Compressed Campaigning

by Ian Eller

It started about eight years ago, following a long hiatus. Prior to that unintended break, I would travel out to Pittsburgh, PA from the Northeast a few times a year. We would visit and party and manage to get in a few days of gaming. But then my son arrived and I did not go back out for seven years. When I did, it was just once a year. What had started as a more-than-weekly college age campaign in Savannah, GA and had evolved into a few-times-a-year game became then a Once-A-Year-If-You-Were-Lucky game.

Back then, we did not play on-line (although we tried some play-by-email without success) so this group that had been together for years and years tried to cram a full year’s worth of gaming into a single long weekend. Amazingly, we kind of succeeded. I would arrive and we would have non-gamer friends converge and do the visiting and whatnot, but the next day we would get going. Over the course of a long weekend (4 or 5 days) we would get maybe 36 or so hours of table time in. It both recalled marathon sessions of old and also created something new -- the compressed mini-campaign.

Fast forward a few years and the Pittsburgh annual mini-campaigns (all still continuations of that now two decades old game) were still going strong. I started running games at both Carnage on the Mountain in Vermont and TotalConfusion in Massachusetts. Something did not sit quite right with me those first couple years, though, and I could not put a name to it until I ran my first two part, continuing event at Carnage (a little Mutant Future piece called Out of the Fridge and Into the Freezer, for those of you that may recall it). Even though it was only two sessions long, it clicked: single slot games at cons weren’t for me. I needed something more, something with continuity and stakes and player investment. I needed to run mini-campaigns at conventions.

Now these style of games are a staple for me. I generally dedicate my entire convention schedule to a single ongoing game, four or five or six slots throughout the weekend. It has taken some fiddling with the format, but these games allow traditional con players to drop in for a single session, while those looking for more can sign up for multiple or even all of the slots and get a deeper, more complete experience. It is very rewarding for me as a GM to run these kinds of games and see players -- especially those without regular home campaigns -- get excited to explore the Valley of Tombs or the Isle of Dread, or get entangled with a rogue AI as the Dropship Murphys or fight for galactic freedom as Rebel Scum.

But this is not my super power, and it isn’t a style of game that belongs only to me. The purpose of this post, in fact, is to convince you, dear reader and GM, to give it a try for yourself. I don’t mean necessarily at a convention (although, of course, you should do that too) but rather I want you to try it with your home group. In particular, if your group is one of those that has been together forever and has trouble getting a regularly scheduled game going, I implore you: run a compressed campaign. You and your players will thank me.

Here’s how it works: first, you set aside a long weekend to get together. I suggest finding a venue where you won’t be an imposition on your spouses or roommates, maybe even renting a place by way of AirBnB or a similar service. Bring everything you need, from racks of ribs to cases of beer to extra toilet paper. Pick the right game for your group, either your long stalled campaign from college as I did or a game you have been dying to play. Whatever it is, make sure everyone is one board for some intensive play. Then, play it. All weekend. Take breaks to cook, shower, maybe watch a single favorite movie together, and sleep, but that’s it. Of those 96 hours you have (minus travel time) put in 40 at the table. Game like you were 19 again.

If you consider that you are managing to squeeze in maybe a single monthly four hour session over the course of a year, and half of those sessions’ play time are eaten by catching up and getting back into the game, then 30 or 40 hours of continuous play is essentially what you would get out of a full year’s play, but with the added benefit of everything being fresh and immediate and continuous.

One shots are fine. Weekly campaigns are really great. But nothing quite matches a marathon compressed campaign for a sense of accomplishment, camaraderie and immersion.

Good Gaming!

What Your Kids Can Learn From Gaming

By Steve Wilcox

 

We started my children gaming as soon as they could recognize the numbers 1 to 10. We used a very simple rules system, three classes/characters, and a number line on top of the page. Without realizing it they quickly mastered simple addition and subtraction as they were slaying monsters and rescuing innocents from certain doom. This was also the beginning of the idea that actions have consequences (a major theme in our house). Characters could and did die, sometimes heroically and sometimes comically. Even today when dealing with discipline issues I will occasionally say, “You ran at the dragon again” before handing out a consequence.

As the kids aged we slowly introduced more complicated rules until we were playing Dungeons and Dragons 3.5. As before, they were required to look up rules and be prepared (or have their character stand staring dumbly doing nothing for a round). This is when their problem solving and social skills really started to take off. Watching them develop a plan and defend it logically to the group was great to see. The idea that not every problem can be solved by using force and the idea of sometimes you need to fight the good fight started to appear. I like to use gaming to explore the human experience and playing with my children did not change this.

The best benefit I can think of about having a gamer kid is as teens, I can get my kids to sit down and spend time with me simply by setting a game up. Whether a table top role playing or a more free form narrative type game, both of my kids happily disconnect from screens to play. After the usual parent vs teen arguments about chores or school I can quickly reconnect with my son by asking his opinion on an idea I have for a convention game.

Personally, I find gamers over all to be better equipped to deal with emergencies and other circumstances life throws at us. I believe this is because we spend so much time thinking through situations and thinking of a solution to problems quickly. Like an athlete who practices by visualizing, practicing problem solving makes you a better problem solver.

Recently at a child’s birthday party we had an unexpected visitor. A brown bear was in the neighbor’s yard behind a fence. As we moved all the 5-year olds into the house the bear was slowly moving towards the woods and the end of the fence. My 15-year-old son was walking toward the bear to get a better look. When I asked him what he was thinking he pointed at a group of 5 adults standing at the end of the fence and told me it was fine he can run faster then at least 3 of those people. A gamer answer if I ever heard one….

Bring your kids to the gaming table, you may need to start slow and simple, but I promise you won’t regret it.

Words from a Gamer Girl

Petra Jackl


As quoted from that amazing fantasy movie Princess Bride: “Let me ‘splain. No, too long, let me sum up” ... I could discuss the subject of women and gaming at length but will keep this short, well short-sh.


LoL


I started gaming when I was 15 years old. It was a time when that term meant only Dungeons and Dragons and nerdy preteen/teen boys hung out in house basements dreaming of damsels in distress and hitting things with swords. Gaming has grown exponentially in the past thirty years and I have witnessed its growing pains and it’s incredible successes. Through it all I have proudly claimed the title Gamer Girl.


I was introduced to D&D by my older brother and from my first dwarf character I became hooked. The appeal of taking on a different persona and doing things I couldn’t possibly do was amazing! Quickly my friends and sister were drawn in and it became our social past time. It taught us how to resolve conflict, social skills and team work without us even realizing it was happening. Our creativity was stimulated and our imaginations soared.

In those days gaming art was woman in chain mail bikinis, gauzy dresses and proportions of fantasy sizes and, right or wrong, it was not questioned. There were not many of us Gamer Girls around and as our late teens and early twenties arrived it became evident to me that slowly this elite group was growing. The positive side of this was never a lack of someone willing to teach you a system or patiently explain the rules, as well as the ability to bring a new dynamic to the game by simply sitting at a table. The negative side was constantly being hit on, not taken seriously, always assuming I would play the cleric and even at times being told girls don’t game.


As time has gone on, gaming has become as increasingly diverse as the number of people that play it has increased. Tabletop role playing fits almost any genre and style you may be looking for. It continues to be played by children and teens and now by CEOs, all professions and even actors. It can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. It has become a multi-million dollar industry being played in people’s homes to creating conventions that span a city.

With growth comes complexity and gaming is being faced with the same problems faced by the world at large: namely, how to handle the rampant sexism that gaming started with. This is not a blog about that but an acknowledgement toward this evolving issue. There are no clear cut answers at this point, but it is something that touches any woman in any environment where she spends time. I find gamers as a general bunch very open and accepting with no or little bias around sexual orientation or lifestyle. They honestly just want to game. Women have flocked to gaming. We no longer exist as just the girlfriend or spouse that sits around while her man games, but as a vibrant member of the party ourselves. It is never spoken any longer that women shouldn’t game and in my experience welcomed and accepted as is their right. Men play women and women play men with more games crossing all spectrums of gender and sexual orientation.


I have grown up gaming with my family and my kids have grown up gaming and I believe we are all better people for it.


Gaming has grown up with me and as we have both matured we have grown in knowledge and depth. Having spent my life as a Gamer Girl it opened my mind and imagination giving me skills and creative thinking I would never have achieved. It has made me a stronger woman and person, giving me a vast array of social experiences and exposing me to people and situations I never would have had otherwise. It has made me a better student, employee and even parent by teaching me patience and how to think out of the box.


As a woman Gamer we have had our trials and continue to stretch and grow in this world no longer ruled by men. While not perfect , tabletop gamers are one of the most accepting, fun, and kind group of people you could ever have the honor of spending time with and I still proudly wear the title Gamer Girl!


Dark Phoenix Events Update

Hey all, it’s been a great summer where we had several private events, a couple of our all weekend extravaganzas and another awesome Murder Mystery under our belt. Summer ended with another amazing Cthulhu Camping Con, a private event we do for our GMs and friends. This year continued to exceed expectations with all the new games, new Saturday morning cartoons in the woods, amazing food and some of the best gaming around that I get to actually play in.

Coming next we’re heading full tilt into winter Con season, with Carnage in November.  Held at the beautiful Killington Grand Resort, Carnage is a great convention representing all kinds of gaming run by some wonderful people. Check them out at Carnage.com and we hope to see you there. We’ll be running dozens of games and once again will be headlining events for Xtra Life raising money for the Children’s Miracle Network. Stop on by and say “Hi!” and think about buying raffle tickets. We have some great items for the charity raffle this year!

In August we started a cooperative event with ASKEW (Askewprov.com) the wonderful Bistro and Entertainment Venue in the heart of Providence.  We’ve had two Gamer Café’s now at this awesome location -- which by the way has some kickin’ southern style food -- running a full variety of RPGs from fantasy to horror to Fiasco and DCC’s newest release: the gonzo post-apocalyptic Mutant Crawl Classics.  Join us there for October’s Gamer Café on October 28 for horror themed gaming in honor of All Hallow’s Eve. We’ll be dusting off some old school chilling board games for your gaming pleasure in addition to our RPG tables! Look for our event listings at Dark Phoenix Events on FB!

Looming in the calendar distance is TotalCon XXXIII, scheduled for February 21-24 in Marlborough, MA. TotalCon is our home Con and once again we’ll be there in full force running over 40 games again for you. Preparations are underway for some special treats this year for our players, possibly including a multi table game. Keep watching our site and Totalcon.com for status updates!

We want to thank all of you, our players and fans, who continue to make everything we do more and more fun every year! This could be the year that we run that event you’ve been dreaming of for years. We’re here, we’re ready and would love to make those dreams come true!  Game Hard!

Peace,

Scott

Introducing New Players

by Andre Kruppa

Over the years I have participated in a number of discussions regarding the best way to introduce new players to the wonderful world of role-playing gaming. Certainly there are many ways to go about it and I thought I’d take a few minutes to talk about my preferred methods.

I like to introduce folks to gaming with one shot scenarios using simple systems like Basic Role-Playing (usually in the form of Call of Cthulhu), the Lucid Dreams Role-playing Engine, a variant of Powered by Apocalypse, or FUDGE. This lets folks get their feet under them without getting rules heavy.

Sessions with new players, in my opinion, always need to be treated as teaching sessions until players get the hang of it. (I do this for almost any kind of game not just RPGs.) A cheat sheet of commonly used basic rules or a core rules sheet can be very helpful for some folks to get the hang of things.

It seems to me that when the role-playing pauses for some action resolution it is important to stop and explain what is going on, how the rules work, and what the options and ramifications are. This makes it fair for everyone. Collecting individual statements of intent each round of action helps a lot too. New players can go last, if they want to, so they get a feel for the options.

I also often encourage new players to read the rules themselves, after the first game. Not everyone is interested in doing so, and some folks just don't pick up game mechanics by reading. Technical writing is not for everyone. That being said, it can really give a handle on the game if folks are willing to put in the effort.

I also like to try and nip metagaming in the bud early, and in many games I enforce a “no suggestions from other players” rule during action resolution as an anti-metagaming convention. Only very brief in-character suggestions are allowed that could be yelled out quickly. This keeps players from interfering with each other to a great degree. When needed, I enforce a rule that suggestions from other players that are not in character can NEVER be followed, even if obvious. This works well if getting a bit tough on the offenders seems necessary. This rule also helps new players understand the line between player and character.

The number one goal is to be prepared to run and to ensure folks are involved and having fun. After that everything else follows!

Dark Phoenix Events Update

It had been a busy year for us so far, with lots of new things going on.

It began for us in February at our fantastic home convention, Total Confusion (check them out at totalcon.com). We had full tables of excellent games by our amazing GMs all weekend long! The in March we held a successful and incredibly fun private con for 40 of our closest friends. It ran for four days and gave us many stories to be retold and laughter revisited. In May we ran our annual Murder Mystery event. With a Scottish theme this year, it was crafted entirely by two of our very clever GMs. There were intrigue, plots, backstabbing, death and, of course, kilts! Since then we have had several private games booked by our amazing fans with rave reviews all around. In September we lend our GMing talents to a fresh New England convention called ShireCon. Finally, November will see us at a great Con called Carnage (Carnagecon.com) for a weekend of gaming in the mountains of VT!

We are currently gearing up for Camping Cthulhu Con, another private con (we have to keep those GMs sharp with practice!) held in the woods of New Hampshire. Now in its fifth year, we provide food and games all weekend long for a growing number of attendees. It is the highlight of my year and gaming under the stars is a phenomenal experience!

On the more mundane end we have updated our website, increased our media presence and are working on polishing up the business end of things.

We appeared on MythWits podcast twice and have enjoyed it immensely. Great guys with a cool set up and a funny sense of humor! We are launching a monthly blog feature by our multi-talented GMs featuring wide ranging subject matter and perspectives on gaming, so check it out! We are hoping to get an "Ask the GM” section started for those curious minds that want to delve into the depths of our GMs heads. Keep your eyes peeled for that!

Annnnddddddd announcing a cool partnership with Askew restaurant (Askewprov.com) in Providence for a monthly game night starting August 26, 2018. We are incredibly excited and will be offering a variety of games each month! Come down for food, games and great times :)

We continue to dedicate ourselves to a high quality gaming experience with some of the best GMs in New England! Check in with us at darkphoenixevents.com for continued updates and to book your own phenomenal event you will talk about for years!!!

Lucid Dreams Excerpt: Running the Game

Lucid Dreams Excerpt: Running the Game

Dark Phoenix Events Game Master’s aren’t just GMs, they are also game designers Andre Kruppa, well known in the Northeast for his theatrical style and immersive audio-visual game experiences, recently published the Lucid Dreams Roleplaying Engine. The following excerpt from the Playing the Game chapter is both a window into Lucid Dreams and a widely applicable essay on running RPGs in general.

Running the Game: The Basics

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The Talk: A Gamer Is Born

By Eric A Jackson

I’m a mentor for our local library’s Young Adult Table Top Gaming Club.  I’ve been introducing, coaching and supporting 12 to 18-year old’s the joy of roleplaying games for more than a decade.  Every year in September fresh faces appear along with veterans from previous campaigns. These new players are frequently drawn in by current players, but others have heard about role playing games through older siblings, parents, peers and even <gasp> from the library webpage.   

On the first day they listen to the veterans chatting enthusiastically about magical items acquired, class options for a new character, sneak attacks and attacks of opportunity and proficiency bonuses and…and…and… it’s all too much. Suddenly they seem overwhelmed, start looking for the door, making sure they have their personal items nearby and looking at their phones to begin texting their parents to come and pick them up because they have no idea what these people are talking about.

 

That’s when I start “The Talk”.   

As a kid you played make believe or pretend, right?   Aliens and Space Rangers, Miss Spider’s Tea Party and Dora and her Explorers.   You told the story of how you tracked the alien criminals to their secret lair using your wits and a sample of the DNA from the blood of one of the space bank robbers.  You discussed the dryness of the imaginary scones and lauded the invisible sweet cream frosted cakes.  You saved (stuffed) animals with Diego and made up new songs with Backpack.  If you’ve played these games, you’ve already roleplayed. 

At this point I look for confirmation that these types of things are touchstones in their lives.  Some folks come to the game without the common language of play.  Others look embarrassed or worried about admitting to something so “childish” (12 to 18-year olds are very serious about not looking childish) When this occurs, I stress that all the folks here love to pretend and that lots of folks, including adults like myself, regularly get together to pretend.   For almost all starting gamers, just knowing there are others who want to pretend is enough to get them to stay.  At least, for the next part of “The Talk”

But then you invited friends to play with you.  Maybe Elizabeth wanted to break down the door to the alien’s hideout while you wanted to sneak in.   Maybe Faris preferred the sweet tea (okay it was just water) in the green plastic cups over the red ones.  Possibly Deon thought your song would be better with fart sounds.  Assuming you didn’t just pick up your space helmet/ tea set/ stuffed animals and go home, you learned to tell a story together.  You discussed the merits of stealth, your love of Earl Grey and your considered opinion that fart sounds make all songs better.  In doing so you shared your world with your friend.  That’s a pretty awesome thing to share.

Experience with unstructured play time, particularly in peer groups, is not something most new gamers have spent a lot of time on.  School, Scouts, 4-H, Boy and Girls clubs, Town Sports, Summer Camps (and all the other various organizations and structured programs) usually have a goal that is decided upon ahead of time by an adult and is monitored for progress and (almost always) judged against a standard.

Gaming allows an almost unique experience in building a story that is defined by peers, not an authority figure.  The idea of collaborative storytelling sounds awesome, but because the experience is so unfamiliar to most of the new players, they have no idea where to start. Game rules give us the structure to start. Back to the talk…

A shared story is one where everyone agrees on what is going to happen.  But with a bunch of people that can be hard. 

Let’s say you’re playing Space Alien Bank Robbers vs. Space Ranger with Maria and Elizabeth.  And let’s say that Maria is playing the part of the Space Alien Bank robber.  You try to pick the lock to her evil lair and she says:

 

 “That lock is protected by a BJ29 anti-lock picking system that zaps anyone who tries to pick it!”

“That’s okay,” says Elizabeth, “I’ll just blast the door with my Q-36 space modulator!”  <Pew! Pew! Pew!>

“ No wait!” you say! “ My R2 unit can override the anti-lock picking system!”  <Beep, Beep, Boop, Beep, Whirrrrrrr!>

“Shazbot!” curses Maria “I’m setting the self-destruct device to my evil lair!”   <Booooooooom! >  “You’re all dead”

You and Elizabeth together “No we’re not!”

All three stories include your friends, but how do we decide which is the best one?  How do we resolve whose part of the story gets told ? One way is we could “Rock, Paper, Scissors” to see whose idea wins.  In gaming we decide by rolling dice (I then show off sparkly polyhedrons for maximum effect) and a set of rules that helps us resolve which story action we use.  This allows us to build one story that everyone can agree on and enjoy.   

There are a lot of rules (I illustrate by showing stacks of books), but all of them are designed to help us tell the best story together.

Rules are the most daunting part of introducing new players to the system.  Few new gamers come to the game with their own books and fewer still will read through all the rules.  It’s important to emphasize that the rules are there to help us tell the story WE want to tell.  I’m particularly forgiving about rules with new players and find that as players seek to improve their characters THEY will start enforcing the rules on the DM’s monsters (and each other).

So, what sort of story do we want to tell together?

This is the most important thing I do, I offer choice.  Educational programs like the ones I listed previously are incredibly valuable (I’m a high school teacher when I’m not volunteering at the library) but they rarely allow for self-direction.  Once the players realize they are in control of their experience, they are all in.  And that’s when the magic begins.

It’s Not Going To Go The Way You Think It Will

“It’s Not Going To Turn Out the Way You Think It Will”

Gaming Inspiration from Star Wars: The Last Jedi

By Ian Eller

 

Note: This blog entry includes spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Continue at your own risk.

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When Luke Skywalker says the words, “It’s not going to go the way you think,” he wasn’t kidding. From the moment the dishevelled jedi master takes his lightsaber from Rey — the one she, and we, had been waiting two years for him to take — and tossed it over the side of a cliff, it was clear: Star Wars: The Last Jedi was going to subvert expectations and keep the audience guessing. This from a series that had leaned heavily on formula and tropes for four decades was a bold and, frankly, controversial move.

But we’re not actually here to talk about The Last Jedi (TLJ going forward). We’re here to talk about the games you run as a GM and how to consciously make the decision to break from tradition, subvert tropes, manipulate expectations and otherwise keep your players guessing as to what could possibly happen next. We will continue to use TLJ as a framing device, however, so spoilers abound. This is your last warning to click away.

 

Okay, then.

The decision to do things differently than before, to break out of your own habits (good or bad; this isn’t about judgement) is a tough one for a GM. Not only does it tend to be easier to run games using familiar techniques, but it also provides a place of comfort for your players in a longer term campaign. We all play RPGs to have fun, and some people rely on them to relax and blow off some steam and don’t enjoy being challenged. It is no small thing to toss that element away in favor of exploring new territory.

Imagine you were a Star Wars GM. You had run a long and successful campaign where your players fought and defeated the Emperor through luck, skill and grit. The Farmboy turned Jedi Knight, the Diplomat turned General and the Scoundrel turned Hero achieve their goals and you talk about that campaign for ages. Later, you decide to get the band back together for more adventures in the same universe. You make their old characters into important NPCs and everyone chooses a new role: a force sensitive Scavenger, a brash Ace Pilot and a conflicted Stormtrooper. In your opening adventure, you hew close to the tropes of the old game: giant planet killing weapons, evil Jedi, giant monsters and, of course, tons of white armored mooks to mow down. It’s fun. It is. But, something is missing.

What you may have failed to account for is that you are older now. You not only are in different places in your lives, but you have perhaps a decade or two of new gaming experiences under your belts, exposure to new and interesting ideas, and a level of creative maturity that you lacked when all you wanted to do was blast Imperials and soak up the melodrama. It isn’t that your old games weren’t fun. It isn’t even that your new campaign is somehow flawed. It is just that you are different and the game has to be different, too.

It is not a perfect analogy, of course. After all, you don’t have a massive creative infrastructure at your disposal. Even so, that feeling that things need a bit of a nudge out of the rut, that times and you all have changed and the game needs to change too maps pretty well with TLJ compared to previous entries in the Star Wars saga. So staying with that analogy, let’s see how you might subvert the expectations of your players:

Your force sensitive Scavenger player made a big deal about the mystery of their character’s parentage. You realize that is too close a retread of the previous campaign, and decide that the Scav did not have special parents. They were just amoral junk dealers that sold their daughter for drinking money. What you are aiming for is not-so-subtly telling the player that it is the character, not their lineage, that is important. Will the player embrace this idea? Or will they feel the story they wanted to tell has been invalidated?

Similarly, the Ace Pilot player loves jumping into an X-Wing and blowing stuff up to solve problems. That’s fun, but it is also simplistic and a little juvenile compared to the more complex story you have decided you want to tell. So you create real consequences for the constantly brash and ill conceived plans of the character. Things don’t turn out as cleanly as the Pilot would like. Beloved NPCs get hurt or die and their own position in the Resistance is threatened. Will the player embrace this and decide their character learns to be a better leader, or will they feel they have been cheated out of their preferred playstyle?

The Stormtrooper is interesting because the player already started out with a fairly complex story for their character: he isn’t just rebellious, but also something of a coward. The player latched onto another PC as a focal point and is constantly pushing a romance with the Scavenger — who, for their part, does not want to engage in any relationship play beyond platonic. So you decide to feed the Stormtrooper’s journey toward courage and dedication and at the same time introduce an NPC love interest to try and pry them apart from the Scavenger PC. Will this work? Is the Stormtrooper player just interested in a romance of any kind, or did you misread their creative intent?

And beyond all those PC issues, you realize you are kind of bored with the whole Empire-analogue versus Rebellion-analogue conflict. You don’t want to rehash the same campaign you played years ago. So, you decide to blow it all up. You kill important characters, decimate both sides and otherwise throw a wrench in the works, all in the name of a clean slate and a fresh experience. It all seems like a great idea until the session ends and you see your players staring at you, dumbfounded and perhaps even a little angry. What now?

 

Drastic changes are hard, especially when you are talking about changing something people love. Tabletop RPGs, especially in the context of a long lasting campaign that was good enough to inspire multiple sequel and prequel campaigns, are especially beloved. Role-playing is an intimate exercise. You share a deep part of yourself with other people when you share stories in which you play a part. You reveal wants and needs and hopes and fears, even when you are just pushing little figures around a grid and using funny voices while pretending to buy 50 feet of rope.

One benefit your players have over the audience streaming into to see TLJ opening weekend is that they have a voice. Your players are part of your writers room and your production staff. Don’t forget that. It can be tempting to keep secrets from them for their own good, so as not to spoil the surprise. Be careful doing that, however. They have a lot more invested in their characters and your shared world than you might think, and they deserve a voice in the question of their Scavenger’s parentage, their Pilot’s learning experiences and their Stormtrooper’s love life.

If you feel the need to make drastic changes, check in with your players. You can take a break from an actual play session to have a “story meeting” where your players and you talk out your concerns and interests. Not only will this reduce the shock of any drastic change you have in mind, it will give the players an opportunity to tell you what they would like to see changed up and what they want to hold on to.

All tabletop role-playing games are ultimately a conversation. Don’t be afraid to talk.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery by Sean Murphy

The Sincerest Form of Flattery by Sean Murphy

Most game masters at some point or another struggle to find ideas for their scenarios or campaigns.   More specifically, they know they will be able to spin colorful stories or cast dire portends once they get the basic story in place.  In this piece, we will talk about the best way to borrow from others and how to best do it.

If a piece of work appeals to you, chances are that you can bring it into your game.  The first step is to identify what appealed to you about that story in the first place.   Did you enjoy the tension as the teenagers made their way through the haunted house in a horror movie?  Try to isolate what made you sit at the end of your seat – the lack of light, the strange noises in the dark, the gothic interior.  You want to identify the specific aspects of the story that spoke to you and figure out how to apply them to whatever genre you are currently playing.   The villain in that spy thriller could easily be the next nemesis for your players in a fantasy game if you can key into what connected to you in the first place.   I recently purchased a book because I randomly opened a page and read one line: “And she never saw him again.”  I really want to find a way to bring that kind of foreshadowing into my next game, whatever the setting.

Once you have pulled out the critical elements of the plot, characters, or setting that interest you, now you will roll them around in your head to put in your own spin on it.  This step is important for two reasons.  First, any story you create should come from you.  In the same way I always modify a published scenario to fit my tastes, you’ll want to do the same with someone else’s creations.  Second, you never know if your players will have seen the same book or film and it is hard to pull off a twist ending if someone has already experienced it.  Even after I’ve contorted a story plot a good distance from where it began, I’ll often have a player say “That reminded me of…..”.  I have a pretty good idea of what media my weekly player groups consume but in a convention setting you never know who is going to sit at your table.   Sure, that issue of Conan may have been published 40 years ago but in this digital world the player sitting next to you might have downloaded just last week.

As a final note, it probably goes without saying but if you are going appropriate someone else’s work it should only be for private entertainment.  You don’t want a situation where you put your “brand new work” on the internet and get a cease-and-desist order from a media company trying to defend their intellectual property rights.   Now go out there and figure out how to bring the elements of your favorite episode of Battlestar Galactica or the latest book by Stephen King into your D&D game.

Media Inspiration: Stranger Things 2 by Matt Wheeler

The Review:

The Duffer Brothers tread a lot of familiar ground in Stranger Things Season 2: a geeky kid and he's in mortal peril, threatened by a supernatural being from The Upside-Down; his mom erects an elaborate DIY project in her living room to help him out; the only people with any real idea about how to stop the monster are the kids who've read the Monster Manual. I did worry that perhaps the Duffer Brothers were running out of ideas already. I hope that is not the case, because overall, I really liked the sequel season, even if some of its tropes were already feeling a little tired. It would be easy to say that season 2 is a weaker version of season 1, but somehow (save for a handful of moments) it all seems to work.

As Inspiration:

What makes Stranger Things 2 really work is the villain. The “Mind Flayer” is a looming presence in the background, pulling the strings and affecting the world from afar. That the monster is some 10 story tall spider in The Upside-Down is as irrelevant as it is far from the normal physical manifestation of its namesake squid headed abomination. What is important is that it is  a very real presence that looms over the protagonists and all they do. Take notes: your big bad villain need not ever be physically present to mess with and scare the characters. Your big bad villain doesn't even need to speak. But if so, how do the protagonists understand how to undermine your villain's plans and ultimately defeat them? Perhaps wisdom passed down through the ages or found in a dusty book in someone's basement. Stranger Things 2 provides much that can be mined for how to present such a threat to your PCs.

Welcome to our Blog

Welcome to our Blog!

Just the Beginning

Hey gang, great news! We’ve got a great new blog starting up where we will try to get a gaming article to you all every week or so. Our very own published author and Game Master, Ian Eller, will be heading the project along with our Media Vixen, Johanna Legault.

There will be hints and ideas to make your gaming experiences better written by our very own Game Masters and staff! Every week a different one of our crew will pen some cool info about their own experiences, about ideas for games, plot points, world creation, all kinds of stuff. We hope to have something to interest everyone!

We hope you enjoy our new blog, please feel free to give us some feedback, we welcome the discourse and discussion!

Thanks, Scott