Gnome Stew

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    Gnome Stew

  • mp3Gnomecast #157 – Splitting the Party

    You go down that hallway and I’ll go down this one. You want to split the party? Is that a good idea? Well, Ang, Thomas, and Chris are here to tell you why it is, some tips for how to do it well, and the places you might not want to get things all separated.

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  • B2 DM Advice – Revisited

    The Keep on the Borderlands Cover

    B2: The Keep on the Borderlands

    If you’ve been in the RPG hobby for long enough (almost four decades for me), then you’ve at least heard of The Keep on the Borderlands. The module was published by TSR in 1980 (and updated in 1981) to support the Basic D&D system box set created by John Eric Holmes that was later updated by Tom Moldvay. The module was included in those box sets, so you could dive right in and start playing once you had read and gotten a grasp of the rulebook.

    You might even have been a player in the module or perhaps even a DM running it. The module’s concept is that it’s intended for new DMs and players alike. There is a section near the front on how to be an effective DM and another section near the end with tips for the players. These sections might have been better placed in the appropriate sections of the rulebook, but they landed in the module instead.

    In this article, I’ll be reviewing, commenting on, and updating the “how to be an effective DM” section. I’m mainly doing this to give younger players some perspective on where the more experienced players may have cut their teeth and to see how far we’ve come in DM advice in the intervening decades. In my next article, I’ll review and comment on the “tips for players” section of the module.

    How to be an Effective Dungeon Master

    I have the legally purchased PDF version of this book as my physical copy has vanished to the ages through various moves and shifts in life. In my PDF, the How to be an Effective Dungeon Master section is on page 7 of the PDF (with the “page number” being 4 in the display). The advice starts near the top of the page on the left column and barely bleeds over into the right-hand column. That means they didn’t put much meat on this particular bone, but that’s okay. The RPG experience was still pretty young as compared to the maturity is has now.

    Let’s dive into some topics from top to bottom in the section of B2!

    Paragraph One

     There is no “most important person” at the table. 

    To quote the module, “The DM is the most important person in the D&D® game.” I vehemently disagree with this assertion. There is no “most important person” at the table. Everyone there is equally important, even in traditional role playing. If there is no DM, the players have no game to play. If there are no players, the DM also has no game to play. Everyone is vital.

    The module goes on to say, “He or she sets up and controls all situations, makes decisions, and acts as the link between the players and the world he or she has created.” Okay. I can get behind most of this. Let’s start at the high level here. The DM is, by far, the busiest person at the table. This might imply that they are the most important (see my previous comments), but this is a false conclusion that “busy equals important.” Let’s tackle these three tasks deemed to be in the hands of the DM.

    The module says the DM “controls all situations.” This is laughable. Anyone who has run a fair and collaborative RPG for more than about an hour will quickly realize that the players have much more control of the situations and narrative than the DM. Yes, the DM can seize the control and railroad people. Yes, the DM can force the players’ hands into decisions they don’t want to make. Yes, the DM can “control all situations.” However, if the DM wants to do all of this, that DM should consider writing a novel, not run an RPG campaign.

    The task of “makes decisions” is very vague here. Too vague, really. The players are typically the ones making decisions, and the DM adjudicates difficulties, results of die rolls, NPC reactions, monster actions, and so on. Yes, there are decisions made within each of these, but the flow of the story usually (and should) hinge on player decisions, not DM decisions.

    The module goes on to say the DM is “the link between the players and the world.” Yes. Totally this. Absolutely. If the DM doesn’t include something in the description of an area, then the players have no way to know that thing is there. This means, for the players, that thing simply doesn’t exist. Same with NPC descriptions/actions/reactions. Same with the presence of monsters, traps, hazards, and other dangerous situations. The DM has the responsibility of providing all sensory inputs for the PCs.

    The last bit of the first paragraph advises that it is “… possible to read through the rules and become slightly lost by all the things that must be prepared or known….” In the 70s and 80s, this was extraordinarily true because companies, layout people, writers, editors, and producers of games were still trying to figure out how to meld the concepts of collaborative storytelling, fiction, and instruction manuals all into a single entity. To some extent, we’re still figuring that out, but things have improved considerably in the past 20-30 years.

    Unfortunately, this section of the module doesn’t really tell you, the DM, how to remediate the confusion that can come from cold reading rulebooks of this era. Also unfortunately, I don’t have the space in this article to expand on the concepts of how to learn a new game. There are existing articles and Gnomecasts that cover this topic. Using the search bar in the top of our page and plugging in “learning new” will give you some quality results.

    Paragraph Two

     This paragraph compares and contrasts D&D and boardgames 

    I’m not going to quote this paragraph, but the gist is that it compares and contrasts D&D and boardgames. The comparison is that both have rules. The contrast is that (per TSR’s assertion) in boardgames players take turns moving pieces and interacting with the game, but in RPGs, things are more chaotic and only limited by characters’ abilities and players’ imaginations.  I find it strange that an RPG with an initiative system that adjudicates action order would contrast itself in this way to “ordered boardgames.” Sure, out of combat, things can get chaotic as different people want to try and do different things at the same time. If this becomes the case for me, I either go around the table clockwise and handle sub-tasks of each thing the player wants to do before moving on to the next person. This orderly approach keeps me from being bombarded by my players’ desires.

    The paragraph also says the “play will often go in unexpected directions … not covered in the rules.” Here is TSR’s sideways reference to the fact that the players are in control of the story, not the DM. It also does cover that the DM is going to have to ad-lib and come up with rulings based on things in the book(s) but that are not strictly covered by the text of the rules. Of course, today we have the Internet for reference of “what if a player does X?” Back in the pre-Internet days, we had to resort to our imaginations, or, if we were lucky, a Dragon magazine article covered the situation.

    Paragraph Three

     This is the best of the six paragraphs when it comes to DM advice. 

    This is, perhaps, the best of the six paragraphs when it comes to DM advice. While it compares the DM to a referee at a sporting event (which I disagree with that comparison), it does say that the DM must be fair and neutral in their decisions. It also states that the DM must not be “out to get the players” under any circumstances. If the players have defeated the monsters or other obstacles, then the DM shouldn’t throw more monsters their way solely for the purpose of defeating the players.

    It also says that if the players have acted foolishly, they should receive “just rewards.” However, the book really doesn’t say what that is. I agree with this advice to some extent but being overly punitive just because a poor decision was made does not respect the goal of playing a game, which is to have an enjoyable time. There are times when a “foolish” decision is made on purpose for the sole sake of making the game more interesting. This is where the DM should lean into the “foolishness” and amp up the fun by grasping the interesting outcomes and running with them.

    There is also some advice for playing high and low intelligence monsters, but this is very brief. It does capture the nugget of truth behind both of those extremes, though.

    The last sentence of the paragraph states, “The DM must be fair, but the players must play wisely.” I’m down with the first half of that sentence, but the second half (which is really advice for the players) needs some work. I think the players need to play their personas and character abilities accurately. This means the player should try to embody the nature of their character and capture all benefits, flaws, ups, downs, powers, and weaknesses of the character. This might mean playing unwisely at times because of personality flaws or motivations or goals or simply having a low attribute score.

    Paragraph Four

     I am the biggest cheerleader of the players during the game. 

    This paragraph is another good one. It touches on the concepts of encounter balance (which hardly existed in the 80s with D&D, if I’m going to be honest), difficulty of obstacles, PC abilities, and setting up non-boring challenges. With most advice from this era, it brings up the topic, but doesn’t really provide a solution. This is a great thing for DMs to be aware of, but it would have been nice for the newbie DM of 1980 to have some additional, concrete advice on how to come up with solid, challenging, balanced encounters.

    The paragraph also says that the treasure gained should be commensurate to the dangers faced to obtain the treasure. This made me laugh because in the 70s through the 90s treasure was pretty much completely random. You had treasure types based on the letters of the alphabet that led to random charts that led to more random charts that led to 100% random treasure… unless the DM really needed a particular item to be in a treasure hoard for moving the story forward.

    To finalize the paragraph, the module hits on one of my favorite topics. “As DM, much satisfaction comes from watching players overcome a difficult situation.” Yes! This! I love it when my players get by an obstacle I’ve placed before them. This can come from great ideas, great dice rolls, great creativity, and great teamwork. I am, quite frankly, the biggest cheerleader of the players during the game.

    Paragraph Five

     The DM must provide all appropriate sensory information to the players through the characters’ senses. 

    This paragraph delves deeper into the fact that the DM is the walking, talking eyes, ears, noses, and so on of the PCs. This topic was touched upon a few paragraphs ago, but this one gives more details and pitfalls if information is not delivered properly. There are quite a few articles on Gnome Stew referring to this fact and how to properly give information, so I’m not going to do my own deep dive into the topic. I’ll drop you a link to Elements of Description, which is an article I wrote last year.

    The thing I like most about this paragraph is the concluding statement of “… the choice of action is the players’ decision.” In other words, once you’ve given all of the proper information of a setting/location to the players, it is up the players to decide how they are going to react to, interact with, or ignore the information you’ve given. This is my style of running an RPG. I’m very “hands off” when it comes to allowing the players to make their own calls. If they’re about to do something horrifically stupid (like touch the flaming wall), I’ll ask them if they heard the “wall is on fire” part of the description because sometimes a player (especially at the far end of the table) might not have heard that little detail.

    Paragraph Six

     More. Big. Sighs. 

    Big Sigh.

    After a few paragraphs of talking about player decisions and watching players overcome obstacles and such, the module falls back into the untruth of “… the DM must remember that he or she is in control.”

    Nope. Not at all. We’ve covered this already, so I’m going to move on.

    This paragraph is packed with similar sentiments along the lines of “… it is [the DM’s] game,” and “The Dungeon Master’s word is law!”

    More Big Sighs.

    Yes, RPGs can be run like this final paragraph describes. During the 70s, through the 80s, and deep into the 90s, this was exactly how many RPG sessions went. Now that I’ve gone back and done a deep dive into this module from 1980, I wonder if the “adversarial DM” actions came from paragraphs exactly like this one.

    I’m glad we’ve moved on and grown from those days and more into the collaborative storytelling environment.

    Conclusion

    For its day (1980/1981) this is actually six solid paragraphs, but with a lens of forty years, we can see some glaring blemishes that mar the surface. Like with any advice (including my own and that of our Gnome Stew staff), take what works for you and leave the rest behind. That’s the path to happiness when it comes to accepting and enacting advisory words.

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  • Making Changes To The Game

    It’s rare that I play any TTRPG exactly by the book. Rare? More like impossible. Between rulings, house rules, and other types of changes, I am always adding or changing things in the games I run. Some things are added in or changed before the game gets started, some in the middle of a session, and others between sessions. One thing that is consistent is that I try to approach these changes the same way, regardless of the change itself. 

    So let’s talk about some best practices for changing things in your game. 

    What kinds of changes are we talking about? 

    There are a few kinds of changes that can be made to the game you are running. Here is a short list of the kinds of changes I make: 

    Mechanical House Rules – these are changes to the rules of the game. It could be removing a rule, adding a rule, or changing an existing rule. For example, forgoing experience points for leveling up at the end of each adventure. 

    Narrative House Rules – these are narrative conventions that exist in the stories you are telling. For example: if you let someone run away from the fight, they won’t come back to attack you later, they are just gone.

    Safety Tools – most games do not have built-in safety tools, and many people choose to add them to their games. For example: using an X-card or Lines & Veils. 

    Add-Ons – these are activities that are not directly part of the game rules but can be added to the game to enrich the play experience. For example: Adding Roses & Thorns to the end of your gaming session, deciding who can play what types of NPCs, and who will do recaps at the start of the session. 

    These changes could come from your own thoughts, from your group, or could be advice you have read here (or elsewhere) or heard on a podcast. In fact, in the 10 years, I have been giving GMing advice, I have created hundreds of these Add-Ons that you could use in your games, and I am just one person giving advice.  This is to say that there are a lot of potential changes you could add to your game. 

    A Model For Change

    Regardless of the type of change you are making, there is a basic model for how to make a good change. It has a few steps:

    Step 1 – Explain the change

    What is the change you want to make? Be specific. Explain as much as you are aware of about the change. Is it a house rule about flanking? Define how that is going to work. Is it adding Stars & Wishes to the end of your game to get feedback? Explain how the process works and what you do with the information. 

    Also, it helps to explain why you want to make this change. Perhaps the flanking rules need to be more relaxed and you want to allow for more teamwork. Or you want to add Stars & Wishes because you can’t read the table about what they think of the game, and you want to get better feedback to work from. 

    Also, allow and answer questions from the rest of the group. Do your best to explain things – your initial explanations may not cover everything, so make sure everyone gets to ask questions.

    Step 2 – Define Any Boundaries

    You may have some boundaries for the change in mind, or the rest of the group may have some suggestions, but determine what boundaries exist around the change and make sure everyone is clear with those. Perhaps your flanking house rule is fine for small or medium-sized creatures but not for larger creatures. Perhaps you only want to do Stars & Wishes at the end of a story and not each session. 

    Step 3 – Establish Consent

    We want everyone to be on board with these changes. The above two steps have defined the change as what it is and is not. Now we want to establish that everyone is ok with the change. In many cases this can be a simple, “Is everyone ok with this?”, but depending on your group dynamics and the change you are asking for, not everyone may be forthcoming. 

    What you want is enthusiastic consent (looking for a “yes” rather than the absence of a “no”). If you don’t have enthusiastic consent from everyone, you don’t have consent. If you can’t establish consent don’t move on with the change. Try going back to steps 1 and 2 and see if there are modifications that may bring about a compromise, and in the absence of getting compromise and consent, drop the change. 

    Once you have enthusiastic consent then… 

    Step 4 – Document The Change

    Write the change down. It’s great that in the moment you all remember everything about the change, but what about months from now – will you remember it perfectly, then? No, you will not. Open up a Google Doc and write down your changes and save it. Have it documented so that it can be referenced later, or shared with someone who has joined the game after the change was made. 

    When Changes Can Occur

    Changes can occur throughout the course of your campaign. While the model above is a solid way to create change, when your change occurs can affect how you make that change. 

    Before The Campaign starts

    Session Zero is the best time to introduce changes to your game. It is where you are creating a shared understanding of the game, and changes are one of those things you can create understanding around. Also, no one has characters and there is no continuity in play, so changes are easier to manage and less personal to the players.

    In your Session Zero, create a space to allow for changes. In that section, introduce any changes you would like for the game, and ask the players to also recommend changes. Then using the model above define your change and get consent. Then record the agreed-upon changes in either your Session Zero notes or another document. 

    This is the place where you might add safety tools, set house rules for advancement or character generation, decide to add a ritual for collecting feedback, etc. 

    In-Play

    There are times when you are in the middle of the session when the need for a change arises. This is most common with house rules. First thing, if you can defer the change and its discussion to after the session or between sessions (see below), do that, because you have more time to discuss it. 

    If you must make a change in the middle of a session, my recommendation is to make it a one-time change. That is define it, make it apply to only this turn, scene, or session (that is a boundary), and obtain consent. Then return to it between sessions. 

    This is where you may create a house rule about a specific rule, such as flanking, a spell effect, or how a power works. Or you might make a narrative house rule about how enemies that are knocked out say unconscious for the rest of the scene. 

    Between Sessions

    This is the second best place to make changes because time is on your side. However, while time is on your side, your players have characters that may be affected by the change and you may need to do some work to maintain continuity. 

    If you made a change In Play, this is a good time to further discuss and refine the change and get a fresh round of consent, and document your change. If your In-Play change turns out not to be a good idea, then it only lasted for that previous session and you can drop it. 

    Other times you might get an idea for a change from a blog article, podcast, actual play, etc, and want to implement it. Waiting between sessions is a great time to bring that change up and use the consent framework defined above. 

    Ch-Ch-Changes 

    One of the best things about TTRPGs is our ability to change them to suit the way we want to play. TTRPGs are far more flexible than video games in this respect. We can change the rules of the game, or we can add outside ideas, to enhance play. A good change is one where everyone understands the change and agrees to it (informed enthusiastic consent). Change can come up at different times in our campaigns, and being aware of where you are when you want to make a change can help to make better changes. 

    What are some of your favorite types of changes in games? How do you introduce changes with your group? 

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  • Back in the RPG Saddle Again

    It’s a new year and a fresh start! It’s also time to revisit games once enjoyed but had fallen to the wayside because of adulting and life in general. After meeting up with gaming peeps over the holidays, we decided to schedule a Zoom session.

    It was truly a Christmas miracle that five adults managed to seamlessly secure three free hours on a Sunday afternoon, since we’ve been having difficulty syncing up our dates. It helps that it’s January and that all of us reside in colder climates, so we hole up in our caves and roll dice in lieu of literal hibernation.

    That meeting and the game session inspired me to write this article about getting back in the RPG saddle after a brief or long pause. (For us, it was a four-month hiatus.) This is from the player’s perspective since I don’t have anything yet to add on the DM’s viewpoint.

    • Clearing the Calendar

    First things first. Nail down the date and time to meet and play. I use both a planner and an online calendar (Google) to ensure that I have both the date and time cleared for the session. Double-booking is problematic, so I increase my efforts not to have that happen.  We also try not to schedule games on a weeknight during the school year.

    • Deciding on the Campaign

    Not all RPGs are based on just one campaign. In our group, there are several talented DMs who will run a one-shot or continue months or years long campaigns. The DM asked us which game we would prefer to play. Surprisingly, we opted to play the campaign where our characters were low-level (level 3); most of us chose to play another type of character. (I’m playing a charismatic and unwise bard named Ella. I’ve never played a bard before and so far, so good.)

    • Preparing for the Game

    Because it’s been awhile since playing this particular game,  I try to add in at least an hour beforehand to prepare and review notes from the campaign. Also, I click onto the D&D Beyond website and pull up the character sheet, reviewing hit points and used spells.  I locate my trusty dice bag, pens and/or pencils, and blank paper for notetaking. (Your DM will be grateful for planning ahead. Our game ran smoothly because both the DM and players were prepared.)

    • Gameplay

    The main points of playing are to have fun, venture through the campaign, and keep characters alive! Although we do our best, nothing is perfect, and sometimes the imperfect moments make the adventure more interesting. I’m happy to note that we played our game (5e). Our DM was kind and let our characters take a long rest so we were ready to resume gameplay with restored hit points and spell slots. Nobody’s character died, so it was a successful adventure so far!

    What are your strategies for rebooting your campaign after it’s been on ice? We’d love to hear from you!

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  • My First Hex Crawl

    The whole map to explore…

    My experience with hex crawls is limited, despite gaming for many years. Of course, I know the general concept, and most ‘traditional’ fantasy games have a degree of traversing the wilderness, but in most the focus was on getting from point a to b rather than actual exploration. Despite this lack of experience, I shocked myself by deciding that my Depths of Xen’drik campaign was going to be a pseudo hex crawl.

    In early 2022, I decided the next game I was going to run for my regular group was going to be a D&D 5e Eberron campaign. I batted around a few ideas, but eventually settled on the PCs competing to partake in an expedition to Xen’drik. It’s an area of the setting I haven’t been able to play or run very much and thought it could be fun. For those not familiar with Eberron, Xen’drik is a bit of a lost continent. In ancient times it was the seat of a powerful giant empire that was destroyed by a magical cataclysm that fractured the continent. It’s a place of wild magic, dangerous ruins, and many mysteries to explore and discover.

    The early stage of this campaign was built around the competition to be chosen to accompany the expedition to Xen’drik. Consider it ‘Sharn’s Next Top Adventurer’ or whatever reality competition comparison you want to make. This turned out to be a great way to start off the campaign as it let each of the players introduce their character on their own terms, while steadily bonding together as they interacted with the NPCs and the challenges. Once the challenge was over, they boarded a ship to sail across the sea and… well… I realized I needed to figure out how I was going to handle them wandering off into the jungle to just explore.

    I have never been a railroad GM and adapt pretty well to what my players do, but I also rarely do sandbox style games, so I usually have an idea of what plot they’re involved in at the time and where they’re going next. This helps with prep quite a bit. But doing a game where they can pretty much go where they want and do what they want? For a few moments, I considered just creating a bunch of encounters and slotting them in whenever it felt appropriate, but that felt a little bit like cheating. This game was going to call for a hex crawl plan.

    While my experience with hex crawls is limited, I do get the general concept. I started doing some research and looking at the way other games handle this type of thing. I had played through the first part of Pathfinder’s Kingmaker adventure path, so had a little bit of understanding from that. I also looked at Forbidden Lands and how it breaks down the exploration phases of the game. I still wanted to keep this loose to fit my GMing style, but wanted enough structure to help both me and the players engage with the game.

    The first thing I did was write up some exploration rules.

    • The party arguing over a map, drawn by one of the players.

      Each hex is determined to be 15 miles and can be explored fully within a day, provided there are no distractions, like ruins to explore, monsters to fight, or so on.

    • One special thing they had to contend with for Eberron is the Traveler’s Curse. Xen’drik is a place of unpredictable, wild magic and as a result it is easy for travelers to get lost or magically delayed. I decided that each day spent traveling through the wilds, the PCs would make a Wisdom or Intelligence save to determine how affected they were by the curse. The DC would change depending on the nature of the place they were camping. Failure would impose a level of Exhausted (from the new One D&D playtest rules).
    • Each of the PCs would take on an exploration role and make a skill check to determine how successful the group is. The roles are Navigate, Watch, Spotter, and Morale. We decided that if more than one person wanted to do Morale, it would slow down the exploration since they would be having too much fun to do their job right.
    • There were also camping roles to determine how secure they were overnight. Those were a little more flexible and later I realized I could have better defined them since taking a watch overnight is a bit different than camp set-up.

    The next thing I had to take care of was populating the map. Eberron is an established setting, but the continent of Xen’drik is quite large with very large areas for GMs to put in whatever they want. The official maps of the continent are gorgeous, but don’t provide too much for me to hang the exploration on, meaning it’s up to me to fill out the map and provide things for the players to explore and discover.

    This has probably been the hardest part for me, because I tend to work a bit more loosely with planning out a campaign. I have an idea of where things are going to go, but I generally don’t flesh things out fully until I know the players are about to engage with a thing. I can’t really do that in this campaign. I have to populate the map with enough stuff to be able to legitimately let the players go where they want, but still be prepared to give them an interesting session. If I have some really cool stuff planned in the hex to the west and just loose ideas of the hex to the east and they go east, I’m in a bit of a pickle.

    We’ve played multiple sessions in this exploration phase of the campaign and so far its going pretty well. I’m learning the balance of how much to prep without burning myself out, but still giving the players enough to explore. I still panic a bit when I have a bunch of cool stuff in one area and they talk about going in a different direction, but I’m also learning better ways to offer them clues about where stuff might be.

    All in all, this has been a good experience, even if it’s not a style of GMing I’m used to. Do you have any stories of switching to a different style of campaign and how you handled it?

     

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  • mp3Gnomecast #156 – Games in 2023

    http://misdirectedmark.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/GC_156_Games-in-2023-Final.mp3

    Welcome to the Gnomecast. This week it’s about those games we want to get to the table in 2023. So give it a listen and maybe you’ll be inspired to run a game you’ve never heard of.

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  • Review of Cyberdicegames dice

    If you’re on the internet a lot you may have seen dice by Cyberdicegames pop up in your feed. I had seen them on several sites before I finally contacted them and asked how one goes about getting their grubby paws on a set. That in itself is a story, but first, a word about the dice themselves. They’re machined anodized aluminum and in the promo pictures they look gorgeous. For example:

    Well, I am pleased to say that the promo pictures DO match the look of the actual dice themselves. What you see is what you get, at least in the case of the dice I purchased:

    At twelve to eighteen dollars per die, they’re a little pricey even for machined aluminum dice, but they’re certainly not the most expensive machined aluminum dice out there and if their creative patterns are something that speaks to you, you’d be hard pressed to find an equivalent elsewhere.

    Now for the story about getting your hands on them: To be completely honest, I waffled a lot before ordering these dice. I kept weighing the effort of making and maintaining a Facebook page, an Instagram account, a Twitter account, an Etsy shop, and a Pinterest board for the company, some of which have dozens of photos, regular engagement and happy customer feedback vs a payment method that screamed “scam” to me.  You see, the only way to get your hands on these dice is to send a Facebook message where you will discuss which dice you want and how many. Then you must pay via Zelle, a payment method with no refund options that is legit but which you are advised online to only use with people you know and trust. Add in a few other misc. details that were big red flags and I was reluctant to make the transaction. And then they forgot to send me a tracking number until the dice were actually in my mailbox (That’s mostly on me. I should have followed up.) and I had written these dice off as a lesson learned in not falling for what looked like a well established web presence.

    In the end though, it turns out that my worries were misplaced. Not only did I receive the three dice I ordered, but I received a free die that I did not order along with them! I understand that a small business sometimes has to bend over backwards to turn a profit, and I definitely understand Cyberdicegames not wanting to raise their prices to cover other payment options  etc… but at the same time, I can understand anyone being reluctant to make the leap of faith I did to acquire these dice.

    Some more promo pictures. Yes, those are glow in the dark dice.:

    As is standard, I ran some chi square tests on the dice to assess their fairness. Since they are machined dice instead of cast dice I expected them to test fairly well. No dice are ever truly fair, but as long as effort is made to make sure a similar amount of material is machined off of each side to create the “pips,” in theory machined dice should be about as fair as one can get. For the most part these dice bore this out. A hundred and twenty rolls per die and the p values were about what you would expect… except the blue die. The lower the p value of a test and the less likely the die is to be fair. Standard cutoffs are .1, .05, and .01. I usually use .05 as my cutoff and the blue die had a p value of .02.

    To be certain, I re-rolled another set of 120 rolls for the blue die and got a new p value. This time the set of rolls looked much better with a p value of .67. Either set of rolls could be a fluke, so I went ahead and tested a third time and got a p value of .39. 

    At this point I am confident enough in saying the dice are fair enough for table play, which is good enough for me. 

    So, to sum up:

    • machined anodized aluminum
    • gorgeous
    • lots of creative patterns
    • concerns about payment method
    • table fair

     

    A note on power and what I mean by “table fair”: I frequently get comments on my dice articles that I use insufficient rolls to have truly powerful tests. This is a fair assessment, especially when I use the bare minimum roles to meet the criteria of a chi square test as I sometimes do. However, I’m not really interested in if these dice are truly fair (They’re not. No dice are.) but rather in if they seem close enough to fair for table play. ie: Are they fair enough so that within the context of a regular gaming session they seem fair?

     

     

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  • Blade Runner the Roleplaying Game Review

    When I was young, Harrison Ford was in almost everything I cared about. He was in Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Then I saw advertisements for this new movie, Blade Runner. It was Harrison Ford, with a flying car, and I heard something about androids. I knew I wanted to see it. Oddly enough, my parents weren’t planning on taking me. I didn’t get to see it until years later, when I was in high school.

    When I was young, I thought this was going to be a movie about Harrison Ford as a space cop having shootouts with evil androids. When I saw it as a high schooler, with my budding cynicism in full swing, I immediately fell in love with noir detective stories. Without Blade Runner, I wouldn’t have appreciated some of the media that spoke to me later in life, like the Dresden Files.

    Free League produce an RPG that I never expected to see, and never expected to be executed well, in the Alien RPG. The hidden agendas in published cinematic mode adventures and the stress die cut to the heart of what feels like an Alien story. So did Free League manage to work the same magic with Blade Runner?

    Disclaimer

    I was provided with a copy of Blade Runner the Roleplaying Game by Free League, and I have received other review copies from Free League in the past. I have not had the opportunity to play or run a game with this system or setting. I had initially assumed this was going to be like the baseline rules that Free League has used for games from Tales from the Loop, to Alien, to Vaesen, and while there are some familiar elements, Blade Runner is more of a departure than any of those previous games.

    I didn’t have a chance to play the game, but I did watch or rewatch Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, and all of the short films produced leading up to Blade Runner 2049. I also read the summary of several Blade Runner novels. I was up to my ears in Blade Runner media as I was taking notes for this review.

     Blade Runner the Roleplaying Game

    LEAD GAME DESIGNER Tomas Härenstam
    LEAD SETTING WRITER
    Joe LeFavi
    LEAD ARTIST
    Martin Grip
    GRAPHIC DESIGN
    Christian Granath
    MAPS
    Christian Granath
    ADDITIONAL ART
    Gustaf Ekelund
    ADDITIONAL WRITING
    Nils Karlén, Gareth Mugridge
    TIMELINE
    Clara Čarija, Michael Andrews
    PRE-PRESS
    Dan Algstrand
    PROOFREADING
    Brandon Bowling
    FEEDBACK & PLAYTESTING
    Marco Behrmann, Nils Karlén, Kosta Kostulas, Jonas Ferry, Kiku Pukk

    Enhance, Track Right

    This review is based on the PDF version of the game. The PDF is 240 pages long, including two-page endpapers with maps of Los Angeles, a credits page, a three-page table of contents, a two-page index, a blank character sheet, and a blank timeline tracker.

    Much like the Alien RPG, many of the pages include artwork or images in the background, with various solid blocks of text superimposed over the images in the background. The color scheme is what you would expect from Blade Runner, with a lot of dark colors, along with splashes of light and color. In comparison to the Alien RPG, it feels like there is less “white space” on the individual pages.

    I often use a PDF screen reader when taking notes, and due to the way the pages are formatted into distinct boxes, sometimes the screen reader has a difficult time reading from column to column as is intended. Also, all the background elements that have letters or numbers, such as the chapter number headers that are repeated, are formatted to be read in addition to the actual text of the PDF.

    Like the Alien RPG, this makes for a visually striking book, especially with the two-page chapter opening artwork. I just wish that the formatting was a little more friendly for accessibility devices.

    The Data Bearing

    The book is organized into the following sections:

    • Chapter 1–Fiery the Angels Fell (setting history and discussion of themes)
    • Chapter 2–Your Blade Runner (character creation and archetypes)
    • Chapter 3–Skills and Specialties (how to roll the dice to determine results)
    • Chapter 4–Combat and Chases (specialized rules for action scenes)
    • Chapter 5–A Tale of Two Cities (details on Los Angeles in this period and surrounding environs)
    • Chapter 6–The Powers that Be (information on factions active in the setting)
    • Chapter 7–Working the Case (details on the LAPD and standard investigation procedures)
    • Chapter 8–Tools of the Trade (details on equipment, how to requisition and buy items)
    • Chapter 9–Running Blade Runner (themes, adventure structure, NPCs, and random tables)

    Unlike a lot of games that I have reviewed, the core book references the starter set often. This is because it contains some tools, like the initiative cards, as well as a larger map of the setting, and the introductory adventure, which the core book does not contain.

    Two Blade Runners, in shadows, weapons drawn, partially back to back.Mechanics 

    Resolving actions in the game involves rolling a Base Die for an Attribute and a Base Die for a skill. Each Attribute or Skill is ranked from A to D, which then translates into a dice range of d12 to d6. Many of the sample documents that appear in the book list Attributes and Skills by their letter code, as an “in universe” way to communicate those statistics, when they are available.

    Rolling a 6 or higher counts as a success. Rolling a 10 or higher (if you have an Attribute or Skill ranked high enough to use a d10 or a d12) counts as an additional success. Characters can roll with disadvantage, adding a second die of the lowest die the character is rolling, and taking the two worst results. You can also roll with advantage, except you pick the best two results.

    You can Push a roll, letting you reroll any dice that did not roll a 1, but you take stress or damage equal to the total number of 1s you have after your rerolls. You can also reference how one of your Key Memories affects a roll to gain advantage on that roll.

    You can help other players, and instead of doubling the lowest die for Advantage, you provide an extra die equal to your relevant skill. Group action isn’t especially forgiving. When trying to search a location, only one player can roll, and when taking stealth actions, only the person with the lowest skill makes the check.

    Players pick whether their character is Human or Replicant, which affects the game in different ways. For example, Replicants can push a second time and gain an additional advance to either their Strength or Agility, but they start off with fewer Chinyen (money) and Promotion points (points that can be spent for various options involving the Police department).

    Players can also pick an Archetype, which bundles a starting package of what Abilities and Skills are advanced, how much starting money you have, and your specialties (little rules modifications). The Archetypes include the following:

    • Analyst
    • Cityspeaker (Human only)
    • Doxie (Replicant only)
    • Enforcer
    • Fixer
    • Inspector
    • Spinner (Human only)

    Cityspeaker (people with lots of wide-ranging connections) and Spinners (crooked cops that have more criminal connections) are human only archetypes, while Doxie (Replicants made for seduction, spying, and assassination) are Replicant only.

    Characters have Health and Resolve. If those numbers drop to zero, characters are Broken, which may mean something different for physical injuries than for mental strain. Weapons do a set number in points of damage, increased by the number of successes a character rolls. Close combat is an opposed check, and for any attack, getting two or more successes than an opponent counts as a critical. Critical Injuries have different tables for Human and Replicant characters.

    The two major player currencies in the game are Promotion Points and Humanity. Promotion Points can be used to get gear or access to facilities, learn new specialties, or to potentially convert into Chinyen. Humanity can be used to increase skills. In some cases, whether you get Promotion Points or Humanity Points will depend on if you made the LAPD happy, or if you did something you felt was morally right, despite your job.

    I like these core mechanics, and I think they work well for a noir detective story. There are some elements I’m not thrilled with. For example, while Doxie has a history as terminology within the fandom of Blade Runner, there isn’t a lot of discussion on what it means to have been created for that specific purpose. I also dislike that Replicants get a lower maximum Resolve because they are “less mentally stable.” I think it misses the point to say that Replicants were less mentally stable, repeating the excuses that anti-Replicant characters would use in the setting, rather than saying that being created as property to perform a specific purpose would impose an ongoing strain to Resolve.

    Game Runner Tools

    In addition to reinforcing the themes of the game, the Game Runner section spells out the assumed structure of a Case File (adventure). Case Files are broken down into Shifts, with four Shifts in a day, with the assumption that to operate at peak efficiency, a Blade Runner is going to take one of those four Shifts to rest. Case Files have Countdowns, so whenever the set number of Shifts have passed, an event occurs – meaning that it’s possible for a Case File to conclude before the PCs managed to solve the case.

    Cases are broken into the following elements:

    • Prelude
    • Briefing
    • Situation
    • Countdown
    • Main Characters
    • Location
    • Final Confrontation
    • Aftermath

    This section clarifies that the objective isn’t for PCs to solve cases, the objective is to lead to conflict that requires the PCs to make a moral decision that has a lasting impact. For example, you could argue that Deckard didn’t “solve” the case in the original Blade Runner, but when he arrived, he did have a Final Confrontation with Roy Baty. The Aftermath involved his moral dilemma in how to resolve the situation with Racheal.

    The Chase rules are resolved by characters picking a maneuver they will use for the current round in the chase. There are five chase specific maneuvers, four of which are available to the pursued, and three of which are available to the pursuer. Each maneuver requires a skill check, and the resolution of those determine how far apart the parties move, and what other actions are available to the people in the chase.

    Typical NPC statistics are provided for a range of characters, from law enforcement, criminals, business executives, bystanders, and hired muscle. These NPCs are presented on a compact table that rates their attributes and skills using the A through D notation, and don’t include extra abilities, like specialties.

    There are a series of tables that serve as a random casefile generator, for Game Runners that want the inspiration. Tables include the following topics:

    • Theme
    • Assignment
    • Main NPCs
    • Sector
    • Clues
    • Twist
    • Final Confrontation
    • Mood Pieces

    In addition to the main tables, there are a number of sub-tables to get deeper information, like types of evidence, locations within a sector, or general themes for the type of criminal investigation going on.

    Two Blade Runners stand on the roof of a building, next to their parked Spinner, looking out at the city.The Setting

    The game is set in 2037, about 12 years before the events of Blade Runner 2049, but after a lot of the lead-in events detailed in that movie, and the short films produced for the film. It’s been 20 years since the original Blade Runner, which, if you are doing the math, means that 2017 didn’t look like our 2017, it looks like the 2017 envisioned in 1983 when the original movie was released.

    Los Angeles is a mega-city suffering under environmental collapse. San Diego was washed away to sea, and only a wasteland that was drained after the seawall was built remains. Las Vegas is a radioactive wasteland, and anyone that lives on the 100th floor or higher is living a much different life than the little people that must live closer to the ground.

    Replicants are manufactured people that are difficult to differentiate from human beings. Replicants don’t have rights, and are purpose built to do jobs that the mega-corporations have determined are cheaper to do with manufactured people. The Nexus-6 line of Replicants were involved in a number of violent events, which caused the creation of Blade Runners, police whose only job is to “retire” illegal Replicants.

    In 2020, an EMP shattered LA’s digital infrastructure, destroying many records of various Replicants on world. This allowed many of the newer Nexus-8 to go underground, and the UN banned Replicants from Earth until 2036, with the introduction of the new Nexus-9 Replicants that have been marketed as being unable to break away from their assigned duties.

    If you watched Blade Runner 2049, most of that will be familiar. The game adds some additional twists to this formula. For example, in 2049, it is strongly implied that Blade Runners are all Nexus-9 Replicants at this point. Because of the earlier starting date, the game retains the ability to run human Blade Runners.

    The mandate for Blade Runners in the game is broadened a bit, so that they investigate crimes that involve Replicants, including crimes involving the abuse of Replicants. They are also included in investigations involving restricted technologies, meaning that they might be called in on a case involving an AI assistant, or Replicant or synthetic organs, etc.

    There are also several passages that talk about senseless crimes committed by various gangs, the laziness and mental atrophy of humans that have learned to settle for what exists in modern day Los Angeles, and the decadence of people participating in sexual activities that aren’t considered mainstream. There is one passage that intimates that people’s gender identity is tied to trying to find a community in which they fit.

    Other passages talk about the corruption of government and mega-corporations, but stops short of assigning that same level of corruption to the LAPD, saying instead that there are bad actors in the organization, but at the very least, Blade Runners can count on one another as their own “family,” casting them in an us against them role versus the various criminals and malefactors of the city.

    When it comes to Replicant rights, this is framed as a positive that has unfortunately not been embraced by the public, but also that “terrorist” activity by Replicants crosses a line. It is also assumed that the Replicant underground is a known thing, and that the LAPD and/or the UN might be able to eradicate them, but even though Nexus-8s are pretty much illegally being alive, the powers that be don’t want the wholesale bloodshed that it would take to eliminate them.

    Two investigators look at a body in the street. It is raining, and neon lights shine in the background.Wherein, I Have Opinions

    I have some thoughts on how all the setting information plays into the assumed story arcs of the game. I really appreciate how the Case File structure works, and I love that the assumed resolution isn’t solving the crime, but being forced into a moral dilemma, and everything leading up to that is just kind of framing where and when that dilemma happens. I think the mechanics look fun and solid, and I like having the contrast between Promotion and Humanity, which creates some friction about how you advance your character.

    Unfortunately, I think the game loses a lot of focus when trying to make it more “gameable,” especially in making sure you have both Replicant and Human points of view. We know from the source material that Replicant Blade Runners aren’t going to be regarded any better than any other Replicant in the setting. We also know that because Replicants don’t have the rights that humans have, and the entire line of Nexus-8s were made illegal, the remedy is that they get “retired.”

    By trying to introduce crimes that don’t involve “retiring” Replicants, and even asserting that some Replicants might be proven innocent of crimes under due process, the entire narrative regarding marginalized communities that aren’t seen as humans is blunted. The game tries to reconcile this a little bit by mentioning that Nexus-9s might be accused of a crime, and the Blade Runners may need to clear them to keep Nexus-9s from being banned as well, and I agree that’s an interesting complication, but it soft-pedals the plight of the Nexus-8s.

    I also think that reinforcing the idea that the “good cops” are trapped in an “us against them” scenario, with cops only really having one another to count on, is especially bad in the modern climate. When coupled with cops who are literally framed as being able to kill a certain segment of the population, this really feels wrong. On top of that, our example Blade Runners from the movies didn’t seem to consider other cops their family. It was a lonely, soul-crushing job, which Deckard was trying to get away from, and which Joe had no real recourse to leave due to being a Replicant.

    This review is based on the core rulebook, and not the starter set, which includes a sample adventure. That sample adventure might better show how to balance the setting they have carved out, and how to still maintain the very hard-hitting moral examination native to the series, but as it stands, that was made into a separate product, and we don’t get a sample adventure in the book itself. I do think that the idea of “cinematic scenarios” like the Alien RPG would catch my attention, because it wouldn’t imply slowly learning lessons about morality, while taking case after case in a system built to oppress and kill people forced to maintain it.

    More Human Than Human
     Trying to make the setting broad enough to allow for a number of different options, and being a little incautious in applying cliches that you might find in a detective story, lessens the impact of this RPG as well as potentially harming the overall message that the property itself sends. 

    When the book is presenting how to make Blade Runners, and how to structure adventures, it’s exactly what I would hope for. The idea that solving the crime isn’t really the point of a case file is a great thing to reinforce, and I like any RPG that uses procedure to help progress a story. This game does that with mechanics like the countdown and the shifts mechanics. All the ingredients for a solid, rewarding Blade Runner experience are here.

    Tears in Rain

    Trying to make the setting broad enough to allow for a number of different options, and being a little incautious in applying cliches that you might find in a detective story, lessens the impact of this RPG as well as potentially harming the overall message that the property itself sends. It may have been better to have the ability to play humans in Deckard’s time, and Replicants in Joe’s time. As cynical as noir stories can be, applying that cynicism to marginalized communities and people that have been exploited by mega-corps and careless bureaucrats is precarious. People’s identities shouldn’t be confused with coping mechanisms.

    Tenuous Recommendation–The product has positive aspects, but buyers may want to make sure the positive aspects align with their tastes before moving this up their list of what to purchase next.

    I really like the game aspects of this game, and I love the tools that the game provides you to tell those techno-noir detective stories. If feels like the game is fighting itself, knowing exactly how case files should unfold, but muddying the water with a lot of the setting details.

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  • VideoWhy Google Sites Should Be Your Next Campaign Wiki / Lore Management System

    A screenshot of google sites

    Whenever I run a long campaign or one with in-depth information, I like to create a lore archive or wiki for all the campaign information — Rules, custom items, NPCs, locations, etc. — all the things that it is easy to forget from one bi-weekly or monthly game to the next. These aren’t the in-depth notes you might write to yourself or the hardcore, deep-dive into the background information that is often more interesting to the Game Master than the players. Instead, these are the condensed, easy to parse overviews of things the players may want to reference later but wouldn’t remember the details of at the time. Who were the people in that Shadow Giants’ mercenary guild we met? What was the name of that seller at that one town where we got a good deal on magic potions? While being a good reminder, these kinds of campaign wikis also serve as an artifact of the game, a way to go back and look at your journals and remember what happened.

    I’ve looked at many ways to build these – Trello, paid online services like Kanka and World Anvil, building my own websites (because that is within my skill), a Foundry instance hosted online, etc. Each of those was good in their own way, but often fairly complex or harder to get a simple and easy to parse setup out of. Recently I came back to one I had used far in the past and realized the new version is even better and more accessible for campaign wikis – Google Sites. I’d built with this quite some time ago, but they have recently revamped their service and I find it even easier to use.

    Google Sites As A Campaign Wiki

    A screenshot of a google sites landing page.What does the current iteration of Google Sites do so well that I’d recommend it? First, it’s easy to build something that looks good without major tech skills. Working like most online website builders, you will probably find it easy to work with but somewhat limited. That’s actually a nice mix as it keeps you from going too far afield of a clean experience with lots of tables and complex layouts. If you keep things condensed, you can really get a lot out of the site. It’s also fairly easy to organize information. I played around with a few of their built-in layouts and found good ways to organize information like lists of NPCs, complex dumps of custom rules, etc. There were some easy to use modules that made things fit a good user flow.

    Organization of information was actually pretty easy. Everything in Google Sites is laid out with boxes in columns and rows. Drag a text box over and you can resize it in the grid structure. Drag an image over and do the same. Create a new row and you can drag into that with everything maintaining the same height. A lot of the architecture I use to build websites is integrated in such a way that it is almost hard to ignore. Useful elements like collapsible rows and the ability to link up text and image boxes make creating some well laid out sections easy. Google Sites is also useful in deciding who gets to see what. You can share certain pages or the entire site with only a select audience or make it public. That lets you create GM / Co-GM sections or keep some elements private to everyone while letting some information become public.

    Some Tips For Building In Google Sites

    I’m not going to give a full tutorial on building with Google Sites – others already have so I’m just going to link their work – but I will give a brief overview and then show how I lay out a decent and compressed campaign wiki. Here are some quick tips:

    • Building in Google Sites is as easy as dragging a module from the right hand side of modules and resizing it.
    • There are custom layouts, but the drag and resize is the core way you will make anything.
    • Every element will live in rows and each row will be as large as the biggest element in it.
    • Collapsible rows are good for large text dumps, but it is often good to let a collapsible row be full width rather than stack them next to each other.
    • Collapsible rows cannot (unfortunately) hold other text boxes or images. That would be wonderful and let you gather things together in a much better way.
    • You can use images and text and can resize so your text is to the right with your image to the left, but you cannot put images inside of text boxes.
    • You can drag a text box to the bottom of an image to link it up and make it so that clicking the image reveals the text.
    • You can do more complex things like tables and videos with the “embed” module, but that will require some coding knowledge.
    • Tables cannot be created in text boxes, but you can make mock tables with tabs that are decent enough.
    • The navigation module will include every header you have in your page, but you can also hide ones from it to just create a table of contents to important sections.
    • If you want more spacing between rows, drop a spacer module or an empty text box.

    Here are some tutorials that go more in-depth on how to build sites:

    Tips for Building a Campaign Wiki

    Building a wiki useful to your campaign requires a little content specific layout and thinking. Depending on what you want to convey, it will be different for your game but here is how I lay mine out.

    • Navigation – Google Sites offers two types of navigation – side “hamburger / 3 line” menu or top. I like to keep to the top because it keeps all the pages visible, but long page titles or many pages may necessitate the side navigation.
    • 3 Column Layout – When I build pages that are meant to give quick recaps on info for things like people or locations, I like to focus on columns that start with an image and then put the data below. I played with many different options, but I liked this from a user interface perspective if I’m going to have a lot of similar elements. It allows a quick scan to the person, item, or location you may be looking for info on and then a visual scroll down to get the relevant details. I can also do a basic description and then bullet points of events or new information like “betrayed group at Tarin’s Pass” etc.
      A screenshot of a google sites page with a 3 column layout.
    • Link Out – Things that don’t work well in the Google site can easily be linked out to and stored as Google files. I have a whole “handouts” section to keep the detailed pdfs and other materials I make. With this setup, storing those online and making them easily accessible is as easy as dragging in the Google Drive widget. I describe this in the Handouts page description, but if something doesn’t work well on the Google site, it’s often better to move it to where it does and link to it. The Google site can act as a landing area that gets you where you need to go.
    • Page Organization – When I begin laying out a campaign wiki (or any website), I determine the pages I’ll need that will be the biggest buckets  of information. Here’s a link to a generic campaign filled with placeholders that you can look at live. I like to keep fewer pages with longer scrolls since that mirrors modern usage patterns for websites and makes it easier to get in the general area without a lot of searching. These are the biggest pages I usually use.
      • Homepage – On my homepages I like to do a recap and then create a box navigation structure – 6 or 7 boxes that have images and links to the sections. The navigation menu is easy.
      • People and Organizations – This is all of the groups and NPCs that the party meets along the way. I like to keep rows for Allies, General, Antagonists, and Minor, but that all depends on the type of campaign.
        • I usually build this with 3 columns of Image – Text / Image – Text / Image – Text. This makes it easy for players to glance over and see the people they were expecting rather than the name they weren’t remembering.  That big Orc they met with the metal jaw is going to be much easier to recognize visibly, especially if I found or created some kind of image for them.
        • I like to include bullet points for recent interactions as well. That is a good way to quickly remind players “Allea is pissed you shortchanged her on the last interaction,” and guide their play decisions.
      • Locations – The Image / Text option is useful here as well. You can also use collapsible rows with a header of “Read More” if you have a lot of info to convey. Image, then brief description, then read more with details is a good way, but I follow the similar layout for people and organizations.
        • If I include big world maps, I like to link out to them rather than keep them in the page. Often times you can’t zoom in enough. If I’m lucky enough to have an interactive map or something at high enough resolution, I just include the link at the top.
        • I then segment locations into big areas – continents or regions, even planets if I’m running a space game. If it’s more local, just a list or organization by purpose is good.A screenshot of a google sites page.
      • Items – For my items and goods sections, I often include my general price ranges so players can quickly assess what a thing may cost. If I’m using detailed prices, I often link out to a PDF or Hombrewery pamphlet with all the details. I could also write up a whole separate page with the details or include a collapsible row if I needed.
        • Most often what I do with Items pages is write up the detailed descriptions of magic items so they are easy to reference later or create item lists for stores. I can use things like 5E Magic Shop or other generators to create the list of available goods and just put it in the items page so players can browse as they want.
        • I don’t tend to hold to a perfect layout of 3 or 4 columns of equal width, instead I base the layout on the amount of description I need. If I have 5 different potions that have just a bit of info, I might put them in two rows. If I have a custom potions writeup that has 5 bullet points, I create one big box. It all comes down to how much content people will have to parse and how much space that requires.
      • Custom Rules – Often times I’m using a lot of custom rules for my games. I’ve dropped a series of articles detailing them in case they are helpful to others running high action, high fantasy, jrpg themed games. If I have specific rules that I know people will need to reference quickly, I drop them on a separate page and use collapsible sections. The biggest thing people need to remember is how they can use their inspiration or what that rule about drinking potions per session was – 2 per con bonus? More in-depth rules pamphlets I save for a handouts page.A screenshot of a google sites page.
      • Handouts – I like to make handouts and other elements for games – things to increase immersion and give people something to consume to build up the world’s concepts. For me those are often videos, interactive dialogues, and small animations – but they could as easily be PDFs, Word docs, or images. The handouts section is actually really useful when combined with Google Drive. I can create a folder, set the permissions to be the players, and just drop the Google Docs widget with the folder in. Now people can open everything there. That handles almost anything I might make for a game. If something lives on YouTube or someplace else, I can link to it from that page.
      • Session Notes – I keep bullet point session notes for pretty much every game. Future John is going to forget the details just as much as my players are, but that quick reminder is all I need to reconnect the memory pathways. Collapsible rows are great here as well. You can scroll down to the session, open it, and quickly breeze through the notes you kept. You could also link out to a Google Doc or other journal if you have more in-depth setups.An image of a google sites page.
      • Lore and Info – Often times in my games much of the “lore” that doesn’t fit other categories moves to handouts, but I can also just put it in it’s own section arranged with the 3 columns setup or collapsible rows. Things that might go here are thematic setting specific information, like how air bubbles in spelljammer work or what the general populace of the world knows about magic. This one is very much dependent on the info you need to present and how in-depth you want to go with it.

    Conclusions

    Google Sites isn’t going to be a perfect solution for everything you might want out of a detailed campaign wiki that mirrors the complexity of Game of Thrones, but it works really well for the quick blurbs and info that is useful in most campaigns. It’s pretty easy to use for a non-technical audience, but a few improvements would make it a bit more flexible. For a quick and easy to build campaign wiki, it’s the easiest and most accessible option I’ve found so far. There are more complex and detailed gaming ones that I’ve tried, but they often had similar limitations or required a bit more technical knowledge. For the limitations of Google Sites, it had a lot of good enough options. If you’re looking for a place to do a quick and free wiki for info, look into it.A screenshot of the google sites folde.r

    • Generic Campaign Wiki Example
    • Make a copy of the campaign template
      • Open this Google Docs folder while logged into a Google account.
      • Right click on the Genereic RPG Google Sites Campaign Wiki Template.
      • Choose Make a Copy.
      • The Google site template will be copied to your Google Drive and you can edit the copy from there.
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  • My Gaming Year In Review – 2022

    ‘Tis the season. With this being the last weekday of the year, it only figures that this post would be some kind of 2022 retrospective. In this case, this retrospective is going to be about my gaming this past year. In addition to some summaries, I am going to add some gaming insights I learned throughout the year. 

    So how was my gaming in 2022? Overall really good, and some of the best gaming post-Lockdown. 

    Games Played

    Here are the games I played this year:

    • Aux (Cortex Homebrew)
    • Long Live the Queen (Cortex Homebrew)
    • Night’s Black Agents 
    • D&D 5e
    • Solar Rangers (Cortex Homebrew — 2 one-shots)
    • Brindlewood Bay (one session as a Guest Star) 

    Aux, Long Live The Queen, and Night’s Black Agents were games I ran throughout the whole year. Aux and Night’s Black Agents are bi-weekly, and Long Live The Queen was weekly. My D&D game is a new campaign that started playing this Fall and is meeting bi-weekly as well. 

    The Year of Cortex Prime

    This year, I played a lot of Cortex Prime. It has become my favorite “generic” system. I really enjoy its narrative components with the dice pool mechanics. It is the kind of mix for me that allows me to play out stories that fit the genres I am running while maintaining some mechanical crunch that allows for interesting mechanic-based decisions. 

    For a long time, Fate was my go-to system when I wanted to make up a game based on some media, ideas, etc. While I still enjoy Fate quite a bit, I see Cortex taking over as my go-to system when I want to create a certain type of game. Its modular system allows for greater customization, allowing me to fine-tune the mechanics to fit the game I want to run.  

    Game Summaries and Lessons Learned

    For my three most played campaigns, here are some takeaways from this past year. 

    Aux – The Game Without Combat

    Aux is a sci-fi game about super geniuses traveling around the galaxy and helping people. It also has a meta-story about the past and the super-advanced civilization that went extinct. 

     In my 40 years of GMing, I have never played a campaign without combat, until now. 

    What I enjoy the most about this game, was that at the start, when we built the game we decided that there would be no combat. We did not include any combat skills, mechanics, etc. In my 40 years of GMing, I have never played a campaign without combat, until now. 

    The game has exceeded all my expectations. With some custom modifications to the Cortex system, we were able to build a game where using Science was exciting. I am beyond thrilled that this game is just about helping people and solving scientific mysteries, and still remains interesting in terms of drama and suspense as well as mechanically interesting as the players make their rolls. 

    Takeaways:

    • You can run a whole campaign where combat is not the solution to any problem, and never comes up in the game, and have the game be exciting. 
    • Just In Time Campaign Design. Part of what I love about this game is that there are many parts of the campaign that I did not plan out until the last minute. In fact, I am not even sure how the campaign will play out because I am waiting to see how the players react to an upcoming story.

    For 2023 – This campaign is heading into Act 3 and will end sometime in the new year. I am excited for it to play out. After the campaign is done, we are going to see what we can do about making Aux a published Cortex game (no promises, just intentions). 

    NBA – Playing the Full Conspiracy

    Years ago, I ran a failed Night’s Black Agents (NBA) campaign, where the characters had only started to uncover the conspiracy before the game fell apart. I was not sure that I would ever get a chance to play a full campaign of it again. Then, in 2021, one of my groups picked it for our next game. 

    We played the campaign this whole year, uncovering layer after layer of the Vampire’s conspiracy. There were gunfights, chases, infiltrations, and more than one vampire encounter. As we wrapped for the year, the characters are in possession of a Vampire bio-weapon and are making plans to bring down the whole Vampire conspiracy in Europe. 

    Takeaways:

    • Getting to play out a full NBA campaign is highly satisfying. I know people play one-shots of this game, but it truly shines as a campaign. The ability to uncover the conspiracy and all of its tendrils creates great satisfaction. 
    • It is a hard game to remain in character. NBA requires so much analysis and synthesizing of data that it pulls players out of character space and into player space. I find that my games are about 40% in character and 60% the players discussing the clues, conspiracy, etc. 
    • Sometimes the players win. There were two operations where the character’s plan was so well-thought-out and executed, that they just got away without any vampires attacking. That was ok. It was tense enough to see if they could pull it off, there was no need to force a combat scene for work that was so well done.

    For 2023 – This campaign will be wrapping up before Spring. The story is advancing quickly to a vampire showdown.

    Long Live The Queen – A One-On-One Campaign

    This game was originally a Thirsty Sword Lesbians game that wasn’t working because of the more espionage nature of the stories we were telling, so in 2022 we re-tooled the game for Cortex Prime. The end result was much more of what we were looking for. 

    As a Cortex game, we built it for the style of game we wanted to play, creating a Prime Set (stats) that matched our desired tones. We went lighter on the mods with just a few to make combat a bit more drawn out. 

    This game is a one-on-one game, and the first one-on-one campaign I have ever run. Overall the campaign has been a delight, we have played through a few missions and have had our share of intrigue, combat, seduction, and espionage. 

    Takeaways:

    • We play shorter sessions. A one-on-one game is more of a cognitive load on its player than the GM. In fact, as the GM, it is somewhat less of a cognitive load since I don’t have to manage a group of people. The player is under the spotlight the whole session. As such, we tend to play 90-120 min sessions, and still get through a good amount of material. 
    • The Main Character needs strong NPCs. Since our main character can’t do it all, they have a pair of competent NPCs as part of their team. They have character-level stats and not only fill in for skill deficits but also act as support for combat scenes.

    For 2023 – This game is chugging along, and for the foreseeable future, we will keep playing it. I have a few story arcs in mind, and it can keep going as long as we are having fun. 

    2022 Overall Grade: A

    Overall this year has been a strong year for gaming and did a lot to re-invigorate me after Lockdown. This was a year of stable campaigns. This meant that I got to run multiple sessions of three good campaigns, but it also meant fewer games played. 

    In fact, this year is the year I feel the most disconnected from what is new and hot in gaming. A number of good games came out in 2022, and I have not been checking them out because I have stable campaigns that are running. 

    On top of that, my to-be-playing stack is made up of some games from the past few years that I want to get to the table, but I have not had the chance. I will get to play them eventually, but I am fortunate to have stable campaigns, so I am going to enjoy them while I have them, and play them until they are done. 

    Your Year In Review

    How was your 2022, game-wise? What did you get to play? What are you hoping to play next year? 

    Read more »

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