As a Christian who plays RPGs I thought it worth reposting the following review article on roleplaying and the public/media. I’m still very careful about who I tell about my roleplaying. With colleagues because I don’t want to face ridicule, with Christian friends because I don’t want to face suspicion. Which doesn’t mean I don’t tell either group, it’s just that I choose my confessors wisely.
There is something incredibly satisfying about a map. The way symbols and signs promise wonderful landscapes and adventures untold. I can still vividly remember a geography lesson on map reading from my first year at secondary school some 33 years ago and the thrill of understanding how the whole thing fit together to give information. How hills were drawn, what the building on the canal was, how to find the nearest pub…
To this day there are few things I find more satisfying than buying a new map, opening it and studying it for possibilities; new hikes to plan, new routes to discover.
And the RPG world is no different. There are some very clever people out there for whom I have nothing but admiration and respect regarding the superbly crafted maps they come up with. The website Cartographers’ Guild is a favourite haunt of mine when looking for mappy inspiration, and you only have to enter the terms “fantasy map” in Deviant Art to come up with some absolute masterpieces. In fact I joined the CG just to have download rights so that I can swipe maps for my own (personal) use.
One of my favourite formats, particularly for town and the like, is the cutaway. One of the best examples of this is Domigoron’s Town of Berem, which shows a delightful little seaside hill town. It’s half-way between map and sketch and gives me as a GM a real thrill and tons of ideas regarding how to implement it in an adventure.
When I’m buying scenarios or flipping through RPG magazines, it’s often the maps and the artwork that catch the eye rather than the story itself. But is it all necessary? I found myself needing to come up with a map recently for a wilderness adventure that I want to send my players on. I ended up throwing it together in 5 minutes using Google Docs. It has all the pertinent information (that the map needs), it’s clear and it’s fast. Minimalist. But it wouldn’t sell my scenario if I were to try to market it. At the end of the day, most of the maps that we see are little more than eye-candy for the GM that don’t even make it to the players, who get some poorly sketch-it-as-you-go version.
But I don’t want the mappy goodness to stop.
Too good not to share. Came across this passage this morning in our devotional. My wife immediately identified it as a 3,000 year-old prayer against GMs 😉
In case you can’t read the text:
God, get me out of here, away from this evil;
protect me from these vicious people.
All they do is think up new ways to be bad;
they spend their days plotting war games.
They practice the sharp rhetoric of hate and hurt,
speak venomous words that maim and kill.
God, keep me out of the clutch of these wicked ones,
protect me from these vicious people;
Stuffed with self-importance, they plot ways to trip me up,
determined to bring me down.
These crooks invent traps to catch me
and do their best to incriminate me.
Psalm 140:1-5 (The Message)
I’ve just been surfing around for inspiration for a castle in the north of Ellesworn in Legend and stumbled over Fortress Hohentwiel in south-western Germany. It’s built on the top of an extinct volcano.
They’ve even got maps of the place with a key. Who needs to buy this stuff from DriveThruRPG?
A. Alexanders Bastion
B. Karls Bastion
C. Eugens Bastion
D. Ludwigs Bastion
E. Friedrichs Bastion
F. Dukes Bastion
G. Small Bastion
H. Rondel Augusta
15. Sentry Post
18. Newgate with Bridge
19. Powder Store
20. Original Abbey with Cloister, later Barracks
21. Parade ground
22. Wilhelms Watchtower
23. School and Rectory
25. Eberhards Watchtower
26. New Building
27. Church with Tower
29. Council Chambers
30. Prince’s palace with inner courtyard, cistern accomodation and stables
33. ‚Altane‘ (Highest point oft he castle)
Bit of a mouthful the title, I know, but I’m directing a few grey cells at the moment to the question of campaign design as we slowly, incrementally head back to the gaming table after our long summer hiatus.
Mr. Moffat? Well I’d imagine that most people from the gaming world are familiar with the writer of the present Doctor Who series at least by name. He seems to polarise the fans a little, some hate him and others adore his work. I’m afraid I’m in the adoration camp. I think his conclusion of the Amy Pond arc was fitting and masterful.
Which brings me to the point I want to make – story arcs. As I see it there are essentially three ways of running a non-sandbox campaign:
A series of unlinked adventures
- A series of semi-linked adventures with touches of story arc
- A series of linked adventures along a story arc
Option 1 is the lazy one; just pick up or write a number of scenarios or adventures loosely hung together in a particular setting.
Option 2 is what I’m calling the ‘Moffat option’ – a series of episodes in the same setting, some connected, others not, but with parts of an overriding story arc connecting them, such as the River Song story in Doctor Who. This happens to be one of my favourite story lines ever in DW, partly due to the superb tongue-in-cheek characterisation by Alex Kingston. She doesn’t crop up in every episode and where she does, her story isn’t always the main part of the plot. But there have been other examples of this – David Tennant’s Bad Wolf, the Drumming and the Crack to name but three. Obviously Mr. Moffat wasn’t the first person to come up with this idea – episodic series are rife with such story arcs, but his are better than most (IMO).
Option 3 is a custom written single story line with little or no deviation from the central tale with one adventure more or less seamlessly fuguing into the next. This requires a lot of custom work from the GM or the ability to work on the fly (which I don’t possess).
I’m struggling at the moment between options 2 and 3. As a GM with a story to tell, my natural inclination is to go with The Moff – a series of semi-autonomous adventures with an over-reaching story that impinges on the players every now and then leading to a grand finale. On the other hand, I recognise the desire of my players for a more obvious story line that they can follow. My ‘touches’ are proving to be too subtle and in the absence of a lot of between-game discussion are tending to be missed. Story arc light works well when there is a lot of discussion between episodes, as there is in the online Doctor Who community (or so my wife informs me ;)).
So my inventive energy is going to be directed at pushing myself from option 2 to option 3 without breaking the game.
Normally as a GM I avoid random encounters like the plague – I’m too much of a control freak with regard to my adventures, meaning that I’m also a veteran rail-roader (though I’m trying hard not to be). Today though I was recapping on Wiggy’s PP&SS and then came across Unofficial Game’s seed table concept. The basic premise is that for an encounter you roll d8, d6 and d4, with the dice dictating Where?, What? and Weird! respectively with special events if you roll any double or triple numbers.
What I really like about it is the way that it adds character to the encounters; it’s not just a bunch of random orcs (though I’m proud to say that as a GM I haven’t used orcs since I was a teenager), but there’s terrain in there too and a random element.
I think I want to add more What, have less Where and include a greater variety of Weird, so I’m going with d10/d8/d6 respectively. One thing I do note is that Unofficial Game’s Weird is a lot stronger than mine. Need to work on that a bit.
Borrowing from 50 Fathoms, encounters occur on days on which a face card is drawn.
Looking then at encounters in Legend’s Pagan Mountains then (with apologies to Unofficial for occasional plagiarism):
What? Roll d10
- 1d2 Giants
- 1d6 Dwarves
- 2d4 Bandits
- 1d3 Ogres
- 1d6 Wolves
Where? Roll d8
- On a regular path
- In a boulder field
- On a mountaintop
- At a pass
- In a forest
- Cliff face: 20+total feet in height. PC’s at base on odd and top on even.
- At a waterfall
- Across a mountain tarn
Weird! Roll d6
- In a storm (total even – electrical, total odd – blizzard)
- d4 = (1: Path Found! add one Success to total* , 2: impassable drop/chasm, backtrack required (remove one Success from total*). 3: cliff face as (Where?:6): pine forest and overgrown town)
- Runic stone
- Fog (visibility down to Large Burst Template)
If you throw a triple…
- A herd of mountain goats trample you in the storm
- The giants are throwing rocks at each other
- The dwarves are performing a secret ritual
- The bandits set off the rockfall
- The ogres are drunk, giving them a -2 penalty to all Skill rolls but also giving them the Harder to Kill and Improved Nerves of Steel Edges
- You can hear the howling, but can’t place it, even though it’s nearby. The wolves attack in waves rather than just standing still.
If any of the dice come up double…
- The game seeks refuge in a cave behind the waterfall
- The gargoyles have treasure sunk in the tarn
The party has spotted a clear path to the place they’re trying to get to. Add 2d4 Successes to their total*.
*The particular adventure I have in mind for this involves the party using their Survival skill to identify a feature of the mountains indicating the existence of an abandoned mine. Each ‘Success’ brings them half a day closer to the mine.