Posted in Misc.

Arkfall Quickstart Resources to Celebrate New Game Day

Today is 2/2 and is the very first New Game Day. In honour if this celebration, I’ve released some quick-start and quick-play resources for my new rules-light science-fantasy game – Arkfall. If you’re looking for a new game, Arkfall is one you can get for free and play immediately.

Want to know more about Arkfall? Check out my original Arkfall post, or just download Arkfall for free.

To help players get started super-fast, I’ve made the Quick & Dirty Heritage Generator which randomises and speeds up one of the slower (but fun!) parts of character generation.

And for the GMs, Finding Work on Arkfall is a handy one-page reference lets you generate jobs on the fly for the players. It even includes a table for what happens if they don’t take the job.

Here are some Google Drive mirrors if any of the above links don’t work (and these following links will always be up to date, thanks to Google’s re vision system:

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

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


  • 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
  • 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.

Posted in Tools & Techniques

Let the PCs Build the World

I’ve just finished running a short-term campaign with long-term in-game consequences. The PCs stopped the BBEG from completing her ritual to recreate the world (well, the continent, really) as she saw fit. Instead, they completed the ritual themselves and we worked together to create a new world from the player characters’ conscious and subconscious desires.
Only a session or two earlier, I had asked the players what their characters’ deepest darkest desires were. I framed it as if they were able to wish for anything. What would their “dark side” or subconscious wish for? At the finale, I asked them to tell me their concsious desires for the new world. I then took all the answers into account and began building the new world in my mind.
As I said, we had three PCs. Etna was an evil sorceress who repented at the very last second after her companions didn’t judge her too harshly when her secrets were revealed. Larissa was an overly sweet druid infected with an alchemically enhanced disease that made her rage like a rabid animal.
Finally we had Blaine: a short, bald, very angry man who it turned out was actually a dragon trapped in human form (which was why he was so angry… one of the reasons, anyway). So, when all three of these characters touched the crystal to remake the continent the results were very interesting.

Etna’s desire was to fight back against the evil technology-based organisation that had raised her and forced her down her dark path. Deep down, she didn’t want this organisation destroyed in the blink of an eye; she wanted to do it herself.

Larissa wanted humans to live in harmony with nature. Deep down, due to her disease (and the fact that she was in the form of raging bear at the time), she wanted to bring civilisation to its knees and watch nature take over.

Blaine just wanted to be a dragon again. Deep down, he wanted the thrill of chasing people down and killing them for their loot. But he didn’t want humans to try to kill him either.

So, on the spot I described the basics of the world they were creating. It is a world at peace with nature, where humans live simply and work in harmony with the natural world. Some technology exists, but most settlements shun clockwork or anything else too advanced. Bone and ironwood are used where possible, rather than steel.

Only a handful of cities exist. Larissa is now known as Lashira, a greater guardian spirit of the forest. Etna – taking the name Nenya after her transformation – has become an angelic being and is the avatar of the god of justice and protection. She is building an army to combat the evil organisation – who are the source of any advanced technology.

Blaine became a god and is referred to by his dragon name, Vervesh. He is now the ruler of the Storm Coast, flying through the sky causing thunderstorms. Treasure-hoarding monsters are abundant in the wilderness, thanks to Blaine’s wish – he can kill these monsters without being frowned upon.

I added many side effects of the ritual and additional details. Larissa was screwed over by a group of alchemists and so in this world alchemy that goes against nature – chimeras, altering one’s body, etc. – is one of the greatest taboos. Larissa’s connection with nature means that now each town has a guardian spirit and an oracle that “sees” this spirit and crafts a likeness of them to serve as an idol of worship.

The Storm Coast only exists because Blaine was a Storm Dragon. I decided that seeing as Vervesh was actually present in the world, what if all the gods – or Ordra as I ended up calling them – were “earthbound” and roamed the mortal world. It fitted well with the primal nature of the continent and because of the “rewrite” of the world, these ancient primal beings have been here since the dawn of time in this reality.

Etna’s wish to take down the evil organisation is actually the entire basis of the new campaign. The players have created new PCs and are gathering forces for Nenya’s army, to fight back against an impending attack.

It isn’t appropriate for every campaign, but if you ever get the chance, let the players – and their characters – help build (or rebuild) part of your world. You might be surprised at the results. I’ve always wanted to run a Nature vs. Technology game, but I didn’t think it would happen in this way.

One of the greatest advantages of this technique is that your players will be instantly invested in the setting because they helped build it. Watch your players suddenly start playing very close attention whenever you mention something about their old characters who are now the big movers and shakers in the world.