Friday, November 9, 2018

GMTricks of the Trade

Another in the series of GM Tricks of the 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: When starting a new campaign, or a running a convention game, or even a one-shot adventure, keep the goals of the adventure relatively simple. Players, especially new players, are going to need a little time to adjust to the new game (even if it’s the same RPG), the setting, in some cases the rules -- and in others your style of play. They have new characters with new backgrounds and personalities, etc. Keeping it simple allows them time to get a grip on what they want to see and how they want to play the character. Simple goals include small dungeons (4-5) rooms, travel from point A to point B, an escort adventure, hunting a monster or brigand. Now, all that said, it behooves you to introduce elements for a larger game that is coming in sessions in the future.

#2: With #1 above in mind-- When you are running a long campaign, try to avoid making ‘save the world’ the game’s focus. If you are going that route, that’s great, just plan to have hosts of games in the middle that have little or nothing to do with saving the world. It gives everyone a break from mission-oriented games, makes many stories, and allows for level and treasure acquisition.

#3: Occasionally you’ll have players that want to correct you, or at least “help” you understand the rules a little better. These players, whether well intentioned or not, are often a bit troublesome. I’ve found that little good comes out of arguing with them. I often take note of their comment and calmly respond with “there’s more going on here than you aware of” or perhaps “I look at that a little differently”. Make eye contact, direct the comment to them, and make sure everyone can hear it. Be consistent and don’t give in. The vast majority of people stop after a while, usually because they think you are just doing it wrong and are beyond help, and you can get on with the game. Arguing is just going to bog it all down and cut everyone else out of the game for 20 minutes while you resolve the situation. It’s important to note however, to not linger on the person. Make your comment and move on immediately.
#4: Give ‘em a death swing. When they are dying and all is lost give them one last shot at glory. We are talking negative 10 death. When the character cannot be saved, the damage is done, the hit points bludgeoned out, tell ‘em to take one more swing. It doesn’t change their fate, but it allows them to go out in glory…or to utterly miss and make things a little worse, but at least they can try. Give ‘em a death swing.

#5: Use player input, and if their idea is better than yours, go for it. I once had characters passing through a large tunnel that was guarded by some mythic beast chained to a wall. The wall was decorated with the faces of the dead. My plan was to have the characters use brute strength to force their way through in an epic battle. But mid-catastrophe (they were getting hammered) one of them decided that the faces of the dead on the wall were the creature’s source of power and began destroying them. I thought to myself, well that’s just wicked cool, and went with it! They never knew until later of course, but it didn’t take away from the moment. It was just too cool. It’s why I’ve said, though I created the world of Aihrde and wrote the Codex of Aihrde, it wasn’t done in a vacuum. Inspiration came from a host of sources and all the players at my table.

Follow these simple rules when interacting with your group and you will be assured a great game night, every night.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Free Comics for Election Day

Since we believe strongly in people voting, com into the store on Election Day wearing your "I voted" sticker and we will give you a free comic from the stack we have behind the counter. Vote early, but only vote once. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

GM Tricks and Tips

Courtesy of 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: Big games with large numbers of players require a great deal of energy. Keeping up with all the players can be difficult and often your attention is consumed by only a few. Try to keep an eye on the whole table, even while role playing with one or two players. If you see someone disengaging, looking at their phone, or just looking about, get their attention with a hand gesture and make eye contact. I usually look at them, get their attention and hold my finger up in a “wait one sec” gesture. Turn back to the players at hand, but don’t let it go on very long. A minute at most. Break it off with a simple “Okay, while you are doing that” and turn back to the disengaged player and engage them with an equally simple “While that is going on, what are you doing?”

#2: Use magic. It's easy to forget that magic is a huge part of the story because we define it in game terms with mechanics (whatever those may be). Try to bring a magical feel to the game through terrain descriptions, psychic feelings, what players see and hear. Examples include 1) they stumble across pools of magic gathered like a mist; 2) a vision that allows them to momentarily see into another plane; 3) A creature cloven with axe and shield does not bleed, but the cuts reveal nothing but flesh or empty space. It's an easy habit to get out of, but once you bring magical effects to the table, it makes the world and adventure that much more fun.

 #3: When running continuous games, or campaigns, not one offs, try to mix up your timing. Not long ago, I found myself in a deep rut that developed after several years. Our games were shorter and I felt compelled to hit certain elements that included a recap, opening journey, target, action, close. Rinse and Repeat. After a while it became very predictable and boring. To solve it I began treating each 3-hour game as a part of a larger 12-hour session. There was no obvious break in the time. We stopped at midnight and where we stopped is where we picked up next week. It didn’t matter where (though I avoided stopping in the middle of a combat or role playing sessions). This made for several games where there was no action. Some games where there was only action. At times the adventure has ended by 9 pm with 3 hours left to play and we were moving on to the next adventure (whatever that may be). It’s made the game far less predictable and more fun as no one can predict what is happening next.
#4: When prepping for a game try to make a general outline. Just a loose series of notes of what you want to happen and what encounters are planned. Players are extremely innovative and solve problems in the wildest ways. Keeping a script that you are wanting to follow is a recipe for frustration and confusion. Adjust the outline as circumstances develop.

#5: Look for adventure everywhere. In movies, comics, novels, walks in the park, feeding your dog, people in a cross walk. Once you begin seeing the potential excitement that can unfold from almost any everyday event, you’ll be able to react to players and their reactions almost anywhere and anytime. Furthermore, it will allow you to adjust quickly to games that go off your outline and into the wild blue yonder. After awhile you’ll find you can shoehorn an adventure into an overall campaign arc with little problem.

Monday, October 29, 2018


It really helps a store to judge how much of a product to order if you put in an pre-order. We really fly blind as far as ordering stuff without pre-orders. D&D books, HeroClix, Warhammer items, we can get a pretty good feel for what will sell locally but something new, say like Folklore or KeyForge or Transformers, we have no idea what will sell, unless we get people in requesting it or even better asking for pre-orders for it so we have a handle on how much to get. Right now, since we have no pre-orders for KeyForge, we are going comparatively light on it, compared to some stores which are ordering dozens or even hundreds of copies. Help us to make sure we have the games (and comics) you want on release by letting us know you want them.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Evil Hat Cuts Back

Evil Hat Productions announced this week that it is cutting back on both its production schedule and staff. Citing the publication of too many games that have not performed as expected, the company will postpone or take off the schedule a dozen or so upcoming projects. Also the company will let go of its Heads of Marketing and Business Development and Senior Art Director.

There are wayyyyy too many game releases coming out, both through regular channels of distribution, ie. us, and through direct to consumer platforms like Kickstarter for the current market to absorb. Monthly, we see something on the order of 200 plus solicitations for new games and supplements , not to mention all of the current releases. The market, as it is, cannot absorb so much product in such a short period of time. There is a vast market out there but the tabletop gaming industry needs to work to get into it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

How to make Art for Card Games

In case you are interested how game companies design their cards and include the art, here is an overview from Stonemeier Games:

Games like Shards of Infinity and Ascension are deck-building games which means they have lots of cards and therefore require lots of art. This art is all original, and only a few characters/monsters make it from one game to the next - you spend a lot of time makin' stuff up. 

When you’re developing art for a card game you have about 50+ pieces of art that need to be made, several artists to manage, and deadlines.

At Stone Blade, the process looks like this: Once we have the big picture mechanics and story locked down, it's time to start working on character briefs.

Character Briefs are little blurbs that artists use to create their art.

Once you have a bunch of these briefs written up, they're sent off to the artists. Generally, we look at the briefs and pick the artist who we believe will execute the piece best.

In other words, maybe you have one artist who is great at creating monsters, and another who's awesome at designing heroes in action, you'd send the monster to the monster person and the action to the action person. Sometimes we switch it up for fun because throwing a wrench into your process every once in a while can drum up new ideas, but most of the time this is how we do things.

And then you get the sketches back--

What you imagined when you wrote the brief and the art you get back doesn't always match up and that's part of the fun. If you get too attached to what your perspective of a piece of art should look like, you're going to be in for a lot of disappointment, because it's a sad reminder that you are not telepathic.

If you want to get a taste for what the brief to sketch process feels like, try this quick experiment:

Read the character brief below and imagine what this character looks like, then scroll down to check out the sketches at the end of the newsletter. How much alike or different the character is that the one you imagined? 
Rue Bo Vai wears black power armor that is pieced together all over her body. She is more human than most Wraethes. Her head and hands burn with pink/purple Wraethe energy. Under the flames, her skin looks smooth and pitch black. There are a few burning symbols etched into the skin. She's holding an Order monk in the air with one hand, staring him in the eyes. He looks terrified. She looks calm.
As you and the artist learn to communicate better, the work you get back should start to be an awesome mix of both your imaginations.

Once we have the sketches there are several rounds of notes and tweaks that bring the card to their finished form. Adaptability is key here: Can you see the potential in any piece of art you get back? What changes to the sketches would get you to that goal?

Even if the piece isn't exactly what you envisioned, its best to work with the artist to tweak the design if possible rather than starting over. This is done by talking to the artists and being strategic with your edits. It's wild to see how the change of a color or the slight adjustment of an arm can affect an image.

Then the card is done, but your work is not over. The next part of the process is looking at the card and saying: If I had to go through the art process for this card again, how would I have done it differently? 

The answer to this question is specific to the way you and each individual artist work together. Here are a few examples of changes you might make:
  • Maybe it means adding more details about the character's personality.
  • Maybe it means describing the pose before getting into the details of the costume. 
  • Maybe it means writing a little less or writing a little more. 
  • Maybe it means adding a bit of the character's role in the story into the description.
I've found all of these to be true at one time or another with the artists I've worked with. Asking this question helps me improve my ability to adapt to imaginative differences and work together with the artists to create consistently cool art.

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.