Archive for the ‘techniques’ Category

Strategic Bricolage

In boardgames, game design, mechanics, race for the galaxy, techniques on October 5th, 2010 at 10:32 am

One reason why I love Race for the Galaxy so much is the strong exploration element. You find new combinations of cards and powers regularly – even after hundreds of plays – which keeps it a fresh, fun experience. The reason Race for the Galaxy maintains this for so many plays when other games are exhausted after a handful of times is that it demands strategic bricolage. Read the rest of this entry »

Party Building for the Lazy GM

In role-playing games, techniques on October 6th, 2009 at 12:51 pm

One of the issues in party-based games like Dungeons & Dragons, Shadowrun or Traveller is making the PCs a party, not a group of strangers that have no reason to work together. I’m also a lazy DM who likes getting story ideas from my players, but not every game provides player-authoured story hooks the way The Shadow of Yesterday or Burning Wheel do.

Here is an easy trick that I think should solve both of these problems. It’s unplaytested, but it is based on various story gaming techniques, notably the character creation in Don’t Rest Your Head, Spirit of the Century and Mouse Guard. I’m not starting a new campaign in an appropriate game any time soon, but wanted to jot it down while it occurred to me. If you try it out, please let me know how it goes. Read the rest of this entry »

Investigator Investment in Dirty Secrets

In role-playing games, techniques on April 13th, 2008 at 9:18 pm

A few weeks ago, Seth and I were chatting over Google Talk, and discussion inevitably turned to Dirty Secrets. Just as inevitably, I started pontificating on the genre of detective fiction.

At one point, Seth asked me how well I thought Dirty Secrets would do stories in the vein of James Ellroy’s Los Angeles quartet of novels (Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz). That, in turn, led to a discussion of how the investigators played a different role in Ellroy’s books than they do in the “classic” hardboiled novels of Chandler and Ross MacDonald, which obviously were a big influence on Ellroy.

At the end of that discussion, Seth asked me if I would write up my thoughts as a piece for Dirty Secrets fans. This is my effort at writing such an essay. I will also be posting this to the Dark Omen Games forum and to Story Games in a couple of days. Read the rest of this entry »

Interrogate Your NPCs—No Man is an Island, part 2

In role-playing games, techniques on March 13th, 2008 at 12:18 am

In part one of No Man is an Island, I discussed how characters that have relationships can make a roleplaying campaign more fun, and I gave some guidelines for creating relationships that are good at generating drama in an RPG. Now, in part two, I will expand on how to make dramatically interesting relationships by discussing the four most consistently dramatic types of relationships.

This was to be the last part in this series, but as I wrote, I found I had much more to say than I thought I did. As a result, there will be one more part in which I discuss Relationship Maps, the simplest way of organizing the relationships in a campaign. Read the rest of this entry »

The DC 5 Skill Check Must Die!

In game design, role-playing games, techniques on December 2nd, 2007 at 9:40 pm

After helping Jay Little out with this year’s tournament adventure for XCrawl, I decided to check out a few other D&D/d20 modules. I was curious about the current state of the art, at least from major publishers, in adventure design. While D&D isn’t something that fits my style as a GM, some quality stuff is being published. I’m even a little tempted to tweak the modules in Paizo‘s new Pathfinder series and run them.

I have seen one disturbing practise repeated by numerous designers across all publishers. The DC 5 skill check sets a terrible example for new GMs, and it is a blight on the hobby.

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Interrogate Your NPCs—No Man is an Island, part 1

In role-playing games, techniques on October 23rd, 2007 at 2:29 am

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
-John Donne, Meditation XVII.

Contrary to Donne, roleplayers often create characters—PC and NPC, hero and villain—who are islands. Roleplayers show an inordinate fondness for friendless orphans; people who haven’t met a soul until some adventuring group stumbles into their lives. Players see wives, children, even good friends as potential weaknesses, and therefore as something to avoid.

This is a shame. Man vs. Nature and Man vs. Self conflicts are difficult to portray in RPGs, so most game sessions focus on Man vs. Other conflicts. Relationships are the heart and soul of Man vs. Other. Conflict fuel if you will.

Add octane to your games. Ask your NPCs, “Who do you have an interesting relationship with?”
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Interrogate Your NPCs—Follow Up

In role-playing games, techniques on June 22nd, 2007 at 12:22 am

No matter how intelligent or organized you are, it is impossible to prepare for what your players will do during a game. If you think of, and prepare for, 100 possible responses, the players will find the 101st in five seconds flat. When that happens, you will either have to force them back within the confines of your preparation, or you have to be ready to improvise. This series is aimed at preparing for the latter. What you need is enough preparation that you have a good mental grasp on the NPC without preparing more than you can easily keep track of.

Instead of wasting hours preparing for a hundred alternatives that won’t happen, how does preparing for just two key ones sound?

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Interrogate Your NPCs—NPCs Need to be Needy

In role-playing games, techniques on June 11th, 2007 at 1:12 am

[Sorry for the delay between parts in this series. I had a couple of projects spring up unexpectedly that ate into my time and motivation. I’ll try to be faster getting my next post out.]

Your campaign should revolve around the actions of the PCs, even when your campaign’s world does not. Anything that does not engage them is colour — something that adds depth and texture to your game, but has no real impact. In this spirit, any full NPC — as opposed to a character that provides colour — should affect the PCs’ lives.

The simplest way to ensure that an NPC has an effect is to ask, “What does this NPC want from the PCs?” If you make sure that you have a good answer for this and you play the NPC in a manner consistent with your answer, you will almost guarantee that the NPC will affect your PCs lives. The answer will also provide the core of the NPC’s role in the campaign, go a long way toward making the NPC interesting to your players, and provide clear guidance when you need to improvise the NPC’s actions. It can also drive conflict in your game.

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Interrogate Your NPCs — Whys and Hows

In role-playing games, techniques on May 14th, 2007 at 1:39 am

Developing interesting non-player characters (NPCs) is a perennial problem for gamemasters everywhere. You want to make them memorable, but developing them in great detail is wasted effort, since it is unlikely that most of that detail will come out in play. Dozens of forum threads and other articles have been written on the subject, and there is a lot of good advice available. This is an effort to present some of the best of it in a single usable framework. My technique is adapted, in a heavily modified form, from an idea that Orson Scott Card presents in his book of writing advice Characters and Viewpoint. There, he talks about drawing stories out of a simple character concept by asking questions about it. The answers to those questions lead to a starting situation worth using, and asking questions about what could happen in that situation and how the character could react creates a complete arc.

As-is, this is a great technique for groups that adopt the GM-as-storyteller style of roleplaying. For my preferred gamemastering style of presenting players with a situation and then improvising from their reaction, it needs some tweaking, though. Going from concept to situation to complete arc doesn’t provide what I need.

Over the course of six brief (non-consecutive) articles I will present a method of creating the information that you need to improvise consistent, engaging NPC actions in play without useless chrome. By asking the right questions, you will get at how the NPCs goals, desires and relationships are likely to affect your PCs’ lives. This will produce most of what you need to know during play.

Before getting into the questions you should use, I want to address a few broader points, though.

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In role-playing games, techniques on March 9th, 2007 at 2:32 am

For the last few months, I’ve really been hankering for a BHAC. For various reasons, they’ve never been a large part of my role-playing, and, as I get older and get a clearer view of how important fun for fun’s sake is, I find that this is a void in my gaming history.

Oh. You don’t know what a BHAC is?

It’s a Big, Hairy, Audacious Campaign.

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