), but we will play out the Binding roll together. You’ll see your own roll, but you won’t see the Demon’s, so you’ll never really know how strongly you have bound it…

Note also that, with the exception of their starting Demons, the PCs can only specify the Demons they Contact and Summon in the most general terms. Such rituals begin not with the player handing the GM a completed Demon character sheet, but instead with words like “I’d like to Contact a powerful Passer Demon that confers the ‘Boost Lore’ ability.” The GM rolls up the Demon that responds to your Contact, and it may or may not meet your expectations. Yes, sorcery is unpredictable! The exception to this rule is an attempt to reach a specific Demon whom the PC has dealt with before or at least knows by name. Since the GM has to roll up any new Demons, players should give the GM at least a few days’ notice!

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Demons, guys.

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I want to take another shot at putting into words what I was trying to verbalize in ACTS 1:1-11.  That issue was the result of my struggling with the question: “So, our characters power up by summoning demons; does that mean we have to play Evil masterminds?”  The tone of the Sorcerer rulebook didn’t seem to suggest that this was a game about players taking over the world or destroying it (in true James-Bond-villain style), but I just couldn’t see how PCs that treat with demons could be “Good.”

Several hours of reading at The Forge later, I came to understand that demons aren’t inherently Evil, they’re inherently Dangerous.  They’re selfish and wiley and not always easy to control.  That makes them no more evil than guard dogs, or credit cards.  Demons are the classic two-edged sword, the Pandora’s box, the (insert favourite metaphor here).  Striking a bargain with a demon is like lighting the fuse on a stick of dynamite.  Sure, people will do as you say while you’re waving a lit rod of TNT.  But you’re going to want to throw it away before too long…

And that makes the sorcerer… what?  Crazy?  Crazy characters don’t make interesting PCs.  Desperate?  Quite possibly.  He feels he doesn’t have any other options.  There’s something he wants so badly that he’ll risk losing his Humanity to achieve it.  Maybe self-sacrifice for a loved one, or a higher ideal: there’s no better definition of “Good.”  Arrogant?  I could see that.  The sorcerer believes he’s stronger or smarter than those other fools who’ve lost their lives to demons they couldn’t control.  Or naive?  Certainly, that would work too.  Like young Regan in The Exorcist, with “Captain Howdy.”  Uncontrollably curious?  It didn’t work out well for the cat…

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Our little gaming group is mapping out our games for 2010, and it looks like we’re finally going to play Sorcerer!  Yes I know, I’m a decade behind the times, but Sorcerer may just be the best thing to happen to RPGs in the past decade, so I think my excitement is justified.  Ron Edwards’ Sorcerer texts were greatly inspirational to me while i was planning and playing our “Faeries In Echo Park” game, and now I’m really looking forward to playing Sorcerer for real.  I’ll be GMing the first game.

In fact, I can hardly wait.

And when we can’t game, what do we do?  Obsessively over-prepare to game!

Here’s a train of thought that I’m sure will prove useful in the near future:
 

Complexity In Bad Guys

I never want to do this kind of plot again:

  • Beginning: main bad-guy is identified
  • Middle: protagonist, pursuing main bad-guy, wades through progressively bigger minions
  • End: protagonist defeats main bad-guy

An interesting and complex plotline, even your basic summer action movie, has some of the following:

Competitor Turns Ally

Early in the story, protagonist has an altercation with this guy. He’s a dick, and they have some philosophical differences which might even play out as open conflict.

But he’s just a dick, he’s not evil. Later on in the story, once the real evil-doers are out in the open, this competitor becomes a valuable ally in the Big Fight against the Capo di Tutti Cape.

Kindered Spirit Turns Antagonist

Early in the story, the protagonist and this guy seem to see eye to eye on things, especially with regard to the (apparent) bad-guy.

But as the story goes on, it becomes clear that the protagonist and this guy are after the same thing for different reasons. Usually, one of them believes that the ends justify the means while the other takes a more principled approach; or, one sees in black and white while the other has a more nuanced understanding.

By the end, the protagonist and this guy are declared antagonists of each other. The apparent bad-guy from the beginning of the story may turn out to be some cowardly opportunist or misguided fool, whereas the “kindered spirit” is now the evil-doer who must be stopped.

Fatally Flawed Friend

As above, but the kindered spirit is turned against us through a specific moral weakness or fatal flaw. Evidence of sexual perversion may allow the friend to be blackmailed, or drug addiction may drive him to desperate lengths to fund his habit. At the climax, his choice between feeding his need or doing what’s right is central to the success or survival of the protagonist.

Petty Criminal Finds Conscience

The protagonist is first in conflict with this guy, but easily defeats or escapes or subverts him (without putting him out of action). But the evil-doing ratchets up a notch, and it’s not the petty criminal who’s responsible. Turns out, the petty criminal was enabled by, or working for, a truly evil dude. As the conflict between protagonist and evil dude heats up, the petty criminal helps first one side, then the other. He hates the position he’s in and sympathizes with the protagonist, but he fears the evil dude, who still has some terrifying hold on him.

In the end, will the petty criminal find his conscience and help the protagonist at a critical moment, or will he go down with the evil dude in the final fight?

The Neutral Party

This someone or organization is somehow related to the situation at hand. But for some reason (fear, principles, habit, compromised), will help neither the protagonist nor antagonist.

As the story goes on, the neutral party may be impacted more and more by the bad-guy’s doings, allowing the protagonist to eventually convince them to help. Or, the neutral party may turn out to possess a vital key to the whole thing (object or info), and “inaction” starts to look more and more like helping the bad-guy. The protagonist might win them over by some well-timed rhetoric, or might have to consider robbing/attacking this non-evil party.

Hapless Crook and the Can of Worms

This guy crosses the protagonists early, usually by robbing them or someone else of the McGuffin. But he wasn’t involved in the greater plot (until now), he’s just a petty crook who has stumbled into it. Now everybody’s after him.

After a brush with the real evil-doer, he might willingly surrender to the protagonist in exchange for protection. He might even be convertible into a useful ally or helper.

This guy is usually an entertaining character!

The Puppetmaster Behind The Puppetmaster Behind the…

This is the classic minion > bigger minion > bad-guy progression, but done right. The protagonist (and the reader or players) can’t know that the situation is bigger than it seems, until the bad-guys at the current scale have been defeated. But there should be signs. For example, Sally is set upon by apparently unrelated toughs and thieves. She gradually figures out that she is really battling her crooked lawyer and Mrs. Holland (and their minions). She doesn’t find out that Ah Ling is pulling the strings (and neither does the reader) until during/after the climax scene of the book.

Each realization is first foreshadowed, long before being revealed, through the minions and lesser bad-guys: names used, questions asked, incongruous reactions, liaisons overheard, items dropped or found on person, etc.

 

There. That’s one afternoon’s brainstorming, but certainly not an exhaustive list. Can you add any more?
-J

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Actual Play (AP):

The game started a little slowly, as I had been hammered with work that whole week and hadn’t made time to review my notes before the game.  We went over some of the game’s rules, especially those concerning bright and dark essence, since the players would be playing faeries whose hearts were at least partially blackened.  Then we reviewed the three characters’ kickers: the vicious cat had finally found Yak’s squat in The Brambles, and chased him out; Aiden Mistletoe had just returned from a sea voyage, but had taken the wrong crate from the ship, and caused an expensive accident at the docks in the process; and Conor Hops now owed a boon to the neighbourhood witch, recently returned and especially grumpy.

Yak was just making himself at home at Conor’s space between the walls at the Bryskett’s, when a commotion erupted at Lewis Wright’s house, next door.  Wright was the reluctant leader of the nascent (and illegal) labour union of dock workers, who were enraged by the morning’s announcement of wage garnishing to pay for the damage at the docks and the missing crate of valuables.  Missing valuables?  The three faeries snuck into Wright’s basement where Aiden had secreted his crate; they found not foreign faery handiworks but fine French cognac!

Things started to pick up after that, as the players settled into their characters and started to drive the story themselves.  They agreed on a plan to spirit the spirits back onto the ship and save the dock workers from the charge of thievery, at least.

With a boisterous labour meeting upstairs, getting the crate out unseen was quite a trick, but the ingenious trio managed it (a hairy looking man-beast that some called a “monkey” was spotted in Echo Park hopping from rooftop to rooftop, carrying a crate).  Returning it to the ship, however, did not go as smoothly.  Aiden, in the form of a monkey, attracted unwanted attention, and then the discovery of liquor on the docks nearly started a riot.  The well-intentioned faeries prevented the spirits from being drank, at the cost of enflaming the ensuing fist fight!

Other fun goings on:

  • the new union of dock workers declared a strike in protest of the wage garnishes
  • Yak and friends were ambushed by the cat, scarred from crashing through Yak’s sharpie collection and looking for revenge; Aiden turned himself into a dog and chased it off
  • the faeries overheard orphan Little Joseph tell homeless Joe Stillgar that he’d seen Wilkins Booth (the developer) storm into the orphanage and demand to be allowed to search the premises for some piece of missing property; further eavesdropping on the nuns revealed that Booth was searching for something which he believes was included in a box of cast-offs donated to the orphanage last year when his old manservant passed away
  • the witch, Ludmilla, called in her boon over Conor, demanding that he search the faery palace (under The Paddocks neighbourhood) for a missing amulet of hers
  • the three faery friends descended under the orphanage to the hidden and magnificent faery palace, where Queen Leannan was hosting a celebration of Orange Blossom Day; a quick search of the accessible areas revealed nothing
  • Conor slipped into an off-limits area while Yak, whose goblin presence was barely tolerated as it was, created a messy diversion; Conor found two sprite soldiers guarding a dead-end passage
  • Queen Leannan, trying to be rid of the noisy goblin, asked Yak to convey an invitation to the Spider King for a champion to attend the next month’s jousting tournament.

Conor put the sprites to sleep.  His examination of the guarded blank wall revealed nothing, but clever Aiden, joining him, saw the wall for the illusion that it was, and passed through.  Conor followed.  Beyond the illusory wall was a dark and dank passage not unlike a human-built storm sewer; it led to a large chamber that covered an old human well, from the bottom of which could be heard a crooning.  Conor and Aiden descended the well; about 50 feet down they encountered a vine that blocked the well like a grate, and a red glint.  Interwoven with the living vine was a gold chain and a red jewelled amulet.  From below could be discerned: “Hmmm hmm, I’m a frog, happy frog, in a well, hmm hmmm, nice and wet…” etc.

The faeries cut loose the amulet; the vine turned gray and the happy crooning from beneath suddenly boomed loud and angry: “I’m no frog!  Why am I in a well!?  I’ve been tricked!!   RAAOOOOAR!!!”  Something massive began to claw its way upward;  a reptilian head approached.  Conor and Aiden fled, along with the rest of the panicking faery court.  Shortly after gaining the surface, the three friends witnessed tremors and the sounds of rending stone as a dragon burst from the roof of the orphanage.  People ran in terror.  The great black beast circled once in the air, spraying the neighbourhood with flame, and then few off.  Picture three pint-sized faeries, jaws adrop at their handiwork!

  • feeling conflicting responsibilities and obligations concerning the amulet (and the palace, and the dragon…), the faeries decided not to give it to the witch yet; Yak swallowed it and ran off;
  • the witch was observing the destruction from her front porch; “Good old Ludmilla,” she cackled, “I should have known!”
  • Conor admitted that a goblin had run off with the amulet; the witch threw a fit, and ordered the brownie to find and retrieve it immediately.

As we closed this chapter of The Faeries of Echo Park, Yak was strutting around the court of the Spider King, holding his belly, boasting that “somebody” would be kicking some bright-faery butt at the upcoming joust!

I’d say that the session was a great success.  I was very happy with the results of my first story-now GMing attempt, and I think the guys had a good time too.  I was surprised that they decided to cut loose the amulet, despite all the foreshadowing that Dire Things would follow; but it was a conscious decision on their part, it was in character, and it served the story very well.  I’m still not completely into the mindset that players in a narrative game will act in the interests of a good story, not necessarily in the best interests of their characters!

I was also surprised to find that we had burned through almost all of the hooks and bangs that I had planned for 3-4 sessions!  I’m glad that I’d had enough prepared to run a rich, fast-paced story for 3+ hours.  There is certainly enough unresolved action left on which to plan hooks and bangs for the next session!  A faery palace destroyed, a dragon on the loose, a witch enraged, and a goblin with a magic amulet in his gut!

There was very little dice-rolling, and only one failure: when Conor failed to discern the nature of the illusory wall (a Hard magical Spirit challenge).  The combat with the cat didn’t turn out to be very interesting; Aiden turned into a dog and the cat ran away.  I’ll have to plan a re-match on more even terms!  I should also plan some more interesting challenges that target the PCs’ weaknesses.

Good times, can’t wait for the next session in 2 weeks!

-J

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Tyrant or Chef?

Ryan is starting a new D&D campaign, and he has specified that only certain character races and classes are allowed.  This has bothered some potential players, I think.  Is Ryan just power-tripping, is this the sign of a tyranical DM?

I say no.

There is so much content out there for the D&D game that it really can be all genres to all people.  But if ALL of the source material is allowed into one game, then you don’t have a genre, you have a melting pot.  Should ninjas and cowboys be in the same fictional world?  Sure, sounds like fun!  A lot of great stories and games have come out of mixing genres (classic pirate fiction + voodoo = Pirates of the Caribbean).  But what do you get if you mix ninjas, cowboys, elves, dwarves, swordsmen, barbarians, catburglars, britons, saxons, wizards, summoners, ghost-busters and half-dragons?  You get a senseless mess.

In order to develop a unique and interesting game world, the genre or contents of the setting have to be well defined.  In some games, that definition is a consensus decision by the group.  Sometimes it is done by one person who says “guys, I have a neat idea I want to try out.”  However the decision is made, the fact remains that a well-defined game world with a clear identity is a springboard for unique and interesting adventures.

It is absolutely appropriate for any D&D game to include some source books and game elements (races, classes, etc), and exclude the rest.  In the case of Ryan’s new campaign, an open-concept game with a potential audience of over 300 players, a consensus decision is just not possible.  The DM is offering up his particular vision for any and all players who wish to explore it.

I see a DM with a strong vision as less like a tyrant, more like a chef.  The house salad comes with a sesame-orange vinaigrette, no you can’t have creamy Caesar.  Why not?  Because you came here to explore the chef’s vision, not to eat like you do at home.  Try something new, you might like it!

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I’m not going to get a big enough span of free time to write about our planning session all in one go.  Today, I want to post briefly about planning conflict.

A good story-game scenario starts with some NPC organizations and characters that are at odds with each other; some tensions that are about to explode into open conflict.  The PCs will (by virtue of their player-authored backstories) want to get involved, and/or some NPCs (for selfish reasons) will want to get them involved.  The question is: how does one generate some juicy conflicts?

My first shot consisted of asking the group assembled “what juicy conflicts are afoot?”  Silence.  We were all jazzed about the setting as developed so far, but my prompt was too open-ended.  Ryan jumped in and got things going with his Elements of Conflict theory (which he explains well on his blog).  I’ll summarize it here: conflict will arise when you have:

  1. People in Need
  2. Objects of Desire
  3. Events that Add Pressure
  4. People Misusing Power

If you have enough of these then a nice, complex, tangled set of conflicts will arise which is perfect for story-telling.

For our faeries-in-a-Victorian-London-neighbourhood scenario, here are some of the elements of conflict that we generated:

    • an unwilling union leader
    • homeless people living in the park
    • youngest daughter of the ailing faery monarch
    • families about to lose their homes to a developer
    • a deed confirming peerage and ownership of the land on which the neighbourhood stands
    • a missing ring (engagement ring of the developer’s dead fiancé AND The Witch’s wedding ring!)
    • a magic silver cup, now part of the Park fountain
    • mistreatment of workers, an illegal labour strike
    • heartless developer displacing working-class families and building mansions
    • gentrification of neighbourhood at one end; friction between rich and poor kids
    • ailing faery monarch, offspring jostling for position to succeed her
    • more cats & dogs in neighbourhood
    • eccentric professor discovers faeries, begins trapping & studying them
    • dragon, trapped & guarded by faeries, may be released by construction work
    • bitter real-estate developer
    • greedy owner of company (90% of neighbourhood men work for him)
    • The Witch
    • the Spider King
    • Rats (talking)

    Following that, the players each came up with a Kicker to hook their character into the gathering storm.  Now I just have to come up with a bunch of ideas for Bangs to keep things moving at a rollercoaster pace!

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    You know, I used to really over-prepare my home-brew adventures.  I mean, they looked like the store-bought ones: read-aloud text for every location, fully stat’ed NPCs, the whole bit.  Come to think of it, my intention was always to submit them for publication after the playtest… anyway, I am now aware of my tendency to deal with GM’s anxiety by over-preparing, and am trying to resist the compulsion.

    But I’m looking at all the excellent, creative story elements that we came up with in the brainstorming session, and i realize that: I have a lot of work to do!  Lots of NPCs to name, some to stat, some locations to map out.   And for whatever challenges and conflicts that I can foresee, I’ve got to select and stat the opponents, and make sure the difficulty levels are appropriate to the PCs.  I don’t think this is over-preparation, I think this is just necessary given the number of story elements that we generated.  Everything needs an appropriate level of detail to be useful and to add to the atmosphere.  Right now, there’s no detail at all!

    The cat that has it out for Yak: should it be a bog-standard cat?  Maybe a real bruiser (bump up his Body score)?  Maybe a faery cat (magical and more intelligent) that somehow ended up as a house pet?  And what to name it: something ominous like ‘Tiger,’ or something ironic like ‘Fluffy’?  Both seem a bit cliché, actually.  Hmm.  How much effort should go into detailing a cat?

    I’m putting it all in one document: NPCs, monsters, organizations, locations, secrets, planned Bangs, stat blocks.  Let’s just try not to call it a campaign encyclopaedia.  I’m hoping “GM’s Notes” won’t be too much of an understatement.

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    I’m preparing a Story Now!-style Faery’s Tale game for grown-ups.  Faery’s Tale is a game I originally bought for my young kids, and they love it; now I’m going to try it out on my gamer friends who like nothing better than trying out new games.  The planning session went down, it was very productive and bursting with great ideas. Now the real prep begins!

    The setting is a working-class neighbourhood in Victorian-era Belltown (a.k.a. London). The people of Echo Park unknowingly share their careworn homes and gardens with faeries of all kinds! Faeries are ghost-world emanations of the families that live near Echo Park. Every faery is strongly tied to a family (though the faeries don’t know why this is).

    Here are the player characters — all faeries. We decided it would be fun (ie. more “grown up”) to play faeries that are already some ways down the road to the dark side.  No making flowers bloom for these guys!  Therefore each PC has some dark essence, and at least one dark Gift. *grin!* Those Gifts (bright and dark) which bear some explaining are detailed out with each character:

    .

    Conor Hops

    Brownies are sturdy household faeries who live unseen alongside humans in their cozy cottages.*

    Body 2 / Mind 4 / Spirit 3. Starting Bright Essence 2 / Dark Essense 4.

    Gifts: Household Magic(p26), Invisibility(p26), Alert(p29), Curse Magic(p58).

    Family: lives with the Brysketts, and is highly protective of them.

    Kicker: owes The Witch a boon for helping young master Gabriel Bryskett versus some bullying rich kids. Conor begged her to throw down a wicked curse, the likes of which Conor could never manage on his own. Now he owes her, and her problems are about to become his problems…

    Household Magic: Brownies cast spells that affect things in and around households, from tools and crops to people, pets, and domesticated animals. Attempting to cast spells on things outside of the household is more difficult, costing an extra +1 Essence.  Effortless feats of magic, such as moving a heavy butter churn, dusting the hearth, or mending broken dishes, cost your brownie no Essence. Demanding feats, such as causing grapevines to entangle an enemy or making an apple tree drop its apples on someone, cost 1 Essence. Difficult feats, such as enabling a pet, pig, horse, or other domesticated animal to speak to faeries, cost 2 Essence.*

    Alert: Your faery is perceptive and observant. Effortless feats of observation, such as hearing someone sneaking up behind your faery, smelling stinky goblins nearby, or spotting a clue overlooked by everyone else, cost your faery no Essence. Demanding feats, such as discovering a hidden trap door or eavesdropping on a whispered conversation, cost 1 Essence. Difficult feats, such as finding a needle in a haystack, detecting the presence of an invisible being from non-visual clues, or deducing the way out of a maze by smelling fresh air, cost 2 Essence.*

    Curse Magic: Effortless feats of magic, such as bringing bad luck on someone or causing someone to trip, cost no Essence. Demanding feats, such as blighting crops, breaking something precious, or causing someone to become ill, cost 1 Essence. Difficult feats, such as aging someone, turning a prince into a frog, or causing a princess to fall into an enchanted slumber, require 2 Essence.  Curses must have some way to be broken—such as a prince cursed with frog form returning to his normal self when kissed. The caster may have to pay extra Essence for a curse that’s particularly difficult to break, such as requiring a kiss from a princess or the prince’s true love.*

    .

    Aiden Mistletoe

    Pookas are wild faeries who are naughty tricksters.*

    Body 4 / Mind 1 / Spirit 4. Starting Bright Essence 4 / Dark Essence 4.

    Gifts: Change form(p27), Travel Magic(p.27), Magical(+2 Spirit/magical challenges), Hardy(+2 Body/constitution chgs), Glamor Magic(p58).

    Family: Wrights (unwilling union leader in an age when labour unions were illegal)

    Kicker: Caused an accident at the docks. Wright was blamed. Now, the company bosses are garnishing everyone’s wages to pay for damage, which turns up pressure on Wright to either sit down and shut up, or make this union thing work NOW.

    Change Form: A pooka can take the form of any natural animal or creature, though she cannot pose as a particular individual creature. For example, a pooka may change form into a mouse, but she cannot duplicate a particular mouse friend of another faery. Pookas cannot take the form of magical creatures, such as other faeries or dragons, nor can they pose as humans.  A pooka can turn into any roughly faery-sized creature, such as an insect or mouse, at will. Changing form into a creature up to the size of a cat or dog costs 1 Essence. For 2 Essence, a pooka can take the form of any creature up to the size of a horse.  When a pooka changes form, she also takes on the attributes and gifts of the creature. Whatever her form and other attributes, however, a pooka’s Essence pool remains the same. She may remain in the new form as long as she wishes; returning to her natural faery form costs no Essence. A pooka who falls asleep from expending all her Essence returns to her normal form.*

    Travel Magic: Pookas cast travel magic allowing them to cover vast distances, particularly in combination with an appropriate animal form, such as a horse or bird.  Effortless feats of magic, such as traveling without becoming tired or quenching thirst or hunger after a long journey, cost your pooka no Essence. Demanding feats, such as moving twice as fast as normal, cost 1 Essence. Difficult feats, such as transporting herself and any passengers anywhere in the world in a single night, cost 2 Essence.*

    Glamour Magic: This Gift allows a being to magically fool others into doing what she says. The person so ensorcelled trusts the caster implicitly and will go along with almost any suggestion.  Effortless feats of magic, such as charming someone gullible or trusting, cost no Essence. Demanding feats, such as charming an ordinary person., cost 1 Essence. Difficult feats, such as charming someone who is suspicious or hostile, require 2 Essence.*

    .

    Yak

    Goblins [are] mean and ugly faeries who cause trouble everywhere they go. These dire faeries are fallen pixies, brownies, sprites, or pookas, who have forsaken good for the power of darkness. Goblins lurk in the gloomy places of the world, spinning nightmares to send to sleeping children.*

    (yeah, Ryan just had to play a goblin! In this game, the Bright/Dark faery dichotomy does NOT lie right along the Good/Evil axis. Yak is impulsive, destructive, and obsessively collects sharp things, but he’s not evil. At least, I don’t think he is – Ouch! Hey, cut that out! No, i didn’t mean CUT out… give that back!)

    Body 4 / Mind 2 / Spirit 3. Starting Bright Essence 0 / Dark Essence 6.

    Gifts: Black Magic(p58), Contortion(p58), Burrow(p58), Night Vision(p59), Venom (delayed +1 dmg + “drunkeness”; p60).

    Family: Joe Stillgar (homeless/The Brambles), Little Joseph (orphanage, J.Stillgar’s son!)

    Kicker: Running from gentry cat.  Cat chased Yak out of his hidey-hole in The Brambles, and got all cut up in the face by crashing through Yak’s collection of shiny pointy things. Now Yak is homeless and has lost all his stuff, and the cat is out for revenge.

    Black Magic: Creatures with this Gift practice Black Magic, a corrupt yet powerful perversion of faery magic. Black magic spreads decay, fear, and darkness, bringing ruin on everything it touches and all who use it. Effortless magical feats, such as souring milk, wilting flowers, or breaking pottery, cost no Essence. Demanding feats, such as scaring animals, warping wood, or sparking a fire, cost 1 Essence. Difficult feats, such as frightening other beings, shattering metal, or calling darkness on a sunny day, cost 2 Essence.  Casting black magic for kindly purposes costs +1 Essence. Physical objects created by black magic vanish at daybreak.*

    Contortion: Creatures with the Gift of Contortion have twisty, stretchy bodies allowing them to squeeze through small holes or cracks. The creature can squeeze through any opening, although tiny holes take longer.*

    .

    I think GMing this bunch of animals is going to be a treat.

    -J

    * quoted without permission from the Faery’s Tale Deluxe rulebook, published by Firefly Games.

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    You can’t learn to swim just by reading about it.  Eventually you have to jump into the water.

    I’m planning my debut as a story-game GM.  Our next session will be for pre-game stuff.  Then the one after that, I will take my place in the Big Chair and yell “Action!”  So I’m reading story-gaming theory and brainstorming ideas like crazy right now!

    The Sorcerer supplements are excellent reading, by the way. Who would expect RPG supplements to be ~50% essays on gaming theory — and they’re brilliant. I’ve also been reading some threads on The Forge, and some of these discussions are gold.  Count me as a new fan of the Ron Edwards school of role-playing.

    It will be a game of Faery’s Tale… for adults.  For contrarian adults who can’t wait to turn some fairy-tale conventions onto their pointy-earred little heads.

    Aug.13: Pre-Game Session

    • Players and GM will continue to brainstorm and develop our setting, including location, theme, culture, any conflicts or tensions that currently exist, some relevant NPCs and groups.
    • A quick overview of some game mechanics will be in order, particularly Essence, Gifts, and the resolution mechanic (Challenges, Duels, Combat).
    • I will introduce some sample characters that I’ve made up and give the players the opportunity to choose/modify/riff off them.
    • Players will flesh out their characters, especially giving them hooks for story germination: kickers, beliefs, things & people they care about, relevant NPCs.

    Aug.27: The Game Goes Live

    • Awesomeness ensues.

    Thoughts and Plans:

    Faery’s Tale is a rules-light RPG that’s perfect for kids.  But it’s still a GM-brings-the-fun type of game, with a token mechanic for rewarding plot-twist suggestions from the players.  We’re going to run it as a story game instead.  The players will drive the story (protagonism) while the GM provides opportunities for the characters to make difficult decisions and then act on them.  It’s impossible to plan an adventure from beginning to end, in this style of play.  So what do I, as the GM, prepare for game day??

    Right now, it’s too early for me to plan anything.  But after the pre-game session, I will have a stack of fresh information about the characters, the setting, and about the sorts of conflicts that are simmering or about to explode.

    • From there, I can identify or create the Real Villain and a few other NPCs who will be in motion during the story.
    • For each NPC, I will create beliefs and goals, so that they can all react naturally to the PCs’ actions.
    • I should think about how and why some NPCs will try to coopt the PCs into their schemes.
    • I will generate some neato locations for scenes to take place in.
    • I will brainstorm some Bangs – events that kick the PCs into motion and force them to make decisions (ie. a good Bang is not a random monster encounter).  But I also have to be prepared to invent bangs on the fly, as the PCs do unexpected things (they always do).
    • I will sketch out an information strategy: what don’t the PCs know yet, and how might they find it out.

    And I’ll make a list of cool-sounding names, so I can introduce new NPCs extemporaneously while sounding like I planned it all along (I suck at coming up with character names on the fly!).

    Right now, the hardest part is waiting for the next session.

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    Story games start differently than gamer-porn RPGs.  Say good-bye to that comforting invocation “you’re sitting in the tavern when a dark stranger approaches you with a map and a mission.”  More to the point, say good-bye to that first session in which each player brings a character, painstakingly built and optimized in isolation, and the DM tears the plastic wrap off the new adventure module.

    The start of the game reflects the desire to maximize every player’s involvement in shaping the story from the very beginning.  In one game I was recently part of (credit: Peter), the GM lead the group through a series of questions about the setting, the group and our characters.  By the end of it, we had a detailed and juicy fictional world to play in, and some lively characters that we couldn’t wait to portray.

    Here are some good questions to toss around while shaping a story.  These should all be posed and answered as a group.  Don’t try to write your own Silmarillion; you just need an agreed framework upon which to start playing.  The Setting and Group questions should stimulate a great conversation that lasts 1-2 hrs (take notes), and developing the character concepts for everyone should take another 1-2 hrs depending on the group.

    Setting:

    • When in history? (fantastic, realistic, anachronistic?)
    • What defines the world?  Technology, magic, zoology, culture, politics, economics, etc.  In other words, what fictional genre(s)?
    • What are the major tensions or problems in the world today?  War?  Corruption?  Dictatorship?  Megacorporations?  Occupation?  Oppression?  Cold War?  Declining empire? Religious tensions?  Plague?  Natural disaster?  Pick a couple and detail them out.
    • Who are the relevant big players?  Countries, corporations, churches, public figures, etc.  Detail out a few – just the ones that affect the major tensions.  Some NPCs will be defined here.
    • What sort of adventure(s) do you want to play out?

    Group:

    • Why are the PCs a group?  (Take it as a given that the PCs are a group, and skip the whole contrived scene where some dangerous-looking strangers meet by chance and decide to put their lives in each others hands.)
    • How does the group fit in relation to the major tensions of the world?
    • What is the group’s aim?  Justice?  Profit?  Piracy?  Agents provocateurs?  Subterfuge and sabotage?  World domination?
    • How does the group persist at the start of all this?  Secret identities?  Mysterious benefactor?  Police/military black budget?  Proceeds of crime?
    • Some more NPCs will suggest themselves during this discussion.  Write down some basics about each of them: name, role (world), relationship to the group, 1 or 2 defining characteristics.  Family members, benefactors, nemeses, important contacts, love interests, etc.

    Each Character:

    • Functional concept? (Fighter/Wizard/Thief, or Speedster/Telepath/Gadget Whiz, or…)
    • What is important to you?
    • What gets you off?
    • How did you get your start?
    • Personality?
    • What’s your “issue”?
    • Relationships with each other PC?  Good? Bad? Indifferent? Antagonistic? Protective?
    • more NPCs may take form here.

    Once that’s all sketched out, the GM goes home and dreams up a situation that should kick the group into action in the direction that will generally fit the players’ desires in terms of plot.  He comes up with some antagonists that will really push the characters’ buttons, and some challenges that will strike at some PCs’ weaknesses while playing to the strengths of others.  Example: my character was a strong telepath with mind-control ability.  In our first encounter, I faced a giant killer robot!  My character’s greatest strength was nullified.  I was very impressed.

    Notice how much the players get to define at the start.  There’s no worry about “spoiling the surprise,” here.  The players might be as detailed as “we want to be super-cops trailing a band of international bank robbers that nobody else can catch.  We want to trail them to their hide-out in the Italian Alps, and we want to have a James Bond-style shoot-out while racing down the mountain on skiis!”  Even a well-defined plot arc like that still leaves the GM with lots of room to fit in mystery, surprises and plot twists.  At least he’ll know that he’s starting with a group of players who WILL, guaranteed, be fully engaged.

    Topic for a future post: brainstorming the story by building a relationship map (credit: Ryan).

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