Posts tagged Blog Carnival
Kobold Enterprise is hosting this month’s blog carnival where they ask about Epic Moments of GMing. As it turns out, I had one just last weekend at WittCon X hosted by the Wittenberg Roleplaying Guild! You see, I was part of a game run by this GM:
That’s right, I was part of a game that was GMed by Steve, the adorable stuffed animal mascot and patron deity (long story, described here) of the Wittenberg Roleplaying Guild. Basically, Steve came up with the game and didn’t tell even me about what sort of game he was running. Because he can’t speak, Steve required players to ask him questions about their situation, but of course he knew what sort of questions they might ask and anticipated their responses, giving them answers that fit his storyline.
I should mention that you should pay no attention to the man behind the GM screen who is occasionally rolling dice as part of the Mythic GM Emulator, a tool for creating scenarios on the fly as if a GM was there. You ask questions, roll dice to see the results, and then figure out what the results mean in the context of the situation. From time to time, random events happen that affect the story. But yeah, pay no attention to that man behind the GM screen. Steve planned the whole thing, not me.
The game was very over the top by design. It was used with the Risus system and any sort of character was allowed (we had characters such as a Robot with Heart, an SMG-Wielding Squid, and literally an average John Doe). The tone was designed to be frivolous and the game was only scheduled for one hour, so things got a bit wild as you’ll see.
The first session he ran was definitely the more interesting one. It turns out that Steve’s treasure was actually his girlfriend (none of us knew about her!) who had been kidnapped. She was trapped inside of a well just down the street, but this well had a number of very clever traps including a machine gun and illusion-producing machinery. On the way, the heroes met guild member Andy K. who gave them the sage advice to just beat stuff up in order to save Steve’s girlfriend.
The Man Behind the GM Screen: Time for a random event: Positive NPC. So someone is here to help you.
Player 1: Is he powerful? [Steve shakes head yes]
Player 2: Is he someone we know? Is he in the Roleplaying Guild? [yes]
Player 1: Is he Andy K? [definite yes]
Player 2: [after much laugher] Is he going to join us? [no]
Player 1: Does he have some advice for us?
The Man Behind the GM Screen: [rolls] Increase warfare.
Player 1: So I guess he’s telling us to just beat stuff up! Thanks Andy!
After fleeing from the machine guns and dropping into the well, the heroes discovered that although there wasn’t a mutant race down there, there was one mutant: Donatello from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He told them that a crocodile, who was a leader of the mafia, had eaten the other Ninja Turtles and was holding Steve’s girlfriend hostage. So the heroes set off to stop him.
When they arrived, they discovered a crocodile in a pinstripe suit smoking a cigar. John Doe tried to fight him, but unfortunately got swallowed, only to find the other Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles inside!
Player 1: I try and stab him [dice get rolled]
The Man Behind the GM Screen: As you move into stab him, he opens his mouth and completely swallows you. Oh look, doubles on the roll so another random event. [rolls] Another positive NPC. Hmm…
Player 1: Didn’t we establish earlier that the other Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got eaten?
[Everyone realizes what this means and laughs!]
The Man Behind the GM Screen: Alright, so Steve says that you discover the remaining three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles inside. Wow, great planning Steve!
While the robot cut up the crocodile’s pinstripe suit and cigar in order to throw him off his game, John Doe tried to convince the Turtles that he was an innocent civilian and they had to rescue him. This gave them enough motivation to help break him out and defeat the croc once and for all. They rescued Steve’s girlfriend and saved the day!
The second session had some interesting moments, such as a whole band of bureaucrats guarding a phylactery containing Steve’s enlightenment. Across the two sessions, I had a lot of fun having a stuffed animal GMing the game and I was surprised at how cohesive his game wound up being. I’m sure that this will be a game that we’ll be talking about for years. Ultimately, an epic GM moment!
One of the great things about my time in the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild was the fact that I got to try a large variety of lesser known systems. There are several RPGs that I really enjoy that haven’t gotten nearly enough attention. Among them are:
- Traveller (previously reviewed here and here)
- Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space
- Star Wars d6
Ork! The Roleplaying Game was the first product ever produced by Green Ronin, which has since produced many popular products like Mutants & Masterminds, Freeport, True20, A Song of Ice and Fire, and Dragon Age. Ork is only a mere 64 pages, but it’s a whole heck of a lot of fun as a “beer and pretzels” game.
Religion is very important to Orks, who worship the angry god Krom (played by the GM). They believe that he threw up the world over the course of fourteen thousand days, but threw up the Orks last. When he told the Orks that they were his chosen people, they simply yelled back “You am shut up!” Thus there is always a tenuous relation between Krom and Orks. Sometimes he helps them out in battle and sometimes he gets angry. When he gets really, really angry, he turns them into pinecones.
This basically means that Krom is encouraged to do whatever the heck he wants to. Give high modifiers, give low modifiers, or have them get carried off by flying monkeys, smashed by a troll, or turned into a pinecone, it’s all fair game. The way I play it, this usually winds up turning into a Paranoia-style game where Orks are frequently getting killed, but another one is always back to replace him. The fact that character creation takes about 2 minutes (less if you know what you’re doing) helps a lot with this!
Part of the reason that Ork works so well is the mechanics. Traits are rolled by die pools. Each Skill category has a die type (e.g. d8) and then each skill has a number in it (e.g. 3). When you roll them together, you roll the number of dice as indicated by the skill and roll the related attribute die. If you have a 3 in Eyeball and a d10 in Twitch, youʼd roll 3d10 and add the total together. The result is a pretty chaotic and hard to predict die result, which fits with the theme of the game.
All die rolls are opposed. Most often, it’s between the player and Krom, and Krom is encouraged to make up his die pools as needed (perhaps 5d12 on a task he doesn’t want to happen, and 1d4 on a task he really does). This makes things fairly random and chaotic, and it’s always fun when the player’s 3d6 pool beats the 5d12 that Krom used to stop them (or vice versa). This also means that you can pull of some ridiculous tasks: want to jump over the forest? If your dice get lucky enough, you totally can!
Most enemies go down with one hit, but Orks themselves have different wound rules than enemies and can heal pretty easily. To me, this is a real strength in the game. It allows the Orks to swath through hordes of “squishy men” and also means that PvP combat isn’t very effective. Fighting other Orks is definitely encouraged (with the occasional bonk on the head), but ultimately isn’t very effective, meaning that players won’t resort to it all the time and will focus on more interesting things.
Finally, Krom can hand out Ork Points for things like talking like an Ork, committing wanton violence, drinking anything vaguely alcoholic, or exhibiting some other Orkish behavior. Conversely, Krom can take them away for un-Ork-like behavior, like sitting in a field of flowers and admiring their beauty. These points can be used to add dice when you need it or reroll your die pool. I’m a big fan of systems that allow the GM to hand out some bonus for good roleplaying and Ork totally allows you to do this.
It wouldn’t be a good review of Ork without talking about the scenarios that come with it. Generally it involves a fantasy setting, mixed with some bizarre, anachronistic elements through the use of mysterious time portals that things come out of or the Orks go into. The intro scenario in the book has something like that where they discover that the medieval Squishy Men have obtained (spoiler: a Chevy Malibu) that fell out of the sky.
The official website has two additional scenarios for download: Mister Ork’s Wild Ride! (where they go to an amusement park) and Santa Claus vs. the Orks! (where they go to the North Pole). I once wrote a scenario called “Orks in New York!” where they wind up in the city of “New Ork” and try to steal the golden flame from the green queen and have all sorts of hijinks along the way. I think these scenarios perfectly capture the spirit of Ork and they’re incredibly fun!
Ork is a fantastic roleplaying game for when you just want to leave your intellect out the door and play a roleplaying game with wanton violence and stupidity, while laughing the whole time. It’s definitely a great “beer and pretzels” game for the occasional one-shot.
The game isn’t perfect. I think that early in its development it suffered from not having a clear idea of what type of humor it wanted to embrace. The scenarios and some of the book embraces ridiculous scenarios (which I adore), but sometimes it tries to go for gross out humor or tries to downplay the humor, especially for long-term, more serious game (there are rules for playing a campaign with it, even though I doubt anybody ever tried). There are also some rules quirks, like ranged enemies have to make an opposed roll against Krom, meaning that Krom is rolling dice against himself.
Ultimately though, I think that the three published scenarios perfectly capture the tone and the rules quirks are easy enough to avoid because Krom gets to bend the rules anyway. This game is an incredibly entertaining and, if you can find a copy, it’s definitely worth it. Green Ronin has said they’d like to make a new edition someday and I’d love to see it happen!
From time to time I’ve participated in the RPG Blog Carnival where various blogs come together and share their thoughts on some roleplaying game topic. The blog that originally hosted it shut down several months ago, but I’m pleased to see that it’s continued on thanks to the RPGBA.
Why do you write about games? In what form does writing crop up in your campaigns? What’s your process, your stumbling blocks, your passion? How has writing helped you or your table? Or is writing more like a CR 8 Succubus whose torturous, siren song hurts so good and dominates your very being?
I thought a bit about all of the roleplaying game writing I’ve done and I’ve noticed that it has changed considerably over the years. When I first started gaming with the Wittenberg Roleplaying Guild, I wrote quite a few “adventure logs” detailing the campaign from the perspective of my character. Feeling a spur of creativity (and an excess of time since I was at college without a computer of my own to waste time on), I wrote these adventure logs for the D&D 4e campaign Keep on the Shadowfell. One thing I see looking back is that I did a lot of embellishment of what turned out to be a fairly combat-intensive dungeon crawl, especially concerning Paelias’ backstory (with a few references to Morrowind, which I had just discovered the summer before).
Those adventure logs were certainly the longest and most detailed I ever wrote, and soon after I wrote a much shorter journal for Ulrich Hartmann, superhero vigilante “Manifesto” in Andy’s Shadow’s of the Cold War campaign (which I described here last month as part of a blog exchange with Scrolls of the Platinum Warlock). This one was fun because I wrote it in an English/German mashup (which of course goes the way Hollywood would do it, not like how anybody in real life would do it). I also made a conscious effort to have Ulrich’s English improve as the entries progressed as sort of a meta-development of his character. Around this time, I also wrote a writeup for a LARP the Guild ran called “What Happened to Cleavon Washington?” (loosely based on blaxploitation movies) in which I wrote about the events of the LARP from three different perspectives.
The three player logs I’d wrote each became more ambitious than the last with me trying different things with perspective. When I became a GM, I decided to play with this even more. I had intended to write a “behind the GM screen” series for my first campaign ever, a pulp-era game called “Atlantis Awaits,” but unfortunately I never wrote found the time to do so. However for my next campaign, an Urban Arcana game called Thirteen Days, I wrote a summary of each day written from the perspective of a different character (check it out here). And the next campaign I ran, “Star Wars Infinity” (an alternate universe Original Trilogy where the droids never make it to Tatooine), I created an elaborate site where I was chronicling the exploits of my players.
Unfortunately by that point, my ambitions had far exceeded my ability to actually finish the task and I didn’t complete either campaign writeup. College became more intense and I had much less time to write freely and so I never again did a campaign writeup as either a player or a GM. However, I did create a writeup for a Stargate SG-1 one-shot I ran (using an earlier iteration of my Savage Worlds conversion) where SG-1 was telling General Hammond just how their mission went (check it out here). Out of all my writeups, I think that’s the one that I’m most proud of. And it had one of the most bizarre plans I’ve ever seen a group of players create!
After a long hiatus, I was itching to write about roleplaying games again and decided to finally start a blog. And you’re reading it! The Journeyman GM has largely been a transition into my more professional dealings with the roleplaying game industry, both as a freelance writer and as creator of Wild Card Creator. (Shameless plug: it’s a Savage Worlds character creator that lets you import character options from any supplementary PDF!)
I’m definitely noticing a few trends: first my writing naturally reflects what I’m doing with roleplaying games. When I was primarily a player, I was writing about my characters’ exploits. When I was primarily a GM, I was writing about what my players were doing. When I started getting into professional stuff, I created a real blog. In each situation, the scope of my writings has also become much larger as I have spent more time with roleplaying games.
Although I realize that I am a very industrious person and perhaps the amount of writing I’ve done is atypical, I’d be interested to hear if anybody else has had a similar experience in any writings they’ve done about roleplaying games.
This week, I’ve decided to have my first forray into the RPG Blog Carnival, an organized event where once a month an RPG Blog poses a topic and other RPG Blogs write a post addressing it. Nevermet Press posed this month’s topic: “things to love and things to hate.” I’ve decided to write about GMs I’ve loved to game with and GMs I’ve hated to game with.
GMs to Hate
Now I’m using the phrase “hate” pejoratively because it’s part of the theme, but I really mean GMs who had a detrimental effect on the game. The book Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering states that “at least 70% of the success or failure of a gaming session depends on interactions between participants,” especially the interaction between the GM and the players. So I might say that those GMs I “hate” are those who ran a game that didn’t get anywhere close to a 70% success.
The GM Who Didn’t Bring Any Enthusiasm to the Game
My first (and so far my only) foray into Pathfinder was a convention game that turned into one of the worst convention games I have ever played. The GM wasn’t enthusiastic in the least. He read the text in a deadpan tone, didn’t give any eye contact to the players, and just went straight through the motions. During combat, he would move an enemy figure and, without saying anything, roll more dice and announce damage. The adventure’s only social encounter went like this:
GM: In the middle of the room you see a dwarf hammering at the forge.
Player: I use Diplomacy. [rolls] 19.
GM: He tells you that he’s a prisoner here and the only way to free him is to destroy the necromantic altar on the floor above him. Do you guys want to go ahead and go up there?
Nothing at all inspiring about this GM. Afterwards I heard him chattting to one of the players saying that his primary motivation was the GM rewards program for the Pathfinder Rewards Program. Now I’ve got nothing against GM rewards programs, but clearly this GM didn’t have his heart in the game. Bottom line, a terrible game (and that’s not even bringing up the situation where a player pulled out the Pathfinder book to show the monster’s statblock and prove to the GM that he was using its attack wrong).
The GM Who Hated the System He Was Running
You would think that a GM would run a game with a system he liked. Not so here. This GM was part of a larger group which had a good reputation over all. I was excited to play in a game with a cross between some meddling kids, a dog, and an Elder God. The fact that it was run using Savage Worlds with Realms of Cthulhu made it even more appealing.
But apparently, the GM hated Savage Worlds. He said so himself as he was flipping through the books to something up. He didn’t know even the most basic rules either and had Fighting rolls directly dealing damage (ignoring Parry), bad guys who were mysteriously rolling “dodge checks,” and the GM spending bennies to make the players reroll. I really got the impression that the GM hated the system so much that he just did a quick skim over the rules an hour before the game.
Perhaps the GM was required to run Savage Worlds by the group he was part of, but it was no excuse to be running a system he absolutely hated. Too bad because I think it could have been a great game.
GMs to Love
Fortunately, for every horrendous GM, there’s a fantastic one. The ones that make you want to immediately come back and play next year (or even make you want to go run down to the dealer hall and buy the book for the system they are running). There’s a few experiences in particular that I’d like to point out:
The GMs Who Let the Rule of Awesome Trump Everything
Especially in one-shots, it’s important to let the players have fun with what they are doing and let them go with whatever cool ideas they come up with. The GMs from Matinee Adventures totally do that. I played in two games with them last Origins and they were probably the highlight of my con. One was a game was a 7th Sea game based on the Scarlet Pimpernel where we were musketeer-style nobles who went in disguise to save other nobles from the guillotine. The players had lots of great ideas and there were some really epic moments like jumping through a window in order to do a leap attack against some bounty hunters down on the streets below. The GM totally let us do those things and we all had fun!
Another adventure from Matinee Adventures was an Avatar: The Last Airbender prequel using the Ubiquity system where we were teenagers (like in the show) who were saving a child from the Western Air Temple. The GM totally could have set it up where we were limited to only doing certain maneuvers with our elemental bending. But instead, he had us describe whatever we wanted to do, even if it was way over the top, and let us roll for it with some difficulty modifiers. Some really awesome stuff happened there too.
The GM Who Went All Out for His Game
There was a GM who decided he would make the best Stargate SG-1 game he could possibly make. So he used his incredible modeling skills and made this:
Doesn’t this just make you want to play? Now I probably should make it very clear that I am not at all expecting for every GM to make elaborate minis like this. I just want to show the amount of enthusiasm that this GM clearly has for his game. He created a great scenario and went all out to make it as fun as possible for everyone at the table, which for him meant creating great visuals. If you’re a Stargate fan and have the opportunity, definitely play in this guy’s games.
So those are some GMs I’ve loved and GMs I’ve hated. I think that both groups have certainly had an influence in me becoming the JourneymanGM that I am today.