Posted on Leave a comment

The Sticky GM – Locations – pt2

This is part two of a series. You can read part one here [The Sticky GM part 1]

The first few posts in this series are just going to be an outpouring of ideas. They will get beaten into shape later.

Today I am going to write about Blue notes, which are going to be locations.

What is a location?

What I mean by that is how much detail do you actually need at any one time? Most players are not going to retain pages and pages of setting lore if you read it out to them in some sages monologue. You will be lucky if they remember the name of the last city they stayed at, even if they burnt it to the ground. You are generally better off drip-feeding pieces of setting lore to them as and when it makes the most impact.

The same is true about describing locations. If you launch into a monologue about the architecture of the sultan’s palace, you cannot expect your players to remember which minaret was larger, the one on the left or the one on the right. A note that says “The kingdom the north is ruled by barbarian tribes. They ride white bears and their raids across the border are notorious.” That the players are likely to remember.

You could reduce the regional map down to just two or more places that the main road will take your characters. Most characters in a fantasy setting will probably have only scanty knowledge of global politics and even how far away places are. You could use a blue sticky note for every major junction in a planned journey. One each note is a description on the options and just a line or nugget of information from the character perspective about the place. ‘There is a fork in the road here, the northern route leads to “Rappen”, a major naval port city, the south continue to “Phitz”, where the Templars were last heard of’. You can add a few words to describe the junction.

You can punctuate a journey with little pieces of lore like this. Maybe there are two or three ways to get to Rappen. This time the characters head straight to Phitz but coming back the take a detour. These little notes give you opportunities. You can drop in little facts. You can suggest changes in topography and culture. You also get a half-way house between hand waving away the entire journey and only interrupting it with random encounters and important encounters. If every time you say “You are two days into your journey when…” your players are going to be immediately on the alert and their characters are grabbing for their weapons.

These waypoint notes help disguise the impending wandering monster attack, amongst rustic villages, river crossings, bridges and signposts.

Zooming In

Your characters are in a temple to an ancient god. In this instance I would treat the altar as a location, you can be pretty sure the characters are going to go there. The entrance to the crypt is another location. The big ritual circle on the floor is another location. Create a note for each location. The characters and even the players are not going to think of the entire temple, as a whole, they are going to focus on the specifics.

A fully detail description of the temple is going to be less easy to use if your characters split up to examine different parts. The thief is examining the door to the crypt, the wizard is scrutinizing the ritual circle, the cleric is at the altar, and so on. Three separate notes are easier to keep track of, than scanning up and down a page of description when you need to find the difficulty to pick a lock or the inscription on the floor.

Imagine you had come up with a particularly dastardly trap to go on a lock. You write up the trap on its own sticky note. Right now that trap is on the door to the crypt. The scene plays out and before the thief gets to even examine the lock the fighter kicks the door in. In this case you can keep your trap, the players know nothing of it. You can recycle it again on another lock. Just move the post-it back into your GM file and bring it out again when you need it.

The rule here is: Everything that the players or characters will focus on is a discrete location and should be on its own note.

PinPoint Process

If you haven’t read all of these posts you many not have caught how this all fits together. By creating just the parts you really need, you create spotlights on where the action takes place. Each sticky note is a pin prick of light that you can shine on your players. The beauty of the entire process is that every single thing you prepare for your game, will get used. Not necessarily in the order you expected or even where you expected. Nothing will go to waste.

The GM is playing the game as well as the players, you deserve just as much fun. Making the GM do a load of prep that never gets used is actually unfair. Forcing the players to follow a railroad is unfair on them as role-playing is all about free agency. Being able to lay down your locations in front of the players means that they can go where they want, when they want and the world will unfold before them. For the GM it means their time is not wasted preparing things that will never happen, places that will never be visited, mysteries that will never be solved.

Posted on Leave a comment

Trophy Solo Rules

Up until Saturday, the game Trophy had slipped past without me noticing. It was released as an article in Codex Dark 2 ($7 on DTRPG) and expanded upon in Codex Gold ($9 on DTRPG).

Trophy RPG is a collaborative storytelling game designed for single sessions. It is dark themed and designed to create a sort of dark death spiral of treachery.

So I was completely unaware of this game until Friday. Then my name got dropped on Twitter in a discussion of playing Trophy Solo. I hate saying ‘No’, but in this case as I had never read the game, played the game or had any experience of the game the logical thing would have been to say ‘No, sorry’.

Instead, I junked my entire weekend (not really a major problem in these lockdown times) and devoted it to Trophy RPG.

Tough Times for Indie Developers

I have seen a lot of games publishers giving away free copies of games during the pandemic. Others are heavily discounting. There are a lot of indie developers who by day work low paid jobs. These are people who since the start of the pandemic have not been able to work and are surviving of the small income from their games. With the big guns in the industry throwing games out for free that makes life really difficult or impossible for the indie developer.

To that end I wasn’t going to give away anything or to discount.

Trophy, on the other hand has changed my mind in this one instance. The rules below are free but please buy the game. In buying the game you are helping people get through the pandemic. This is a situation that you know you will play the game because here are the solo rules.

Take them, have fun and enjoy dying in the woods. You know you want to.

Posted on Leave a comment

Devil’s Staircase:Wild West is Live

Following a successful crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo at the end of 2019, Devil’s Staircase:Wild West [DS:WW] is now live on DriveThruRPG in both print and PDF.

Right now the PDF is half price at $4.99 and free when bought in conjunction with the printed book, $14.99 for both.

This was my first crowdfunding attempt and I was pleased with the response. I did not need a huge amount of money because of the support that the Pay What You Want Solo rules brought in. To that end, I ran just a 7-day campaign. I have seen people sweating over 30-day campaigns and whether or not they are going to hit their targets. I didn’t really want to go through that! 7 Days was stressful enough.

The end result is a game that I am really pleased with and I hope you get to play and enjoy it.

Although it is my intention to let the game settle in and for people to play it ‘as is’, I have already had people asking for a Weird West supplement.

Right now those rules are little more than a few jotted down ideas. I will see how they progress and what new threats and challenges the weird west requires. Watch this space, but don’t hold your breath. They could be some time.

Posted on Leave a comment

IndieGoGo Devil’s Staircase

Devil’s Staircase Wild West [DS:Wild West] is now live on Indiegogo. This is my first attempt at crowdfunding and as such, I am really keen to make the campaign a success.

It is painfully apparent that writing the game is by far the easiest part. I quite enjoyed the page layout process but the crowdfunding is surprisingly stressful!

I am only asking for a relatively small amount, £500, and only that much because that is the minimum funding target that IndieGoGo allow. The actual cost of developing the game was met from the earnings on other books. The crowdfunding is all about recouping those costs.

The positive side is that the game will be published with or without the crowdfunding, nothing is going to break if the goal isn’t met. The few backers we have are guaranteed to get their books. One cannot look at game design as an all or nothing deal. DS:Wild West will be around for years to come and will continue to earn money over its lifetime.

It is quite fitting to do this crowdfunding approaching Halloween. Trying to raise awareness of crowdfunding and getting the message without it sounding like you are begging for money is a bit of a nightmare!

If you want to get your hands of DS:Wild West, at a discount, then please support the indiegogo campaign.

Posted on Leave a comment

#RPGTheoryJuly – 28th – Emergence

The concept of emerging game play has been central to RPGs right from the start. Emergent play was, to the best of my knowledge one of the main selling points of human run games over computer adventures.

So the principle of Emergence is when the style of play emerges during play. Each RPG group will develop its own style of play, house rules emerge and often things that work in your group would have another group looking on in horror because that is just not the way they do things.

In some ways Emergence is a funny thing to put on an RPG theory megathread, unless it was for the benefit of the computer designers.

The next wave of games that are going to have to deal with emergence are games being controlled by more sophisticated AI cores. If these have to adapt to the way the game is being played then emerging ways of playing will force the AI to create new ways of running the universe.

Today I saw a tweet from @solorpg that said “Work progresses on my solo player/NPC conversation system. But it is still so hot inside. Second playtest tonight. Will need ice. #ttrpg#solorpg#dnd

We will come back to that tweet shortly.

One of the first attempts at AI was made by the Victorians and was called an Automatic Governor. It was fitted to steam engines/locomotives and provided a basic form of cruise control. The way it worked was to suspend a couple of weights on the ends of levers. The other end of the governor was put in the flow of steam from the engine. As the engine ran faster the weights would spin around and centrifugal force would make them swing up and out operating the lever they were attached to. The lever would work to limit the flow of steam. That would slow the spin on the weights, operating the lever again, increasing the steam flow. The engine operator could limit the movement on the levers to control the cruise control. This isn’t real AI but it was quite miraculous for the time. The Automatic Governor could maintain the speed of a train more accurately than a human driver.

I think of some of the Chaos factor implementations as automatic governor. If there is not enough action the Chaos adds more action, if there is too much action the Chaos eases off.

PbtA clocks have the same feel for me. You decide some future event and the events that would bring that about and the simple act of ticking down the clock ensures that the right events happen at the right time for each events. You can have unlimited clocks each running down at their own pace.

Now we come to soloRPGs tweet. If we can build conversation emulators and they are simple things (I haven’t seen soloRPGs convo system but I could build one right now using 1d6) then we have another solo tool that adds a layer of information that the solo player has to bring their games to life.

I don’t know what soloRPG is designing but my instinctive reaction was something like this:

RollSpeaker 1Speaker 2Roll
1Strongly Disagrees with… Strongly agrees with …1
2Disagrees with… Agrees with…2
3Has newsIs shocked by…3
4Needs to know…Doesn’t care3
5Agrees with…Disagrees with…5
6Strongly agrees with…Strongly disagrees with6

That could be nothing at all like soloRPG had in mind but I could easily see it as a part of future solo tools.

So is this a new emergent movement in solo play? Building in more false AI to take a bit of the improv burden off of the GM/player?