Inside Baseball: Campaign Prep

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Time to talk prep.  As I write this, I’m prepping to begin two different games: a 7th Sea game for my regular group and an All For One: Regime Diabolique game for my library program.  Now, if you’ve been following along, you’ll remember that I’ve talked about doing things a bit differently this time around.  I’ve been trying to stay true to that experiment.  So I thought I’d give readers a window into my prep process.

7th Sea

This one has by far required the most discipline for me.  Because I want to feature the player’s stories, I didn’t want to prep too much before we had our character creation session. So instead I started by giving the players some choices in the “themes” the game would explore.  Basically, I wanted to get a vague idea of the type of game they were most interested in playing.  I needed this to begin any type of prep at all.  Théah is a big sandbox and 7th Sea is wide open to all sorts of play.They came back with High Seas Adventure and Secret Societies.  That gave me a place to start.

With Witch Hunter, I had an idea for my uber-villain, the ultimate story arch, and where I wanted play to begin (Strasbourg).  I didn’t want to do that this time.  Instead, I started sketching out some rough ideas for NPCs, using a lot of ideas from Johnn Four’s One Sentence NPCs and 3 Line NPCs.  The idea is to design some nebulous NPC concepts that can then be applied to characters the players encounter once play begins.  I scribbled down 2 pages of ideas in my notebook before realizing that very few of the concepts I had created really fit a seafaring environment.  So I took a left turn to brainstorm a collection of Pirate Town archetypes to give me more direction.  I also started drawing up some rough ideas for a handful of villains that I could introduce.

Things took another left turn while surfing GnomeStew and reading Tracey Barnett’s article on NPC Moves.  Now, I’m not big on *World or FATE games, but the idea of taking passive qualities (personality traits, motivations, etc) and turning them into Actions struck me as genius.  Basically, instead of this:

The Old Dame

  • Longs to recapture her youth
  • Loves to throw elaborate parties
  • Is the laughing stock of the local social set

…you instead have this:

The Old Dame

  • Act Younger than I am
  • Name drop and associate to elevate myself
  • Mistake mockery for flattery
  • Add invitees to the next guest list

THAT seems super helpful in portraying NPCs as unique and different and not falling into a lot of the same bad habit characterizations.  It also seems well suited to the Index Card method.  So while its not the easiest shift for me, I’m doing my best present my NPCs in these terms.

The last thing I’m doing is with my villains.  After Witch Hunter, the last thing I want is a shadowy mastermind pulling the strings.  Yes, 7th Sea has these aplenty, but to push myself I’m working to introduce bold, aggressive, in your face adversaries instead of those hiding in the shadows.

But that’s it.  I’ve tried to keep everything else to a line or two at best.  After all, the plan is to improvise a lot more in play.  The exception to this is a handful of ideas I have for a lost Syrneth ruin (DUNGEONCRAWL!  WOOT!).  But I don’t plan to dig in deep there unless my players express interest in going there.

All For One: Regime Diabolique

While I’m hoping to employ a lot of these same practices when it comes to the library game, here I benefit from more structure.  We generally have a table of anywhere from 6 to 12 teens of varying level of experience.  There is already a LOT of improvisation going on, but these kids benefit from a bit of direction…dare I call it railroading.  That is, if you open everything up to them, nothing gets done.  So here I want to have a solid hook for them to bite on.

As such, I’m going to rely on the matrix adventure design that has served me well here in the past.  I’ve plotted out the first session and followed the bread crumbs a bit in different directions.  So I’m prepared.  I don’t want to go too far, though.

Something I’m considering employing this time around are clue cards, or some tangible aid that the players can refer back to.  Maybe even something as heavy handed as Quest Cards.  There is a bit of a mystery planned, though its much less Sherlock Holmes and more 24 in nature.  So anything to help the kids stay on track will be helpful.

Beyond this, I’ll be recycling a lot of the discarded NPC concepts from the 7th Sea game who fit much more snuggly within the walls of Paris than on the open seas.  Same plan: index cards, rough concepts that can be applied when needed, and actions instead of passive qualities.

It occurs to me that having a timeline of events would be helpful here too, and help drive the action without putting the heroes on a southbound train.

Final Words

I’ll revisit all of this after about a month of play and we’ll see how it goes.  As of right now, I’m pretty happy with the results and excited to.  Both games have plenty of room to surprise me, and that’s something I desperately want right now: the flexibility for everything to take a sharp left turn at Albequorque.  Nothing is safe, nothing is too sacred, and no one will be spared.

See you next week!

Start on January 1

New Year’s (Gaming) Resolutions, 2017 edition

Looking back at my 2016 Resolutions, I don’t feel very accomplished.  In fact, I’m not sure I managed any of these well or consistently enough to check them off the list.  So this year, I’m attempting a much more modest list of resolutions.

Less tactics, more theater of the mind

I can trace a definite change in my style of play before and after working for the RPGA on the Living Greyhawk campaign and Dungeons and Dragons 3e.  The two games I ran prior to 3e were 7th Sea and Dragonlance 5th Age (SAGA).  Neither of these are heavy on tactics or power-creep.  After a few years of D&D 3/3.5 and nearly a decade of Savage Worlds, I feel like I’ve gotten as far away from that as possible.  Witch Hunter reeled me back in a bit, but playing B/X D&D with the kids at the library really revealed how cumbersome these games really are!  I’d really like to get back to focusing on cool stories at the tabletop instead of worrying about creating adequate challenges for the heroes.  It’s one of the many reasons I’m excited to try out the new edition of 7th Sea for more than just a one-shot.  Will it bring me back to pre-3e fighting form?  I’ll let you know in 6 months.

Prep less, improvise more

I’m not sure I was ever really a “prep-lite” GM, but looking at my session and development notes for Witch Hunter, I can see where things got a bit out of hand here and there.  Last year I would tell you that prepping a historical game can be a lot more work than your typical fantasy RPG, but I’m not entirely sure that isn’t a load of crap.  So this year I am purposefully going to experiment with some “prep-lite” GMing techniques and see what happens.  I’m really hoping I learn a few new tricks that I can take back to my Witch Hunter game so I spend more time being a cool dad and less chasing details online and frantically scribbling away in the notebook.

Villains that do things, not skulk in the shadows

Prepping for 7th Sea, I’ve come to the horrible realization that sooooo many of my villains have been Orcus on his Throne.  That is, they hide in the shadows as the heroes dance around them like tops bobbing about the ripples they create.  There have been one or two instances where a villain was front and center.  These ALWAYS resulted in memorable game sessions.  My Witch Hunter game is no exception, with a dozen minor villains circling a shadowy uber-villain who is never seen and seldom heard from.  No surprise that when the players are planning their next step, the big bad isn’t remotely included in their plans.  So this year, I resolve to put my villains front and center.  Let them act with abandon.  Let the heroes cut them down…if they can.  But let’s give them some screen time, too.

Try new things as a GM

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m planning on trying out new techniques for both our 7th Sea and my Regime Diabolique games, including using Index Cards, the 3x3x3 method, and a handful of other tricks I’ve read about but never employed.

Go to a con…and PLAY

I haven’t actually been a PLAYER in an RPG for a few years, and DFW and Austin has no shortage of good cons.   I’ve been meaning to go to NTRPGCon for years now.  All part of the process of becoming a better GM this year.

Kult: Divinity Lost Quick Start

kult DL

It’s been awhile since we talked about the new edition of Kult.  Well the developers threw us a curve ball over the holidays and released a Quick Start game for everyone, not just the Kickstarter backers.  It’s our first real look at the new engine that will power this brilliant, dark setting.

Not all responses have been positive.  Most of the negative comes from folks who already reviled the move to a Powered by the Apocalypse engine, so keep that in perspective.  Personally, I have my own hangups about that system, but I’ll keep an open mind until I’ve had a chance to look over what they’ve done.  And as a first look, I think its safe to assume the full body of rules are still under development/translation.  The final version will not satisfy everyone, but for anyone who has enjoyed the setting since its release in the 1990’s, it’s enough to have Kult taking up oxygen again.  It’s easy enough to adapt to any of dozens of RPG flavors, and the presentation of the new edition looks top notch.

I didn’t back the kickstarter, mostly because it launched around the same time as 7th Sea and I just don’t see my group signing up to play Kult on a regular basis.  But I’m still looking forward to the final product and it’s high on my 2017 list.  And I’m eager to look over the QSR once the madness of the holidays settles down.

One more thing, over on RPG.net, Adramelech has posted a form fillable character sheet based on the one in the QSR.  I’ve reposted the link here for convenience.

 

Merry Christmas

Everyone has a favorite Christmas song. Here’s mine.

But these are the two that really bring me back to my childhood.

Yes, I grew up weird. Shocking.

Merry Christmas from me and mine to you and your’s, and heartfelt good wishes and hopes that 2017 is…easier on all of us than 2016 has been.

High Seas Holiday (Reprise)

What?  You thought that was it?  A bunch of ship names you could have gathered yourself?

How about I raise you one Uncharted Island Generator?

Again, not claiming sole ownership on this one.  I’ve cobbled it together from several nice resources floating around out there.  I’ve included my sources and links.  So show these guys and gals some love this holiday.  They do great work!

Happy Holidays, everyone!

 

 

 

Oh, ok.  And here’s an Anatomy of a Ship and Nautical Terms document, too.  Merry Christmas!

High Seas Holidays

The votes are in, and my group of players have almost unanimously elected to go with a high seas adventure game with strong involvement of secret societies.  And with that, prep for our 7th Sea game can really begin in earnest.  Not that I haven’t been brainstorming and scribbling down ideas for awhile now, but this gives me a definite direction with which to steer the ship, so to speak.

With the holidays upon us, I am sneaking in whatever time I can manage to do a bit of prep for the forthcoming 7th Sea campaign.  It’s coming along nicely.  I feel I have quite a few resources collected that will make my work easier when we dive in around mid-January.  And since it’s the holidays, I want to share some of the fruits of my labor with you.

So first up, a 7th Sea Ship Name resource.  Along with a reformatted version of Finn’s Companion #3 (any of you old hands remember that one?), I’ve included a list of authentic ship names from the 17th Century British and Dutch navies, along with pirate vessels of ill repute.  So you can either grab a name from antiquity or mix and match something new for your players to grapple with.  This should be of help to anyone running a historical (or semi-historical) nautical game.  I’m going to add this resource on the Downloads page as well.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Ch-ch-ch-changes

“So we wake up in a barn…with Isaac Newton.”
— Heather

That’s the quote that wrapped up last Friday’s Witch Hunter game.  It marked the end of a pretty tense adventure that found our heroes on the losing side of a blossoming Hell Point in northern France and the forces of a Duke Unchained who had been summoned there.  Things probably would have been more tense had we not played in nearly two months, what with conflicting schedules.  Still, in the end, it felt like a satisfactory “season finale.”

And that’s what its going to be.  The last Witch Hunter game until at least July.

Maybe it’s the two month hiatus, the kids’ schedules, or the fact that we’ve been at this campaign for three years.  But my Witch Hunter take is feeling a bit dried up.  It’s been coming.  I felt it back in the early part of the year.  There are still plenty of stories to tell, and I really want to see how they shake out.  But I feel like, as a GM, I’m at the line between phoning it in and running an inspired game.  And my players deserve the latter.

So a month ago I proposed a finite break from Witch Hunter to try out one of a couple of new games sitting on the shelf.  By a very thin margin, we settled on the new 7th Sea.

I’m excited about the change for a whole host of reasons.  For one, as I’ve stated here and elsewhere, I really feel parts of the new 7th Sea are outside of my comfort zone as a GM: the way the core mechanic is structured, the removal of roadblocks, and just the sheer level of improvisation the game really steers towards.  And while I’m very familiar with the world of Théah, I feel like the game is going to be a real challenge to run.

It also makes a great opportunity to shake some old habits.  After all, what’s the point of taking a break from an old game if you are going to do everything the same way you did before?  I’m looking to push myself in new directions and new challenges as much as recharge my creative batteries.

The biggest change I’m making is with prep!  Since my D&D 3e days, my prep has become steadily more heavy.  If you look at my adventure notes, they can get quite elaborate sometimes.  I look back at my games pre-3e and see that most of my session plans took maybe a page or two.  Post-3e, I average about 4-5 pages of prep for 2 sessions worth of play (mostly due to over prepping).

Because of the game’s emphasis on improvisation, I’m going to try something new: the Index Card method.  I’ve shied away from this method in the past because putting 5 pages of historical detail on index cards just doesn’t seem very practical.  In fact, the Index Card approach is almost the polar opposite of how I prep.  What fun!  Let’s give it a whirl!

Another technique I’m hoping to try out is Floyd Wesel’s 3x3x3 method.  In short, rather than request a detailed character background from the players, or have them fill out a questionnaire, I’m going to ask them to provide a number of contacts, allies, and rivals for their heroes.  Nothing too taxing: a name and a sentence or two should do.  Coupled with 7th Sea’s Story mechanic, these should provide plenty of grist for the mill.

So there you have it.  The next couple of months are going to be full of experimentation.  Hopefully, I can bring some of it back to our Witch Hunter game when we resume later in the year.  Hopefully I’ll learn some tricks to improve the game experience and make myself a better GM.  And you can bet I’ll be discussing all of it here.

In other news, for those of you who haven’t wandered through the downloads section lately, advanced prep work for 7th Sea is already well underway.  You’ll find an updated version of the Ship Manifest (with a corrected “death spiral”) and a Villain character sheet (both a simple and advanced version).  I’m working on a few more cheat sheets and references for the game which I hope to have in place before we launch in January.

So hey, that’s what I’ve got.  How about you?  Have you ever done a total audit of your GMing and prep style?  What did you learn about yourself?  What did you keep and what did you pitch?  Share your story in the comments section, please.