Posted in Tools & Techniques

Campaign Tips From Stargate SG-1

I’ve always loved Stargate SG-1. Recently, I’ve started re-watching it. Only light spoilers in this article. If you know about Stargate at all, you’ll know this stuff.

SG-1 ran for 10 years. It was, the television equivalent of, the long campaign. SG-1 learnt and taught a lot during their adventures. I’m only up to Season 2 in my re-watch but there are already some important lessons I’m going to try to implement into my home games:

  • Start in media res
  • Use resources and NPCs as rewards
  • Build upon past successes and failures
  • Lead with the cool, but leave room to grow

Start in media res

Stargate SG-1 often starts with the team already away on some planet, or in the midst of a fire fight. Each episode has a few minutes before the opening credits where important plot details are established.

Okay, so they’re on some other planet, they’re under fire, lots of people on the planet dead already. Sam gives mouth-to-mouth to an injured soldier and her eyes glow. Uh-oh!

They’re on some planet, Daniel touches an artefact, he goes back to Earth but nobody at Stargate Command recognises him. Uh-oh!

Some planet again. Jack touches a crystal. He passes out. Some other Jack made by the crystal emerges and goes back through the Stargate. Uh-oh!

We don’t care how they got to those planets. We often don’t care about the planet at all after the opener. Sometimes we do, but it’s not initially important. What’s important is quickly establishing the conflict, plot seed and drama of the episode (or session). You’ve got the rest of the episode to delve into details if need be, but you don’t want to watch for half an hour before getting to the point of the episode. You want some simple things:

  • Dive right into the action and get everyone excited!
  • Quickly establish the conflict of the session
  • Focus on this session’s spotlight PC, if any

Doing this gets the ball rolling and sets a tone and precedent to keep the action going. It should also result in less tangents, sidetracks and non-game out-of-character talk.

Use resources and NPCs as rewards

One of my favourites. Stargate SG-1 is really good at this.

It’s not actually all that often that the team gets a lot of resources (and never really any financial backing) from their adventures. Sometimes they get knowledge, often they get NPC contacts.

These are then used to fuel future adventures. Knowledge allows them to find other useful planets that might have even greater resources. NPC contacts can be called on in later missions for aid, or be used as deus ex deu to swoop in at the last minute.

Rank, too. Rank and title is one of the most awesome rewards in a campaign like Stargate. Being called Captain by everyone, then completing an epic and dangerous mission and being promoted to Major – and being called Major by everyone in the campaign – can have a real effect on players. It’s a reminder of how awesome they are and of past adventures.

Sometimes they do get resources, though, like a new power source or weapon or shield or healing device. I love SG-1’s treatment of this. Getting a new weapon doesn’t mean +1 damage. It means hours and hours of behind-the-scenes research the work out how that weapon can be useful to them in other capacities. It’s immediate usefulness is there too, but it’s not overpowering and the resources are always limited.

It’s not usually suddenly everyone running around with staff weapons. It’s everyone still with machine guns, Teal’c with his staff weapon and then maybe one extra staff weapon. They are rewards and they make a difference, but they don’t flatten the playing field to the point of removing the challenge or fun.

Better than new weapons, though, are new materials. Being able to build a new device from alien materials, or power a current device in a different way, or build a ship – one ship. Those are the wins I like. That one ship then becomes very precious. It’s not just, “we captured a ship now we can built infinite ships”. It’s, “okay, we managed to barely escape in this battered alien ship, now our techs will spend months working out how to make it work again, then when we do we will have to use it sparingly because it’s our only one”.

In your game you can make rewards seem big and noteworthy by limiting the pace at which you give them out and by linking them directly to the mission at hand. They’re not rewarded with a ship, they escaped by stealing it and now it’s theirs.

And that moves us into…

Build upon past successes and failures

When you blew up that enemy mothership, it was an awesome victory and you got a sweet glider ship out of it too! But, now your enemy is scared of you or vengeful and destroying the worlds you’ve saved. They’re ramping things up. What do you do?

Or, remember that time you went to the alternate reality? Well, that gate address you got there will work in this reality too. Let’s dial it and see where it takes us. And then, awesome! A site we can use as a secondary base, off-world. Future games can involve evacuations there, or the base needs help, or the team is visiting and something adventure-y happens!

All sorts of possibilities.

In a long campaign like this, too, the resources and rewards and NPC contacts gained can come back again and again, worked in different ways to create new adventures. Rather than something brand new all the time, call back to old adventures occasionally.

Players get a kick out of this and it allows you to reuse (and prep less) and show change in the campaign world by casting familiar characters (or places) in changed roles.

Lead with cool, but leave room to grow

There’s always the risk, in a cool and exciting campaign setting, of hoarding all the awesome secrets for later. I was shocked, watching the first season of SG-1 again, just how quickly the team acquires some really powerful resources.

Yet, they’re not maxed out. They’re not suddenly at the height of power. Indeed, they are “primitive” in comparison to some of the alien races.

Don’t hold back cool things. If you do, you may never use them.

Besides, if you give them some cool stuff first – drip feeding it to them through their victories – then there’s more to build on. You’ll give them something they think is pretty cool – and it will be – but then they’ll find something even cooler and then they’ll get that.

You see troops with staff blasters. Oh man, I want one. Okay, after a tough fight you end up with one. Good session! Some sessions later: oh, what, a healing sarcophagus! I want to use it. Okay, here’s a few opportunities to study and use it. Here are the side effects.

You’ve let them have some cool things, but there’s always more cool stuff down the track. If you wait three months of playing for them to get their hands on a staff blaster, how long is it going to be till they get an awesome spaceship? A year? Two? Will you be playing still by then?

Lead with the cool stuff, but at a reasonable rate and make them work for their rewards. Leave yourself room to grow and as they use their cool toys, you’ll see opportunities to make those toys even cooler or give them something that complements or even overshadows and replaces it, and that will spark new sessions to seek those new rewards.

Posted in Tools & Techniques

Generating Plot Hooks Through Play

Generating plot hooks through play is easy and makes the hooks relevant to the PCs. Any time you spot an interesting loose end or stone left unturned, make a note of it. Next time you need an adventure hook, look at your list for inspiration. You’ll spend less time working on hooks and the PCs will enjoy them more because they’ll be personally relevant.

Repercussions from play

Consider the repercussions of the PCs’ actions. While the adventure may seem like a success, there are bound to be people it hurt or disadvantaged, or some other potential adventure it set in motion. Think of the ripples coming from their actions. Follow them out. Who benefited? Who was hurt? Think outside the box. It doesn’t have to be something you’ve planned in advance, just something that makes sense now. Here are some examples:

  • The cult the PCs wiped out isn’t quite gone, and now its more subtle and slippery survivors are out for revenge and they know the PCs’ strengths and weaknesses.
  • After the PCs cleared the old keep of monsters, bandits took up residence there. They’ve fortified the place and are harassing the nearby roads and towns.
  • The youngest member of a group of thieves the PCs killed has a distraught mother seeking justice for her son’s death after he fell in with a bad crowd.

Repercussions from backstories

PCs’ can even be affected by the repercussions of things that happened before the game even began. Pay attention to their backstories for cues.

  • One of the PCs states they’re descended from a long line of human nobles. Now elves who were driven out of their homelands by her great-grandfather are out for revenge.
  • The party’s fighter wields an ancient dwarven sword. The rightful owner wants it back.
  • On the straight and narrow his whole life, the bard whose brother worked for the mob gets a visit from a few “friends of the family” who make him an offer he can’t refuse.

Using hooks to generate hooks

The more you look for hooks during play the more instinctive it becomes. You’ll eventually be able to notice them without actively trying and maybe even bring them into play on-the-fly. Once the PCs take the hook and start following it, they’ll begin generating more and more hooks as they go, giving you fodder for future adventures. Especially in sandbox settings, this gives the PCs’ some scope without limiting their actions.

Posted in Tools & Techniques

Making On-The-Fly Decisions Matter

Embracing improv and making on-the-fly decisions matter can make your game stronger and can be far more interesting and relevant than anything you’ve come up with in advance. The basic idea is to take any new fact that arises and tie it into the game world by considering how it affects other established facts. Doing this will make the fact important, give more depth to the rest of your setting, and inspire you to think in interesting ways.

We’ll be discussing two types of on-the-fly decisions: replacing something you’ve prepped with a similar new idea you or the players had, and coming up with something brand new.

Replacing prep with player ideas

You can do this by listening to the players’ ideas and using them. If the idea doesn’t conflict with your prep or the established facts, just make it true. If they suspect the new baddie in town is secretly one of their old foes, think about it: if this wouldn’t contradict anything established or drastically mess with anything about to be revealed, just go with it.

Doing this has several benefits:

  • The players will be already invested
  • The players will feel smart for being right
  • You don’t need to come up with anything new
  • You can save what you prepped but didn’t use for later

If you’re really stumped and the players aren’t talking, have a trusted NPC ask them what they think is going on. It will often start an in-character conversation and bring ideas to light.

Coming up with brand new things

This way is trickier but very rewarding. It’s the sort of thing that happens when a player asks you something and you answer them offhand. You have to say something, but as soon as you say it, your answer becomes a fact (unless it’s a lie; but that’s the topic of an entirely different article). So, you’ve made this fact but it’s just hanging out there on its own, separated from the intricate web of the previously established setting.

Here’s how it that can sometimes play out:

  • The PCs ask you something you have no answer for.
  • You make something up and say it; now it’s a fact.
  • You downplay that fact because it isn’t in your prep; but it’s still a fact.
  • The fact ends up as true but unimportant dead weight to tediously work around.

When this happens, it can lead to the fact becoming like an unintentional red herring, or just a stumbling block you keep coming up against. “Oh right, we established that the king has no siblings. Why did I say that? Now I can’t do any political intrigue with the royal family. Man, this town is going to be really boring now. Curse you, improv!”

Here’s how it should go:

  • The PCs ask you something you have no answer for.
  • You make something up and say it; now it’s a fact.
  • You think about how that fact affects other established facts.
  • You tie that fact into the world and it becomes important and exciting.

In this method, you bring the fact into the web of the established setting and connect it to other strands of that web. You discover something new and interesting about your world and you didn’t need to prep a thing. It also informs your view on other elements in the game. The new fact and its place in the game’s web will often excite you and show you a new way of looking at your setting and current prep, giving you more fodder and motivation.

“Oh right, we established that the king has no siblings. I wonder why? In fact, I haven’t made any NPCs with siblings or children. What if the lonely witch who cursed the town’s crops also cursed their women to only ever bear a single child? Wow, cool. So, that’s a thing. And then so that means…”

Ask yourself what this fact can do for your game

You might be uneasy establishing facts on-the-fly and feel it best to downplay their impact on the game, especially if you’re running a module or written adventure. But sooner or later you’ll need to establish something that wasn’t in your notes. Ask yourself what this fact can do for your game. Trying this will also make it quicker and easier to do so next time.

It’s okay to wait until after the current session to think about the new fact, but do think about it. Make a note of the fact you established and go back to it a day or two after the session and see how you can connect it into the web of your game to make a deeper, richer world.

Posted in Tools & Techniques

Savage Worlds with Aspects Revisited

I was asked if I could share my experience using the system I outlined in Savage Worlds with Aspects. It was a well timed question, as my wife and I are just reworking how we approach aspects in our new Savage Worlds campaign. I thought my response would get pretty long – and I was right – so I’ve made it a brand new post, rather than just a comment on that old post. So, here we go.

To be perfectly honest, we haven’t been using the aspects properly. I wrote this system and we implemented it but it’s mostly just used for re-rolls and we only really burn through bennies during tough combats, so compels are easily forgotten.

However, they’ve always been in the back of my head and I have learnt a lot from implementing them but not fully utilising them. We have also just started a new campaign recently and we want to make good use of the aspects. So, I am writing this post as a manifesto of things I’ve noticed that I should be doing more and some pitfalls we’ve encountered. Hopefully it’ll be helpful to anyone else hoping to run a non-FATE game with aspects.

Be Aspect-Aware

Our main problem is we just are having so much fun playing that we forget about aspects. We haven’t played FATE-like games very much, so it’s easy to slip into old habits (especially when the system, Savage Worlds, works fine without them).

Using aspects requires awareness on both sides. The players need to invoke their aspects often and request bennies for ‘self compels’ (playing to an aspect which would lead to trouble without the GM compelling it). The GM needs to compel the players’ aspects often and remind them when invoking could be useful. Having a list of all their aspects really helps.

A great way to remember about aspects is to make them exciting or catchy, like the example in Spirit of the Century, which replaces Strong with Strong as an Ox, and finally the best incarnation: “No one is stronger than HERCULOR!!”.

Don’t have too many aspects, either, and combine where possible. I suggested 5-10 per character originally. 10 each could be too many, if you’ve got several players. For one, it’s probably okay. Mostly, the same aspects will come up over and over with the rest used occasionally. You’ll find which aspects you do and don’t use through play. We had “Amnesia” and “Haunted by Significant Dreams” as two aspects for the current character, but seeing as they’re related we’ve combined them into “Amnesiac Haunted by Significant Dreams”.

Make Aspects Matter

Something I’ve noticed is that the aspects work much better if they’re well-thought out and if there are some solid ones from the very beginning that are core to the character. Last time we introduced them part way through the campaign and it only sort-of worked. You should also introduce them due to changes in the fiction, but be careful to make them usable for compelling and invoking. Recently, my wife’s character gained the aspect “Confidant of the King”, which helps her get audiences with him and hear private news from him, but also makes others jealous of her, makes her a target for the King’s rivals, and she can be sent put into danger just by knowing the King’s secrets.

This new character is also a “Foreign Beauty” which draws people to her, but also marks her as not from around here. This lets her invoke it to seduce or charm someone or otherwise draw attention, while I can compel it make her stand out in a crowd. She has had more people ask her where she’s from that she can count.

She had a dream where she chose to follow the path of leadership and physical power. She now bares the  “Mark of the Sword”, which helps her summon weapons from thin air and fight well, but also manifests as a presence that compels her toward battle and foolhardy bravery at times. This works well to invoke for re-rolls in combat and to compel to have her fight when talking might be a better option, etc.

If you’re playing a game with a solo PC, it’ll also make a big difference if the PC has an aspect relevant to combat. This is because they can then re-roll missed attacks using a benny, rather than only being able to get a plus one and not re-roll at all. When you’re alone in combat, being able to re-roll can make all the difference.

Aspects shouldn’t all be good or all be bad. Think about the situations you the aspects could be used in. If you can think of a few interesting ways they can be compelled and a few interesting ways they can be invoked, you’re set. If it’s hard to see how you’d use an aspect, maybe you need to scrap it or reword it somehow. Sometimes aspects will sound awesome but actually be pretty difficult to use. Just review them once you’ve come up with them and again after the first few sessions.

Tagging Aspects & The Environment

Scene aspects or environmental aspects are an important feature that was underused in our previous campaign. Now, I want to start every scene by jotting down a few notes about the scene aspects, using similar words as what I’m describing to the players. So, when the player arrives for a midnight duel at the old ruined tower clinging to a windy seaside cliff face I jot down Crumbling Tower, Dark, Windy, Long Way Down. Now, during the ensuing duel the player can tag these aspects for an advantage.

I would advise that when teaching this system to players, the GM should jot down the aspects on index cards and put them in the open between you, so everyone can see them. It reminds the players that they are in an exciting dynamic location, not standing still in a 10×10 room beating each other with swords. If the aspects are out in the open, players unfamiliar with the idea of aspects are much more likely to use them, and it reminds you as a GM too.

One more example: the King’s fiance as requested you to attend her for the day. You arrive and discover that she is a harsh, stubborn, self-entitled mistress, feared and hated by her servants. Remind the PC that the queen-to-be has aspects that can be tagged. In this example, some are pretty obvious: Stubborn, Self-Entitled, Soon to be Queen. Another one the PC deciphered was something along the lines of “Too Good For This Place” and she used this to help her convince the queen-to-be to head back to her own country where people would respect her and pander to her more.

Temporary Aspects

In the above example the PC probably has some temporary aspects on her now too, like “In the Presence of Royalty”. I can compel this one really often, giving her bennies to obey the queen-to-be’s demeaning commands and smile politely as she berates her servants. This rewards the PC but also gives the queen-to-be more power in her realm.

I like the idea of NPCs (and PCs) having a “On Home Turf” aspect when they are in their element (the queen-to-be in her palace, a gang leader in his hideout, a captain on his ship). Giving the PC or NPC this aspect means even if they’re otherwise equally matched, they have an advantage because they know the area or have power here.

Moving onto conditions, Savage Worlds already has the ‘shaken’ condition, so making that also an aspect that others can tag is pretty harsh. I think it’s either one or the other here: it stops them acting properly, or it can be tagged. Not both. However, aspects work well for other things with no mechanics like being Entranced, or having a Busted Leg, or being Lost. If something like this applies to a PC or NPC, tell them they have that aspect until they can rid themselves of it. Sometimes, that’ll be easy and an in game action can do it – like jumping in a lake to remove the aspect, On Fire. Sometimes, it’ll last until they leave the scene, sometimes even after that.

Changes to ‘Savage Worlds with Aspects’

In addition to the above changes of practice, I might also change the refresh rule to be closer to official FATE:

When a refresh occurs, players bring their number of fate points ”’up to”’ 5. If they have more, their total does not change.

This is mainly because with a single player we sometimes dip too low if a fight is going poorly, especially as bennies are used to soak as well.

Also, sometimes, a player will do something awesome in-character that has nothing to do with any of their aspects. Going just on the rules of FATE, I can’t reward this with bennies, but Savage Worlds says:

The Game Master may also give you more Bennies for great roleplaying, overcoming major obstacles, or even entertaining everyone with an outlandish action, side-splitting comment, or other memorable act.

I like rewarding and encouraging this sort of behaviour, I’ve added that back in as an additional way to gain bennies. I don’t think it’ll blow things out too much, and it’ll reward good roleplaying as well as good use of aspects (so the characters can move beyond those words and phrases that define them and still be rewarded).

Finally, I would keep any Edges (and perhaps Hindrances) that have a mechanical effect other than a straight +/- 2. Like, the Berserk edge which is a whole little power of its own, and the Arcane and other casting edges. But things like Attractive, I would just change to aspects.

Conclusion

If using aspects with Savage Worlds works out well (or not) for me over the next little while as we play this new campaign, I’ll post my findings.

Where to go from here? Well, we are going to readjust my wife’s aspects, adding, removing and rewording where necessary. I’ll keep a list of them handy during play, and I’ll work out a list of some scene aspects that come up fairly often, or even just prompts that I can fill in. I may post this if it proves useful.

I’ll also have an index card reminding me to tag and compel. I’ll try to adjust my thinking so that each scene and person has at least an aspect or two. To start with we’ll work with aspects in the open, for the most part, to remind ourselves to use them. Hopefully, all of that will help us make the most of adding aspects to our game.

If anyone has any other questions, tips or comments on using aspects, please comment below. I’m happy to discuss. And thanks LordOrlando for inspiring this post and getting my me thinking on aspects again.

Posted in Tools & Techniques

Savage Worlds Moonlighting Downtime Mechanics

Some games get pretty ridiculous, with characters going from farmers to gods in a matter of in-game months. Sometimes, for various reasons, you want to have a few weeks of in-game downtime between or during sessions. Apocalypse World has a great mechanic for this and I’ve altered it to make a Savage Worlds version that we’re now using in my 1-on-1 city-based home game. I’ll present the mechanics, then a little explanation on the design.

Moonlighting

Whenever there’s a stretch of downtime in play, or between sessions, choose a number of gigs to work. Choose no more than the number of dice you have in Smarts. Describe a gig then roll your wild die and the relevant skill, like Fighting for protection gigs, Stealth for picking pockets, or Investigation for academic research.

  • On a raise, you get profit from the gig you chose; if you get multiple raises that means exceptional success, perhaps extra pay, recognition or connections.
  • On a success, you get profit but with some complication (or failure but you got out of it clean: no profit, no fallout, no hard feelings).
  • On a failure, you failed the gig and suffer some fallout, like lingering wounds from a protection gig gone wrong, fines or jail time for criminal activities, and maybe someone is mad at you.
  • On snake eyes, double ones, you can’t roll for any more gigs this session and your failure was a fiasco: someone is definitely mad at you, you’ve probably lost something you care about, and the trouble is immediate.

The GM should discuss any profit, complications or fallout with you. If you didn’t roll snake eyes, you can now roll again for any remaining gigs.

It’s heavily based on the Apocalypse World version which, if you don’t own the game, you can check out in the free playbook downloads; moonlighting is one of the Operator’s moves. In AW you roll once for all your gigs combined, using the main stat of the ‘class’. I decided I wanted this to be a mechanic any SW character could use, so I’ve generalised it. I also then adjusted it to take multiple raises and critical failure into account, just for fun and granularity.

Gigs can be anything the character has the skill and opportunity to do. If you have a high boating skill and you could reasonably get sailor’s work or own a boat you can ferry people on, that’s a gig. Gambling can be a gig. Most skills should work fairly well.

It’s the profit and failure that require the most thought on the part of the GM. I haven’t listed what the profit would be because it’ll be different depending on how long the downtime was, what sort of gigs the character did, and so on. AW does list some gigs and their profit (1-barter, 2-barter, etc.) but SW isn’t that abstract. Profit can also be information, if you’re doing some research on strange magical runes, or could be connections and friends if you’re using persuasion or streetwise to schmooze with the nobles or bar flies. It’s intentionally left open for the GM and player to discuss.

One last thing worth noting is that regular success comes with complications. I took inspiration for this from AW and the way I like to run my games. It turns the mechanic into not just a profit machine for PCs, but also a story machine for GMs. So, PC, you took a protection gigs and failed? Well, maybe you’re on 2 wounds and the person you were protecting has gone into lockdown: no chance of pay now. Snake eyes? Well, you really screwed up:  2 wounds, the person you were supposed to protect has been kidnapped (or killed) and now the ones who did it are after you too, hot on your trail. No time for any other gigs. What do you do?

Savage Worlds Deluxe has the Interlude mechanic too, but moonlighting is a different flavour. I’m pretty excited about it. I hope you enjoy using it too. And if you do – or have some other downtime mechanics you like – I’d love to hear about it.

Happy moonlighting!

 

Posted in Tools & Techniques

GM Cues: Impressions, Aims & Pitfalls

No Plot? No Problem! is a great little book that describes itself as ‘a low-stress, high-velocity guide to writing a novel in 30 days’. It’s written by Chris Baty, the guy behind Nanowrimo, which I’m participating in this month for the fifth year running. Writing a novel in 30 days requires at least some improvisation. GMing often requires a lot. I’ve read this book each year but I figured looking at it from a different angle it may have some hidden insights into gamemastery. And I think I’ve found some.

The book talks about, among many other things, making two lists: one with all the things you like in novels and one with all the things you don’t. It’s not quite a pros and cons list, but close. It’s sort of a list of cues or reminders for yourself. I realised that doing the same thing for RPGs could keep us GMs on track, especially for on-the-fly or improv-heavy GMing.

I thought this idea was too simplistic at first to bother posting about, but I think it has legs. The Nanowrimo lists are supposed to help you identify what you like (and don’t) and write to that (or avoid it, respectively). If you have a theme for your game or just some goals (or pitfalls you’re prone to) you could make similar lists. I’ll give it a quick go now and see what we get.

Aim for…

  • Interesting NPCs with human motivations
  • Cinematic fight scenes
  • Fight scenes incorporating the environment
  • Situations where all answers creates interesting situations

Avoid…

  • Drawn out conversations without a story purpose
  • Lengthy, boring combat
  • Rolls where failure is boring
  • NPCs hogging the spotlight
Okay, so those were just some quick lists off the top of my head. But, put them on index cards in front of me while I run the game and I’ll have a few touchstones to call upon. We run into combat and I have a reminder that I want it to be cinematic with use of the environment, but not too long and never boring. It’s easy to forget some of these goals in the heat of the moment and easy to fall into traps you wanted to avoid. After writing the lists above, I also feel that for the aims and avoids I wrote, maybe I should make one index card for ‘social’ and one for ‘combat’, perhaps expanding on each a little.
For theme this method may be even more useful. If I have a Demonsea campaign I know I want a few things to be at the fore.
Aim for…
  • Exciting, swashbuckling high-seas adventure!
  • Demonic touches and twists to pirate tales
  • High adventure world, but with real and gritty consequences
Avoid…
  • Generic pirate adventures (remember there are demons too!)
  • Having everyone heavily involved with demons; make it subtle
  • The different cultures ending up just the same in roleplaying
Now this gives me some solid ideas to incorporate each time I play. Again, I probably have to revisit these lists, especially after play when I’m like ‘Oh, I wish I had done this there’ or ‘Whoops, forgot to do X’. Add those to the list. I’m using quick examples that I’ve made up as I’ve written this, but for themes some better ones spring to mind.
The Goblin Hole and The Shallow Sea are both modules for the excellent Dungeon World and feature lists of 20 ‘impressions’. These are things that evoke the theme of the area. The Goblin Hole has such gems as ‘a goblin with his hand tied to a ring in the ceiling’, ‘hairless, blind rabbits in hutches’ and ‘a talking bird skull on a string’. All of these are quick and evocative ideas that can be used to give the impression you desire or might spin into a full encounter depending on how the PCs react.
Using lists of cues, impressions, aims, or personal pitfalls to avoid can help you keep your game on track and coherent. It’ll help you hit the right notes and beats and keep in genre and theme. I’ll be trying it next time I run a game. Give it a go sometime and see how it works out.
Posted in Tools & Techniques

NPC Description Tables

It was my birthday recently and my awesome wife made me some NPC Description Tables!

They’re some handy tables for generating various physical characteristics and behavioural traits of NPCs on the fly or during prep all contained on a single page. Choose results or roll once for each column. She didn’t design it to make coherent NPCs by reading across the rows, but I think you can get some pretty interesting ones by doing that too.

When rolling, for the large table roll a d6 twice and check the results in order, or roll two different coloured d6s. For the d8 tables, if you happen to have only a d6 handy you can just use that, as the results that a 7 or 8 would bring can easily be ignored as they are the least common.

Also, some results have a few choices, sometimes as opposites or alternatives (hairy/hairless) and sometimes to just give a little more choice (bandaged/stitched). When you get a result like this, choose whichever you like best or whatever seems most appropriate.

If you don’t like a result or it doesn’t make sense with something else you’ve already rolled, simply re-roll or choose something else.

I hope you enjoy this gift as much as I have.

Download the NPC Description Tables.