Role Playing 101 #15: Story Gaming in your Dungeon

Last issue I discussed how you can see a Story game as a particular kind of Dungeon. Of course, you can also see the dungeon as a particular kind of story. Even better, you can combine the two different game types - sparking one of the other.

You might already be doing this of course, putting story elements in your dungeon, or perhaps little dungeons in your story. Even if you do, doing this consciously can make it much easier running your game.

Quests: a Story in your Dungeon

If you are more comfortable with dungeon, endless corridors with dangerous denizens, and fiendish subterranean complexes, you'll probably want to start there. Your party would explore a mythic under-earth place, perhaps with some sort of overall goal in mind - perhaps not. Often, you'll just delve toward the deepest level like in a game of "Dungeon Hack" or its modern variant "Diablo".

Stories typically enter such a setting as little "quests". In a room you may chance upon a patron asking your services, or on a dying creature with a treasure map, or even an enemy demanding something special before you may pass. Each of these encounters may spark off little stories, or puzzles, depending on how you use them. These are quests.

Quests only become stories once you also insert scenes. Computer games do this all the time, as "cut scenes" between the action. But these are seldom giving any choice to the heroes, or their players. What you want in a game is some freedom of choice, and choices that matter.

Scenes are a kind of Encounter

Your quests will be small stories, with a beginning and an end, and some developments in between. Each development is a scene - and each scene, is a kind of encounter taking place somewhere. A story can take different paths, and you might want to think up new scenes as you go along - but they can all take place in your dungeon. You just need enough space to have your story in.

Suppose your heroes encounter a band of orcs, who have a prisoner. That's your opening scene for the quest - a encounter with the orcs. Once the heroes freed the prisoner, and either killed, captured or chased away the orcs, the prisoner is very thankful and reveals he was searching a treasure here. He had a map, but he had to hide it while the orcs were chasing him - that's scene two. The heroes may now navigate to where the map may be or first do other things. But once the heroes get to the point where the map is, you can trigger scene three: it's now guarded by a horrible wandering monster, or perhaps it has fallen down a treacherous chute. Once the heroes have the map, they will be able to study it, and this might be scene four. It could be for example, that the heroes now recognize the area of the map, and realize it is a very dangerous area they have run away from before. This may spark of an interesting discussion of whether they want to go there at all.

And so you could spin your little story on further, while in between your scenes the heroes explore the dungeon and have their regular encounters. You may find that your players live up every time a new piece of the story appears, and that it gives new direction to your adventures.

Scenes are Challenges

Each new story element should pose some sort of choice, or challenge. Perhaps the heroes find that the prisoner they freed was part of a team he betrayed, and that that team is also out looking for the treasure. Suppose they now encounter that other team - whose side will they choose?

Also, each scene could end differently, and the story could bend in many ways. The map could end up damaged, or stolen, the prisoner wounded mortally, the orcs might return later in greater force. You don't have to tie down the storyline beforehand (better not!), and you don't have to be strict about where things should take place either. You can also insert a new development of a quest whenever you feel the game slows down, or the players need some change of pace.

An Overall Storyline

Once you are comfortable with quests, or perhaps before, you may want to have an overall storyline to your dungeon too. This may be a main quest, that drew the heroes into your dungeon in the first place. Perhaps they look for a long lost treasure, a long lost race, or a prisoner that was taken in deep. Perhaps they want to defeat an ancient evil that hides on a deep level, and now sends out it's minions to terrorize the world above - this is naturally the classic dungeon theme.

An overall storyline would have at least one opening scene - but you might have one for each new session you start, just to remind your players why they are there. An opening could be an encounter with the minions of the evil mastermind - an assault, a surprise attack, or even a negotiator, or a victim.

During the game, you would have developments. The heroes might beat an important minion, or lose a good friend. They might find a special weapon to fight their enemy, or discover a map proving a new route to his lair. They might befriend new allies in their quest, or free prisoners with new information. Each of such scenes will not only add spice to your dungeon, it will give direction to your game and your players. Most importantly it will enrich your game and make it more fun.


Pick #91: 24-Hour RPG Competition

Have you ever contemplated writing your own role playing game? Chances are, if you've stumbled upon this blog, that you have. Have you ever considered writing one within 24 hours?

With some regularity, the guys at 1kM1kT have a competition to do just that. In fact, there is one now, as I write this during November 2013. You can win 30 sterling in vouchers to meet "your gaming habit needs", and all you have to do is lock yourself up for 24 hours somewhere and write that game.

If you think it's not possible - you may be surprised - I participated four times, and I was both proud and surprised of what I could do in such a span of time. It's quite a boost to see what concentration and time-limits can do for your creative brain. Later versions even became full fledged commercial games of which I'm proud - like the cooperative card RPG Ringworld Zombie.

Even when you don't feel like participating, or if you have no time to do so - you might want to look at the results of others' efforts, and be amazed with at least some of them.


Role Play 101 #14: Story Telling for Dungeon Builders

At times it may seem there are two kinds of role players, the dungeon-type gamers, and the story-gamers. Two styles of play that are worlds apart. Dungeoneers may feel lost in a story type game, story gamers feel underestimated in a dungeon. But the styles may have more in common than it may seem, and in fact you could write a story as if it were a "dungeon".

The Difference: Story vs Dungeon

Dungeon gamers generally love Dungeons & Dragons in one form or another, Story gamers often don't - and instead prefer more "open" games where character and story are more important. The first group likes to just get into the action, and let any stories unfold as they do, if at all. The second group likes to get into their roles, and want to feel their heroes lives unfold in a story resembling an exciting movie or book - something with a plot, or at least something with some real depth and if possible a beginning and an end.

Often there is no dungeon whatsoever in a story game, just like there may be no story in a dungeon game. So what do these game have in common? Well, they're both games - role playing games. They just have different frames of reference. One has rooms for building blocks, the other uses scenes.

The Similarity: Scenes are a kind of Room

When you frame your game either as a dungeon or as a story, you are very much deciding how your game world is delineated. Are you moving from room to room, or moving from scene to scene? Rooms or scenes are your borders, your frame of reference in which you can move around. Sure, you can break down walls and make new rooms in a dungeon, but basically each new room is a new game situation. In a way, each new room is a special sort of scene.

In the same way, scenes are building blocks of a story. Sure again, one scene may flow over into another, but each scene is a separate, limited game situation. And just like every room has walls, exits, and stuff or even creatures or people in it, so every scene takes place somewhere, with someone, at sometime, with some central action and theme. You can almost think of a scene as an "encounter" with someone, or something. A scene is a sort of challenge, in a way. It can be a fight, a chase, a briefing, sneaking past the guard, breaking into a house, and so on.

A scene is limited - almost like a room. And like a room has exits, a scene has different "story exits", or leads, to other possible scenes in the story.

Connecting Scene "Rooms" into a Story

A role playing story is formed during play, and not during preparation. The choices of the players are just as important in how a story develops as what the game master may have thought up beforehand.

Dungeoneers often complain that they feel railroaded in a story game, much the same way all gamers would feel railroaded if they were in a dungeon with just one route to take - and no going back. Nobody would like that - and yet that's what many earlier modules looked like - and may still look like.

So the trick in any story game is to provide enough choices. Somewhat like a dungeon with many routes. Every scene should have several "story exits" to choose from, each leading to another scene. Thus you could have a map, or a flow chart of scenes - much like an abstract sort of "dungeon". But you can also just have a list of potential scenes, on a sheet or index cards maybe, and think of possible links on the spot, while you're game mastering.

Thinking in such scene exits may sound a bit more difficult than just drawing a new corridor or door on your map, but it doesn't need to be.

Scene Exits

So, what would a scene "exit" look like? Some typical exits could be:

- follow the villain - tracking him down, or chasing him,
- follow a clue or lead to a new location or contact (typical for mysteries),
- run away from danger,
- travel to a new location on route to a quest goal,
- rest and prepare for the next day or scene,
- follow an invitation from a patron or friend,
- get captured by enemies or the guard,
- go and shop for necessary supplies or special gear,
- go do research about the adventure goal, or about the antagonist,
- go get help from friends or authorities,
- and so on...

Whenever you are in a scene, it makes sense to think ahead to which new scenes the players may want to move. If there are no obvious choices, you should provide some. If they didn't find the clues you wanted them to find? Make a new scene exit for them, and throw in some new clues pointing in a useful direction. Are your players going another way than you expected? Either go with the flow, or throw in a "random" encounter  that becomes a new scene with new choice exits. Are your players bogged down, and not sure which way to go? Throw in a new friend, enemy or patron to give them new options. Also don't be afraid to just skip time, and say: "ok, you spend about three days in town, and then the next thing happens…".

Story Entrance and Climax Chamber

No innuendo intended. Just like a dungeon has some sort of main entrance - or multiple entrances - so your story should have a starting scene, with enough options to continue. Opening with a raid by the villains minions is classic, and so is a dying man's delivery of an important message. But there are many other options - you could even start with the "ending" of a never played adventure, much like the openings of Indiana Jones movies.

The ending of the story or session should also be special. As a dungeon may have a special treasure room, or the master bedroom of the villain, a story also needs climaxes. One often used in video games is the "boss level", but you need not make it so corny. A major confrontation with the villain would make a good end scene, as would a major rescue, or a break neck escape from danger.

As you may see, dungeons and stories have more in common than it looks at first glance. Perhaps, if you are a hard core dungeon gamer, thinking of a story as just "a sort of dungeon", will make playing a story game sound more attractive. And the other way around too - both styles can show new worlds to each other.


Sneak Preview: WysaertZ

For those who also enjoy (my) card games, WysaertZ is the return of a golden oldie once in extremely limited supply. The game predated a certain trading card game which swooped the market in the nineties - with a similar idea. You can imagine how shocked I was when their company bought TSR!

Except that my game is not a trading card game, and it plays much faster, with much more humour.

Soon Now on DriveThruCards  - WysaertZ print-on-demand! 

80 cards of magick mayhem, rules included, playing time 10-20mins, 1-6 players, age 9 and up.

Also available now:  the 80 card Ultimaete Destrucktion Decke expansion!

So, and now for some posts on regular roleplaying...

Samaris Hardcover on DriveThru!

Update: You can now buy The World Beyond's Samaris Game Companion in full color print (also inside) from DriveThru. It's a full city setting for more narrative role playing, with over a hundred contacts, as many locations, creatures, adventure ideas and artifacts. It was written for The World Beyond RPG, but you could use it with minimal tweaking in any favorite fantasy game system, be it O5R or something else.

The black and white version (older Dark Dungeon rules) is no longer available. That is, unless you want one of the few remaining ones I have left. Leave a message if you're interested. The Samaris color print and pdf is right here.

Have a look at the positive reviews of the first (B&W) edition of Samaris here. The new version is even better.

Here is a picture of that first edition's b&w print. I had some issues with the printer at first, with big black spots appearing instead of transparency. I was so proud when I finally got it right :-)

Ringworld Zombie Cards

Update: Ringworld Zombie is a fast Zombie card game where you try to escape from the zombies in a derelict space prison. I first did it as a 24 hour game design challenge, and now made it into a professional game with all new artwork.

Here's some of the Ringworld Zombie cards... which you can find on DriveThru as print-on-demand, fine quality playing cards. My daughters love the game - except that they're kind of scared that the next zombie card may eat their hero - so we have to take over their heroes while they watch us getting eaten...

Believe it or not, yes, it is also a role playing game - also fit for zombie hunters with short attention spans.


Samaris for Sale!

Ever wished for a Fantasy City Guide you can leave on your table while playing? Ever wished you could page through the book and just TELL your Game Master you want to GO there? Join in imagination, and meet exciting people, visit mysterious places, investigate strange rumours, and fight monstrous creatures with bad tempers?

Then Samaris may be the book for you. It's a guide for Players AND Game Masters, to use together during play. With innovative new game mechanics players can influence the story by calling on their contacts; and game masters can truly engage the heroes, by using their personal rivals, patrons and hangouts.

Samaris is also a companion book to The World Beyond, the elegant and lean role playing system: Samaris features sixteen new hero templates, dozens of new skills, new magick, gunpowder weapons, and many new treasures and creatures.

And even if your favorite game system is not The World Beyond (why not?), it's easy to adapt and use in any fantasy role playing game. You can find some pointers on that in the extensive Game Master section, where you'll also find loads of adventure seeds and a full adventure module.

Over a hundred locations; over a hundred contacts for your heroes to meet, befriend, and hate; hundreds of rumours. 320+ pages, full of illustrations, full of inspiration. The Samaris PDF is out, so is the Lulu print, and the Lightningsource hardcover is available in full color now will soon follow!

Update: Samaris is now updated for the World Beyond RPG (formerly Dark Dungeon 2nd Ed) - and available in full color hardcover and pdf. Visit here for the Samaris Game Companion for the World Beyond.


Pick #90: Xenobiology

Alien lifeforms, completely different from our own typical build can be the spice of your science fiction, or fantasy games. But how do you imagine lifeforms that you've never seen? Before you know it, everything starts to look either like insects, like Lovecraftian creatures, or like the Aliens from the Ripley-driven film sequels. This in itself isn't bad. But there are a few other possibilities.

Here's some sites I stumbled upon that may give you entirely new ideas. You could see them as a jumpstart to Xenobiology 101.

The first is Furahan Biology blog, run by a Dutch scientist. It features quite a few nice thoughts on xenobiology and the imaginary planet Furaha. Similar blogs are The Xenobiology of Nereus, run by Evan Black from Utah, Xenoblog by the mysterious lady Amoeboid, and Biology in Science Fiction by Peggy Kolm.

The second thing to look at would be the Aldebaran, Betelgeuze and Antares science fiction comic series by Leo, a Brazilian artist. You can find some on the english translations of Leo's Aldebaran series here. The creatures of these series are thought through quite well, being quite weird and alien indeed.

A third thing to look at, when you're able, is Falling Skies, a science fiction series now in its fourth season, produced by Steven Spielberg. It features quite a few special effects and weird creatures.

Good luck imagining! - oh... and if you can stand Niven, read the Ringworld series!


A request: Proofreader & reviewer wanted

Samaris, the Dark Dungeon "Expert Set" and city adventures book is nigh finished.
The only thing missing for launch is a good proofread and review by native English speakers.
If you can help me out, you'll receive at the very least a free PDF of both books, honorable
mention, and my eternal gratitude. My target release time is the very end of June.

Samaris is chock-full, also with illustrations on every other page, for 322 pages. Samaris introduces some new ways of structuring your adventures, and gives the players new possibilities and new depth with Friends, Patrons and Rivals. Also, you'll find 17 new templates, new monsters, skills, magick, maps and stuff. It's both for players AND storyteller-game masters.

Let me know, when you want to help - many thanks!


More Sample Art: Samaris City Book

And here's another two page spreads. The Samaris Source book is written for Dark Dungeon, but could be used for any fantasy RPG, as long as you're willing to fill in details (on the fly, preferably :)). It contains sixteen new templates for characters, new disciplines, new skills, new saints, new creatures, many locations and one hundred contacts to use as friends, patrons and rivals for your heroes.
Actually it's sort of an Expert Set and Setting Book in one.

Now soon, I'll need proofreaders for the final phase. Will keep you posted.


Some Sample Art: Samaris City Book

Yes, I'm still alive. And indeed I'm in the lay out phase of the completely renewed, immensely expanded Samaris City Book. (What on earth made me start on this? It's very much work!) It's a supplement for both players and Game Masters, to be used at your gaming table, both while playing and preparing. Here's some art.


What's on with James of Grognardia!

Lately, I was growing a bit worried - For anybody else wondering what's going on behind the silence on normally ever-present blog Grognardia, and whether James  is all right, or if you're wondering what's happening with Dwimmermount, I suggest you read this post by Victor Raymond. It seems that James himself may be well enough, but his father is not - and that this now takes up his energy and time. Let's wish him well - and indeed, tell our own parents how we love (or at least appreciate) them too, as long as we have the chance.


Pick #89: BlueHolme

In case you haven't noticed it yet - someone did a Open Gaming License rewrite of the Blue Holmes Basic D&D set. That someone is Michael Thomas of Dreamscape Design. It's called Blueholme (wonder why?) Maybe it's not needed - but hey, it looks good.

It is sprinkled with old illustrations (by Ford and Lambdin), from fairy tales - a bit a la Rackham.  Strangely enough this aids a bit in recreating the feel of the original Holmes edition. It's free - on DriveThru. Michael Thomas plans to have a full fledged expert set for sale later. Now... the only thing missing is some ole players from 1982 and a print-on-demand version :-) Have a look and see what you think.


Pick #88: Castle For Sale

No, this is not about a plot hook for a comic horror game, although it could be. In fact, why not write one? No, it's about actual castles being for sale, today, right now.

Hunting for some real castle maps, I stumbled on this one. Then I found this site specialising in rather expensive real estate for aspiring nobles. A Dutch site it seems... my fellow countrymen seem to enjoy strange hobbies. This one sells for 25 million gp - eh, euros.

A regular castle may be a bit hard on the average role player's budget, but that's probably precisely why there's quite a few luxurious estates for sale out there. Fancy one? If you do the cleaning, you're welcome to stay in the one I'd buy if I had the money. Which I don't. Ah well.

Gaze and be astounded. And call me if you buy one and want me over. I won't clean ;-)

And enjoy this new year, whatever it may bring!