Friday 24 December 2010

1884 - A New Terry Gilliam Project

Just in time for Christmas comes the news that Terry Gilliam is producing a steampunk puppet movie.  No details (or IMDB entry) on the production schedule, cast or release date but two videos are available:

Animation Test Video

Teaser Trailer

Makes me want to dust off the old Forgotten Futures rules and get writing.

Monday 20 December 2010

D&D is 3rd Greatest Toy!!

Jonathan Ross
Last night's marathon 3 hour rundown of classic toys on Channel 4, presented by Jonathan Ross, saw Dungeons and Dragons see off the electronic revolution and come in at number 3.

A reasonably sympathetic review of the game featured the usual stock footage of contemporary geeks and live roleplayers in plastic ears.  The highlight being a short piece from Ian Livingstone OBE (Co-founder of Games Workshop and CEO of Eidos) and the outing of comedian Marcus Brigstocke as a D&D player.

It was a shame that it's high position in the chart was marred by a comment that the poll was rigged by thousands of geeks, and the show's complete disregard of D&D's influence in other fields like computer games.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Gygax Game Collection for sale on ebay

E. Gary Gygax
(July 27, 1938 – March 4, 2008)
Gary's widow, Gail Gygax, has started to put his games collection up for sale on e-bay with help from Collectors Trove, with proceeds going to the Gygax Memorial Fund.  Auctions end between the 15-16th of December so there's still time to bid and perhaps you too could own a piece of history from Gary's own collection.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

TV Shows that didn't get an RPG Tie-in: Ultraviolet

Cast: from L to R:

Idris Elba - "Vaughan Rice" a soldier
Jack Davenport - Det. Sgt. Mike Colefield
Susannah Harker - Dr. Angela March
Philip Quast - Father Pearse J. Harman
I was left considering a comment from Emmett on Reality Refracted's Running a Cop Game - Part 1 and was reminded of the excellent Channel 4 six part drama "Ultraviolet" which was aired in 1998 (gosh is it that long ago!!)

The show featured a cop "Mike" (played by Jack Davenport) whose partner gets turned into a vampire and disappears.  Mike tries to find out what's happened to him and discovers that he's been turned into a vampire and then because he's poking about, gets recruited by a clandestine government organisation responsible for dealing with the emerging vampire menace.  Throughout the series they never said the vampire word instead they refer to them as Code 5's (Roman numeral V, gettit?)

It was a superb show which dealt with vampires in an intelligent and thoroughly "modern" way, had the production values of shows like "Spooks" and top quality acting from some of the UK's finest.  The material was so well put together I thought at the time it would make an excellent RPG.  I'm not aware of any published RPG tie-in or as a sourcebook for CoC or other modern Horror RPG (Blogosphere: show me I'm wrong).  Rather than me do an episode guide, here's the obligatory link to IMDB

My favourite episode was entitled "Terra Incognita" which features a man suffering from sickle cell anemia being flown to the UK from Brazil.  Accompanying the man on the flight are several coffin shaped military style flight cases with time locks set to open after sundown...

Monday 13 December 2010

Scenario Writing - The art of the one session scenario

I've run one session scenarios in the past, mostly on special occasions like holidays, birthdays and halloween.  Here are a few of the techniques I've used:

Holiday Theme - If you're running a game on a holiday then use it for your plot inspiration.  There are plenty of plot hooks buried in the characters, myths, folk lore and cultural references of the various holidays.  Such as:
  • Good Santa / Bad Santa - Saint Nick has a split personality (how else could he make informed choices about whose Naughty or Nice?) this year his bad side has gotten the better of him with all the personality defects that go along with it.  The PCs are elves (or charity / department store santas) whose job is to keep him on the straight and narrow so he can deliver all those presents in time or maybe the world needs to do without this year.
  • The Easter Bunny's been kidnapped - A bunch of do-gooding dentists and dieticians have teamed up to rid the world of the Easter Bunny.  Kids all over the world have suddenly lost their appetite for chocolate.  Willy Wonka is in despair and has hired your paranormal detective agency to find the culprits and set the world straight again.
  • Halloween Jack - A notorious psychopath has escaped from a secure facility and the PCs are on the tube, returning from different fancy dress parties, when the power fails.  No-one knows each other but one of them is Halloween Jack, the cops are on his trail but all they know is he's disguised in a fancy dress costume.  Oh, did I forget to mention that you're all dressed in the same outfit with a Jack 'o' Lantern for a head.
Birthday Boy/Girl - Make the player whose birthday it is the center of the action.  If they're up for it you could turn them into the villain of the piece, depending on the player, you might want to let them know where you're taking the story and maybe even set up some cues for them to trigger some events.  It's nice if you can factor in a few "in jokes" or references for each of the other players, they'll really get a kick out of it.

One location - when the PCs are trapped in one location the focus turns to escape. Your job as DM is made easier as you just have to think of all the ways they're going to try to break out.  Having some of the more mundane "what-if's" pre-thunk means that you can concentrate on the more bizarre suggestions that players inevitably come up with.

  • Internet / TV / Telephone / Mobiles - Do they exist in the genre and if so are they working, If not why not.  If you've let the PCs have access to a phone and diall 999 (that's the UK version of 911) will the cops come and if they do how do you get rid of them.  I really like using this as a tension mechanism, you can have them come out look around and leave as though nothing is wrong.  Or you can kill them in some bizarre or predictable way. Watch the looks on the players faces as they realise that they're responsible for luring them to their deaths.
  • Outside - Can there an outside?, can they see it?, Can it see them?  If your players are trapped it won't be long before they start to think about what's happening in the outside world, you can play with their minds by making their prison a wrap around universe.  A player manages to escape a room through a door only to re-enter from the opposite side of the room or down the chimney.
  • You are not alone - Don't leave it too long before you start hinting that they might be sharing their reality with someone or something else.  Maybe they put an object down moments ago and now it's moved or vanished entirely.  Perhaps it's a spirit hopping from one body to another, give each of your players a secret message containing instructions when they start playing the spirit.
  • Horrible history or location - Take an event or location that your players know very well and twist it into an evil or sinister version.  You can be as wild as you want as long as you don't warp it beyond recognition otherwise the players may miss the gag.
  • Player Secrets and Paranoia - If you want to ramp up the tension you can give each PC a piece of knowledge about one (or more) of the PCs at the beginning of the game. Later on that piece of info might be pertinent and the player must decide to act on the information.
Body Swap - Your players have passed into a parallel universe and inhabit each others bodies.  They now have to find the secret to swapping back otherwise they'll be stuck forever.  This works best if the players are randomly swapped multiple times, everyone should get a chance to play each other.  Pick 3 good and 3 bad traits (don't be too cruel though!!) about each player and sit back and let the fun begin.

Survival Game - If in doubt run a survival themed game.  My players always react well to a bit of zombie slayin'.

How do you do it, share your thoughts, tricks and ideas.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Update: Dirk Gently Airs 16 Dec 2010 on BBC4

Auntie Beeb has revealed that their eagerly awaited (well, by me anyways) TV adaptation of Dirk Gently will air on BBC HD (and BBC4) at 9pm on Thu 16 December 2010.  There's also a trailer to whet your appetite...

Scenario Writing: Linear Plots

First off, what's the difference between a linear and a non-linear plot?  

Characteristically, linear plots will feature a single timeline of events or scenes which the PCs need to resolve one after another in a specific order (e.g scene 1, scene 2, scene 3, etc...).  This is the formula used by most theatrical productions which use the Three-Act Structure. 

Linear Plot - The 3 Act Structure
Linear Plot - The Three-Act Structure

Non-linear plots can have multiple timelines, flash-backs and the scenes do not need to be completed in a specified order, or at all (even though some scenes may be missed out entirely any events in those scenes may still occur).   If you've never experienced non-linear story telling then try playing a game of FIASCO.  This indie RPG introduces flash backs and flash forwards as an integral part of the collaborative story telling mechanism.  Games take about 3 hours and there are a hundred genre playsets to choose from.

There's nothing wrong with a linear plot, they're undoubtably easier to write and run, especially if you are a time poor DM, and they can be just as entertaining for players.  Here's a few techniques that I've used to make them seem less linear.

Scenario Timeline - One of the biggest drawbacks of a linear plot is that it's easy for players to start thinking that the world revolves around their characters. Using a scenario timeline allows the DM to trigger events independently of the the PCs actions, they might only hear about the event as a rumour or hearsay or over the radio, tv or net, they will still encounter the scenes you have arrange in a predetermined order but they will feel like there's more to the story that they can't influence.  

If you split your party the timeline can become a useful aid to keeping track of WHEN each group of PCs are rather than WHERE.  It's possible to have multiple timelines in operation but make sure that there are key events which tie them together otherwise it's easy for a subgroup of PCs to get too far ahead of the other party members.

Fast Pace - In my experience it's not a good idea to give players too much thinking time in any adventure.  When this happens they start reverting to their player archetypes and end up thinking about where their next power-up or wander off trying to find an interesting NPC to chat to.  A fast pace to a game often focuses players minds to the immediate task at hand.

Elastic Time - Remember that time is elastic, if you need characters to trigger events and they're in danger of missing it, Don't worry you're the DM, stretch time, but keep up the tension as they race to the next scene otherwise they'll get into the habit of dawdling.  If they're on the ball and ripping through scenes like a chainsaw you might need to slow them down a bit by throwing a  wandering monsters or random encounter at them.  

It's a good idea to have a few of this sort of thing in your DMs toolkit anyway, they don't have to be related to the plot, just the setting, a bit like the little old lady who asks the policeman to help her across the road whilst the perp is running away.

NPCs (aka Plot Monkeys) - When a party does get bogged down in a decision it's useful to have a recurring NPC in the plot you can use to prod them in the right direction.  I often have an NPC as a member of the party for this exact reason and they also come in very handy when you have a drop-in player that needs a character.  Be careful how often you use them though, PCs sometimes take exception to NPCs giving suggestions all the time especially when you have an insecure de-facto leader.

Clues - When you leave clues in a scene to further the plot, make them really obvious.  I can't tell you the number of times that a party has walked past a too subtle clue or picked up on it to only miss it's significance.  It's an easy trap to fall into when writing scenarios as you become immersed in the plot during the creative process, what seems obvious to you at the time of writing may be a leap of cognitive faith several weeks later when a player encounters it.  

I often leave multiple clues in a scene which reinforce each other and the correct path to take to the next scene, if the players miss one, they may pick up on the others and players often get a big buzz out of finding clues.

Use What Works for your Players

These are just a few of the techniques I use when writing, the important thing is too see what works in your sessions and what doesn't and see if you can improve the player (and DMing) experience.  If your players begin to get too comfortable with your writing style mix it up a bit.

Thursday 9 December 2010

The Lands of Dual: It's a Crusade!!

Always late to the party but I get there in the end. 

My eagerly awaited Castles and Crusades books have arrived from the chaps at Games Lore one of the finest (and cheapest) web game stores here in the UK.  So now the hard work of converting The Lands of Dual over to C&C can begin in earnest.  In my post today were:
  • Players Handbook (Damaged apparently but I can't tell) - £6.99
  • Umbrage Sage (also slightly damaged on bottom edge) - £6.99
  • Monsters & Treasures of Aihrde - £16.49
  • Total (inc shipping) - £30.47 (in US that's approx $48)

I've already started work transferring some data over at The Lands of Dual site which is primarily aimed at the players but it's totally public and I'm open to comments.  I'll be cross blogging every now and then, mostly with session reports, creature features and NPC Biographies (as soon as the players have finished with them as we wouldn't want to spoil the surprise now would we).  Wish me luck...

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Monster Mistakes of Yesteryear - The Killer Penguin

In 1985, when I was an impressionable 13 year old, someone gave me a copy of Dragonroar RPG by Standard Games.  

I remember it not for it's qualities as an RPG but for one hideously bad monster idea.  

The Killer Penguin...

The Killer Penguin Miniature???

Now I'm not one for dismissing people's creations off hand, but come on guys, what were you smoking that day?  Needless to say no-one's arguing over the rule changes between Dragonroar 3.5 and Dragonroar 4e so the RPG itself was neither a commercial or a critical success and it has long sinced disappeared into RPG obscurity.  

However, I do think that we need to preserve the memory of the Killer Penguin as a warning to all the misguided monster makers out there who may be toying with nature.

If you can think of any other more catastrophic monster mistakes or you think that the KP is much maligned feel free to write to the usual address...

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Kolchak: The Night Stalker - Bargain Alert!!

Just bagged myself a bargain in the shape of the boxed set of the TV Show Kolchak: The Night Stalker for only £8!! in my local Fopp in Earlham Street, London (directly opposite Orcs Nest)

For those who don't know the TV Show, Darren McGavin plays Carl Kolchak an investigative journalist who follows the strange and mysterious cases that the police either have bungled or can't solve.  It was made in the seventies and has been acknowledged by Chris Carter as a major influence in the X-Files, (McGavin was also cast in two episodes of the show and featured in Carter's other project Millenium).

In my opinion it's de rigeur viewing for anyone thinking of running a modern horror game such as Cthulhu Now, Delta Green, Consipiracy X or Dark Conspiracy.

I remember watching it in my teens when it was re-run on BBC2 and I loved it from the get-go, so I can't wait to see if it's lost any of it's charm in the last 20 years.  Stay tuned for episode reviews...

Sunday 5 December 2010

Fantasy Alternatives for Modern Gadgets

Inspired by Fantasy Billboards over at Gothridge Manor and after recently watching the excellent Reign of Assassins I thought to myself, what medieval equivalents exist for our everyday technology?

Mobile Phone : Courier - Couriers or runners can be found on every bustling metropolis street corner.  For a few coppers they will carry a written (or spoken) message to any inhabitant of the city.  If that person is at home you may even get a quick return message.  If you want a message or maybe even a package sent to a nearby town it will cost you quite a bit more depending on the distance and weight.

The couriers can be anything you like, street urchins, mundane or magical creatures like pigeons or fairies.  Longer distances can be covered by horse riders or if speed is the essence and you have a highly magical world, by means of teleportation, magic carpet or even by air elemental.

Clock : Muezzin - Time is money and people have always been willing to pay handsomely to know what the time is.  This could be handled either by the state, church or by an enterprising candle maker as a municipal function.  Water clocks existed in many different cultures around the world from as early as 4000BC, all you need is a regular sized vessel with a regular sized hole in it and are easy to manufacture by potters or smiths using templates.  In my Arabian setting this function was performed by the muezzin who called the faithful to prayer but I added a rudimentary clock to each minaret in the form of 12 metal fish which would tip down to strike the hours (the time was referred to as 3 fishes or 4 and a half fish).  Sundials (shadow clocks) can be erected as municipal features, like Egyptian obelisks, or complex architectural as is the case with a stone circle like Stonehenge.

News Media : Town Crier - This function can be performed by a Town Crier or similar who at various times of the day (he also performs the function of municipal clock) cries out the latest public announcements and for will cry private announcements such as market day announcements, weddings, birthdays etc.  It is also the function of the Town Crier to "post" written versions of these notices on a notice board.

Fridge : Windcatcher - There's nothing like having a cold beer after a strenuous days adventuring,  In temperate regions that function might be performed simply by using a cellar but in hotter climes they use a windcatcher or "Malqaf".  For hundreds of years these towers have been designed into Persian buildings as a form of air-conditioner which uses the Coandă effect to cool the air.  If coupled with an underground canal or resevoir they can chill water down to near freezing temperatures.  The Persians built this feature in to their ice houses (Yakchal) for this express purpose.  Or you could use a captive immature frost giant...

Thursday 2 December 2010

How to: make a Pringles can scroll case

A simple cardboard tube scroll case
As I explained in an earlier post, I'm going to be running a scenario which involves the PCs having a message delivered to them in a scroll case and it needs a prop, so i'll show you how to make one.

You will need:
  • A "Pringles" can or similar stiff cardboard tube.  Ok, so I used a poster tube, but the concept's the same.
  • Faux leather or other material to cover the tube.  Cheap to buy in any haberdasher.
  • Spray-on glue, make sure to check the can to make sure it doesn't contain a solvent which will melt the vinyl.
  • A permanent marker or "Sharpie"
The Instructions:
    Mark your start point then roll - Step 1
    Cut out a rectangle - Step 1
    Mark out an end cap - Step 3
    Roll and glue end cap body - Step 4
    Mark and slash end cap body - Step 5
    Fit end cap covers - Step 6

    1. Place your material on a flat surface and place your cardboard tube on top. Use the marker to draw a line on the edge of the tube at both ends where it meets the material. Roll the tube along 1 revolution until the line on the tube meets the material and mark again. Join up the marks to make a rectangle.  Add a little extra on one long edge and one short edge. Cut section out with a sharp pair of scissors or a very sharp craft knife, be careful not to snag the backing as vinyl leather has a tendency to stretch rather than tear.

    2. Spray the glue onto the material (check the can, as you may have to leave it a few minutes to activate, make sure you do it in a well ventilated room as this stuff can be smelly if not downright hazardous if you inhale the fumes) then carefully line up the tube on one edge and roll along the material making sure that you apply even pressure to prevent any wrinkling, then leave to dry.

    3. Follow the same process you used in Step 1 to mark out another rectangle, this will become an end cap.  Mark out a glue tab and mask off with some newspaper, so when you spray on the glue you don't get any on the inside of the cap.  Optional: The vinyl is pretty thin so if you want a more sturdy cap wrap a piece of thin card around the tube a couple of times to create a sleeve.  Then mark up the rectangle around this sleeve.

    4. Place your covered tube on the unglued part of the tube and roll it up.  It's a good idea to make this part a bit loose to make it easy to get the cap on and off, leave it to dry.

    5. If your tube had a plastic cap use this to mark out two circles of material to cap off each end.  Cut these out and leave to one side.  In order to fix these to the ends of the tube and cap you'll need to cut slashes in the overhang you created.  On the long tube this is simple, on the cap you'll need to slide the cap over the end to create a decent sized flap to glue the end cap covers.

    6. Now comes the tricky bit... Spray glue on an end cap cover (you'll need to do this bit one at a time as it's fiddley) and leave for a couple of minutes to go tacky.  Then carefully attach the circular cover bending and sticking each flap as you go, leave to dry before repeating the process at the other end.  Optional: If you followed the optional instruction in step 3 you'll want to reinforce the end cap with a disc of stiff cardboard like artists mounting board.

    7. Eh Voila! you have a basic scroll case.  You can embelish it with stitching made from string, piping or brocade to cover up the seam lines.
    If you make a scroll case using these instructions please comment and include a picture link, I'd love to see how you got on.

    Next project: How to make an "antique" paper scrolls.

      Wednesday 1 December 2010

      Old Skool Accessory: The Fighting Wheel

      It sounds like some really cool martial arts weapon, or a futuristic Armoured Fighting Vehicle...

      Nope it's a circular dial which helps you calculate your favourite weapon's Damage, Space Required, #Attacks, THAC0 and AC target number.
      AD&D Fighting Wheel Game Aid #1 - Front
      Obverse (Front): Battleaxe to Footman's Pick

      How the heck do you use it? I hear you cry. 

      You find your weapon of choice around the rim (all the weapons are there, some on the front and some on the back) and then dial in your level using the inner wheel. When your level and weapon are aligned your AC bonuses appear in the middle window. Simples...
      AD&D Fighting Wheel Game Aid #1 - Back
      Reverse (Back): Horsema's Pick to Voulge and Missile Weapons

      Sunday 28 November 2010

      How to make your own Fantasy Googlemap with MapLib without needing to be a code monkey

      NB: I've since written an update to this article which details my thoughts about MapLib 6 Months into a mapping project of my own.

      I've seen a couple of campaign world maps which use the googlemaps api and wondered how easy is it to make your own.  The answer very hard if you're not a bonafide javascript code monkey.  I then came across, a free service which allows you to build your own maps with custom overlays.  This is far too useful to keep to myself so here goes:

      You'll Need:

      • A JPG, PNG or GIF of your campaign world.
      • A MapLib account (they're free)
      • Plenty of patience

      Add your map to

      Once you're logged in, go to the "My Pictures" section and upload an image. If you want a 4:3 ratio map use the settings below.  Place a map pin to define a location and type in it's name in the pop-up box.  You can add descriptions (see the example below) to the pins and include hyperlinks.  If you have them upload your own custom icons (or use the ones that other users have uploaded) and attach them instead of the bog standard pin.  If you've got lots of pins to manage you can create categories for Capitals, Cities, Towns or what ever takes your fancy. If you need to mark out an area or a line use the polygon or line tool.

      Embedding Tips

      Make your iframe at least 500px wide so your users can close any map pin pop-ups you create.

      After much trial and error I came up with these settings for my 4:3 ratio (2046 x 1536 pixels) map:

      Zoom Level 7


      WIDTH: 512px, HEIGHT: 409px, LAT: -53.750, LNG: 36.558, Z: 7

      Zoom Level 8


      WIDTH: 512px, HEIGHT: 409px, LAT: -53.750, LNG: 36.558, Z: 8

      Zoom Level 8


      WIDTH: 512px, HEIGHT: 409px, LAT: -53.750, LNG: 36.558, Z: 9

      Saturday 27 November 2010

      Dragonmeet 2010

      This post comes to you live from Dragonmeet 2010.

      10:00 - And it's the usual mad dash to the sign-ups table for the morning session.

      10:30 - Playing Dead of Night, and being DM'd by one of it's authors Scott Dorward.

      13:15 - Just finished Dead of Night, an excellent horror scenario set in an abandoned church in 1920's Islington, London.  I loved the "Tension" mechanic, a sort of timer which advances when PCs spend survival points to affect the plot, I can see this being used in my SBA games.  We all had a lot of fun, great job Scott.  Now off to buy C&C at the trade stands.

      14:00 - Sadly no luck picking up C&C will have to look online.  Spot of lunch required.  Missed out on sign-ups for afternoon RPG session.

      Leo Marshall
      Leo Marshall
      15:00 - Back gaming in the main hall.  Playing Le Cardo with it's author Leo Marshall, a fun little crossword card game with lots of replay factor.  Enjoyed it so much I had to buy it.  Thanks Leo.

      15:30 - Playing Pitch-car in the foyer

      16:00 - Goodbye Dragonmeet see you next year.

      +++ VIDEO UPDATE +++

      Here's a short clip of the Trade Hall full of gamers.

      Thursday 25 November 2010

      Castles and Crusades: What do I NEED to buy?

      I'm at a nexus.  My mac had an update crisis at the weekend and ate my campaign world.  After a little bit of a cry, I came to the thinking that within this dark cloud lies the silver lining of opportunity.  I've been dissapointed with my experiences of DM'ing my campaign world with D&D 3.5 for a while so I'm off to Dragonmeet 2010 to buy Castles and Crusades.  I know I'll need the Players Handbook and probably Monsters and Treasure but is there anything else out there for C&C that I should definitely buy?  

      Wednesday 24 November 2010

      Troll Hunter

      Caught this movie trailer on The Book of Worlds.  

      Released in Norway on 29 Oct 2010, but so far no details on when it will be scheduled for release in the UK, I expect it will be straight to DVD.  Enjoy...

      I can see this having lots of potential for a modern horror scenario, perhaps Cthulhu Now, Delta Green or Conspiracy X. How about mixing in a bit of Kaiju, Godzilla vs Grimetosser perhaps?

      Update: This film was fantastic and everyone should see it.

      Monday 22 November 2010

      Tintin and Lovecraft Cover Art

      I stumbled across these wonderful Lovecraft inspired imaginary Tintin covers by Murray Groat this morning thanks to BoingBoing and needed to share them.  I think this would be a great crossover genre with little or no modification.  In fact I think my next CoC character should be a boy detective.

      Wednesday 17 November 2010

      Sin? or is it just Karma

      Thanks to Jeff Rients for his thought provoking post Sin and Sin Points draft as I've been struggling with a way to explain how my Evil races exist.

      Back in the day I playtested a friend's game about fairies (it was self published and even though I'm a credited playtester, I can't remember the name of the system... Answers on a postcard to the usual address please) which utilised a Karma system to manage Alignment.

      The fun thing about the Karma system was that if you were essentially Good and did bad things you became Evil and vice versa. The whole game was wrapped around this concept.. The scenarios were based around the eternal struggle between the Good and Evil Fairies, Brownies, Redcaps, Pixies and Unicorns of Englis folklore. The task of the PCs was to convert the Evil fairies by not just foiling their plans but making them do Good things and making them gradually less Evil.

      One of the most fun aspects of this Whenever you lost Karma (or gained it) your physical appearance would gradually change until you eventually changed into your Evil variant. This led to a little subterfuge on the players parts as the GM might make you grow a wart, one of your eyes would change colour or you'd get Evil eyebrows overnight!!

      I thought that this physical change might work in my world so thinking cap on, my thoughts are thus:

      Every race has it's Evil counter-race. Except Humans, 'cause every rule has to have an exception, each Race's diametrically opposed race is the antithesis of the Good. So for Elves who are very cultured and graceful it would have to be Goblins, who are crude, vulgar ugly creatures. This could take some time to put together but once the different factors are weighed up I should be able to come up with some nice transitions for the 6 or so common PC Races and the more common evil monsters.

      The Alignment wheel has potential. As a mechanism to gauge the transitions from Good to Evil it's crude so maybe sub divide it a little to make the shift more gradual and give the player time to repent.

      My pantheon needs more Evil Gods - I've always thought that my campaign world's Pantheon was a bit loaded towards the Neutral or Good sides. It will force me to be a bit creative and there's more opportunity for plots which take place in my teutonic setting of Wulfschlossen where the boy King's army is led by a bunch of Bishop Generals.

      It would give the Paladins a bit more colour. I've always thought that they were a bit too shiny and needed a few shades of bent copper added to the mix. Historically the Templars became tarnished when Pope Clement V abolished the order claiming that they were not Holy Defenders but Heretics.

      Death is not the answer. However, when a PC gets to zero hit points and falls unconcious they should have a near death experience. As a result they could come back with a slight Alignment shift towards the darkside and maybe that wart or slightly greener shade of skin.

      or I might be completely bonkers. You decide... BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

      There's a rat in me kitchen what am I gonna do?

      Well, over here in Blighty the nights are drawing in and the temperature has dropped, consequently I am now sharing my home with at least one field mouse.

      I have to admit that, when we came face to nose, I did go a bit girly and shriek like Mammy Two Shoes when she sees Jerry the mouse.

      It got me thinking about the classic movie scene when the heroes are going through a tunnel or sewer and a horde of rats comes writhing towards them and how whenever I've set the same scene in my game my players never react like I did when I saw the mouse?  The D20 SRD says that a rat swarm will cause

      "Distraction (Ex): Any living creature that begins its turn with a swarm in its square must succeed on a DC 12 Fortitude save or be nauseated for 1 round. The save DC is Constitution-based."

      The problem with this is that I want the players to suffer the effects before they are in the swarm and I want a fear condition not nausea.  Fear also escalates with exposure so a character who fails a fear check (Will save) is Shaken, fail twice and they're Frightened, fail three times and they're Panicked.  I just want 1 roll so I'm going to try:
      • Fail by 1-3: Shaken
      • Fail by 4-6: Frightened
      • Fail by 7 or more: Panicked
      This should prove entertaining...

      Dragonmeet 2010

      Anyone going to Dragonmeet 2010 this year?  I know I am and will definitely blogging about my favourite UK Con on here.  Maybe I'll even meet a few fellow bloggers on the day (look on the con message board), maybe I'll blog at the con.

      For those of you who don't know Dragonmeet 2010 takes place on Saturday 27th November at Kensington Town Hall, doors open at 10:00am.

      Whilst I'm there I'll also be:
      • looking to pick up copies of D&D Essentials map tiles The Dungeon and The City after seeing Thaseus C's wonderful unboxing video on his blog "This is My Game".

      • playing a few con games (lots of choice for morning and afternoon RPG game sessions are scheduled)

      • supporting the traders by buying Castles & Crusades rulebooks to use as the system for my upcoming The Lands of Dual campaign

      Hello Whirled! ...grr... Hello World!

      Just had my case for membership of the network approved, so woot! is me.  Sadly the first of my posts which was visible was an abortive mobile blogging attempt via BlogWritter app on my 3GS.  Damn unintuitive GUI!! I've just worked out that if you're in the "New Post" screen you can save a post in draft format just by tapping "Back".  Lesson learned...

      "What was your first post then!" you ask

      It was an instructable on how to make a scroll case from a Pringles can.

      Let me explain, I'm looking through my old copies of Dungeon to get a few scenarios to link together to form a new plotline for my campaign world The Lands of Dual and I came across the scenario "A Race Against Time" (Issue 81 Jul/Aug 2000).  The scenario features a nice 3 hour timed plotline which calls for the delivery of a message in a scroll case delivered via juvenile winged snake courier.  The message is the cornerstone of the scenario and will be poured over ad-infitum by the players, so I thought it would be nice to give them a nice handout to look at.  The theatrics are very important for the message's punchline so I need to make a scroll case to hold the message.  The campaign starts in Jan 2011 so watch-out for more posts about the make and a session report.

      Thursday 11 November 2010

      I Want... Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency for Xmas

      Stephen Mangan
      Sadly there will be no new adaptation of a Terry Pratchett novel on the telly this Christmas.  Instead I'll have to enjoy the BBC's adaptation of Douglas Adams Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency...yes!!

      Scheduled air date is 11 December 2010 on BBC 4 and stars Stephen Mangan as Dirk Gently and is directed by directed by Damon Thomas who directed the excellent BBC 4 adaptation of HG Wells' "The First Men In the Moon".  Rumour has it that if this pilot episode is well received it may become a series.

      Wednesday 10 November 2010

      What's in your DM's bag?

      Whilst writing the article Trouble with Torchlight I thought it would be neat to share pictures or descriptions of the contents of your DM'S bag.  Bags can be SPECIFIC (the one you use for your favourite game or the one you're currently using, GENERIC (containing all the things a DM just can't be without) or FANTASY (a bag you wish you owned or could even exist in this dimension)

      In my GENERIC DM's Bag I have:
      • Dice - I've forgotten these and then borrowed a players dice and blamed them for lucky monster successes.
      • Munchies - gotta keep the DM awake somehow.
      • Grid Paper - for drawing off the cuff maps when you're too lazy to
      • Note Paper - for writing secret notes when you're too lazy to take the player out of the room.
      • Adventure - yes once or twice I've forgotten to pack this, with hilarious consequences.
      • Character Sheets - Some players don't like giving back their characters at the end of the night, but I find it makes it easier to cope I have to NPC a player's character in their stead when they can't make it to a session.
      • Pens, Pencils and Markers - At my regular Friday night game we have a box of club resources such as dice and stationery.  We also use club battle mats (kitchen lino) so OHP pens come in handy for drawing walls and doors etc.
      • Beverage - My beverage of choice is mineral water.  It doesn't exacerabate the sugar rush of the munchies and keeps me alert and hydrated.

      Tuesday 9 November 2010

      Trouble with Torchlight - Part 1: Ideas

      A session of a recent Diamond Throne game I played involved a short dungeon crawl.  The age old problem of lighting for the non infravision equipped players reared it's ugly head.  This got me thinking about ways to show the limit of torchlight in different ways, without turning this into a massive maker project.  I thought I'd brainstorm the options and jot them down here and then produce a few prototypes and document how each one works in a game.

      2D Templates

      The simplest (and perhaps most obvious) of options to make is a flat template:

      Pros & Cons:
      • flat and therefore easy to transport in a flap or a pocket in a ringbinder.
      • easy to make, print on OHP (Over-Head Projector) film and cut out.
      • cheap.
      • can't simulate the height of anything
      Idea 1: Single Zone - this template is the simplest to make, just use a compass to scribe a circle of the appropriate diameter on a sheet of stiff transparent plastic.  A good source for the plastic is packaging windows, you know the ones, the boxes from those toys you bought for Christmas with the big plastic windows so you can see what you're buying yourself.  There's no need to print anything on, but if you make lots of different ones for different effects you might need to write effect names on them with Permanent Marker. 

      Idea 2: Multiple Zones - Slightly harder to make, and you might need to design something on the computer and then print it out onto OHP film.  Another way is to stack them on top of one another, pin or fix together with glue to show different effect zones.  If you can't get hold of coloured transparency film then colour with careful use of permanent marker.  The zones don't even have to be for the same game, the possibilities are up to you.
      A 2D Multi Zone template

      3D Templates

      Same as 2D but with the added dimension of ... height. 

      Pros & Cons:
      • They're 3D so probably won't fold and therefore difficult to transport
      • Harder to make or find suitable component
      • More expensive
      • Bulkier in play, do they interfere with other miniatures, move them
      Idea 1: The Dome or Tub - Finding suitable components for this will be tricky but I should have at least 1 by the time I write Part 3.  Some options are plastic soft drink bottles, CD drums, caps from Frappucchino or smoothie cups.

      Idea 2: The Ring - a simple ring of stiff transparent plastic which stands on it's rim.   This I will definitely try to make.  A more advanced design would be adjustable like a belt so you can expand the ring for different sized zones.  The width of the ring can be made to simulate the height of an effect.  I'll make the belt style and try it out.

      A Ring
      Idea 3: The Cone - A cone of transparent plastic which can be placed over a miniature.  Cones stack inside each other for transport.  They can also be made out of a flat sheet of stiff transparent plastic like OHP film.

      A Cone
      Idea 4: The Cube - a transparent box which can be be created from flat sheets of stiff transparent plastic.  Sounds like papercraft to me, let me at it.

      The Weird & Bizarre

      A combination of 2D templates with a stand or something totally different.

      Pros & Cons:
      • clumsy to use in play
      • expensive
      • hard to make
      • hard to store
      Idea1: Tripod & Torch - Use a length of stiff wire or a wire coathanger and a pare of wire cutters to make a rudimetary tripod and a ring over which you can hang a small torch.  If the torch has a beam focus you could use it to give different size effect areas.

      Idea 2: Tack and String - Less of a template and more of a measuring device.  Push a pin into the base of a plastic miniature then knot lengths of string to the pin.  Trim the string to the appropriate length or if making a multipurpose string add coloured tabs to the string.  Each miniature then has a handy radius measure

      Idea 3: Radius rod.  Using a thin brass rod, dowel or heavy gauge wire.  Thread a 2D template onto the rod through a hole in it's centre.  A step or a blob of glue can be used to stop the template falling off the rod during use.  Templates can be removed for storage.  I'll have a go at this one.

      If you've got some ideas that you want me to explore in prototype, feel free to comment below and if they pique my creativity I might just make them.  If you've got any prototype pics you've made yourself feel free to add links.

      Sunday 3 October 2010

      Old School Accessories: Story Path Cards

      This is the first in a series of posts where I dig out all my old school accessories, game aids etc and try to explain how they work in a game session.


      Designed by Mark Rein Hagen and originally published by Lion Rampant as "Whimsy Cards" before being republished as "Story Path Cards" by White Wolf in 1990. There were 2 decks available: "The Path of Horror" and "The Path of Intrigue", both containing 24 tarot sized cards.

      The cards feature a number from 1 to 7 and are played by either players or DM, in sequence starting with #1, a "Theme Card" which sets the overall tone, then 2, 3 and so on until a "Climax Card" is played. Playing cards allows players to influence the direction of the storyline or to gain extra insight into NPC motivations or find out rumours. Players are given cards by the DM either as rewards for good roleplay or heroic actions and can be played at any time, the DM being the final judge of the ultimate effect of any card. The DM can also use the cards to randomly generate an adventure or story path.

      Big thanks to +Reuben Beattie and  +Regis Bacquet for providing the text for the missing cards.

      1 1 Hint of Madness Theme Card: The hideous wails of a thousand sorrows rise from the pit, slowly growing into a crescendo of madness.  This Path explores that aspect of reality, or lack of it, which deals with life on the edge.
      2 1 Lost Cause Theme Card:All efforts and ambitions are doomed to failure and defeat.  Ultimately, everything that the characters attempt will fail - they are on a lost cause.  There may be a way out, but only after this streak of misfortune plays itself out
      3 1Sense of Foreboding Theme Card: The apprehension of danger foreshadows great peril.  Something in the air portends calamity, misfortune and death.  What is going to happen to you, or rather - when is it?  The horror of anticipation should permeate this Path
      4 1Vast Unknown Theme Card:The universe is broad and contains much within it that is unknown, and ultimately, unknowable.  Mysteries, secrets, hidden terrors, dark horrors, and all that lurks beyond our sight can be a part of this Path
      5 2Eerie Sounds Describe a strange, nearly unidentifiable sound resounding from the depths of the night - cackling laughter, God-foresaken howling, whispering voices, or a cry in the dark.  "What was that!  Did you hear something?"
      6 2Sickly Stench Describe a horrible, nauseating smell of unidentifiable origin.  The smell might be of import to someone, a clue to what they are searching for.  "Its stench is like a cross between burning rubber and milk that's been left out for a month."
      7 2Unnatural Silence Where there was once sound, noise, life, now there is only stark brutal silence.  Inexplicable and sudden, the absence of noise makes the heart grow cold.  The clutch of fear grasps all with this somehow sinister change in events.
      8 2Unnerving Premonitions Describe to a single character a dark but uncertain vision of what may await them if they persevere in what they are doing.  Make it as sinister, malignant and apocalyptic as you desire - perhaps it really is only a vision.
      9 3Fleeting Glimpse Through the trees, out od the darkness or from the shadows, the characters catch sight of something horrible or strange that fills their hearts with terror.  Describe in detail what they see, but who or what it really is might not be known for some time.
      10 3Ominous Omen Introduce an enigmatic omen of peril into the story - a black cat crosses the rod or the characters discouver the moldering corpses of a previous expedition.  Something suggests future evil, but the significance of an omen is always uncertain.
      11 3Strange Apparition Describe the appearance of a phantom, haunt, spectre, marsh-fire, will-o-wisp or even a delusion.  Something that is conjured out of the fog or supposedly seen in the shadows.  Whether real or hallucination will be discovered soon enough.
      12 3Suspicious Stranger Introduce a stranger to the story - a cloaked wanderer, a sly guttersnipe, or a brutal bounty hunter.  Someone of a sinister nature that suggests, rightly or wrongly, of future peril - an outsider in your midst.
      13 3Remembered Dream A relevant dream is recalled by a character. Describe the specifics of a nightmare, daydream or vision in an evocative and compelling manner, in a way that relates to the character's personality. What the character makes of it, however, is up to him. (Missing Card Text Supplied by: Regis Bacquet)
      14 4Hapless Victim An innocent is harmed, sacrificed, or oppressed.  Perhaps they are hoodwinked, duped, tortured, or brutalized.  Describe the appearances of the situation, but leave the specifics to the GM.
      15 4Open AssaultClimax Card: The anticipation is over and the horror finally emerges in its full splendor - there is no need of dread, for terror will do.  Describe an attack of some sort upon a character or characters by an agent of the horror.
      16 4Something's Missing Describe the loss of an object, person or animal which might have been important to a character, and explain why it might be missing (it had better make sense).  Whether it's really gone or not, or if the character is just imagining things, is up to the GM.
      17 4Unknown Lurker Describe to a character the sensation that someone or something is lurking near them, just outside the periphery of their vision.  Identify how evidence of this fiendish prowler was obtained: tracks, sounds or maybe a confrontation.
      18 5Horrifying Discovery Discoveries are not always heroic, they are often horrific.  Describe a discovery by a character in a way that will appall and frighten the players.  The close presence of such perversity is startling even to the most jaded.
      19 5Sudden Panic Describe the frenzied emergence of dread and horror in a character or characters, or its residual effects.  It could  be just a false alarm, or they might have seen, heard or sensed something.
      20 5Unforseen Calamity Climax Card: Because of what was overlooked and misunderstood, a great tragedy occurs, and something of consequence to the characters involved.  What appears to happen is up to you - what actually occurs is up to the GM.
      21 6 Abduction Climax Card: Someone or something is taken away, kidnapped or stolen - or an attempt is made to do so (perhaps just the results of such could be discovered).  Describe what is seen, but leave the results to the GM
      22 6 Disfigurement Something or someone has been marred or had their aesthetic value reduced, creating something of unpleasant and perhaps horrific countenance.  Describe what is seen in as much gruesome detail as you can.
      23 6 Misguided Hope It is hope that leads us onward into the future, and sometimes it is only hope that that keeps us going.  But sometimes hope proves to be misguided.  How was the hope misguided and what is likely to result because of it?
      24 7 New Found Escape Climax Card: Describe a potential way out of the situation, an escape which will take a character or characters out of harm's way.  It must make sense and fit the story, otherwise it's going to be Vetoed out from under you.

      1 1 Animosity Theme Card: Hostility is prevalent and open, and hate affects everything in this Path, tainting and corrupting even the player characters.  This ill will may be openly expressed or harboured secretly in the heart, waiting to reupt at a later time.
      2 1 Betrayal Theme Card: All is deception and treachery.  You can trust nothing and no one.  This Path explores the double-crosses, faithlessness, and betrayals of a story of intrigue.  All cards played in this Path should relate to this theme of betrayal.
      3 1 Things are Not as They Seem Theme Card:What seems to be one thing is actually another.  What was once certain is now unknown.  This Path explores the confusion and mutability of what is thought to be known - the reality behind the veil of "truth."
      4 1 Vengence Theme Card: The sweet fulfillment of righteous revenge is a driving force.  It directs, mutates and consumes all that it touches.  The effects of someone's avenging nature must touch every card that is played along this Path.
      5 2 Lasting Impression An impression is made or an old one is reborn.  Perhaps the emotional effects of a forgotten experience reawakens within the character's mind, which may be of some import to the current situation.  Perhaps something occurs which will never be forgotten.
      6 2 Meaningful Glance The observation of a meaningful glance between two characters might illuminate the mysteries and secrets of the intrigues that are involved.  What really is seen and what it signifies are determined by the GM.
      7 2 Mysterious Stranger Introduce the appearance of a new and strange character into the story.  This individual forbodes an uncertain and mysterious future.  This card also allows you to describe in more detail anyone the GM has mentioned in passing.
      8 2 Overheard Conversation Relate to a character or characters a conversation overheard, making sure to describe how they happen to be within hearing distance.  You should only describe the situation and let the GM relate the details of the conversation.
      9 2 Taint of Corruption The stench is everywhere and unavoidable, whether it be political, social or animal.  It corrupts everything it touches, and always leaves its residue behind.  Describe what type of corruption it is and what type of mark it leaves behind.
      10 3 Convincing Argument A character is convinced, either enthusiastically or reluctantly, of the validity of another point of view.  They are swayed by the words and logic of another's argument.  Whether they are pretending, confused, or truly convinced is up to the GM.
      11 3 Hidden Weapon Describe how a weapon of some sort is being carried secretly by a character, giving another character a chance to spot it.  This could be a physical tool of destruction, or something less substantial, more subtle, nd far more dangerous.
      12 3 Veiled Threat A threat is made, though not in direct terms, for a degree of subtly is employed.  While the magnitude of the threat may not be fully understood and the characters are unsure of what was said, the overall meaning is quite clear, "… or else."
      13 3 Ulterior Motive Describe the covert intentions of a character, motives that a character may have besides those already known. This ulterior motive may have been discovered by a character, or it could be something shared by the players (at least at first). (Missing Card Text Supplied by: Reuben Beattie)
      14 4 Double Cross Climax Card: After a deal or understanding has been reached, a betrayal is made which could drive a character into ruin.  Describe the moment when the character first realizes something is amiss, but leave the details up to the GM.
      15 4 Malicious Intent A character does not mean well for those who oppose him, and concocts an evil plan.  The full nature of the enemy's design and what may later befall his enemies is likely to be unknown.
      16 4 Secret Message A message or a letter was either seen being passed along, or was somehow intercepted.  Describe the details behind the observation or the interception.  The GM will determine the contents of the message, if it can be understood at all.
      17 4 False Accusations An attempt is made to bring suspicion upon a character, through gossip, innuendo, or open accusation. Describe the details behind the accusation, but if it will substantially alter the plot, you'd better speak with the GM first. (Missing Card Text Supplied by: Reuben Beattie)
      18 5 Impasse A deadlock is reached from which there seems to be no escape.  Opinions and positions are entrenched and no one's giving an inch.  It does not seem as if the dispute can be amicably settled and a more extreme stage of conflict might soon be reached.
      19 5 Mistaken Identity Someone or something is taken for something else.  Embarrassment and even injury may result because of it.  Describe how the blunder was made, and the GM will decide how it will be concluded.
      20 5 Uncovered Weakness Climax Card: A situation may reverse itself as a weakness in the opponents' defenses is uncovered.  Secrets are revealed, new information surfaces, or the missing scale on a dragon is spotted.  Victory may soon be possible.
      21 6 Inopportune Arrival They arrived just in time - just in time, that is, to screw things up.  Something or someone just arrived to the chagrin or disadvantage of someone.  Unwelcome relatives, hated rivals, or perhaps the police.
      22 6 Startling Discovery Climax Card: What has been found is a surprise to all, giving great insight into what is being investigated or pursued.  Though not all may be made clear, much is revealed by the discovery (as described by GM).
      23 6 Unwelcome Visitor Someone or something appears in the scene that does not belong, yet is not necessarily an enemy or a danger.  They may complicate matters with their presence, but could actually be of some value later on.
      24 7 Unexplained Aid Climax Card: The cavalry comes to the rescue, bringing unanticipated help.  The rescue, however, may not be without its price.  Describe the aid as it is first perceived but leave the details to the GM.

      Saturday 18 September 2010

      Imagining D&D

      Thanks to James Maliszewski at Grognardia for posing the question: "When you think about Dungeons & Dragons, the cover of what product comes first to mind?"
      1e AD&D PHB
      GW Blue Book D&D
      9th Print 1e AD&D DMG

      Well, for me it's gotta be the first edition AD&D PHB, and yet I never owned, played or DM'd this version of AD&D.  This cover is deceptively simple and features no heroic action unlike other covers, yet manages to capture essentially what happens in every dungeon crawl.  The Rogues engage in a little post fight thievery whilst the Fighters argue over which way to go next and the magic user leans on his staff exhausted after blowing the last of his spells on a mid dungeon minion.  You can also buy this iconic statue as a dungeon feature for your own games from Otherworld Miniatures.

      The first version of D&D I owned was the 1e Blue Book produced by Games Workshop.  Sadly I was too young to really appreciate it, but it did start me out in this wonderful hobby.  Looking at the artwork, although a beautiful piece of pen and ink, it's not exactly evocative of the game contained within and harks back to the artwork of "The Hobbit" with it's  Beardsleyesque detail.

      The version that I most fondly remember having spent hours pouring over almost sucking the content dry was the 9th print version of 1e AD&D DMG.  The artwork is quite powerful, suggesting that great secrets lie within and to get to them you must best the sinister figure standing between the doors.  One of Jeff Easley's finest and subtlest works.

      Thursday 16 September 2010

      Old Skool: The view from the UK

      I read with interest many of the blogs from the otherside of the Atlantic and get a very different view of Roleplaying as a hobby.  There seems to be much more of a focus on playing commercial modules, and less about creating your own worlds and adventures.  How an industry which creates a rules system which offers you the opportunity to create your own world full only limited by your imagination manages to sell more product has always puzzled me.  Once I've bought the core rulebooks for a system I've usually written my own scenarios and source material (with the exception of Cyberpunk which I just loved).

      Also the con scene is quite different in the UK.  Single day events being the norm and sharing fans across the gaming spectrum including wargamers, boardgamers and the odd sci-fi con.

      The most startling difference is in my experience of how gaming groups are formed.  I've always gamed in large groups of between 10 to 20, congregating in public spaces such as church halls, libraries, community centres and even the odd public house (aka a bar).  I've hosted games at my home but these have always been as an extra to my regular weekly game session as part of an organised club.

      I can guess at one or two of the reasons, America is a much bigger country with a lower population density than the UK, but this doesn't explain everything.  If you're reading this from the US (or any other part of the world) please feel free to set me straight.

      Tuesday 14 September 2010

      Where's the gateway game for the tweenies?

      A few new members have joined my regular game group over the past year and very few of them are younger than thirty, which got me thinking are roleplayers an ageing breed, are there young players out there? Casting my mind back to my impressionable youth I remember the gateway games which drew me into this amazing hobby, the Fighting Fantasy gamebook, the primitive computer text adventure games.  Which then set me wondering what is today's gateway game?

      The console game world is littered with fantasy and sci-fi adventure games and first person shooters where the action is visceral and immersive.  With literacy levels dropping throughout the first world are kids really going to want to get into a hobby where it requires effort to read and to visualize for themselves?

      I've dabbled in the CCG world with games such as Magic, but they always left me feeling a little bewildered and frustrated as excercises in strategy and lack any opportunity for imagination or storytelling.

      The gamebook is still there but has expanded into newer titles such as the popular "Doctor Who: Decide Your Destiny series" or the classic Choose Your Own Adventure Series which is available as an app or an ebook (depending on your taste in tech).  The big difference now is that you'll never bump into a copy of D&D (or in my case T&T) by browsing the shelves of the app store.

      There are lots of big box adventure boardgames such as DOOM, Descent, Talisman, Runebound, World of Warcraft and now the Ravenloft Boardgame.  But are these gateway games to RPGs or Boardgames?

      Warhammer is still alive and kicking, but with the Rogue Trader and WHFRPS being being sold off to other publishers do the kids ever get exposed to these titles when they walk into their local Games Workshop store?

      The future is pretty uncertain for RPGs (I doubt we will ever have an influx of youth again like we did in the 70s and 80s) unless technology changes our hobby into something that young people want to consume.

      Digital Comic Museum

      Today I discovered an amazing resource.  The Digital Comic Museum is an archive of titles from the golden age of comics between the late 30s and the early 50s.  All the content is guaranteed to be public domain and copyright free.  You'll need to register to gain access to the downloads but it's well worth it, particularly if you're in need of some inspiration for your next pulp adventure.

      Monday 13 September 2010

      Scenario Timelines serious plot tool or DMs curse?

      As a DM I've tried a number of different approaches to both writing and running adventures, but they've always fallen into one of two camps, the LINEAR or the TIMELINE based adventure.

      Linear Plots

      In a linear plot the PCs go from location to location (or scene to scene), the events happen solely within their timeline.  This is how most dungeon crawls are written, the party blunder into room 5 and trigger the goblin attack which they either deal with or don't, then it's off to the next room or location and so on until they end up defeating the evil archmage and rescuing the princess / orb of jozitzky (delete as applicable).  

      From a DMs perspective these are easy to write and to run as the PCs don't do much choosing which path through the adventure they take.  However, depending on how immersed they are in the adventure, the PCs can sometimes detect the guiding hand of the DM which often led to player apathy and sometimes even rebellion.  They can also feel a little formulaic (not that there's anything wrong with dungeon bashing) if that's all the DM has in their arsenal.


      Fantasy Time Clock Timeline Plots

      Timeline Plots

      In a timeline adventure the PCs wander from location to location but the events have a life of their own and can be triggered by the PCs, NPCs, the villain or even other events.  Often these are decided by an overarching game timeline, for example; at noon a fight breaks out in the marketplace, by 1pm the marketplace is cordoned off by the local sheriff, by 1:30 the aggrieved parties have been carted off to the local gaol, by dawn they are all executed.  

      As DM you need to be aware of where the PCs are in relation to the EVENTS and any travelling time it might take them to get there, the time it takes for players to deal with an EVENT and argue about what to do next etc.  These are, on the whole, much more of a challenge to write and to DM but often more rewarding for players and DM alike for a number of reasons.

      I find that some settings naturally lend themselves to timelines.  Of particular note are Judge Dredd and Cyberpunk, both of which are set in an urban sprawl:

      Judge Dredd: The adventure timeline is usually crafted around a single perp's attempts at either committing a number of minor crimes escalating in scale and severity which (if the PCs follow the clues) will end up in a final showdown or one big crime and then the perp tries to cover their tracks.  

      When I write my own adventures I pepper the timeline with lots of other events so the players have to decide which crimes are linked together in order to decide what to react to and which ones are set fressing or red herrings.  

      The fact that the PCs are often street judges on patrol (but in constant communication with Justice Central) helps with the planning the events in a more linear way and allows you to communicate alerts and demand responses from the PCs to things that they hear on their radios.

      Cyberpunk: The adventure timeline is usually crafted around the nefarious actions of a corporation or some other organisation.  The PCs interact with these events through various intermediaries or connections and may end up either working for or against the organisation at the heart of the plot. 

      PCs are usually updated throughout the game with regular screamsheets and media broadcasts giving the players a sense of their insignificance in the world and (as I like to do) coverage of the effects of their actions from the opposite perspective.  The job for the PCs is to work out where they fit into all this and if they can or even should put a stop to it.

      Communication is Key

      One of the keys to running a timeline scenario is that the players need to be regularly made aware of events outside their immediate sphere.  In modern or sci-fi games this is usually not a problem as PCs usually have access to mobile phones or similar which you can use to appraise them of things happening in other locations.

      In fantasy games this can be tricky as long distance communication is usually impossible unless the PCs have access to a magical artifact, spell or reliant on messenger birds.  In a city setting this is much easier due to the shorter distances involved.  You might get word of something happening on the other side of the city passed by word of mouth but this could suffer from Chinese Whispers and the actual details of the message get corrupted.  Alternatively you could have a fixer or a patron act as the party messenger using runners to get information to the PCs as swiftly and reliably as possible.