Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Game Stagnation

While I've never had much of a problem with game stagnation, I have talked about it with other players and GMs. I hope to offer a few tips to help prevent your own game from going stale.

Game Stagnation- A slow down of general interest, drive and passion in a game. This can be the caused by a variety of events including (but not limited to): major story completion, lack of GM ideas, players tired of their own characters, lack of variety, redundant game types/styles, concurrent but non-associated off-the-shelf modules, etc, etc...

There are quite a few solutions to this problem, but I prefer to avoid it altogether as it can leave a sour taste in everyone's mouth. Here's a few tips to keep game stagnation from rearing it's ugly head at your table.

Run Away!!: As GMs, we put the players in dangerous situations all the time. Sometimes they aren't prepared and they run away. Enemies can do that too! Throughout any given campaign don't be afraid to let a few people escape. You don't need to think it out ahead of time, just let some guys run away and fill in the blanks later! This way, even if the "main story" is completed in your campaign, you have plenty of fuel to keep the game going.

- Maybe that escaped evil cleric was actually the Big Bad Guy's adviser. Maybe he was secretly raising his own undead horde behind his master's back. The confusing aftermath of the main story would be an excellent time to strike!

- Perhaps one of the generic guards or thugs encountered early fled in grief because the party killed his father right in front of him. Ashamed of his cowardice and seeking revenge, Deadguy Jr. seeks the council of a local witch who helps him make a revenge pact with some evil outsider.

- Towsfolk X remembers the adventurers from a previous game and seeks them out to rescue Towsfolk Y. In this case, keeping hold of game logs and notes can be very useful. Players love to feel connected to the world around them - "Hey remember when you beat up my cousin in that tavern brawl? Well he's gone missing!" 

Player Background: Before you start a campaign ask your players to provide background stories for their characters. Let them go wild! Remember, you share the world with them, it's only fair that they get to create pieces of it too. These stories can lead to major campaigns in themselves! In our current game, Brad is trying to figure out why his father -a legendary monster hunter- has devolved into a slobbering drunk. Luci, an avid entomologist, is searching for the mythical "ruby eyed emerald grasshopper," and Blanklee is trying to save his soul from eternal damnation!

On a side note, you are still the GM. Feel free to fiddle with player backgrounds in order to keep them on their toes. At one point, our "amnesia afflicted" bard was searching for his criminally insane identical twin and our thief was in search of the man who murdered her husband. About halfway through the campaign, they realized they were looking for the same man! If that weren't enough, as the heroes finally found the nutcase, he released his secret weapon... the truth! He told the thief that he didn't murder her husband, his identical twin brother (the bard!) did the deed! That was some downright M. Night Shyamalan $#*! right there!

As an additional tool, you should consider using the "3x3x3 NPC" technique in your game. I hate to admit it, because I was only reading about it a week ago, but I forget where I saw this idea originally. At it's most basic, you ask your players to come up with brief descriptions for 3 allies, 3 acquaintances and 3 foes. This gives you ample fodder to throw into any game or even to base an adventure off of.

Keep it Fresh: Did you just play 3 knock-down, drag-out adventures in a row? Break the cycle with a mystery adventure, trap dungeon or all-roleplay adventure. Take the players out of their element - put them underwater or in the clouds. Have them run into old characters. The point is - don't be a one trick GM. I may prefer comedies but I like to watch action movies and documentaries too. If you were a movie studio, the players would be customers, and customers like a little variety every now and then.

There are plenty more ways to keep your games from stagnating. Hopefully these few methods here will be useful to a few folks out there? What do you do to keep things exciting and fresh?

Until next time, Happy Gaming. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Crocodile Rock!

Our home-brew campaign features an Egyptian inspired race which are far removed relatives of the elves. One of our players (Tom) is a monk of this particular race and has had a hard time finding a suitable figure to depict his character.

Surfing around the mini sites I stumbled onto They have an excellent selection of figures in their online store, including Egyptian/fantasy themed armies! After browsing around for a bit Tom and I decided on a figure for his new character.

My wife was kind mega awesome enough to order it for me today while I was at work. Unfortunately she ordered the wrong one by mistake. I can't blame her - the product numbers were easy to mix up. I wanted WGE-140 and she ordered WGE-114. Phonetically, they sound very similar and I have been known to talk fast when excited.

The wrong (but still cool looking) figure. Image property of Crocodile Games.

I sent an email to Crocodile Games when I got home from work asking if I could swap out the products. My better half pointed out that they were both at the same price-point so I figured I would give it a shot. No harm in trying, right?

I imagine him saying "I love you this much!" Image property of Crocodile Games

Right! I received an email back in short time from Chris telling me it was no problem and that they would swap the figures out! I didn't have to amend my order or "return and re-buy" or any nonsense like that. I know it probably doesn't seem like a big deal to most folks, but I've had my fair share of nasty customer service experiences in the past so this was a pleasant surprise.

I'm excited to see how the figure turns out. I'll be sure to post an image when it's done. I'm considering picking up their Necropolis Guard set as well. They would make an excellent themed hit-squad or group of assassins (who may or may not be hunting down Tom's character, shh!).

On a side note, I was going to originally write " I received an email from a sales rep named Chris..." but after browsing the "About Us" section on their website it seems that I may have been talking to the head honcho of the company! Pretty cool stuff!
Until next time, Happy Gaming!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Whatcha thinking about? I stuff...

Just a few thoughts as the week goes on...

Firstly, while progress continues on my desert themed monster book, it is much slower than I anticipated. A single monster from scratch takes well over three hours until I'm satisfied with what's on paper and even then I sometimes feel a bit "iffy." But plod along I will, the hard part is almost done!

Next up, my wife and I have been discussing our vacation this year and are seriously considering attending our first game convention. We're thinking of attending Mepacon in November. It's not terribly far, but far enough to stay at a hotel and call it a "real vacation." It'll be a nice change, I spent almost all of last year's vacation time working on our house.

In game news from our table, this weekend's game will probably be postponed due to scheduling. It's a group 2 kick in the door style game and the first part of a mega-dungeon. Two (possibly three) players can't make it and I don't want them to miss the fun, or have their party mates hindered with lack of man power.

I've also noticed this Kickstarter floating around other blogs lately. I really enjoyed the trailer so I figured I'd show it here. It's a documentary on the history of Dungeons and Dragons.

That's all for now. Until next time, happy gaming!

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Inverse Metagame

Special note: I did not realize how long and boring this post was until after I typed it. I apologize in advance for this wall of text, but game theory is something I fully enjoy exploring.

I was reading a post from Cobblestone Chaos about meta gaming and got to thinking about it in my own games.

While meta gaming will always happen, we try to avoid it as much as possible. The players and I really enjoy playing things out as they should be - the PCs exploring a world of unknowns with only their skills and wits to save them. I am glad that I can be free to leave the adventure sitting out on the table when I leave the room. If I accidentally blurt out something that I shouldn't, I know they won't use it to their advantage. "What would [character name] do in this situation?" is a question asked more often by the players than by the GM and I wouldn't have it any other way.

There are occasions however, where it's almost impossible for a GM to get away with his nefarious schemes without giving his/her secrets away. These are the occasions where I pull out my own brand of meta gaming. It can't be so simple as a lie - that's regular ammo in the GM arsenal. It needs to be theatrical if possible. I find the greatest meta gaming payoffs occur when the seeds are planted much earlier in the adventure.

Say you have a villain that the players have not met. VillainX is a wizard with a penchant for abusing magic jar. The players first encounter him inhabiting the body of a local mercenary or townsfolk, leading a horde of minions. Before taking any mortal wounds, VillainX leaves the body and escapes. Rather than having the body fall to a lump on the floor, you add a little flavor.

"The soldier's body falls face-first to the floor, writhing in uncontrollable spasms. After a brief moment the seizure passes and he lifts himself unsteadily, his forearms shaking as they support his weight. He blinks a few times before speaking, "Where am I? What happened?"

While this might seem like simple fluff, it hides something much more sinister. The players will immediately realize that something is wrong and with a little interview and research, they will at least determine that he was charmed in one way or another.

Fast forward to the next encounter. VillainX has decided to inhabit one of the players! We don't roll a lot of secret saves at our table. I may ask the players to roll and not give them a reason but I rarely make rolls for them. This creates the unique problem that no matter what, (unless you insist on many red-herring rolls) they know something has happened. I pass a note to the afflicted player. It tells him to act casual, to pull out his weapon and act like it has some magical quality he's never noticed before, telling the other players to come take a look.

Everything goes down as planned except for one player -a new guy who doesn't trust anything- he immediately unsheathes his weapon and attacks his party mate. The jar'd player plays along and acts surprised as the rest of the party subdues the new guy. While they play it out a decent bit, I know the cover is blown. Everyone smells something a bit rotten that they can't justifiably role play around. Something is wrong with their companion and they know it.

Whats a GM to do? Easy, grow the seeds planted earlier in your adventure! Have the afflicted player fall to the ground, writhing and shaking just like the soldier from earlier in the adventure. Pass him a note describing what the experience was like in the magic jar and let the players go about their business.

Unfortunately for them, he was never released from the jar! Think about it. Wizards are smart people, they read giant tomes and cast complex spells, who's to say VillainX wouldn't trick the players into thinking their friend has been released from the spell? Using their previous experience with the soldier against them, VillainX pretended to release the PC from the jar in order to gain the party's trust! What better way to do that than to relinquish control back to the actual player? While the PC may think he's controlling his character, he is really playing as VillanX! Have the PC's make bluff checks or sense motive checks if need be and then WHAM, have the PC attack with the still unsheathed weapon!

GM tricks can be used to great effect to circumvent player knowledge or for any multitude of reasons.

-Have a one-trick pony of a wizard who just loves fireball? Place a room full of low-mid level baddies moving crates and barrels which (unbeknownst to the wizard) are full of oil or gunpowder!

-You could run a mystery-based adventure with tons of very obvious evidence pointing toward the wrong guy because he's being framed! My personal favorite is the werewolf/wizard who uses magic to frame others for his own crimes and then accepts payment for "killing the werewolf" who conveniently turned back to a human upon death.

-The old "double trap" technique. Trap makers, like wizards are smart folks. Players may find a pit trap and jump over it only to land on a different, perhaps much more painful trap.

Just remember to use stuff like this sparingly and only to help balance out the game. Otherwise the players will feel cheated and that's no good for anyone.

Thanks for reading, happy gaming!                 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Keeping in the loop.

Not a lot of riveting stuff at the moment. Progress on my desert themed monster compendium is going strong. I need to start thinking of a name, I have a few rolling around my head, so we'll see. I've also begun another project in collaboration with Ben, one of the players in my regular gaming group. He's going to be doing illustrations on a Pathfinder friendly "rogues gallery" style project. Just an index of villains with full stats, images and backgrounds. I have a ton of unique ideas and I'm really pumped.

We played our group 1-b game this past weekend. It was a blast, a game of many revelations! Luci, our gnome alchemist was brought out of a magical coma only to find a large growth on the back of his neck. You see, a good intentioned but completely insane gnome illusionist managed to implant his own consciousness into Luci's body in the form of a tumor at the base of his skull. Did I mention aforementioned illusionist has been dead for 200+ years? Everyone wants to cut the thing off but Luci won't let them. What does he know that they don't?

Additionally, our group's spellsword -Dr. Brad Acula- (that's his name, seriously!) had a run-in with his father. Unbeknownst to his party-mates, Brad is actually the son of the world famous monster slayer, a man of legend: Felix Dragomir. The normally sharp witted and able bodied Felix was not himself however. He was visibly intoxicated and was witnessed making a few shady exchanges with a local alchemist of ill-repute. What could be behind the legend's fall from grace? Brad aims to find out, but his father doesn't seem willing to tell.

The adventure itself was a heavily modified module from an old Ravenloft series. It ran too long so we stopped about halfway through. Scheduling with so many players is always an issue, but I can't wait to finish it up!

That's about all I have at the moment.    

Until next time, happy gaming!