Monthly Archives: February 2012

Random Story Generators

Random generators are incredible tools for GMs. No, I’m not talking about dice or other random number generators. I’m talking about random story generators. Basically, they randomly give you a few pieces of a story and then you have to figure out how they link together. Usually this winds up generating exciting ideas that you might not have come up with on your own.

A really simple random story generator is the online Vortex Oracle: Stories in Time & Space, which creates a random Doctor Who episode. For instance, I just generated:

The Death Children

  • A beautiful structure reaching the heavens, impossibly made.
  • A disembodied brain crackling with psychokinetic force.
  • An archaeological dig.
  • Mourning a lost loved one.

Already ideas are flowing about what kind of story this might tell. I’m imagining a story somewhat like The Time of Angels in which the TARDIS arrives at the ruins of some desolated planet. Perhaps the people made some sort of Tower of Babel structure that wound up being taken over by “a disembodied brain,” whatever that winds up being. And there’s a survivor of the incident who is mourning the lost of her brother after disaster befell him.

Next up are random tables for generating stories. Thrilling Tales of Adventure by Adamant Entertainment includes one such generator in which you roll on eleven tables to generate a full adventure. The benefit of a table like this is that it is specifically designed for creating an elaborate adventure for the setting of the book. I just rolled the following adventure:

Villain: Mastermind

The Fiendish Plot, Part 1: Infiltrate

The Fiendish Plot, Part 2: A Lost World

Main Location: City Skyscrapers

The Hook: Solicitation

Supporting Character: Clumsy, Skilled, Business Owner

Action Sequence Type: Chase, Vehicle

Action Sequence Participants: Lots (5+ per PC)

Action Sequence Location: Educational (museum, college, etc.)

Action Sequence Complications: Props

Plot Twist: Hidden Plot

Looks to me like there’s some key to a lost world (probably Hollow Earth or something) inside of a downtown multi-story museum. And we’ve got a massive vehicle chase through that museum, perhaps even driving the vehicles on display!

Although tables like these are incredible, they are really only designed for a certain setting. So ideally we would want something just as flexible, but generic. The coolest gaming accessory I’ve found lately are the Story Forge Cards, which fit the bill perfectly. These are a set of 88 cards which each have two concepts on them. These cards are then randomly dealt out in a certain arrangement, leaving it up to the GM to interpret the meaning of it all.

Story Forge is mostly aimed at writers, but it does wonders for helping a GM come up with a plot or to determine a character’s backstory (there’s a great video showing the latter). It comes with several predefined card arrangements (called “spreads”), but I could easily see creating new spreads depending on your needs. Perhaps you could create a small spread for a Deadlands character’s worst nightmare. I can even see them being useful during gameplay. The players want to talk to an NPC you’re making up on the fly? Draw a single card and find out what their motivation is. That alone could create incredible plot hooks.

Right now, Story Forge has a Kickstarter project associated with it, which is already more than funded, so it’s definitely going to be made. I definitely encourage you to pick a deck up. It may seem pricey at $25, but a tool for randomly generating stories for any system or setting seems well worth it.

Anybody else know of any good random story generators out there?

GMs to Love and GMs to Hate

This week, I’ve decided to have my first forray into the RPG Blog Carnival, an organized event where once a month an RPG Blog poses a topic and other RPG Blogs write a post addressing it. Nevermet Press posed this month’s topic: “things to love and things to hate.” I’ve decided to write about GMs I’ve loved to game with and GMs I’ve hated to game with.

GMs to Hate

Now I’m using the phrase “hate” pejoratively because it’s part of the theme, but I really mean GMs who had a detrimental effect on the game. The book Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering states that “at least 70% of the success or failure of a gaming session depends on interactions between participants,” especially the interaction between the GM and the players. So I might say that those GMs I “hate” are those who ran a game that didn’t get anywhere close to a 70% success.

The GM Who Didn’t Bring Any Enthusiasm to the Game

My first (and so far my only) foray into Pathfinder was a convention game that turned into one of the worst convention games I have ever played. The GM wasn’t enthusiastic in the least. He read the text in a deadpan tone, didn’t give any eye contact to the players, and just went straight through the motions. During combat, he would move an enemy figure and, without saying anything, roll more dice and announce damage. The adventure’s only social encounter went like this:

GM:  In the middle of the room you see a dwarf hammering at the forge.

Player: I use Diplomacy. [rolls] 19.

GM: He tells you that he’s a prisoner here and the only way to free him is to destroy the necromantic altar on the floor above him. Do you guys want to go ahead and go up there?

Nothing at all inspiring about this GM. Afterwards I heard him chattting to one of the players saying that his primary motivation was the GM rewards program for the Pathfinder Rewards Program. Now I’ve got nothing against GM rewards programs, but clearly this GM didn’t have his heart in the game. Bottom line, a terrible game (and that’s not even bringing up the situation where a player pulled out the Pathfinder book to show the monster’s statblock and prove to the GM that he was using its attack wrong).

The GM Who Hated the System He Was Running

You would think that a GM would run a game with a system he liked. Not so here. This GM was part of a larger group which had a good reputation over all. I was excited to play in a game with a cross between some meddling kids, a dog, and an Elder God. The fact that it was run using Savage Worlds with Realms of Cthulhu made it even more appealing.

But apparently, the GM hated Savage Worlds. He said so himself as he was flipping through the books to something up. He didn’t know even the most basic rules either and had Fighting rolls directly dealing damage (ignoring Parry), bad guys who were mysteriously rolling “dodge checks,” and the GM spending bennies to make the players reroll. I really got the impression that the GM hated the system so much that he just did a quick skim over the rules an hour before the game.

Perhaps the GM was required to run Savage Worlds by the group he was part of, but it was no excuse to be running a system he absolutely hated. Too bad because I think it could have been a great game.

GMs to Love

Fortunately, for every horrendous GM, there’s a fantastic one. The ones that make you want to immediately come back and play next year (or even make you want to go run down to the dealer hall and buy the book for the system they are running). There’s a few experiences in particular that I’d like to point out:

The GMs Who Let the Rule of Awesome Trump Everything

Especially in one-shots, it’s important to let the players have fun with what they are doing and let them go with whatever cool ideas they come up with. The GMs from Matinee Adventures totally do that. I played in two games with them last Origins and they were probably the highlight of my con. One was a game was a 7th Sea game based on the Scarlet Pimpernel where we were musketeer-style nobles who went in disguise to save other nobles from the guillotine. The players had lots of great ideas and there were some really epic moments like jumping through a window in order to do a leap attack against some bounty hunters down on the streets below. The GM totally let us do those things and we all had fun!

Another adventure from Matinee Adventures was an Avatar: The Last Airbender prequel using the Ubiquity system where we were teenagers (like in the show) who were saving a child from the Western Air Temple. The GM totally could have set it up where we were limited to only doing certain maneuvers with our elemental bending. But instead, he had us describe whatever we wanted to do, even if it was way over the top, and let us roll for it with some difficulty modifiers. Some really awesome stuff happened there too.

The GM Who Went All Out for His Game

There was a GM who decided he would make the best Stargate SG-1 game he could possibly make. So he used his incredible modeling skills and made this:

Doesn’t this just make you want to play? Now I probably should make it very clear that I am not at all expecting for every GM to make elaborate minis like this. I just want to show the amount of enthusiasm that this GM clearly has for his game. He created a great scenario and went all out to make it as fun as possible for everyone at the table, which for him meant creating great visuals. If you’re a Stargate fan and have the opportunity, definitely play in this guy’s games.

So those are some GMs I’ve loved and GMs I’ve hated. I think that both groups have certainly had an influence in me becoming the JourneymanGM that I am today.

Review of Mongoose Traveller, Part 2

Two weeks ago, I started my review of Mongoose Traveller (i.e. the version of Traveller created by Mongoose Publishing) and talked about the amazing character creation system. Gameplay in Mongoose Traveller is slick, although it’s not quite as stellar as the character creation.

The typical adventuring party in Traveller is a group of people working together on freelance missions. Sometimes they have their own ship, sometimes they’ll have one on loan from a patron. Generally this leads to sort of a Firefly vibe with people from different walks of life all working together.

Because there are so many skills, it’s possible to have missions that don’t have any combat whatsoever. Want to go on a science mission? It’s easy since there are multiple skills that are related to science. Want to have Battlestar Galactica-style drama? You’ll be using skills like Admin, Advocate, Deception, Diplomat, Investigate, Persuade, and even Carouse. And how do you do stuff? Roll 2d6, add your modifier from an appropriate characteristic (such as Intellect, Dexterity, or Education) and add your modifier from an appropriate skill, generally aiming for an 8 or higher. Quick and easy. Because skills just add flat modifiers, this also means that characters still have a shot at doing things that they aren’t well trained for.

But if you do want to do combat, be forewarned that it is lethal. Say you’re on a mission and some goon wants to shoot you. He makes a Gun Combat roll, adds his Dex Modifier, and gets an 8. If you’re not under cover or anything, then you’re shot. The goon rolls for damage and your Endurance characteristic is reduced by the number of points you got hit for. Did it get to 0? Then you reduce either Strength or Dexterity for the remaining number of points, which abstracts the kind of wound that you’re getting. And did either of those get to 0? Then you need immediate medical treatment or you’re dead. Lethal, but really, really fast (faster even than Savage Worlds).

If there’s a weakness to gameplay, it’s that it’s really hard to advance. If you think about it, your character only earned one or two skills over the course of four years during character creation. It takes about as long in gameplay. The official way to do it is that the number of in-game weeks it takes to advance a skill is equal to the number of skill levels you have. Got ten skill levels? It will take you ten in-game weeks to advance. Although realistic, this can be hard to manage if you’re used to a D&D-style power progression. The real reward for completing missions is generally money and contacts, not experience.

Besides those things, there really isn’t anything special about gameplay. There’s a lot of potential for a variety of mission types, combat is lethal, yet really, really fast, and the focus is on getting contacts rather than getting experience. If you don’t like for the system to get in the way of your storytelling, I think you’ll be happy with how Mongoose Traveller feels in game. Still I imagine that there will be some who find gameplay less interesting than the awesomeness of character creation. I can’t think of another system that has that problem.

At any rate, I definitely recommend giving Mongoose Traveller a try at least. It’s a nifty system that is an update to an old classic. Simple, diverse, and fun.

Supers, Nazis, and Stick Figures

Part 2 of the Traveller review is going to be delayed because I want to share about an amazing ICONS session I had last night. ICONS is a rules-lite superhero game by Adamant Entertainment that is designed to replicate the feel of 4-color comics. Andy (the PlatinumWarlock) ran an adventure for the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild that he called Achtung, Amigos! The description was as follows:

Called to look into the disappearance of noted anthropologist Dr. Anthony Arrington, the Huntsmen leap into action! Deep in the jungles of the Yucatan, it’s up to America’s premier superhero group to find the good doctor and his crew before it’s too late. But, what’s all this wreckage? And Nazis?! What are those guys doing here?!

A picture is worth a thousand words, so here is a picture we drew of the final battle:

This all took place in a swamp in the Everglades. On the left we’ve got Dead-Man Walker in a Nazi swamp-skimmer taking out five Nazis at once.

In the center is a Nazi VTOL, but another swamp-skimmer crashed into it and lit it on fire. The Big Bad Nazi Leader with the black trench coat (who is totally a ripoff of the guy from Raiders of the Lost Ark) is stuck in the mud so that only his head and most of his 2 meter sword are sticking out. On the ramp is the remains of some Nazi genetic experiment. At the bottom is a swamp where Shadowman IX was wrestling with that super-experiment until High Voltage sent a devastating shock to it.

And on the right, we’ve got the heroes’ VTOL with Rebel Yell, Pinpoint, and Murphy’s Law on board using their powers at range. In the air is Rebuild who is flying and launched his rockets at the swamp. Floating off the side of the VTOL is Jacob Marley the ghost, who tried brainwashing the Big Bad Nazi Leader by telepathically forcing All You Need is Love into his head. But unfortunately that didn’t work because he had a Nazi playing German patriotic music on his sousaphone.

That’s ICONS for you. We had a blast and the stick figure drawings made it even more fun. Try it sometime!

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