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.
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!
*Fortunately for all those are figurative ashes. No Game Store was harmed in the making of this transformation.
That is the question! Or rather, it was the question during last night’s RPGChat on Twitter.
What’s that? You’re not familiar with RPGChat on Twitter? It seems to me like you need to get yourself on Twitter on Thursday nights from 9pm-10pm (Eastern Time), follow the hashtag #RPGChat, and get yourself in on the awesome fun! And not having a Twitter account is no excuse, ‘cuz Twitter accounts is free so GO DO IT DAMMIT!
OK, now that you have that done let’s discuss the topic at hand, shall we?
Typically, if I’m going to play in a campaign I want to make my own character. This is a character I intend to be living with for an extended period, and it helps me to get into that character’s mindset if I go through the character creation process. It also helps me to figure out the game rules if it’s a system that I’m not already familiar with. All of this is helpful if the intention is to be part of a long running campaign. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and I did spend several years playing a Dragon Blooded character who was made as a pre-gen for a one shot that we all liked so much that the GM turned it into a campaign for us and it was most excellent. That was the exception though, not the rule. As a rule I like to have more control over a character that I will be playing in a campaign.
For a one shot I throw that rulebook against the wall like a Changeling Module! (Even now one of my readers is twitching from her memories of the first time I played Changeling. You’re welcome, Aenaiyah.)
For a one shot I’m all about the random. Give me random charts and a pair of percentiles (no-cheats of course… or Ye Olde Zocchihedron) that will tell me everything about that character down to hair color, shoe size, and what they ate for breakfast that morning. Bring it! Alternately, hand me a pre-gen. It’s just as random as far as I’m concerned (I didn’t make the character after all), and thus the same level of challenge to step away from the possibility of type-casting myself as a player. Challenge me! Make me play a total idiot! (As witnessed here: Adventurer Misadventures – Haints!) Make me play a fanatical pyromaniac with no regard for his own safety and I promise you I will leap on top of the tank my fellow Space Marines are inside of with a flame-thrower reigning fiery death on the surrounding heretics in one hand, and the cigarette I’m lighting off a smoldering chaos demon corpse in the other. I am with you on this ride. All the way.
Just for love of ALL that is holy DO NOT give me three dots in Athletics with a specialty in “Blogging”. (I’m lookin’ at you “Werewolf the Forsaken” Pre-Gens!) There is an art to building pre-gens for a one shot. It’s something I enjoy doing for the modules that I write. For me, it isn’t enough to just toss some stats on a sheet and call it a pre-gen. I not only want the pre-gens to make sense on their own sheets, I want them to work well together. So OK, one of the pre-gens is dumb as a stump, but you can bet that pre-gen can pick things up and put them down with the best of them and that will become important to the scenario! Another pre-gen will have Sloth as a Vice and the lack of Physical skill dots to back that up, but they will have every Manipulative dot that I can squeeze onto the sheet because the easiest way to catch some ZZZs is to convince the people around you to do everything for you, and by the gods I vow I shall build ways for the player to abuse those skills into the story!
I tend to think of my One Shot Modules like B Movies. Maybe the characters are a film crew shooting the first episode of a new series for the Occult Channel called “Truly Terrifying Tales” at a long abandoned asylum. Or perhaps the characters are a bunch of rich kids being sent of to a remote boarding school to learn how to be productive members of society. The characters might be a Hunter Cell trying to track down a missing subway train. (And yes, I see what I did there.) The character shells are suitably stereotypical to the setting, making it easier for the players to pick them up and run with them. These are characters most people will have some sense of familiarity with. You don’t need a 13 page background story when two or three sentences of inner monologue will do. Of course the player can always opt to play the personality differently than I suggest (what am I going to do, fire them?), but I find that it’s helpful for new players who maybe aren’t sure how to roll play to give them those couple of sentences to illustrate the character. I also find that more experienced roll players tend to enjoy the challenge of playing them as written.
While obviously playing the pre-gen personalities as written isn’t a requirement, I do make an effort to build them with fun personality conflicts in mind to help the RP. For example, the camera crew includes one jaded camera operator who just wants to shoot some footage and get this over with and god help the producer if he stuck me with some newbie operator on the second camera, and of course the other camera operator is the obligatory newbie who is a big fan of the first and totally into the supernatural! The show’s host actually has some minor supernatural abilities (whether the other characters care to believe that or not) but no physical skills whatsoever, and the producer is just trying to keep everybody in line and make this thing good enough for it to get picked up as a series so they can all get a steady gig out of it. The boarding school kids include a schoolyard bully and toady, a charmer who can get away with anything, a brainy hacker, and a stoner. The Hunters have an electrician and a construction worker who might be able to fix the train, a go-getter medic who wants to make sure that no one got hurt (Heaven Forbid!) with a somewhat less industrious ambulance driving partner, an MTA employee who knows the tunnels inside and out and has a secret hoard of “discarded stuff” nearby (it’s AMAZING what construction materials get left behind after a project), and a police officer in case they run into any unsavory types in the dark tunnels under the city. It has been my experience that the players rise to the occasion and bring these potential conflicts to all new levels. Once a character tossed someone out of a third story window. Good times.
The thing of it is, when you’re at a convention you’re playing outside of your normal group. You might never see these players and this GM again, and there is a limited amount of time on the clock. I don’t want to spend that time building a character. I want to create a story, and I want it to have an ending that’s more satisfying than “and then we ran out of time.” Your mileage may vary, but I have seen someone spend THREE HOURS making a Savage Worlds character for a one shot.
SAVAGE F@&# WORLDS!
Folks, it was not pretty.