Friday 29 January 2021

Max Headroom and Blank Reg - The Original Cyberpunk

When I blogged about Hawk the Slayer I highlighted the always amazing William Morgan Sheppard and I just wanted to share my favourite role that he ever played:

Blank Reg

The owner and anchorman of the pirate TV Station "Big Time TV" Reg is an old punk.  He never gave up the punk DIY ethos and this has extended to everything he does.  His pirate radio station is run out of an old airstream caravan and it is not until he acquires a strange box and hooks it into his station that he hits on something big...  Max Headroom. 

What is a Blank

Reg is a Blank, someone who operates off the grid and outside the corporate identity system.  The off-grid unmentionable rebellious archetype is a popular trope featured in many sci-fi shows.  Reg plays the trope to a tee, doing things in his own maverick way despite the protestations of his long suffering wife Dominique who just wants to be able to pay the bills.  They make a classic odd couple like Stan & Hilda Ogden (Coronation Street) or George & Mildred.

Blank Reg and Dominique - Max Headroom
Blank Reg and Dominique - Max Headroom

The Meteoric Rise of Max Headroom
Max Headroom (Matt Frewer)
Max Headroom (Matt Frewer)

Max Headroom is most famously remembered as the titular glitching digital host who popped up at the end of videos on MTV.  The character had a meteoric rise and at one point in the 80s you couldn't move without seeing Max advertising this that and the other.  He certainly tapped into the zeitgeist that was the nu wave of TV shows like MTV and Sunday morning experimental yoof programming like Network 7.

This was of course entirely the result of Matt Frewer's amazing acting chops and as Mr. Tyrell says "The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long" and Max burned ever so brightly.

He had two TV Shows (one in the UK and one in the US) and this UK made for TV movie.

Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future tells the story of 24 hour news reported Edison Carter (Matt Frewer) and how he stumbles upon the deadly Blip Verts.  These hyper condensed adverts are an extremely effective way to blast commercials into the brain with the unfortunate side effect that particularly sedantary viewers spontaneously combust.  

This scandalous discovery puts Carter directly in the spotlight of the evil Network 23 TV exec trying to sell the Blip Verts to unsuspecting companies.  The exec orders a hit on Carter and as a result of a motorcycle accident evading the comedy hitmen he is killed.  The teenage genius behind Blip Verts Bryce Lynch downloads Carters brain into a simulation in a box inadvertently creating Max Headroom.  

It's certainly a must watch if you are into Cyberpunk or Judge Dredd.  

Wednesday 27 January 2021

Hawk the Slayer

I can't believe that I've been running this blog for 11 years and never written about Hawk the Slayer. 

Hawk the Slayer Poster by Les Edwards
Hawk the Slayer Poster by Les Edwards - Buy on eBay

 Released in 1980, this low budget sword and sorcery movie was written and directed by Terry Marcel and starred John Terry as the eponymous hero, Hawk, seeking revenge against his evil brother Voltan (Jack Palance).

Hawk is your classic do-gooder protecting the weak and the innocent.  We see him kill a couple of bandits who are torturing a witch and he saves the one handed warrior Ranulf (William Morgan Shepherd) from bandits who are using him as a target in their axe throwing game.  A grateful Ranulf tells Hawk that he has been looking for him for weeks.  He needs help defeat evil Voltan the Dark (really?) and to save the Abbess of the Convent of (Annette Crosbie, One foot in the Grave).  Hawk suggests that they recruit some old friends,  an unlikely bunch of adventurers in the shape of Gort the Giant (Carry On star Bernard Bresslaw) Crow the elf (Ray Charleson) and Baldin the Dwarf (Peter O'Farrell).

Hawk visits the witch who uses flash powder and two reflective hula hoops to transport him to the locations of each of his friends where they get their own little montage to show off some of their character and special skills.  Once together they relieve Sled the Hunchback and Slavemaster of the river Shale of his ill gotten coin to pay the Abesses ransom.  They then hole up in the convent and wait for Voltan to turn up.

Meanwhile Voltan's son Drogo decides he wants a bit of the limelight so on hearing that Hawk is at the convent he decides to barge in, take the gold and kill our hero.  Predictably he is hopelessly outmatched and suffers a mortal blow.  The merciful Hawk lets two of the survivors drag Drogo back to Voltan's camp and tells him he is waiting for him with the gold.  Voltan is grief stricken at the death of his son and kills the two survivors in rage.

Questions I Couldn't Help Asking (Plot Spoiler Alert)

1.  So if he hates his brother so much (he killed his father and his wife after all) where has Hawk been all this time.  We know he has been adventuring with his three compatriots, but they haven't been with him for some time as they tell us this when they are reunited.  Surely he can't have been on a long moody horseback ride all this time, there's only so many murky and bubbling fetid lakes you can ride past before you get bored.  Shouldn't he have been busy ridding the land of his evil brother and not letting him wreak havoc across the land leaving countless dead innocents in his wake?

2.  In my opinion the order of the flashbacks should have been reversed.  Voltan kills Hawk's father after he kills his bride as evidenced by him wearing the helmet covering his burned face.  Maybe that would have given him enough impetus to hunt him down straight away.  Unless he is a big fan of revenge being served cold (like Gazpatcho Soup).

3.  To be honest Voltan is a bit of a confusing villain.  One minute he is threatening to kill his own son the next he is blind with grief and kills the only two people who can tell him the size of Hawk's force.  I put this down to Jack Palance's overacting.  Not so much "pick up the gun" as "pick up the sword" and we all know how that turns out.

Why is Hawk so Great?

This is early sword and sorcery cinema.  It predates Conan the Barbarian and the plethora of wannabe's by about 2 years.  It is also the most faithful representation of a typical fantasy RPG plot.  A bunch of diverse heroes from different backgrounds, races and skills band together to fight off a great evil and protect the innocent and weak.

It's squarely aimed at an adult audience.  There's no cute puppets here, only marsh goblins and mis-shapen men.  One of my favourite characters is Sped the Hunchback played by Decland Mullholland who Star Wars fans will instantly recognise as the guy who played Jabba the Hut before they decided to replace him with a giant slug.

Declan Mullholland Star Wars
Declan Mullholland discusses motivation with Han Solo

The characterisation of Crow the Elf as a smaller than human figure is bang on point for early D&D which distinguished itself from Tolkien's lofty elves.

The interplay between Gort and Baldin is fantastic.  We often see Dwarves as these stoic sturdy types who are not the sharpest tools in the box, but Baldin is a rogue and his weapon of choice a whip.  He is as quick with it as he is with his whit.  The two have an antagonistic relationship but are true friends until the end.

The film poster was painted by the legend that is Les Edwards and is one of those instant classics which would look good on any fantasy fan's wall.  This one included

Cast Highlights

  • Roy Kinnear turns in a classic performance as the frightened innkeeper.

  • Warren Clarke does a fantastic turn as a bandit.  He would later go on to bring Det. Supt. Andy Dalziel to life.

  • Declan Mulholland gets a credited role as Sped the Hunchback.  His performance as Jabba the Hut wouldn't be seen for years until the cut scenes from Star Wars were included in the Special Editions.

  • Maurice Colbourne plays one of the axemen.  He would later get his big break playing Tom Howard the title character in the south coast shipyard TV soap opera Howard's Way.

  • Annette Crosbie as the Abess.  A national treasure who would later go on to play Margaret the long sufferring wife of Victor Meldrew.
  • William Morgan Shepherd - Character actor who played many 90s scifi and unforgettably was Blank Reg the punk pirate TV station host from the short lived but awesom Max Headroom.

Tuesday 26 January 2021

Reaper Bones #25 - Ghostly Summons

Those translucent Reaper Bones minis seem like a great idea, particularly when you can integrate LED technology as I did with my Flaming Sphere and Fire Elemental.

In reality many of them have very spindly lower portions which makes uplighting them particularly difficult.

It is however a great opportunity to try airbrushing gradients and to play with a 20 year old bottle of Citadel Blue Ink Shade.  You be the judge of whether I managed to pull it off or not.

Ghostly Summons - Julie Guthrie (SKU: 77095)

To be brutaly honest I interpreted this mini to be some sort of water elemental spell and nothing supernatural of ghostly at all.  This explains why I painted it blue (Facepalm).

Ghostly Summons - SKU 77095

Monday 25 January 2021

Cthulhu Ate My Minis! - Rescuing A Vintage Curse of the Mummy's Tomb

My Games Workshop Bookcase Boardgame collection has a couple of survivors who are hanging on for grim death.

Curse of the Mummy's Tomb Box Art
Box Art
One such game is Curse of the Mummys Tomb which has long since lost its metal minis and I need to replace these.  Being a tightwad I'm not going to spring for a mint copy or the £35 for a full set of 5 minis.

To the scanner dear boy...

I have the character cards which have fantastic Gary Chalk illustrations of the four protagonists which can easily be turned into papercraft miniatures.  I wrote a papercraft minis how how to many moons ago and this sort of boardgame first aid is trivial if you have a scanner and printer.   

This also gives me the opportunity to print out the additional characters from the expansion "In Search of Eternity" which featured in issue 102 of White Dwarf. 

 According to the Lost Minis Wiki all 8 character minis were repurposed from the Gothic Horror range and the Mummy from the Night Horrors.  In fact this is probably what happened to my minis... Cthulhu ate them.

Scan, GIMP, Inkscape, Print, Play

Paper mini layout in Inkscape
Replacement Character Minis
I scanned in all the player cards and in GIMP cut out each of the character images.  I increased the white point using adjust levels  to make them pop before saving them into individual files.

Moving to Inkscape I created a basic standee template 1 inch wide x 1.5 inches tall with a half round base.  Each character was then pasted in and flipped copy pasted in.  Remember to put these head to head otherwise your standees will be upside down.

Export them out as a PDF and print them out.  I only have a cheap inket and even cheaper paper so mine came out a bit blurry.  These were then stuck to cereal box card with PVA glue and once dried cut out.  There's a significant difference in thickness of cereal box cardboard.  Name brand varieties tend to be quite thick which can be a disadvantage if you are using plastic stands.

The player cards for the expansion were also printed out and backed onto cereal box card along with some missing value 1 Tanna Leaf counters.

Another Game Saved from the Scrapheap 

As can be seen from the photo the quality of the minis is very dependent on your printer and paper.

Curse of the Mummys Tomb Paper Minis
Replacement paper minis for base game and expansion

However, for me this is perfectly acceptable for the time being as I am desperate to play a solo game during COVID lockdown 3.0. 

Curse of the Mummy's Tomb
Curse of the Mummy's Tomb: rescued and ready to be played

Sunday 24 January 2021

Gaslands: A Question of Scale

 I recently joined the Gaslands facebook group and a user posed the interesting question of what scale models can you use when building your post apocalypse road warrior gang?

The simple answer is quite a few.  Pictured below are a selection of miniatures from my own collection.

1:72 - Airfix kits are an obvious go to for those military inspired builds especially the tanks and helicopters of Rutherford and Mishkin 

Gaslands Scale Comparisons
Gaslands Scale Comparison

1:64 - Hotwheels and Matchbox are nominally 1:64th scale but there's a lot of leg room and models tend to besized to fit in a blister pack rather than be true scale.

20mm - A popular modern wargaming scale designed to fit in with 1:72 plastic kits.  This seems to be the scale that most 3rd Party companies like Stan Johansen Miniatures have adopted

15mm - Popular with Sci-Fi wargamers but cheap as chips and there are lots of manufacturers out there.

Thursday 21 January 2021

Gaslands in Lockdown: Build a Team Competition

I've been a fan of vehicular combat games since I first saw Mad Max way back when.

Lockdown sees me with plenty of time on my hands and some creative urges which need to be sated, so I propose a build off.

The Rules

1. Visit the Gaslands Refueled Team Builder and build a 50 can team (no Gyros, Helicopters, Tanks or War Rigs)

2. Scratch-build as accurate a model of them as you can taking into account every weapon, crew member and upgrade you can squeeze in.  Base vehicles must be Matchbox / Hotwheels (or similar) so no 3D printing an entire vehicle.

3. Subscribe to the Roleplay Geek Pubishing facebook page and post a photo in the comments with your Teams stats.

4. Closing date for entries is Fri 26th Feb 2021.

5. Winner receives a £10 amazon gift voucher and bragging rights for the best vehicle.

Monday 11 January 2021

Reaper Bones #24 - Kyra, Iconic Cleric

Probably my favourite D&D setting is Al-Qadim: The Lands of Fate.  This is one of the many settings that TSR released in the 80s and has a unashamedly Arabian Nights feel to it.

Kyra, Iconic Cleric - (Derek Schubert - SKU: 8901) 

Kyra exudes that persian vibe from her head to her toes and I can see her squaring off against a capricious Djinn or some of those vile Yikkaran Yak-men any day now.

Reaper Bones Kyra Iconic Cleric
Kyra, Iconic Cleric - (Derek Schubert - SKU: 8901)

Bones Progress

Reaper Bones: 245 - Painted: 102

Related Posts

Friday 8 January 2021

Pacing and Player Decision Making

When you are beginning your journey as a GM you have a lot to juggle.  

You have to keep track of your NPCs, deliver descriptions of the world, drop hints and rumours, bookeep, keep one step ahead of the players... Frankly it can be exhausting at times and it is easy to forget about pacing.

Pacing and Prioritisation in Player Decision Making

In real life we have to make decisions in real time and often those decisions are made under time pressure with imperfect information.  Naturally we prioritise those decisions to select the most urgent tasks first and this should be no different for players in your RPG.

Ask yourself how many times your party has meticulously planned a combat encounter.  The planning (or more likely the arguing) can often take longer than the combat itself and this can suck the life out of the game.

Putting your players under time pressure when planning will result in them throwing out many of their wilder options and selecting between two or three based on what they know.  I've seen many parties get bogged down in analysis paralysis because they just have too many options on the table or too many voices.

How you pace a game also affects the engagement levels of players.  If there are too many long discussions it can sap the will to live from some players particularly if there character's share of the decision making is uneven.  You only have to look at the Avengers to see how disengaged Hulk can be when the others strategise about attack plans.  Hulk just wants to smash like your typical tank PC.

Pacing also raises the stakes for players.  Rushed decision making increases the risk of failure and the players feel that there are consequences to that failure.  The tension rises, the action becomes more visceral.  Success following a tense battle is always sweeter and mixed with relief.

Medieval Tent
I said make the action "Intense" - Image credit Diary of a Croation Larper

Thursday 7 January 2021

Encounter by Encounter - A Nodal Design View of a Campaign

Nodal Design suits my way of scenario writing and I have explained the concept in articles before but maybe what I have left on the table is a real world example.  

In 2019 I ran a Judge Dredd campaign "Tales from Mega City" for a small group of 4 Street Judges using the Starblazer Adventures game system.  The campaign spanned 11 sessions and whilst everyone had a passing familiarity with the two Judge Dredd movies that was about all they knew about Mega City 1.  In this example each encounter is a node with multiple paths or options to their next encounter. 

Session 1 - Encounter 1 - Sector House Briefing

The first encounter does a number of things.  It establishes some characters (namely Judge Belloch) some world lore (weather control, sector 55) a location (Loop Plaza) and two future events (the super duper loop unveiling, the fidget spinner race) which the PCs should be aware of.

The players get to choose which of these events they want to pursue.  Which one they decide to follow is immaterial as whilst they are on their way there they will experience the next encounter.  Whilst some might misconstrue this forced encounter as a form of Railroading, when done in a sidetrek style, the GM has not removed any player agency just introduced another immediate encounter.  In D&D this would probably take the form of a wandering monster encounter or a sidequest.  

Session 1 - Encounter 2 - Roadblock

Whilst heading towards their chosen destination via Megway 5535 (location) they observe 2 Judges who have set up a temporary roadblock.  The PCs decide to stop and chat with them but could easily have passed them by.  The PCs all make observation checks but fail and get back on their bikes and continue on to loop plaza.  This was an opportunity for players to make their first skill check and learn a little bit about the game system.  In my experience if you let players go too long without rolling some dice they become disengaged. 

Further down the road they players all get to make another skill check, this time it a Law check.  Judge Holmes passes and gets rewarded with the info that Judge White's left knee pad was on upside down.  Once again it is up to the players what they do with that information.  Holmes decides it warrants further investigation and they return to the scene of the roadblock.  

Session 1 - Encounter 3 - The Security Guards

When they arrive at the scene the Judges are gone but their Lawmasters remain. Two security guards flag the Judges down and tell them that the Judges White and Greene requisitioned their van and sped away up the off-ramp to Meg 5527.  The guards also mention that they forgot to tell the Judges that they were carrying an explosive cargo which is sensitive to shocks.  This introduces a sense of urgency to the proceedings.   

The players also make a successful Law roll which gets them the hint that this feels like a case of Judge Impersonation and Road Piracy, both serious crimes.  However, the Judges bikes are the real deal which means that there are two Judges to be found and that could be the far more serious crime of Judge Homicide.

This is a lot of exposition but it is vital information which might influence the choices that players make now the are faced with multiple options.  Do they protect the public and chase down the van?  Do they try to find the real White and Greene? Or do they take the bold step of splitting up and doing both at the same time?  

One player asks if they can put out an All Points Bulletin (APB) on the van and is rewarded with a solid YES.  They can now focus on the immediate task of finding White and Greene.

Session 1 - Encounter 4 - The Tyre Tracks

A cursory search of the nearby roadside shows a set of tyre tracks leaving the road and entering an overgrown patch of vegetation.  Buried in the undergrowth, out of sight, is a small town car.  Muffled cries can be heard from inside the trunk.  Opening the trunk reveals Judges White and Green bound, gagged and stripped down to their regulation underwear.  The Judges reveal that they were taken by suprise by 2 assailants and knocked unconcious.  

Meanwhile one of the PCs investigating the undergrowth spots a rustling in the bushes and goes to investigate.  Parting the branches of a shrub they briefly spot a flash of yellow but the area behind the bush is empty.  This mini event is a piece of foreshadowing and introduces a potential sidetrek involving Pokemon which that PC might choose to investigate at a later date.  Giving individual players their own sidetreks is a useful way of keeping them engaged in the game especially in a "Detective" style scenario where one or two players may be actively questioning Non Player Characters and others are just standing around.

The encounter ends with a call from Sector HQ informing the players that the van has been spotted entering a Through-Way near Thatcher Towers.  With Judges White and Greene found the GMs job is now to get the players back into urgency mode and on the trail of the Jimps and the explosives.  Keeping the players "on plot" by using things such as radio comms or telephone calls is a perfectly legitimate way of reminding them that events they had the choice of following up are still unfolding and now need their attention.

Session 1 - Encounter 5 - The Throughway and Thatcher Towers

When the players arrive they find the van parked awkwardly on the roadside.  The cargo hold is empty apart from 2 Judge uniforms.  Successful observation checks from the players (it's been a while since they rolled some dice) reveals 4 CCTV cams belonging to Thatcher Towers block with good views of the van.  This naturally leads them to make their way to the block security station and the CCTV recordings. 

When they enter the block at level 250 (GM: establishing the scale of Mega City buildings) they encounter the BREXIT political rally and that there is someone called Nigel.  This is another piece of foreshadowing of the real plot to the scenario but it is intentionally glossed over as just a bit of scene setting.  If the players get involved and try to break up the rally then I would have let them do so. 

When the players get to the security station and demand the tapes, the security guard tells them that they weren't covering the through-way because they were focusing on the BREXIT rally.  Whilst this is the GM effectively saying "No" to the players, it is the first time and it is backed up with a solid reason.  This is also an example of an event which Must Happen.  The trail of the missing explosives must go cold at Thatcher Towers because their recovery and the possible arrest of the Jimps might lead to future events in the plot timeline not happening. 

Before any of the players can react to this Judge Belloch's voice shouts at them through their radios demanding that they get to Loop Plaza pronto.  This ends the session nicely but also reinforces the idea that events are going on around them which don't stop happening because of the choices that they make.  These Timeline Events are always going to be experienced from the perspective of the PCs so you will need to be either flexible about when they happen or the way in which the PCs experience them.  This might in real time, via a news report or in third hand witness statements.  The event still happens irrespective of the players actions.  Similarly if the players had chosen to patrol the Fidget Spinner Race then the message from Sector HQ would have been to attend the race.    

When all put together the nodemap for this session looks a bit like this:

Nodal Scenario Design

When designing the scenario from scratch you may go through this process multiple times as you focus in on what is important for each session. In fact having a node map at the macro level is useful.  What I like about this particular style of scenario design is that you only need to do the detail work for the encounters that are highly likely to happen.

For example, I knew that there could be a potential shoot out if the PCs chose to "chase the van" and so would need a stretch of Megway battlemap and a few vehicles.  However, this didn't take place so there wasn't much effort wasted and I could always reuse that battlemap another time in another session.  

Tuesday 5 January 2021

The Vast of Night - A Spooky Tale in 50s America

With a dearth of hollywood movies being made in 2020 thanks to COVID-19, the discerning sci-fi fan has had to look high and low on the streaming services to satisfy their need for entertainment.

One such lockdown sleeper I discovered was The Vast of Night (2019) available to rent on Amazon. 


Everett and Fay listen to the mysterious story of former soldier Bill

Through the premise of a "Twilight Zone" style television the viewer is transported to the rural New Mexico town of Cayuga in the late 1950s.  Using fly-on-the wall cinematography we follow our protagonists Everet Sloan (Jake Horowitz), a local radio DJ, and high schoolgirl Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick) as they move around town trying to piece together the story of mysterious and spooky goings on.

The Midnight Hour DJ style of this tale reminds me very much of the excellent animation The Kirlian Frequencies (2017) and of course the classic Kolchak: The Nightstalker (1972)

Much of the detail of the story is delivered through intense monologue where your attention hangs on every word and sound.  The acting is top notch from the entire cast and you are immediately engaged with their story.  Pacing is excellent with just enough "action" to give you that sense of urgency and panic that there is genuine fear going through their minds.

All in all a fantastic little low budget movie with a well handled finale which some Hollywood directors could learn from. 

Monday 4 January 2021

First Painted Minis of 2021

As we start a new year full of hope but low expectation (thanks 2020) I can showcase the first bunch of painted minis to roll off the workbench.

Arabian Bandits
Arabian Bandits

This is the first half dozen of my desert warriors which I am building up for use in upcoming Al-Qadim adventures.

Al-Qadim is the vintage AD&D setting released in the 80s for exotic Arabian style adventures in the style of Sinbad the Sailor.  It's probably my favourite fantasy setting.

These are versatile minions and could quite easily be repurposed for use in a pulp game or Call of Cthulhu.

These minis are from the excellent Wargames Foundry Darkest Africa range and are Baluchi Swordsmen

Sunday 3 January 2021

Why Saying Yes is the Secret to Great Games Mastery

Possibly the hardest lesson for a new Games Master to learn is how to say Yes.

The temptation to keep your players on the path of destiny you have spent many hours writing for them is very strong but belies a fundamental failing in your thinking.  RPGs are not books, they are not linear plotlines where you control every aspect of the story.  

Remember that RPGs are collaborative stories where the agency and actions of players help to create the storyline.  Once you say No to a player, once you remove player choice you remove player engagement and the fun goes out of the window.  This is commonly referred to as Railroading and will lead to far bigger problems further down the track.

The GM must always consider what the essential elements of your overarching plot are and ensure that you spend all your energy preparing multiple ways that the players might achieve them.

Essential elements of plots

I have written previously that my favourite way of writing plots is by using Nodal Design.  This approach is most commonly found in the Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks such as Fighting Fantasy or the Tunnels & Trolls solo games made popular in the 80s.

My approach is to break a plot line down into a series of encounters.  The most important of these are going to be the Must Happen encounters.  These are the events that have to happen to further the plot and the ones which you should spend the most time considering all the possible eventualities.  

You should always consider that: 

  • the players might fight their way in and out of an encounter even against impossible odds.
  • the players may run away
  • the players may never find this encounter in the first place.

The rule of three

When considering these Must Happen encounters you should always have at least 3 ways that players can find or enter the encounter and 3 ways that they can exit it whilst furthering the plot.

Finding the encounter in Nodal Design is easy.  You just have to make sure that there are 3 connections to the encounter from three other encounters.  

Exiting the encounter is a little bit harder but not impossible.  In a typical conflict encounter there are the usual outcomes:
  1. PCs win the fight - this is your everything goes according to plan exit
  2. PCs lose and get captured 
  3. PCs lose and escape or run away 
  4. PCs stealthily go around or avoid the encounter

However, if the PCs need to acquire some object or information then outcomes 2,3 and 4 are going to pose you with a problem.  Careful consideration of the potential outcomes of your Must Happen encounter will lead you to preparing plausible solutions.

PCs lose and get captured

Getting captured can often be a blessing in disguise as the PCs might be taken inside the enemy stronghold.  Here they will learn much more about their enemies strengths and weaknesses, the location of the big bad guy, location of an uber artifact or they might meet other prisoners who can join them in their quest or help them escape.

You also get the additional free bonus breakout encounter which are always fun and stressfull for PCs.

PCs lose and escape or run away 

This outcome presents the greatest challenge in that they may not learn or aquire what they need to progress.  This is where the rule of 3 comes in.  For something to be an essential Must Happen there must be at least 3 ways of achieving it.  If it's information the players are after then this can be heard during scouting or in combat.  If it's an object then it might get lost by the enemy or found by the players during the confusion of melee.  Perhaps it gets dropped into the river and the players find it later whilst licking their wounds.

PCs stealthily go around or avoid the encounter 

Whilst this sounds like a worse case scenario from an encounter preparation perspective, it is often the easiest to compensate for in the planning stage.  Whilst going around the encounter they might overhear the vital piece of info they need, they might see or find the item they need unguarded.  

Evil minions tend to be left out out of the loop on the overarching plot, they get told the bare minimum to get by.  Guard that door, go get that box rather than what's behind the door or what's in the box.  Use this to your advantage and convey some info which is meaningless to minions but useful to your PCs.

Insurmountable odds and revealling the big bad guy too early

One of the fatal mistakes I have seen new GMs make is to introduce an encounter with the Big Bad Guy too early.  Big Bad Guys are usually way too powerful for the PCs to handle early on in the game and a critical element of RPGs is that PCs need to gain experience and become more powerful in order to defeat the Big Bad Guy.  

Pitching your heroes into a battle with the Big Bad Guy too early risks them getting killed or worse that they might damage your Big Bad Guy.  The temptation to say "No you can't do that" is great and leaves you needing to construct a plausible explanation as to why the PCs wouldn't be slaughtered in an instant.  This is just poor storytelling from an RPG standpoint and means you have unnecessarily backed yourself into a corner.  Time to look at other ways to let your players know about the Big Bad without them confronting him early on.

The third party reveal

In other types of fiction the power of the Big Bad Guy is often witnessed by third parties who get killed early on and their only role in life is to illustrate that power.  For example a Big Bad Guy might attack a village or sack a town and in a film or a book you might witness this encounter from the eyes of an NPC.  

The fate of the NPC is irrelevant as the object of the scene is to convey this information to you the viewer.  However, in RPGs it is more than acceptable for that NPC to live just long enough to share what they saw to the players before they die.  

Rumours are another great way to seed knowledge of some power sweeping across the land.  The PCs may encounter refugees fleeing a besieged city, a trader who just got through a checkpoint or left a neighbouring town before the horde arrived.

How you achieve the reveal is entirely down to you but my advice is to dribble the information out a little bit at a time.  Give your PCs enough time to grow as a party and as individual characters so that they are ready to face off against the big bad guy in the finale.   

Don't forget the backstory

The PCs might also have acquired first hand knowledge of the Big Bad Guy through their backstory.  For example in the classic fantasy movie Conan The Barbarian (1982), the young Conan witnesses his tribe slaughtered and he is enslaved by the forces of Thulsa Doom.  It is only many years later once he has gained his freedom and become a mighty warrior that he faces off against the evil sorceror and avenges his family.

PCs need time to become a thorn in the big bad guy's side

A common trope among big bad guys is that they often overestimate their own power and underestimate their foe.  Many of the best fictional showdowns come after a long protracted series of small skirmishes and defeats for the big bad guy until he really does have to deal with the threat personally.  How many times have you heard them say...

"Do I have to do everything myself?"

Take Darth Vader for example, in Star Wars.  He takes charge and jumps in his TIE Fighter to personally see off the threat of the X-Wing attack on the Death Star.  Perhaps he senses the presence of Luke or perhaps he recognises that although the chance of success is remote in the face of overwhelming odds, the chance still exists.

Flipping this encounter on its head, the Death Star exploding is a Must Happen event and only a bad storyteller would have the bad guy he has spent the last hour and a half setting up die.  That happens to Snoke in Star Wars: The Last Jedi and we all know what we think of that movie.

Embrace Player Agency

One of the most frustrating but fun things in RPGs is that players often come up with creative solutions to the problems that you set them.  This is a fundamental aspect of RPGs and will necessitate that you change and modify your story to accomodate the players.  

Embrace this.  Learn to be fluid and to react to your players.  Be the Leaf on the Wind.  Let go and enjoy the unbridled chaos...

Saturday 2 January 2021

Inspired by Swedish Dicks?

A bit of a click-bait title I admit, but if you haven't seen the Netflix detective comedy Swedish Dicks then you are missing out.

Swedish Dicks TV Show

Specifically I am referring to the plot of the episode "Floyd Cal Who" in which Ingmar (Peter Stomare) and Alex (Johan Glans) are hired by internet dating app millionaire Dave (Haley Joel Osment) to find the hitman he hired to kill him.  

Years earlier, before his dating app went viral, Dave was depressed and decided to end it all but couldn't face doing it himself, so he hired a hitman.  Now a succsessful tech entrepreneur he has millions of reasons to live so he wants the hit called off.

I thought this was a really interesting plot line and one particularly well suited to the sci-fi genre.  It would easily convert to any cyberpunk / modern game and promises interesting play on a number of fronts:

  • Potential "hit attempt" encounters.
  • Investigatory encounters
  • Chase encounters 
  • Lots of tension

Oh and I nearly forgot to mention that Swedish Dicks features both Peter Stormare and Keanu Reeves who were last seen together in John Wick 2 (2017) and one of my favourite movies Constantine (2005).

Swedish Dicks Peter Stormare Keanu Reeves
Ingmar (Peter Stormare) and Tex (Keanu Reeves)