Thursday, October 27, 2016

Opening and Closing Themes

I've talked before about the kind of music I collect for my game sessions, from action themes to somber dirges. But a couple kinds of music that I haven't discussed as much are the songs I use to open and close sessions. These are songs that I choose more carefully to fit the themes of the campaign and put people in the proper mood for the game. So what better time to explore these tunes than the present?

The Opening Theme

The opening theme song is the one I usually like to keep the same. If it is iconic and recognizable, it is ideal for returning players to the world of the ongoing campaign merely by the association of its melody. I will carefully pick out a theme song that fits the tone I am hoping to create in the game world, and start it up before or during the recap of the previous session. It's like the opening crawl of Star Wars, or the opening theme song of a TV show. It gets the group's attention and hypes the impending adventure.

Sometimes I might change things up and start with a different opening theme. This is a good way to really grab the players' attention and indicate a change in direction for your campaign.

The Closing Theme 

The closing theme could also be the same every time, but I prefer to choose a different song each time to wrap up the session. I think of the ending song like the song that plays during the credits of movie, something that lets the players reflect on the events that just transpired. To this end, I keep a playlist of various lyrical songs to choose from that might make good closing tunes. A good song can have a strong effect on the group as they wind down from an adventure, so I always like to end with a very striking melody.

I strongly encourage you to think about what kind of music would best fit with your own tabletop endeavors. Strike up the proper tune and it will bring your players deeper into the worlds you create in your pen and paper exploits.

Happy ventures!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Now Playing: Mythic GM Emulator

For those game sessions where you don't have anything prepared, or don't have any volunteers for running the game, you might find need of something like the Mythic GM Emulator.

I've tried it out a couple of times, and it is included in my binder full of random tables for improvisational game mastery. At its core, Mythic is a decision-making system that takes over the job of adjudicating your tabletop game. Think of it like a more advanced version of the old magic eight ball toy, answering any yes or no question you might pose. It also provides ways to generate keywords that can inspire an infinite number of random encounters. 

Finally, it structures the game in a way that makes the master-less adventure flow smoothly. By breaking your game into a scene to scene structure and assigning each scene a "Chaos Level," the system allows you to play out a series of engagements that tend to escalate in difficulty. Chaos levels increase the likelihood that your questions will be met with answers of 'yes.' Since those are typically questions like "Is there a booby trap in this room?" or "Is the duke angry with us?" you can see how things can get very interesting very quickly.

Overall, it is a fun and unique tool that I would recommend to any game master for their own toolbox. It can be used in conjunction with any system (Though it works best with simple systems that are less combat-oriented), and could also be used as a tool to help aid a game master with decision-making and inspiration in general. Check it out now on DrivethruRPG.

Happy ventures!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

External Link: Natural 20 Web Series

Today I'd like to share the excellent web series Natural 20 by Jack Delaney. This is a hilarious show that actually manages to portray a comedic take on tabletop gaming that is accurate and familiar to those who have played games like Dungeons and Dragons. Lots of fun inside jokes and musings on the myriad ways that things can go right and wrong within a eclectic group of players.

The entire first season is currently available to view on Youtube. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Noises of Imagination

Creating a quality soundscape can be a real boon to your players tabletop experience. The way you describe how something looks is important, but how it sounds can be just as evocative. While there are many sound boards and programs to generate unique and appropriate sound effects, I will save those for a future entry. Today let's talk about a more pragmatic approach.

The simplest way to put audio cues into your game may also seem to be the silliest: Make sounds with your mouth. No, really! As childish as it may seem, it's the simplest way to convey a scene's ambiance in an imaginative manner.

Critical Role's Matt Mercer is one example of a DM who really likes to add noise effects into his performance, from monster roars to exploding fireballs. Think about the impact that sound effects have in movies and video games and do what you can to at least imitate that feeling. The earth-shattering pound of a monster's footsteps, the distinct click and hiss of an activated light saber. Practice your sound effect repertoire at game night. Listen for distinct and iconic sound effects in various media and think about how you can emulate them with your personal noise-making.

A DM shouldn't worry if doing this generates laughter, as long as everyone is having a good time it's all good. Tabletop gaming is a place for child-like wonder and humor, so leave your self-consciousness behind. As you hiss to demonstrate the searing heat of a lava flow, or inflate your cheeks to portray an erupting volcano, enjoy the company of your players and the fun of the unfolding adventure!

Happy ventures!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Keeping It Eclectic: Running Multiple Games

Today I'd like to share the general outline of how I organize different kinds of tabletop RPGS for my home group. You may notice that I try to use advice and examples in my articles that can be applied to a wide range of games and genres. That's because I like to play in a variety of systems and settings whenever I can.

Since I take an approach to storytelling that sometimes emulates serialized television programs, it's only natural that I use that as an outline for how I coordinate various tabletop campaigns. I tend to divide my games into "seasons," consisting of a few sessions each. This way the players have time to get invested in a particular campaign, making some serious progress with the storyline and their characters.

Then I will break things up with what I call a "One Shot Season," in which we play through a series of episodic mini-adventures using a variety of systems. So after a season of Dungeons and Dragons we might play a season of single or two-session one shots like Deadlands, Mutants and Masterminds, or Spirit of the Century.

I'll let the play group vote on what games we play, offering a wide range of choices from month to month. Then we will return to our major on-going campaigns for another season of adventure!

Running games this way allows me to keep things eclectic and diverse, and gives the players the variety and tactical stimulation that makes for a successful gaming group. Hopefully this gives you some ideas on how to handle things if you think your own group could benefit from such variety.

Happy ventures!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Now Playing: '90s Superhero Name Generator

Anybody remember comics of the '90s? The bulging biceps, overpowered weaponry, grim anti-heroes and pouches galore? One of my previous one-shots was a tribute/send-up of those bizarre and gaudy adventures. To this end, I created the '90's superhero name generator. Now I'd like to share it with you. Create your own savage warrior straight from the fever dreams of Rob Liefeld himself! Characters with over-the-top names like Steel Soul or Kill Claw! Excelsior!

  1. Blood
  2. Death
  3. Kill
  4. Dread
  5. Iron
  6. Steel
  7. Diamond
  8. Grim
  9. Dark
  10. Tek

  1. Spike
  2. Fist
  3. Blade
  4. Stone
  5. Claw
  6. Dragon
  7. Tiger
  8. Flame
  9. Soul
  10. Star

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Adventuring Gear: Lighting the Way

Proper lighting at your game table is an often neglected consideration when setting up a neat space for game time. In particular, you want three areas of the gamespace to be lit well and highly visible. The map, the character sheets, and the area behind your GM screen. Mood lighting can be a great enhancement to your games, sure, but practicality comes first. If you and your players don't have a clear look at everything, things can be missed and the game gets slowed down.

Imposing edifices like a GM screen can cast long shadows over your notes. I like to have my own lamp positioned behind me to allow me to clearly see the details. If the room you are playing in is particularly dark, or you are deliberately trying to create a shadowy atmosphere, you might want to have desk lamps or clip on lights near the players and their character sheets. Make sure your players don't have to strain their eyes to read things, or they will be discouraged from checking their sheets and participating in the game.

Speaking of mood lighting, another quick trick to set an atmosphere is to use colored tissue paper to change the tint of your light source. Don't put tissue paper directly on the bulb and make sure it isn't so hot to become a fire hazard. A red tissue over a lampshade could create a hellish glow, or a blue tissue becomes a faerie-like twilight.

Keep your gaming area properly illuminated and your players will appreciate the effort you made for their comfort and convenience!

Happy ventures!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Crossovers and Remixes

When devising new concepts and encounters for a game session, it pays to think outside the box. So the next time you wrack your brain for inspiration, don't be afraid to adapt material from sources in all sorts of genres. Rather than limiting yourself to works that bear immediate similarities to the setting of your game, try thinking ways to remix and cross over people, places, and things into your own campaign setting. 

Maybe an Indiana Jones character could be a fitting NPC in your Star Wars game, or a monstrosity from Buffy the Vampire Slayer appears in a Call of Cthulhu nightmare? Don't be afraid to mix things up and think outside the box.

This doesn't mean you should just add something from your favorite book or TV show as-is. Make the necessary modifications so it will fit within the fiction you are creating. Adapt and alter it to make it into something new. I've done this in my own campaigns, bringing mutants from the Half Life games into a Deadlands RPG, or using Breaking Bad characters as antagonists in a Dungeons and Dragons adventure. As long as you can justify it within the setting, you can use that inspiration to fuel your creativity and your campaign!

To think about what kind of stories to draw these ideas from, you should focus the way you think about your campaign. Instead of thinking about it in terms of the game's genre or setting, reduce your scope to a scene-by-scene consideration. Where is the adventure currently taking place, and what is its tone? If you think about the game in terms of individual scenes instead of an entire genre, you can reference a wide number of concepts from various works of fiction. 

A crime-riddled city could be home to Omar from The Wire, whether it is in outer space or a magical realm. Likewise, a spooky crypt could be inhabited by a shape-shifting monster like The Thing, even if it is buried in the desert sands or a haunted swamp. Think about it in terms of what kind of creature, character, or enviromnent you want to portray and then you can reference all sorts of inspirational material that uses those themes. Whether your players recognize the source of your inspiration or not, it can provide a wealth of ideas and creative material that will bring the entertainment and spice up your tabletop experience.

Happy ventures!