Thursday, October 29, 2015

Running One Shots

With a group this big, it's best to keep things moving fast. (Art by Madam-Marla
One-shots are a fun way to introduce a new system, or run as a convention-style game. A one shot game session is defined as a single adventure that is self-contained as opposed to being part of a longer campaign. A one shot could be extended two a second or third session, but should not take much longer than that. One shots for conventions are almost always a single session.

Running a game like this can be tricky. You are required to be expedient and efficient. You are working under a timetable for your players complete their mission. In some cases you might not be able to reassemble the same group for another session, so you will want to give them a satisfying resolution in one session. It's certainly do-able, and much easier if you follow these simple guidelines:

Build the adventure with a three act structure. 

Build your adventure with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Have at least one memorable and impacting encounter for each of these stages. The beginning encounter should be simple and good for introducing the game mechanics to new players, the second encounter should bring the players into the story proper and raise the stakes... And the third should be the spectacular climax to the adventure. Consider switching things up between combat encounters, exploration, or social encounters for each of these sections. Even using this format each time, you will be surprised at how unique each adventure can be when you include unique scenes and types of encounters.

Find out how much time you will have to run the game and divide these acts into a rough schedule, so you know approximately when to transition to each scene. For instance, you might budget an hour of time for each of the three acts. Always give yourself a bit of leeway on this timetable, because nothing ever goes precisely according to plan. Leave thirty minutes or more of your playtime unaccounted for, so you can use that extra time to wrap things up or extend scenes that need more time.

Consider starting characters in media rez, or in the middle of an adventure in progress. Let them learn the ropes by starting out in the heat of battle against a nefarious foe, or during a frantic chase scene. This helps get the players involved in the game immediately, and smooths over the possibility of a rocky start.

Keep it linear.

This doesn't mean to keep it boring. In an earlier entry I have provided notes to help with running games that don't diverge much from a particular script. What I'm saying here is that you need to keep things from getting off course and taking a lot of time. Let the players do what they want, but direct the action back towards the conclusion. Your players don't have a lot of time to wander like you would in a full campaign, so you need to do your best to keep things on point.

Explain the rules once and keep it moving.

You might have players at the table from a wide range of experience levels. You probably won't have time to run through a complete explanation of the game rules before you begin. So instead, teach as the game progresses. Consider the first scene a tutorial level for those who might not be as familiar with the system. The first time something happens in the game, always explain how the game mechanic works in a clear, concise manner. Also let the players know what their options are when they are ready to take action. A little friendly coaching with rookie players can go a long way. There's no need to rush anyone, either... if a player is unsure what to do next, offer to let them hold their turn until later, and let another player take an action. This gives the first player more time to carefully consider their move without holding up the game. 

Don't spend time quibbling over the rules during a one shot. Keep the game simple and swift, and avoid wasting valuable time flipping through books. Keep the game lean and mean, with a strong focus on getting things done rather than getting all the rules correct. You want the players to have a sense of progress and accomplishment when your adventure concludes. If the group has a good time, they may very well be interested in a more detailed ongoing campaign, and then you can really cut loose with some more elaborate plans and encounters.

I hope these techniques will be of use in running your own one shot tabletop scenarios, thanks for reading and happy ventures!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Rulebook Familiarity

Some rules are worth memorizing
It can be very difficult to find time to read all the material to prepare for a campaign. Rulebooks of several hundred pages can seem daunting to tackle before running a game session. But learning a new game doesn't have to be an arduous task. Reading and preparation can be part of the fun for game masters, and is necessary for running a really fun campaign that your players can build a strong connection with. After you acquire a game and before you run it, there are a few things you should do so that you're not fumbling for the book when the game begins.

Decide how many times you can read the core rules.

Before running a game that you have not run before, I recommend reading the core books twice (the basic rulebook, players guide, or GM guide.) The first reading being a detailed one, paying special attention to the content and committing some of it to memory.  The second reading is a skimming of the text, skipping over less important bits and focusing more on whatever you feel uncertain about. If you don't have the free time, this second read through can be postponed, but you want to be sure that you collect some very good notes for reference (more on that later.)

Being a player requires less reading than running one. If you join a game as a player it can also help you interpret a lot of what you are reading through actual experience. If you get the chance to do this, it can really help make the learning process easier as well.

Learn the Core Mechanic inside and out.

Every game system has a core mechanic, a basic outline for how an in-game action is executed and resolved. It might involve adding a pair of numbers and comparing them to a target value, or it might involve playing cards or building blocks. It might involve rolling higher or lower than a target number. However it is built, it is the most important part of the game. It is the answer to the question "how do I do things in this game?"

A core mechanic will have many rules associated with it, so you want to know  these rules in great detail. Know all the different modifiers and exceptions that could effect the dice-rolling or how the basic actions are performed in the game world.

There are many rules that can be adjusted and retrofitted to the particular needs of your gaming group, but if you drastically alter the core mechanic, you're negating your own choice of gaming system.

Have the most important rules on hand when you run a game. 

I like to switch up game systems a lot, which means that I don't always have time to read through the books as thoroughly as I would like. I prefer to read through the core books entirely at least once, but there are times when even that might be difficult. That's why I always keep a detailed GM screen or reference sheets on hand when running a game.

In extreme cases, I allot myself about a half minute to a minute of flipping through rulebooks to reference something in particular. Any more than that risks killing the momentum, but I like to remain as consistent as possible with my execution of the rules so that the players can interact with them in a way that seems fair and balanced. There will occasionally be an instance where a player is more familiar with the rules than the GM. The player should still remain respectful of the game master and adhere to their rulings on the matter of the game mechanics. However, this is why it is so important for the game master to make a legitimate effort on their own part to know the rules as well as they can. A player can't help but be frustrated if there are numerous mistakes in a game, even if they politely abide by them. Be empathetic of players and try to take the time to correct anything you might be missing in your game running whenever you have the chance. (And of course don't let anyone bully you with their greater knowledge of the rules. Everybody has to learn sometime, there's no reason to make someone feel bad about it.)

Of course, some groups prefer to leave the books alone altogether during gameplay, and resolve any uncertainty about the rules through on-the-spot judgment calls.  This is a very valid approach, and may be best for your group if it tends to get bogged down with page-flipping and debates. Just remember to establish some kind of standard for correcting an error in future sessions so that you don't surprise your players by changing up the rules out of nowhere. And remember that part of the reason for learning the rules is so you can know how to bend them, or alter them as needed. It's better to understand when you are diverging from the rulebook than to bluff your way through a game session without reading it.

And remember this advice from West End's Star Wars sourcebooks.
Don't waste time studying what you don't need.

There is still a small subsection of information that you can gloss over even on a first reading. In some cases, the GM guide isn't even necessary to run a game. Generally, most RPGs will have a list of books required to run the game on the back cover or in the introduction. If it's not on the list, it is not technically a 'core' book and can be set aside for later reading. You can generally skip information if it is just game statistics, generic advice, or ideas and inspiration for campaigns. You don't need to browse through all the character classes or monster statistics either.

That's not to say this info isn't important or useful, but it's not as pressing for you to learn as the other content in the books.  If you have to learn the game in a hurry, you can leave out some of the extra fluff and stats that you won't need right away. Use your judgement to decide what you need to know right away.

Preparation like this is how you show your players you care about running a good game for them, and keep your campaign running smoothly on track. It is also a good rule of thumb to apply to any endeavor. If you're going to do something, it is most satisfying to to do it correctly and with a strong effort. Don't stress about preparation, just set aside a little bit of time to do it and keep these recommendations in mind when hitting the books. Soon you'll be an expert at the game table, and one heck of a game-runner!

Happy ventures!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Using Random Tables and Generators

Via Rich Burlew, Giant in the Playground
Random tables (charts that associate dice roll values with specific concepts) are a great way to add a layer of unpredictablity to your game. When they are implemented in the right way, that is. If overused, or included without a strong purpose, they can also make things very boring. The art of rolling on random tables is based around knowing why you are using one in the first place.

Background Details

One of the simplest reasons for using a random table is for when you need to decide on a superficial characteristic that won't have a strong impact on the game itself. Things that are relatively innocuous but still add to the immersive fun of the game world, like the appearance of an NPC or the name of a local shop. Random tables can help you save a lot of muss and fuss by preventing you from having to wrack your mind for specific details when they aren't so important. You can find a lot of digital random generators of this kind on this very cool web site.

Random Encounters

Random encounter tables also have their uses, but are the most misunderstood variants of all. These tables should never be mandatory, and should be properly balanced for the needs of your play group.You don't want a "Wandering Monster" table that will drop an army of hill giants upon your low level players, unless you have a way for your players to approach such a situation without being destroyed in combat (Just as a pair of kobolds would be a poor match for your epic-level campaign.) 

Typically, random encounters exist to fill time and increase the average challenge level of a dungeon. By causing the players to expend some resources in the form of HP damage or using up ammunition, random encounters can balance out the difficulty of a level without forcing you to redesign your set pieces on the fly. Is the party a bit too fresh to find the final boss a threat? Throw a pack of spider warriors their way, or roll up a skeleton squad instead. Just remember that you are never beholden to random tables, and you have the option of avoiding them entirely if you so wish.

Another reason for using these random generators is simply for randomizing the order or implementation of prepared encounters.

For instance, I once ran a race for my players comprised of ten separate encounters. I mapped them out in flow chart form, but left each point of the map blank. Then I rolled on a chart made up of all ten encounter types and assigned each map point its own encounter. Which means that the encounters were pre-made but assigned to random places on the map.

In another instance, I prepared about five major encounters for a naval voyage. I knew that the group would only have time for one or two during a session, so I used a random table to determine which encounter to use whenever they triggered one. These encounters included a mermaid attack and an unscrupulous merchant. I also used a table to determine how far they traveled between encounters so that the voyage wouldn't seem regimented and monotonous. Finally, I rolled for weather conditions, which would be an overall superficial choice of the kind I described earlier.

The players shouldn't be at risk of major catastrophe or victory based on a mandatory random roll.  Those kinds of moments should grow from their choices and interactions with the primary plot points and encounters of your campaign.

Source of Inspiration

Finally, there are times when you are just plain out of ideas for a game, and need something to stimulate your imagination. Random tables can be used as a starting point for some very cool campaign ideas. You can find many tables online full of story ideas for many tabletop settings. It's a great way to jump start your creativity and overcome writers block! Just remember to elaborate on whatever you end up with and personalize it for yourself and your play group.

Don't let any random encounter seem truly random, and you might not even want to let the players know that you rolled for it. A few fake rolls and misdirection at key points will prevent players from ever guessing when you are rolling dice for real!

Whether its to flesh out your map, to add uniqueness to the setting, or just to get the ball rolling on your next campaign, random generation can be a very useful tool for your games. Hopefully this entry has given you some great ideas for how to include them in your next tabletop escapade. Happy ventures!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Things to Consider When Creating Campaign Settings

Setting the scene for your campaign is step one...
The campaign setting is a key choice that will shape the style and storyline of your tabletop campaign. Some game masters spend an exceptional amount of time crafting a detailed world with its own lore, geography, and ecology. Others choose to select from a number of settings designed by writers and game makers. Either way is fine, but remember that the setting is just a starting point. If you have more fun creating the world than having the players interact with it and change it, then you would probably enjoy another form of writing, like short stories. But if you design your fictional world as a stage for your players to step onto, then you are truly thinking like a game-runner.

When either creating your own setting or adapting someone else's one thing to consider is that your players don't necessarily care about the same details that you might. While you might be very eager to expound on the coin exchange rates between kingdoms or the history of bad blood between the local goblin tribes, you needn't take offense if your players don't share your enthusiasm. Remember that whatever information you add to the setting is for the benefit of their player, and if they don't explore that particular avenue that's all right. The interests of your audience still supersede that of the DM, so keep enjoying the creative process while you present the players with only the material that they actively seek out and show interest in.

Don't get married to your ideas about the setting strictly based on pre-written notes. The players might present a golden opportunity to make a key change that you had not previously considered. As long as it doesn't contradict the facts that you have established about your setting, it can be altered organically to serve a better story. Players would much rather let you diverge from your notes if it means a better playing experience. A DM shouldn't blame their own notes or rules or rolls for a bad session. There are always ways to fix those issues that can still result in at least a fairly fun game. A bad game comes from difficult dynamics between participants or an inability to make make adjustments on the fly. Recognize issues and fix them, even when it comes to the most fundamental aspects of your game setting.

Remember not to include a lot of elements in the setting that will overshadow your PCs. NPCs of higher levels than your players only serve to make them seem insignificant and can become frustrating. Remember that this is your players' story, not your own. Plan accordingly. You might even design parts of your own setting after character creation, using your players' character concepts as a springboard for your own ideas. Making the setting more collaborative in this manner is a great way to ensure your players will be invested in the story you present.

Having a lot of detail in your setting is one way to keep things interesting, especially for exploration

Above all, make sure your setting is one that excites and interests you. Your players might ask you unexpected questions and you may have to make up some answers on the spot. Being invested in your own work means that you will want to engage in conversations about it, and at it's core that is exactly what a game session is. A conversation with your players that you will both enjoy if you share a strong interest in the subject.

Finally, having a lot of notes about the setting might take a bit of extra prep time, but it pays big dividends. If you know a lot of details about your game setting, it gives you more to draw from. It gives you more opportunity to adapt and change. It gives you more answers for your players. It gives you a stronger grasp on the nature of the world in which the characters exist. And it can be a lot of fun to invent and share as well!

In a future entry we will delve deeper into this, with advice for adapting existing campaign settings. But for right now, I hope you enjoyed these musings on world-building for your play group. Happy ventures!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

RPG Lessons Learned From Miyazaki

This video by Channel Criswell deconstructs the works of respected animation artist Hayao Miyazaki, and the means by which he captured the most evocative aspects of humanity and emotion in his productions. What does this have to do with tabletop gaming? Well, for those who are more interested in the storytelling aspect of role playing games could benefit greatly from the lessons found in this director's body of work. These methods of artistic expression are skillful means of storytelling that can easily be applied to any creative medium. The discussion of his approach to characters and settings is especially relevant to the creative world of the tabletop. 

Of particular note for players are the concepts of very simple, relatable motivations for characters and allowing them to have natural emotional responses. Keeping this in mind will help you create and play out some very evocative and personal storylines that will be fun for yourself and your fellow players.

For DMs, these same principles also apply when crafting non player characters and immersive storylines for your players. They represent qualities that should be sought and and cultivated among your players, and the kind of characteristics that add a lot of depth to the performance of any particular role. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Friend or Foe? The End of Adversarial Game Mastery

Image from Zero Charisma, Tribeca Films
Winning and Losing

If you have spend enough time on tabletop web sites or fan communities, you will probably hear stories about 'killer DMs.' There are a number of memes and jokes that get passed around about DMs who wipe out the party, introduce themselves with an air of doom, or launch impossible encounters against the players when angered. But honestly, this is a simplistic and flawed interpretation of the DMs role that is now being more widely challenged and dismissed as the modern community re-evaluates how these games are meant to be played. 

The idea of the DM as a force in opposition to the players is just another variant to the notion that a game needs direct competition between competitors to be fun. Tabletop RPGs by their very nature have no 'winners' or 'losers' but a shared experience and series of challenges to overcome. If you view the DM as actively working against the players, trying deliberately to defeat and destroy them, you now have a game that can be won by one side or the other. The DM wins by destroying them, the players win by frustrating the DM's efforts.  

When did this happen? During a discussion on the tabletop podcast Potelbat from the Mad Adventurers' Society, they posited that idea of the adversarial DM really caught on with the advent of the DM screen. The screen is a looming sinister wall that can easily create the psychological effect of cutting off players and DM, concealing who knows what and drawing a line between the two sides. 

But this is all a misconception based on a premise that makes no sense if you think about it. The DM is technically unrestricted by any rules or parameters. They can build their own adventure, and create their own encounters. They call for the rolls and ajudicate any penalties and modifiers. If their goal is destroy or defeat the players, they have already won. They can do that at any time because it is within their power to drop an unstoppable lich upon their party or simply declare "rocks fall, everyone dies."

The Role of the Dungeon Master

This is why game mastering should be cooperative rather than adversarial. This is not to say that the game runner should cowtow to the players' every whim, but their goal should be to entertain and challenge, not simply to defeat. If you are attempting to find ways to undermine and prevent the players from succeeding every time they take an action, you're playing out an anti-social fantasy of wielding power over others rather than running the game properly.  

You are not there to fight your players. You are not there to play a spiteful god in a world of your own creation. In fact, a DM is never a "god." They are the chairman, the director, the tour guide to the world of the players' adventure. Of course they have to be strict some times. They can't pander to the players, and sometimes they may challenge the PCs to the point of their defeat and demise. But that's because the challenge is part of their players' enjoyment. It isn't a victory for the game master when the players fail, nor is it when the players succeed. It's a victory if your players enjoy a campaign. 

Think of designers of puzzles and video games. They don't build their games to be impossible to win, nor do they hope the games are too hard to overcome. They build the games to have a satisfying balance of difficulty. They build it to be fun, so why shouldn't it be the same on the game board?

A good DM doesn't worry about what other players think of them personally, but should still attempt to cultivate a positive connection with their players. This means not singling out players for special treatment, for good or ill. This means not working against your players to undermine the success of their actions. The good game runner is happy when things become suspenseful or challenging for the players.

There is plenty of fun to be had in a game situation where life and death hangs in the balance, where defeat is a potential outcome. But don't put yourself in the situation where the person behind the screen actually wants and prefers the players to fail. A good DM has that 'DMpathy' that we always come back to, the instinct to share the kind of game that they would enjoy playing themselves. They want the players to have a good time, because that's what they would want if they were playing. That's why in this new generation of gamers, I am glad we are finally seeing an end to the idea of the Adversarial dungeon master.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Mysteries in Your Campaign

Checking out the crime scene (Sherlock, BBC)
Audiences love a good whodunnit. When it comes to your campaign, the occasional mystery can be mentally stimulating and a great opportunity for a uniquely structured game session. But managing the complexities of such a challenge and giving the players a fair chance to souse out the truth can be difficult. With this in mind, here are my top tips for running a successful caper in your own campaign!

Develop a timeline of events before you do anything else.

Throughout the game, your players will follow up on many leads in their search for the truth. Not all of these leads will bring them to the solution. In fact it is a well-known DM's adage that your players will latch onto the most inconsequential of things within a setting and believe them to be important. This means that it is best to have a big picture of everything that is going on behind the scenes so you can more clearly present the players with the sequence of events and provide them with many leads to follow. Plan out ahead of time which leads are false so that you can clearly direct the players to the correct one.

The start of this step is simple. First write down each important character that is involved in the mystery. Then decide where they were and what they were doing when the main event of your mystery occurred. Decide whether their alibi is true or false, and what part they took in the events that unfolded.

Finally, give them each a motivation of some sort. This is basically the 'probable cause' that will make them a suspect.  

It might be easiest to write this down as a table of some sort. Line up their name, alibi, and description of their role and motive. I first saw this explained in an article from Dragon Magazine by Wizards of the Coast (Issue #426), and this technique has helped me in putting together my own intrigues.

Include more clues than you think you need.

This is a specific subsection of the larger rule that it's better to over-prepare than under-prepare. This especially applies to mysteries where it is easy for players and DMs to become confused or run short on ideas. Additionally, if you plan on having the players roll to notice certain clues, make sure that they aren't excessively difficult. Remember to include clues that can't be missed with a failed dice roll. You don't want a series of bad rolls to ruin any chance of solving the puzzle.

Now you should put together a list of clues and things for your players to investigate.

Be sure to have a wide variety of clues. Keep in mind what the player characters are good at, and what skills they will be putting to use during the investigation. Talking to witnesses and suspects, gathering evidence from the scene of a crime, or conducting forensic research are all possible moves that clever players might make. With these possibilites in mind, put together a bunch of clues and remember that each of them should produce some kind of useful conclusion. You probably won't need all of them, so be sure to have multiple clues that might lead to the same or similar conclusions. Include clues that rule out possible suspects, or guide the players to a location where they might find even more clues.

Rounding up the usual suspects. (Shadowrun)

Keep the clues obvious and clear.

You're going to want to avoid any ambiguity if you want your players to have the best possible chance of solving the mystery. After all, the goal of a mystery based encounter is to give the party a fun and stimulating challenge, not to stop them in their tracks or leave them stumped and defeated. As I stated previously in this entry: 

When it comes to planting clues, the simpler and more numerous the better. This isn't to say that your audience is ignorant, but once the group is around the table shouting out ideas and following their own trains of thought, you will find it will take much longer than if you had presented the same puzzle to a single player. Also, mysteries are hard to design in such a way that the solution is clear yet challenging for the players. 

Avoid subtle, circumstantial evidence. Don't be afraid to make the clues obvious. Clarity is important to keep things on track. If you're worried about a mystery being too easy, you can have NPCs require a more substantial amount of evidence to convict a culprit, or some other in-universe explanation for why the players shouldn't go straight towards accusing their suspect. If all else fails, warn players that they are missing key information if they are about to jump to a conclusion too early.

Improvise clues through actions the players take.

Finally, be flexible and patient with your players. If they choose to investigate through an avenue you had not considered, try to adapt to their choices. You might even consider adding additional clues you had not originally planned for. Don't be close-minded enough to only allow one way to approach a problem. Consider the basic facts you have already established about the mystery, and how they could be discovered through whatever methods your players are most interested in. 

Work your existing clues in by means you might not have considered at first. For instance, instead of detecting a particular scent of perfume at the scene of the crime, perhaps your players will glean this information through interrogation of a witness. Be fair, be reasonable, and be accommodating to the play style of your group.

If all else fails, don't fret. Start into the action!

If your players are still stumped and getting frustrated, don't panic. Whether it is due to excessive difficulty or lack of experience, it needn't get to the point that the players are having a bad time. Shift the focus away from the combat. If necessary, resolve the caper with a big action piece. You can present a consequence for failure to solve the mystery, but don't make the party feel bad about it. Like any plans gone awry, they can be reworked to the overall benefit of the campaign. As always, keeping everybody entertained is the core of your game.

Happy ventures!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Ten Movies That Resemble Tabletop Games!

You may have heard that Dungeons and Dragons is getting another movie treatment in the near future. There have been a number of critically unsuccessful attempts to bring the franchise to the silver screen, but this may well be the one that makes it. One big reason that it is difficult to translate the game into a cinematic experience is that there is no particular story to any pen and paper game beyond the one created by the players. Instead, a movie aimed at paying tribute to the genre should focus on recreating the dynamic of gameplay and player interaction in a fun narrative way. With this in mind, I would like to introduce my own list of movies that capture the "feel" of tabletop gaming. 

Firstly, let me break down the elements that I think are most iconic in role playing games. These are the creative choices that make a movie strongly resemble, say, a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. A movie doesn't have to include all of these elements to make the list, but these are the most commonly recognizable tropes.
  • Starring an ensemble cast of characters, each with unique talents and specialization. 
  • Delivering a sense of fantasy and wonder in a world that is unique and open to exploration. 
  • The characters develop over time, and their personalities and skills grow over this period. 
  • There is playful banter and a sense of camaraderie among the group, and they overcome challenges as a team. 
  • The characters face a wide array of obstacles that test their abilities in combat, intrigue, and guile. The characters typically follow a clearly defined mission and their adventure is based around this direct goal. 
  • The movie has a strong blend of comedy and action. 
  • The movie ends with a sense of achievement and promise of future adventure.
"Let's get this adventuring party started"
With that being said, here is a list of my first top ten movies that are like tabletop RPGs:

1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
A classic, oft reference icon of early nerd cinema. This very funny parody of Arthurian legend is one that infamously gets less entertaining as it is quoted by snarky players at the game table for the thousandth time. Still, the comedic quest with the knights of the round table, battling monsters and foes along the way, is a great example of a movie that reminds you of goofier moments playing games of Dungeons and Dragons.

2. The Lord of the Rings series
A classic Dungeons and Dragons inspiration, as we would not have the game of D&D today if not for author JRR Tolkien. The Fellowship travels through a number of epic encounters, splits the party, and completes an incredible quest. With their line up of rangers, halfling thieves, and even a wizard, the heroes from this movie could be considered the first  D&D adventuring party. In fact, one clever internet person has already depicted this in web-comic form and the results are hilarious!

3. The Princess Bride
Another supremely quotable movie that eventually ends up following a pair of swashbucklers, a giant, and a princess in a quest to defeat an evil monarch. With fantastical settings, clever contests of wits and strength, and the fact that the entire story is projected from the imagination of a child, it could just as easily be re-imagined as somebody's particularly humorous game night. The frequent anachronisms serve to make the comparison even more fitting!

4. The Fast and the Furious franchise
This one might seem like an odd choice at first, but this quote, originally attributed to a SomethingAwful forum user, makes it clear why this goes on the list. *Strong language warning*
It's also explicitly a D&D campaign, as confirmed by a Justin Lin interview posted some pages ago. The order in which I saw the movies was 5, 1, 2, 3, 4, and going from 5 to 1 I was floored by how low-key everything was. But it's about escalation. Dom Toretto in Furious 6 is not the same person as Dom Toretto in TF&TF because he's leveled up from like 5 to 20-something. And there are things that are necessary to the process of leveling that far. There's the continuing growth and harmony of the adventuring party/family, and the acquisition and use of magic items/cars. Cars are not just a thing you drive fast in this series (Though it's kinda hilarious how there's the additional parallel of broadening scope of items. In TF&TF, the cars are super important but they don't really do much. They drive exclusively in straight lines, often badly, because these are just +2 Cars compared to the +5 Vorpal Holy Avenger Cars we get later) [Continued]
5. Guardians of the Galaxy
A great movie to showcase unlikely heroes who are each drastically different from one another. This one is all about the party! You have heroes who specialize in swords and melee, others who attack with firearms, some who are good at talking their way out of anything and others who are pure muscle and barely talk at all. A great example of the kind of variety and teamwork that is reminiscent of a fun campaign.

6. The Mummy movies
Monster encounters in caverns and tombs will be familiar to any RPG enthusiast, and this movie has that in spades. With its heroes dedicated to adventure and questing against evil, and the plethora of traps and lost chambers to explore, it sure feels at times like an old school dungeon delve!

7. Labyrinth
This one is all about the dungeon! Literally forced to traverse one herself on a quest to save her baby brother, Sarah recruits a number of other adventurers along the way. With riddles and puzzles and strange environments, this movie really captures the mood of a cleverly designed tabletop game level.

8. Gangster Squad
A lesser known recent film that manages to capture that same type of team dynamic found in others on this list. With car chases, gunfights, and other exciting encounters, this one follows a team of police on a mission to take down a mobster that could very well be the subject of a modern-day campaign.

9. Ocean's Eleven
The ultimate big team movie. With its huge ensemble cast of characters with unique specializations, it's great for showing how to give every player a role in adventure. Like Fast and Furious, the team grows and develops over time, and their collaborative achievements during the heists are very similar to the collaborative storytelling of tabletop gaming.

10. Jumanji
This is an obvious one of course, with its dice rolls for random encounters and the running theme of jungle dangers in a modern suburban setting. The new 'players' are even guided through the rules of the dangerous living board game by Robin Williams, the same way experienced players introduce people to their own favorite game.

Do you have any favorite movies that remind you of a tabletop RPG? Any that inspire you for your own games? Share your thoughts in the comment section! Happy ventures!

Friday, October 2, 2015

DMscraps! Episode 5

(The "DM Scraps!" series is a collection of assorted notes from my own tabletop adventures. I am sharing them in hopes of providing some inspiration and insight into what goes on behind my DM screen. They are raw and unedited, but I will highlight details that I find interesting to look back on. Enjoy!)

Today's entry is from a Dungeon World adventure I ran in my home setting of The Whisperlands. This dungeon was designed based on an idea from one of the players for an enormous labrynthine library containing copies of every written work from history. Dungeon World and other games benefit greatly from player contributions to the lore and trappings of the game world. Asking the players to describe an important place or person that might exist in the setting is an excellent way to overcome the challenges of writer's block, as it did here. 

I decided to run this encounter with a sort of procedural technique. The following table was provided as a handout to the players, and it gave them a new list of move types for use with every one of their ability stats. Based on the results of their roles, they would be able to mark progress toward their goal, strategically spend knowledge points for clues or more progress along the way. In my own notes I made a list of complications and challenges to test the party, as well as a list of room descriptions that I could place in different configurations to map out the floor plan as the game progressed.



Mark 12 progress to find the grimoire (The treasure the players were seeking)
Mark __ progress to find the exit (I left this blank so that I could change it based on how much time we had to play this session. Sometimes it pays to be flexible in this regard.)


Spend 1 Knowledge to
-Gain a modron helper
-Add +1 to any lore check
-Preview the next two areas on the map
-Ask for different requirements for performing a ritual
-Cast any spell you have not prepared yet

Spend 2 knowledge to
-Gain 1 progress

Failure=Trap triggered, enemy strikes
Navigate Library +WIS
1 progress
1 knowledge
1 progress
and choose 1
-Get lost (-1 progress)
-Trigger a trap

Read books
2 knowledge
1 knowledge and choose one
-You accidentally run into a word of power
-You discover a horrible truth
-You take too long and encounter something dangerous

Push through
Climb shelf +DEX
1 progress
1 progress+ Complication

Ask the library
1 progress

1 knowledge and the librarians are either annoyed or frightened

SAINT ROOM PUZZLE (Logic puzzle that I had in some other notes. I cut this one because we were short on time.)



The music here originates from an orchestra pit filled with unmanned musical instruments belting out an elegant medley of songs from all over the realms.


A tapestry of colors adorn the shelves of this section, along with a life-sized cut-out of a happy blue ogre. The area is crowned with paper hangings, depicting cheerful dragons and knights.


One of the walls is lined with chutes and tubes, with books fluttering and launching themselves from the desks and shelves, as fast as the magical quills can finish them off. This room is massive, about the size of a football field, and filled with magical books and enchanted writing desks.

Main Hall
A fifteen foot metal statue of Primus serves as the center of this room, its mechanized axes slowly revolving around it.

Reading Rooms


Here I included a list of monsters and traps that could be contained in the dungeon, like I always recommend keeping in your DM session notes. I also numbered them 1-8 so that I could roll an eight sided die and pick one if I wasn't sure what to send at my players.

-To confuse and misdirect travellers

-to attack someone who disturbs the shelves
-To bury and disable

3Mad Traveller
-To cause trouble and steal books
-To take secrets and hoard information

4Living Spells

5Runes of Power
-To spread their magic and meaning

-To attack the smartest people
-To drain information and ideas from their targets

7Modrons (Stats taken from the web site Dungeon World Codex, a site full of homebrewed goodness for that system)
-To call more powerful versions of themselves

Group, Small, Organized, Intelligent, Planar
Spear or bow (d6 damage)
6 HP
2 armor
Close, Far
Special Qualities: Immune to mind altering magic
"Have you seen the modrons walk? Have you heard them talk? If you had, you wouldn't be talking about this trip to Mechanus. Only clueless berks venture in the plane of Law if they can avoid it."Instinct: To bring Order to all things
  • Obey orders with clockwork-like efficiency
  • Report losses and request replacement modrons
  • Surround them with uncanny coordination

8 Inevitables
(See book)

Modrons and Inevitables are mainstays of the classic Dungeons and Dragons Planescape setting, which I decided to theme this magical library after. There are all kinds of cool places to find inspiration in a wide range of books and RPG products. You can always adapt something to the rules of your chosen system while still transplanting the core concept into your own game. 

9Ghost Librarian
-To strike at the loudest patrons
-to deafen with a banshee wail

10 Bad Books
- To swarm like a flock of birds
- To keep you from gaining the knowledge they contain

Words of Power

I had the idea that the players might run into magic words that, if accidentally read or perceived, would trigger magical effects. The fake word generator link here would give me access from my phone or laptop to hocus-pocus type syllables. The table below would let me roll randomly to determine what magical effect would occur. More of an idea menu than anything else, I could roll up an effect and then get creative with it. This is a D6 table, but most of the results also include four options that could be determined with a D4.

Random Word Effects

1 Polymorph

2 Change Size


4 Emotional manipulation

5 Anti-Magic

6 Grant sentience