Bringing Back the Sense of Consequence...

I've watched another Buffy episode today, also from the 3rd season. One concept slipped to my mind from it. It's nothing new, or surprising, but it's the single best way to stop our murder hobos from doing something that they're gonna regret about forever. The concept is consequences. If there will be consequences for what the PCs do, the PCs will stop with doing evil bad things for no apparent reason.
Anyway, here are 4 quick ways to bring back the sense of consequences to the game:

  1. The police and other law enforcement groups are the single most common way to deal with it. Sure, players will sometimes pooh-pooh the police, but the sheer numbers of the policemen should be enough for that. If a party member commits a huge crime, have a chaotic scene in which the police takes the characters to an investigation, and the rest will be history...
  2. Dreams. When that particular PC sleeps, dreams about the infamous action will come to the character's head. If the character has problems with sleeping, that little extra edge has been achieved. 
  3. Vengeance. No real need to expand it, I think...
  4. Alienation from the world. The stink of the evil doers has been glued to the character. People are whispering around him/her, every shadow is like a killing machine ready to destroy him/her...
And that's it for today. How about you? How do you bring this sense back?


Eleanor Sells Her Next Adventure

The first adventure went smoothly. Really smoothly, actually. Eleanor was about to start thinking about how she shall sell the next one. She went through her notes, going over the PCs' backgrounds, and created the next adventure. It was supposed to be an adventure based around a magic item that the group was supposed to reach before a creature. She thought about this magic item, about how it was created and about how the creature was unleashed from it.
She then thought about what she finds the coolest aspect of the game, about the aspect that makes this adventure her adventure. She understood that if she'll focus on this aspect, she'll sell it better. The enthusiasm started to fill her, and a smile went through her face.
The next part was easier. She went through the NPCs that she has defined, and picked the one that was the most appropriate. Lady Mellisa was picked for the task, as she was the group's patron.
She then went to decide about when she'll suggest it. She was torn between suggesting it mid-adventure and at the end of it. She picked the end, as Lady Mellisa was on a quest of her own, and she weren't supposed to return 'till the end of the PCs' adventure.
Then, after she had all of this, she thought about the little details: About the legend of Geldofious, the amazing wizard who locked this vile creature in his sword. She thought about how the creature ended in the other side of the world, when it went out. More importantly to her, she thought about how it was supposed to affect the inhabitants of the little village. "Starvation and suffering", she thought, "and little thin children, with big eyes and way too thin bodies like..." The thoughts rolled in her mind, and...

When the time came, she used this way to sell the adventure. The suggestion went perfectly great, and the group was on its way, ready to face the creature...

So, this is how both I and Eleanor sell our adventures. How about you? What ways do you use for it? How does it turn out?


The Player Is Responsible Also

Yeah, I took the other day off. But today we're back in business. Anyway, today I wanted to talk about something that bugs my mind. You probably read this also, these many posts that talk about the role of the GM as the lead entertainer, and I agree with them, but I don't think that it's an excuse for the player to only go for his (or her) fun.
You see, The GM is responsible for about 40-50% of the fun (and according to Robin Laws, the rule set for another 30%). It still leaves about 20-30% of the fun to the players. I personally believe that just as like the way the GM sacrifices from his/her fun in order to make everyone to enjoy the game, so it is the player's responsibility. The little player, not the group. 
I truly believe that fun is just like laughter, the only disease that you wanna get. It spreads like one, and some people fight it just like it is one. This means that if everyone at the table has fun, I'll have also. And it will be a much more rewarding fun than the type where only that certain player is enjoying it. 
What I'm trying to say is that a great player is responsible for more than just his/her enjoyment, but to the enjoyment of everyone. I might, in the future, make a more elaborate look at the differences between great player and a good player, as I see them, but 'till then...
How about you? Do you agree? Disagree? Feel free to tell me what you think.


Finally, I'm Starting Campaigns Again...

I'm starting 2 new campaigns, possibly, next week. One is the anticipated Call of Cthulhu campaign, which will start surely next week. I hope that it will be a great campaign, and I'm giving everything that I've got to it. It's gonna be a purist campaign, and I'm starting to think about what I'm going to do with it.
The second campaign that I'm going to open is a PbP campaign, of investigative horror. I still don't know anything about it, but they were asking for one, and I posted a teaser already. It's a murder mystery, with elements of Film Noir, and a lot of dog's perfume.


My Whole Life Depends on a Barber's Whim

A quick thought for today: I was at the barber shop today. While he cut my hair off, I couldn't stop thinking about one thing: "My whole life depends right now on the barber's whim." As anyone of you who has watched Sweeney Todd (or read about him) knows, a barber can decide to finish the life of his customers without the customers' ability to stop him (or her). 
This led me think about roles in our RPG stories that are also like that, making the customer depend on their whim. What follows is a list of such roles, and an idea about how they can be used to encompass this idea. The why, you see, is pretty simple: a) Because we can do it, as GMs. b) It can be interesting and dramatic. c) It will make the PCs mortal, and as such will make the game richer and more challenging. So, anyway, on to the list:

  • Barber: Nothing much to say, except for, you know, going for a Todd's style.
  • Chef: Have you thought once about the possibility that when coming to a restaurant, they may be poisoning the food? It won't be hard to do it. The kitchen is normally far, most of the ingredients aren't recognisable anyway, and most of all, because the kitchen is open to see, no one will suspect what's happening there.
  • Potion seller/brewer: Nothing too fancy or surprising. Who wouldn't buy an anti-poison potion? Make this anti-poison a real potent poison and you've got a hit. After all, it only gives a bonus...
  • Judge: What if one of our beloved murder hobos is gonna be hanged?
  • Ship Captain: Remember the scene from Pirates of the Caribbean, where Jack almost throws Will to the water? How about the lone island scene?
So, how about you? Do you have something similar in your games?

5 Quick Tips for Roleplaying Nobles Better

Every now and then, we wanna introduce to the game a noble or 2. Maybe we want this noble to be the PCs' patron or maybe even their political or military or whatever nemesis. Then, as we start to think about it, we begin to understand that roleplaying a noble is not that easy. Especially since we're probably not nobles ourselves. So, instead of throwing this idea to the garbage truck, here are a few tips to roleplay those nobles better:

  1. Imagine to yourself how this noble looks and smell. If you can bring a description, a colourful one, of how the noble looks and dresses, you can bring the noble look. Smell is important too, as it enables you to convey richness through perfumes or simplicity through wilder smell. Think about a noble after a good hunting trip or another after 2 days at bed. The smell is an easy way to differentiate between them.
  2. Think about the noble's gender. There are some expectations, especially from nobles, about what each one's gender role is. A lady will have to behave differently from a baron. Crossing these restrictions can bring the picture of the rebellious noble with a lot of ease...
  3. Talk with your head barely moving. It's a powerful technique to raise the speaker's statues. Don't think about it, just do it and many other characteristics of high statues will come with it.
  4. Be polite. The politer you are, the better it will be (but try not to cross into the comical realm of politeness). It doesn't have to get to the highest ranks, but adding please and thanks and shaking hands in a certain way will take you far.
  5. Take comfort in silence. Nobles made, over the years, the act of conveying things through silence into an art. Take comfort in silences, speak shortly and a little bit slowly, and take your time before you answer...
So, these are my 5 tips for playing noble characters. How about you? How do you roleplay them?


Lessons from Buffy's Homecoming

I'm watching Buffy, again. I still find new things there, quite a lot, actually, which is kinda nice. Anyway, in season 3, there's an episode that just screams: "GMs, learn from me!" This episode is on the right with this scream. It's a golden episode for GMs.
So, without any far ado, let's get to the nitty business. What can we learn from this episode?

  • Drama is prominent in the small details and not only in the big ones. Look at the conversation between Buffy and Angel at the beginning of the episode. You can feel the tension in the air. You can sense the drama that whispers in our ears when she tells him that she moved forward. It's a small scene, the only scene with Angel in this episode, and yet it's one of the most dramatic ones in the episode.
  • To create a sense of conspiracy, little hints are all you need. Look at the beginning of the episode, when Scott breaks with her. We suddenly move to a view from a camera. It's all we needed. There's a conspiracy there, and we know it. It was prominent earlier in the season, when Snyder talked about the mayor also. Little details and little hints, and suddenly the sense of conspiracy is there.
  • The protagonists have normal life also. Even slayers like Buffy have normal life, or at least the need for it. A contest for the Homecoming Queen, a basketball game, it doesn't really matter what it is exactly, but give a sense of normality. No one is a hero (or a heroine) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • When done good, party conflicts can bump the tension quite a lot. It can also give excuses for adventures. If there wasn't this conflict, it would have been Buffy and Faith, and as such much less interesting.
  • If the players come with a nonviolent way to solve a violent event, go for it. Cordelia lies to Lyle about being a slayer, and the better one, and it works. Being used after such a conflict between them, I wished to see the face of Buffy when she heard it...
  • Think about how you show your big bad of the campaign. The mayor is presented greatly, with a scene that both shows how he reacts with people, and both shows how evil he is. Having your villain focus on such things as how dirty one's hands are, we get an intriguing fella. Use it.
  • Using meanwhile scenes to present the dangers that are coming to the PCs can be a useful tool. It both shows the antagonists at their peaks, and also creates a sense of danger.
  • Contests are a sure way to get the engines rolling.
  • When organising a cool adventure, think about its name, and present it to the players (and to their characters) in an intriguing way. An exploding TV, a plane that falls on them, a dream sequence... If it will come in a cool way, it will be remembered better.
So, these are my 9 lessons from this episode. How about you? What lessons did you take from this episode?

I Got a Cannon Once...

A few years ago, I was a player in one of the strangest D&D games I've ever played with. You see, we were a party of 2, one was an angel, and I played a succubus. The game opened with a battle on the city we were resting in, and as good adventurers, we were called to the battle to fight for our city.
But because we were adventurers, and I as a succubus was a very good diplomat, I got an acid cannon. Yeah, an acid cannon in a D&D game. Not only that, though, it was a mobile cannon, that my medium succubus could carry with her to wherever she wanted to go with it.
Needless to say, we won the battle. Like every group of adventurers, we went to loot the bodies. Another cannon! This time a fire cannon. The angel got the fire one, I got the acid one, and as the team leader, he went after me. 
From there, the game went fast. My little succubus conquered almost the entire world in sheer months, using both her military powers (haven't I said I had a cannon?) and her "good-looks"... Place after place, city after city, empire after empire, they all fell for my little succubus.
One thing unexpected happened, though. You see, my little succubus got pregnant. It was the end of the march to conquer the world for me. I decided that when conquering the world is so easy, "my baby" deserves better, and I spent my time with her.
The campaign didn't continue much more than that... 
Now, why am I telling you this? It's not because I got a cannon (I think it was one of the coolest ideas ever), and certainly not because I was a succubus. It was due to one reason: The game stopped to be interesting, when my victory was sure, and there was drama no more. The game became a dull dice rolling thing, with a few witty remarks from me (at least I think they were witty...). So, next time you bring a cannon to your players, think about a dramatic use for it...

P.S, It doesn't have to be a cannon. It can also be a nuke or even the Death Ray of Kalikachuchu...


3 Techniques for NPC Names

A quick thought for today: Your players aren't gonna remember your NPCs' names. So, instead of trying to come up with clever names, try to find other names to make them remembered. Using names of famous people is one way. "Have you met my friend, Mozart?" Or maybe even "my other friend Buffy?" A famous name can be used to both create the picture, the voice and so on, and it will also be remembered better. "Remember that 2 years ago we met Mary Poppins?"
Another technique can be to call most of them with names like Jima, Jimb, Jimc... And then bring a name like Robert. It will make this name to stand up with ease. It will also help them to remember those not unique characters.
My last technique for today is by using descriptive names. "Do you remember Bluerobe?"
Although all of these techniques aren't natural, all of them have worked for me in the past. How about you? How do you make sure that your players remember the important names?

6 Reasons to Describe the Weather

"It's a sunny day, the clouds are rolling like babies in the sky, and the sun shines like a 24 Carat gold bar." Look at this little bit of weather description. What atmosphere does it create? Does it give hope for the day? Think now on an opposite weather description, of a lightning storm. Wouldn't an adventure seem desperate now?
Weather descriptions can give quite a lot to the game. Far more than I can write about in this post. Yet, it's one of the most overlooked bits of description. So, here are a few reasons for why you should use weather descriptions in your game:

  1. Weather descriptions can help to make the world more realistic. If the sun is always at the height of the sky, not moving, not changing, the world doesn't feel alive- it feels frozen in time.
  2. It can help to create and maintain the atmosphere of the game. A stormy day can detract hope from even the bravest hero, and if the storm will suddenly be broken, there will hope. Fog can bring paranoia, storms can bring horror...
  3. It can bring the people of the world something to talk about. There's a reason that conversations about weather are a kind of ice breakers...
  4. It can be used as a way to signal what you want from your players. If done lightly enough, weather can be one of the most cunning ways to say what you want from your players. "I will go and destroy the goblin village. -As you walk, the nearer you get to the village, the foggier the surrounding is..."
  5. It can add little bits of colour to the game.
  6. It can be a reason to important conversations. A woman runs during a rainy day to get cover, and a man suggests to her his umbrella. Suddenly, we have a meeting between the persons who can be the centre of the plot...
How about you? How do you use weather in your games?


They Called It D&D

They say that GM-less games are a special thing. They are, but not that much. Once, a long time ago, was a game that took the roles to an extreme. There was a person there who used to decide what every player will do. "So, Bob, you're going from left, Mellisa will go from the right". She was the only person to decide it. That person was able to ask for advice, but she was the sole decision maker.
Then, there was another one. She was there to recount everything that happened, and played the entire memory of the PCs. Whenever they had to be reminded of something, she was there, going through the memory lane, entering to house 241 and saying giving the name of the person, his occupation and why they should have remembered him.
Then was the calculator, she was there to go over the party's money, and was supposed to say what they can afford and what they can't. She was like the bank of the group, a money aspect in the story.
But it wasn't enough, as it seems. 2 people were there, who were supposed to go over the belongings of the party. One was there for the temporary things, and for those that dwindle, like food and water, just like a food spirit; the other was there for the magical and ordinary things that doesn't dwindle, that are there for good (or until they were replaced).
The last one was the health of the group. Whenever someone was hit, she was there to say if the hit character was still on her feet, or unconscious and dying. Sometimes, this health spirit was able to heal the dying ones. Other times, she couldn't.
They called this game a classic; they even said that this was the first game of its kind, the most popular one in the RPG market. They called it D&D...

5 Great Fears

Today I wanna talk a little bit about the things that we are afraid of. I talked a lot in the past weeks about information and expositions, about plots (twice) and about isolation. What I didn't talk about, though, was about what we're afraid of. I've touched it a little bit when I talked about how to create the monster in the story, but that's about it. So, without any more introductions thingy, let's get our hands dirty...
We can create about 5 groups of things that we're afraid of. Almost any horror story/ movie or the like falls at least in one of those groups. They are, of course, not frightening to the same degree, and a more frightening level is usually harder to truly achieve. Yet, it can be achieved, and it usually deserves this amount of energy. 

1) Evil Threatening Us
This is the least frightening level. In this level, the horror that we're dealing with, stalks us. The killer tries to kill us is the easiest example. Most of the Slasher Movies fall into this category. Look for example on Halloween. Michael stalks Laurie, trying to kill her. Even when he kills other persons, it's only after we grew a little bit of sympathy for them. He's not hurting anyone to make Laurie on her toes, but just to kill them. It can be seen in Psycho too, when Bates kills his victims only after we saw a little bit of them. We get to like Marion; we get to like the inspector...

2) Evil Threatening Others
A little bit more interesting level is the one where the horror stalks the one we're closed to, but we can't do anything to prevent it. Buffy's episode Passion is a great example of this: Angelus teases Buffy, but he kills Jenny in order to drive Giles mad, he kills Willow's fish to get her out of her comfort zone, he stalks Buffy's mother in order to drive Buffy out of her nerves, and all of this combination of things drives Buffy into making a few mistakes along the way (and almost costs with Giles life). 
It can be seen in The Exorcist too, where we see how our protagonists tries to save her daughter, calling for psychiatric help and later to the exorcists.

3) Creating Evil Ourselves
Now we're starting to get our hands really dirty. The horror doesn't come from the outside world, but out of our creations. Look at Frankenstein, for example, where we can see the Frank's creation is the one that destroys his life, or at Rosemary's baby, where Rosemary's afraid of the possibility that the child that she's carrying is a monster. 
One of the reasons that this is the level where we get really dirty is that in this level, the horror isn't only from the other side, from the outside world, but it also comes from within, "it was my creation that did this..."

4) Being Evil Ourselves
Advancement in the curve, the horror is really us. We are the evil thing; we are the monster that everyone is afraid of... Vamp stories are the clearest example of this: "I get to live forever, but at what price?" Werewolf stories address this level also, as we lose control of ourselves and become the monsters. We see the horror as it happens, remembering every little bit of it, but without the ability to do something. 
It can also be seen in such stories as The black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe, in which our protagonists is going mad and kills his beloved cat, resulting in a series of crimes to prevent the discovery of this thing. It ends really badly for out protagonist.

5) Living in an Evil World
This is the highest level of horror. Lovecraft used this level a lot in his cosmic horror stories, as this is where they come from. Most of the stories and films that happen in a dream world drive their power from this fear, as does some that are not horror (The Matrix is a great example of this). Living in an Evil World can also mean living in world with no good within it, or discovering that everything we thought we knew about this world is wrong.

And that's it for today. How do you use these fears in your games? To what levels do you strive when GMing horror?


Using Villain Songs to Flesh Out Villains

A little thought for today: When designing the villain for the game, find a villain song for it. Villain song is a great way to express the villain, and to get the hang of him/her. Think about the Dentist Song from Little Shop of Horrors, for example, and see how we get the essence of our main villain in a nutshell, in a moment.
It doesn't have to be a real villain song, though. Imagine a villain that is defined by a song about how the ragged people need help, or about a villain song like Annabel Lee.
A song lie this can bring us the background of the villain, his/her motivations and goals, and even the enemies. We can also get the personality of the villain. A villain inspired by Annabel Lee will be immature and insecure, while a villain inspired by the Dentist Song will be a sadistic person. A good villain song can also give us the way of action most favoured by the villain (like being a dentist in ordered to get paid for causing pain to others), although it's not a must have (as can be seen in villain songs like Pretty Women).
How about you? Do you use songs to create your villains? If so, how?

Different Kinds of Campaigns

There are many types of campaigns. Some are big, some are small, some are episodic and some are one long story that stretches for years with no breaks out of it. There are those dungeons who take the characters from level 1 to 15 and then a little more and those campaigns who take the characters from level 1 to 5 with 2 little adventures within it to call it a campaign. 
There are those campaigns in which each session is a complete adventure, with different enemies and goals. "Today, you have to collect the sheets of Amon-Ra", Yesterday they had to kill Shamalanious. The only connection between the adventures in this campaign is the main cast of protagonists. It's the same Spoke and the same Luke and the same Castle. If there's character advancement, it's small and not that grandiose. There are no weddings or childbirths, no funerals of the characters' parents, and the characters need years to advance emotionally.
There are also those campaigns in which each session is a complete adventure, except for a few 2-times to advance the plot even further. There's a clear big bad in the end, but there are breaks from him (or her) every few session to bring anticipation for the comeback of the big bad. The characters advance a lot, getting friends and losing them, getting closer to some ones and losing them and so on. The main cast of Buffy and Angel and many more is suddenly getting the help of Angel who turned into Angelus, they have suddenly the need to confront the big bad Geppetto and so on. Still a main cast, but there's also the main villain.
There are also the campaign that stretches for years, without clear ending, that just grow bigger and bigger in years, with the same big bad in the end, even after so many years, and no breaks to clear the mind have been seen since the campaign started. Neo still has to fight Agent Smith, even after so many years, and since the second age they are still trying to defeat Sauron. One day it may end, but 'till then there's no other choice but to keep getting closer to this end point.
And there are of course many campaigns that fall between the lines, between the walls of imaginary "no-trespassing", maybe parodying or maybe trying to advance those walls to save the games from becoming all too similar patterns. Campaigns in which each act is in a different style, campaigns in which every act has a different director or GM and so on...
How about your campaigns? To where do they fall? Do they have a category of their own?


5 Ways to Use the PCs' Families in the Game, and then 2 more...

You can use the characters' family, you know. Family is a wonderful thing for stories, as it can bring reasons to go adventuring, allies, villains, unique situations and scenes, and moments such as "I'm you father!" So, why don't we use it more in our games? I don't know, actually, but it's a thing that must be changed. Family means bonds and connections to the world, and as such should be created and encouraged. 
The best way to encourage this, at least to my belief, is by using these bonds in the game to advance the plot and to create drama... Anyway, here are 5 ways to use the PCs' families in the game:
  1. A family member has been kidnapped. The most dreaded and cliche way to use it, but it's still a useful way to get the PCs on the adventure, once in a while. The characters have to rescue the fighter's brother from the dragon cave is a sure way to get the PCs on their way.
  2. A family member has useful information. Maybe the mother of one of the characters is the most famous researcher of ancient dark medicine? Maybe the wizard's brother is a commando fighter? Maybe the cousin of the general is the prime minister of Great Britain?
  3. An important family event. The sister is getting married, the cousin is celebrating his first child's birth, the uncle is receiving a grand prize, or even the mother is getting a nobility title... A scene like that can be the basis for an entire session or even as the starting point for a murder mystery (the groom was murdered a few minutes ago, for example).
  4. A family member is the villain. Robert is the vampire lord, Mellisa is the head of an organised crime family, Cousin Mordechay is the genius who created the grand Vaporizer and Sister Beatrix is the new Darth Vader. A family member that is the main villain can bring both a dramatic peak to the game and a huge conflict. It also enables you to bring the infamous line "[insert name of a character here], I'm your father..."
  5. A mentor for the character. A family member who is also a mentor for the characters can make things even closer and more emotional. A 2 for one deal...
And what do we do if the family members are all dead? 2 ways to deal with it:
  • The body of one of the family members is being controlled by the villain and it draws chaos and havoc in the city...
  • Let the character deal with the loss.
Either way, huge amounts of drama can be created by this.
How about you? How do you use the PCs' families in the games?

Rounding Characters

You're not perfect, you know. Not even one of us was born complete, with nothing to learn or change, without any kind of a flaw. Not even one of us leaves without something that makes him/her mad. We're imperfect human beings, and it makes us better persons, much more like able. A famous writer once said: "All perfect families are similar, all flawed families are flawed each family in its own unique way..." We all want to create like able characters, characters that are both easy to play and deep. The easiest way to do this is by giving the characters flaws and internal conflicts.
A flawed character is much more alive than a perfect one. When a character has to deal with a situation that confronts her flaws, she gets empathy from us. More than that, she is immediately reminds us of living people who had to confront with the same things. A character that has colour blindness gets our empathy when she attacks the wrong side, in the middle of a battle, because of colour confusion. A character that is afraid of dark places will remind us of Uncle Albert who used to scream for help whenever there was an electricity failure.
But flaws are only one of the ways. A much more interesting and deep way to make deeper rounder characters is by inserting internal conflicts into them. The judge who is haunted by his memories of sending an innocent man into his death, the pacifist who has to fight for her country to prevent her kids death, the champion who came to an age when the army doesn't need her anymore but who doesn't know how to do anything else... Suddenly, it's a richer character. We get a personality, a snippet of a life story, and a conflict that can help the character seems unique every time.
How about you? How do you make your characters richer?


Death Is Not the End

Let's go for an experiment, won't we? Find a partner and play "Word at a Time". I'll give you a proto story: "You go to the dark mountain cliffs and meet a monster. Something happens between you and them. Go!" I can wait, try it, it's also fun and rewarding to tell a story like that. 
Anyway, whether you tried it or wanted to read to where I'm going, what I wanted to prove was that almost none of you would have killed the monster, not to mention being killed by it. The confrontation with the monster might have gone like a meeting and then running away, with you drinking tea (or coffee) together, with a short fight that ended with a few scratches...
A scene that ends with a dying character, whether it's you or the monster, not under your watch... The reason for all of this turning and turning around, is that death is not the end of the story. A story can be kept going after the characters die, after the monster dies... 
A dead character can become a ghost that follows the characters, helping from afar. A player that his character died can play a different character. A dead monster's revenge can be taken by another monster. There are no limits to this thing; a dead character is not the end of the story, but a door or a veil to the next stage of the story.
I'm not trying to tell "kill all characters", but to tell that you should not think about a dead character as an end point to the game. Death is a great dramatic term, and if there's always the possibility of death, every decision will be so much more...
What about you? Do you use death in your games? If so, how?

Kick the Realism Out of the Door...

We all like to build worlds for our games. It's fun, it's rewarding, it gives a great feeling when finishing it... But there's a thing that always crops to my mind when I read other people's worlds. The heavy place that realism takes in the games and it can go quite extreme sometimes. 
"If the sun doesn't move and lights a certain country all the time, what's the temperature there?"
This, at least to my eyes, is wrong question. Why? Because it doesn't help to make the game or the story better, and because it talks about the last question that should be asked about a world that the GM is building: "How this X is real?" Realism should be the last thing to think about. After the world is complete and the sun shines there, then it's time to think about realism. 'Till then, it's an easy way to both distract the writer from the world building job, and also to destroy the initiative of build such a world.
So please, whenever you come to someone who builds a world and asks for remarks on it, leave the realism for the end. It's not that important...


14 First Time GMing Tips

Yesterday I was asked about what tips do I have for a first time D&D GM. I thought about it a lot, and ended with 14 little tips and thoughts about what should be done and what shouldn't be done. A quick examination of them shoes that I talked less about fights and battles, and quite a lot about the entertainment values of the game. Anyway, without much of exposition, let's delve into the little tips.

  1. Show enthusiasm. If the players will see that you're enthusiastic about the game, the enthusiasm will get to them also.
  2. Start with a cool event. It doesn't matter what it is, a battle, a ceremony, a burial; it must be a cool thing. If you start with a cool enough event, the players' attention will get to the game, and they will be enthusiastic through the entire game.
  3. Give your best for the game. If you come to the game like it's nothing, the players will think also that it's nothing. If you don't put your best to the game, your players (and you also) shouldn't play it, you can use the time better.
  4. Be ready for the unexpected. No adventure survives first contact with the players. Don't let it upset you; understand instead that from this comes all the fun.
  5. If they went out of what you planned, find a way to creatively use what you planned in the game. If you planned a cool fight with the orcs from the forest, the fact that they went to the cliffs shouldn't stop you from using it.
  6. Don't railroad them, though. You should bring those elements into the game if they fit the circumstances, and if it's cool, not just because they were prepared from beforehand. More than that don't stop your players from doing a cool thing. 
  7. Don't go for fights only. Fights can, like every other element in the game, become tedious. Don't go for fights only and the game will remain fresh and entertaining.
  8. Bring many one-scene NPCs to enhance the atmosphere. They can be the town's fool, the great cleric, the queen regent or the perfect soldier. It doesn't matter as long as they enhance the atmosphere of the game.
  9. Don't let them to steal the limelight, though. Always remember that the PCs are the protagonists of the story, and as such they are the ones who should confront the adversary and prevent the apocalypse.
  10. Learn what kind of movies and books your players like, and make your games according to that.
  11. Finish with a BANG.
  12. Ask for feedback. This will give you the information you need in order to know what you're good at and what you should improve.
  13. Remember that it's only a game. What happens in the game should be kept in the game, and what happens in the real world should remain in the real world.
  14. If the players suggest a cool thing, say yes and add a little something of your own. It will make the game better and far richer.
So, these are my 14 tips for a first time D&D GM. What about you? What tips would you give this GM?

Is the GM there to Lose?

Yesterday, over at "Troll in the Corner" they posted about the GM's role. This made me think about it. We talk a lot about how to be a better GM, how to roleplay the NPCs better, how to improvise... But we never ask the most important question about the GM: What is the GM's role?
For me, the role is quite simple: To entertain everyone at the table. The GM isn't there to lose or to win, to look totally badass or to look like a wimp, to tell a great story or a lousy story. The GM is there to be the leading entertainer of the group. The GM has tools in order to fulfil this purpose, but the tools are not the GM's goal. It means that the GM doesn't have to tell a great story, but it can surely help the GM in his/her role. It means that the GM doesn't have to be a great actor, but portraying the NPCs can help to enrich the game. 
It also means that the GM is not there in order to win or to lose. There's no connection between the GM's role and the win/lose ratio. The GM isn't losing there, and the players aren't winning there. The characters sometimes win and sometimes lose, and the NPCs and monsters sometimes win and sometimes lose. But there's a clear distinction between the GM and the characters s/he plays and between the players and the characters that they play.
In a future post I'll probably delve into the little details of this distinction, but it's enough for now to say that there's a distinction between these things and that these things should be looked as separate things that are part of a whole and not as the same thing.
How about you? What do you think the GM's role is?


They Should Win Sometimes...

Sometimes, you have to let them win. They can't lose all the time, can't run away all the time, they sometimes have to win, to feel that they are advancing, and that they are getting better. Even in horror games, where the premise states quite boldly that they're gonna lose most of the time, and maybe even to lose in the end, little victories should be achieved (albeit sparingly) in the story.
There are 2 reasons for that. The first is story wise: It's far more powerful to strike the characters down from a mountain than from a hill, and especially from a short roof. If you bring a character to a higher point, the fall will be more powerful, more harming, more dangerous, and more dramatic. There's a reason that usually, in tragedies, we have high-standing persons- the fall is more powerful, the contrast between the start and finish points is far greater. Giving the characters a victory here, another one there, serves this purpose.
But there's an even more important reason: If they won't win once in a while, it will be a game of frustration, and no one wants to play a frustrating game. They want to sometime feel frustration, but for short intervals only. Giving the little wins, the little successes will give them a reason to go on ("hey, we do win sometimes...").
It also gives hope, a lot of hope, if sometimes the villain loses. Think about it: If the villain wasn't defeated ever before, there's no real powerful hope in the situation. Sure, if done sparingly it empowers the victory, but if done all the time, it will bring the opposite of hope; it will downgrade it, resulting in a death spiral.
One thing to remember, though, is that the victory shouldn't feel given. We're a little bit cheating here, even big time sometimes, we can't let it be understood by the players or we'll get the other side of the spectrum. 
In conclusion, the PCs should, at least sometimes, be victorious in order to bring hope to the players' hearts, but it should look like it was justifiably won and not because we gave the victory to the players.
What about you? Do you sometimes give your players victories? How did it go?

An Even More Personal Layer

The victory should come with a price. The more important the victory, the bigger the price should be. I've watched yesterday, again, the season 2 final and it just shows it as clear as crystal light. Victory should come with a price. Not a procedural price but a dramatic one: The character has to sacrifice her life, the heroine has to be shunned by society, or even the character has to lose a loved one.
Buffy took it to the extreme. Buffy was way too close to killing Angelus and to close the gate with his blood. Willow, in the meantime, was casting the spell that will restore his soul. A moment before she killed him, his soul came back. Buffy, who throughout the season had to fight her inner demons, knowing that he won't come back to be Angel, who learnt that she has no other choice but to kill him, received the thing she wished for: She got Angel back. On the other hand, she knew that she has to kill him in order to save the world. Buffy had to sacrifice the thing that she wanted the most, in the moment that she got it, in order to save the world.
I think that all of us who watched this episode know what I'm talking about when I say that it's an example, a great example, for drama at its best. This end is both memorable and tragic, and it raises the finale a few places.
We can see it in other series finales, and in movies. In the end of Casablanca, for example, no one got what s/he wanted. Rick wanted Ilsa, Ilsa wanted Rick, and Victor wanted to be with a woman that loves him. In order to save Victor, Rick sent Ilsa with him, lying that she wanted to be with him. Rick knew that without Victor, the war is gonna be much harder. Everyone's happiness was sacrificed for the greater good.
In the end of American Beauty, on the other hand, Lester has to die in order to truly understand how beautiful the world is. In the end of Sunset Blvd, the screenwriter dies in order to get his pool, and Norma kills in order to get her close-up.
What I'm trying to show here, is that finales have to come with great costs, especially victories. The higher the importance of the victory and the more personal the cost is, the greater the drama. Dramatic endings are remembered for a long long time.
In games, it's not that hard to achieve. Going for things like the previous examples is one thing, and an easy one (relatively, of course), but RPGs is the only medium where the audience is also the creators, the storytellers. This enables the GM to come with a different kind of price. From confronting the PCs with their characters to even nastier ones that words can't tell. You've got another layer, far more personal than any TV or movie will be ever able to get, use it.