The Tidequeller

Busy busy. Work Work. GMing GMing. Blog Post!

I like Dark Souls. One of my favorite things the game does is give every item in it a story, or a small portion of a large story. It’s colored my view of how I include magical items in my fantasy games. In my most recent campaign I have handed out a handful of magical items, either from.

 

Magic items shouldn’t just be +1 swords of stabbening. They should have history and more importantly magic items should have purpose. There’s a reason it has the properties it does, they are tools that perform very specific functions. They could be equivalent to Weapons of Mass Destruction or Defenses of a Particular Kind or more simply a Maguffin that moves the Story Along.  I’ve made a habit of typing up Souls-like descriptions for these items, as a way to keep their place in the world in mind and to help them tell small stories as the players begin to use them. Helping tell the story of the world bit by bit without having to frontload exposition onto the players (this will be my next topic, probably.)

Surprisingly, the DnD 5e Dungeons Masters guide has some fun ways to generate a magic items backstory. Here’s some random ones I’ve created.

 

The Tidequeller – turquoise tinted dagger with a hilt of fish scales.

The Tidequeller was a weapon used in the war between the Pantheon and Yylir, when Yylir corrupted Findui’s creations to use against them.  This weapon was forged by the Smiths of Gadyran, and though it carries her blessing, it’s carrier cannot help but occasionally feel a bottomless sorrow.”

Sesquipedalian – giant’s dagger.

“A large greatsword whose proportions look slightly off, looking more like a gigantic dagger rather than a sword. It appears to be made out of pure obsidian, and flint-knapped into its current shape with small grooves and serrated edges. It’s previous owner used it to cut the tongues out of talkative giants, and when he was slain the blade was cursed through some means. At the blade’s insistence, it’s wielder is prone to speaking the tongue of giants.”

Diplomat’s Band – dull iron jewelry.

“The Bands of Passage are either rings, or bands that would go around ones wrist, very rarely a necklace. They were created and gifted to the Emissaries of the Pantheon, to provide safe travel amidst the various dangers the Pantheon had put in place. No matter the shape, they are made of plain dulled bronze.”

Potion of Invisibility – clear-syrupy flask.

 “This potion was gifted to Daham the Jackal by his patrons. On the top of the flask around its neck is a small piece of parchment glued onto it which reads ‘For dire straits’ only. The liquid drains out of the flask like water, but its texture is similar to molasses. Upon imbibing the flask all sentient beings within eyesight of the imbiber disappear, but leaves their actual presence very much visible. Apparently the Jackal did not curry lasting favor. 

 

The Tidequeller

Right and Wrong

Shorter post. Busy week!

If there’s one RPG truism that irks me, it has to be “There’s no wrong way to play RPGs, if you are having fun you are doing it right!” It isn’t necessarily that I believe this statement is false, it’s more that it’s not helpful in any way and it sort of implies that “fun” is the end all to playing a game at the table. Having fun is why we play, it isn’t how we play.

It’s so generic that it isn’t useful. Every person is different, and every group is made up of different people with wildly different tastes and expectations from a table top game. Some groups can have a good time sitting around a table, regardless of system or type of being run, or the skill of the GM or players.  Some groups like or require a very specific experience to enjoy themselves.

So instead of just saying “You’re having fun so you are doing it right!” Keep your brain on and ask yourself some questions after your sessions are over.

What worked in the game, what didn’t?

What could work if I iterated on it?

Why was a particular session fun? 

How can I experiment and introduce new things to keep it fresh?

Is the game helping or hindering me in what I want to accomplish, narratively or mechanically?

Are the expectations of me and my players in alignment?

 

I ask myself these types of questions in mid-session during the breaks, or after the sessions are over. Fun is important, it’s the most important probably. But don’t stop there. Asking yourself these questions helps you GM and adapt to groups with different expectations.

 

Right and Wrong

New Year, New Post.

I’ve been borrowing a lot from Kevin Crawford’s games lately (shocking, I know.). Even if I don’t use the Faction system for every game I run I still structure it similarly enough. This time however I’ll be talking about adventure outlines and how the ones in Stars Without Number can be ported to any genre of game that focuses on adventurers. These outlines are useful because it allows you a basic structure to get your ideas down without having to plan linearly and most importantly it allows you to plan lots of adventures which is useful in sandbox play.

 

Instead of prepping only for the upcoming adventure, I can use the outline to prep lots of adventures in case the PC’s decide to do a 180 and go somewhere completely different. Of course these outlines aren’t as in depth as more fleshed out adventures would be, and porting them to games like Dungeons and Dragons takes a bit of work due to how it purports to balance encounters. Stars Without Number doesn’t have that problem as the game itself isn’t really about “balance” and the stat blocks are fairly simple to memorize or even come up with on the spot. For DnD we’ll have to work at it a bit more at the end of the post I’ll provide my method of handling it.

 

The Format.

 

Adventure Name: I like to name my adventures, as it helps me stick to a theme or idea.

Location: The main locations where it’ll take place, where they pick up the rumors, where the adventure is, other locations the PC’s MIGHT go to.

Seed: The details residing which NPC needs help, or what impetus the PC’s would have to get involved. You can include multiple seeds here that all point to the same thing.

Friends: The NPC’s whose goals line up with the PC’s goals, or NPC’s who are friendly to the PC’s.

Other NPCs: Neutral parties, bystanders, shopkeepers, bartenders, that kind of thing. I just list their as well as 3 single word details about them. This is just an outline.

Complications: Here’s where you brainstorm what kinds of bad things can happen or what obstacles will be in the way of PC’s. What enemies might show up, hazards, traps, ambushes, deceptions, bureaucratic red tape, etc.

Things: This is one of my favorite ones, it’s simply background (unless the players pull it into the foreground.) It’s things that are going on in the area, or aspects of the place the PC’s are in, or the people they are around. If the PC’s walk into a new place I use these details to set the scene as they walk into a new city or town, or an old ruin lost to time.

Places: This is a followup to locations, it is all the minor places the PC’s might go. Bars for information, the castle they get sent to if they get arrested. That kind of thing.

Governance: PC’s are always getting up to trouble, and so for me it’s important to note what will happen if they start breaking rules. It’s also useful to note here what the governance IS and what they are DOING.

Rewards: Either in terms of payment for an adventure from an NPC, or the kinds of stuff they find along the way. Or just raw XP and gold.

Enemies: This is where all the antagonists go. Either in name or their minions. People whose goals are against the PC’s or their allies, or who are against the PC themselves for whatever reason. I usually put their goals in the complication section but it can go here too. Here is the tricky part, in Stars Without Number I just put normal statblocks here, but for DnD I use Kobold Fight club to come up with groups of enemies the PC’s might encounter based on the details we have filled out before followed by what ratings the groups are for the PC’s based on what system I’m using.  SWN doesn’t really have a rating system for its bad guys so I just have to guess based on the damage they do. Remember this is just an outline, something to springboard your ideas into more fully fleshed out adventures or dungeons depending on what threads the PCs tug on. I play mostly theater of the mind however, and so using these outlines is more often than not enough to provide a great session.

 

Examples from my DnD game.

 

Adventure: Archaeological Discoveries

Location: Zerinnth, the surrounding area. The warrens underneath. Dahams Stronghold that is

located in an old Maalati fortress.

Expected Levels: Level 3

Seed: The ruins of an ancient Shaper temple has just been discovered by the PC’s.

Multiple parties express interest, especially the Church of the Shaper who say that this

city should be declared officially the main holy site for which all the Tribes and believers

should pay tribute. Additionally Daham the Jackal is still around, intending to ramp up his

efforts against the PC’s. The PC’s will make their own goal here, pursue The Jackal.

Handle the political turmoil between the Church and the State here. Shareen and Saratavi

seek the party out in order to inform them of the suspected location of Daham the Jackal,

whom has been disruptive to the Maalat tribe.

Friends: Doctor Gregori, William One-Eye, Shareen (female, dark hair, Maalati tattoos,

no-nonsense.) the visitor from the Maalat tribe accompanied by an Okeshir apprentice

Saratavi, (female, long-dirty brown hair, curious, naive, esoteric knowledge.) Vasumangla

the Azer trapped in the ruins of the Shaper.

Other NPCs: Nisil the Magistrate Superior (female, elven, warm outside, cold

underneath.) Ober the Magistrate Interior (square jawed balding tough man.) Yylsalrin The

Magistrate Exterior (brutish female, short hair cut but beautiful.) Mauldis the New Temple

of the Shaper leader (charismatic, young, well dressed, short cut dark hair).

Complications: Daham sends more assassins. The church causes a ruckus. More

kidnappings. Some minor elementals start to appear in the city and start a ruckus. The

Fortress of the Maalati is far away. Taking 3 days travel to reach. (9 hexes) (DC 10

Survival to not get lost, DC 15 to avoid a random encounter.) The party encounters the

bandits wandering the desert.

 

Things: A fire elemental appears from the Shaper, burning part of the bazaar. Resurgence of the faithful to the Shaper, protests. More trade caravans get hit. A beggar becomes target for public shaming.

 

Places: The Merciful Efreet, Zerinnth Garrison HQ, The Well. Slums area being turned

into dig sites. The abandoned Maalati fortress (known to them as The Old Trials) where

Daham is currently residing (can be seen in the distance from the main road, at the top it

gives a great view of the deserts, surrounded by dunes.)

 

Governance: The Zerinnthian Hegemony is not happy with the recent developments,

trying to suppress populace from digging up their own homes for rare artifacts or digging in

the streets.

 

Rewards: Bounty for Daham is 2500gp.

 

Enemy Groups: 1x Fire Elemental MM pg 115 (VD)

5x Magmin MM pg 212 (H)

1x Bandit Captain (Daham), 1x Thug (H)

1x Scout 1x Spy pg 349 1x Thug  pg 350 1 x Acolyte pg 342 (H)

12 x Bandits mm pg 343 (H)

1x Giant Hyena pg 326 3x Hyena pg 331 1x Scout pg 349 (M)

 

What Now?

 

Now comes the more in depth methods of adventure prep, which can be short but more importantly are informed by the ideas written in the outline. I would write my own but honestly it’s been covered more thoroughly and better than I could ever do by The Alexandrian 

New Year, New Post.

Authentic Blind

Today’s stuff is on NPC’s. Most sources will break down aspects of NPC’s into these categories, I thought it might be fun to try and work out some numerical stats to represent it, which can still be done.. but I’m feeling a bit lazy.

 

Appearance, Quirks, Personality, Ties, Resources, Skills, Goals, History

 

Keep in mind we are not listing everything about an NPC in these categories, only the most important ones, and ones most likely to interface with the PC’s. We can add things to the categories as an NPC’s importance in the game rises. A similar kind of system can be used for simply managing/fleshing out particular Factions of your game. A lot of this was inspired by Johnn Four’s ebook NPC Essentials, which I got from the Worldbuilding +3 Bundle of Holding. Note I said inspired by not borrowed from. There’s a lot of good stuff in the book, but he seems to assume that you should do things like roll stats for every NPC, and that NPC creation should be a lengthy process. We’re too lazy for all that ain’t we? Let’s try to distill down NPC’s into the essential aspects that leaves enough to build upon later.

 

About Appearance – Most people look unique, even people who look much alike have unique aspects to them. RPG’s typically take place in a science fiction or fantasy world, so feel free to play up some very strange appearances indeed. Appearance can also involve their state of dress, which can be informed by other aspects such as their ties and resources.

About Quirks – Quirks are little things your NPC’s do that perhaps they are the only person in the world who does that thing. Or it can be things an NPC is sensitive about, phobias they have, things they are obsessed with.

About Personality – Pick a few words to describe this character. Keep in mind that human beings are complex and contradictory creatures so feel free to mash together personality traits that clash. They also behave one way with some people and another way with others.

About Ties – Ties are affiliations your NPC has. Not all NPC’s have ties, but most do. (the friendly wandering ogre might have no family, but it’s more fun if he does if you ask me.) Decide the organizations or enterprises the NPC is involved with and at what level is he. If the NPC is the King of Dorkland then his tie is to the “Hegemony of Dorkland: the King:” The King of Dorkland might also know the local Assassins Guild. We need not describe this relationship in detail until it becomes necessary.

Or if he is a low level cat burglar in the Thieves Guild then we might put, “Dorkland Thieves Guild, Cat Burglar.” These ties also might inform what kinds of skills he has. Additionally the NPC probably has ties to people that are not within his direct influence, extended family members. the King of Dorkland might have the tie “Brother to the King of Nerdom”

About Resources – This plays directly off the Ties section. What resources does the NPC have at their disposal? This is meant to be abstract. The King doesn’t have 10,000000 gold pieces. He has “Wealth of the Kingdom.” He probably also has “The Knights of Dorkland”. Depending on the circumstances he might have other things like “Printing Press.” for mass producing propaganda, or if he has ties to the local assassination guild as we suggested before then we might say he has the resource “Paid Assassins.”

About Skills – Skills are what the character is good at OR knowledgable about. Even the local drunk has skills. His skills are probably “Alcoholism” and “Knows the streets”. Maybe before he was the local drunk he used to be a soldier, so he also has “Swordsmanship, Soldiering” as skills, even if they are not readily apparent

Our King of Dorkland has skills too, he might have been born into his position but he maintains it with something (probably.) the King’s skills might be “Navigating bureaucracy.” or “Throwing fancy parties.” It’s important to keep the skills an aspect of the NPC themselves, it’s not something they put into action because of their position in society, that’s Ties and Resources.

About Goals – Goals, everyones got them. The goal can be big or small. It can be from “Does their day to day to feed their family.” to “Wants to incite rebellion against the King.” There can be multiple ones as well. Keep the goals in line with the NPC’s status in the world and in the narrative. The local drunk probably doesn’t want to actually incite rebellion against the King, even if he may hate him. (Constantly saying how he hates/blames the King could be a quirk.) Goals are the same as when you are making your PC, they are actionable things that are within the realm of reason that can be accomplished. Fleshing out the NPC’s skills, resources and ties can help inform the goals.

About History – For goodness sake do not write a history to each and every NPC, not even to the King of Dorkland. Only bother writing a history for an NPC if the history of the NPC becomes important to the game as determined by the goals of the player characters, or if the players somehow express an interest. Do the player characters wants to overthrow the king? Then it might be important to establish his history, who his rivals are, who knows his secrets, who raised him. What his political track record is..etc. Don’t waste time writing stuff your players won’t care about and won’t have a chance to discover.

 

Using this Let’s make some NPC’s.

The King of Dorkland

Appearance: round, wrinkly, bald, light skin

Quirks: Eye twitch, paces when irritated, drinks at inappropriate times

Personality: mirthful, compassionate, forgiving, deceitful.

Ties: Patron of the Assassins Guild, King of the Hegemony of Dorkland, brother to the Queen of Nerdom

Resources: Wealth of the Kingdom, Knights of Dorkland, Paid Assassins, Mass propaganda

Skills: Bureaucracy, Throwing Parties, Painting  

Goals: Maintain stability by any means necessary, ensure the future of the dynasty.

History: Not important (yet.)

 

Beggar Bob from the Slums

Appearance: mangy, gaunt, heavily grayed long hair, peg-legged.

Quirks: spasms of manic yelling, a pet turtle.

Personality: lazy, stubborn, paranoid, sharing.

Ties: Other beggars of the Slums, other low-lifes, Priestess from the Temple of Mercy.

Resources: Secrets of the observed

Skills: Street knowledge, urban survival techniques, cooking, panhandling.

Goals: Get by to the next day as easy as possible, make an easy buck, get drunk.

History: Used to be a Soldier in the army til he lost his leg.

 

If you are like me you have a hard time coming up with names, or personality traits . So use random tables. Google them yourself!

Also I can’t stop listening to this album by Mgla, so check that out. Til next time..

 

 

Authentic Blind

Telling Tales and Making Myths

One of my first posts here was sharing a vignette that I wrote, I’ve repeated that a few more times for my other games and it seems to work well for setting up the mood and working people into the mindset of the game. Additionally I’m going to try something I got from the Friends at the Table podcast where the GM reads off what his agendas for the game are. In my Dungeon World games I’ve run I never considered actually reading them aloud, I just figured them to be little reminders of what you are there to do. For a fun exercise let’s take the framework of the Agenda in Dungeon World and adapt them to my DnD and Stars Without Number game,

Game Agenda

Your agenda makes up the things you aim to do at all times while GMing a game of Dungeon World:

  • Portray a fantastic world
  • Fill the characters’ lives with adventure
  • Play to find out what happens

 

This so far is actually pretty good for most fantasy games, but we’d want to tweak them a little bit so that they can apply to BOTH the GM and the PC’s as well as add unique flavor from the setting involved. Let’s start with my sandbox DnD campaign, which is being run in a homebrew Al-Qadimish setting.

Game Agenda (Eshiin Campaign)

  • Portray a vast, harsh and mysterious desert.
  • Fill the characters lives with adventure and discovery
  • Make the secrets ancient, and the wisdom forgotten.
  • Play to find out what happens.

Usually the last blurb is always “Play to Find out what happens.”, it suggests to the players that they aren’t playing a part in a story. They are playing a character who lives and acts in a world. The story is what we tell each other afterward. Let’s try Stars Without Number

 

Game Agenda (Reynes Omega Sector)

  • Portray a diverse and dangerous universe
  • Make the cultures familiar, but with twists.
  • Fill the characters lives with adventure
  • Make the hard choices, or have them made for you.
  • Play to find out what happens.

Along the same lines perhaps there are some more generic agendas to be used to help remind the GM of techniques to keep in mind to keep a smooth game running. Even if you don’t use these you should come up with your own as you discover what does and doesn’t work for you. I suspect these might be different on a game to game and group to group basis, as they are all different.

 

Game Master’s Toolbox

  • The Three-Clue Rules. For things critical to progress, include 3 potential clues or methods of getting it.
  • Consider failing forward, or success with a drawback instead of “You fail.” 
  • Involve all the characters, bounce back and forth between them to keep them on their toes.
  • When a player says they roll a skill or stat, stop and ask them “Great, but what is your character DOING to make that happen?
  • Start by reading your vignette or introduction scene, (a scene, not an essay.)
  • Read off your Game’s Agenda

Somewhat Related Stuff

As an aside you should be reading The Alexandrian in general, every bit of advice I spew here can be better explained in detail there. In this post he breaks down ways to use partial successes in games which only support binary outcomes in the Rules-As-Written.

 

Til next time..

 

 

 

Telling Tales and Making Myths

Slowin it down

Now’s the season where my schedule at work begins to get a bit crazy. So the posts will slow down a bit until the New Year, and I’m ideally moving after that.

It’s not going anywhere, don’t worry your pretty little head about that.

Til next time..

Slowin it down