Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Extra Life Supporter Rewards + Scattered GM Prep Thoughts + Recent Reading


First, an appeal for dedicated readers of the blog to make a donation to Extra Life. As you've all no doubt gotten tired of reading, I will be playing as part of a 24 hour charity Extra Life event with the proceeds going to Children's Miracle Network on with most of those 24 hours falling on Saturday 11/7/2015. I've actually donated $25 myself, just not to my own profile. I run this blog without asking for any donations or support, mostly out of my own obsessive need to bloviate about RPGs, and while I do have ads at the bottom so far this year they've netted me less than a dollar. Each time I put up a post, I see that it usually gets 10-15 views within 24 hours, so even if only five of your donate $5 we'll double the donation I've already made. It's for a good cause so please donate, even if it's just a dollar or two.

If you do donate because of this blog, let me know and if I can generate $50 of donations from the blog I will let supporters demand that I do wacky (but not game ruining) things during the game sessions that I play and/or run. Here are some options:

  • Force me to play a wacky character off my list of Characters Too Ridiculous to play if I can (the DMs get veto power on PCs, so the intensely wacky characters might require a bit of finagling on my part but I'll try my damnedest or trick one of the other DMs into running a 5 minute mini-session or something or have them show up in a session I run as an NPC)
  • Record a video of myself speaking in character, in an accent determined by donors during play. Those of you who listen to the actual play podcast or who game with me in real life know how mortifyingly bad my accents/voices usually are.
  • Determine my PCs for sessions. I've got one character I definitely want to play (spoiler, it's Alice), but I'm hoping to play in at least 3 of the 3 hour sessions and I've already got 18 potential PCs made, well, 14 if you count the 5 versions of Alice I've made as a single PC.
  • Pick out dialogue from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass (the books only, not any movies or other adaptations please.) that I have to utter in character as Alice.
I'm also waiting on more details about the location and scheduling, but I may be able to do things like live-blog sessions I play in, and if the schedule works out right, I'm hoping to run one of the 7 versions I've drafted up of the True Tomb of Isidore Philokrates which will be largely improvised and which, if I receive donations, I could allow sponsors to make decisions about what happens in the Tomb, perhaps even in real time through one of the many social media platforms available. 


Prepping for my next session of Shattered World 5e-ish D&D and just jotting down some stray thoughts about how I prep. I realize that this comes up a lot on the podcast, but that I haven't put up anything recently about my prep methods. This is specific right now to my Shattered World campaign but I'll touch on how I prep for my two other current on-going games afterwards.

So here, in mostly chronological order, hopefully without too many spoilers, is how I prep a game.
  • Read a ton. Seriously, in the two weeks between games, I'm reading tons of blog posts and RPG articles as well as usually at least thumbing through or browsing a RPG sourcebook or two. See the bottom of this post for a list of recent reading for a further illumination of this, since including it in this bullet got too long. A lot of this is what I'd be doing anyway, but I'll often go back and look at specific blog posts or book chapters if I think they'll help me with something that might come up during the next session.
  • Summarize the previous sessions play for myself. For the Shattered World I keep that on the blog here. I should do this closer to when I run, but often due to life intruding it waits for up to a week. I keep it fairly brief and it is definitely from a GM perspective and I am certain it does not at all take into consideration the PC/Player view.
  • Jot down ideas/browse through my list of ideas for sessions. I've got a list of about a dozen session ideas that I've come up with that I can draw upon if I need inspiration or if things go sideways during a session and I need to switch gears completely. I keep these as brief as possible. Here are three that I've used so far as examples...
    • Captain Ishmael needs the PCs to escort a kobold, Meepo, a member of the Razorback clan (loosely tied to Father Machine) through a section below decks in the control of the Lightning Tail clan (aligned with Stormbringer) to repair a turbine.
    • Deckard hides the bodies of his wife and children and Ishmael needs the PCs to find them quickly and quietly without alarming the others on deck
    • the PCs have to help fight off an attack by blue dragons and coordinated attack by the goblins and hobgoblins
  • Browse through my list of NPCs and update as needed. Just like the session ideas list, I have a list of NPCs that I go through to remind myself what they're doing/what they want and how that might intersect with the players.
  • Browse through my list of Icons. Since I'm using the 13th Age Icon mechanic for this game I try and remind myself of what the Icons would be influencing.
  • Grab stats for 6-12 monsters. Some of these I grab because I think I might use, but I always grab one or two blocks of monster stats that just sound fun or intrigue me, regardless of whether I think they could make it into the session. That helps me improvise combats. I'll also grab monster tokens, if I have them.
  • Think up a 4-6 locations that could be involved and what could make them interesting. 
  • Roll up 10-20 results from Random Tables. I've grown to love Random Tables more and more, but since there are so many that I draw on that are from the web, I find it's easier to pre-roll some results and toss them in a word doc rather than try and roll at the table and sort through pages and pages of printed out webpage tables. It's maybe not quite as random, but it's still great prep for improv.
  • Remind myself of the Agenda/Principles I've chosen for the game. Lately I've been focusing on "Think dangerously, let nothing be safe." which is apparently how I re-worded the Apocalypse World principle "Look Through Crosshairs". I've also added "Accelerate Things Dangerously". Between the two, I remind myself not to be afraid to kill my darlings and to not worry about pacing things out. I need to use good ideas now, instead of hoarding them for a later game, because as I've found out time and again, that later game often doesn't come. 
Once I've done all the above, I try and boil it down to a one or two page word document, not including any monster stat blocks, and that's what I run from. What don't I prep?
  • Specific location maps. I draw everything at the table. Back in my 4e days I used to use dungeon tiles and lay them out to make locations before game, take a picture with my smart phone and then try and recreate the tile layout during play, but seriously, that took a ton of time. Likewise, unless I'm stealing a good map or location that someone else has created, I don't worry about trying to map it out before game and then recreate it. Instead I just draw it at the table. The exception for this for the Shattered World campaign is that I've got a rough map of the layout of the ship.
  • Plot outlines. This is where the Ginger Giant and I diverge the most. Take a look at a sample of his prep, like this post of his. It's pretty detailed about what he expects will happen, how it might happen, how NPCs might react and so forth. I know from playing in his groups that he's not at all afraid to toss this out at a moment's notice and roll with the punches of the PCs going way off script, but there is a script because he enjoys writing one out. I used to make scripts like this, but for me it felt like frustrating busy work, so I dropped the plot outlines and I enjoy running games a lot more for it.
So how long does it take? If you put all the time together, probably 3-4 hours, but a lot of that is reading I'd be doing anyway, if you knock that out, it's probably an hour of just the essentials, but longer when I feel like there's a problem with the game I need to solve... 

What does it look like at the end? Well remember this session seed from above?

  • the PCs have to help fight off an attack by blue dragons and coordinated attack by the goblins and hobgoblins
At the table, the blue dragons became a storm (at least as far as the PCs know) and the final prep sheet (without monster stats) looked a little bit like this... Or rather, exactly like this minus some formatting differences between Word and Google docs. You can see a large chunk of the prep was a bunch of wacky goblin names I never used as time ended up being a little tight that evening and my wacky idea of giving every goblin a personal name as they went down on the table seemed like it would take too much time for what was basically one punchline.

So what's different for when I run Planarch Codex or a Red & Pleasant Land? Mostly less prep, usually.

For Planarch Codex 
  • I don't have a list of session seeds. I let the job board creation mechanism generate all the adventure hooks. Further, until the PCs decide to take a job, the only things I come up with for the job are: Who is the patron or target? What type of job is it? Where is the target? What does it pay? and for older jobs on the board "Is that old job still available now?". If you take a look at the job board now and look at one of the jobs the PCs didn't take, what you see on the board is all I know about it, everything else will be improvised when the players decide their Freebooters are taking that job.
  • I did take some time after the first session to come up with a list of Factions/Groups/Tribes and places.
  • I've also grabbed a few interesting monster stat blocks from the Dungeon World Codex but for the most part I improvise monster stats, drawing on the Dungeon World book for inspiration and additional inspiration from the 13th Age monsters and Bestiary.
  •  I grab some random table results, just like I do for the Shattered World campaign.
  • That's it. For this next session, though, I plan on writing up short Love Letters to all the returning PCs, and that will probably add a couple hours to my prep, but it will be well worth it.
For a Red & Pleasant Land
  • Prep for this one is like a hybrid of my Shattered World prep and Planarch Codex prep with the twist that I'll spend a day or two at work listening obsessively for 4-7 hours straight to the recording of play and then an hour writing out my GM commentary...
  • For the 1st session I had nothing prepped and I let the book's random tables set up the adventure hook and encounters.
  • For the 2nd session prep was much more like Shattered World prep, in that I had the Knob Goblin tower established, so prep was about finishing that location/story thread. Then once the players left the tower, it was back to tables that determined the encounter with the Colorless bishop. 
  • Then for the 3rd session, again I basically did no prep, the same as the 1st, letting the random tables determine NPCs, encounters, objects, adventure hooks and the like.
  • Now for the upcoming 4th session I'll be doing more prep, since I know the PCs are expecting the Pie Witch to direct them to a pudding and do some baking. 
  • Basically, since I'm trying to keep the sessions down to a lean hour and a half to hour and three-quarters the aR&PL sessions are about half the length of a shorter session I'd normally run. This has meant that so far the sessions have been two-parters where I run a mostly improvised session that sets up a second session that wraps up the main plot of the first part. Though there is the possibility that there could be sessions where the plot hook is wrapped in a single podcast or that we get into longer plot threads that could take three or even four sessions.
And that's largely my prep strategy lately...

Recent Reading:

and in non-internet reading...
  • High Rise by JG Ballard - Finally got my own copy to re-read before the movie which is sounding like it will be incredible. Fair warning to players in my games that things might start to get a little Ballardian.
  • Bitch Planet, Vol 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro - I have digital copies of all the issues but just got the TPB so I'll be re-reading this excellent series.
  • Out of the Abyss - The most recently released "mega"-module (levels 1-15) from Wizards. I'm only a couple chapters in and while the story seems like it will be interesting and there are some great ideas, I'm really disappointed that there's no introductory overview of the big plot, so it's looking like if I wanted to run it I'd have to read all 256 pages and write out my own summary of what all the Demon Lords, racial groups and other factions want, among other things... A little surprising that it's not better organized, but I might be spoiled by A Red & Pleasant Land in that regard.
  • Grim World - A darker, grittier take on Dungeon World, where every class has a "Death Move". Going to run this for a pre-Halloween game night.

No comments:

Post a Comment

A Bang & then a Whimper - The Final Dispatch from Parcher's

When we left our rag-tag band of PCs and their 50-60 hangers on (in addition to Pinky's gang, Man also decided to take the 'hav...