Archive | May 2013

Corruption and Carnage: The tale of a dramatic one-shot…

and improv. Lots and lots of improv. Three days ago, I read Play Unsafe for the first time, which I wrote a review for yesterday. You can read it here.

By dumb luck, I actually managed to find two players, who wanted to play some Dungeon World. The premise for that game was that it would be totally improvised, which the players found interesting.

Before the game, I spoke with the players, Misha and James, about the book and some of the advice found in it. They seemed to like the idea about “being obvious and boring”, and I told them they were welcome to screw around with me, whenever they wanted.

We also spoke about putting spotlight on other players’ characters, making an effort to set another player up for success. They seemed to like the idea of spreading out the responsibility for making the game great for everyone.

Mind you that the following report is extremely long. You’ll notice that it’s much more detailed, which is primarily due to the “obvious and boring” approach. It really worked wonders on the amount of details. I even left out some detail in the write up. To keep it from becoming too long…

Humble beginnings

James and Misha made their characters. James played the human Bard, Dunwich, while Misha played Cadeus, the elven Fighter. We spent about twenty minutes or so asking questions about the characters and the setting, and after that we had a world filled with problematic political struggles.

We had the capital city Davenport of a so far undisclosed country, a place ripe with corruption. The city guard is easily bribed, they care nothing for the citizens, and generally they are more concerned about safeguarding the noble district, which is under a lockdown because the rest of the city is currently suffering an epidemic.

Dunwich lives here, and was born here. The situation neither pleases him, nor the common populace. The city is on the verge of riots, and should the conditions not change, riots will come. To make matters worse, the slums around the city is expanding at a near catastrophic rate, which renders the city guard completely powerless in the area, as slumlords and bandits have assumed control of large parts of this ghetto.

Davenport is currently expanding so rapidly that the Council of Lords have deemed it necessary to break an old treaty with the the Elves to the north, by starting a deforestation of the vast woods of Evereth. Naturally, the elven lords will have none of this, but they are intent on resuming negotiations with the lords of Davenport, rather than attacking the city outright.

The forest of Evereth is divided into territories, or forest states (yes, it’s that big), each occupied by a village under the leadership of an elven lord. The decree to divide the forest between the lords was enacted, because the forest have grown increasingly dangerous and overrun with monsters during the last few hundred years. Dividing the forest between the lords was a desperate act, meant to delegate the responsibility of keeping the forest safe unto the individual lords, by in a way granting them the land. The elven village closest to Davenport is Ilathia, where Cadeus was born.

A lot of this background material was generated during the game, not just up front, but it’s hard to distinguish between what came when. Everything was improvised, even as the game began everything was improvised. Most of it by the players, I might add, I merely asked questions about the stuff I found interesting.

And so we began…

Cadeus and Dunwich enters the tavern, looking for their contact. They see a cloaked figure in the corner, and know it to be her, the disguised elven diplomat Vendethiel. Dunwich goes up to the barkeep and orders to tankards of ale. They go down to talk to her.

“Do you have the information?” she asks. “What have you learned?” Dunwich tells her that it’s worse than they thought. “Fill her in, Cadeus”. And so he does. Lord Darius has commanded a small contingent of between 15 to 30 elite soldiers to go into Evereth, without the consent of the Council.

Vendethiel could hardly believe what she heard. “But what of the king? What role does he play in this?” she asks. Apparently, the other council members were bribed to ignore it, Lord Darius has very deep pockets. As for the king, what role he played in this is unknown, but Darius certainly has some sort of sway over him.

They hardly get to say anything else, before the tavern door is kicked in, five guards entering the establishment, weapons drawn. “Where is she?” they commanded. Knowing they’re in trouble, Dunwich stands up and shouts “Drinks on me!” A few drunkards stands up, cheering, while the rest of the clientele just looks at him. “You ain’t got that kind of money, Dunwich. How stupid do you think we are?”

The guards attention are attracted by this display. Disgruntled that they are being ignored, they proceed down to the table where Vendethiel, Cadeus and Dunwich are seated. “There she is” a guard shouts. Cadeus stands up, spear at the ready. “We are hear to seize the diplomat! Out of our way!” They look wary, they didn’t expect people to put up a fight. They exchange some nervous glances.

“I’m afraid you are mistaken. That woman is my sister. We know of no ‘diplomat’ here.” They looked at them, puzzled. Were their information wrong? They were suspicious, but she was wearing the clothes of a commoner. They decided to leave before the scene got embarrassing. “OK, lets move boys! She can’t be far!”

A scrawly man named Lath decides to join them. “I know she ain’t your sister Cadeus. What’ll you pay me not to go out there and fetch the guards again?” Cadeus was displeased with this. “How about letting you keep your life?” Lath just laughed; “You wouldn’t kill me here, that’d attract too much attention… But as you wish, I’ll fetch the guard…” He began to walk slowly towards the tavern door.

Dunwich snuck up behind him, and stuck his foot in between his legs, causing Lath to fall over hard. “Ouw! You son of a bitch!” he yelled. Dunwich and Cadeus picked him up, holding him so he couldn’t run. His nose was obviously broken as blood flowed from his nose. “Looks like someone had a little too much to drink!” Dunwich shouted. “Lets get you home!” And so they left.

Vendethiel was quivering. They decided to try and leave town and get Vendethiel to safety in Ilathia. Dunwich knew just the guy to help them, Aiden, a guard posted at a sewer grate to prevent people from sneaking down there and into the Nobles District.

“Hey Dunwich. What’re you doing here. And who are they?” Dunwich looked at him and slipped him a few coins. “Do you even care?” The guard shrugged. “Not really… So, you want to go down into the sewers again?” Dunwich nodded, and Aiden opened the grate. “See ya around…”

Rounding off

This was far from everything that transpired, but I’ll save the rest for my next update. Until then, happy gaming!

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Unsafe and scary: A review of Play Unsafe by Graham Walmsley

Yesterday I bought a book called Play Unsafe, written by Graham Walmsley. It was a pretty inspiring read, and as fate would have it, I actually got to apply some of the theory in a one-shot game of Dungeon World the same day.

The premise of the book is that if we plan less, we play more. Planning is hard work, and it can get pretty boring sometimes, as it quickly becomes a chore. This may not apply to everyone, but it does apply to me. If you buy into this premise, this book can be a real treat.

The book is divided into five chapters: Play, Build, Status, Tell Stories and Work Together. Each of these chapters offer some great advice for improvisation based play, including how to start games, and how to tell interesting stories by not working.

Often, we treat gaming like a job. We study rulebooks, we try to gain an advantage, we care more about experience points than enjoying ourselves.

While I could go in-depth with what the individual chapters are all about, I won’t. It would just be a summary, and I’d much rather share some of the advice from the book.

My favorite piece of advice is “be boring”. It sounds odd, but there’s a really simple trick to it. It’s not about going out of your way to make the other players yawn or anything like that, it’s about not trying to be clever. Instead of spending a great deal of time impressing your fellow players with your wit, which will mostly not work, then instead try to be obvious.

When describing something by being obvious, maybe the effects of an action or your intended action, you can add a great layer of descriptive details, because you already have a clear picture of the scene in your mind. It is after all exactly what you would expect would happen. It might seem brilliant to others however, simply because they haven’t got the same set of expectations as you do.

It is one of those techniques that are so incredibly simple, yet so powerful. I urge you to try it out sometime. In my game yesterday, it was consistently the “obvious” consequences that were more interesting and made the players more enthusiastic.

Another great piece of advice, one that is rare to find in any game mastering guide, is the advice given on starting a game. People make characters, we discuss them a bit, but since we haven’t planned anything, we don’t know what is going to happen. This might sound a little scary, but there’s a really good solution to this, one that goes pretty hand-in-hand with being “boring”; try and start without drama!

Start with a quite undramatic scene, like the heroes entering a tavern. Talk back and forth, describing the seemingly innocent and “boring” stuff in this scene, just to create a mood. Then introduce a tilt! A good example of this is given in the book, where the scene starts with a character walking into the tavern:

Player: “I sit down. ‘Evening, Dave.'”
GM: “The barman looks at you. he flicks his eyes to a tankard of ale he’d poured as you came in. ‘You’ll be wanting that.'”
Player: “‘Yeah,’ I say, drinking it. ‘Quiet in here, isn’t it?'”

Then the tilt is added:

Player: I draw my sword and aim the point at his throat. ‘It’s too quiet, Dave. What have you done with everybody?'”

The tilt creates a sudden situation with a huge potential for drama. It’s great because it also created a mystery; what have Dave done with everybody? The player monkey wrenched the game here, making it interesting. I love that.

The last advice I’d like to highlight is about the cooperative nature of roleplaying games. Walmsley suggests that to have a good game, it is everyone’s responsibility to make everyone else’s character shine. Be a fan of every character! Set the other characters up for success instead of focusing on your own! It’s quite profound in its own way, because it really shows how it’s everyone’s job to make it fun for everyone.

It is an enlightening read, especially if you covet improv like I do. This book will give you advice on how you can improve your game in amazing ways, without having to do any work. The book is only 82 pages long, and is a very light read. I bought it at the low price of 8$ and I would gladly have paid twice that amount.

Going for a crawl

So, as I said, I’d make a map for this game, but screw that idea, I bought the DungeonMorphs for a purpose! Namely to force myself to improvise a little, and not having to do so much damn work!

Instead, I’m going to exploit the fact that all the Morphs cards are numbered from 1 to 6. So, I’ll need to make a long list of rooms, each made like the Hazards from Inverse World, as introduced here.

These rooms will be put on some index cards, along with maybe a group of creatures that are present. When the game begins, I’ll shuffle the pile and put it on the board, face down. I’ll call this the “encounter deck”.

The basic idea is that I’ll draw a tile every time they “leave the map”, placing it adjacent to the exit they used on the Morph. I’ll look at the number on the map and dig that deep down into the encounter deck. Example: If the number was 4, I’d take the fourth card from the top, and put the others back on top. The drawn card would be what was (maybe) found in this room.

So, to start off, here’s a short list of rooms, inspired by (and in some cases merely reskinned from) Inverse World! Most of them are pretty generic, since I’ll draw DungeonMorphs randomly. The Unstable Passageway below is such an example. I don’t know if this will be drawn in a actual room or just a cavern, so it will have to apply for both.

Unstable Passageway

This passageway is giving seems cracked and unstable. There’s a broken body under a rock just over there, a rock that seems to fit right into a hole in the ceiling…
Cave-in (1d8 damage)
*Rumble menacingly!
*Open a hidden passage
*Reveal a broken corpse

Sleeping Quarters

Beds and blankets. Bed and blankets everywhere. And a few sleeping critters. Better not wake ’em up…
Features: 7 sleeping kobolds.
*More comes in to sleep
*Some of them wakes up
*Someone sounds the alarm!

Empty Room

Something’s not right in here. You can feel it in your bones. There’s got to be something in here…
Features: A rolling boulder
Rolling boulder (1d10 damage, ignores armor)
*There’s chatter in the distance
*Someone steps on a pressure plate…

Treasure Chamber

There’s something of value in here. You can get it, but it’s not going to be easy…
Features: 6 nearby, but not currently present, kobold guards.
Dart trap (1d4 damage, poison)
*Guards come to check up on the treasure.
*There’s a faint clicking sound at the treasure…

The Treasure Vault

Finally! The dragon’s nest! Shit! The dragon’s nest! Oooh, shinies!
Features: One big and angry dragon.
*Bury someone in a pile of gold
*Trip someone over a plate armour!

Using this framework…

OK, if I just shuffle the encounter deck, doesn’t that then mean that the dragon can be in the first room? Well yeah, but that is easily avoided.

I shuffle all the cards, except The Treasure Vault. Then I’ll take the top 8 or 9 the encounter cards and set them aside, then shuffle the rest along with The Treasure Vault. The cards set aside are now on placed back on top. If 9 are taken off, at least 4 encounters will be met before the Dragon, and after these 4 are taken off, there’s a 1 in 6 chance for the characters to happen upon the dragon when exploring a new DungeonMorph card.

I’m looking forward to trying this out 🙂

An introductory adventure

I met some people at the university, and we talked casually about RPGs for about an hour. The topic fell on Dungeon World, which they have never heard of before, so I told them I’d run a session for them, if they were interested.

One of them had only played the Warhammer Fantasy RPG, and the other had never really tried playing anything but computer RPGs. Now I’m about to make an introductory one-shot adventure to throw at them.

I’ll have to make good use of my experience from playing with Eric and Bastien, especially on how to make a focused narrative, one without too many branches. I think I’ll use this as a starting point for my Dragon Menace adventure. While I won’t be drawing DungeonMorphs randomly during play, I think I’ll make a dungeon with them, and fill it with interesting stuff to do. Especially treasure at a price. I mean, a frickin’ dragon lives there.

I’ll get back on this later, when I’ve found a way to scan in a 5 by 5 set of DungeonMorphs, which I’ll them modify slightly with GIMP, mainly to remove some of the exits on the edges of the map. I think that should be a large enough dungeon for a one-shot.

When the map is done, I’ll post it here, along with a front and a map legend.

Sexism and guilt

I started a discussion about sexism in gaming yesterday on G+. People were generally polite, but it was on fire. I think it is a pretty hot topic at the moment, considering the #1reasonwhy trend and the fact that there’s a kickstarter for a documentary about the harassment of women in gaming.

After discussing it with other people, hearing them out, and actually changing my view on things, I came to an important realization; when I GM, I rarely have female NPC’s, and if they are there, they’re peripheral. This thought came to me after reading We have always fought, an article about how women are portrayed in the media, by Aidan Moher. It’s a really interesting read, I can highly recommend it.

In my “The Rise of Ri’leth” adventure, I had exactly one female NPC; Olive, the murdered girl. She was the only woman in the story. It’s strange, because it wasn’t even a choice I made, it wasn’t a conscious decision. Also, it’s maybe a bit much to even classify her as an NPC…

I feel guilty about this in a way. When women appear in my sessions, I victimize them. And I don’t even notice. It’s not something I do on purpose, but somehow that just makes it feel worse. I’ll have to think more about this when GM’ing.

Deal with it

This sounds like an odd name for a lesson learned, but it is in fact very fitting. I’m unsure as to how many people this will apply to, but it sure is something I have learned.

Even though I mostly GM, it is only recently that I’ve started playing Dungeon World. When you ask questions, then never expect the players to give you answers that you want to hear. Deal with it. Not all answers sound great when you get them, but lets face it; not everything you say as a GM is awesome either.

The really strange thing is that no matter what answer you get, it always seem like an awesome answer after the session. Falafael, the Fighter from my recently ended three-shot, had to explain where he had learned to cast spells. He answered in a mildly jesting tone that he had learned it in “elf high school”.

I knew that the game was not meant to be very seriously toned, we had discussed that prior to the game. Yet somehow this answer just seemed dumb when he gave it. After the session though, I realized I was just being elitist about the game, and I actually felt bad just for thinking it. It was a pretty fun answer, and it actually spoke volumes about his past. His character had formal education.

So when you feel that a player gives you a “dumb” answer, then deal with it. The player wouldn’t give it to you if he didn’t like it himself, and it isn’t just your game anyway; it belongs to the group.

Some cleanup

I changed the names of two of my posts, mainly because they were boring. I hope this doesn’t annoy anyone, but “Lesson Learned X” was kind of dull.