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Hook: With a Bang!

The Sudden Event hook gives players a short amount of time to introduce their characters to the setting (typically between a few minutes to half an hour) before throwing them into the middle of the action.

Boom!  This happens!  What do you do?  The pace is frantic and the characters are forced to react.  There’s no time to think, no time to plan and nothing will ever be the same for them again.

Perhaps they’ve been turned into a supernatural and spirited away for training by their vampiric mentors.  Maybe a bomb goes off in the bowels of the ship and they must now try to find their way out.  Perhaps they all just happened to be in the same newsagency when a heart attack drops one of the first zombies into their lap.  Or maybe the mouth to hell merely opens up and the tavern is awash in demons.

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To Bait a Plot Hook

One oft-neglected part of roleplaying games is to set an exciting hook. Most published scenarios are so focused on the meat of the adventure that they neglect to put much thought into the set up. Usually this is because the scenario needs to be usable by widely divergent gaming groups and so it can be difficult to find something suitable for a wide range of players. In many cases the introduction is overlooked as it makes up a very small percentage of the campaign and is easily forgettable. Plenty of Game Masters consider their introductions in the same light and fall back on newspaper clippings and fantasy taverns to hook in their characters.

And this is a shame because there are so many different hooks out there that can really make a difference to your campaign by evoking the right mood and setting up the right expectations.

The main three hooks include:

The Slow Reveal: The campaign weaves hints of some terrible future throughout relatively mundane quests, goals and complications in a way that builds anticipation.  The character typically doesn’t realise what is happening until they are already committed or caught up in the situation.  This hook requires some degree of active character participation so that they don’t leave the moment things get spooky but the characters themselves don’t have to do anything special to continue the campaign.

Start With a Bang: The campaign begins right where at the point of some great change in their lives that prevents them from ever going back to what came before (at least not until they have finished the story).  Often the campaign will begin a few minutes to half an hour before this great event to give the players some sense of continuity but there are few – if any – hints as to what’s about to happen.  This hook can make do with largely reactive characters as there’s no way for them to ignore this event.

The Bizarre Mystery: The campaign begins with a tantalising question so important that the players can’t just walk away without solving it.  This could involve a murder they need to investigate, a news article about some strange occurrence or a weird situation that happens around them.  This hook requires characters who will take a very active role as the characters can theoretically ignore the mystery with relative ease.

I’ll go into more detail about different types of over the next three Fridays so stay tuned for more in-depth suggestions on how to make these hooks work for you.

Can you think up any other types of hook?

Why Players Need to Read the Books

There are plenty of experienced players who find it hard to remember all of the rules and setting details peculiar to their game. That’s pretty normal. Some players aren’t keen readers, either, and would much prefer to learn through listening rather than going over the books. Some systems have dozens and dozens of different rule books and setting guides which is a lot to go through. Due to all of these reasons, there are plenty of players who don’t know the rules in the games they are playing and there are even a few players who boast about never having read the rule book.

The problem is that it’s important to try to learn the rules, even if you can’t remember them all.

It’s important because when a player doesn’t know the rules, they need to ask someone else to do it for them.

They are, in effect, adding extra work for other players or the game master to guide them through character generation / levelling up their character or get someone else to do it for them.  They are requiring other players or the game master to remind them about the things they can do which means that player or game master are also partially controlling two character sheets.  Sure, you decide whether you do the thing or not, but you’re not really getting to choose from all of your options — only those options that appeal to others or are so quintessentially your character.

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Creating Compelling Player Characters

Compelling characters make for a compelling story. Just think of the difference between the games run by a Storyteller whose characters can make you laugh, make you cry, make you fear for them … and the ones who would make a piece of cardboard look deep and interesting in comparison. The same can be said for the protagonists themselves — your player characters! After all, the PCs are what the game is about and they, by definition, have more screen time than anyone else. So if they’re boring then it’s not going to do the game any favours.

I’m not saying that every player character should be a work of art nor does a character need to be realistic to be interesting. Some of the most compelling characters ever made were larger-than-life characters.  And, obviously, different game genres and player / game master preferences are going to have an impact on the game’s needs for PC complexity so you don’t need to have layers of detail to make that character compelling.

So what makes a character compelling?

Motivation is a big one.  Your character needs to *want* something, ideally something related to the main arc of the story.  This motivation needs to runs deeper than a simple list of goals. This is what your character is searching for and it colours everything about them as the game gains in tension.  It can change over the course of the game, and you may need to change it pretty early on in reaction to early plot points.  A strong motivation often pulls from a powerful internal core such as an ideology or a base need for safety, companionship, trust, recognition or power.  While this central motivation won’t be the only thing that motivates your character, it should inform the other goals.

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16 Ways to Burn Out Your Game Master

When most people talk about Game Master burnout, though, they often talk about the gaming equivalent of Writers’ Block. We’re going to look at the nastier form of burnout defined in psychology where a person experience long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in a particular sphere of our life.

The Maslach Burnout Inventory uses a three dimensional description of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy, which opposes the psychological construct of Engagement which is defined by having energy, involvement, and efficacy. Basically, if you burn out your Storyteller, they’ll grow frustrated, cynical, feel down about their skills, and basically get sick and tired of running games.

It’s a pretty serious issue and one that can be self-inflicted as often as it can be caused by other people, with some Game Masters working too hard for too long to achieve something too difficult to accomplish.  Of course, since it’s more amusing to tackle a serious subject by writing a joke guide, I’m going to do just that.  So read below to find the best advice on how to actively burn out your Game Master.

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9 Ways to Deal with Splitting the Party

Occasionally players will send their characters off in different directions to try to save time by accomplishing tasks simultaneously (at least in game-time). Sometimes they’ll do this in response to a Game Master deadline. Sometimes it’s hardwired into the game such as when a Game Master purposefully splits them up to make them more vulnerable. Sometimes the player characters just feel like it’s a solid option regardless of Game Master nudging. While this often sounds good in theory (get more stuff done at the same time, make people feel vulnerable), a split party has a lot of logistical issues that get in the way.

A split party often means that tense scene will need to be snappy or you’ll either bore the uninvolved players or potentially throw off the pacing by swapping back and forth.  If the players don’t pay full attention to what they wanted to do, the entire scene might take longer as they have to be brought up to speed time and again.

Uninvolved players are likely to get bored if too much time passes or frustrated if you flick back and forth too quickly. They might turn to mobile phones or flicking through rulebooks or gossiping among themselves if their attention span isn’t ironclad — even if your game is otherwise riveting.  So what can you do to off-set this?

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Helping players out with Hard Mode Investigation

Investigation-based games are hard. You can’t just run up to the enemy and roll dice at them until they go away. No, you have to find the clues, understand the clues, locate more clues, understand them, then put together a picture and figure out what to do about it. Add a horror element and it becomes all the more brutal as mistakes can be lethal if the players don’t adequately search for clues before busting down that locked door to the room containing that shoggoth.

When these clue trails confuse and overwhelm new players it’s often frustrating for all concerned.

Introducing the Clue Token.

This handy little device can be rewarded for playing within the genre and can then be used to get players out of an intellectual bind.  You could reward them for looking before leaping, exhaustively searching the crime scene, making a point to interview witnesses in a productive manner, using ingenuity to solve problems, using teamwork to surmount obstacles, avoiding pain the way real people do, exercising caution rather than just trying to roll dice at a monster until it goes away, showing the strain of the horror situation in character, retaining excellent in-game focus, or anything else that really helps the game.

They can collect up to three of these little babies and then use them to get a free hint to do with the situation at hand. The hint could range from reminding them of their ability to search scenes, pointing out a connection between clues that went unnoticed or telling them that certain clues can be used as leverage against certain NPCs. It could even be used to negate a bad roll that meant they overlooked an important clue.  Maybe there’s something the character should know but the player doesn’t and it gives you an excuse to point out some skills on thiir character sheet.  Sometimes if the clue trail break down has reached a brick wall it might mean that you create a new clue entirely that helps the game move forward such as having the password to that computer written down on a post-it note tacked to the side.

I trialled this system years ago with a group of players who had little to no experience in the investigative genre of game and it turned out to be really effective.  I used the clue tokens from the Arkham Horror Board Game to represent them so that the players had a physical reminder at hand.  I gave them a single free clue token at the start of the session and told them that this freebie will disappear at the end of the night in order to encourage them to use them rather than hoard them. Otherwise they might have hoarded it and never learned the value of using them.  Later tokens could be carried over between sessions.

Do you have any hints or tricks to help out players with a difficult investigation?

10 Ways to Clue in Characters as a GM

So you’ve created a brilliant piece of investigative adventure write up which has a list of interesting plot points that all lead inexorably to the ending fact – a fact that will shake the foundations of the character’s reality. You pull out the dice. You hand out their sheets. Everyone takes a seat. It’s play time!

One flunked roll or neglected clue later and the characters are all scratching their heads and having a drink down the pub with no idea where they should go next. No problem! You introduce a handy NPC who’s figured out the clue and the team go to the next location only to completely misinterpret the next clue and run off on a wild goose chase.

So what do you do?

Continue reading “10 Ways to Clue in Characters as a GM”

Welcome to ARC Inc.

We started the Adelaide Roleplaying Community Inc. in 2014 so that we could bring a range of different games to fruition in Adelaide. We began with a single Vampire: the Requiem LARP campaign slated to go for 1 1/2 years and now we have murder mysteries, tabletop days, political games, sandbox campaign LARPs, terrifying events involving zombies and other horrors and games where you dress up as elves and hit each other with foam swords.

We’re hoping to put together as much information on various gaming organisations and meet up groups in Adelaide in one spot so that local gamers can find games more equally.  Hopefully we can also help people set up the games they want to run so we will also be posting weekly articles on local events, locally developed roleplaying games and simple advice articles filled with handy tips on roleplaying games both in tabletop and LARP form.

If you’re interested in contributing to this web-site, please contact us at adelaideroleplayingcommunity@gmail.com