4 Scenes Are Going to be Remembered

The players are gonna remember about 4 scenes from your game. 4 scenes, no more and no less if you're lucky. You want a proof of course, and I'm gonna give you. Think about a movie that you really liked. Let's say "The Dark Night". What do you remember from it? You probably remember the opening scene, with the bank robbery where they kill each other when each one finishes his role. You probably remember the end scene, when Batman saves the day and then is hunted by the cops and dogs. You probably remember also one or 2 scenes from the middle, like the death of Rachel, or maybe it is the scene when the ships are supposed to blow each other?
It's also right in your game. The players are gonna remember about 4 scenes from the game, and they are gonna be probably the 2 most emotional scenes in addition to the opening and closing scenes. This means 2 things:

  1. We have far less work than we intended or thought that we'll have.
  2. We want to choose which 2 middle scenes will be remembered.
The first thing is quite straightforward. We have far less work, and we don't need to try to make every scene spectacular and unique. These are the scenes that their whole purpose is to both create and maintain the atmosphere and to create the pattern.
The second thing is quite more interesting. First of all, it talks at only 2 scenes that we have control about, not the whole 4. Secondly, it doesn't state how we can make them remembered. The first and last scenes are gonna be remembered no matter what. Not only that, though, but they are the most important scenes in the game. The agent closes on Trinity; Jack escapes from the guards saying that this is the day that he almost got captured; Vito says that he can't even call him his godfather... And so it is with the end, as another part falls from the spaceship in Firefly at the end of the episode, showing that everything is back to normal; Neo stops the bullet and makes Agent Smith explode... These are the 2 most important scenes in the game.
For the other 2, we can decide. The most remembered scenes follow one of 2 principles: They are very dramatic and emotional (Hamlet gives his famous monologue) or very spectacular (Neo saves Trinity from the falling helicopter). The scenes that are gonna be remembered are probably going to follow a few things:
  • They are going to break the pattern. Pattern is created to be broken. Breaking it makes a contrast that makes the breaking scene more powerful and remembered.
  • The drama in the scene is going to be high. Even if this is not the most dramatic scene in the story, it's gonna be dramatic.
  • It's gonna be a spectacular scene. Same as above, there is going to be a special thing or even in the scene.
  • They are gonna include a lot of build up to the scene. Having a perfect scene is not the only thing; you have to build to it. 
  • They have to fulfil a promise. It doesn't matter what the promise is, whether it's the promise for a fight against the arch villain or a promise for a war council against the neighbour country. There should be a promise, and it should be fulfilled in this scene.
Let's look for example at the battle between Romeo and Tybalt and see how each of these things are fulfilled:
  • A pattern is broken: Romeo, who was out of the fights and battles between the 2 families, suddenly enters the conflict with a purpose to kill.
  • The drama is high: Romeo comes after his best friend has died by the sword of Tybalt. He is in a conflict also, because Tybalt is now his kinsman. Having a responsibility for his friend death also adds to the drama of his decision to confront Tybalt. But killing Tybalt is not enough. There are witnesses to the event, and the prince is now looking for him. Romeo suddenly loses all of his statues and has to run for his life.
  • The scene itself is spectacular. The dialogue is short and powerful, each word is important. The body and soul of Mercutio is still there. 
  • There's a build up for this scene: Romeo is responsible for Mercutio's death, Tybalt is a short tempered person, he was in the first fight of the play, and he is the one who discovered that Romeo was in the ball... Romeo on the other hand is a peaceful person, and a kinsman to a person from the opposite family.
  • The scene fulfils a promise: In the beginning of the play, in the prologue, we already know that it's gonna be tragic. There is no happy ending for anything while our protagonists are still alive. The conflict between the 2 families is all too familiar, and if the protagonists are getting married, the conflict should return to destroy everything. This promise is fulfilled when Romeo kills Tybalt, thus killing the cousin of Juliet (his love) and flaming anew the conflict, on the same time he is sentenced to be exiled. The promise is (almost) fully fulfilled.
And that's it for today. How about you? Do you agree, disagree, something else? How do you create the middle story-peak scenes?

The Group Goes Adventuring

"If you'll complete this mission for me, I will reward you, with many a gold piece. Your reward will be great, 2500 gp for each..." Beatrix remembered it far too well when they were on their way, even better when they started to fight their way to the centre of the dungeon where the "Sword of Elerondium" lies for centuries. She remembered it even better when they got close to it. She felt they were close. 
When the dragon emerged in front of her, she knew what the baron said by heart. When the dragon emerged, ready to burn their asses, she knew that she has to run. The entire group knew that it doesn't worth it. 2500 gp for each doesn't worth one of them. They've got far enough money to train themselves better (and to advance a level, Eleanor would think to herself after the session), and the dragon is far too powerful...

Eleanor decided that it won't happen in her game. She remembered far too well the number of times that this shadow of the past came to haunt her, manifesting each time differently, in another group and in another mission. She decided that in her game, the reason for the mission will be personal.
She knew another thing. She knew that if it will be a cliche, it may destroy everything. The last quest bestowed by the mentor is not the way to do it. So it is to rescue the daughter of the king. But to rescue their parents? Their friends? That's a different thing. Or maybe she can go for their goals and ideals? There is sure a thing there that she can dig for...

The group were on their way, ready to face what it will take them to complete their quest, ready to fight for what is worth fighting and to save who is worth saving. Eleanor was happy, the group didn't know what meant her smile and started to panic a little bit...

A few points that were raised in Eleanor's GMing, and/or in her GM's GMing

  • Reasons to go for adventuring should be personal.
  • If they are not personal, be ready for the players to decide that their characters are leaving when they'll think it doesn't worth it.
  • Players understand differently smiles of the GM, and it can be used.
  • The background of the PCs is a goldmine for reasons to go adventuring, and also for the adventures themselves.


Faustian Deals

"I can give you power, a lot of power, but every wish, every gift, comes with a price..."
Today I want to talk about one of the most useful tools in the horror GM's arsenal: The Faustian Deal. Faustian deal, named after Faust who made a deal with the devil, is a deal that gives the person a great amount of power, usually with a just as high (or even higher) price. The most common ones are usually power for the soul in the afterlife. In horror gaming, this kind of deals can be prove useful to stress the point that power carries a cost with it, and the cost is usually high. 
So, how can we use it? Especially since we don't play the afterlife of the characters?
There are a few ways to use it. The first is the one that is used in Call of Cthulhu, the one of mechanical cost. Using magic, alien technology or learning about the mythos costs you SAN. It's an easy way to show the cost, as it starts a death spiral that closes on the character. It's used also in V:tR, where power cots Vitae and without Vitae the vamp starts to go frenzy. It's also not that cheap to raise it back, as it carries dangers and sometimes even humanity roles.
Another way to use it is through descriptions. You don't have to go all gross out (actually, it's better not to) but hinting at the cost, enough to excite the players' minds and you've got something. A machine that will solve the global starving problem but with the cost of a few children every day being sacrificed; A magic spell that can call the power of Cthulhu into oneself in the cost of becoming Cthulhu (after enough uses, or immediately); A gadget that can restore peace to the world (like the one used in Watchmen) with the cost of destroying a city and killing half of its population...
Another way to do it is that things don't always work as planned. I think that a perfect example for this (although a childish one) can be seen in SpongeBob, when Mr. Crab asks to speak with money and as a response has came mad. It can be seen in Buffy also, in the great episode The Wish, when with the wish of Cordelia, the consequences of Buffy not coming to town were that The Master controlled Sunnydale and the Scoobies became vamps...
How about you? How do you use Faustian Deals within the game?

Eleanor Opens a New Campaign...

Eleanor continued to look in her memories, searching for another tricks, for another ways that her old GM used to open campaigns with. She looked at the players, a little bit nervous, a little bit sad, but it soon changed. She decided to continue no matter what.
She was sitting there, her GM starts the adventure, and the picture emerged back. Her old GM knew when to read from the papers and when to improvise scenery. What was so wonderful, was that she did both of this things overly dramatic, and it was way too hard to discern when she did which.
The session started, her old GM stops before an important message, before terrifying scenery, before...
Eleanor always felt that she sees the world, but more than that, she smelled the world, she touched it, she heard it, she tasted it, the world was around her and within her and... Beatrix smelled the roses in the fields. She went to the bar, leading her group. Although she knew what was there, although she was in the bar a moment before she was in the roses garden, she didn't feel cheated. She felt it was justified. It was a flashback, this scene, and she led the group to where they begun...

Eleanor came back to the present, her group looking at her, waiting to see and to hear what she's gonna do. Less than a minute has passed, and she knew right away what to do. She described the surroundings, the world, the where and what and when of the game. She continued to a little bit of the whom of the story, those that were at the bar anyway, and she laid the ground to the PCs. 

The PCs were there, her changing voice, volume and tone, drew them near, drew them in, her descriptions created the living picture that she tried to create...

The group sat in the bar, looking at the commoners and at the few nobles who were there. They suddenly were asked about their history by the barman, who looked interested to hear how they have met, and what have they done in the past few months, and if they are adventurers. 

The group started to describe, telling about coincidental meetings and about first-look loves and about family-bonds and about event-bonds. The barman listened quietly, asking one question there, another one then, suggesting ideas when they were stuck.
It wasn't a clean way, she knew, but it was useful, and it was in character. "Get this thing in the beginning and it will continue 'till the end", her old GM used to say, and she was right, of course... Before she knew it, she had a group with history, with a background and a few deeds, and with a goal. She was happy with what she had. It was a great beginning...

And so, Eleanor continued with her GMing. A few things that were pointed here:

  • Descriptions: All five senses.
  • Voice: Changing all the time. Not monotonous or anything, but a changing vibrant voice in both volume and tone.
  • If there's a contradiction to a thing that was said, it's better to give a quick convincing explanation. Flashback was great in this example- it used the contradiction to explain how they arrived at the bar, but it can also be solved in another ways (dreams are a favourite of many...).
  • It's best to ask the group how they met. Not how their characters met, but how they as the characters met ("Beatrix, how did you and Robert met?" As opposed to "Eleanor, how did you and Bobby met?").
  • If the group is stuck, suggest ways to continue. It doesn't have to be crystal clear, as with the example of the barman, but a little leading question there, another small one a short time afterwards and you've got something...


The Story of Eleanor

This moment comes, when you open a new game, with new characters and all, and you all sit across the round table and wait for the ordinary world to disappear and for the imaginary world to fill the space. You, like every person wants to get into the mind of your character, you want to be him/her and not yourself anymore, at least for a few hours.
The GM starts to speak. She describes the setting, going over all the details of the bar that you're within, of the tired barkeeper and of the stinking man with the purple roses who's supposed to be some kind of a magician. Then he asks you: "What are you playing?"
And in a moment, everything that she built is lost. In a moment, you're not Beatrix anymore but only play her. The shift is too quick, too strange, too out of its place. You look at your wonderful GM with your eyes and she suddenly understands what mistake she made. She quickly corrects herself: "Can you please describe yourself?" And the change is far too great. Suddenly, you're not Eleanor anymore, but Beatrix. 
She then continues to one of her old tricks, and she asks you (just like she asks everyone else) a question about Beatrix. Not a familiar question, but a strange one. "What does Beatrix do every Sunday morning?" Last story opener she asked you about Lisa's marriage life, and she asked Bob's character about what he liked best in his wife. She didn't ask Bob, as she didn't ask you, she asked the characters. Suddenly, you were in the characters' minds, thinking like them. The shift was well familiar, and it felt great.

Today, it's the time to start a new session, and you begin in the same way your old GM opened the game. The players respond well, and you can see that they begin to be their characters, to come into their skin, to sit into their brains, just like the way it happened to you.

I don't know if I succeeded with what I tried to pass here. I hope I did. It's not magic, and Eleanor didn't lose touch with reality (although she wasn't real in the first place...). It just helped this Eleanor to be her character for a few hours, and to leave the troubles behind when she met her friends...

How about you? How do you help the players to be their characters?

3 Ways to Make One-Scene Characters Unique

When we think about some occupations, we immediately get an image: The uncompromising cop, the fainting lady... These stereotypes can be used to a great extent to create a sense of deepness, of a hidden layer, even in NPCs that the characters meet for a scene.
Let's look at this example scene and see how stereotypes can be used in different ways to enhance it.
The scene is quite simple: The characters arrive to the great market, and a preacher gives a speech about the power of belief, and about how to save one's soul:
And then, the lion will utter its name, and reveal its true nature, and the king and queen will have no choice but to surrender to the great true king, the creator of our land. And then! Then will the sheer power of our lion's very existence unravel all of the criminals and all of the murderers and all of the bad people, and the good and pure will prosper in the earth..."
'Till here, it's a normal speech. The preacher warns the commoners from bad things, and suggests that if they will do badly, he lion will reveal their true nature. The preacher here is probably a great person, very charismatic and stands probably above and beyond to the commoners' reach.
Let's think about something else: Let's give the preacher a trait that is against what we would accept from him: Our preacher is alcoholic. BAM! Immediately we've got a different picture, there's something stinky in this preacher, is not this good, he works against the people he's "trying" to save... It's still almost the same preacher, but now there's something deeper within him, something that makes him both more real and more humane. At the same time, this preacher just screams to be questioned by the PCs to get a greater understanding of him.
Let's think of another thing: We'll take one of the preacher's traits from the original stereotype, and we'll take it to the extreme. Our preacher is not only very charismatic and beyond the commoners' reach, but the commoners look at him like he's some kind of a holy person, a once in a lifetime person, one that... Maybe we'll change another thing: This preacher screams of daemonic powers. BAM! We've just got another preacher. The commoners don't listen to him because he's right, but because he's controlling them. It's like Sauron in the land of the Numenors.
The last way for today is by adding a random affection for something. Our preacher is obsessed with something, like flowers. He gives his speech, and he takes a break whenever a bucket or a basket with flowers moves in front of his eyes. Again, we're getting a different preach, one that has weaknesses, and that can be distracted by ordinary things and maybe even stumble in his words because of that.
What I was trying to show here, was that in all of the preachers we've begun with the stereotype and stayed quite close to it. It's still, after all, in a nutshell the same old preacher. But it's also a different one. The preacher became a different person when we changed a different thing in the stereotype. That's the whole truth. Changing a little thing in the stereotype can invoke magic in the way the character is being viewed.
And, that's it for today. How about you? How do you use stereotypes in your games?


When I Look Back at My First 100...

At the first day of April, I opened The Bleeding Scroll. It was yet another attempt to open a blog of my own. It was supposed to replace my Facebook as a public diary, and to a certain degree, it did. I almost completely stopped using it (a blessed change...), but almost nothing from the original idea survived when I look on this blog, today. 
It became, quite early to say the least, a blog about RPGs. Sure, it had (and still has) its heavy dose of movies, but it became more of a place to post about lessons from them than as a place to talk about them. I touched music only once, and my thoughts disappeared from the blog quite quickly also. It's still a collection of thoughts, but not of the type that I intended for. 
My posting frequency rose up, the focus on RPGs rose also, and before I knew it, it was an RPG blog. I tried to make it different, bringing in a focus on horror, waving in a focus on lessons from movies and from improvisation, but it was still an RPG theory blog first, and only then the rest.
I don't think it's a bad thing, actually. It's an organic transition, and as such it's a good one. It's a way to stay tuned on RPGs even when I'm not GMing at the moment, even when I'm taking a short break. The blog started to take a bigger place in my time, using a bigger share of my energy, and I think that it deserves it. From a leading writer for a big Israeli site, I came to be the writer of a nice little blog. There's a lot of freedom that comes with this transition.
Today, with this post, The Bleeding Scroll reaches a landmark: 100 posts. It took me a far shorter amount of time than I expected, in 88 days actually, but I think that overall, almost all of the posts are there for a reason. Sure, my first ones weren't that great, and I went through a lot of crap, but I improved overall, and I think that it shows.
So, in order to conclude this first part, first act of my blogging story, here is the roundup of my favourite posts, accompanied by a few statistics:

  1. My first favourite is from April's bog carnival. I joined in late, but it was part of it. It's more of a personal achievement than a perfect post (although I believe that it's a great post). It was, after all, my first post after joining the RPG Blog Alliance, and was my most popular post for a long time.
  2. Another one is my second Fiasco session recap uploaded. It was a great session to play within, and I think that it was the first time that I could really say: Wow! I've just played Fiasco and used it to the peak of my abilities." I think that it shows.
  3. The post about game history is another favourite. When I look at this post, I can't stop thinking that this is the point where I really understood what freedom I have here. Until then, I was quite conventional, but from this point, I started to explore the possibilities of blogging. 
  4. The post about how to open a game is another one. I think that it's one of the best examples for what I strived for when I said lessons from movies. It's a discussion about how the movie Frankenstein is opened, what does it achieve with this way of opening, and how can we use it in a game. 
My favourite of all time is of course the post about how the soundtrack affected my GMing. It's a personal post, and I think that it's one of the easiest ways to know what my GMing style is, and to where I'm striving with it.

A few statistics to close this off:
Number of Posts 100
Number of comments: 8+8 responses from me
Number of visitors: 3023
Google Page Rank: 2

So, what are your thoughts about the first 100 posts? What posts did you like? What you didn't? Is there anything that you want improved? 

A Letter for My Players

Dear players,
I'm writing for you this letter in response for the last one you've sent me. You said that you want to feel like heroes and heroines, that you want to feel more than just the anticipation for another victory, that you want the game to feel far more epic and interesting and... 
I want to deliver for you just that. You're my players, and I want to give you the best. But I want something from you too, in order to achieve that: I want you to stop being afraid of failures. Failure is not a dirty word, and failing sometimes doesn't make you a group of failures. 
I want you to stop being afraid from that, but more than that, I want you to let yourself fail. Drama is not about succeeding, it's about overcoming obstacles. If you're gonna win no matter what, there's no drama, and none of us will really enjoy the game. 
I promise you, I'll do whatever I can to raise the drama in order to make the story better. All I ask from you is to do your part too; to improve as much as I improve; to strive for drama as much as I strive for it (and I know that you do, just please bring it into the surface); To accept failure as much as I accept it and to let yourselves fail as much as I let myself fail.
After all, failing doesn't make you failures, fearing from it makes you less of the winner type. 
Your humble GM

5 Thoughts on Mystery Planning

In one of the bigger RPG forums in Israel, there's a discussion about investigative games: Possible, or not? And if possible, how can it be achieved? As a person who GMs quite a lot of investigative games, I started to think about how one should plan a game like that and how it should be GMed. My thoughts about the subject follow:

  1. The most important thing to consider is what place clues should take in your mystery. In some investigative books, the investigators like Sherlock or Poirot, finding the clues is not the challenge, and both Sherlock and Poirot find them quite easily. In other stories, we can go for quite a lot of time before a single clue is found. For me, I think that the real challenge shouldn't be to find the clues, but to use them together to find the real criminal.
  2. Red herrings. This is another important thing to consider, as this concept is used in almost the entire investigative canon of books. For me, I always thought that red herrings are one of the more unique qualities of the genre, and one of the hardest to pass to RPGs. While in other mediums, you can decide when the investigator will throw the red herring, in RPGs you cannot. If I want to use it (and boy, I sure want), I tend to use it as a comeback in a later investigation, or more likely as a small level. You solved the mystery, but there's still a hidden layer that you might need to find, someone who activated the criminal that you caught.
  3. Types of crimes. We have to face it, solving mysteries can become as tedious as dungeon crawling (and far more frustrating, of course). Because of that, we have to rewind the mysteries. One crime will be a murder mystery; another will be a kidnapping mystery... But we can go to even farer places: One mystery will contain a moral dilemma; another will confront one of the characters with his/her deepest fears...
  4. Complexity levels. I've written about it once, but it worth repeating: Not all mysteries were born the same, some are harder than the others, some are more complex than the others, and some have a bigger scope than the others.
  5. Team work. In the canon, the investigator never was alone. Sure, s/he did almost all of the work, but there was another one. In RPGs, we can't have one player who will be the mastermind and the others to be the sidekicks. One way to solve it is with having one person to play the computer genius of the group, another to play the interrogator of the group and so on... A little better approach (to my belief) is to have this allocation of experts, but to have skills that are known to more than one expert. The computer expert might be better at using the Internet, but she will also be good with sneaking past cops. The sneaky might be better at sneaking past cops, but he'll also be good with using the computer. This way, there's a greater feeling of teamwork, as the characters can help each other...
So, these are my thoughts on the subject. How about you? How do you plan/GM investigative games?


"My Character Wouldn't Do That!"

Yesterday, inspiration struck me. I was reading a post over at Stargazer's and I understood right away that he's right. Sure, I had a few posts that were directed to my players (or to other GM's readers...), but it can't hurt to have another tips' post directed to them, can it?
Anyway, I wanted to talk about something that I've heard a lot, from myself and from many others: "My character wouldn't do something like that!" This dreadful answer is something that we hear or make in order to save ourselves from doing something that we don't like. "The mayor wants you to leave those cops alone. -My character hates cops, Holilo Lombrete won't do a thing like that!" 

Before we go for what I want to say today, I want first to examine why it's so problematic. There are many reasons and many problems that a statement like that carries with it. The first that I want to discuss is that a statement like that means that the player doesn't trust the GM. In other words, we have here a trust issue. If the player says something like that, he's like saying "I know what you want me to do, but I don't like this idea, so fuck off!" This is a sure way to make the next idea by the GM even worse or late or even make the GM have trust issues with himself/herself and no new and/or interesting ideas will come. Sure, I'm a little bit going for an over the top thing, but this is the way to get there (well, one of the ways...).
Secondly, it prevents the player(s) from getting to new and interesting places. Genesis had a song called "I know what I like (and I like what I know)", and this is the point of the song: I know what I like and don't like, and I like what I know, resulting in an anti to try new things.
Thirdly, it makes the characters stereotypes. I'm sure that almost any person that we'll see, even if s/he will say "I won't do that", if they'll have no other choice, they'll do that. More than that, even in less dreadful situations, people do things that they don't want to do.

So, what did I want to say after all of this long long exposition? That any character can do any action that she wants or doesn't want to do. That's the whole point, that's what I wanted to say, and that's probably one of the most shocking (at least to myself) revelations I've reached for this year.
Think about it for a moment. I can justify according to my background almost everything that I can do. I can justify a helping and caring hand, and I can justify in the same way the opposite of it. A pacifist might justify carrying a sword in order to intimidate as a way to prevent wars, and a womaniser might stop chasing a woman by saying that she probably has a good reason for not wanting him (Skins, anyone?). Justification is not that hard to achieve, and if it's not strong enough, a few "yes, and"s and the problem is solved.
One more thing to consider is that this choice, whether to chase the goal while doing something that is against all of the character's morals or to leave the goal, is the highest point of drama. The sudden understanding that my morals stand in the way of my goal, or vice verse, is the whole point of drama. After all, if there's no real conflict there, there's no real interest...

So, this concludes this post. What do you think? Do you also agree that everything can be justified according to the character's background? Why, or why not?

5 Quick Tips for Your Descriptions

"You see in front of you the entire city, trees full of green leaves watch the city. Many people go from place to place, making the city seem full of life and unresting. Large red areas fill the remains of the surroundings, as the enemy siege towers grow bigger and bigger as they come closer to the city..."
So, today I wanted to talk about a thing that was overlooked by me for many a years, and I'm still seeing it in many GMs' description: Exciting all the senses. Every literary character, and PCs are included there, has 6 senses: Sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste and the sixth one. A mistake that is commonly used is to forget about the last four, and to go almost solely for sight with a little help from the hearing sense. The description from above is an extreme example of this: Only sight.
Tip 1: In every description, excite at least 2 different senses.
Tip 2: Don't go for the same 2 senses every time, make as much movement in the 2 you go for as you can.
The sixth sense, which deserves a paragraph of its own, is the feeling sense: "A dreadful feeling fills you..." This kind of things. It's a sense that should be used, but it needs a special consideration. It's always better to say that this place makes you want to puke than terrifies you. It's even better to say that "it seems too easy", or "too silent", etc... Go for the sense, but don't state for the players how their characters really fill, make the players do this "dirty job".

Another thing, that is often overlooked, is the description of how someone speaks: "She speaks with anger as she says this", or describing an atmosphere of tension. It's far better to give it through the voice. Talk angrily for the first example, or squeak for the second, and the tone and atmosphere will reach the character quicker and far more powerful.
Tip 3: You can use your voice to convey anything that you want it to convey, including contradictions to what you say, use it.

Lastly for today, is "how many details should I include in a description". Truth is, there's no definite answer. It's usually better, though, to make descriptions short and to the point. Don't be afraid to give just the surface and to expand the description according to the players' questions: "A smell of blood fills the room. -From where is it? -You go after the smell and you find, behind the table, the body of Sir Lancelot!"
Tip 4: Make descriptions short and to the point. 3 things in 20 seconds should be enough.
Tip 5: Don't be afraid to expand and/or to wing things on the fly according to the players' questions. It seems much less of an overdose...


My First 15

Over at Roleplaying Tips, John posted a tip and a tip request by a fellow reader. The question that has been asked there is an important one: "How do I excite my players in the first minutes of the game?" There are actually 2 questions there:
  1. How much time means the phrase: "First minutes of the game"?
  2. How do I excite the players?
For the first question, the asker gives an answer: 15 minutes. It's logical, and watching movies can prove this point: You need 15 minutes to stress the point and the mood of the movie. Truth is, though, that it's much more dependent on the length of the session being run than on a definite number. A session that runs for 3 hours will need much more minutes of creating excitement than a session of 1 hour. There are 2 reasons for that:
  • In the longer session there is more time for the energy and excitement to dwindle down, and because of that we need more energy in the first place so we won't end breathless and zombie-like.
  • 3 hours is a far longer time period, which means that far more activities can be done in this amount of time. We need to stress from the very beginning that this 3 hours are gonna be far better than 3 hours of watching TV and playing video games, for that matter...
So, what is the definite time that we need to allocate to exciting our players? I don't know for sure, but about 20 minutes for every 2 hours of gaming sounds good to me (and yeah, I include breaks in the 2 hours). That means that a 4 hours session will need about 40 minutes of exciting the players, or in other words: An act of its own.

Now, for the second question things get far trickier. In the original post, they gave 4 ways to do that. The first that was suggested was with an action scene. I'm not sure that I like this way, as it carries a few problems with it. First of all, this battle, this fight, won't be important to the story, and as such it will be a waste of time. We don't get to the table to kill monsters; we go there to tell a story. It can be a story about killing monsters, but even then, there's no place for a monster that has no relation to the goal of the boss monster. True, at first it might be cool to kill a few monsters every time we start a session, but it will become tedious.
The second tip is to reward great roleplaying during the start of the session. I suppose, as is normally the case, that they mean experience reward, and I've written about it already. But apart from the common problems of using experience points to bribe players to roleplay more, it's a really good idea. Rewarding the players for starting the session with a little bit of roleplaying is a sure way to get them to roleplay more during the session.
Then we get to the second tip by John, which is to finish the last session with a cliffhanger and then continue the next session right from there. This is a classic tip, and probably one of the best there are, but finishing every session with a cliffhanger (or even most of them) will drain from the players the feel of completion. If we'll look at our beloved TV series, it's less than 50% of the episodes that end with a cliffhanger. So, as though it can take us pretty far, something else must be used also. There's also one more problem with cliffhangers that at least from my experience I tend to overlook (and I'm sure that I'm not the only one out there who overlooks this): "Sometimes, the continuation doesn't stand to the promise of the cliffhanger. Then, instead of the benefits of using cliffhangers, we get the drawbacks.
The last tip from John is with the recap. I've wrote already about how to use this recap to get ideas for what to do in the session, but using it to excite the players is something that I haven't thought about well enough. Sure, I've let my recaps excite my players but it was more because it was another moment to shine (and to show what I want to get from my players) than because of the need to excite them.

What about my tip, though? I've written already about building platforms, and about the first act, but 2 other things:
  • Start big. It's far better (at least to my belief) to start with a big and grandiose event than with an action scene. I opened a V:tR session once with the haven of the PCs being discovered during a school trip. I've opened another with the assassination of the prince (I don't think that I ever had a prince who didn't die at some stage in the game), another with a history book from the future written by one of the PCs and dedicated to another. It's far more useful, to my belief, than an action scene.
  • Throw the PCs (and the players who play them) into the mood of the game. If I GM a horror game, I'm gonna start with a scene that showcases the mood of macabre in the story, and the players will fall into it. The excitement soon will follow, rising up to where it should be...
So, how about you? How do you excite the players in first minutes of the game? 

4 Minutes of Suspense

12 minutes of suspense are far better than 12 seconds of surprise. It's really cool to surprise the players and all, but surprise is less useful and much weaker (story wise of course) than suspense). Hitchcock gave an example once which went something like that:
2 people are speaking over a dinner table in a restaurant when suddenly a bomb that lied underneath it blew up and the characters have been hit. We've got here 4, maybe 5 seconds of surprise. Now, imagine that the camera showed the ticking bomb from beforehand. Now, every line in the dialogue, every beat of action, is full of suspense. When the bomb finally blows up, there's no surprise, but we've got 4 or 5 minutes of suspense.
That's the whole thing. If you want to surprise the characters, think about the way you want to do this. If you can find a way to make the same thing, but with replacing the surprise with suspense, it's far better. Think about this situation: The characters arrive back from their mission and are on their way to the mayor's house to get their reward. When they arrive there, they find his body. We strived here for surprise and we got it.
On the other hand, wouldn't it be better if we would have plant clues in the scenery that something bad is gonna happen? The sun is bloody and red, the town is silent, and people go from place to place wearing black... Now, the players start to feel this tension, this suspense that something bad has happened. Suddenly, we get far more powerful time with this mayor's death.


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When You Come to the Session Without Even the Slightest of Ideas...

Coming with an idea for today's post was hard; I actually needed a second cup of tea just to find it. Then, it finally struck me, an idea that just waited there to be explored: What do you do when you come to the session without even the slightest idea about what to do?

1) Ask the players to tell what happened the last session
Sometimes we just don't remember what happened, but usually we do, so why to ask for this rewind? Because the players see a picture of their own, that is quite close and similar to yours but not completely. I care more for certain points, they forget others and they'll tell you these things if you'll just listen.
Asking for this rewind gives them the stage and the limelight they need to tell you just that. They'll tell you what they like and what you didn't, if you know how to read between the lines, they'll tell what they want to see more and what not... All of these things will give you heavy doses of inspiration for the session.

2) Let the players run it without knowing it
Using "yes, and" responses, let your players build the "platform" for you. This will give you both a place and a few NPCs and also a routine that you can break. "When we last left you, you were in a bar. What do you do? -Is there a barmaid there? -Yes, and he's showing you his hand waiting for the money for your drinks. -Are there other people who sit in the bar? -Yes, and they have empty glasses and torn clothes..."
From here, it's easy to get a conflict inserted: "The barmaid refuses to get your money, but receives those poor people's money with a cynical smile"; "The poor people draw their swords and they look at you with anger, 'you should have invited us for beer when you had the chance'", and so on...

3) Bring 2 cultists with a gun
You didn't expect me to leave it behind, did you? It doesn't have to be cultists, or a gun (it can be 2, for example, one each...), etc. It can, and should be, a little bit more interesting: "Your sister enters with a gun pointed at you", "Your husband enters with a gun pointed at you" and so on...

4) Someone has been murdered
Another classic. Murdered people are always a way to bump up the excitement and it gives the players something to chew while you think of something cleverer. It can also be used to dramatic effect: The NPC the players wanted to meet was murdered 3 days before they've arrived to her castle; the villain the characters wanted to bring to justice committed a suicide moments before the characters got him...

5) Take inspiration from the last show that you've seen on TV
TV series is just like a campaign in so many ways, that taking a plot from a TV series is a sure way to get something that is appropriate to a campaign (well, almost a sure way...). Because it's the last thing that you've watched, it's the easiest one to apply to the game- it's fresh and new, after all...
If you've watched an episode of Buffy with Adam there, you've got a monster to unleash at the party. If you've watched an episode of Seinfeld, you've got a situation you can apply, and a few NPCs (you can get some NPCs from Buffy also, but they are usually already there, disguised as PCs...).
You can get this inspiration from a movie also, but it will be less appropriate usually to a campaign (and it is also quite longer than a single TV episode...).

And that's it. How about you? What do you when you come to a session without any idea?


A Letter to My GM

Dear GM,
I write for you this letter in order to help you make the game better. You see, I like SF, I really do, but as your player I must tell you that there's one problem within it that I must state so you won't make this fatal mistake that will make me running to take cover from the game.
The problem is quite common in your games, at least the ones you've GMed for me over the years. Your world is too far-fetched, too far from what I know, that I cannot relate to your game or to your world. I know you've put a lot of energy into it, that's why I'm telling you this, before the game begins, so you'll still be able to fix it before you'll see my face.
I'm sure I'm not alone in this feeling, but I'm also sure that most of your other players won't tell you this. It can be because they're too polite, but I believe that it's because they don't know the reason yet. I think so because I was in the same place as they do. I left this place not a long time ago. I'm glad that I've left it, 'cause now I can understand why I didn't care for this world of yours, a world that I appreciated it complexity and details but not its emotional state, a world that bears not empathy for itself or for the world's habitats.
Please, before it will fail miserably, help all of us and fix this little problem...

You Need the Tower In Order to Destroy It...

There's a world around us, full of flowers and kittens and people and bandits and guns and nukes and... But there's a world first of all. I think that you've already know that I don't believe in a vacuum. You probably know that for me, the now matters the most. The now is the thing that matters, and the world is the thing that we fight for and strive for. 
The world is there waiting for us to make it bigger, richer, fuller, all in the goal of making it come alive. If we're supposed to fight for the world, the world should well deserve it, isn't so? Making the world come alive can manifest in many ways. It can manifest with our descriptions and with our mood and atmosphere and tone and... But it can also come alive from the single most overlooked element: Normal life of the world's habitats. If Ms. Lucy and Mr. Robert are there, doing what a normal newly-wed couple are doing, if on the other side of the city the lord Radolph is there giving a speech and if in the dark corners of the alley a little girl is stealing money to save her dying little brother from his death, the world will be much fuller and will naturally come alive. 
Look for example on the movie Paranormal Activity. It starts really slow, with the presentation of our 2 protagonists, and they're not fighting monsters when we first see them. They have, and that's important, a normal couple conversation. They fight about what a normal couple will fight about and talk to one another the way a normal couple will talk to one another. This is the whole thing we see in the beginning, and this is the most important beat in the story at this stage and many stages afterwards. You can go bump in the night if your characters aren't real (you can, actually, but it will be very very shallow and uninteresting...).
Truth is, these are the little details that matter the most; these are the things that deserve fighting for; most of all, this are the things that make an imaginary world come alive. Too bad they are mostly overlooked, don't let them be forgotten again, they need you as much as you need them...


Don't Be Afraid to Look Stupid...

Don't be afraid to look like a stupid human being. Don't be afraid to act it out, walking and speaking and making funny voices and sound effects. We all look quite funny when we play this, so there's nothing to lose, just to gain. 
Yeah, I'm talking to you, you pal who always sits in the back and talks calmly. Why won't you act like your fellow player, who raises his arm like in pain whenever his being hurt? Why won't you act like Mellisa, who roses from her chair and shows how she's walking to the king and how she bows for him?
I'm talking to you also, you mighty GM. Why won't you give your players an example? You're the leading storyteller, the one that everyone looking to see what s/he will do, so please give your players an example. It can't hurt you, you know, it will only make you feel more energised.
I'm not telling any of you to go and play like this is a LARP (although it can't hurt to do it once in a while); I'm only asking you to try to live the game a little bit more. Getting up from the table once in a while, shouting and screaming like a barbarian when your barbarian is fighting, whispering something when you wizard does its magic, making a gun noises when your character's gun is shooting, but most of all: Talking like your PC and gesturing like your PC...

The Beginning of Your Doom

I've watched yesterday the original Frankenstein movie (yeah, the one with Boris Karloff...). It's a nice movie, but what really caught my eye was the opening of it. You know, this movie has 2 openings. The first one being done by the Dr. who warns us from the movie, the second is a funeral. This made my brain engines work: "What is there, in these 2 openings, which is so spectacular?"
The answer didn't wait long before coming: They create interest and curiosity. More than that, though, they conveyed the mood of the story, of the movie all the way to me. Add to these 2 things that these 2 openings were far from normal, and we get a thing that just waits for an exploration into the dark mind and world of the story. So, let's look at a few openings, won't we?

"This story may even horrify you", or starting with a warning.
The first opening of Frankenstein is a warning from the Dr. about the movie: How frightening the movie is, what lies in the middle of the story, what is the experiment and so on. 3 things are achieved by this: The first one is the building of the expectations. We now wait to see what this movie is gonna be about, and how frightening it really gonna be. Will we be frightened? Horrified? Not affected? The expectations are already there, waiting for the story to unfold and to unravel the things that we expect.
The second is that we know to what we enter. The easiest way to destroy our horror movie is by bringing an audience which doesn't know to what it enters. So it is with our games, where we must make sure that the players don't only look forward for a few things but also know what type of story they're going to participate within.
The third one is the conveying of the mood. The dark tone, the costumes, the veil, the close-ups and the manner of speech, all give us a sense of the mood. This story is going to be dark and grim and terrifying, so beware. It's a great easy and dirty way to get the atmosphere that we need.

"Midnight, a funeral, the priest is blessing", or starting with the funeral of one of the characters.
This one is far more interesting than it seems. Starting with the funeral of one of the characters gives us so many things to play with, from the sense of dread to the ability to use flashbacks and to the knowledge that no one is safe from death. 
The sense of dread comes naturally. We Begin with the death of one of the characters, and the macabre is there, dancing between the graves and tombs. There's almost no work that needs to be done here, as the prayers and the tombs does their work almost by themselves.
So is the knowledge that no one is safe from death. Starting with a funeral makes it justified to kill characters in the game, 'cause after all, it's gonna happen or there won't be any funeral. Starting with the funeral of a minor character, like the mentor of one of the characters can be proven useful too, as it can be considered a foreshadowing if we plan to do something with the dead mentor's body for example.
The ability to use flashback is important. Going for a nonlinear game can be proven quite hard and demanding, but it's far easier this way. It also gives an excuse to skip all the uninteresting stuff. "What, when telling legends, we never learn what the protagonists did between adventures or during their trips from one place to another..."

"Once upon a time, in a world not unlike our own", or starting with a storyteller that tells the story.
This is also very interesting. It is very similar to the funeral example, but creates a lesser sense of dread and a greater sense of innocence and epicness. It means, after all, that a legend is being told. If it's done by one of the PCs, who grew old since the adventures, it's even better. A few things to consider:
It means that (at least) one of the characters will survive the adventures, so it's preferred to not reveal the storyteller 'till the end of the story arch. Otherwise, there will be no sense of wonder about who is the storyteller. If it's being told by a storyteller that is not from the group, this problem is solved but it will be less powerful.
Another thing is that it gives an epic or a fairy tale feel, mainly due to its connotations, so it might not be always useful to horror gaming (although it can surely be useful to other types of games).

And, that's about it. How about you? How do you open your games? How does it affect the mood? The game itself?


One Reference to Kill Them All

A few days ago I've made a mistake. It was during a game that I've GMed, an "Avatar: the Last Airbender" game. I had 4 players, three of which watched the series, one did not. The game went smoothly, with a few big action scenes where they defeated a few Dai Li agents. During one of the fights, a cabbage fell on one of the characters. The three players who knew the series, and me of course, started to laugh 'till we fell on the floor. The one who didn't looked at us like we are conspiring something against him.
This brings me to my point: References are a great way to bring the feel of the original story, of Avatar in that example, but it can also be used of course to bring the feel of such stories as Star Wars, LotR and so on...
There is one problem with references, though, which is the bad reference. A good reference is a reference that is good by itself, but makes the story better if you know the original place that the reference came from. A bad one can be bad in 2 very different ways:

  1. If you know the original, it detracts from the game. The easiest example of this can be with cliches: If you don't know that it's a cliche, it can be very good. If you know that it's a cliche, and you've seen it in action, you know what will come and there's no sense of wonder. Think about the person who says "I'll be back" in a horror game. If you know where it comes from, you'll know that this speaker won't come.
  2. It's good only if you know the original. That's what happened in the example from above. Three players and me knew the original Cabbage Merchant, and laughed straight away. The one who didn't, on the other hand, probably thought that it was very silly. 
And that's the whole thing: If the reference is not good by itself and better when the original context is known, don't include it. If it is, though, why don't include it? One extra thing to remember, though, is that the context in which you give the reference is important too, and can destroy even the best of them all...
How about you? Have you made such a mistake in one of your games? How did it manifest within it? How did the players react?

Normality Became the New Originality

You don't have to be original by force. You don't have to be this uber half elf/ half orc/ half monkey/ half dragon hybrid, who is also 5 levels of wizard, 4 levels of warrior and 12 levels of rouge. You don't have to be Superman in a CoC game and don't have to be a coward in a D&D game. You don't have to be that special and original, you know.
Have you tried to be the normal once? Have you just tried to be this dwarf fighter or half elf diplomat? Have you? Was it that boring that you had to try to be that special for the sake of being special? Isn't being a half elf in an elfish society hard enough that you have to be half orc also, just in case?
Please, for god's sake, try to be normal for once. Normality became the new originality, retro is back as the new kid in the block.
Oh, and just in case, try to look in the net for this hybrid that you so wanted to be. Probably, someone has made it already, and the maker had a little bit more experience so it's probably even better than what you did try to achieve...


Don't Be a Coward...

You don't have to cower in the back of the room. The fact that a monster from outer space has came to earth and is now tearing the world doesn't mean that you have to hide under the tables and play dead. The monster won't like it, and so would none of us.
When you've created your character for the game, although a horror one, you created a character that is beyond the normal person. You created a character, you casted a hero, and now you're playing a hero. It might be not much more than an ordinary person, but sure the character is. Otherwise, it was an NPC.
So, please, for god's sake, when playing in my horror game, don't be a dick and cower in the back but try to do something far more interesting.
After all, it's not interesting to play the coward. That's a GM job, a dirty job. Instead, try to play the one who tries to cope with his/her fears, and we'll all benefit...

What Do I Mean When I Say "Improvising a Game"?

So, I've been talking about this for quite a time but it always went out without saying, without answering this simple question: "What do I mean when I say improvising a game?" Or in other words, what does the GM do when the GM is improvising a game?
The truth is of course far simpler than it seems. When improvising a game, we don't come with a blank mind; we come with a few things for the start and roll from there. We don't forget what we've prepared because it can prove useful in a future thing. It doesn't mean to say the first thing that pops into our mind, although it sure can be useful sometimes. It means a simple thing: Going with the flow.
When we improvise a game, we usually come with a few dots of info, whether written or not, and roll from there. A great way to start an improvised game is by asking the players a few things about what they look for in the game (genre, scope, and the like) and then asking them a few questions about their characters' past. It is not mandatory, of course.
The most important thing, though, when improvising a game, is to go with the flow. It is made of three things:

1) Always say yes.
Not that surprising is the fact that saying no draws the game into a halt. Sure, there are things that deserve a no, but unless it is that far from normality, say yes. Say a lot of yeses, actually. The players will come with interesting things, very interesting most of the times, and letting them go with it will enrich the story.
Think about this situation: The characters are standing against a guard that prevents them from entering the castle to save the prince (princesses don't need to be rescued; they'll kill the dragon by themselves...). They have to find a way to get past the guard.
The GM may expect the characters to kill the guard, to persuade the guard or even to sneak past the guard. Another group will try to persuade the guard into joining their team ("we all know that Mr. Dragon doesn't pay you enough..."), teleport past the dragon (solving the problem without facing it) and so on. A railroady GM might stop the latter 2, as they destroy what the GM planned, but isn't it far more interesting if the guard will join them? Isn't creating a "no-teleportation-zone" like cheating?

2) Don't say just yes.
I've mentioned it once, and I'm mentioning it again. Adding the and/but spectrum to the answer will enrich the story with a little addition. A really little addition.
What will be more interesting, "you get to the place just in time" or "you get to the place just in time, but the place is crowded with many many cultists?" Adding a little and/but to every answer will make you seen like a master GM (s/he always has cool ideas and stories) 'cause everything will become far more interesting.

3) Understand that you're not the only storyteller
This is important, really really important. If you want to improvise well, you've got to understand that you're only a part of the group, a very important one, like a director, but not more than that. When improvising, the GM is more the one that shows the direction, and the players are more the ones who create the story.
The idea is to make it seem like a story of your own, but it isn't the truth. You show the direction by the way that you speak about things, by the way that you describe or play NPCs or anything else, but the players are there to do the real thing. Morpheus described it well: "[I] can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it."


Sitting like My Favourite Character...

A little thing for today: A quick and dirty way to connect with a character is by sitting (or walking, or talking, etc...) like the character. If, for example, I'm playing a character that is shy and quiet, sitting with my shoulders hunched will help it. It will make me look always up when talking to other players or the GM, It will make talking harder and much more tiring, and I'll talk less.
It's a simple thing, that just changes everything in the way that you talk or sit or walk or whatever when you game. It helps you, especially when improvising, to switch between characters quickly and effectively. It can help you to switch standings in society, genders, and fantasy races and so on...
I, personally, use this technique whenever I get to play an NPC, and for every scene when playing as a player (like lying down when my character does it, or putting my hands aside without moving them when I'm tied).
How about you? If you had to choose such a technique, what would have been yours?


"He Pulled a Lion from his Hat..."

A little trick for the day: When improvising something, think about a normal thing and then bring to it a little twist. "You get to the show, almost too late. The magician is at the end of his show. He shows to the audience the hat, which is empty of course, and then he puts it on the table and his hand circles all around the hat. When he pulls it out of the hat, there's a lion's mouth held in his hand. He raises the hand, 'till the entire lion is out..." Not spectacular, just a normal magic trick, 'till the magician pulls not a rabbit or a bird out of the hat but a living lion. In a moment, with a little addition, we have a unique magician with a unique magic trick.
    It can be used, of course, to more than just portraying NPCs. It can be used to paint the scenery (the clouds look like tears, only painted green"), to make a building stand out ("The west wall has 43 windows in different sizes"), or even to pitch a game ("it's like Star Wars, only you play a group of Chubakas...").

The Story of Mellisa Lermondon

In Arcane Game Lore, they're running a blog carnival about our favourite NPCs. I must say, it was hard for me to come with an NPC, because I don't have that many (although I really like the one that I do bring to the table). So, 18 days of thinking brought me to this NPC. Is it my favourite? I'm not sure, but she sure is on my top list...
Mellisa Lermondon wasn't supposed to be a major NPC, at the beginning. She was supposed to add a little bit of colour, maybe even be a part of a romance between one of the PCs and her. As it turned out, she couldn't end farer from that.
It was a D&D campaign that I've started a year ago and ran for 3 months, and the story was set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world. The players wanted, as every normal player will want, to start a new village in the frontier. They have "forgotten" that it was the "Ezripold Daemon Forest". They have collected a group of peasants and adventurers to help them start this village, and among them she was.
Time has passed, and the village grew bigger and bigger, and her statues in the village rose as well. The characters, though, started to abuse her (and to treat her like an animal or property). That was the point when I said enough to myself, and started to think how to make her a little bit more important. 
As the real Mellisa started to unravel, I've started to like the character more and more. It was a long time since I had a major villain, and Mellisa looked like the right one. I've made her a conspirator that came from a noble family that no one remembers anymore. I've made her a bitter wizard who served to defend the city of her grandfather, only to be shunned because she was a woman. Then I've made a little bit of background (it was before the time of the recipe), making her and the king of the goblins work together, and so it went on.
Then, to the next session, she came back. I started the session with describing the clothing of the NPCs that they've started to like. None of the players got the clue, and the session continued. They went to gather some resources for the village, the characters and her, only to find when they returned that the village was conquered. She, who was the strongest wizard there, used her magic to incriminate one of the other NPCs for opening the doors. They didn't wait to kill him.
After a "civil war" in the village, order was back in place, and they went off again. There she made her mark. Everything that they tried to do, she made them fail, using her illusion abilities to incriminate others. She was kept clean. 
When they finally reached their spot, she made her move, and disappeared, leaving the characters far from home, going back to fill their subjects with poisonous thoughts while they were on their way back. They only received letters from her ever since and sometimes a riddle or 2 to tease them off.
One of the reasons that I so like her, I think, is that she didn't made any open move at all, 'till she left. Even then it was them who fought the village people, not her, and it was them who saw the collapse of the village that they worked so hard to raise because of their actions. She was a string puller, but most of the time they didn't know she was even her. I think that if they read this post, this is the first time that they get to know why the village collapsed.


5 Reasons to Describe Clothing in Your Games

Each one of us has spent at least sometimes a lot of time trying to figure what to wear for the day. It can be for work, or for a date or even for a coronation. What is important, though, is that we spent this time, to pick the right clothes. This can also be used in gaming.
  1. Fashion can help to establish cultures. A culture in which women are covered from head to toe will be looked upon differently than a culture in which women can wear whatever they like. Cultures in which every Sunday all are wearing green; cultures in which everyone goes to work wearing everyday clothes (and not ties and tuxedos, for example) will be looked as much more strict and formal. This is a cheap way to establish a culture.
  2. In addition to the first thing, if the characters went to a mission and returned to find the people of the place wearing entirely different clothes, the time that has passed will be felt, and a smell of change will be smelled.
  3. Clothes can help to differentiate between characters (PCs and NPCs alike). Will they meet the knight who wears green, or the one that always goes with pink armor today? Isn't it more colourful than the knight who wears silvery armor?
  4. Clothes can help to show feelings or hidden truths. A character that wears black will be seen as a vile or depressed character, while the one that goes with white clothes will be seen as formal or naive. Think about the character that goes with the ripped off clothes in contrast to the one that goes with the colours of the enemy state...
  5. Clothes can help to create and express the character's personality: "Remember that wizard fellow who used to wear brown shoes every day? Today I've understood why: An oracle told him that he'll meet the love of his life wearing brown shoes..."
So, how about you? Do you pay attention to what your NPCs or PCs are wearing? How do you use it? What purpose does it fill in your game?

Creating NPCs- a 3 Stage Recipe

You know, I've been struggling a lot in my past with portraying my NPCs. You see, I just couldn't connect with them enough. I didn't know how, and I couldn't find what I need from them and it was just "hi, I'm cardboard character number 3, nice to meet you..." Didn't like that, of course, and I wanted to change that. At about the middle of last year, about May or something like that, I've found a solution that works for me. It's not perfect, of course, and it's quite longer than the normal way, but it does work for me.
The trick itself is made of 3 stages:

  1. Writing a description of the character, as though I'm describing her or him to someone else. "You know, Effy is nice and all, although a bit depressed all the time. We had hard times in the past, she running away and I'm rushing after her to save her from finishing in some kind of insane asylum. Still, she's a good girl, and I can promise you that it is past history, nothing to bog your mind anymore..." Something like a paragraph or 2, and we've got a character. A basic one, not so deep and round one, but a character there is, and we know how to describe this Effy if we'll ever have to.
  2. After we finish with this, we're gonna think about a dialogue that she can have. Effy can look for a job, be on a date, or hire someone to kill her husband. All fair in love and war, after all... "-I need you to kill him. -What? -You've hear me, it's... He just knows about us, about this. -I... I can't kill him; he's my friend, Effy. -Who do you choose? Me or him?" We get a little bit of character, a little bit of a better understanding of our Effy, many lines to use to get her thinking, and so on...
  3. The last stage is through an action. Effy doesn't live in a vacuum where no one can reach her, and in one day or the other, she'll have to act. If we'll think about it now, thinking about her way of action and her style of action will be much easier. "It was the following morning when they've found him. He's body was torn apart, a kiss mar on his neck. Effy looked at it from afar, throwing her lipstick on the ground and looking as they take him. She rushed to her car a short time afterwards, and started the engine. She drove after the ambulance, sunglasses and all, just as she was told, and went full speed. A moment before the impact, before the hit, she jumped out of the window and filmed the fire that went on..." Again, nothing too spectacular, just a glimpse of what she can do and of how she does it. We can learn that she does what she's being told, that she got great instincts and reactions, and that she for one reason or another she wanted to record the success.
After I've got these three little things, about a page of material, I have a greater glimpse of who the character is. I can see how Effy talks and thinks, how manipulative she is, what happened to her in the past, and how she records her successes and so on...
And... This is my way of creating NPCs nowadays. How about you? How do you create your NPCs? How does it help you to connect with them?


My 3 Ways to Reward Great Roleplaying

I don't reward my players with experience points when they play in character all session or really well or something, not even when they do something extremely cool. I always believed that a thing like that will bring my players to this. Maybe not in the short term, but in the long it will surely will. There are also 2 other things that prevent me from rewarding my players this way:

  1. It will make the players look at roleplaying as secondary to mechanics. If I'll reward them with mechanical benefits, they will look for those benefits and not for the reasons for giving them.
  2. It's no different than bribery. "You'll describe how you kick the orc's ass, and I'll grant you with a nice bonus. A lasting bonus. 
So, I've started to think how I can reward my players for doing a cool thing without going for the mechanics. I've found 3 main ways:
  1. If you describe something cool enough, and it is interesting enough it just works. We're looking for drama, aren't we? If it helps you present a better character, go for it. This is, of course, a mechanical benefit in more than a way, but it's a different kind. It's not a lasting reward; it just makes the character look total badass and true to the character.
  2. Giving a compliment. You don't understand how nice it is to hear from your GM: "Wow! What you did was soooo cool!" Simple and catchy, and no one can say no to being in the GM's list of cool deeds.
  3. My favourite: Giving the character more time in the limelight. It's a narativistic reward, a true and pure narativistic reward, and it does its work. All of us wants to be in the centre of the group's attention when we do something cool. Why can't we give it to the players?
So, what do you think? Am I missing something and a mechanical reward is that powerful, or is there something in what I think and say?


How to Lie to Your Players and Get Away with It...

A little tip for today: If the players catch you lying a once, they won't look for another lie at the same scene. Sounds strange, of course, but to my experience it is true. Players come, for some unknown reason, with the confidence in their ability to know when their GM is lying to them and when the GM isn't. If they catch you lie, as little and as unimportant as it may be, they will trust themselves even better with their ability to discern lies. This enables you to lie big time without them knowing it, or even suspecting it.
Don't overuse it, of course, and don't emphasise that you're lying 'cause they can still get suspicious, but if used lightly, it can invoke miracles at the right moments. Trust me about it, it works...

I Know What You've Watched Last Summer...

A little tip that I've stumbled upon once, and since then I'm using quite a lot: A great way to find what type of horror game it will be, is by getting to know what horrors movies the players really like or found frightening. If the players, for example, have found that The Birds and Jaws are truly terrifying, going for a horror game about nature goes mad might be the right type of game to GM. If the players, on the other hand, have been frightened by The Shining, maybe you should throw the slasher game that you've prepared and go to the psychological realm.
It can also be used, of course, to avoid failures. If the players start to laugh every time that they watch a slasher, maybe slasher is not the right type for them. If they find body horror as too horrifying for their taste, maybe there's another direction that you should seek instead of this one.
There's one danger, with using this technique: If you GM a Gothic horror game for your players, and they know the genre well enough, they might get less terrified as they know the common tropes. Here comes to the rescue the other part of this thing: After you know what the basic feel of the game should be, add a little color from other types of sub-genres. If the players found Gothic horror as the most frightening genre, adding a little bit of nature goes mad and psychological horror will surely confuse the players a little bit, just enough to get to the dreading parts...


Different Ways to End a Story...

I just finished watching Rocky, the original, and I must say that it made me look different on games. I knew for quite a time that losing is at least as interesting as winning, but after watching this movie, I started to think about different kinds of victories.
There's of course the normal victory. The hero kills the dragon, the heroine conquers the land, the Balrog is dead, the devil has been stopped and no more red dragons will interfere with human affairs.
But there's also the other type of victory, or at least, one of the others. This is the dramatic victory (in contrast with the procedural of the first), the success over personal conflicts. Rocky lost the fight to Apollo, but he doesn't care, or agrees to a rematch. Rocky is only interested in one thing, Adrian. This is, at least to my belief, the more interesting win, the more interesting success. We strive to get a little bit of drama in the middle of everything, so why not in the end?
Another type of success, or of a victory or a win, is the one of getting a great story. In the Cohen Brother's movies, we know from the start that they gonna fail, yet we're still hoping for them, still enjoying the story, still... And Fiasco conveys it damn well, while opening to us a door to a different kind of games and of stories.
There's also the ending that we can see in Saving Private Ryan, where everyone dies at the end, but the goal is achieved. Wouldn't it be more dramatic if, in the last battle of the campaign, the characters will sacrifice themselves to save the world?
I can, of course, continue with this on and on, but I think that you've got the idea. It's important not only to start well, but to finish even better (I think), and giving the ending this amount of thinking and of going over it will surely benefit the game.
So, how about you? How do you finish your games?

5 Dialogue Mistakes I've Made Portraying My NPCs

And this moment comes, when we get to finally play a part in the game, pretending to be one of the NPCs in the story. Most of us put a lot of effort into them, creating them and painting them (figuratively or else) and we try to breathe life into them and make them deep and well-rounded and not 2-dimensional and when we finally get to playing them, they sound so unnatural, so mechanic. I don't know about you, but it sure happened to me, and I can't stand it.
I've rounded up a list of a couple of the mistakes that I've made when portraying NPCs (and characters in general):

  1. Calling the characters all the time by their names. This mistake is big and old, and I suffered from it for many, many years: Every time I spoke to the PCs as an NPC, I referred to them by name. There are places where it is important (like, when referring to a higher class or something), but we don't, in a normal conversation, refer all the time to one another by names (or at least, I suppose so...). So, instead of saying: "So, Bob, how are you today?" say: "So, how are you today?". Also, try calling higher standing persons "your excellency" and not "Mr. Geldof" and so on. Trust me, it does magic.
  2. Not so much me, but I've seen many GMs go and say as their NPC: "Blah blah blah..." he said angrily. In RPGs, we can use our voices to tell that, and it will be so much more powerful. If the NPC is angry, talk angrily, don't say the Queen Regent spoke angrily.
  3. Don't give speeches. I remember it like it was yesterday: I was GMing to a group of 4 for the second year in our (then) ongoing campaign. They arrived in the nick of time to stop the villain, and she gave them a speech. The fact that it was a supers campaign was no excuse for that, as their faces turned down, and they started to talk about other things, wandering out of the game. Don't give speeches in games, ever. It never ends well, and for fuck's sake with genre conventions, we're not in comics after all...
  4. Don't try to be cunning or clever all the time. You know those players who just can't stop trying too hard to be funny or clever? Remember how annoying it is? Why should your NPCs be the same?
  5. Get to the point. In real life, we have, at least theoretically, the time to go round all angles before saying our line. In our game, on the other hand, we don't. Get to the point, with as little as possible of rounds and turns to get time, unless it's... I don't know, actually.
So, that's it for today. How about you? What dialogue mistakes did you make with portraying your NPCs?


The Villain Needs You

A little thought for today: The villains don't have to work in the background; they can be the PCs' best friends! Think about it for a moment, wouldn't a villain who is the one who hires the PCs will be so much better? Maybe even he will be their sponsor and helper?
There are some great examples for this throughout the web, but it's not that complicated to achieve: make it as a 2 way formula: 1) The players need the villain's help in order for their characters to succeed for the short term. 2) The villain needs the PCs help in order to eliminate an obstacle that's preventing the villain from succeeding. The rest will come naturally...


10 Mistakes to Fuck Your Campaign

Not a long time ago, 'bout 2 weeks or so, I've participated in 2 game sessions, as a player. He opened the game well, stretching his great idea into a good game, and the session ended top notch. I was happy, 'cause I had a great game. He was happy, because he GMed well, very well actually, even for a not first time GM.
Then came the next session. I, and the other 2 players, came for the game with the expectation from last session, but for some reason or another, the game didn't stand for what it had promised. I started to think about it, trying to figure out how such a wonderful game can collapse in one session. My thinking brought me to these points:
  1. If enough story advancement has been achieved, don't add new players. True, there are game where you can do it, but they are the exception and not the rule. Adding new players changes all of the game up to this point.
  2. If you add a player, make sure the player's play style is not that different from the rest of the players. First sessions are there for finding this formula for what kind of a game it will be. Adding a player with a different play style makes the adjustments much heavier. In that game, 3 players who are more free-formy and less technical were joined by a very technical and analytical player.
  3. If adding players, or if players are missing, think about a rational explanation for why they weren't there. I stumbled with this aspect a lot in my GMing "career", but saying that the character was in the bathroom for example is not that good of an explanation. I try to do something else: I pretend that the character spoke what s/he had to say, and if there's a battle, the character is taking to the side one of the enemies... The character is still there, but in the background.
  4. The PCs are there to get the limelight, not the NPCs. In that second game session, there was an NPC on our side who was unstoppable and just a mind-blowing killing machine. We, as players, didn't know what to do about him as we try to stop the same villain he's trying to stop.
  5. Players, you aren't there to do some photosynthesis, so don't be vegetables. In Israel, we have a term for the player whose there for saying the "I attack" when is being attacked and that's all, veg (although in Israel we call the player "a flowerpot", or aziz (עציץ)). Players should act, not stay back and wait for others to tell them what to do.
  6. References are good, sheer copying is bad. Don't copy entire stories from other places without some adjustments. Better yet, don't steal characters and put them in mid game.
  7. Consequences are not a dirty word. If the PCs do a bad thing, or use a power inappropriately, don't let them get away with it that easy, or they'll do it again.
  8. On the other hand, don't forget to appreciate the good deeds, or they'll be less and less common.
  9. Make sure the players know what to expect for when entering the game. If you want a gritty fantasy game and your players want a heroic one, one of you will have to compromise, and it will probably be you. Make the compromise beforehand and the game won't suffer for being this late.
  10. Don't railroad the players, and most of all, don't think that only a particular way (or ways) will solve the story, it will just get into a halt. "No adventure survives first contact with players", so don't make it too dear for your heart.
And, that's it. How about you? What mistakes did kill your campaigns?


When to Roll the Die...

A little thought for today: Roll the die only when it's interesting. Too many GMs tell their players to roll the die for too many things: "I try to open the door. -Roll"; "I look for a clue. -Roll"... If it's important whether there's a success or a failure, it's a good place to roll. If, by not opening the door, a monster will ambush the PCs, it's a good time to roll (unless the next room is boring, then you should make it a failure), but usually it isn't that. Usually, it's rolling just because the rules say so.
If it's not interesting to fail, or to succeed, don't roll. Just don't roll the die. Rolling and calculating takes time and energy and creates a distance from the story (we break the in-game when we get to the mechanics), so think hard before any such a roll if it's really that important or interesting.