All aboard!

Gamer Cache has been on a bit of a holding pattern through the Holidays and the subsequently traditional “work a lot of hours to make up cash after the Holidays” period. We’re getting the boiler fired back up though, time to get this train moving again!

Doing your homework

The Hunt for Red OctoberToday’s post is in honor of Tom Clancy, unparalleled techno-thriller author who died this morning.

I have sometimes made comment about how I end up learning the oddest things while GMing. Generally speaking, when I sit down to plan out a campaign or upcoming session, I try to make it a believable  as possible. I certainly hold myself to a higher standard than Hollywood! I have found myself researching Napoleonic infantry formations for use in Mecha games, quantum physics for use explaining hyperdrives, evolution of languages for a game set during the Crusades, European and Asian heraldry for use in East meets West steampunk setting, various phrases in many languages for any number of games, and a hundred other odd topics.

Even so, you’re still not going to be an expert in the topic! However, I’ve found that knowing something about the topic is better than completely making crap up when it comes to portraying a given thing in your game setting. Why make up some babble that sounds sort of French when you could grab a cheap phrasebook and actually learn a few real phrases? The party going to be in turn of the century London? Go look up a few articles about famous buildings and people of the time. Mentioning a popular kids game, juicy scandal, or political debate from the time period can really help get Players immersed in the setting.

The GM is not an expert

Try to do the best you can, enjoy learning new things, and try to make the setting as realistic as possible (with respect to the style of setting itself, of course). The trick, as with many things, is to not over do it! There’s a balance between having the party’s Cop/Detective Player fill out a printed form on the crime scene (fun!) and making the Player learn every single facet of criminal law (boring!) If your Players start looking like the Economics class in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off you’ve gone too far. Dial it back some, abstract the paperwork or procedures with a Bureaucracy or Protocol roll. If the character knows the skills and the Player doesn’t, that’s fine. That’s sort of the point of role-playing. Let the story unfold and keep the action moving! Even Tom Clancy himself would occasionally go into just a bit too much detail at the expense of keeping the story going. Sometimes you just have to say “Cool rifle bro, let’s not discuss the history of its bolt mechanism”. Well, not unless it’s the key to the murder mystery…

A writer cannot do too much research… though sometimes it is a mistake to try and cram too much of what you learned into your novel. Research gives you a foundation to build on, but in the end it’s only the story that matters.” –George R.R. Martin

It’s a bit like that middle chapter in Snow Crash, the one where you learn the Complete History of Sumerian Mythology with a side of CDC Viral Biology Reports. It’s painful, it borders the very bleeding edge of what your audience can be expected to sit through, and it’s utterly needed for the plot to make any sense at all. A bit of a conundrum, really. It’s the sort of Info Dump that most GMs issue as Handout Packets, short stories, or the occasional “Go watch this movie before next session.” The key is to find out how much the Players are willing to follow/learn to enjoy the game. Showing your work that the Quantum Cosmic Teleportation Blinky Lights Machine is based on 36 hours of physics research you did is utterly irrelevant if the explanation isn’t critical to the plot or the Players are bored silly. Bored players blow stuff up. Probably using the Quantum Cosmic Teleportation Blinky Lights Machine.

Remember, if a player gets up in your face about the intricate details of a thing that you only researched slightly you need to either incorporate their expertise (which is invariably being used to break your plot) or calmly enforce that you’re the GM and what you say goes. “In this setting, it works in the way I described” can get you out of a lot of arguments so that you can get on with the fun. We’ll talk about dealing with Power Players and Munchkins in more detail in another post.

 

If it’s not on the equipment list…

…Don’t be afraid to add it!

Czerka Heavy Blaster Pack
Czerka Heavy Blaster Pack (C) J. Ryan Decker

Just as long as it doesn’t break your game setting, that is. In this case a player needed a large blaster pack to power a Steadicam-mounted hip blaster. Think the big guns from Aliens meets a deck-sweeping stun cannon…. yeah. It was a bit over the top, but it did do only stun damage so I allowed it. It’s one of those judgement calls that a GM has to make that at first doesn’t sound hard but in hindsight can ruin an entire campaign with unexpected balance issues.

There’s no good guide to go off of here, except perhaps the personal judgement of the GM in regards to the Player. If you have a Munchkin on your hands, by all means do NOT let them start making up weapons! You’ll end up with rocket-powered head-seeking drills filled with explosives. Trust me on this one. But sometimes you will get something amusing like the Players wanting to add pressure-triggered tasers into a box of doughnuts to disable a few beat cops in order to steal something out of the Evidence Room. It’s amusing, it’s certainly creative, and there’s a good chance that it will fail spectacularly–so go ahead and let them try it.

If it fits the setting, fits the tech level, won’t take an entire R&D department a year to develop it, and won’t destroy your campaign then it should be considered. Who knows, it may drive the story in a new and interesting direction. Heck, the entire plot of every single MacGyver and A-Team episode revolved around exactly this!

If things start looking uncontrollable, remember this:

That which the GM can give, the GM can taketh away.

 

 

 

NPC Dark Current (Star Wars D6)

Feel free to use posted NPCs in your own campaigns and settings, just don’t go claiming any of my personal Copyrighted material as your own.

In a recent Star Wars D6 campaign the party was on a primitive world populated by degenerated Sith/Human/Massassi hybrids–survivors of a Sith colony that was destroyed just prior to the Seventh Battle of Ruusan in 1022BBY. I had one of the players get “volunteered” by a small tribe as their Champion in the upcoming 1024th Executive Officer Games, an arena deathmatch by any other name. The winner of the Thunderdome was put in charge of the planet for the next solar year. In this case one Player was in the arena, but instead of having the other six Players sit around bored I had them randomly draw a pit fighter to play from a pile of pre-made characters. THEY were to be his opposition in the arena. All of a sudden it went from “boring arena fight we have to watch” to “We’re in the Hunger Games, it is so on” in the span of 30 seconds.

Dark_Current_byXechon
Force Skills:

  • Rage
  • Emptiness
  • Hibernation trance
  • Control Pain
  • Enhance Attribute
  • Reduce injury
  • Remain Conscious
  • Aura of Uneasiness
  • Drain Life nergy
  • Lanvarok Combat (Use like Lightsaber Combat)
  • Combat Sense
  • Danger Sense
  • Life Detection
  • Life Sense
  • Life Web
  • Magnify Senses
  • Weather Sense
  • Shift Sense
  • Sense Force
  • Force Wind
  • Injure/Kill
  • Bolt of Hatred
  • Telekinesis

If Lanvarok Combat is “Up”: Lanvarok to-hit 6D+4 Damage 8D+3

Other Abilities: Force Scream, Call Upon the Dark Side

 

Star Wars D6 The Role-Play Game (C) West End Games and Wizards of the Coast

Star Wars (C) Lucasfilm and Disney

NPC Jarra The Unkillable (Star Wars D6)

Feel free to use posted NPCs in your own campaigns and settings, just don’t go claiming any of my personal Copyrighted material as your own.

In a recent Star Wars D6 campaign the party was on a primitive world populated by degenerated Sith/Human/Massassi hybrids–survivors of a Sith colony that was destroyed just prior to the Seventh Battle of Ruusan in 1022BBY. I had one of the players get “volunteered” by a small tribe as their Champion in the upcoming 1024th Executive Officer Games, an arena deathmatch by any other name. The winner of the Thunderdome was put in charge of the planet for the next solar year. In this case one Player was in the arena, but instead of having the other six Players sit around bored I had them randomly draw a pit fighter to play from a pile of pre-made characters. THEY were to be his opposition in the arena. All of a sudden it went from “boring arena fight we have to watch” to “We’re in the Hunger Games, it is so on” in the span of 30 seconds.

Jarra_The_Unkillabe_byXechon

Star Wars D6 The Role-Play Game (C) West End Games and Wizards of the Coast

Star Wars (C) Lucasfilm and Disney

NPC Whispered Kill (Star Wars D6)

Feel free to use posted NPCs in your own campaigns and settings, just don’t go claiming any of my personal Copyrighted material as your own.

In a recent Star Wars D6 campaign the party was on a primitive world populated by degenerated Sith/Human/Massassi hybrids–survivors of a Sith colony that was destroyed just prior to the Seventh Battle of Ruusan in 1022BBY. I had one of the players get “volunteered” by a small tribe as their Champion in the upcoming 1024th Executive Officer Games, an arena deathmatch by any other name. The winner of the Thunderdome was put in charge of the planet for the next solar year. In this case one Player was in the arena, but instead of having the other six Players sit around bored I had them randomly draw a pit fighter to play from a pile of pre-made characters. THEY were to be his opposition in the arena. All of a sudden it went from “boring arena fight we have to watch” to “We’re in the Hunger Games, it is so on” in the span of 30 seconds.

Whispered_Kill_byXechon

Star Wars D6 The Role-Play Game (C) West End Games and Wizards of the Coast

Star Wars (C) Lucasfilm and Disney

NPC Lantralla Vosh (Star Wars D6)

Feel free to use posted NPCs in your own campaigns and settings, just don’t go claiming any of my personal Copyrighted material as your own.

In a recent Star Wars D6 campaign the party was on a primitive world populated by degenerated Sith/Human/Massassi hybrids–survivors of a Sith colony that was destroyed just prior to the Seventh Battle of Ruusan in 1022BBY. I had one of the players get “volunteered” by a small tribe as their Champion in the upcoming 1024th Executive Officer Games, an arena deathmatch by any other name. The winner of the Thunderdome was put in charge of the planet for the next solar year. In this case one Player was in the arena, but instead of having the other six Players sit around bored I had them randomly draw a pit fighter to play from a pile of pre-made characters. THEY were to be his opposition in the arena. All of a sudden it went from “boring arena fight we have to watch” to “We’re in the Hunger Games, it is so on” in the span of 30 seconds.

Lantralla_Vosh_byXechon

Star Wars D6 The Role-Play Game (C) West End Games and Wizards of the Coast

Star Wars (C) Lucasfilm and Disney

NPC Russ’slik Sitosk (Star Wars D6)

Feel free to use posted NPCs in your own campaigns and settings, just don’t go claiming any of my personal Copyrighted material as your own.

In a recent Star Wars D6 campaign the party was on a primitive world populated by degenerated Sith/Human/Massassi hybrids–survivors of a Sith colony that was destroyed just prior to the Seventh Battle of Ruusan in 1022BBY. I had one of the players get “volunteered” by a small tribe as their Champion in the upcoming 1024th Executive Officer Games, an arena deathmatch by any other name. The winner of the Thunderdome was put in charge of the planet for the next solar year. In this case one Player was in the arena, but instead of having the other six Players sit around bored I had them randomly draw a pit fighter to play from a pile of pre-made characters. THEY were to be his opposition in the arena. All of a sudden it went from “boring arena fight we have to watch” to “We’re in the Hunger Games, it is so on” in the span of 30 seconds.

Russslik_Sitosk_byXechon

Star Wars D6 The Role-Play Game (C) West End Games and Wizards of the Coast

Star Wars (C) Lucasfilm and Disney

NPC Lightening Hand (Star Wars D6)

Feel free to use posted NPCs in your own campaigns and settings, just don’t go claiming any of my personal Copyrighted material as your own.

In a recent Star Wars D6 campaign the party was on a primitive world populated by degenerated Sith/Human/Massassi hybrids–survivors of a Sith colony that was destroyed just prior to the Seventh Battle of Ruusan in 1022BBY. I had one of the players get “volunteered” by a small tribe as their Champion in the upcoming 1024th Executive Officer Games, an arena deathmatch by any other name. The winner of the Thunderdome was put in charge of the planet for the next solar year. In this case one Player was in the arena, but instead of having the other six Players sit around bored I had them randomly draw a pit fighter to play from a pile of pre-made characters. THEY were to be his opposition in the arena. All of a sudden it went from “boring arena fight we have to watch” to “We’re in the Hunger Games, it is so on” in the span of 30 seconds.

Lightening_Hand_byXechon_Page1Force Skills:

  • Sith Blade Combat (Use it like Lightsaber Combat)
  • Rage
  • Force Lightening
  • Detoxify Poison
  • Accelerate Healing
  • Control Pain
  • Contort/Escape
  • Enhance Attribute
  • Remain Conscious
  • Resist Stun
  • Control Another’s Pain
  • Transfer Force
  • Life Detection
  • Danger Sense
  • Combat Sense
  • Beast languages
  • Translation

If Sith Blade Combat is “up”: Sith Blade to-Hit is 8D Damage 9D

Other Abilities: Force Scream, Call Upon the Dark Side

 

Star Wars D6 The Role-Play Game (C) West End Games and Wizards of the Coast

Star Wars (C) Lucasfilm and Disney

Introduction to useful NPCs

Settine "Spooky" Lestrade © J. Ryan Decker
Settine “Spooky” Lestrade © J. Ryan Decker

The Difference between a Good story and a Great story are the people you meet along the way.” –Xechon

We touched on the use of NPCs last post to help guide the plot. It is absolutely one of the best uses for the NPC, and one that I use often. It is often stated that while the Players are each running one character, the GM is running the Entire Rest of the Frickin’ Universe. While it is impossible to flesh out the desires and motivations for every single person in the Multiverse, and it can even be a bit hard to make the inhabitants of a single town more than 2D cutouts or archetypes, care should be taken to make the people that the Players meet most often to be just a real as the Characters themselves.

If I know I’ll be using an NPC for more than just a scene, I make sure to fill out a character sheet as if they were a real PC. Generally I’ll do this if they are notable friends, additional filler party members, and especially if they are recurring Big Bads. The fastest way to sink a story is to make the Antagonist a mustache twirling “Bad Guy” doing it for the lulz. The opposition should have just as many hopes, dreams, desires, skeletons in the closet, and personality flaws as the main Player characters–probably more! The Emperor was a bit of a scenery-chewing over the top comic villain, pretty forgettable really. But Darth Vader was a Tragic character with a backstory, desires, and enough regrets to drown a planet of Mon Calamari.  Which kind of Big Bad would your Players most like to see? Which one will they be talking about years after the campaign wraps up?

Personally, I try to find character reference photos or draw them out by hand. It helps cement the NPC in the player’s minds more. Next, mannerisms or even accents make an NPC stand out in a Player’s mind. A turn of phrase that the NPC likes to use, or (if you’re rushed) a wacky but memorable schtick will help differentiate them from the crowd. If your Players are actually calling your NPCs by their correct names and not “That One Guy From The Tavern” or “Lord Deathmetal Dude”, then you’re doing your job right.  I have a few NPCs from previous campaigns that to this day the mere mention of their name brings debates among Players as to their true motivations, allegiances, and Dark Side redeem-ability. Makes a GM smile. :)

I plan on occasionally posting the Character Sheet for NPCs that I’ve used in games, feel free to use them in your own campaigns and settings (just don’t go claiming any of my personal Copyrighted material as your own, eh?). We’ll be starting over the next several days with six rough and tumble types that I used in a Star Wars D6 campaign in an arena deathmatch. In this case one Player was in the arena, but instead of having the other six Players sit around bored I had them randomly draw a pit fighter to play. All of a sudden it went from “boring arena fight we have to watch” to “Hunger Games, it is so on” in the span of 30 seconds.

Maegan: “So it’s your first game session [with us] and you’re fighting your boyfriend in the Thunderdome. Going to go easy on him?

Katie: “Oh Hell no, he’s going down.”

1024th Executive Officer Games Lineup

Notes from behind the GM's shield