Role Playing 101 #4: Quick and Dirty Adventure Building, part I

Have you ever been stuck, minutes before starting a game session? No ideas where to start? No idea how to do it? Or have you ever wanted to master an adventure, but found yourself procrastinating endlessly? Here are some things I do to get myself into an adventure, sometimes even after play has started.

Making the Instant Adventure
To do an evening – or afternoon – of adventure, you need to have a few things. You need a beginning, a sense of what's at stake, an enemy, and an ending. At the very least you need these four. And if you wish to do a little better, you also need colour, an ally, and a twist. All you need is an idea of each of these things, and you can make up the rest on the spot. Just be consistent.

For the beginning it is important that you get the player characters together. To work together, to basically like or at least tolerate each other, and if possible to stay physically in the same group – most of the time. One way to do this is to let them be invited by someone who asks their favour – a patron. He or she can explain what's at stake – or what the mission is, and propell the adventure forward. The patron may also be one of the player characters. In practice that can work quite well, because you have a player who will help you keep the group aligned.

Another good way to begin is to throw the characters into the action. They are in the mission already, or they are drawn in because the stakes unfold before their eyes. A princess may be kidnapped in front of them, or you may tell them that they are guarding a caravan, or on the way to convince an enemy Duke not to attack their home country – and now his troops try to capture them. Action has the advantage of drawing the attention of the players, and thus you gain momentum in your game.

What's at Stake
You must know what the adventure is about. Is it about honour of the clan, the lost treasure of an ancient king, saving the lives of friends or fellow citizens, or what? This is what the players have to fight for to “win” the adventure. Make it as concrete as possible. And if you can try to hook the stakes to the personal history of each of the player characters.

The enemy is the person, entity, force of nature, army or monster – or any combination thereof – that tries to take that what's at stake away from the adventurers. These are the creatures and forces that will provide combat encounters, nasty face downs, dangerous situations, treacherous conversations and dazzling chases. The master enemy should have statistics and quirks like a player character. Make them up on the spot if you have no time. Or if you're lazy, pick an old enemy. These often even work better.

Every session needs an ending. Not just every adventure, but every session – a good ending is often a reason to come back the next time. A typical ending involves a showdown with the enemy. Or a chase after the enemy. Or a running away from the enemy, or the forces of nature, while trying to save what's at stake. An ending is a climax in a way. And if you can, stage it in a special location, such as on a cliff, in a throne room, or a dragons lair. Make sure you start the ending scene (or scenes) about an hour before you have to wrap up the session. And if your heroes aren't even close to ending the adventure by then, make an intermediate ending, with a cliffhanger. One where an enemy escapes, for example.

So, now you have the main four ingredients, give it a try. Wing it! Next time I'll deal with the other three: colour, ally and twist.


Pick #70: PlayElf

Ever sat bored at the screen and typed in "PlayElf" in the search engine? I just did.

And I see I'm not the only one to have thought up this silly joke - on "PlayBoy" or "PlayGirl". There's at least three separate sites displaying playelves. (Warning: Nudity may scare some people, so look at your own risk).

The most artistic by far is Play Elf Gallery by Håkan Ackegård, with ElfQuest-like humorous drawings. The picture displayed is also his.

Another is Spanish, with typical nude picture covers of women with longer ears - its best joke being that it's not to be sold to those under age of 100. Too hot to handle for younger elves obviously. The art of this german issue may be better (scroll down). Or take this one on DeviantArt.

If you'd prefer to watch nude men, there's also the cover art work of Sabreyn on DeviantArt, with some tongue in cheek texts.

And if you can speak Swedish, you might even try this "male chauvinist role playing game"...


Free Adventures: Ammersfurt #31, Dragon Tower

The Secret of Ammersfurt is a free role playing supplement for the Dark Dungeon 2nd Ed game. Every week for thirty-five weeks, you'll get new bits for the Ammersfurt adventure setting, like monsters, NPC's, locations, skills, character templates, role play tips, and so on. And also every week, you'll get an adventure seed, which you can turn into a weekly adventure.

Adventure Seed 31: The Ylversum Tower

Near the village of Ylversum, in the forest, is a mysterious, tall stone tower without any entrances, except one at three hundred feet height, all the way at the top. Nobody knows why the tower was built, but it stands as long as people can remember. Most folk say it is a ghost tower, or a magick tower. And since the stormy night a few weeks ago that seems to be more than true. Dark clouds hang around the tower, lightning keeps striking it, and a dragon has been seen landing at the top. The heroes come to see what's true of the stories.

Download the thirty-first part of The Secret of Ammersfurt here!


Role Playing 101 #3: Do You Dungeon Bash or Do you Tell Stories?

 When you play old style Dungeons & Dragons, or Tunnels & Trolls, the main story line is usually something like this:  Long ago, an evil wizard named Whatshallwecallit built a complex of tunnels under the city – or under the Harz mountains. He filled it up with monsters, evil creatures, and deadly traps. He hid a secret treasure away too and locked himself up on top of it. And now his evil threatens to take over your nondescript home town with pleasant peasants and fancy fairies. Your task, as the heroes, will be to go into his underground realm and beat the unlife out of him and his minions, meanwhile collecting enough treasure to cause hyperinflation in the local economy.    

Sounds familiar? Even though such a storyline doesn't necessarily make much sense, many players including myself revelled in it. It provides just enough rationale for testing your wits and having plain fun while tabletopping with your friends and throwing a lot of dice. You can play a grumpy dwarf, a brooding ranger, or a haughty elf making snide remarks to your fellow characters, and bash away your weeks frustrations while you bash away at the skulls of your virtual designated evil enemies.  

This kind of game is not supposed to be too real. Its a hack and slay, search and destroy mission.

The Next Step is Story Telling  

But after a while, some players at least may find that their heroes develop backgrounds. Backgrounds above ground. Backgrounds that have very little to do with sprawling mazes underground or neurotic necromancers locking themselves up to wreak havoc on the world. And that's where the root of a totally different sort of adventure lies. Adventure maybe without necessarily bashing your enemies, without going underground, without collecting treasure even. Adventure with other rewards.   

But saving the kingdom – perhaps your own – or your family, or your family's honor, or maybe world peace, are all things that may become goals. Tasks may be to identify a killer in a metropolitan city or at a feast in a remote mansion. To guard an envoy on a diplomatic mission, or even to do the diplomatic mission yourself, and meanwhile find out who is trying to thwart a peace deal, or what's really rotten in the state of Denmark. It might be to conduct war, and to do battle on the battlefield. It might be to travel through the wilderlands to save your true love, or keep her from marrying Prince Pumpernickel. No treasure needs be involved, no monsters, no combat. It's the story that becomes important, and the development of character perhaps.   

Role playing games outside the fantasy setting more often follow this pattern. Like sci-fi games, horror games, games based on movies or books. Maybe because a trap and monster laden dungeon makes little sense in such a setting, or maybe because these settings allow a different way of playing. But fantasy usually falls back to the dungeon. The Dark Dungeon game is an exception in this for a fantasy role playing game – one not specifically based on a book or movie. It is less fit for a straight dungeon bash, although you can use it for that purpose. No, Dark Dungeon is a fantasy game made for playing stories.   

Leaving the dungeon and entering the realm of stories gives a lot of freedom. Possibilities. New realms to explore, and other ways of having fun, and experiencing surprise. But where do you begin? Freedom also gives choices, and how to make these choices so that you actually have an exciting adventure? That question I hope to answer at least partly in following posts.


Pick #69: Delta Green, Cthulhu goes WWII

Actually looking for something not quite related, like obscure secret service sections in World War II, I stumbled along an intriguing fansite. Delta Green. It concerns itself with source materials for Call of Chthulhu (never sure how to spell this critter), but for a period which is usually ignored in the regular CoC game. The second Great War to end all wars. A brief scan gives me the impression that the research is well done. Especially as I didn't notice until quite late that it was gaming material instead of regular history stuff.

If you dare, the setting is allows for quite dark and powerful adventures. Just imagine combining the real horrors of the war with the imagined ones... 't Will be a challenge not to make it too sick, but there's opportunity to go to unknown realms of the mind too.

Sadly, the site seems to be dying a slow death, just like its Yahoo mailing list and companion blog -or at the very least its dormant. Have a look if you feel like exploring unknown horrors of 39-45. I wonder if Gil Trevizo is still having stuff for this project, and whether the planned supplement  "Our Darkest Hour" did come to fruition. My google skills so far fail to find it!


Free Adventures: Ammersfurt #30, The Hanged Men

The Secret of Ammersfurt is a free role playing supplement for The World Beyond. Every week for thirty-five weeks, you'll get new bits for the Ammersfurt adventure setting, like monsters, NPC's, locations, skills, character templates, role play tips, and so on. And also every week, you'll get an adventure seed, which you can turn into a weekly adventure.

Adventure Seed 30: The Hanged Men
Since the judgement on the Hof a few weeks have passed. And the sentenced criminals have been hanged on hangman's hill, also known as the “Berg” (mount), just south of the city. It is not a nice sight, but such seems to be the way to deal with bad crime. And then, after an exceptionally stormy night, one of the heroes passes the gallows on the forested hill. The hanged men and women are all gone. The gallows are empty. Crows are everywhere. A stench permeates the air. But there is no dead body to be found. What happened?

Download the thirtieth part of The Secret of Ammersfurt here!


Role Playing 101 #2: What's Your Play Style?

Maybe it's just one game, but you can play it many different ways. See if you can recognize your own play style(s) in the ones below.

The power player
These play the game to “win”. To become powerful. To be the mightiest. The best. The one with most magic items and treasure. Sometimes they want to play fair, sometimes they don't care. Most players start out this way, because in general games tend to be competitive. So you're supposed to win, right? Well, no. Role playing games are not really about winning or losing. The're much more about cooperating – with the exception of player killing online games maybe, but would you call that role play? So, most gamers evolve further, to new goals.

The puzzle player
Plots, intricate intrigue, politics and diplomacy, cloak and dagger, murder mysteries, complicated storylines with lots of twists – or just plain riddles and puzzles to solve. All of these can motivate the puzzle player. And to be honest, most role players are smart enough to like this style. It's just very much dependent on the Game Master whether it's possible. He or she will have to provide the brain crunch.

The playground player
For this style of play the game is mostly an excuse to be together with friends and have a good time. The game world is mostly a playground to do silly things, prank, make jokes, dream up cute pets, and test zany magic items. Story shouldn't be too heavy handed, nor should winning be a goal, except maybe as part of a vengeful prank. Few gamers survive on this style alone. But especially as a change from everyday heavy handedness, some prefer it.

The simulationist
To recreate as it was is the main motive here. This can be a historic simulation, like in portraying knightly or Christian virtues as they maybe were. Or maybe political or economic, or tactical combat situations. Detail often becomes very important, as do (long) descriptions. Only if the game master also is running a simulation game, this style is possible. So it tends to be rare.

The role player
The true role player insists that it is stepping in the shoes of someone else that is the goal of the game. Some role players like the experience of being someone else – and feeling how they feel, with all the thrills and spills if possible. Some like to portray someone else, and see the game as a form of theatre. Role playing tends to be easier in games where the story is central, and when there are many social encounters. I suspect that most gamers are in fact attracted to the game for exactly this aspect of play. The game doesn't derive its name from nowhere, you know.

The team player
Misused as the term team player may be, having someone with this style in your group is gold. Team players try to make the game work for all involved, if need be at the cost of their own play experience. They try to make the group a whole, drawing other players into the game by giving them special attention. And often team players follow the plot and the Game Master plans when they can guess what they are. The downfall of many team players is that they may not be recognized if they do their necessary work too smoothly. Cheer a team player if you recognize one.

Talking about recognizing, did you see your own style or styles here? Have you moved from one style to another? Can you see what the styles of your fellow players are? Which do you like, and why? Questions, questions. But fun to think about.


Pick #68: Snow White goes Postal

Grimm's fairy tales are a welcome source of storylines if you're out of inspiration. Or if you're looking for doing a classic without bothering to pay for the rights. In other words, looks like Snow White is back!
Nothing like Lord of the Rings, fortunately ;-)

At least the trailer looks fairly cool - if mostly violent and not with too much intelligence required for the male leading part. Looking at it I think the only suspension of disbelief you need is on Kristen Stewart becoming more beautiful than Charlize Theron. Duh... no way!

Maybe this Snow White can handle a long knife better. Still, looking forward to what commercial director Rupert Sanders makes of this. You never know, maybe he can pull off things longer than 1'30" too!

With thanx to Book of Worlds for discovering the trailer in the first place.


Free Adventures: Ammersfurt #29

The Secret of Ammersfurt is a free role playing supplement for the Dark Dungeon 2nd Ed game. Every week for thirty-five weeks, you'll get new bits for the Ammersfurt adventure setting, like monsters, NPC's, locations, skills, character templates, role play tips, and so on. And also every week, you'll get an adventure seed, which you can turn into a weekly adventure.

Adventure Seed 29: Judgement at the Hof

After good things have passed, uncomfortable times come. It is the day that criminals of the past year will have to be judged. And this year a few that are held in the Thieves tower might receive the death sentence. The Schout (Sherrif) has come to town because he will have to pass sentence. Our heroes are present, maybe because they captured one or more of the accused. A crowd has gathered on the Hof, and the prisoners are led forward under the beat of a drum.

Download the twentysecond part of The Secret of Ammersfurt here! 

Painting is of the actual Thieves tower in Amersfoort 

PS It seems I kind of messed up my sequence of adventure parts for the Secret of Ammersfurt, and kept on publishing #22. Hope to rectify that from hereon.


Role Playing 101 #1: Roll Playing vs Role Playing

Ages ago, I think it was in the 80-ies of last century, one of my best friends wrote a role playing manifesto. We weren't supposed to just roll the dice, he said, but we ought become our characters. We ought to feel how they felt, and actually play their roles. At least for the duration of the game.

Rolling Dice and Just Having Fun
We were playing a variation of the Dungeons & Dragons game then, and for most of us it took some time to understand what he meant. Weren't we supposed to just go into a dungeon, roll some dice, and slay some hapless monsters? Collect some treasure, roll some dice, and meanwhile imagine that we actually were Aragorn, or Gandalf? Was it wrong what we were doing?

Not necessarily. Basically it's a difference in play style. There are more possible play styles, sure, but my friend made a very important distinction. You either shove your persona around the board, and roll some dice, or – to an extent – you become the persona. Most people start out doing the first, as it is less scary. It's also easier to say: hey, that's just a puppet, it's not me. My character does this or that. My character now attacks your character because he failed his sanity roll. Haha. No offence meant.

Or Being Someone Else a Bit
But it's – I for one think so – much more interesting to crawl into another skin. Slip into a role, and be able to say – I hit the dragon with my sword! I am the one whose parents were slain by the evil Imperial troops, and now I am out for revenge. Or if you dare: “dear princess Arwena, I love you”. Scarier, for sure, but also more rewarding.

The more you try it, the more you may be surprised how it really is to be in someone else's shoes. I still am, especially when playing evil non player characters, often finding out and feeling on the spot why they act as they do. In that way, role playing may actually prove to be better social training than you'd expect after seeing another nerdy portrayal of our hobby.

Where are you at your own games? Do you prefer roll playing or role playing? Or is it a mix of both? When do you use which method? Do you fall back on dice to avoid intimacy, conflict, something else that's scary? Or do you just use it to condense time, and seek role playing out in other situations?
It's an old distinction, but it's fun to make it explicit for yourself.


Pick #67: Colonial Gothic

With all his fame, one would almost forget that James Maliszewski did more than invent Dwimmermount or blog fervently on his Grognardia. With Richard Iorio II he also co-wrote Colonial Gothic. A role playing game of historical horror fantasy in the Colonial days of America.

And it's good. That might be easy to say about someone famous' produce, but it just is.  Funny thing is, the game is almost as hidden as it's subject matter, Colonial Horrors. But really, it's one of the very few games I'm curious about playing. Not just once, but campaignwise.

And that's not just because it touches on similar subject matter as my own "The French Invade Texas" - just to put in a shameless plug for my own games.

If you want to imagine a bit what it's setting is like, imagine what Call of Cthulhu might have been, if it was written by Edgar Allan Poe, and set in the pre-revolution days of North America. When the French, the native Indians, the British and the Dutch still vied for supremacy. Where the Germans fought as Hessian soldiers, witchcraft was real, and the land was without highways or motorcars. But with demons.

Have a look. The pdf is not too expensive, the game system is fairly simple - yet with two twelve sided dice as its base, it's quite esoteric -, artwork simple but evocative. Also the supplements - written by a host of experts - are intriguing, telling of a past we often forgot about. Like Colonial France, when a full third of North America was officially under French control. When we forget about the native Americans, that is. And if you prefer Freemasons or Knights Templar, there are booklets about those too.


Random RPG Thoughts #3: Why is D&D so niche?

Dungeons & Dragons once was a huge hit amongst teenagers. And to some teenagers it still is. Except that some of them are now forty plus year old teenagers. Yet, certainly now in Europe, it is niche.

Science Fiction is a hit amongst many people, as a genre. Star Wars is one of the all time box office hits. But Science Fiction for people at large is... niche.

Fantasy is hot amongst teenagers. Lord of the Rings is an all time box office hit and a huge New Zealand mega production. Even the book it was based on is an all time hit, reluctantly admitted on literature lists in college. Bu fantasy as a genre is... niche.

Even since Harry Potter. Which is a brilliant concept coming of age series. Brilliant at least in the sense that Harry Potter and the novels grew in age with their audience. It thus gained a growing grown up audience. But even Harry Potter is a bit... niche. Mainstream niche perhaps. But nerdy niche.

Naturally, D&D and other typical role playing games are more niche than HP. Even since World of Warcraft - which is at least akin to tabletop role playing.

Most sensible grown ups will not come near the games. Why not?

Several reasons I guess. To name a few:

1. Typical RPG rules are way to complex, rulebooks are way to thick, and it appears to take a week long course to even start understanding the game. I suspect this is one of the most important put offs.

2. Typical RPG games look childish in a way, or simple minded. Mindless slaying of monsters and looting of treasure may seem a bit nerdy and adolescent.

3. Too few sexy women play the game. Including the typical party-going kind. This may have to do with reason #1. It may also have to do with reason #2. The game itself seems unsexy.

4. The competition element is unclear. Or at least the goal of the game is. This may be why How to Host a Murder games may not be so niche, even if they have small audiences too. There the goal for an evenings play is clearly set.

So, if you'd eliminate these points. Simple rules, less childish themes (and I do not mean adult themes instead), a sexier concept, and a clear goal for the evening. Would you entice a less niche audience?

I'd love to know!