Monday, September 17, 2018

More Tricks of the GM Trade

Here is another set of tricks of the grade for the GM from Stephen Chenault of Troll Lord games:

This is the 6th in our ongoing tips and tricks for GMs. Periodically we will send out these little nuggets written by Master GM Stephen Chenault.


Being a GM, DM, or CK is a tricky business. You must be able to think on the fly, keep people engaged and lead them down the path to adventure. Bogged down in the minutiae? Stuck in a dungeon? It's important to lead the players to the best game they can have. That's why our CEO and founder, Stephen Chenault -- a gamer for over 40 years and CK that can keep a game of 20 plus moving smoothly -- has put together another 5 gems guaranteed to give you your best game.
#1: When you begin a game, ground it in something very relatable. Set aside the plots, backgrounds, persons and monsters and for just a moment focus on the real. For instance, you can begin the game around a well, where one of the characters is drawing up an old iron-banded wooden bucket. The rope is in tethers, but somehow holds together. A bent ladle lies on the side of the well. Any situation where people can relate is good: tavern bar, sitting on a horse, wooded lane, etc. It starts the game on a solid foundation, making the whole wild experience that is going to come a little more believable.

#2: Never allow an NPC that is helping the characters to dominate the combat. It completely robs the players of their moment. Personally, I try to avoid having NPCs join the characters in their combats. Sometime it can’t be helped as the characters may hire a cleric, wizard or some other class, expecting them to fight. But even then, do not allow the NPC to save the day and dominate any encounter. They should be background noise at best.

 #3: NPCs are a huge part of the game. Make sure you use them constantly. In towns, on roads, etc. Make the vast majority of them neutral to the characters or helpful…whether a merchant selling something or a farmer on the road giving them directions. This does several things for the game. It creates a real-world experience, as most people you meet in your daily life are not out to get you. Players become used to dealing with normal people and they don’t become so gun shy of all strangers turning every encounter into “IT’S A TRAP”. This in turn allows you to surprise the players with with the occassional, but rare, evil NPCs who actually ARE out to get the characters.
 
#4: Meta-gaming has earned a bad reputation in the RPG world, but it is not deserved. Sometimes you have to step out of the game to figure out what the players want to do next. As much as you recap last week's game at the beginning of a game (see previous email for that tip), don’t shy away from stepping out of the game and asking the players what they plan to do next.

#5: If someone does something at the table that is really unique, even if it’s a little odd, go with it. Don’t wreck unique ideas because they may seem unreasonable or aren’t supported by the rules. I watched a player once, whose ranger had been tracking a horse and rider for a while, enter the town and lose the trail. So, he tried to find them by sniffing the air, hoping to get a whiff of the horse and rider. With no particular scent ability, he should not be able to do this, but I thought, “Wow, that is really cool, thinking out of the box.” The game master said “No” without a second’s hesitation. A perfect opportunity to engage the character was lost. Even if you don’t acquiesce in their request, go with it. A better response would have been, “You pick up the scent, just faintly, so you are doubly sure the rider came to town.” The player is happy they achieved something, and are participating in the game and the other players learn to think out of the box, and to stretch their abilities.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Game Design Tips

For you wannabe game designers, Peter at Jellybean Games posted a list of 54 game design tips.  Here are the first three:

1. Most of game design is giving people systems which they can use to have fun. The rest is removing systems which they will use to avoid having fun.
2. Any card that causes players to skip a turn, undoes their last move, or prevents them from being able to take cool actions may as well just read “Have less fun.” Avoid. You never need it.
3. It doesn’t matter if another, popular game does it – your game is going to be competing against current and future games. The standards are higher. Cut your mechanics which are causing negative experiences.

You can read the rest here

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Splendor Play Mat

Picked up a playmat for the Splendor game at the recent Alliance Open House and have added it to the copy in the game library for you to either use here or at home when you rent a copy of the game. If you want one for yourself, let us know and we can get one for you later in the week.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

More tricks of the GM's trade from Troll Lord Games



Being a GM, DM, or CK is a tricky business. You must be able to think on the fly, keep people engaged and lead them down the path to adventure. Bogged down in the minutiae? Stuck in a dungeon? It's important to lead the players to the best game they can have. That's why our CEO and founder, Stephen Chenault -- a gamer for over 40 years and CK that can keep a game of 20 plus moving smoothly -- has put together another 5 gems guaranteed to give you your best game.
#1: This is going to sound kind of weird. But when running the game you are going to make notes, so be sure to make them legible. Take the extra 2 seconds. I rarely do and my notes are a jumbled mess of stuff I can hardly read. I’m constantly having to compare notes with one of my players, Mac Golden (we’ve been gaming together since ’84, co-creator of Castles & Crusades), to figure out what I wrote 7 weeks ago, because I can’t read my hand writing (see image).

#2: Two of the best ways to toughen a monster are increased AC and damage reduction. Characters at mid to high level can deal an extraordinary amount of damage. A high AC mitigates that and makes the encounter challenging. Far more enjoyable is damage reduction. Knowing they are hitting a monster, but that it has survived the terrible storm, makes players begin to question the very actions they are taking. Don't hesitate to adjust AC or add damage reduction.
#3: If you are running a campaign, which I almost always do, you will probably have to recap the previous week’s game. Try to keep the recaps very short. I try to never recap more than 3 minutes. This isn’t always possible. Some players may have missed the last game. Some just can’t remember what went on or they have other things going on that distract them from the game (like Ferris Bueller said, “Life comes at you fast”). If it’s going to take very long, turn the recap over to the players, pick one player and ask them what their character did, the others will almost inevitably join in. This serves three purposes: 1) recaps nicely 2) and this is the most important….it involves the players in a Q/A so you don’t dominate the table for the first 30 minutes of the game and 3) allows you a few minutes to get some last-minute notes done. As a complete side note, if YOU can’t remember what went on, it will save you the embarrassment.
#4: Healing should not be a passive act. Describe it much as you would a battle description. “You have to grab the flesh and pinch it together, the blood wells up and around your hand, soaking your garments. You breathe the blessings of your god across the wound and the flesh mends, though it is mottled blue and black from the terrible bruising.” After you’ve done this a few times, players will get into the spirit of things and you can turn the action over to them. Then you can ask, “What do you do to heal them…?”

#5: When a game is going bad and you are losing the interest of the players, bring in an encounter. Make it sudden and fast. This should not be a punitive encounter, it is not vindictive or to punish the players for not paying attention. After all, the fault is yours, you lost them or bored them. Use the encounter to get everyone’s attention and get their adrenaline pumping. Nothing brings someone back to the table like “Roll for initiative.” Keep it fun, but dangerous.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Gencon Incident

A shoving incident involving the President of GAMA has escalated to the point that a police report has been filed. No word yet as to whether charges will be filed. Here is the official GAMA board statement on the incident and here is GAMA President and Iello Head Stephan Brissaud' statement.

And then there is this: The GAMA board has opted not to renew the contract of GAMA Executive Director John Ward

Friday, August 24, 2018

4 More Tricks of the Trade

Stephen Chenault, of Troll Lord Games, presents 4 more ways to improve your game as the DM:

Being a GM, DM, or CK is a tricky business. You must be able to think on the fly, keep people engaged and lead them down the path to adventure. Bogged down in the minutiae? Stuck in a dungeon? It's important to lead the players to the best game they can have. That's why our CEO and founder, Stephen Chenault -- a gamer for over 40 years and CK that can keep a game of 20 plus moving smoothly -- has put together another 5 gems guaranteed to give you your best game.
#1: Liven up your combat. Key words can go a long way. For example, you might suffer 1d8 points of damage from the club or the blow to their shield may have driven the iron of it back into your nose and cheek, lacerating the flesh and as the shield arm numbs from the blow the taste of blood seeps into your mouth.
 
#2: RPGs are not just about dungeons. Dungeons are in RPGs. Overland adventures allow you far more control over the game, its pace, tone and direction. In dungeons you are limited to direction, terrain and encounters. There are none of those limitations outdoors. Terrain changes, weather changes, encounters can be wild and varied. Dungeons can be fun, but they can drag out and allow you little room to maneuver.
 
#3: It’s really best to establish a procedure at the table. I generally run combat rounds from my right to left. After a few minutes everyone knows what to expect and who I am about to call on. Not only does this bring order to the table and allow people time to think and prepare reactions, study abilities, etc. but it also allows the GM even more control as you can, without warning, shake up the order. At times you’ll need to go out of order as something happens to a character to the left first. Whether it is necessary, or something you do to shake things up, going out of order serves two purposes a) it can quickly draw someone who is bored back to the table and b) creates a heightened level of suspense as most players, already used to the structure, pay attention to figure out why things are suddenly out of order.
 
#4: Allow players to roll initiative each round, no matter what the rules call for. It makes the combat unpredictable, allowing chance to play an even greater roll, and gives one more opportunity for an exciting, battle-changing roll. It also gives the player even more to do at the table. And, as always, rolling dice is just plain fun and rolling initiative 10 times in a combat as opposed to one is that much more fun.

#5: Be fluid at the table. Be ready to adjust the scenario quickly. Move terrain you had pre-planned, change NPC personalities you had pre-planned. Characters who go into an encounter expecting X will be thrown off guard and secretly surprised when they encounter Y. This goes for role playing to actual mechanics. Changing the order of play as noted in #3 above is a good example of this. But far beyond that, be able to shift gears according to player characters.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

4 Reasons to Play RPGs

Four Reasons Why You (and Your Kids) Should Play D&D Or Other RPGS

Such as Runequest or Tunnels and Trolls or Star Wars or Spirt of the Century or Adventure Maximus. Why  is pretty well summed up in this article that ran in The Hollywood Reporter back in 2016.  I happened to run across it again while looking for the recent interview Steven Colbert conducted with Joe Manganiello, ostensibly over Manganiello’s new Death Saves clothing line but which deviated into a discussion of whether rolling 3 d6 or 4 d6 is preferable when rolling up a character (It’s 4D6 if you are in my game) and probably the longest discussion about D&D on late night TV, as least as far as I know.
Anyhow, the Hollywood Reporter article points out three reasons why  people in the entertainment industry gravitated to D&D and why playing or running it (or any tabletop RPG for that matter) can help you or your kids:
1.        Worldbuilding and What-if scenarios.  D. B. Weiss, showrunner for Game of Thrones, says playing D&D was perfect preparation for the world building necessary for creating the sprawling storylines that GOT encompasses.  Every session, he as the DM had to develop worlds in which his players could adventures and run through dozens of What-if scenarios in his head as he had to prepare for the likelihood that his players would do something completely different than what he had prepared, opting to venture into the dark woods instead of the intricately designed castle dungeon looming before them (something every game master has had happen to them). Meanwhile, Pendleton Ward, the mind behind Adventure Time, credits his years playing D&D, with its monsters with their unique instincts and motivations and habitats, as a huge influence in creating the Land of Ooo.
2.       Storytelling—David Beinoff, also a showrunner for Game of Thrones, credits D&D with honing his storytelling skills, learning through practice what hooks an audience and what sent them nodding off.  Even today, if the story the game master tells is engaging, the players stay riveted on their words. Lose their attention, and players pull out their smartphones and start scrolling through their Instagram feeds. A good story can keep players sitting around the table for hours and thousands more watching on various Twitch feeds, as Critical Role does.
3.       Acting and Improvisation—Mike Drucker, a writer on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, says that playing D&D “makes you think on your feet and commit”.  At its best, when the gamemaster is not simplify reading material from a prepared scenario, a game transforms into a session of improvisational theater with players responding to what the gamemaster says and the gamemaster then riffing on the responses from the players.
Socialization—Deborah Ann Woll, one of the stars of NetFlix’ Daredevil implies this when she said, in response to plans for yet another D&D movie:  “The adventures I’ve had in Dungeons & Dragons will always be more exciting than anything they could put on a screen “because it was me and I lived it, and it was spontaneous. That’s just always going to be more exciting.”  The interaction among players helps draw players out of their shells and interact with others. Dozens of parents over the years have told me how much their kids loved playing D&D and other RPGS and how doing so helped them learn to deal with other people