Examining the RPG Sessions That I Ran and Think Were Awesome

On Sunday, I ran a session of Dungeon World that I feel was amongst the best RPG sessions that I have run – at least from the GM chair it felt like the best I had run.

As I look at what I consider some my best RPG sessions, a common theme emerges: Splitting Up the Party.

Rarely is it my explicit goal to separate them, instead it is the players taking it upon themselves to split up – or maybe they are actively and openly working against each other. And in one case, the characters had not physically split the party, but due to the back-stabbing nature of things, they all started declaring actions via secretive notes.

I don’t know if other players would agree that these are some of my best GM-ed sessions. But in looking at these sessions there are lessons to be gleaned:

I don’t believe that splitting the party is the key to the good session. I believe it is the players identifying that their character does in fact want something. This manifests in the “Yes I want this for my character so bad that I’m willing to step out of the security of the group of PCs and push a personal agenda.”

However, it is often times a split party that has created some of my most memorable sessions – both those that I’ve run and those I’ve played. Done poorly, a split party is a abomination that should be destroyed with fire. Done well…it is something to explore.

Implicit to the decision to split the group is the player’s decision that says “I am so eager and willing for my character to address a particular component of the game/story that I, as a player, am willing to wait on my GM to point the spotlight my direction.” In other words, the player is willing to sacrifice quantity of time for quality of time.

In a perverse sense, this is my impression of playing D&D 4e. I can imagine there are those that like the combat system so much that they are willing to wait a long time for their turn.

Some of the players, who didn’t initiate the sundering of the party, may have what I have identified as one of the “oh shit” moments of parenting: The two parents and three fully-ambulatory children all at a super market. It is that moment as two adults when one kid runs off and the first parent gives chase. Then, while the first parent is still chasing the first child, the second child runs off in a completely different direction. All the while the third child refuses to budge.

The Apocalypse Engine’s defacto question of “What do you do?” is never more applicable than that above moment.

From a player perspective, there are those that cling to party cohesion and watch the group of PCs dissolve into smaller units. Those who didn’t split the groups may well inevitably say “Well I may as well do my own thing…”

I also find that there is a greater cinematic/narrative experience in splitting the group. Ideally the camera naturally and fairly moves from player to player. Though in reality,  balancing when to cut from player to player is a delicate matter; I most certainly don’t start an egg timer or some such non-sense.

Instead, I try as best I can to push each “scene” by identifying the current state of the game as experienced/identified by the player and trying to ask and have answered a handful of questions that build towards a greater question…then cutaway to a different character.

Ultimately I think I enjoy the creative challenge of synthesizing those disparate “scenes” into a coherent and cohesive unit (i.e. Balancing the time line of events as well as the narrative demands of each moment.)

Suggestions for GMing a Split Party

Try to keep the elapsed time of each character’s scene roughly on the same scale; Don’t let one character’s scene be 10 in game minutes and another character’s be 10 in game hours. If one character’s scene is in minutes, then every split characters scenes should be in minutes.

Try to keep the scope of each character’s actions roughly similar; Don’t let one character haggle for bread while the other saves the kingdom. Instead one character is securing supplies while the other is securing a quality map and a third is hiring a guide.

Try to keep the elapsed time of players roughly the same; As you move the action around try to give each player roughly the same amount of time. At the minimum make sure you ask each player what their character is doing.

Try to keep the focus on each character concise and brief, moving from player to player. In this way you are implicitly asking the players to build on what other characters are doing.

Perhaps the players ignore it. Perhaps they run in a new direction with something happening out of their character’s ear shot. As a GM, you can still step in and say “How would your character know this?” or “Sorry, but pretend you didn’t hear this.”

When you get to a fantastic decision point for a player character, switch to another player character. That is to say try to end each scene with a player character on a cliff hanger.

Gently work towards bringing the characters back together by trying to have each of the solo character’s personal goals require the combined resources of the characters. You may need to move from gently to forcefully, but ideally, see if you can get the group to naturally congeal.

World of Steve – Session 1

Yesterday, I participated in two sessions of Dungeon World. The first session of the day, played over Google Hangouts, was a continuation of the previous Google Hangouts adventure.

The second session of Dungeon World started forty minutes after the first session ended. I was the GM. Where as in the first session I could take more detailed notes, as GM I’m working almost entirely from memory. This session, with 30 minutes of character creation and pizza eating, went from 6pm to 9:30pm without a break.

Observations

I normally place my observations at the end of the post. But this is a lengthy blog post – Do you mind the lengthier blog posts? I try to keep them to less than 750 words. And this thing clocks in at 2560 words – So I’ll start with my observations.

First and foremost, this was a fantastic game of Dungeon World in which the only prep I did was to transcribe the Dungeon World DM moves. Instead I leaned heavily on the answers to my questions. And when possible I continued to fold the answers into new questions and new facets of the world.

I suspect that if I keep rolling answers into questions, I may end up with a very heavy mess of narrative goo. So I have also made sure to ask leading questions that I can keep on the vine for a bit. And at some point, I will want to close the current chapter.

Second, my wife will tell you I’m not a very good listener, but it is something I’m working hard at improving. Part of listening, at least as I understand it, is asking questions, and I found this really set this first session rolling. The other part is to listen to the persons response without prejudice, without evening beginning to formulate a response.

The session started out slowly. I didn’t begin en media res, instead opting to build up via narration some of what the world looked like. While it may seem that the questions I asked dropped away once the game “started”, I was always asking either clarifying and leading questions.

Third, I believe this was a very successful first session. Dungeon World bonds ensure that characters are interwoven. I would love to see other sets of bonds published and made available.

Starting the Session

I began the session by asking lots of questions. In fact, at one point I thought “Maybe I’ll just ask questions all night, because hell if I know what to do.” Then I thought are people going to get bored if I don’t start doing something? Below is my rough recollection of some, but certainly not all, of the initial questions.

The first question I asked was “Have you worked together as a group before, or is it coincidence that you all know each other?”

It turned out, they were all loosely affiliated, but had not adventured together.

From there, the questions easily snowballed. I had no idea where things were going, but I asked leading questions of the player characters.

“Are there a lot of elves that visit [the border town] Georgetown?” This question followed as a result of the loose affiliation of the 2 elves and 2 humans.

“Where is Skinny Jake trying to arrange shipments from and to?” “From Ramsford – poof we now had another city and a river – to Stevehold, a fortification along another contested border adjacent to the Woods of the World” Given the river, and the delivery via wagons, we knew that Ramsford was likely the closest point to Stevehold by land – so the river dipped south.

“Cyne, why are you in town?” “I’m following Kind Steve. I have seen that he will play an important role in things to come.” “Cyne, what single word would you use to describe your vision, your senses, regarding Kind Steve.” “Fire.” Well I guess things are going to need to burn a little.

“Does Veldrin know what Skinny Jake (PC) once smuggled through elven lands?” This question was a follow-up question based on Skinny Jake’s previous declared smuggling activity. Veldrin responded with a non-commital “I have some idea, but only a vague notion.” I pushed harder. “Yeah, Veldrin thinks it was weapons and medicine.”

“Does the Church of Steve change sides mid-battle? No. Mid-war? Yes.”

“Is the Church of Steve the dominant religion? Yes. Are other religions proscribed? No. What are the other religions?” In those questions, the grim nature of this part of the world took form. Battles were common place as were wars. There were bastions of fortified civilization that withstood the warring natures of the priests of Steve.

“What color are a priest of Steve’s robes? Yellow…until soaked in blood. To return from battle without stained robes is a shame and dishonor.”

The above questions were asked throughout the game.  And slowly the world developed.

The Church of Steve – devoted to bloody conquest and sacrificial rites – became a major component of the campaign world. As we explored a world taking form before our eyes, we realized that the realm was a hyper fragmented region, with what is likely complicated feudal arrangements. Free cities exist throughout the region, but are heavily fortified.

A Meeting in Georgetown

Skinny Jake was meeting with Harold, a caravan driver, and trying to secure caravans for a lucrative shipping arrangement. Not content with his charm Skinny Jake attempted to slip Harold a bit of goldenroot. Both Veldrin and Cyne saw this act, along with a dwarf.

Veldrin hastily ran interference and Harold was able to seal the deal with Harold.

Starting out from the border village of Georgetown, as guards for Harold’s 6 wagon caravan, characters undertook a Perilous Journey – after all this was a war ravaged area of the world. Cyne tromping around on his own did not assist, instead was quite content to take animal form. Veldrin scouted, Kind Steve trailblazed, and Skinny Jake managed the supplies.

  • Kind Steve knew these paths, explaining of a not too well-known path through the Serpents’ Crest – named for the numerous wending paths.
  • Veldrin keen eyed was able to spot a Giant Eagle, feasting on a stray cow; Wisely Veldrin decided not to ambush the majestic creature
  • Skinny Jake made sure the supplies were well rationed.

Arriving in Ramsford

They arrived at Ramsford, a fortified city with massive walls; Skinny Jake’s player brought Ramsford into play by way of answering one of my questions; And the church of Kay, God(dess?) of Civilization, was dominant.

Ramsford levied a toll against all those entering. And as a priest of Steve, Kind Steve’s toll was quintuple the normal toll.

The walls were massive, and I wanted to know why the tavern that they walked into was so crowded, so Cyne responded “Its the Festival of the Culling of the Sheep”

People were packed into the city of Ramsford to participate in numerous mutton eating contests; most of them organized. The premier teams competed in the inns and taverns. Each team of 4 men, 2 women, 1 halfling were competing in butchered hanging weight categories. Further restrictions concerning allowed cutlery and utensils were in force. On the floors were bowls collecting the juices. Ties went to those with the fullest bowl.

Meeting of Mutton Steve

In the corner sat Mutton Steve, dining on a heavily seasoned leg of mutton, his ram’s horn helm resting on the table, great sword leaning against the table, and wearing his priestly robes which were ritually prepared by soaking  in sheep urine. Skinny Jake and Kind Steve approached; Kind Steve offering a stout beer while Skinny Jake went straight to business successfully negotiating double the fee for delivery.

Shadowing Harold

As this was happening, Veldrin followed Harold to the stables. The stables were a multi-story parking garage – Ramsfod being well fortified and a hub of mercantilism meant that buildings had to go up instead of out. Approaching the stables, Veldrin observed the exchange between the quarter master and Harold.

Discerning Realities Veldrin noticed that the quartermaster had scales around his neck…accidentally revealed as his scarf shifted. Having traveled with Cyne he realized these were likely a shape changers tell.

Harold was able to get a main level parking, explaining to Veldrin that paying 10 coin more per week gave him certain liberties and freedoms to move quickly. More interesting to Veldrin were the goblins and littlings – one-quarter sized goblins – moving about unloading manure and other menial labor. They were part of the ecosystem. A quick Discern Realities and Veldrin learned that the goblins were really in control here.

Into the Kitchen

Back at the tavern, as Kind Steve, Mutton Steve, and Skinny Jake were meeting, Cyne was observing the kitchen. Looking around and Discerning Realities he noted that the  cook had prepared the food not with spices but with a similar smelling poison that induced hysterics.

As Skinny Jake was shuffling through the dining area, when a steak knife flew past his face, impaling one of the other contestants. Mayhem erupted, and Skinny Jake tried to flee. But was instead impaled by the sharp end of a sheep bone – one of the eating contestants had escalated to violence.

Back to the Stables

Veldrin was helping Harold unload, attempting to learn more about Harold’s business, and the load that Harold was hired by Skinny Jake to deliver. As Veldrin helped, he spotted a small concealed notebook on one of Harold’s wagons.

Veldrin also noted that the building was an interesting operation, part warehouse, part stables, with littling holes connecting the rooms. The littlings were only quasi-intelligent but carried out their orders quite well. The purpose of the holes were unknown. But it appeared as though they were all filled with burlap bags.

A Sword is Drawn

And that is when Skinny Jake heard the unsheathing of a great sword behind him. And Skinny Jake had to choose…would he escape the melee and loose his coin purse, or tumble into the, at present, neutral middle of the dining room?

Skinny Jake rolled into the middle of the room and lying prone looked up to see several strange bags mounted by calcified scarab beetles under the tables.

Cyne, standing outside the kitchen, noted that 6 goblin archers had entered the kitchen. In the back was a human, with three scales on his right cheek, another tell of a shape changer. And did I mention the goblins had bows and flaming arrows…because they did.

Cyne howled for help, and Kind Steve charged in, avoiding the growing melee. As he burst through the kitchen door, the goblins let loose and Kind Steve was on fire, along with the kitchen walls and door frame. Kind Steve reciprocated by crushing the skull of one of the goblins.

Cyne burst into the kitchen, shifted into polar bear form and roared a mighty roar scaring off the goblins – I may need a custom move for this. Kind Steve remarked that it sounded as if Bear Steve had arrived.

Mixin a Little Fire

With flaming arrows and what tables likely loaded with explosives, Skinny Jake was all the more concerned to get out. Mutton Steve stood before the door a macabre parody of Gandalf the Grey challenging anyone to pass. Instead, Skinny Jake took the opening up the stairs.

The cacophonous roar of the tavern drew Veldrin’s attention, and he took off from the stables to investigate.

With the goblins routed, Cyne returned to human form, and help extinguish Kind Steve. However, the walls were beginning to catch flame – a greasy kitchen is a dangerous place. Cyne burst toward the back door, as one of the jugs of cooking oil caught flame. Kind Steve turned to see where Skinny Jake had gotten to. And realized there was only one way…up.

What had once been a melee of 17 men, 8 women, and 4 halfling was down to Mutton Steve, a halfling, a woman, and two men, each laying claim to their respective heap of slain foes. And as Kind Steve scampered through the room, the five combatants all dove towards each other in a macabre final act of hysterics.

Outside cries of fire erupted and Veldrin pushed to the front of the line. As he pressed his face towards the window, spurts of blood splattered him. Gore was everywhere in that tavern. But Veldrin saw where the other exit likely was.

What Does Harold Have in That Notebook?

Back in the warehouse, Veldrin convinced Harold to let him finish up. Veldrin proceeded to uncover the notebook and read the last entry. The notebook didn’t disclose what Skinny Steve was having delivered. But the last entry, the one for Ramsford, showed that not only was Harold delivering hay, but he was also delivering several drums of oil.

A Cracked Door and Warded Frame

Upstairs, Skinny Jake saw the doors to 8 rooms. At the far end of the hallway, there was one door cracked open. Approaching cautiously, Skinny Jake discerned that there were etchings that flickered from the lantern light of the hall.

Skinny Jake slowly slinked along the hallway to view as much of the room as possible without crossing the threshold. In the room he saw a bed, wash basin, and on the floor a part of circle made of piles of silver dust. From the floor, which was directly above the kitchen, wisps of smoke rose and the tell tale smell of fire permeated the air.

Drawing his rapier, Skinny Jake was going to open the door without touching it. A brief headache, and Skinny Jake collapsed into darkness.

Out Behind the Burning Kitchen

So he snuck around back and saw the fleeing shadow of something from the back door. Cautiously he approached, but crunched on a pile of oddly scattered chicken bones outside the building. He paused, counted to 10.

The back door opened again. And Veldrin heard sniffing. Veldrin rounded the corner with sword defensively positioned to lock gaze with the ice blue eyes of a wolf. Recognizing the icy blue eyes as Cyne’s tell, he lowered his weapon. And both Cyne and Veldrin gave pursuit around the building.

Upstairs Take Two

Ascending the stairs Kind Steve saw the bounce of feet in the doorway at the end of the hall. Skinny Jake had fallen into the room.  Kind Steve hastily shouldered Skinny Jake, grabbed his rapier, and set off to exit the building. Descending the stairs. Kind Steve locked eyes with Mutton Steve, the sole survivor of the contest.

Mutton Steve’s eyes lit up again, and Kind Steve quickly dropped Skinny Jake and bellowed a prayer of fear. And Mutton Steve’s eyes lit up as a fear of the fires consumed him. He quickly fled. Steve, unpleased with this request, revoked Kind Steve’s spell.

Kind Steve and Skinny Jake made a quick egress.

Around Back

Cyne, smelling the hint of goblins having fled between buildings, gave pursuit with Veldrin close behind. They rounded the corner and saw a crowd of people gathering and beginning to form a bucket brigade.

Further in the crowd, they could see evidence of a people begrudgingly parting to let something small through. Wanting to split the crowd quickly, Cyne shifted into a Polar Bear and drew unwelcome attention. The crowd took notice and instead of backing down, mustered the courage and charged.

Veldirn turned to escape the angry mob, and Cyne shifted into a hawk and flew into the air. A few of the towns people threw knives and even a chicken at the hawk. Unable to find the other shape changer, Cyne landed and returned to his companions.

And as they were collecting themselves, Skinny Jake said to run as the tavern exploded in the background…Kaboom!

Post Script

In many ways this session reminds me of one of my early D&D sessions that I ran in the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. That campaign started off with an assassination in an inn, with characters scattered and taking actions separately. Bouncing the camera around.

Dungeon World – Google Hangouts Session 3

We are working on naming the campaign, but this is a loose session report of our second Google Hangouts game of Dungeon World. You can find the first one here.

The session began with everyone still clunking their way around the technical interface of Google Hangouts and Tabletop Forge. Last week, we had trouble getting Travis in on the action. This week Mark was running and Travis, Jim, Marissa, Morgan, and I were playing. Fortunately, this week went off rather smoothly.

Quick recap of the cast:

  • King Nara, female human ranger, always shrowded in cold [Marissa]
  • Dunwick, male human bard, master of the stage [Morgan]
  • Bartleby, male human fighter, blacksmith apprentice [Travis]
  • Ovid, male human wizard, seeking knowledge [Jim]
  • Humble, male human thief, treasure seeking [me]

Sequence of Events (to the best of my recollection, and not much of a session report, more erratic notes):

The Meeting and Beating of Ovid

  • Nara, Dunwick, Bartleby, Humble in the underground tunnels, see Ovid and an earth elemental
  • Established communication with elementals is “Raise arms then speak then lower arms when done.”
  • “Bartleby, why are you here?”
    • I was enlisted by the town to secure the goblin frontier
  • “Ovid, why are you in the caves?”
    • “To investigate the theory that the origins of the goblins and dwarves are connected”
  • “Humble, what is the con you and Dunwick have been running?”
    • “We are museum curators, looking for more items to sell.”
  • Question to Ovid “Why is the earth elemental angry at you?” “Because I summoned him from the elemental plane of earth, where he was enjoying a nice lava bath.”
  • Ovid attempts to escape the clutches of the elemental, and squirms away with Nara’s help.
  • In helping Ovid, Nara is put in danger. She is pummeled, but her wolf takes the brunt of the attack.
  • Humble, seeing the massive scintillating gem on the elemental back, runs up its back, and plucks the gem out sending it skittering along the floor. Further enraging the elemental.
  • Bartleby charges in with fists of steel driving the earth elemental back into the stone.
  • Earth elemental erupts from the stone pummeling Nara and Bartleby
  • Humble secures the gem
  • Dunwick, Spouting Lore “- “How do you calm down an out of control earth elemental”
    • They like drum circles.
  • Ovid grabs his books and begins clapping arrhythmically (6- roll)
  • Humble, finding the uncollapsed torso of a fallen goblin successfully helps Dunwick drum a rhythm to ease the rage in the earth elemental.
  • Bartleby presses the attack, and the earth elemental is dispatched
  • As a consequence for banishing the elemental in the presence of the arriving emissaries oops, Bartleby must fight for his honor/innocence in Morholt.
  • As the elemental is dispatched back to its native plane, humble holds the gem as it seeps into primordial goo and dissipates.

Council with King Nara

  • As previously established the earth elementals return with diplomats.
  • Tero and Kulmala are emissaries of King Toyvo of the earth elementals
  • Kulmala emissary of Toyvo, Tero emissary
  • Conversation regarding arrangements to help the king
  • Earth elementals prize honesty
  • Through out the conversation Dunwick (?) Discerns Realities
    • What here is not what it appears to be? Kulmala is concerned that you won’t say yes; Tero is a diplomat
    • What here is useful and valuable to me? Kulmala and Tero work for different people
    • Who is really in control here? Kulmala
  • Dunwick hits on the earth elemental…after all their sexuality is complicated
  • Humble suggests that Tero tour the goblin troops while Kulmala remains with King Nara
  • Humble, having pushed one contingent on a military inspection, slinks away to hide from all the big nasties.
  • Kulmala says the king is a good king; Many, however, have born the cost of the battle with the darkness.
  • Kulmala says “The dwellings closest to the lava and magma are most valuable.”
  • Kulmala is an elitist a One Percenter if you will
  • Kulmala doesn’t want a silly deal with the goblins
  • Morholt, earth elemental city, has troops; Could be mobilized against the darkness, but king is sympathetic to populist movement; Kulmala is seeking a revolution.
  • Secure forces of the king, Kulmala would reward us with riches. Seek the king’s blessing to utilize the troops.
  • Do what ever it takes to get the king to leave troops with us.
  • As Bartleby, Nara, and Tero tour the goblin warrens
  • Bartleby discerns realitiesconcerning his upcoming battle.
    • What should I be on the lookout for? Reshaping the ground
    • What here is useful or valuable to me? Slow moving; stuff behind them catches them off guard
    • What here appears not to be what it is? There appears to be a central component about an earth elemental
  • During the tour, the baby dragon starts a fire in the kitchen. Nara barks some orders using the following custom move:
    When you tell the goblins what to do...On a 10+: Pick 3
    On a 7-9: Pick 1
    - They do it.
    - They don't fuck it up.
    - You don't have to hurt them.
    Roll + Str
  • She successfully commands the goblins.
  • Tero explains that there are devious and cunning factions within the city of Morholt
  • A little bit of Spout Lore from Ovid concerning the deep dark dragonLong ago in the times of myth and legend. Dark dragon Arja – formed from the dark energy summoned from the dark stones, power his black and ignoble heart. Reforging these stones in the dwarven forge to a weapon to defeat Arja.
  • The characters agree to journey, by way of the earth elemental shaping stone, to Morholt.
  • Only the earth elementals can bring the characters back.
  • Nara bestows Vizier status on the former goblin king.
  • And with that, the characters depart for Morholt.

Moleskin Maps: Volume 1 by Chubby Monster Games

Moleskin Maps

Moleskin Maps

Today I picked up a copy of Moleskin Maps: Volume 1 by Chubby Monster Games.

I’ve been following Matt Jackson’s work for awhile, and when I saw the free preview of one of the maps in the book, I was sold – especially given the $1.99 price tag.

The PDF includes 11 maps. Each map has two pages. One page is full page rendering of the map. The other page is a helpful worksheet with a 1/4 size image of the map and space to write down the Location Name, Background, Key Locations, GM Notes, Wandering Encounters, and Major Treasure.

The mapped regions are small and digestible; With enough space to flesh out an interesting monster lair. If you are going to make your first dungeon, starting with one of these maps – don’t forget free preview – would be a great idea.

The concept of the project is simple, the execution is fabulous. With the crisply inked maps and the “fill your own micro dungeon” mindset, Moleskin Maps is a fantastic addition to my gaming arsenal.

Dungeon World, Google Hangouts, and Tabletop Forge

Earlier this week, the ever energetic Mark Diaz Truman contacted me about playing in a Dungeon World game via Google Hangouts and Tabletop Forge. He was trying to wrangle up the participants from our GenCon Dungeon World session to play.

Jareth the Goblin King

Jareth the Goblin King

We were able to get most of the players together and decided to continue with the characters we had played.

Humble the Thief, Nara the Rangress, and Dunwick the Bard.

We had tried to bring along a new adventurer, Bartleby the Fighter, but Travis was having extreme technical difficulties and had to sadly bow out.

We had a three hour window to play, and spent the first hour or so shooting the breeze, working through technical difficulties and rebuilding our characters. After that, we were off.

And Mark threw us quickly into action. We had been working our way deeper into the caverns, and had spilled into the Goblin King’s chamber – the token for the Goblin King was Jareth from the Labrynth, and someone drew a pretty red heart around the token.

Questions were flying, as Mark asked our characters how they knew certain things. Dunwick loves reading lots of trashy serials, Humble listens to Dunwick’s nighttime ramblings, and Nara recalls the traditional tales of her northern ancestors.

We were searching out a small shrine to return to the surface, and another relic that Nara would know when she saw it.

One question, in particular about the Goblin King’s shaman was fantastic – though I can’t recall if was actually a question – the “answer” however was Dunwick pointing and saying “I thought we killed you.”

Dunwick was referencing the previous session, the one at GenCon, which the heroes had dispatched a goblin shaman. Fantastic! Here was a recurring foe, now stitched together through some foul magic.

With some quick parlay and some leverage, Dunwick was able to convince the Goblin King that we were going to usurp his throne, a contraption assembled from numerous traps that required sitting in it just right.

The Goblin King agreed to abdicate…if one of us could sit in the thrown without triggering the trap. Humble determined the traps, but being Evil sought to shift blame/danger onto Nara – after all she had evidence of Humble’s crimes.

Nara succeeded in sitting on the chair and became the new Goblin King – and Jareth accepted the terms. Nara also noted that amongst the treasure was the relic – a dragon egg – which we soon learned required being surrounded by treasure to prevent it from hatching.

King Nara’s first challenge as leader was that an earth elemental envoy was demanding an audience. The conversation was interesting, as Mark spoke slowly, and at one point Nara spoke during a lull. The emissary admonished Nara for interrupting and continued.

Dunwick observed that the emissary spoke until his arms dropped, as if in a sign of completion. The conversation went on, and it was determined that the dwarves drove the elementals out of their homes and the goblins now resided in ancient dwarven tunnels.

Ultimately the elementals and King Nara struck a bargain – both forces were going to join and defeat the encroaching darkness. The elementals, however, were going to take the shrine back with them.

During the exchange, it turned out that Humble had looted the treasure, and the shaman had fled with the dragon egg.

Humble, Nara, and Dunwick gave pursuit, and chased the shaman to the sacred burial pit – a previously established fact created during play was Mark asked Dunwick how the goblins bury their dead.

The shaman descended, and Nara gave chase – Humble again sought to put another person in danger and again it was Nara in a scene eerily reminiscent of the first session.

The moves began cascading, as Nara safely descended, but overtaxed the rope, and it began to give. Dunwick and Humble held onto the rope but the shaman was now attacking Nara.

A gruesome and tense conflict occurred over what, by all appearances, was in fact a bottomless pit. Nara was biting the undead shaman; Humble had begun descending the walls but had torn open the pouch to his treasure and had to choose help or save the treasure. Dunwick was peppering the shaman with arrows.

Eventually Nara and Dunwick were able to dislodge the shaman. And as the shaman fell, a massive shadowy dragon maw, consumed the shaman and we learned of the deep dwelling dragon of darkness.

Observations

ROSES AND THORNS

Marked wrapped up the session by saying “I like to go over Roses and Thorns. Roses are for things that went well either in the narrative or at the table. Thorns are for things that didn’t go so well.”

Most everyone agreed that the technical issues were a thorn. I recall most of the roses being related to the parlay with the King.

My personal Thorn was that I had created a very disengaging thief. I was Evil and marked XP for shifting blame. I also had a bond that basically said “Don’t pull Nara’s skin out of the fire.” So I’m thinking how I can resolve that bond and move forward.

After all a disengaged character is really a sad thing.

Questions Concerning Game Master Moves

During our initial fight with the goblins, each of our characters were narratively engaged with the enemy. Characters were making moves. And at one point Mark had the archers, who were ready to fire arrows, unleash their arrows and do damage.

This was different from how I’ve normally run my games, in that moves only come as a response to characters. So this “And now you take damage, even though you’ve been making moves” felt different from my normal GM style.

From a narrative stand point, Mark had established the archers. The characters were dealing with foot soldiers in melee, so I believe he was well within his right to make a hard move. Though I’m wondering if there should’ve been a question asked during the melee – “The archers are pulling back their arrows to let fly…what do you do?”

This is a very minor point of contention, but does raise a procedural questions concerning combats with many participants. Superior numbers should mean something, and being engaged in melee while enemy archers take aim is likely a dangerous proposition.

There is also the challenging of making sure the “active turn” passes somewhat equally amongst the characters – so following up a “Hack n’ Slash” move with the question “You hack into the goblin but see archers taking aim at you…what do you do?” could result in a weird distribution of the spotlight.

Technical Challenges and Kudos

Poor Travis, booted from the table a few times, was unable to join us.

The beta version of Tabletop Forge served us well, but there were points in which the drawings did not appear to render for everyone.

Otherwise, having voice and video, along with a shared table top, proved more than enough for a great game of Dungeon World. Does Google Hangouts beat face to face gaming? No. But it sure is great to have played with people I met at GenCon.

I don’t know how much I would like a very grid-based game via Hangouts, but certainly the loose narrative style of Dungeon World works great.

And we have another session scheduled – and it looks as though we may have another from the GenCon game.

First Steps for the Game Day

As I wrote about earlier, I’m exploring a Goshen Game Day.

This past week, I’ve been emailing back and forth with a venue coordinator to see about available dates. I haven’t signed anything yet, but things look good. My hope remains to have a game day in downtown Goshen on a Saturday during the winter months.

I’m hoping that there are lots of people seeking a day long distraction during the doldrums of winter – and are willing to pay to help me recoup costs and seed another game day.

Presently, it sounds like I will be able to get a 200 person facility for a reasonably good price – tables and chairs included. And when the venue says all day…they mean 8am until “have it ready for tomorrow morning.”

Once the ink has dried on the contract, I will begin hitting up game masters for running a session or two – I’m tentatively thinking of 4 hour slots. Before I went into this, including myself, I had two people who I knew would be willing and eager to run – Nick Garcia and myself. This left me a little nervous, as I am hoping to have at least 4 RPG games per time slot.

However, as I began exploring the options, potential GMs started emerging. These aren’t people I’ve contacted, but more “people who may be willing to GM.” As that number grew, my anxiety concerning having enough GMs abated.

It was all a matter of probability – going from 2 to 3 possible GMs is much larger marginal increase than going from 7 to 8 possible GMs. And if there are 8 GMs there is very likely 12 GMs. Whereas if there are only 2 GMs it seems likely that there are only 4 GMs and no more.

Turning Back the Clock

When my good friends Matt, Granger, Jeremy, and Bryan turned 30 oh so many years ago – 2003 I believe – several of us threw a 30-30-30 party. Thirty people, playing 30 different games, for 30 hours straight. It was relatively easy to coordinate and was a wonderful time.

In fact, two people ended up meeting for the first time and proceeded to get married later that year. With 30 hours of constant interaction, I figure they got about 10 solid traditional dates in a very quick time frame.

The 30-30-30 event was a bit different in that there were no role-playing games being played. Instead there was Settlers of Catan, 16 player Halo game, Princes of Florence, Puerto Rico, and a whole slew of other “Euro Games.”

Coordinating a day of GM-less games is so much easier.

Back to Present Day

I’m looking now, and everyone’s schedules are more complicated – the regular Monday night dinner and games at my house are a fading memory; Note to self, blog about the Monday night dinner and games. We can barely get our regular group together.

My hope is that this game day can take what is normally a private affair – namely playing games around your dining room table – and connecting them with other people who share common interest.

The extremely tentative schedule for the day is as follows.

  • 8am – begin setting up, making sure we have supplies (e.g. index cards, pencils, paper)
  • 9am – Slot 1: open the doors for open board gaming, GM-less RPGs (e.g. Fiasco, Microscope, etc.)
  • 1pm – break for lunch
  • 2pm – Slot 2: scheduled RPGs, open board games
  • 6pm – break for supper – Is this enough time for eating in downtown Goshen?
  • 7pm – Slot 3: scheduled RPGs, open board games
  • 11pm – wrap it up

One thing to keep in mind is that I will need to recoup costs, so the tentative costs are $5 per slot, or $10 for the whole day.

I’m also still noodling on family discounts, seeking out sponsorships, seeing if I can get coupons for local meals for that day, and just about anything to make this a great day.

School Daze by Tracy Barnett

School Daze by Tracy Barnett

From the inside cover text:

It’s 7:15am. The first bell rings in about 15 minutes. Where are you and what are you doing?

The Lead Up

At Games on Demand at GenCon, I had the privilege of recruiting players for Tracy and his  School Daze sessions. I would wager many in line at Games on Demand had no idea what  School Daze, though there were a few who eagerly jumped into the game.

And neither did I…though I assumed School Daze was a successfully Kickstarted RPG.

Tracy gave me the initial pitch line of “It’s Saved by the Bell the RPG” and after one of the sessions modified the pitch to “It’s an NC 17 version of a John Hugh’s movie.” Interesting.

After one of the sessions, I talked briefly with Tracy. I explained that I was interested in reviewing his game. Lauding the virtues of technology, he sent me a PDF on the spot. Tracy also said “It’s released under Creative Commons so I’ll need to seed the torrent soon.”

That alone had me sold on wanting to do a review. He was eager to put his work out there.

Presentation

The PDF is 66 pages [106MB] of full color glory. Brian Patterson, of D20 Monkey fame, provided the art. Daniel Solis, of “everyone wishes they had as many games rattling around in their head as Daniel Solis does” fame provided the layout. Elizabeth Bauman, of the IllumineNerdy and I believe regular host of #RPGChat on Twitter, provided the editing.

The art and layout compliment each other, invoking a sense of playfulness. I particularly like that section headers background images are abstract notebook doodles. I wish I would’ve asked to see a physical copy of the book, as I’m sure it is a work of beauty.

The Rules

School Daze is a rules lite system. Characters attributes are comprised of a Favorite Subject (i.e. Science, History), three Ranks (i.e. Skank, Wank, Flank, etc), a Motivation, and three Relationships.

Conflict

Resolve conflict conflict, or doing something risky, via a single d6. If the Administrator – the GM – asks you to roll.

If the conflict is related to your Favorite Subject or one of your Ranks would help you, add to your die roll. If you have a Rank that works against you or you have a consequence, subtract from your die roll. You can also spend a Gold Star – earned much like Fate points – to add to your roll.

If you succeed on the roll, then you narrate the outcome. Otherwise, the Administrator narrates the outcome – and you might pick up a Consequence for the remainder of the day.

For more on the mechanics, take a look at the School Daze homepage – it’s all there.

School Projects

The advice for a session is to establish a “Group Project” – other systems might call this the adventure. The Group Project requires choosing a theme, NPCs, and setting a time frame. Then start the ball rolling.

The Fluff

School Daze devotes the majority of its pages to NPCs and settings. There are write-ups of the principal, math teacher, ag teacher, etc. It really is an impressive collection of teachers and administrators with some immediately actionable motivations for each of them.

There are several example characters that can easily be dropped in as NPCs – each with a brief two paragraph description. So ample fodder for the halls during passing period.

There are 4 brief two page write-ups for alternate campaign settings each with a handful of unique hooks for game play as well as any requisite suggested changes:

  • Saved by the Hellmouth – Buffy the Vampire Slayer and X-Files
  • From Whom the Bell Trolls – Harry Potter
  • How the West was Fun – Wild West school days…with guns
  • 2101 A School Odyssey – Ender’s Game or Dune

The Verdict

I believe the rules are the absolute most bare bones rules required for emulating high school drama – quick resolution and the consequences of failure are really quite terrible for a given day; But those crippling consequences fade in time for the next day.

School Daze is not a game that I am itching to run or even itching to play. But this is a game that I will seek out in convention game play – the subject matter is “boring” and “petty” – or in other words the perfect ingredients for a Fiasco-style story.

I am also very much excited that Tracy is releasing the game under the Creative Commons license.