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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.

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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.

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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.