Author Archives: Mage Mistress
It’s never a dull moment for the GM. Last week my computer decided that I had to replace the CMOS Battery, the power supply unit, and the hard drive. This wouldn’t have been so bad had the hard drive not taken a good 12 hours to format, and had I not needed to install about a bazillion software updates.
The good news is that I now have a fully operational battle station with about 10 times the capacity to store crap I find online.
I can now download all the things!
The bad news is that I’m behind schedule with writing my RetCon modules, but never fret. I will work tirelessly to get them done on time because that’s the kind of good friend I am. Also because I know I will thoroughly enjoy watching people’s faces as events unfold.
On Saturday afternoon I will be running a Savage Worlds Superheroes module called Excelsior! Will Stan Lee get to make a rousing appearance before thousands of adoring true believers at San Diego Comic Con? Will some nefarious plot unfold to spoil the day? Will anyone step up to the plate to help Stan make his appointed rounds? Will SDCC ever be the same? Only you can answer these questions, and more, during the Saturday Afternoon session of Savage Worlds Superheroes at RetCon: Long Island’s Gaming Convention!
What’s more: not only will this be an entirely “New-To-Savage-Worlds” friendly game (I firmly believe that gaming conventions are all about exploring new gaming systems)… there are fabulous prizes! The Crown Publishing Group has generously provided me with autographed copies of Ex-Patriots and Ex-Communication from Peter Clines‘s “Ex-Heroes” series!
Each book is a fully contained story set in a world where the Zombocalypse has happened, and now the heroes are struggling to save what remains of civilization. While I highly endorse reading them all, you won’t be lost if you don’t start with book one. (Which is always a plus in my humble opinion.)
RetCon is 8/23 through 8/25 2013 in Plainview, NY.
Pre-registration is open until Sunday.
And of course you can also buy tickets at the door.
Fun Will Be Had!
I hope to see you there!
I have been a bad friend, and for that I apologize. Life has been… busy. I do hate it when life gets in the way of the important stuff, like gaming, but it does happen from time to time.
I’m back now, so enough of that.
Among the things keeping me busy is RetCon prep! It’s that time of year again, and this time around I’ll be running Savage Worlds. It’s a whole new system for me from the GM side, which is exciting and fun! It’s also a lot of work trying to get the game balance in my head and making sure I have the rules for various situations down pat. I have three totally different modules in three very different genres brewing in my brain as I write this. There will be more specifics as the dates of RetCon (8/23 – 8/25) draw nearer. I will say this though: prizes for the Super Villains game I’m running made their way into my hands today and they are very sweet – if you like autographed books about Super Heroes and Zombies that is! And who doesn’t like that?
So I’m pretty busy on the work front (things are really ramping up in my little corner of the 9-5) AND being constantly distracted by story ideas involving Space Colonialists, 1940’s Relic Hunters, and Super Villains. Fortunately my coworkers have accepted that I’m an odd duck. There are so many possible plot threads, so many areas to explore, so many ways I can really ruin a PCs day that I can’t reasonably expect to get to them all in a single session of each scenario… and so there will be a wide range of what I call “modular elements” for my one-shot adventures.
Putting elements into a one-shot adventure is in many ways like furnishing an apartment. You want to have enough furniture to have a sense of style, and make the place look interesting and lived in. You also don’t want to have so much furniture that somebody calls the Hoarders crew about you. Having moved a few times myself (and very recently I might add) I have learned the joy of having modular pieces, because you don’t need any particular one of them, so if you don’t have room for an L shaped sofa now you don’t need to buy one. However, if you buy a modular piece, then when you move into a bigger place you can get a matching piece to have that enormo-sofa you always dreamed of for game nights without needing to ditch the piece that you originally purchased! (Leaving you more money for games!)
Of course, there are certain elements that you do need, your apartment won’t be very liveable without a fridge for example. Adventure plotting is the same. You need certain key elements to get your story across to the players. However, if you find that they are ripping through those necessary plot elements way too fast, or maybe you’ve decided to run the same adventure again and have a longer time slot to fill, or perhaps you are finding that they need to be led to the clues by the hand like young children, you can sneak in a modular element to fill that need if you have one prepped that suits the adventure.
For example, when I wrote my Asylum adventure I hoped that I would get to run it for a group of people who would really ham up the idea of being a film crew making a “Ghost Hunters” type of TV show and act out some on-screen monologue-ing and such. Of course, I had to accept the fact that there was every possibility that the people I had at the table wouldn’t be into that level of improv, so I dreamed up some NPCs they might run into on the grounds of the abandoned asylum in case I needed to fill some time. There are some gang bangers who might be tagging the dilapidated buildings, some ravers partying in the potter’s field, some elderly folks visiting the graves of relatives buried at the site, a care-taker who can be played as either a surly pain in the rump, knowledgeable source of historical information, or a kick-ass man of action depending upon how the game is running, and of course the odd cultist or two who might be up to any kind of shenanigans. None of these characters are necessary to drive the story along if the players thoroughly investigate and want to act out the filming. (Which is planned for tabletop play, but really could be used as a LARP night if one is so inclined and has a good location handy.) I planned the game with handouts containing information that are given to players who make certain discoveries during the game, so that they can describe what they uncovered in their own character’s words. Those handouts are the key elements. Of course, it’s always possible that they will simply pass around the piece of paper and then look at me to “give” them something to interact with, which is where the Modular NPC Elements come in. They are organically woven into the narrative so they won’t feel like something just thrown together as filler, but at the same time they aren’t necessary to drive the plot so they can be dropped in favor of other things that are working well without the game feeling rushed.
Another good thing about well planned modular elements is that they can be ported into other adventure if you put a fresh coat of paint on them. Gang bangers in an seedy location can be easily re-purposed as head hunters in a jungle, or organized thugs. The nuisance/crazy/knowledgeable/kickass/all-of-the-above groundskeeper could be a drifter, a doorman, a homeless person, a wealthy eccentric, or a malfunctioning android depending upon your setting. The raw stats will largely carry over, you just need to spice them up with the right ties to the location and theme of the adventure.
And the best part is – when you run the adventure again you can toss in different elements this time! They are all right there for you, so whatever strikes your fancy and fits in with the players’ choices is all good if you have it prepped.
Remember, the players will nine times out of ten refuse to do something that makes any kind of rational sense whatsoever. You will want to have a few modular elements prepped and ready to make them suffer for it!
There are those who feel that you should always make your own characters, even for a one-shot convention game. It is, they often point out, a good way to get a feel for the system if you’ve never played it before. I can’t entirely disagree with that opinion, but I also can’t say I agree wholeheartedly.
If I’m starting a campaign I absolutely want the players to make their own characters. The intent is that they will be living with these characters for a while, and I want them to feel comfortable with them, happy even. Additionally, we can spend an entire first session making sure people have the rules down, working out any questions people may have, and if there are any House Rules this is a good time to work them out. Players can write backstories and I can weave them into the campaign world, making it feel as though the character has been connected to and interacting with this world for the number of years the character is old. It’s a beautiful thing.
It doesn’t always work for a one-shot.
For a long term campaign the players have motivation to make characters that mesh well. Not only will they be living with their own characters for a while (hopefully), but they will be living with each other’s characters too. There’s a strong chance that if you’re starting a campaign the players know each other (though I can tell you from personal experience that this is not always the case) and they might just work together to give their characters reasons to be working together. If your players are fantastic they will also work out pet peeves to play off of.
At a convention all bets are off. You don’t know who will be playing at the table, or if they will get along. I’ve been pretty lucky in that regard, but I’ve heard some horror stories. You also don’t have the luxury of a character creation session, and the GM simply doesn’t have time to rewrite the module on the spot to incorporate a character’s backstory.
Additionally, I enjoy making new characters. I love trying to figure out who they are, what makes them tick, and what skills they would pick up along the way. There simply are not enough days in a life for me to play enough campaigns to satisfy my love of making new characters. I also enjoy watching other people play them. Sometimes they take those characters places I never in a million years would have thought of going. Other times they make choices I totally would have made. Either way it’s fun for me.
And so, I’m coming up with my pre-gens for the Savage Worlds modules I’m writing for RetCon this year. I want to make sure that the characters in each module have reasons to work together, but I also want to give the players ways to get under each other’s skin a little bit. There will be a built-in alliance or two, some bad habits here and there, and ties to the big picture of course.
I tend to make my pre-generated characters based on some trope or other. I want to make sure that when someone selects a character packet they are going to see the character they are expecting. After all, what they are expecting is the character they would like to play. If it wasn’t they would have picked something else! For example, if you pick up the Innocents Character labelled “The Face” you’re going to get a character with loads of dots in Manipulation, Persuasion, Subterfuge, and Streetwise, and the character description is going to make it clear that this character is a silver-tongued troublemaker who never gets punished because the teachers have a tendency to blame someone else. On the other hand, if you’re picking up “The Toady” then chances are you’ll figure on hacking someone’s email by punching that person repeatedly in the face until they give you their password… and you would be right on both counts. I want to make sure that when you pick up the character you have a pretty good idea of what it is without having to read through pages of descriptions or needing to know what everything in the stat block means. I want the characters to be both accessible to people who are new to tabletop roll playing games (or the particular system), and fun to play no matter what your level of roll playing experience.
I also want to make sure that with the mix of characters available to the players the module’s core issue can be solved. I don’t want to set up a no-win situation for the mix of characters. That’s easy to do, and no fun for me as a GM. I want the players to use their wits, but if fisticuffs really is the best way to solve a plot-point I want to make sure that at least one of the characters is capable of throwing a punch. Furthermore, if they need to stop a computer virus that is activating a rampaging army of robots I want to make sure that they have at least one character with computer skills in the group. I want to stack the deck so that the players have characters with the skills necessary to solve the main crisis. If the players make up the characters at the start of the session they may wind up making an squad of fighters with all kinds of fighting skills who are trying to calm down an angry mob before a riot breaks out… or spin doctor to a group of nearby reporters. No good can come of that.
Of course, no good will come to the computer programmers when the army of rampaging robots arrives if there is no one around who is capable of dealing with the robots.
And so I will be spending the next few weeks making some space marine types, and some scientists. I’ll stat up some people with medical skills, and some people who can cobble together just about anything out of spare parts. There will be some characters with an incredible knowledge of history and the occult (if they believe in that sort of thing), and some who exist to pick things up and put them down. Hopefully when I’m done there will be something for everyone.
Been getting some work done for RetCon 2013. I’ve decided to switch things up this time around and run me some Savage Worlds.
I have to say that the switch felt a bit intimidating at first. I’ve played a lot of systems, but I’ve only ever GMed World of Darkness. That said, I think Savage Worlds is going to be a win.
Once again I am writing my own modules, because it’s one of my favorite parts of GMing. I love getting all of the pieces into place, and then seeing what the players do with them. I have never had a module run the same way twice, and It’s always interesting to see how players interpret the characters they’ve selected and the evidence in front of them.
This year for RetCon I’ve decided to go with a Space Horror story, which admittedly sticks to my horror roots, a pulp adventure story (think Indiana Jones), and for the third I will likely run Super Heroes. Fortunately Savage Worlds has setting books that will accommodate all of the above and I have to say the prices are very reasonable which is fortunate considering as I’ve just moved and have no money left.
The Space Horror is the first one I’m working on. I’ve been playing a lot of Mass Effect and Dead Space lately so I imagine the influence will show. I’m envisioning this one to run pretty dark, but I won’t be in any way surprised when the players turn it into a SyFy Original Motion Picture. That’s the way these things happen sometimes (or most times) and I’m pretty used to it by now.
That’s just how we roll.
Tomorrow (06/15/2013) is Free RPG Day! Hooray!
If you’re new to gaming, or looking to get back into gaming, or want to give a new system a spin, or willing to accept any excuse to play an RPG, tomorrow is a great day to do it.
Also, tomorrow is a great day to find the nearest FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store) and show them some love. And don’t go telling me that you don’t know how to find a good olde fashioned FLGS, just pull up the map and find one. That’s an order, dammit!
Now get out there and game!