Archive for RPG

Coming Soon – Vanagard!

Posted in Fantasy, Publishing, Roleplaying Games, Uncategorized, Vanagard with tags , , , , , , on August 13, 2017 by Chall

 

Vanagard Kickstarter

This bear, this rabbit, they share a story or two.

This is a story about beginnings. Yggdrasil, the World Tree, is young, vibrant and grows between eight worlds. The ninth, our world of Midgard, doesn’t exist yet. There is no Thor or Jormungand. Odin is a young man who just befriended the mischievous Loki. The future is bright and stretches forth with endless possibility.

 
This game is about the Van-Folk, the familiars of the goddess Freya. She is a powerful witch who holds sway over beginnings and endings. The Van-Folk are her people, born out of her dreams and will. They live like normal folk; in halls, working hard and then feasting with fun, family, and music. Freya mostly leaves them to their own lives but, when needed, she calls upon her children to be her eyes, ears, and voice.

Vanagard is a story game suitable for both family and friends. The players tell a story, drawing upon runes and cards for inspiration. Each story takes an hour or so to tell, a single session can have up to five stories. At the end of the game, the characters are tucked away, waiting for the next session of Vanagard to go on more adventures. 

 

A long time I worked as a camp counselor in Jungle Cat World in Orono. Back then, I was very much into storytelling as an art and I relished the chance to perform it for young campers. As such, I wove a little mythology involving wizards by the name of Lady Night, Lord Morning, Lady Rain, and Lord Wind. Dealing with their machinations was a society of animal people, the focus was on a rat named Renn. Over the course my first summer at Jungle Cat World, I crafted a 12 story cycle of this mythology, weaving tales of this little trickster for my camper audience. I shared with them Renn’s life; as a young rat freeing his people from the tyranny of lions, to a sneaky thief who had a wonderful time winning infamy, to an old rat full of both wisdom and regret.  They cycle ended well, with peace amongst the wizards, though not without sacrifice.

The campers loved listening to these stories and I loved telling them.

In Vanagard I’m trying to capture this magic again.

If I’ve done my job right Vanagard will help families and friends can craft their own mythologies within a Norse framework. Vanagard will allow them, with little to no prep, to hold an evening of storytelling that weaves consecutive tales of a close group of Van-Folk heroes. These stories can be as dark and meaningful as what you’d find in the Eddas, or as light and heartwarming as you’d find in a Miyazaki film. The rules are simple but also allow for character growth. At the end of a Vanagard cycle, you’ll have a number of heroes, on whose cards are chronicled a great adventure.

If you want a taste of what kind of story I’m going for, feel free to check out my Vanagard Playlist.

The Kickstarter will be up very soon, in the next day or two at the latest. I hope I’ll have your support.

Alice Black: Blood Tribute – A Fate Solo Adventure Book

Posted in Adventure Book, Fate, Publishing, Roleplaying Games, RPG, Space Pirate Alice Black with tags , , , , , on April 18, 2017 by Chall

I’ve been busy, hence my lack of updates. Work on Vanagard has been going well, very soon it will be ready to be kickstarted. Dragon Trinity Crash is moving along, though Vanagard has taken priority. I’m also close to signing a contract for a small short story gig, I’ll post about it when it nears completion.

I have also released…

frontbaseforchall2

I’ve blogged about this before, and have even offered a free sample. It now finished and ready for purchase, just click here.

As for what it’s about:

You are Alice Black, feared feline space pirate and captain of the dreaded Manticore. For years you have plagued the spaceways trading slaughter for profit. You seek no approval from king or lord. Yet infamy has a price and your coffers are low. Without the necessary funds, your ship will fall into scrap, shadow ports will close their doors, you and your crew will be left helpless against the tender mercies of the Wolves. Your one chance at salvation lies in stealing tribute from a faded wolf house. However, your success will break a treaty and doom trillions to annihilation. Alice Black: Blood Tribute is a solo game and adventure in one book. All you need to play is this book, a pencil, some paper, and a few common dice.

Publishing it has been a dream come true for me. As a kid, I cut my teeth on Fighting Fantasy novels, I am very pleased to have my own adventure book. Evil Hat’s Fate RPG system is a godsend, I was able to tweak it to fit an RPG adventure book perfectly. Those who know Fate can start playing this novel right away. For those who don’t, the rules come with the book and are very easy to learn.

A big thanks to Xenotropos who did the art and layout, and Melanie Jacobs who edited the novel

So, if you like space pirates, adventure books, and other such shenanigans check this out.

I hope to write a sequel soon.

 

 

 

 

 

Dragon Trinity Crash – New Adventure Book, Will Be Working On Stand Alone Setting Book

Posted in Adventure Book, Anime, Dragon Trinity Crash, RPG, Satire, Writing with tags , , , , , , on September 18, 2016 by Chall

Before I started writing Seith and Sword , and in between bits of Vanagard, I was plucking away at my 2nd Dragon Trinity Crash adventure book. Well, it turns out that I’ve had enough time to not only finish it; but also update the first one.

Therefore I proudly represent:

Dragon Trinity Crash Adventure Book 1: Call of Cakethulu

 

 

And proudly present:

Dragon Trinity Crash Adventure Book 2: Hamerkop Halfling Blues

 

 

 

As before the covers were drawn by the ever talented Gnaw.

Furthermore, I’ve talked it over with David Hill and have decided to write out Dragon Trinity Crash as a stand alone Fate supplement. Yes, it will still come out with the ADX Anthology, David assures me that this will be released, however, I’d like to give DTC the attention it deserves, in that regard I’ll make my own book.

This book will be a pay what you want release, that way, those who bought the anthology will be able to acquire the PDF without paying anything more. It’ll have a healthy dash of setting information, the full rules, and plenty of sample aspects, stunts and spells. I hope to purchase more art from gNaw, and will put in as much as my wallet and bills will allow.

What’s the timeframe? I don’t know. I’ll be working on this in conjunction with Vanagard, however, Vanagard will get priority. That being said, I’ve impressed myself with the level of work I’ve been able to get done recently, so this may get done soon.

I will keep you all informed.

What I’ve Been Up To Recently: Vanagard

Posted in RPG, Vanagard, Writing with tags , , , , on September 18, 2016 by Chall

So I went dark for a little while but, there’s a good reason for that. After completing Seith and Sword Andrew approached me about writing a sister game for Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok . That’s what I’ve been working on. Here’s a rundown:

Vanagard
This is a story about beginnings. Yggdrasil, the World Tree, is young, vibrant, and grows between eight worlds. The ninth, our world of Midgard, doesn’t exist. There is no Thor or Jormungand. Odin is a young man who just befriended the mischievous Loki. The future is bright and stretches forth with endless possibility.

This story takes place in Vanagard, world of wild beauty. It is a bright land of deep forests, golden fields, and rolling oceans. Here nature is at times gentle, and at others deadly. Fruit hangs heavy on tree and vine; crops and game are ever abundant. Yet Vanagard wolves are fierce; many lions, bears, and beasts fill the woods, and dragons sleep in secret caves.

Despite nature’s hold, small pockets of civilization can be found. The Vanir rule here, wise beings of mysterious power, who live with the land rather than dominating it. Alfar and Svart Alfar, Light and Dark Elves, also reside here; immigrants from their chaotic worlds of Alfgard and Svartalheim. Also to be found are Troll wanderers and Dvergar (dwarven), merchants. The few cities in this realm are filled with lively color and diversity.

In this game, you play Van-Folk, the familiars of the Goddess Freya. Freya is the daughter of Njord, God of Oceans, and twin sister to handsome Frey, God of Harvest. She is a powerful witch who holds sway over beginnings and endings. As mistress of life magic, verwandlung, she chooses those who may have children. As mistress of death magic, seith, she also chooses where the souls of the dead rest. At times she is radiant and benevolent, moving hearts to adore her. At other times … let’s just say she can be terrifying.

 

freya_by_johannes_gehrts

Seriously don’t toy with Freya, she will mess you up.

 

The Van-Folk are her people, born out of her dreams and will. She gifts them as babes to the elder Van-Folk who raise them deep within her domain of Phantom Wood. They grow into beings who are half-people, half-beast. They live like normal folk; in halls, wearing clothes, feasting with fun, family, and music. However, at will they can assume their full animal natures; small, keen and quick. They can speak to other animals as easily as we speak to each other. They can even see and talk to the dead. Freya mostly leaves them to their own lives but, when needed, she calls upon her children to be her eyes, ears, and voice. The Van-Folk are happy to serve, for Freya is their protector, queen, and mother. Though they seem strange to the other denizens of Vanagard, the Van-Folk are given respect, for to cross them is to cross the beautiful and frightful power behind Phantom Wood.

What’s This Game About?
Vanagard is a story game suitable for both family and friends. The players tell a story, drawing upon runes and cards for inspiration. Each story takes ten minutes to half an hour to tell, a single session can have up to five stories. At the end of the game, the characters are tucked away, waiting for the next session of Vanagard to go on more adventures.

Vanagard has come about due to another game, Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok; a table top RPG of epic, Viking mayhem. Fans of FoTN wanted something they could share with their families. Vanagard touches on many of the themes of FoTN: it uses a similar mechanic, it’s set in a world of Norse mythology, and the art and feel are crafted to make it a worthy sister game.

Vanagard is about the following:
Beginnings: Unlike Ragnarok, Vanagard is focused on the beginning of the cosmos, not the end. Fate has yet to be woven. While you play there will be plenty of opportunities to explore the origins of Norse myth: How did Freya tame the boar Hildisvini? Why does Njord have such fine feet? What happened with the Vanir first met the Jotun? What happened when they first met the Aesir? On the other hand, you could make up new origins. The Van-Folk could switch things around and thus craft their own version of the Eddas. In this way, you should be able to enjoy this game whether you’re well versed in Norse mythology or not.

 

 

bear

One ill-fated Vanagard game lead to a cosmos ruled under the iron paw of Professor Bear.

Exploration: You’ll never quite know where a Vanagard game will take you. When the Van-Folk strike out they’ll encounter random places, people, and obstacles. They’ll always be seeking something new, mapping the eight worlds as they go. Who knows, perhaps they’ll even witness the creation of our Midgard?

 

Unity: The Van-Folk, created as they are through Freya’s magic, are all family. They work together in bands because they often encounter challenges they cannot face alone. Yes, at times they compete, bicker and fight, but in the end, they’ll all pull for each other. Vanagard is light on player vs player and heavy on co-operation.

The final form of Vanagard has yet to be drafted, however, we’re close. I see it as a thin booklet game that comes with all the cards you need to play. If you need to expand, doing so will be as simple as investing index cards, and, further down the line some new Vanagard decks we build them.

While primarily a DMless story game, I plan to have a full out RPG element to Vanagard, the idea being that you can run the quick story games one night and roll out into full RPG mode when you want to cover a particularly important adventure. In play testing this transition as worked out smoothly.

Expect Vanagard to be kickstarted after Pendlehaven gets the Illuminated Edda and Lords of the Ash more or less complete; as it stands those two projects are Andrew’s number one priority.

That being said, you can avail yourself of Vanagard news and notes here on the FoTN Forums. You can also listen to some Vanagard stories on my new YouTube Channel.

So check these out if you’re interested.

I’ll be sure to update the Vanagard Forum and here as more material is released.

Character Mortality Is Not A Difficulty Slider

Posted in Game Mastering, Roleplaying Games, RPG with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2015 by Chall

Hi Folks,

A quick update on what I’m up to and then onto the meat of this blog:

As mentioned before Seith and Sword is out. If you like tragic Viking fiction, that’s all about good people trying to kill each other check it out.

Pretty soon I may be involved in another book. Can’t spill the details yet but I’m excited to be a part of it.

Now that that’s out of the way, onto the main event:

David Hill once tweetedEasy mode is for “players who prefer a narrative experience.” Normal mode is “recommended for most players.” Fucking AAA industry.” This echoes something that’s been rattling around in my head for quite some time.

Let’s talk about character mortality. I’m not talking about PC death, that’s something one can come back from. No, I’m talking about mortality, the moment a PC perishes, where the system says: no, this character’s done, you are not allowed to play him ever again. Has kind of a sting to it doesn’t it?

Not that kind of Sting.

Not that kind of Sting.

One reason folks play games that have high character mortality (which I now dub high mort) is for the challenge of it. The last letter in RPG means game, in a game there has to be winners and losers. Winning is character survival, losing is character death. Some feel that, without this simple scoring mechanism, a RPG  isn’t worth playing. If your character dies you must start over with a new one, deal with it, it’s part of the fun.

To bring this back to the above quote, some see high mort as the hard, or normal setting of RPGing. Low mort is easy mode. This is a simple concept, but it’s not one I buy into. More than ‘hardcore play’ goes into PC mortality, it’s no simple slider bar covering ‘narrative’ to ‘normal’. Everything can be narrative. ‘Normal’ is relative. Let us, then, explore deeper, meeting within the nexus of high and low mort.

Folks play high mort games out of a desire for…

Immersion

Let’s face it, slagging dice can be boring, especially when you get into a roll and miss till ad nauseum cycle. A high mort game gets rid of this tedium. If every single exchange could result in your character’s death, even if she’s fighting a foe way beneath her skill, then you can’t help but be pulled into the action. You feel a little of your character’s fear with every single roll.

This doesn’t have to be restricted to combat. In a horror game, fighting is akin to suicide. Every decision you make for your character, where to run, where to hide, who to turn to, becomes significant and meaningful because one wrong step leads to a grizzly end.

Immersion can be an adrenalin rush. One many players enjoy.

A Game That Relies On Smart Play

Let’s face it, standing in an open hallway opening fire against oncoming stormtroopers, charging archers across an open field, walking across a stream towards in cover gunmen, screaming “No.” while blasting your shotgun; these, while awesome, are also incredibly stupid. Many find such scenes jarring. They don’t want Star Wars, Willow or that particular moment from Tombstone. They want their spec. ops characters to plot things out smartly, they want their Shadowrunners to fear plans going awry, they want their hardboiled detectives to rush for cover.

You simply can’t run that sort of game with a system that is forgiving when it comes to defenses and wounds, in other words, something that is low mort. The funny thing is, this sort of game doesn’t set out to murder characters, it’s built into the system. Risks are part of the adventure, smart characters mitigate them. Yet the hard truth is even smart play might lead one to the reaper. Many folks thrive on this sort of dichotomy.

Less Violence

Wait, hear me out. Many games have incredibly lethal combat rules with the proviso: try to avoid it. These sorts of games push characters to sneakiness, cleverness and diplomacy over out and out battle. However, violence isn’t ruled out and, if it happens, some PCs should die, that’s the price one pays for violence. Survival then, in this sort of game, is not excelling at combat, it’s avoiding it.

Besides, there are innumerable other stakes than PC mortality. Will you be able to save your family and friends from a crippling illness? You’ve been betrayed by a loved one, but he’s still necessary for your community to thrive, how do you deal with it? Your lies are catching up with you, quick damage control! Your starship is running out of oxygen, you have three planets in range, which do you choose? And so on and so on…

In real life this is genius compared to solving all your problems with violoence.

In real life, this is genius compared to solving all your problems with violence.

Folks play low mort games out of a desire for…

Investment

I’ve said this earlier, creating characters is hard work. The time you spend doing  it is an investment. You are, in effect, crafting literary work that you hope to enjoy for the upcoming game. When your character dies for the final time, you cash in on that investment. A character you took two hours to write up, with balanced stats, history, background, appearance and ties with other characters, is a very poor investment if she dies in the first five minutes of play. Have that happen a few times and you’ll find yourself writing up such gems as: ‘1st level Fighter Steve: He’s an orphan who hits things’.

Players aren’t the only ones who might lose investment in a high mort game. If a GM has tied his adventure to the backgrounds and relations of the original PCs, her plots, plans, and dreams might go out the window as they croak.   ‘Well the Avatar’s dead, the woman I hoped would lead the Fire Nation out of chaos has just been shredded to bits, and the only original character left is the cabbage salesman who has no stake in any of this. *sigh* My game’s finished, anyone for Settlers of Catan?”

Low mort games offer insurance for this investment. Players feel safe writing up detailed backgrounds and GMs are more or less sure they can count on most of the PCs pulling through to the inevitable climax. Oh, there can still be curve balls, failure is still possible,and even this sort of game can’t 100% guarantee all the PCs will be there at the end. It’s simply likely most of them will be.

Also, this isn’t to say high mort games can’t have player investment. It’s just that, in my experience, said investment comes only after a few sessions of play. 1st Level Fighter Steve might actually make something of himself, but you’ll have to see if he survives a few sessions first.

1st Level Fighter Steve is actually started off a more indepth character than Super Oswald.

1st Level Fighter Steve actually started off a more in depth character than Super Oswald.

Cinematic Action

That woman standing out in the open in a hallway, exchanging fire with a dozen stormtroopers and living? Some people love that, they want their game to be all about that. Low mort games can offer the players exactly this, the breathing room to try outrageous things and maintain the same character throughout multiple adventures. Such players want to chronicle awesomeness as they web sling, light saber, pirate sail through a sea of adventure. The challenge with this sort of adventure isn’t surviving, it’s coming up with wacky ideas and epic scenes. If the group drives forward  a fun, fantastic, memorable tale, they win.

This isn’t to say characters in such games can never lose. Their big bads will cancel out PC plot immunity. When they appear the action gets really intense as legendary heroes and villains clash. In this case, one or all the PCs might die, but if they do, it’ll be in a blaze of glory.

This isn’t to say that high mort games can’t have amazing scenes. It’s just that they’re rare. Wyatt Earping your way across the stream, without cover, shouting “No!” and shooting down outlaws and surviving can happen, but it’s rare. In that specific case, Wyatt’s player was consigning him to death, he’s just lucky that it turned out the way it did.

A Bloodless Game

Believe it or not, there are some RPGs that have no combat what-so-ever. They’re rare, off the top of my head I was only able to think about two: Golden Sky Stories and Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. I reached out to Machine Age Productions, cause I know they have games with no violence, and they cited Flatpack and Don’t Break the Caul. Unless they deal with combating calamity and disease, bloodless games are low mort.

It would be easy to assume that such games, with no violence and little to no character death, are unchallenging. This is simply not true. These stories can be deeply emotional. Golden Sky Stories deals with the primal childhood friendships and feelings that made us who we are. Pilgrims takes us on fantastic journeys that will stir smiles and laughter. Don’t Break the Caul is about pregnancy, it would be foolish to think such unengaging.

Yes he's a villain in a non-violent story. Still, No Heart's eons more intimidating than Skeletor.

Yes he’s a villain in a non-violent story. Still, No Heart’s eons more intimidating than Skeletor.

That about wraps these thoughts on character mortality, with one further note: It is incredibly reductive to pigeon hole the entirety of a game into high or low mort. Some games let crazy cinematic action be the mainstay AND  make combat  completely deadly. Others would be high mort if it weren’t for the hero point/fate point system. Some at their base are very deadly, I’m looking at you GURPS, but have options to make it less so. My point is there are numerous reasons, preferences, and options for folks to play games with varying degrees of character mortality. None of them are off or wrong. They are all open to incredible nuance. To reduce character mort  to an Easy > Normal > Hard mode slider is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

Addendum:

I’d like to give a quick shout out to games that handle character mortality in interesting ways:

  • Greg Stafford’s Pendragon: You’ll have many characters who will die, but that’s okay. Your story’s not about a single person but an entire legacy. Pendragon has managed to combine great instant investment and deep immersion into a single system and campaign setting. My hats off to the Pendragon.
  • Andrew Valkauskas’ Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok: You’re playing in a Viking saga, during the ages of Ragnarok, your characters are going to die. However, every character who has a good death, and gets to the heavens, offers your next character rising levels of perks. If you get five characters into the afterlife you can bring one of your old ones back as an Einherjar or Son/Daughter of Muspel. Full disclosure: I wrote a novel for Andrew, so I’m a little biased.
  • Kotodama Heavy Industries’ Tenra Bansho Zero: In this game losing all your vitality will just drop your character unconscious. However, rather than fall so easily you can choose, as your character gets hurt, to inflict wounded and even a death status upon him. Rather than decrease your character’s effectiveness, being wounded or near death makes him stronger. This is perfect for a game with rising action. It also assures that any characters who do die, go out with in a heroic fashion.

Seith and Sword Is Funded – I’ll Be Incognito For A Bit

Posted in Fate of the Norns, Roleplaying Games, Writing with tags , , , , on March 23, 2015 by Chall

So, good news,

Seith and Sword is fully funded.

A big thanks to my backers, my friends and family. I am very excited to write this novel for this particular game setting. Fate of the Norns is the truest rpg to the Eddas that I’ve encountered. Furthermore, as I discovered while writing the kickstarter blogs, their take on Norse Mythology is pretty much my own. I’ve got the novel all planned out and the rough draft is already a quarter of the way done. I’m so looking forward to getting this novel to my backers. They won’t be disappointed.

I’ll be very busy. While my daily word count is manageable I want to blow away my deadlines. The earlier I finish the more time I’ll have to refine. I’m putting my all into Seith and Sword, and as such, until it’s done, I’ll have less time for blogging. So if you don’t hear from me for a while, this is why.

When Sieth and Sword is complete, you will hear about it, trust me.

"The Wolves Pursuing Sol and Mani" by John Charles Dollman - Guerber, H. A. (Hélène Adeline) (1909). Myths of the Norsemen from the Eddas and Sagas.

I hope to have Seith and Sword done well before Ragnarok.

Game Master Musings: Player Agency

Posted in Game Mastering, Roleplaying Games, RPG with tags , , , on August 6, 2014 by Chall

A friend of mine quit a RPG group she’d been playing with for years. Her reason?

“One night I forgot my character sheet. They told me it was fine, we’d muddle through. By the end of the night, I realised it made absolutely no difference if I brought the sheet or not. So I left.”

For the past few months, she watched everyone else roleplay. She tried to contribute but was either beaten in initiative  or drowned out by the other players.  Hanging with friends is fine but sitting at a game and not being able to take part, is like sitting at a feast and not being allowed to eat; Aggravating, frustrating, and not something you want to do on a weekly basis.

What she didn’t have player agency. Player agency is the ability to affect your game. This can be done through roleplay, enacting cunning plans, slaying monsters, creating humorous/memorable moments at the table, and so forth. If a player finds herself regaling her old RPG stories then she had agency. If she feels the game would continue unchanged without her, she lacks agency.

This post covers ways players can lose agency and how to prevent such loss.

So without further adieu:

Table Drown Out

I love boisterous players, they drive the game and stage stunning scenes. However, they can also drive less boisterous players from your table.

Some players may be shy, new to the game, or so polite they kindly wait their turn. If you’re not careful said turn may never come. Boisterous players can snag every bit of agency from the quiet ones: At the end of every scene, they’ll immediately pull you into what they’re doing next. If another party member offers a plan they’ll shoot it down for their own. If you run a scene for someone else, they’ll jump right in and steal it.

What’s tricky is boisterous players aren’t aware they’re robbing agency, they’re having a great time and assume so is everyone else. Trickier still, you might not even notice; Quiet players are quiet and as such easily drowned out by the noisy ones.

Granted some quiet players may be fine with just hanging at the table. The danger is assuming all quiet players are like this. In my experience, most are not. They really want to play and find being drowned out aggravating. These players are the types who will leave your game for ‘real life reasons’, which is true because any outside interest has become more rewarding than game.

A further thing to note, boisterous and quite are relative terms. A boisterous player may become quite if introduced to a new game or new group of players, a quiet one might become boisterous if given the chance to shine.

How To Deal With It

Open communication is a good route. Suggest the quiet player talk to the boisterous ones about the issue or ask, in your capacity as GM, if he would mind you speaking on his behalf. Be careful with this option, though, you don’t want to go behind anyone’s back and cause hurt feelings, the goal is to help the quiet player become more comfortable not draw in conflict or ostracise anyone.

As for other techniques:

Keep a mental note of how much time you allot to the group and each player. If someone’s missing out then cut them in. Ask the player what he’d like to do. If he can’t think of anything throw something at him; an NPC needs his character’s unique skills, he falls across a piece of valuable information, draw in something from his character’s background and so on. . .

Just be thoughtful of what you throw at a quiet player. Make it light and fun, suited to his taste. For God’s sake do NOT throw something horrifying at him unless you know he and the group are okay with such things.  We’re GMs not dread bodhisattvas who enlighten through shock and terror.

Don't be like this arse.

Don’t be like this arse.

Finally, some players are absolutely fine having very little screen time. Respect this, and allow them to remain in the background. They key point is, always give them the option to be involved.

Min-Maxing

Min-maxing is not a GM only problem. If your game revolves around mechanics and certain players have broken said mechanics, then not only are you frustrated, but so are the players who haven’t done this. They get to sit and watch other people be awesome while sitting on the sidelines. They lack agency.

How To Handle This

If you’re okay with min-maxing: Give players of lagging characters advice on how to optimise. This way, you’ll be able to up the challenge of the whole group without having to make specialised challenges for two groups that are on completely different cales.

If you’re not: Let your players know before character creation that you won’t stand for these shenanigans. Be involved in character creation and nip any problems in the bud. Be involved with character advancement.  Feel free to be as meta as you want about this; ‘Yes the rules don’t specifically say you can’t make a character who can lift the Moon, but I’m asking you not to.’ Just be prepared to offer alternatives, minmaxers are players too.

 

The Solo Adventurer

Some players don’t like working with others. Every chance they get they’ll go off on their own happy fun me time. They are the thieves who wish to sneak through the entire dungeon (as opposed to just down the hall), they are the matrix cowboys who explore virtual worlds for hours on end, they are the Wolverine who’ll do the job himself bub. While they strike off everyone else at the table… waits, maybe they order takeout or something, regardless they lose agency.

How To Deal With This

A few ways actually:

  • Talk to the solo player and gently point out that you’d like to focus on everyone, not just him.
  • Solo adventures aren’t bad in of themselves, just try to keep them concise and offer all the players opportunities to take part in them.
  • Throughout character creation and the game work with the players to forge bonds between their characters. Many solo players will bring others into their plots if there’s an in game reason to do so.

Rules Confusion

It’s very easy for any player, especially new ones, to be confused with the rules.  This confusion can lead to indecisiveness and inaction. The player doesn’t know if the action she’s taking is smart so doesn’t do anything.  Worse yet, the player does something and the GM slaps her with a mechanics gotchya, stung she decides to play more cautiously aka: not at all.  Lack of agency all around.

How To Deal With This

During character creation explain the basics to everyone so they know what they’re getting into. This will ensure better characters and prep the players for the actual game.

Don’t engage in gotchya moments.  If a new player’s character is about to suffer an attack of opportunity, warn her. If her character’s first fireball will incinerate the party, warn her. If all she’s played is D&D and in your GURPS game her character is about to charge into 4 guys with prepped crossbows, warn her. In short: don’t be an arse to players new to the system. Your laughter will lead to an empty table.

It's not a good thing when Naga's shrill laugh echoes your own.

It’s not a good thing when Naga’s shrill laugh echoes your own.

 

Secondly, as a GM, take the brunt of the crunch. Know your system so well you can recite its grapple rules in your sleep. I ran a successful GURPS game for years with my players only needing to worry about whether their rolls were under their target; I shouldered the damage multipliers, spell costs, and reactions for them; just call me Saint Chris.

Railroading

This one’s on us GMs, if you design/run a game in a linear fashion, where characters have no choice but to follow a specific path no matter what, then all players lose some agency. This is especially a problem with some older adventure modules where generic characters, with no relation to anything in the plot, are the rule. Playing these can feel like being trapped in a computer RPG, you’re forced along the quest path and the results of your actions will always be the same, no matter what.

How To Deal With This

First get player buy in. Let them know the gist of what you’re running and that you can’t do it if they don’t play along. However, even with this buy in, you’re not done.

Know the adventure like the back of your hand. If the PCs go off the rails adjust dynamically. They chose another route to the abandoned keep? Random monster time. They spotted and killed the enemy spy right away? He doesn’t report in, so the main antagonists react accordingly. The characters decide to work for the antagonists? Roll with it, let them stomp  whomever they were supposed to protect.

Finally, roleplay your NPCs. If the PCs did something amazing the NPCs should comment on it. If the NPC was betrayed then she should be gunning for revenge. If the PCs saved the village they should get a free night or two at the inn. Portraying your NPCs as three-dimensional characters will make even a tightly railroaded adventure seem like a living world.

GM NPCs

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The game should be about the Player Characters. It’s all well and good to work on behest of a king, save a space princess (I wouldn’t though, it’s been done) and protect a village. That’s all fine because the PCs get to call all the shots and do all the things needed to resolve the main problem. However, having a GM ubermench call the shots, and do all the things will end up with your players planning a movie night for next game, and you getting back to your novel.

How To Deal With This

Don’t do it, no matter how much you want to. Yes, we all run games we’d love to play in and it’s likely your players will want to play in it too, but they do not want to watch your personal tale of glory. This is why, during character creation, make sure both your players and yourself like the PCs; they should be characters you want to write stories about, plotting adventures with them in mind should be a pleasure.

No, don’t  make a character to save the PCs butts “just in case”, that’s being patronising, it’s annoying.

If you absolutely must have specific characters as an active part of the game make them pregens.

In conclusion

I hope these tips help. If you find even one bit of this advice useful then I’ve done my job.

Thank you for reading.