Friday, December 20, 2013

Expanded Thoughts: Unabashed Gaming Ep. 6 (Part 1)

So, I've been podcasting with my good friend (and GM) David Larkins, and our most recent uploaded episode is regarding the merits of running published material, compared to writing your own. My commentary was verbose, as always, but my preparation was even greater, and because I have this handy blog I thought I'd share some of my unabridged thoughts with everyone.

Merits of Running Published Material

There are a lot of positives to running published material, whether through ease of preparation or a catering to a GM's own occasional laziness or ambivalence towards game preparation (we've all been there). It's important to note, going in to this post, that there is no right or wrong way to prep for a game, provided the end result is that the table consensus at the end of the session is some permutation of "Good times were had by all; except for that asshat Richard. He never has a good time. I don't know why we keep inviting him to games."

1. You don’t have to write anything, you basically read and take notes.

The best reason to run published material. If you're in a creative slump, or on short notice, or were violently ill the week before game time, it's super easy to pick something up and read it, compared to trying to write out a balanced game for players in a super-short period of time.

2. With luck (Or you paid for it) it’s been edited and playtested for balance.

Another great reason! Have you ever spent hours poring over different sourcebooks or .pdfs, trying to find the perfect way to create encounters or play sessions that involve all the players and don't utterly drag in execution? Well, most paid products have already had that lucky benefit of playtesting and tweaking, so unless you're reading from a text file you copy/pasted from some Angelfire website, chances are the writer put some thought into making the game coherent and interesting for players!

3. Takes substantially less prep, even to include in an original setting

This is sort of obvious. When someone else does most of the work for you, there's less to take your mind away from thinking about how to run your game, compared to what you're running for your game. And if you're in an ongoing campaign, you can copy/paste names of your original NPCs or locations into appropriate places in the adventure. What's easier than copy/pasting, I ask you? A lot of things, I'm sure, like calling a player and telling them it's time for them to put on big-boy pants and run a goddamn game once in your life instead of complaining about mine, Richard.

4. Can give you ideas for where to go next if your group is in a rut

An under-appreciated gem, this one. There are so many things that can put some malaise into your weekly game, whether through player infighting or a new system release, or just plain summer laziness kicking in. Or GTA Online finally releasing their content creator. Or a really good Steam Sale or Humble Bundle. You get the point. Inspiration is low, players are losing focus. When you get to this point, a great place to turn to is published material, where they come up with some really deadly ways to get players back on their toes, or to really inspire a GM with a memorable villain or dangerous situation. This isn't a sure-cure, as players who want to stop playing a game generally already have an idea of what they want to do instead, but if the rut belongs to you, GM, this tactic can get you back on track.

5. Fantastic for introductions/one-shots if they are short

What if I'm starting out as a GM, you ask. What if my players are new? Or the system? Or someone wants to break in a new set of dice? Or perhaps an old gaming friend is coming in from out of town and wants to roll some dice for an evening?
One shots, baby. There's nothing like them, and if you can make them fast-paced enough or deadly enough, any complaints by long-time angsty players named Dick or Rich or Richard will be constantly drowned out by other players asking why the hell a rusty bed frame just knocked them out of a window onto the concrete path below for 3d6 damage. Because Call of Cthulhu, naive new player. Because Call of Cthulhu.
Tune in again for Drawbacks of Running Published Material!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Iron Kingdoms RPG: Creating a Family Tree

Recently I've begun an undertaking of colossal proportions: creating a fictional Cygnaran house for an Iron Kingdoms RPG.  This process has become very much akin to creating a family in Pendragon, except I'm certifiably insane, so I decided that instead of just making a current family, I'd go back about four hundred years and start there.  And because I'm really certifiably insane, and because Iron Kingdoms is a feudal society, I decided that most people begin breeding in their late teens to early twenties.  And because I just bought a really sweet Warmachine Cygnaran d6 dice set, I figured I'd use them to generate the family.
The character I made for that Iron Kingdoms game is 18th generation.  18 generations in 400 years.  So I thought I'd share my methods, in case someone else out there wanted to hurt their brain.

Step 1) Begin with some kind of ancestor, choose what year they are born in, and determine their eventual spouse.

I chose to create my ultimate ancestor so that he would be active during the evacuation of the Orgoth forces, in an event called the Scourge.  Therefore, my character's ultimate grandfather was born in AR162.
Once you have chosen this, determine where they marry in the hierarchy of nobility.  Roll 1d6, and consult the table below.
Marriage Roll:
1 - Roll again
2 - Viscount/Viscountess
3 - Earl/Countess
4 - Margrave/Margravine
5 - Marquess/Marchioness
6 - Roll again
If you roll either a 1 or a 6, your ancestor has married either above or below a certain station.  Consult the tables below for each.
Rolled a 1:
1-3 - Knight/Dame
4-5 - Baronet/Dowager Baroness
6 - Baron/Baroness
Rolled a 6:
1-3 - Duke/Duchess
4-5 - Prince/Princess
6 - King/Queen

Step 2) Determine the age at which the selected ancestor first had a child.

To accomplish this, roll 2d6.  If the chosen ancestor is male, add the 2d6 to the age of 20.  If the ancestor is female, add the 2d6 to the age of fifteen.  Dice can ace (a nifty mechanic from Savage Worlds/World of Darkness), so if you roll a six on one or more dice, roll them again.
Not only will this determine when your ancestor first breeds, but also when the next generation possibly begins.  I say possibly, because...

Step 3) Roll for survival for the mother/child.

Roll 1d6 once each for both the mother and child. If you roll a 1 for the mother, she dies in childbirth.  If you roll a 1 for the child, it is born sickly, and you must roll another 1d6 to determine how long it lasts.  This die can also ace, and if it aces enough times that the child reaches at least 15, he or she has overcome their childhood illness and can now bear/produce children of their own.  If you roll a 1 for this survival time, the child is stillborn.

Step 4) More info on child survival roll.

The 1d6 roll for the child's survival also indicates its gender and aptitude.  Consult the table below for information on the results.
Child Survival and Aptitude Roll:
1 - Child is female, but sickly.
2 - Child is male, but sickly.
3 - Child is female, and healthy.
4 - Child is male, and healthy.
5 - Child is female, and superior.
6 - Child is male, and superior.

Step 4b) Determine Superiority of Child

If a superior child is born, it has the potential to accomplish great feats.  In game mechanic terms, this means the child could possibly be a Player Character, and so they need to choose an archetype.  If you so desire, you may choose the archetype for them or roll 2d6 and consult the chart below.
Child Superiorty Roll:
1-3 - The child has been Gifted with the ability to manipulate arcane forces.
4-6 - The child is to be an Intellectual, with a quick wit and discerning mind.5-9 - The child is Mighty, displaying great physical strength and endurance at an early age.
10-12 - The child proves to be Skilled, showing a flair in combat training and great dexterity.

Step 5) Determine successor for family.

In classic medieval settings, only a firstborn male child could be heir.  However, in the Iron Kingdoms, it's not unusual to hear about female heads of households, so simply choose the first surviving heir to determine who will continue the family's line.

Repeat steps 2-5, until you just can't anymore.