Monday, September 30, 2019

Can I Get That in Writing?

Recently I have seen a number of posts across the RPGing-Net related to 'Writing Adventures'.

Key among these are this review post by Gnome Stew of the very intriguing Encounter Theory, good ol' JB's B/X BLACKRAZOR post, and a few on Facebook gaming groups I am a member of.

This falls into the category of game elements that I can't really wrap my head around, even after 42+ years in the hobby. Intellectually I can comprehend what this is about, but I don't truly understand it the way someone who does it understands it. 

So I need to ask...

Do people actually Write Adventures?

How and why does one go about Writing Adventures?

Last month, a friend of mine ran a short campaign of Dungeons and Dragons 5E. The series went 4 or 5 sessions, each about 4-5 hours long, with three players including myself and a fourth joining us for the last session. 

The DM came to the table with the core rulebook, his smart phone on which he has notes (in a Google Drive or Cloud sort of set up), and half a dozen pages printed up and stapled together of the campaign's various scenarios, each broken down as a paragraph or so of 'block text'.

This was the first time I'd seen a 'written adventure' in this way in over 25 years. I won't go into the specifics of the campaign or my particular opinion on how it went except in regards to the fact that, as I just pointed out, this was as close to a written adventure as anything I've experienced in a very long while. 

Though not new to RPG gaming by any means, this particular DM was not an experienced Gamemaster (primarily enjoying the hobby as a player) and even less experienced with D&D 5E as a whole. I believe he had played it a little but was much more familiar with 3.0 and 3.5. In addition, if I remember correctly, this was the first time he'd actually run 5E.

He read the text from the sheets he had printed, doing an excellent job of evoking a feel for the setting and the situation. This fellow is very well spoken and his use of language is both eloquent and very distinct. He was able to deliver the dialogue of the NPCs in a way that felt 'natural' or at the very least conversational for each NPC. I understand that he did prepare some of the dialogue ahead of time but did a good job of staying in character when addressed with questions from the PCs. 

The thing is...given what I just said and having spoken to him about it at length just the other day...the campaign felt very 'written'. It felt, not like a RPG the way I am used to experiencing it, but more like a Choose Your Own Adventure book or a computer or video game RPG where you get to fight between cut scenes that the game controls. Occasionally you could make decisions based on one or more of a set number of choices (again, like a Choose Your Own Adventure book) but agency was limited to the sets and scenes available.  

It was railroad-y and that caused the epic scale of the latter sessions to feel smaller than they probably should have. I [largely] attribute this to the pre-written nature of the scenarios. 

In the case of my buddy's mini-campaign, he only wrote out 4-6 pages for any given session, not including monster stats, maps, and that sort of thing. With roughly 5 sessions in total, this means there was about 20 pages of text and dialogue in total. 

Do you do this? Do you do less...or more? I mean, at some point this is like making a full scale, old school module. Is that what you do?

Why do you do it? Are you intending to read paragraphs of texts? Are you expecting someone other than you to read it? How does it help you run a better session?

Every time I see people mention that they are writing an adventure for an upcoming session or campaign, my brain races trying to figure out what that really consists of and how the Gamemaster goes about approaching the task. I just can't picture it. 

So now I ask you dear readers, those of you who 'Write Adventures', can you walk me through your process? How do you start? What does it entail? Most importantly, what does the final result consist of? What does it look like? 

At some point in the not-to-distant future I will share my process with you all if you are interested. 

Curious to see the results of the inquiry.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Full of Surprises

Continuing along from my last post but not showing you what's behind curtain #1 just yet - I am truly evil, no? - I wanted to mention the clues I liberally littered throughout the first three sessions of my FRONTIER campaign. 

More Easter Eggs than true clues, these not-really-hidden references were really more for me then the players. If they picked up on any of them great! If not, it actually helped the final reveal have even more impact. 

At the same time, they were there, right out in the open more times than not. I made a concentrated effort (which I honestly had to practice) not to put special emphasis on any of these clues and make them yet another background detail in a setting I was building from the players and their PCs to enjoy. 

The hints, signs, and signals of what was to come ranged from very subtle to blatant but in the latter case I managed to hide them in plain sight. 

A moment in the game might prompt one or more players to ask a question. I, with a neutral, straight face or easy smile, would answer the question in a matter of fact way that absolutely revealed a truth about the game's setting. These answers were taken not at face value but as references to something else so as to seem only tangentially in context.

For example, let's say you were playing an 'original' setting Superhero RPG and a glowing green rock was discovered that seemed to be deadly to a particular villain. A player might say, " Kryptonite hurts Superman?" The GM would answer, "Exactly. Though it isn't just Superman, right? I mean, any Kryptonian would be effected by the radiation from a Kryptonite rock." The players would nod and plan on obtaining more of the rock to defeat their enemy, not realizing that the enemy is in fact an actual Kryptonian and their campaign is set in some alternate version of the DC Universe. 

So these were the clues I put out there...can you figure out the truth behind our semi-dystopian Science Fiction Space Exploration game before my next post?

Just one moment...

Before you get all full of yourselves on how easy it is for you to figure out what's going on and think, 'How could Adam's group not know they were playing in a X campaign? Those rubes!', bear in mind everything I mentioned above plus...

You are reading these hints in a list, completely free of any other in-game or out-of-game activity or distractions. I have removed these from three sessions, each session being 5-5 1/2 hours long, with 8 players. You aren't getting the Role-Playing, the Battles, Rules Explanations, Jokes, or any of the other things that goes into a real game. 

Jeopardy is much easier at home than it is when you're in the TV studio with the bright lights, live audience, and Alex Trebek's steely-eyed gaze bearing down on you. 

Now let's see:

Episode Zero/Pilot Episode - Session 1 - Beast of Burden

The campaign's starting date and year is May 25th, 2212.

Beast of Burden, by the Rolling Stones plays on the incoming commercial transport, the USCSS Orpheus. 

The Orpheus is a White Dwarf vessel, formerly used by Red Star Lines.

The Project Director for our Scientific Research Mission is Director Rebecca Jorden. 

Director Jorden has her ID and Access Cards on a keychain with a plastic Lizard or Gecko on it. 

Alerts from the AI of all the ships feature a blinking yellow light. 

There is very specific iconography for the various departments and sections of the ships and FRONTIER station. 

The government names United Americas and United Systems are mentioned. 

An Android is discovered among the Orpheus crew. She is injured and bleeds a milky white substance. When asked if it was like Bishop in Aliens I said yes. Another player mentioned two other IPs that also feature Androids with similar chemical or non-Red blood. The Replicants of Blade Runner are brought up and I explain the differences in design theory between the Tyrell Corporations Replicants and Hyperdyne Systems Synthetics to give detail and context. 

A player asks if it is normal to see Androids in this setting. I reply, "It's been policy for years to have a synthetic on board all government, military, and large scale corporate vessels. It's a little unusual to see one on a private, commercial transport, but not unheard of."

A mysterious signal is detected that is thought to be the cause of the Orpheus' accident. It is very dense and comes in 12 second bursts. 

Episode I - Session 2 - Comfortably Numb

Episode open with Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb playing. The lines reference what happened in the last episode as well as the current situation with the dangerous signal:

"A distant ships smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying."

The Medical Transport, the USMSS Foster, serves the Extrasolar Colonization Administration. 

The Foster is en route to the Arcturus System following a worker rebellion that required marines to be sent in. Although order was restored, there were many wounded on both sides and medical supplies were needed. 

That occurred in 2177, 35 years prior to our current campaign date.

OK, wait, this brings me to a great scene:

The Trauma Team Medic is awoken from a 35 year Hypersleep and when asked what year she thinks it is she first responds that it's a strange question, then says it's 2177, and then says, "Don't tell me. I've been asleep for more than 50 years". The Security Officer who woke her replies...

SO: "No..." 

Medic: "Thank goodness."

SO: "It's been 35."

Medic: *Vomits on the SO's boots*

SO: *Short pause while looking down* Looks back at Medic and says, "Yeah that tracks."

The team, with Medic in tow, discover the extraterrestrial 'temple' structure. Inside in a large chamber covered in hieroglyphics and pictograms. Among the symbols are:

Long, thin vines - or snakes or tentacles - with thorns, spines, or spikes.

A football shaped oval resembling a seed or egg. 

Humanoid figures shown only from the waist up, wearing helmets or gas mask with an elongated nose tube or trunk (like an elephant). 

Episode II - Session 3 - Under Pressure 

As the 'camera' descends into the temple, Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie plays. 

"It's the terror of knowing what this world is about,
Watching some good friends screaming, 'let me out'!"

The further exploration of the structure takes the group into other rooms with more hieroglyphs and a pictographic language. Much of the aforementioned symbols reappear as does a slightly asymmetrical 'horseshoe' or 'omega' emblem. 

As the team descends further down to the lower levels of the building we learn at least part of the purpose of the place. Those who constructed it, 'The Thinkers', were researching a weapon to use against another alien species. 

A player says jokingly, "What is this? A Weyland-Yutani facility?" I laugh and reply, "This? No way even Weyland-Yutani could build something like this. This was clearly constructed by a highly advanced alien intelligence. That said, man, they'd probably kill to get a chance to study this place."

In addition to all of these points, there were a series of re-occurring numbers. As my friend Ray noted in an unrelated discussion, "Adam does love his numerical clues".

The numbers include:









By now you probably know what the players now know...

The big reveal next post.

Barking Alien

Monday, September 23, 2019

Elements of SURPRISE

As promised last month, I have a Surprise for everyone. 

Back during the month of August, the 23rd word prompt of the RPGaDay event was SURPRISE. I didn't post a full entry on that day as I was saving an actual Surprise I wanted to reveal but couldn't since the Surprise was coming from a campaign I was (and I am) currently running. The Surprise had yet to be revealed to the players and their PCs in the game, so to post it on my blog ran the risk of spoiling things for the members of that gaming group. 

In that post on the August 23rd I made a promise to post the Surprise in full on September 23rd, which is today.

The cat is out of the bag now as the session that revealed the big secret was played on the first Saturday of this month. But...Unfortunately, one player couldn't make it and the rest of the group made a deal not to reveal what had happened to the missing team member. 

Yes, you read that right. The big reveal of our campaign's third session and second full 'episode' is still a mystery to one of the players.

Here's the set up...

As I have mentioned before, on July 6th I started a Science Fiction RPG using a modified version of the Year Zero System created by Free League Publishing (or Fria Ligan in their native Sweden) entitled FRONTIER. 

FRONTIER is based on a SF RPG concept I've been wanting to run for over 30 years. Set in a dystopian future in which the Earth is dying from years of  Human abuse and neglect, FRONTIER focuses the story on a project set up by the Smithsonian Institute and the United American governments (along with Megacorporate backers) to find a way to save Humanity's homeworld.

To this end, a group of scientists, engineers, and other specialists have been shipped 45.3 light years from our Solar System to FRONTIER Station, a Scientific Research Outpost orbiting the planet SA-2 in the 18 Scorpii system. 

Over the course of three monthly sessions - The Pilot Episode/Episode Zero, Episode I, and Episode II - the players discover a mysterious signal that causes the A.I. of a starship to malfunction, feeding false information to the pilot and eventually other stations and equipment warning them that they are going to collide with 'Another Ship'. 

The story begins with a cargo ship en route experiencing this very issue, with the ship's pilot - a cybernetically enhanced individual - suffering from hallucinations and severe paranoia as a result of the signal. He diverts him course to avoid a spaceship that simply isn't there and glances his transport against one of FRONTIER Station's exterior fuel pods. He then crash lands on the planet below, eventually shooting a shipmate dead and chasing another out of the vessel. 

Our team is assembled to go down and look for survivors and as well as retrieve any intact cargo as we needed the shipment to fully load the outpost. In the process we find the dead Navigator, a Cargo Handler injured in the crash, and the Pilot and Warrant Officer wrestling at the edge of a cliff. Some of our team retrieves them but not before the group at the cliff are attacked by armor headed worms about the size of a large dog. 

While some of the PCs engage in a quick, scary action scene with the worms, others gather some of the usable supplies, and still others investigate the wreck of the freighter. Eventually we start to piece together what transpired and the signal that caused the accident returns. The PCs begin picking it up on their own ship's systems and some of their personal gear connected to those systems. 

Our vessel's Captain decides to purposefully maroon us on the planet, not wanting to take the chance that the signal might cause us to crash as well once we're airborne. Additionally, the PCs find out the Cyborg Pilot still has his gun, but before he can use it one of our Security Officers takes him out with a single punch. The Warrant Officer from the transport is revealed to be an Android, but for some reason her A.I. was not affected by the signal. 

In the next session the team works to find the source of the signal and protect our ship from being affected. Meanwhile, in a sequence I am especially proud of, we find another ship, a medical rescue ship is approaching the planet. I cut to a Trauma Team Specialist PC, a new player being introduced into the campaign, and her NPC Captain letting her know they're waaay off course. Before long the medical ship and it's cybernetic engineer also get infected by the odd signal and drive the vessel into a deep dive towards the world of SA-2. 

This is inter-cut with scenes of the other PCs already on SA-2 searching for two spots that may either be bouncing or producing the mysterious and dangerous message. After potentially deadly run-in with a herd of huge, stampeding, bipedal, horseshoe crab creatures, the PCs come upon another ship wreckage that appears to have been buried in the desert sands of SA-2 for a few decades.

Cut back to the medical ship and we see the new Trauma Team Medic get into a Hypersleep style chamber as the NPCs frantically race to hold down their crazed Engineer and try to save their ship.'s too late. The medical transport crashes into the surface of SA-2. I reveal the year of the crash as 2177. 

"Wait a minute", says one of the players, "that's not the year. You said it was 2212." I replied that they were correct, it was 2212...currently. The medical transport Foster was lost and presumed destroyed with all hands in 2177. As several of the players, the new one included - who thinks she joined this session just to die - the others check out the wreckage in the desert which turns out to be...The Foster! Digging through both it's physical remains and what's left of it's systems they discover one survivor...heheh...a Trauma Team Medic in stasis. 

After helping the newly awakened Medic and regrouping the rest of the PCs together, the group begins searching for the final signal point, which must be the source. Eventually they find it, an ancient structure deep in the sands. 

The PC group then goes deep into the bowls of a pyramid-like building clearly constructed by a non-Human intelligence in a setting with no definitive proof of sentient aliens to the players'/PCs' knowledge. Knowing that one player would be unable to attend the session, he and I worked out that his PC, the Captain and Pilot of the ship we had used to reach the surface of the planet we were on, had returned to said ship to facilitate communications between the party, himself, and the orbiting space station that serves as the PCs' home base. 

After much exploration and experimentation with the 'temple's strange pictogram-like runes and various secret doors, the PCs discovered the structure was likely some sort of base of operations belonging to a species of highly intelligent beings that were at war with another, separate intelligent species. In fact, the temple may have been a way station or outpost during their conflict. 

Finally reaching the lower level of the structure, the two Security Officers, aided by remote, robot drones, came upon what the scientists reasons was a research facility. They also came upon the ancient, desiccated remains of one of the aliens they believe built the pyramid. This being has signs of severe physical damage about the face and chest and was dead long before near-mummifying in this mind-bogglingly advanced tomb. The First Contact Specialist dubbed them 'The Thinkers' because of their amazing achievements and large craniums. 

It was then that a shadow moved on a ledge halfway up the wall towards the very high ceiling. It darted again a moment later. Our Security Officer with the remotes instructed one of his drones to emit a high-pitched sounds, the sort audible to animals but not Humans. 

The shadow leaped, clearing a distance nearly 50 feet across and 25 feet down, to land on the robot drone and force it into the ground. Although they didn't fully illuminate the entire room, many lights in the room were on thanks to the PCs messing with the  switches, buttons, and pictograms early. The creature, and it was a creature, was visible. As it stood up and hiss/roared at the closest Security Officer, I described it in vivid detail. While it has some unusual specific differences to it, the Security PCs' player thought it seemed familiar...

Oh dear. That's all the time we have. Muwahahahaha! Stay tuned...

Barking Alien

Sunday, September 22, 2019

You Are Right, They're Not Wrong

Following our game session this past week, one of our groups got into a conversation that I found so interesting and frustrating that I have to share it. 

Now the conversation itself and the ideas therein are only part of the story. It's how I felt and what I thought about it afterwards. 

Basically, three of the five members in our group were discussing how a campaign should be put together. Really, how one goes about setting up a campaign in regards to the part the GM and players play.

Of the three main participants in the discussion, there were two dominant opinions. 

Gamer A thought that the Gamemaster defines the campaign based on a story they want to tell. Players create characters to fit the campaign and overarching plot/theme the GM has in mind and essentially sign on for the ride. 

This version is rather old school and focuses on the GM's story over Player input and agency. At the same time, if the GM is really excited to run a game of historically accurate, down and dirty piracy on the 17th century Spanish Main, we don't want players creating Wizards and than wondering why provisions weren't made to accommodate their character. 

Gamer B felt that Gamemasters should develop their campaign around the characters the players create. More specifically, if the players want to create a party who all serve a particular Goddess and religion and focus their adventures on spreading the word of their Lady, then that is the campaign the GM should build. 

This is an idea I like and follow (somewhat. See below) but if the GM isn't inspired by that idea, the game may not work so well. Sure, Player input and agency are very important but if you are running a game that employs a Gamemaster, said Gamemaster needs to put their stamp on the narrative somehow. 

I get it, we're all geeks with strong opinions and those engaged in any geeky endeavor will have their own views of what is and isn't 'right' for the things they love . My big issue with all of these ideas is that each Gamer in each case was rigidly adamant that their way was the best way to run a game. And as I said, aren't we all just so sure we know best. Well...

I personally found it humorous in an almost painful way how firmly each held to their particular viewpoint. Not only could they not see how the others ideas might actually be valid, I wasn't entirely sure they were even processing them.

Not only do I think the best way to generate a campaign for me personally is a merger of these approaches, the truly funny thing is, I have occasionally created a campaign in the manner Gamer A suggests, by starting with a story I wanted to tell, in a particular setting, and having the players create PCs that fit that world or particular story. Other times, I've gone with Gamer B's approach. Each campaign is different and requires a style that best handles what the group, players and Gamemaster together, are trying to achieve.

To some extent, my current campaign, 'FRONTIER', was developed with the Gamer A method, though I left the nature and specifics of the PCs open to a wide range of possibilities within the context of the milieu and meta-plot. 

With Traveller on the other hand, I tend to go the Gamer B route, seeing what the players roll up and creating a story that incorporates and integrates the backgrounds, goals, and other specific characteristics of the various PCs. I will ask them (the players) what type of adventures they want to go on and/or suggest something that interests me but links directly into their characters.

As I noted above, my true feelings on the subject are quite simple - combine your GM story idea with the character concepts the players are eager to play. Take the careers, backgrounds, and preferences that the PCs have created and/or generated for their PCs and build a narrative you enjoy around this information. Weave the players' ideas for their PCs into the setting and story you've created as the GM. 

All the suggested approaches are workable. All are 'right'.

I've said it before, I'll say it again, and very likely I'll never stop saying it - Keep yourself open to new ideas. Don't let yourself get locked into concepts that don't allow for new or alternative ways of thinking about things.It doesn't do us any good as gamers or as people.

You don't have to use them, you don't have to like them, but it behooves you, behooves us, to consider how others see things. 

Barking Alien

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Improving For The Worst

Today I’d like to tip a sacred cow and go against my own preferences for a time with an idea that came to me recently…

Do we need Player Character Improvement to enjoy RPGs?

I am questioning, or perhaps even challenging, the notion that RPGs need any sort of progression of skills and abilities for PCs to make the game enjoyable.

Bear in mind I am not necessarily trying to find or put forth a particular answer to this question here and now. My goal is just to get people to think about and discuss it. After all, analyzing and questioning these corner stones of our hobby is kind of my thing. Well one of my things. I have several things. I'm sure that generates some interesting mental images. You’re welcome. 

The idea for this post first came up because one of my player asked me for the third time in the span of a few weeks just how and when we would be improving the PCs in our FRONTIER Science Fiction/Horror RPG.

I said, as I had twice before, that we would be upgrading the PCs at the end of the current four episode story arc. Basically, when we complete Episode III, Session #4, we will 'level up' as it were. That would be at the very end our next episode/session by the way.

I was a little disappointed me because I feel like his character isn't really a developed personality yet but he (the player) is concerned about upgrades to his PC's abilities. Why? Our story so far has taken place over the course of maybe 6-9 hours of time. Why would he or anyone else necessarily improve significantly over such a short period?

For many players, a big part of the game is the achievement of linear progression. It can certainly be fun but if that’s all you want, there are countless video games that do the same thing.

Don't get me wrong, I like increasing skills and upgrading my ship and such very much. At the same time the power creep of games is what often makes them unwieldy and ends the campaign faster since its hard to challenge PCs mechanically. In other words, while experience points and upgrades are the norm for the RPG hobby, they also generate one of the largest problems in the hobby, and that is enabling a system to sustain prolonged play with the same characters. 

I recently played a short series campaign of Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition ( read that correctly. I played D&D 5E. On purpose). We started the game at 3rd Level, because the DM and other players agreed that was a level where you can do some cool stuff but you aren't inherently particularly powerful. It was universally agreed the high level characters (10 or above) are a chore of bookkeeping and low level characters (1-2) are too fragile. Most thought the 'sweet spot' was around 4-6. 

This rattled my brain. I have sooo many questions! Why doesn't the game start with 1st level characters being what is currently 3rd level. What is the purpose of a game where it sucks at the start? Why design at game that begins boring or overly deadly? What would make you want to keep playing?

If the range generally considered the most fun is 5-6, what's the motivation to go to 10? Why isn't the game about creating starting characters and fighting enemies who all function around the levels that are the viewed as the best and most entertaining?

For another take on the subject of linear progression or lack there of and what it means to an enjoyable RPG experience, let's consider Marvel Heroic by Margaret Weiss Productions. 

I know I myself scoffed at Marvel Heroic, a game with a very interesting way to obtain XP, but no real system for improving the power or effectiveness of your character. One of the game's key creators, game designer Cam Banks, made a point that in his view comic book Superheroes don't actually improve in comics.Sure they might get a new costume or have their powers change, suddenly increase or decrease, but it's usually plot driven and eventually they return to the same power levels and abilities they had prior their last story arc. I discuss this further here.

These are really separate but related topics I suppose. The point is, wouldn't it make more sense to create a game where the PCs begin fairly effective and competent but then maybe only increase in ability once every few sessions or even less often? Maybe not a all? Why must we have increases? Why should they gain new abilities? What would a game lose or gain by not having that aspect to it. 

I'll note that in my current Star Trek campaign, now in its 4th year or 'season' as we call them, our PCs have only improved once, getting a +1 to each of their two different stat sections and gaining one new talent or special ability, Meanwhile the campaign starship has been upgraded twice in that same length of time. In FRONTIER, as mentioned above, we are only going to improve a little bit every 4 sessions. 

In conclusion, I am not personally advocating the elimination of character improvement or XP systems. I like them from both a player and Gamemaster perspective. However, a feel the best systems have a slow, incremental progression, enabling the characters to be engaging yet effective over the long period of time. 

Furthermore, if the reason you are playing is to win points and improve your scores, go play with your Xbox. I am sure you'll have a much more enriching experience battling your friends online with a Playstation then you will engaging with other people physically and socially at a table. At least for me, I know I enjoy it when my character gets better but I also know that is not the reason I am there at the game. 

I am there to play a part and tell a story. A lollipop and a gold star are nice but not strictly necessary. 

What do you think?

Barking Alien

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

It's Time To Wash Your Mouth Out With Gordon!

Just two days after celebrating the anniversary of my other favorite Optimistic Science Fiction Space Adventure franchise, September 10th is The Orville Day!

Happy Two Year Birthday to The Orville!

Now, when does Season 3 start and when can I run a campaign?


Barking Alien

Monday, September 9, 2019

Set Celebrations to Maximum!

A belated Happy Birthday to a beloved best friend...

Happy 53rd Anniversary celebrating September 8th, 1966, the birthdate of Star Trek!

Our own Star Trek series, Star Trek: Prosperity, returns to it's fourth season this coming Friday after a month long hiatus. Very much looking forward to it.

Live Long and Prosper,

Barking Alien

A Touch of Sweetness

A number of touching things happened to me this past Saturday and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate them, as well as use them to lead in to a kinder, gentler post on how to improve ones GMing skills. 

I ran the third session/second full episode of my new 'Hopeful Dystopian' Science Fiction campaign, FRONTIER. There was a lot of investigating, puzzle and problem solving, a small battle that felt epic, and a HUGE reveal. I can't talk about it all in detail yet but trust me, you're going to want to stay tuned to this blog for some posts about it later in the month. 

Anyhow, one of my players, an old friend of some 25 years or so, got married a while back to a lovely fellow who, unlike my friend, doesn't play RPGs. As a matter of fact, though he doesn't speak ill of them or any such thing, he has upheld a sincere attitude of not wanting to partake in them. The reasons are his own and I completely understand. One needs to watch out for ones own mental health so I hold nothing against him at all.

Now imagine how incredibly surprised I was to learn that he may be up for participating in a game sometime next year.

The couple, my friend and her husband, challenge each other periodically to achieve things like art completion deadlines, getting out of their comfort zones, etc. After a complicated but heartwarming series of anecdotes about recent dares between them, my friend said that her hubby was willing to give RPGs a try. Furthermore she said, and I quote, "There are only two GMs in the world I would trust to do this and you're the only one alive."

That is a reference to our mutual departed friend Allen Halden. It may seem dark humor to some but trust me when I say Allen would have loved it. In addition, it is a statement with momentous weight and impact. In all my years of gaming, nothing has said, 'You are really good at this' quite like this sentence. 

Of course I said I would do it and yes it is a tad daunting. At the same time I am very excited for the opportunity to change a friend's attitude towards something I very much enjoy and make my buddy Allen proud at the same time. 

Later on, another of my friends and players announced to me a desire to run a Traveller campaign. This was extremely exciting for me as this particular fellow has grown so much as a player and GM since we first met and it's the first time any of my friends (many of whom love my Traveller games) have decided to try refereeing Traveller themselves.

He asked only where I had gotten the maps I'd used during our old campaign. He informed me he had purchased the rules and had already begun doing research for the game (see my previous post). I was more than happy to fill him in on a few 'trade secrets' because it was clear that he was interested, excited, and had put in the effort to get himself started. Obviously I told him I would help him in any way he needed going forward to which he seemed relieved. 

These two moments were followed by a great game session. The big reveal I mentioned above hit some slowly, others mentally slapped their foreheads with the realization, and a couple were wide eyed and mouth agape. 

That's when it dawned on me:

I love what I do, I do it well, and I really want to share my know how with others that want to learn how to do it also. Yes, it frustrates me when people are lazy and don't put in the effort to improve but are then surprised players didn't enjoy their GMing. At the same time, some people put a hell of a lot of thought and effort into running a game and it still misfires.

Well the honest truth is, at least in my book, even if it doesn't go over swimmingly, if you did everything you could to make it happen you succeeded. Don't let the frowning faces deter you if you really gave it your all. 

Ask yourself what you missed. What were the players hoping for that you weren't able to deliver? What areas do you need to brush up on or practice? What advice would help you improve and where or whom can you get that knowledge from?

With one friend asking me to GM a once in a lifetime event and another wanting to know how they can add the same pizzazz to a game that I did, I must also remember that I. MESS. UP. TOO. I run games that don't go over well. I screw up. I am not a perfect GM who never runs a bad game. 

What I do is keeping trying to do better. I read, write, re-write, analyze, ask questions, listen, practice, and continually push to improve. 

Do that and you can't go wrong even when you go wrong. 

Remember, nobody's perfect. That doesn't mean you can't aim to be great. 

Barking Alien

Sunday, September 8, 2019

A Dash of Salt

I was unable to complete this year's RPGaDay Challenge in the allotted time frame of the month of August. 

I am a little disappointed in myself but there was little I could do. Personal, professional, and active gaming concerns got in the way. I still intend to finish the RPGaDay 2019 event however, so if you are at all interested, please check back in with my August entries during the month of September. I expect to be done by the 28th of this month at the latest. 

Now on to new material...

I've been playing a lot recently as a player and the experience has been, by way of understatement, a mixed bag. 

I have come to realize that although the general endeavor of Gamemastering is not something to be considered lightly. It isn't easy. It takes time, effort, attention, love, and not a small amount of talent. One of the things I've noticed is that even without any sort of 'gift' or knack for the position, a GM with a strong sense of the other aspects I just mentioned can certainly run a good game. 

Unfortunately, if any of those elements are found wanting its going to be a slog for the Gamemaster and at best fall flat for the players. At worst it can be a dreadful, painfully boring or frustrating experience.  

To the end of figuring out a way to help new and inexperienced Gamemasters improve at the craft, I am going to start out with a question:

With the plethora of resources to aid a GM in running a good, solid, entertaining game, why is it that poor outings still occur? 

Yes, I am being a bit salty and a tad facetious but that doesn't mean I don't want an answer to the question. The query is no less valid just because I am being so blunt in its delivery. A simple Google search for 'Gamemaster Resources' nets pretty good results, from the general advice of and the Game Master Resources Wiki to sites specific to particular games such as Continuing Missions resources for running Star Trek Adventures or various sites covering Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, and more. 

Normally I would help out my fellow GMs by linking the titles above to their urls but I am not going to today because part of my question is, "Why haven't you already gone there? Why haven't you used a Google Search to obtain free resources? Why do I have to do the work for you?"

Don't misunderstand, I am more than happy to help my friends and allies in the vast gaming community improve their GMing skills. I use this very blog as a forum to do just that. At the same time, for this blog and all those resources to be useful, Gamemasters need to make the effort to go to them. Are they?

Going back to my original statement, the road to be a good GM (and eventually great if you are so inclined) is dedication, determination, organization, and really enjoying do it. In other words, if you really want to run a good game, a great campaign, or just become a better Game Runner, you need to stop playing that video game, look away from Facebook, disengage yourself from whatever is distracting you and actually try to learn and improve. 

Other GMs can assist you, websites can supply everything from advice to content, but no one can absorb any of it into your head but you. 

If you are going to GM, try to do the best you can. Put some effort into it. Think about what goes into a game and how to pull off a good one instead of just focusing on this cool story you want to tell. Cover all your bases and be flexible enough to handle things when you find out you didn't. 

Either that or let someone who can GM do it and you take notes. Better yet, just play. 

If you're not going to give it your all, give it here. 

OK, first I was Salty. Now I'll be Sweet...

Barking Alien