Tag Archives: roleplaying

HMS Cerberus: A plot device for London-based games

BBC News - HMS Cerberus

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Choosing your game

Explosions

Sometimes, what you want to be playing is a game filled with explosions and danger, action and adventure. And what you get? Well. Try being stuck in the world of Mills and Boon with your action hero. And then when you want to play a herbalist who wants nothing more than to tend to the flowers and snuggle with a beau or two, what happens? Weird War Three.

What’s going on?

It could be any number of things, but here are the most common causes:

  1. The GM and players have not been open and honest in discussing what they want from the game they are about to play.
  2. What you want, and what your group wants, are at odds.
  3. You are playing the wrong game.

Let’s look at these more closely.

A Lack of Honesty.

There is a tendency among roleplayers to kinda just assume that everyone wants the same thing from a game as themselves. We like to think of ourselves as a pretty amenable lot, and so when things start to go awry, we are likely to go along with it rather than speak up. But time and again games start with a group of players getting together and deciding what to play, and very rarely does anyone pipe up and say:

“I would like to play an action-oriented game with hints of intrigue and romance. I don’t want investigative stuff, because I don’t enjoy that.”

or

“I’d like to play an investigation-heavy game with occasional peril, but not a huge amount of combat.”

You get the idea.

On the occasions I’ve seen this conversation actually take place, what I’ve then seen is a chorus of agreement from all the other players involved… only for it to become all too apparent once the game is established that the rest of the group doesn’t want the game that they got, even though they agreed to it.

They asked for explosions. You gave them explosions. What did they want?

Friends-Forever-puppies-9460947-1600-1200

Apparently they wanted fluff and kindness and I’m not even certain that I can think of too many RPGs which cater to that.

Honesty. Every group will be happier with it, so you must strive to encourage it.

Your desires are at odds with the group’s.

This one is actually staggeringly easy to fix. After being honest, your group has confessed that they would quite like a romantic comedy RPG with amusing mishaps and star-crossed singing teenagers, and you’re still yearning to play Die Hard With A Kick-Ass in the Ghostbusters of Doom. If they are honest, and you are honest, then you have two choices:

  1. Suck it up and play Glee: the RPG, or
  2. Politely decline the invitation and try to find another game.

Glee-Wallpaper-glee-8088197-1280-800

Be reasonable. Be fair. But be honest. It really is better to not play at all than it is to play a game which will frustrate you every single session, and upset the rest of the group because they will know that you are unhappy, and they won’t know why, and that will lead to…

You are playing the wrong game.

I have seen this so many times that it confounds me. Players who would like to play happy-go-lucky actresses to whom nothing bad ever happens, so they find themselves a World of Darkness game to join. Players who really enjoy hanging out in-character in coffee shops making small-talk about the weather day-in, day-out, so they make themselves a housewife in Delta Green and proceed to avoid any storylines with as much dedication as a cat shirking rain. Players who want to play the heroic loner who doesn’t need a group in… well, frankly, just about any game there is.

john-mcclane-zippo-lighter-die-hard-blu-ray-cap

McClane makes a great action movie character, but a lousy roleplaying one, unless you’re in a single-player game with your GM.

Why people force their concepts into games which do not fit them, I do not know. But I’ve seen it time and again over the past twenty years, and each time it disrupts games and makes not only the player unhappy, but those around him as they struggle to accommodate the sore-thumb PC. They bend over backwards to involve him in the game, introduce him to storylines, help him integrate with the group, but no! He wants nothing to do with the plot, or he’s such a really awesome loner he’s gonna do it all by himself!

Summary:

So if you are finding yourself struggling, sit down and identify the things you want from a game. Action? Political intrigue? Romance? Superheroes? There are hundreds of games, and somewhere out there is the right one for you.

Find a group, and use honesty when doing so. Either through your FLGS or online, set out a Wanted ad, and outline what you’re looking for. You may end up forming a new group, or joining an existing one, but if you are open about what you want your chances improve dramatically. Just remember that it might still get sunk if they aren’t equally honest with you. All you can do there, my friend, is chalk it up to experience and go hunting again.

And for goodness’ sake, pick the right game. Don’t try to play My Little Shadowrun: Friendship is Magic. It won’t work, unless you are doing it with a very intentional sense of irony and are prepared for your character’s naivety to be shattered IC.

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Six Player Characters for any modern horror setting

101022_killingfieldsskullsLO

Today, a freebie for you: Six player characters for the one-shot of your choosing. The characters are all interwoven, and have a variety of secrets which are open-ended enough for a wily GM to slot into any modern supernatural or horror system. I have used them as pre-generated characters for World of Darkness one-shots, where they have served well, but they would fit equally neatly into a modern Call of Cthulhu game, Supernatural, d20 Modern, Unknown Armies, Sorcerer, or The Whispering Vault.

They are designed to be on the cusp of discovering the supernatural world, and in the scenario I have involved them in they have been trapped on the Eurostar between London and Paris, heading to Disneyland for a Stag Weekend. Feel free to move them to another country to fit your own intentions.

N.B. In the UK, 16 is the Age of Consent. If you wish to change the country this is set in, be aware of this and alter Diana’s age accordingly.

Without further ado, then, here they are:

Darren Monahan, Sub-Editor for XYZ Magazine.

Twin brother: Gary, Fireman.

Younger sister: Diana Monahan, student who wants to be a model. 16 years old.

Fiancée: Fiona Samson, Trevor’s sister.

BA in Journalism from the University of Leicester.

Left university with a 2:1 and got a job as a researcher at XYZ Magazine. Has been there since, first promoted to staff writer, then to sub-editor.

Started hanging out with a few of the guys after work, down the pub, then a regular airsofting posse got together, consisting of Trevor (the IT guy), Gary, Phil (met at airsoft), Tom (XYZ Magazine’s resident photographer) and Ian (also met at airsoft).

Personality: Darren can vary from riotous bloke’s bloke to charmer to ladies’ man to aloof all in a day. At his core he’s very passionate, but his passions change on a whim. He can go from loving a film to hating it in a week, or from one girl to another in the same amount of time. That he’s stuck with Fiona for two years must be a sign!

Part of the rush to get married, though – and Darren would never admit this – is to have his brother as his best man before Gary’s testicular cancer kills him.

He knows a lot of really minor crap. Stuff he’s picked up from reading, watching TV, browsing the net, researching for assignments. He’s a consumer of knowledge, and sometimes that sets him apart from his mates. Sometimes he just knows the oddest shit that nobody else has heard of. But that’s OK. He just has to keep a lid on it when down the pub, unless they’re bashing away at one of the quiz machines.

Dirty little secret: Nobody but Darren and Gary’s boss knows Darren’s brother is dying. He’s kept it even from the rest of the family, and asked Darren do the same. Darren’s been able to see the signs, because he knows what he’s looking for, and he knows it’s metastasised to Gary’s liver now. But today… Today Gary looks healthy. Here’s hoping he stays that way until the wedding’s done.

Gary Monahan, Fireman.

Twin brother: Darren, sub-editor for XYZ Magazine.

Younger sister: Diana Monahan, student who wants to be a model. 16 years old.

Left school at 18 with a couple of A-levels and went straight into the Fire Brigade. Met most of the other guys either because they work with Darren or were at airsoft.

Personality: Gary’s a Man, with a capital M. He’s masculine, he’s proud of his physique, he’s proud of his ability to drink everyone else under the table, he’s proud that he’s self-sufficient, he’s proud that people depend on him. Deep down he genuinely believes in the goodness of people’s hearts, but that’s not exactly something you tell your mates unless you’re really, really bladdered.

Confidence took a real smash when he discovered the lump on his balls last year. It took months for him to bother seeing a doctor about it, by which time it was too late. It had metastasised to his liver. Three months ago he was given one year to live.

He didn’t tell anyone other than his brother and his boss. Putting on a brave face, laughing loud, dying on the inside.

Dirty little secret : Last week, in the oncology department, Gary was talking to another patient. Didn’t catch the guy’s name. Didn’t really catch much, actually. They got chatting about cancer and death, about being so young and helpless, about all their wasted opportunities. And the guy offered him a deal. A cure.

Gary laughed it off, as you do. Sure, he said. Cure me. Go on.

So the stranger did. And sooner or later there will be a price to pay.

Phil Stevens, Semi-Pro Superbike Rider.

GNVQ in motorcycle maintenance from Bournemouth College.

Met Darren and the others at an airsoft game a year or so ago, and have become good mates since.

Phil’s fairly well-known on the semi-pro superbike circuit. He yearns to go fully pro, but that means convincing one of the big teams to take him on, and after last week’s wipeout that may never happen.

Personality: Deep down, Phil wants to go too fast. He’ll push everything aside to go faster, faster, faster. He’s tried cocaine, speed, amphetamines, but nothing does it for him like riding a bike. If only it would go faster.

He can take a little pause now and then, slow down to the rest of the world, but sooner or later he’s got to get going again, get the blood pumping, get the wind pushing at his chest.

He’s a staunch, solid bloke though. A guy you can depend on. Just so long as you’re not asking him to stay off the bike for a few days. In fact, this stag do might be the longest Phil will go without a bike for years…

Dirty little secret: Last week, Phil came off his bike. Badly. Really, really badly. He pushed it too hard, too fast, on a bend. The bike was wrecked, and Phil should’ve been too, but he walked away from a 210Mph slam into the race track’s tirewall without a scratch. There’s only one possible explanation: incredible good luck. Right?

Trevor Samson, IT Manager.

Sister: Fiona, Darren’s Fiancée.

BSc in Computer Science from the University of Hertfordshire

Trevor left uni and returned home to Bournemouth, landing a tech support role at XYZ Magazine. When Barry Johnson, the previous IT guy, left, Trevor was promoted. The downside, though, is they haven’t the money to get a replacement tech support guy, so Trevor now does everything, from managing the servers to fixing Luser problems.

After meeting Darren, one thing led to another, and the guy is now getting hitched to your sister. Obviously there was the initial need to protect her from this journo hack, but he’s a decent bloke, and you’re almost comfortable that he’s had your sister. But only ‘cause he’s marrying her.

Personality: Trevor is a gadget freak. If it’s new, he’s gotta have it. If it’s expensive, he’s gotta have it. He earns a phenomenal disposable income (and lives with his mum still) for a man his age, and he pisses it away on iPhones and SatNavs and PDAs and iPods and Blackberrys. He has a £10,000 stereo system that he can’t turn up loud because he lives in a terraced house. He’s £25,000 in debt after his student loan, but he just keeps buying more and more cool things because he has to have them.

He’s got a strong sense of right and wrong, and a feeling of power when it comes to his servers, Facebook, MySpace, Beebo, Twitter, and the vast number of internet forums he plugs away at, most of which he’s the number one poster on. He will come down hard on those who wrong him or his friends. He will punish hackers and noobs alike.

In the real world, of course… Bah, who’re we kidding? He’s just as opinionated and passionate. He’d just never put his mouth up against a fist. He’ll heckle and denounce from a safe distance. He’d ensure he was safe before condemning someone to their face.

Tom Harris, Photographer for XYZ Magazine.

BA in Photography from Southampton Solent University.

After finishing his degree, Tom went freelancing while working in a supermarket to pull in a little cash. After hiring models for portfolio glamour shoots he landed a full-time job at XYZ Magazine, and is more than happy there. He gets access to girls, he gets to put lenses and other gear on expenses, and he’s fallen in with a good bunch of mates.

Personality: Tom is quite frankly a lad’s lad. He spends his days taking photos of the hottest girls around while they’re in the nude, and getting paid for it. Wherever there’s a party he’ll be there. Whereever a girl is a little down and vulnerable, he’ll be there. He’s not a great drinker, preferring a little sobriety to keep control of himself and the and the situation, to make the best out of any opportunities that might come up. All to better to make sure he gets his pick of the ladies. Beyond the ladies he’s quite a loyal friend. He’d never think of hitting on a mate’s girl, that’s against the lads’ code. Family’s out. He tends to get the first round in. Tends to be the one that makes sure everyone gets home safely in the end. All in all probably the most popular of the guys.

Dirty little secret: Like all good glamour photographers he likes to introduce the new models to the real world. Offering to lay a few words in the right ear to help their career along, if of course they’re going to lay in his bed. Yesterday sadly this caused a little bit of a hiccup. He knew that Darren had mentioned the fact that his sister would be around the office. But he hadn’t quite realised who she was until… well one thing led to another and it’s a little awkward. 16’s legal and all, but Diana’s his best mate’s sister; of course Darren doesn’t want to hear about it on his stag do does he? Or… on the honeymoon. Or ever. It’s probably just something to keep to yourself.

Ian Webber, Butcher.

Left school at 16 and immediately apprenticed himself with an independent Butcher’s shop in town. It’s a true art, a man in perfect synchronicity with his job. These days, of course, he’s no apprentice.

He met Darren at the others at an airsoft game a year or so back.

Personality: Ian is probably best described as troubled. It started when he was young, like all kids he had imaginary friends, but his were a little more verbose. A little more pushy, making him do things that perhaps weren’t quite right.  Play with matches… look in widows where people were doing things a little too adult… skinning the neighbour’s cat. Through it all he kept a measure of sense about him a feeling that it wasn’t quite… right. As he grew up he started to forget such things but there was always a kernel of that influence left, his desire to become a butcher, and not a supermarket kind. The proper kind, the ones that have to feel the life draining from the animals they kill. The need to learn how to defend himself, the Russian martial arts, the love of the feel of a cool blade in his hand. It wasn’t about wanting to hurt others. It was about the knowledge that there were things… Things that would want to hurt him, and that sensation’s been growing stronger again. Try and he might to hide it it’s getting harder and harder to pretend he doesn’t feel those little tingles. The shudder that accompanies some people’s proximity.

Still he’s found some friends at least, true he’s not as close as he might like, everyone keeps him at just a little distance, but that’s okay. It’s better than being alone all the time, his Airsoft games with the guys. Giving them a little extra meat when they come shopping. It’s the little gestures that remind him of his humanity.

Dirty little secret: Ian’s feelings that something’s not right have been getting worse again. It’s like when he was a kid. Little urges to do things he’s not comfortable with. But this time he’s older. Wiser a Territorial Army soldier he can handle anything. Especially with that knife he’s started carrying. He won’t need it, but well it’s just a reassurance, a solidity of purpose that comes with the training.

Worse, though, in spite of having known them for a year or so, something’s suddenly not right with Gary and Phil. They look the same, they act the same, but they just… give off that vibe, the feeling that they’re not right…

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How to create great characters

RPGs

Any player or GM participating in a role-playing campaign should strive to know as much about their characters as the character would know about themselves.

If you want to portray a three-dimensional person who has a life all of their own you will need a really good idea of who they are, what events shaped them, how their past informs their outlook on life, and why they want whatever it is they’re after. This goes for PCs and NPCs alike: don’t cheap your hard-working players by giving them transparent NPCs to interact with. A pause while you struggle to make up an answer to an unexpected question can interrupt the flow of a game.

Two-dimensional characters often come about from an outline such as this:

David was born in 1965. He discovered he was a wizard at the age of 13, and since then has been studying really hard. He is now a really powerful wizard. He lives in San Francisco.

What? Is that it? David’s whole life revolves around him being a wizard? Has he no family, friends, rivals, enemies, pets, favourite foods, lovers, overdue books at the library, or any other influence which could turn him from a dull set of facts into a living, breathing person?

You might be making  a powerful wizard living in San Francisco, but he’s also a human being. Well, he is for the purposes of this example. Here’s a shortish checklist of things a human being generally knows about himself*:

  • Birthdate of himself, his parents, his siblings, long-term partners and friends.
  • The schools he attended.
  • What pets he or his friends / family had.
  • How popular he was at school, and whether or not he’s still in touch with school friends.
  • His employment history.
  • When and where he met his best friends and / or lovers.
  • Their names (usually, although it speaks volumes about a character who can’t list his lovers).
  • What he likes and dislikes (from food and drink, through to holiday locations, political viewpoints, and “certain kinds of people”).
  • Date of death of anyone important (a parent, a sibling, a best friend).
  • Hobbies.

That is your starting point for a human being. If your character is from another race, he’ll know just as much about himself, as well as facts pertinent to his race’s culture – he may not know what “school” is, but his race might follow a rigid path of indentured servitude or military service, about which he’d know just as much as a human does about their school days.

If your character is an amnesiac, you still need to know these things. Your character may still have enemies, but he is unaware of them. He may be up to his eyeballs in debt, and not know. But you, his creator, must know, unless he’s a PC and your GM is willing to do all the graft for you.

Once you have the bare bones, layer in what makes your character stand out from the crowd. What makes him the hero, the antagonist, the ally, or the Tin Dog? What makes him get his arse off the sofa / rock / grassy knoll and get involved in a story? Much of this comes from the world the game is set in: If your world is contemporary London with Vampires, did a Vampire kill his sister? If your world is a distant planet with spleen-sucking aliens, did he witness a spleen being sucked and get so terrified that he’s acting purely in self-defence? Has he been living a dual life, or has this taken over his life? Is he in contact with his world, or has he been removed (or removed himself) from it?

Since stepping off the path of dull, normal life, who has he met? Has anyone taught him what he now knows? Has he teamed up with others who seek the same goals? Is he still with them? If not, why not? Has his new life utterly changed his personality? Was he an easy-going guy before dog-faced beetles chewed his father’s head off? Have new-found powers made him overconfident, or does the new playing field scare him to death?

I mentioned earlier that your characters are after something. This is vital. Without desire, they won’t move forward.

All your characters must want something.

All your characters must need something.

What they want and what they need are two different things.

So let’s look at David the San Francisco wizard. Let’s say we now know what school he attended, what happened to his parents, who mentored him in magic, and all those other great facts. Instead of a couple of lines we now have two or three pages of background (or more – don’t be shy now). With all these facts you’ll have a better idea of the kind of guy he is – trust me, you will. How he’s dealt with enemies in the past will inform how he deals with them in your campaign. Does he hurl fireballs, or does he retreat to the library and research his foe? Is he too prone to losing his temper, or is he such a perfectionist that enemies run unchecked while his nose is in a book?

What does he want?

Why does he do what he does? Does he want to become all-powerful, or does he want revenge? Does he want to protect those unable to defend themselves, or does he want to rule the world? Does he seek to cure his wife from a Lich’s curse, or does he want to become a Lich himself? If he doesn’t want something, he won’t strive for it, much as if you don’t want money you won’t bother turning up to work every day.

What does he need?

Oh yeah. Now we’re down to the guts of it. What is it that your character needs, that he’s unaware of? What would truly solve his problems? He may want revenge, but maybe what he needs is closure, and revenge won’t give it to him. Maybe he wants to find that cure, but what he needs is to recognise and accept that even his power can’t achieve everything. Perhaps he wants to protect the defenceless, but he needs someone to make him feel protected.

What he wants and what he needs should conflict one-another. And the moment you give him either, his story is over, unless you can replace one want or need with another want or need. Remember that if you want a character to last a whole campaign.

Why is he here?

In writing terms, this is called The Crucible.  To put it simply, what keeps characters together needs to be stronger than what might pull them apart, or your PCs might all spin off into heroic loners and refuse to cooperate with the rest of the group. Like any good crucible, your characters might want to escape it, but the process might fundamentally change them.

GMs, don’t railroad your players. The key is to make your crucible so pervasive that the PCs want to solve the problem: Han Solo doesn’t want to fight the Empire, but he’s getting paid, and develops a soft spot for Leia, so he goes along; Frodo could sit back and decide the One Ring isn’t his problem, but the Shire is in danger, and if he doesn’t join the Fellowship he won’t have anywhere to eat his Second Breakfast; Sarah Connor’s hunter is not going to stop unless she makes it stop, or she will die.

Not all crucibles need to be so life-or-death. It could simply be a character’s day job to be involved, or he might be a decent guy who’d love to help out and is led by his own moral code.

It may seem like a lot of preparation work, but once your character is thrust into the game, you’ll feel ready to put him through the wringer!

*Herself, or any other gender you are making.

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Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game Review

We’ve had this in the house for a while, but Christmas can get in the way of getting enough people together to roleplay. Finally, thanks to our FLGS opening a regular gaming club, we found both time and players.

Box

The game comes packaged in a box with everything you will need to play: A rulebook; a pre-written adventure; maps for that adventure’s key locations; four pre-generated character folios; and the dice.

Character folios? Not sheets? Yes indeed. You see, the Edge of the Empire Beginner Game is – as stated on the box – an introduction to roleplaying, not an introduction for roleplayers to one particular game. This box is singlehandedly doing what roleplaying has neglected for well over a decade: attracting new players to the whole hobby.

The character folios then, aren’t just a sheet with a myriad of confusing stats: They contain progressing versions of the same character, helping new players learn about Experience Points and character advancement. They contain a note on each double-page spread explaining how the dice work. There is a sidebar outlining your key skills, and on later spreads how advancement in different directions will shape your character. In short, there’s everything you need to adopt a pre-generated character and make them entirely your own.

game-layout

These characters are so carefully created, and so thoroughly ideal a match for the beginning adventure, that it’s next to impossible to have a bad time. The group has a powerfully strong motive to work together, and an equally strong reason to get the heck offworld. The adventure is very gently railroaded but manages to feel as though you have multiple choices: our group managed to evade and persuade rather than go toe-to-toe in combat in a couple of situations. The characters also don’t overlap one-another’s niches, and every one has a part to play in the included adventure: Pash seriously came into his own when it came to flying a ship; Vex was invaluable for both slicing and obtaining items we might have otherwise had to pay for; Oskara has some seriously mad carbine skills; and Lowhhrick is the close-combat specialist.

Fantasy Flight’s support is so good, though, that there are an additional two character folios available to download from their website: Sasha the Explorer; and Mathus the Technician. We had Sasha in play in our game, and she was superb at stealth and perception, frequently acting as our spotter. There’s also a second adventure, following on from the events in the Beginner Game. All this? Free.

They’ve released a dice roller app so that you don’t have to carry bags of dice to every game, and your players don’t have to start buying these very specific dice just to join in. It’s available for iOS and Android, and covers dice for both Edge of the Empire and the X-Wing Miniatures Game. Either version is only about $5 / £3.20.

It’s a great game, but more importantly it’s an ideal introduction to roleplaying. Looking for a way to bring your children into the hobby? Buy this. Looking for your first roleplaying game to try between yourself and a few friends? Buy this. Looking for an ideal game to help new members of your local games club learn to roleplay? Buy this. Star Wars fan who’s never tried roleplaying before? Buy this.

At about $30 / £25, it’s the ideal start to a lifetime’s enjoyment of one of the most enjoyable hobbies available. It isn’t a full copy of Edge of the Empire, and does exactly what it says on the box.

Verdict: 10/10. Highly Recommended.

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