Monday, August 27, 2012

Monday Night Mordheim- Scheduling

This week and next week I'll not have a real post. This week, because it is the final week of the really busy at work. Next week because it will be labor day. Then I should be able to return to regular postings.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

RPG Thoughts- Game Building 2

This is the second in my series about creating a modern campaign. It started as a series of emails to Eldest Child, who has started running an Alternity Game with his buds (Check out his blog here). 

Since it was written as emails, there are random starts and stops and with how busy I've been elsewhere, it is a bit of a keep you interested thing. However, I like to think the information is still good.

Building a Game 2: Campaign Arc

A good campaign is like a good tv show. Allow me to elaborate on that for a moment. TV shows that last a long time come in two varieties; serial and episodic. A serial television show is where there is an ongoing continuity, and if you miss an episode you miss major changes that happen. Episodic television is the opposite of that though, every episode follows the same format, but nothing really changes episode to episode, so it doesn't matter if you miss an episode since major changes only happen at the season level.

A great campaign works along the same lines as both. Typically, you have each adventure or session that have nothing to do with each other, but every couple sessions you have one that ties into the overall story arc of the campaign. This way you can provide variety and different types of challenges to your PCs each session, but there is a continuity that you can follow and will eventually drive the campaign.
The campaign story arc is a hard thing to define. You almost have to sit down at the beginning and decide how it is going to work out. That's what separates veteran DMs from novices. A veteran DM can roll with what his PCs do to create a good story line out of thin air, whereas a novice has to have it all prepared before hand. I'm not going to talk about creating a campaign story arc on the fly, since that is not something that is helpful to people who already know how to do it. This is a series for beginners, any way.

Now, the first thing to keep in mind is the length of a campaign. We would all love it if our campaigns lasted forever, but in truth that's a lofty goal. Campaigns fall apart for a number of reasons; real world commitments, game burn out, and even falling out amongst players. So it is best if you plan a campaign to last a certain number of sessions. If you plan forward, you decide how much you need to do for your campaign arc.

This is where things get tricky. You have to decide how many sessions that your campaign will last. This is probably the hardest thing that a new DM can do, and to be honest its one that even veterans have trouble with. I've had a lot of campaigns end out from under me for no apparent reason, and you will too. It happens. That's why pre-planning can be infuriating. However, you have to be realistic with yourself. If you are planning to play 'whenever we can all get together', you are better off with a very short campaign maybe four sessions, if that. On the flip side, those of us blessed with nothing but time can take a completely different scale and plan for hundreds of sessions. Now, most people I know play in a regularly scheduled manner. Use that schedule as a basis for what you are planning.

Now, most games I've ever played have lasted a year, (possibly two) typically playing once a week. However, a year long plan is a good benchmark no matter what game you are playing. Things will stay relatively stable across the course of a single year. Others disagree and think that a six month ideal is better, and in a way it is, since you can have a bit more flexibility should real world issues come up. The end of the day, your schedule and how long you are willing to run it is what will decide the number of sessions.

If you are playing a weekly game, a campaign will typically last 52 sessions. Bi-weekly games will last typically last 26 sessions. Poor monthly games will last a scant 12 sessions. However, knowing how many sessions a game will last will allow you to make a better plan.
Going back to the television analogy, you want to build your campaign like a TV season. Let the first season be short. Very short, almost like a mini-campaign, that way if your PCs decide they don't like the game, you will get a nice little self-contained game that you can look back at fondly that you can end easily.
The first season should be about four sessions. The first session where everyone learns the rules and creates characters doesn't count. That's like getting the pilot picked up. Season one should be about the variety of things that can be done in the system. Go out and have fun with it. The first three sessions of the season can be about anything (or nothing at all), however the fourth episode should be your first story arc episode. That gives you everything being neatly cleaned up at the end, but a nicely dangling piece of bait should the PCs want to continue.

That's the good thing. If they PCs decide that they want to continue, then go ahead and 'pick up the back 9'. Expand the campaign to a further 9 sessions. Roughly 25% of all sessions should be campaign story arc. They should not be 1,2,3, arc. Mix it up, throw them around, make your PCs guess what is going on. The final session of the first season should be where the PCs finally discover what the 'Big Bad' is. That's when things really start to take off.

Plan out the rest of the seasons, even before you get to the end of the first season. Since you already know how long your campaign is supposed to last, you can build it up differently. A full year of weekly play will allow for 4 total seasons (that includes the four plus nine first season). A biweekly game will get two, but the poor monthly will barely get one.

This allows you to plan out exactly how you will dole out the story arc. Now, the good part of this type of set up, where you are leaking information about the overall story arc is that you don't have to have each story arc session actually directly do with the story arc. That seems like an oxymoron, but keep with me here. The thing is that it can have to do with the story arc in a very ancillary way. For instance, if the session has to do with a genetically altered animal, it could be that the big bad of the story arc is actually the person/group who paid for the project, even if they had nothing directly to do with it. Or one of the scientists works for the big bad, or something like that.

It has gotten too busy to continue...more later.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

RPG Thoughts: Building a Modern RPG 1

This is the first in a series of Emails that I sent to my Eldest Child about how to run a modern RPG setting. While the information in here is more specific for modern games, it may be useful for other games as well.

How to build an RPG game for fun and a lack of profit.
The creation of an RPG is not that hard. Running games is easy, though DMs tend to make it look much harder then it actually is. With pages and pages of stuff written down, maps everywhere, and checking the balance of items, it seems like a lot of work. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In truth, running a RPG is a bit like a research project from school. It's a bit of thinking, a bit of writing, and a whole lot of reading what other people did and then stealing it.
Since you expressed interest in a conspiracy theory type game, or paranormal investigation (if you prefer), I will start my thoughts there. These are actually much easier to run then other types of games. Actually any modern setting is particularly easy. You don't have to do any conversions, you don't have to worry about creating strange names, and you don't have to worry about your PCs not understanding the local laws.
What makes it so easy to run a modern game is the shear abundance of material available on the internet, compared to the bad old days. Wikipedia is your friend. You can find a lot about anything there. With wikipedia and a rule book for a modern setting, you can run tons of stuff. It makes it so easy to note things down, to get a few ideas, and start right off.

Here's a brief outline of how to do it;
1. Choose a major city, US or foreign. It really doesn't matter which one. I strongly suggest choosing a city that you and your players have never been to, that way you aren't going to get 'Hey! That's not right, broad street never connects with 2nd ave!' which while lessens the verisimilitude of the place, it absolutely kills game flow. Look that  city up on wikipedia. Looking over the basics of a city will give you a great overview of that city. You know the basic neighborhoods, the layout, and some major land marks.  Especially pay attention to libraries, museums, and monuments- as well as large buildings (like sky scrappers).

2. Review the history of the city specifically. Where there any major disasters? How about battles? Scandals are always fun as well. This stuff is a great base for creating adventures. Haunted battlefields, psychic depressions in areas of great suffering, and even strange groups pulling the strings behind the scenes for scandals. This is also why it is a good idea to pick a city that you nor your PCs are emotionally attached to. If you pick your hometown there's always a chance that your PCs will go 'My great-great-grandmother died in the Great Fire of '27, that's not right that you made it a plot by the Evil Organization'.

3. Do a quick search on the internet for things like '[City Name] Haunted sites', or '[City Name] UFO sightings'. That sort of thing. That will give you a great start for figuring out some more adventures.

4. Extra leg work. This is entirely optional, but it can be fun and entertaining. Look at some places in the city with google street view and maybe do some searches on youtube for things in the city. Another fun thing is to find the local news stations and watch some local news, get a real feel for the real things that are happening there. If during a session, your PCs have to take a detour because of construction that is happening.
So this can all be done in as little as a half hour or so. If you want a more mobile campaign, you can keep doing this over and over again with a different city each time.

Geez, guys, you can't tell me when the formatting is all messed up? Come ON!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Monday Night Mordheim: Delay

er. Sorry. WotC just sent the new D&D Next playtest packet. I'm going to have get back another day. I'll hopefully get back to everything next week. However, in the meantime, I have a series of RPG posts that I did for my Eldest kid, to help him start a game. I'll post those tomorrow or later.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Monday Night Mordheim: Exceptions

I've been thinking very little about Mordheim lately. There are times I feel bad about that, but other times when I realize that there are a lot of things that I can still talk about. One thing I love to talk about is the rules. 

I love the rules of Mordheim, and for a bunch of reasons, but in the end it comes down to a very simple thing. It is a very simple rule system with quite a few exceptions. 

The simple rules system with exceptions is what makes the game great. Most of these exceptions come from the skills that can be had by various hero characters. Others come from special rules for particular models. The wonderful thing about these rules and skills is that they provide some sort of exception to a rule. Now, sometimes it is as simple as a bonus to a particular roll, or sometimes as powerful as a total rule exception (like ignoring set up rules like 'Infiltrator'). 

The particular advantage of these exceptions is two-fold. First it allows you to customize your force depending on your opponents, and secondly that it makes it far easier to homebrew things. The knowledge of what exceptions are already allowed, makes creating new exceptions that much easier.

Next week, I want to really delve into those exceptions, and talk about which ones are game makers, which are game breakers, and do a bit of tactica on them.

However, I do want to talk about something else before I sign off. I realize that most of the blogs I follow update in the morning, and I enjoy having some stuff to read first thing. I also realize that many people who read my blog are Brits and thus aren't going to be looking at this until Tuesday morning anyway. I was wondering if I should change format to a Monday Morning Mordheim, and post stuff before I go to work (which given time differences would barely qualify as morning for Brits), or have it auto post sometime in the night. Is MNM a good thing, or should it switch to MMM?