Category Archives: RPG

Variety is the Spice of Pre-Gens

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.

Mages Make Me Cry


Savage RetCon

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.


Mages Make Me Cry

Good News Everyone!

A few weeks back I mourned the loss of my beloved Ravenblood Games.

While I still mourn that loss, I am happy to say that like The Phoenix a new Game Store will rise from the ashes* of the old!

Legendary Realms Games is having a grand opening party THIS WEEKEND! There will be food, games, and did I mention food? And the LIRP will be there in force. What’s not to love?

Of course it won’t be the same without Pete there to give traumatizing names to people’s characters if they can’t come up with one of their own, or to yell “Nerds… Go Home!” when we overstay our welcome.

In fact, I do believe that we successfully completed our final Ravenblood Mission: Do Not Let Ravenblood Close on 5/25. We hung around until 3AM, and since we paid for our purchases after midnight we kept the store open for one… more… day. (We WON!)

That said, the folks at Legendary Realms are great folks who have been selling us stuff for years at RetCon.  While it won’t be quite the same, it will still be great! And who knows, we may even roll the occasional “Wild Pete” on the Wandering Monster Table – at least until he moves.

So come on down and play some games this Saturday and Sunday (6/8 and 6/9) and have some food. It’s a party!

Legendary Realms Games


Mages Make Me Cry


*Fortunately for all those are figurative ashes. No Game Store was harmed in the making of this transformation.

Finish Him!

It really wasn’t all that difficult for the Scooby Gang to figure out “where” Morgan’s alter ego had set up residence. Morgan had been experimented on during his time with the military, and so to the military base they went!

The base (in Morgan’s mind anyway) was surrounded on three sides by water, making it easy for the soldiers inside to guard the land access. There were cannons and ballistas, of course,  but the Mages had come packing some mystical heat of their own. Damien managed to convince the guards on the nearest wall that the guards on the wall across the courtyard were impostors and needed to be taken out. Apparently he caught on to how much fun it is to use the members of the opposing force against each other. Arrow triggered their fear responses against each other, and hilarity ensued.

Once past the guards on the walls, Aenaiyah cast some Fate magic so that the group would be ‘unlikely’ to run into any patrols. They did run into somebody (I had beefed up security due to certain decisions made by the gang in other sessions) , but managed to subdue him quietly. With very little stumbling about (blasted Fate magic) the Mages make their way to Command and Control.

Successful  stealth rolls all around make it impossible for me to ignore the players endlessly telling me that they are quietly creeping toward the room. This is what they see when they arrive:

The room is filled with heavily armed guards – there are 6 guards easily visible from the door. Two of these are standing at a table in the center of the room. You can’t see the top of the table very well due to its height and distance into the room, but you can see what look like flags sticking up from its surface.  What do you do?

Well, the first thing they do is roll initiative, and who winds up going first but that blasted Acanthus Mage! She uses her Five Dots in Time to stop time in the room for three rounds – and applies her more than 2 dots of Fate to exempt her Cabal Mates from the spell. That means it’s Coup de Grace time. The boys start running around slitting throats and gathering weapons, all easily accomplished in less than three rounds. This might seem un-hero-like, but the fact is that it has been well established that the soldiers here are mere projections and not actual people.

At the front of the room in a swiveling command chair sits a man who looks quite a bit like the Morgan that they are travelling with, only a bit younger-looking and far more physically fit with a more self-assured posture.  Clearly this is the Feaux-Morgan who has been put in charge, and he must be stopped! And so the Mages attempt to attack him! Sadly they had already told the head of the Seers that the man was starting to lose control, and so dutifully the Seers encased him in a transparent ‘control booth’ with access to all the necessary functions and none of that pesky vulnerability the Mages so cleverly warned folks about!

Well played Mages. Well played.

While the Mages with abilities that can (try to) smash the shielding try to get to Feaux-Morgan, Aenaiyah takes a look at the table. It’s clearly some kind of battle map, and she would like to get a closer look at it.

You were expecting a map?

The tabletop is a brain scan. What else would it be? Stuck into the table are flag pins, each with a stylized eye on it. Naturally enough, the Eye Flags represent the presence of the Seers of Panopticon in Morgan’s brain. Aenaiyah then takes the first action that pops into her own brain – she starts removing the flags from the battle map! This is, actually, an excellent idea and one that I had thought of. In so doing, Aenaiyah makes it far less likely that reinforcements will be able to arrive when time starts again.

Meanwhile, back at the transparent control room – the attack oriented Mages are trying all they can to get rid of this nuisance barrier. There are attempts at dispelling it, there are attempts at altering the substance of the “matter”, and there are attempts to portal through it – so far all without success. And then somebody has a success on their WITS+COMP roll and realizes that the water side of this fort has stone gargoyles stationed at intervals, and they (being outside of the room and thus not subject to the stoppage of time) are reacting to the thus-far futile attempts to break through the barrier and get rid of Feaux-Morgan. The Gargoyles come screaming through the air! They break through the windows!! They promptly UTTERLY FAIL their rolls to avoid the effects of the time spell. (Awwwwwwwwww…)

As this happens Aenaiyah goes with the next stray thought that pops into her brain – and I can’t imagine where it came from having certainly not thought about it myself. She decides to start sticking the flag pins into each other “in a stack… pointy pin bottom into flag top”.

Pinky, are you pondering what I’m pondering?

Astral Mage-ipede!

And so, since Aenaiyah pulled the pins OUTSIDE of the brain map, and started sticking them into each other, Seer Brahms (AKA; Dr Blair, AKA: the Head of the Seers) Started forcing an Astral Mage-ipede into their space! And THIS time he didn’t blow his rolls, which means that the Mage-ipede was moving to attack!

What I described to the players (those with enough WITS+COMPOSURE to see it anyway) was a shimmering in the air a little ways above the map table, and a multi-armed and multi-legged creature forcing its way in. It took them a second or two to correlate what was happening with the map pins.

I laughed.

Several things happened at once. The Time Spell wore off, though there were no guards left alive in the room to care about it. Feaux-Morgan started getting rounds, and mostly used them to punch True Morgan in the brain as hard as he could, because his main mission is to prevent True Morgan from regaining control. The Mages split themselves between trying to get to Feaux-Morgan and dealing with the Mage-ipede. The gargoyles broke through the glass windows and started ripping people’s faces off.

Fun was had! I won’t go into a roll-by-roll reenactment (my memory is only so good) but there was much fighting, and there was much damage dished out and taken (on all sides), but eventually Feaux-Morgan was deposed, his body ripped from the command seat, and True Morgan was back in charge. True Morgan’s first act was to release any and all oaths that had been sworn to him which freed Narsil among others, and his last act that the Mages know of was to boot them safely out of his brain so that they wouldn’t wind up trapped there.

Off Screen: Reenie, knowing what the Mages are up to, and where Narsil is, has been scanning his Fate Aura so that she will know if her Mage friends are successful. As soon as they are she gives Glamdring the word. Glamdring, already in position, then grabs Narsil’s sister and runs. Glamdring knew Narsil before his Awakening, which is how she was able to figure out who his sister is, and where she was at the time. This will be followed by much rejoicing (and much long-awaited snogging) and much need for the GM to start working on the next story in the campaign.

And that is the state of the campaign at the moment. Now maybe I should think about getting the next part out of my brain and into my plan book.

:::Insert Laugh of Evil GM Glee Here:::

Mages Make Me Cry

Morgan’s Happy Place

If you read last week’s post (Scientists: 1 / Minotaur: 0) you know why Neils is my favorite Mage. His player is always a good sport about having to stab his fellow PCs in the back, and between you and me I’m pretty sure he enjoys it almost as much as I do.

His fellow PCs enjoy it a bit less than that, so when we last left off Damien was bitch-slapping Neils in the real world to wake him up and drag him out of astral space. (And also because it was fun.)

Fortunately I had already come up with a nifty way to keep the players together even if some folks had missed a previous session or they had taken Astral Damage (Willpower drains) and wound up knocked out of the realm. I didn’t want to leave anyone in the unenviable position of being removed from the action for an entire session or more, so I gave them an artifact called the Rings of Astral Unity. (Note: this artifact actually exists in the Astral Realms book.) It’s the kind of thing it makes sense for the Consilium to have, especially since one of the members of their star relic acquisitions team is a Mastigos. There are a lot of stats involved which I won’t post here because you should visit your Friendly Local Game Store and buy the book! In essence, there are twelve rings which help to bind twelve characters’ Astral Selves together. If you are wearing one of the rings in the physical world, and someone else is wearing one of the rings in the physical world, you will be able to home in on each other in Astral Space. So miraculously, just in time for the next session to begin (the bitch-slapping was the closing scene of the previous session), the characters that have been knocked out of Astral Space can start recouping some Will Power (they are in the Consilium stronghold so there are options available to them) and join those who are still there. This is a fortunate thing because not everyone was able to make the next session, and those who could were largely those who had been knocked out of Morgan’s Oneiros.

Aenaiyah managed to stay in Morgan’s Oneiros because she wasn’t directly involved in the fight going on in the observation deck. Thinking quickly, she tells Morgan’s True Self that this is HIS MIND DAMMIT and as such he can impose his will over it. He shrugs in his best “that’s lovely, but I have no idea what to do” way, and Aenaiyah forces herself to calmly ask him to think about his happy place. This was an excellent plan! It takes him a few beats because he hasn’t been very happy just lately (there were some RESOLVE+COMPOSURE rolls involved), but when he really thinks about it he realizes that he was happiest in the time shortly before his father died: when he, his Mom, and his Dad would go for picnics at the lake.

Fade To: Family Picnic at the Lake!

There are a whole bunch of kids and families around. There is a tire swing positioned just perfectly to get a good swinging leap into the water. There is a dock that kids are also using to jump into the water, and loads of running, splashing kids with their sandwich chomping parents. This is a place just filled with happy little trees. Good times!

I don’t quite remember the exact particulars of what came next. (Aenaiyah: feel free to fill us in with a comment.) I remember Aenaiyah wanting to visit the time when Morgan was in the service, thinking that this would be a good idea because he would be strongest then because he had gotten away from the abusive situation and was a soldier. I remember consulting my notes and knowing in that black hole where my heart should be that this was the worst idea possible because the time period she had chosen was smack in the midst of his being experimented on, and thus actually being his weakest state, and laughing a bit inside. I remember Aenaiyah casting a time spell to look at all of the times that Morgan had spent at the Lake overlapping each other – though for the life of me I can’t remember what the goal was. I do remember that whatever it was had been a good idea, but that it left her with a horrible timey-wimey headache. I had decided that such a spell would cause an effect like the WORST LAG EVER in World of Warcraft – characters doubling up and moving in a glitchy “mouse-trail” fashion, sounds being overlaid an insane number of times, and all sorts of other strangeness. It was a lot of fun to describe, and I really wish I could remember why she had done it because, like I said, it had been a really good idea! (And this group doesn’t have those very often!)

It was at this point that the other Cabal Mages arrived, and were… confused. They had a hard time finding Aenaiyah and Morgan in the chaos, but eventually Aenaiyah got everything sorted and the group had a discussion. They decided that with Morgan’s True Self now freed from the drugged stupor, it was time to put him back in charge. To do that they would need to break into the fortress from whence Morgan’s Alter-Ego was ruling his mind.

This would ultimately be the final battle of the storyline. I wanted it to be epic. I wanted it to be memorable. I wanted to SUCK THEIR WILLS TO LIVE!

I didn’t quite get everything I wanted that day, but I think I did manage to make it memorable… and maybe just a bit epic. As always, the only will to live that got sucked that day was my own.

Tune in next week for the Exciting* Conclusion**!

Mages Make Me Cry

*Opinions may vary
**Until the “next book” starts. Coming Soon[tm]! 

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