All RPGs and Storygames by Tod Foley are now available at DrivethruRPG and RPGnow. Bring these games to your table!
There are moments in time where you declare that you will hold a position no matter what. You will not fall back. You pick your hill to die on. These can be dramatic and important moments. But there are other times when it is just as important to look back and realize how you ended up standing on that hill, and why you need to defend it.
When someone is comfortable, it is too easy for them to ignore the danger that others find themselves facing. A lot of us in the RPG hobby have been very comfortable for a very long time, and that means that we have allowed others to be subjected to dangers that they should never have faced.
Many of us have heard about people in the industry that are a problem. They are abusive and destructive. They treat those that they dislike terribly and make them fear for their safety using online terrorism. They make the RPG hobby a place that holds nothing for the victims of this abuse but regret. When these same abusers have any kind of gravitas in the RPG hobby, this also includes ruining careers and smashing dreams. Those abusers pull strings to make sure the industry regards these people as “unstable” or more “troublesome.”The Cycle
The abusers are terrible. But many of us in the RPG hobby have seen these tactics used. Many of us know the people involved. But when it doesn’t involve us, the problem goes away. If we never had the sights set upon us, we can go back to whatever corner we call our own and live our lives. Others dread any interaction online. They worry about when the next shoe will drop. Will someone get them fired from a project? Will hundreds of people send threats of physical violence or death? Is that strange person across the street someone that found out their address — someone that has decided that online persecution isn’t enough?
The damage that is done by abusers often isn’t defined as a single terrible incident. Often, it is a long term pattern that does not abate. It’s harm that is revisited every time that person looks at the things they used to love. Beyond the fear of violence and death, it is the theft of part of who they are, something they cannot revisit on their own terms any longer.
For those of us that have always been comfortable, it is very easy to point at the abusers when they come to our notice and say, “isn’t that awful,” and go about our business. It is much harder for us to look at ourselves in the mirror and say, “I let this happen.” When the evidence of the abuser’s actions is not in front of us, we forget the abused and their daily contention with the effects of that abuse. We can turn away when they cannot. We are complicit.
It sounds heroic to pick a hill to die on. It’s a grand gesture. It’s the heroic finale. But one hero dying on a hill doesn’t create change. Building a safe community that doesn’t let someone stand on that hill alone is what we need. Having a community that looks out for their own, so that no pack of predators can come for our own is what is needed. We need communities where we don’t need martyrs to remind us of the dangers that exist.Staring Down the Mirror
We need to make sure that the companies that we support are hiring diverse employees that are in positions of authority, so that they can understand the perspective of the marginalized. We need to listen to marginalized voices and believe them. We need to stop reflexively assuming that everything is fine unless presented with overwhelming evidence. When we are the ones in the comfortable position, we need to stop thinking that we, the comfortable, get to determine what constitutes real danger for the people in harm’s way.
Privilege is watching a fight from a distance and deciding if you want to participate. Privilege is showing up for the fight and assuming you will take the lead. Progress is knowing they are all your fights, and your job is to support others when they want to lead.
Too often, those of us that are comfortable descend from on high, get involved in one specific issue, then spend months patting ourselves on the back, while just behind it, more people are being abused and marginalized. This must end. No one deserves praise for doing what they should be doing. They just deserve to be chastised when they abdicate their responsibilities.
This is a microcosm of the world we live in. It is far too easy to ignore the plight of the marginalized because it doesn’t directly affect the privileged. We can’t run to games to hide from the rest of the world. Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1EmailThis is a microcosm of the world we live in. It is far too easy to ignore the plight of the marginalized because it doesn’t directly affect the privileged. We can’t run to games to hide from the rest of the world. The world and its patterns of abuse and systemic problems come with us. The patterns of abuse are part of us. Games can help us cope. Games can help us relieve stress. Games are not, however, separate from the worlds that gave birth to them, and they carry with them the same seeds that every other item born from a society bears.
I have long believed that one of the greatest aspects of roleplaying games is the ability of these games to teach us empathy. We continually put ourselves in the place of people that are not who we are, in places we are not. If we cannot engage that fundamental skill to make the spaces where we play more inclusive and safer, we lose one of the most precious gifts that this hobby can give us.
I love relationships in games. I’ve always been of the opinion that having relationships in your games adds depth, motivation, and to me, fun. I love playing family, friends, parents, children — and definitely romantic and ex-romantic partners. Adding romantic relationships to games gives them the same dimensionality, and also gives us a whole slew of tropes to play with. They’re an easy way to get investment and commitment from your players, and they can work as a great counterpoint to your main plot. In honor of Valentine’s Day tomorrow, I want to talk about my favorite ones, why they are entertaining to play, and tips for incorporating them in to your game!
Never embark on a love relationship with another character without their player’s consent, even if you intend it to be one-sided. Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1EmailPlease note that using romance in games requires good communication and expectation setting with your fellow players. Never embark on a love relationship with another character without their player’s consent, even if you intend it to be one-sided. As the recipient of any sort of romantic interest, that player gets to decide what they are comfortable with and what will be fun for them in the game. If they aren’t interested, respect that. The tropes listed here can help you create shared story goals for playing through a relationship, both so that you are on the same page, and so that you can get informed consent. Got another idea? Go for it, of course! But talk it out.
My other note is that because these relationships have the potential to be very emotional, I believe that safety tools are important for any game that contains them. Use whichever tool you like, but please make sure you have a way to revoke consent or call a pause at any point in your game. Here is a list of some of the most commonly used tools, and I can also recommend the OK Check in as adjusted for Turning Point.Hate Kissing
Hate kissing is the age old “we hate each other we hate each other we hate each other and we can’t keep our hands off each other” trope. It can work well for games where characters hold different belief sets — they’re always fighting, until that moment when passion takes over and suddenly they’re kissing instead. Don’t see how this works? It actually happened to me in college. A guy that found me very annoying at first (his own words) fell head over heels for me later. Strong feelings are strong feelings and the lines are closer than we like to think. Examples that work in play: characters who are at cross-purposes, like a notorious space pirate queen and bounty hunter etc. Characters on the same team with very different cultural values, like a paladin and the rogue. Cue emotional turmoil as your romantic leads (and the people around them) are faced with the conundrum of their budding relationship.One-Sided
The object of your affections does not return your interest. You may pine, moon, make sad eyes at them, or pass them love poems at the table. Please note that stalking is really not cool unless that’s specifically the direction you both discuss — clear lines and boundaries about what is or is not acceptable are important with this one.Will They Or Won’t They
The age old classic — they’re in love, probably! But so much dramatic tension! As the writers of this story, we know they’re probably going to get together, but this is the story of how they resisted it for as long as possible. To play this effectively at the table, you’ll need a strong reason they can’t get together, whether that’s some kind of personality trait, a strong belief, or outside circumstances. The key with this trope is that once they get together, there’s not tension left, really, so it should happen right near the end of the game in best dramatic conclusion, or at least in full Romeo and Juliet fashion where they can die in each other’s arms (also a very satisfying conclusion).Old Flames
They had a thing, long ago, and for some reason it didn’t work out. Duty called them apart or they lost each other in a storm at sea. Whatever it was, it wasn’t their choice, but they both moved on. Now, in this new phase of their lives, with new responsibilities and possibly other relationships, they’ve re-discovered each other, and the chemistry is still here. The question is, what will they do about it? Will they make space in their lives for this relationship again, or will it remain a sad and distant ghost?Exes
My last favorite relationship trope is exes. This is when we have tension in a different way — these two characters used to be in a relationship, but now they’re not. It might have been contentious. It might have been one-sided. There were probably hurt feelings. Now they have to work together again, and they’re probably not happy about it. They may have happy memories recalled with a twinge of sadness as well as fights that they fall into comfortably from long history.
I also have to call out some of my favorite games that create romantic relationships, many of these varieties, as the purpose of play. Star Crossed is a beautiful game of forbidden love from Alex Roberts. The Sky Is Gray and You Are Depressed is a story about a committed couple working through a difficult discussion and a secret from Josh Jordan. Yes is a forthcoming game from Wendelyn Reischl in which a nontraditional relationship succeeds. Shooting the Moon is a game of warring suitors and a beloved from Emily Care Boss in the Romance Trilogy. It Was A Mutual Decision is a game about the end of a relationship (and possibly were-rats) from Ron Edwards.
What is your favorite type of romantic relationship to play at the table? What are your best tips for playing characters in love? Have you had a famous love story at your table? What’s your favorite romantic game?
There are a lot of areas that are a part of the Airy Peaks, twenty-three last time I counted but I might have lost some and added some along the way that I’m forgetting about. These aren’t twenty-three rooms — they are twenty-four adventure locations. It’s intended to be a massive place and I wanted it to feel like that. In doing that I needed to solve a couple of problems when drawing it up. The first was how do I connect all the areas of the Peaks? The second was how can the characters travel the Peaks without it feeling like a slog? So let’s solve them.The Point Crawl
The point crawl is an alternative to the hex crawl and mapping out every continuous connection in a dungeon. It looks a lot like a mind map and connects larger areas to each other by lines. That’s how I initially drew up the Airy Peaks. In doing this I created some distinct areas as parts of individual mountains, but I wanted a way for characters to really get around so I created the Fire Tube Tunnels. These round tunnels are beneath the Peaks and connect all the lower and some of the higher area caverns. Within the Fire Tube Tunnels are also some larger caverns that aren’t in a mountain. I also had some of the areas outside of the mountains such as the Ever Burning Forest, The Remnants of the Great Forest, and The Vale of Bones. With that done I had connected the Peaks and had given a way for the characters to travel them, but the Fire Tube Tunnels created a new problem. There was never going to be a way to map them out. They just connected things. That meant I needed to decide how the characters would find their way around the Fire Tube Tunnels. My answer was the Town of Foot and a custom move.Foot
I talked a bit about Foot in the first article. It’s a home base that matters. One of the reasons it matters is because adventurers flock to the location, explore the Peaks, make maps, sell those maps, and learn rumors. One of the ways I evolved the story of the Peaks was letting the characters have maps that would lead them to new locations in the mountain range. These maps were described as hand written and were annotated by different adventurers depending on how old they were. The other side of the equation were rumors. The rumors were heard and shared over drinks at the Red Scales Inn. These rumors often prompted the characters to go on adventures to find whatever the rumors were pointing them to.
With maps, rumors and a move called Carouse, I had a lot of tools at my disposal to drop story seeds and adventure hooks to the characters. It made it really easy to prompt the characters into action, since most of them were looking go in after treasure. Even if they weren’t they’d just go look for adventure. With the maps and moves I had it let me improvise a night of adventure anyways.Moving about the Peaks
Now that I had a way for the characters to move around the mountain range and several ways to hook them into adventures, I needed to mechanize moving around the mountain range. So there were a couple of ways. I created a custom move for Navigating the Fire Tube Tunnels and I would also just let them get where they were going if they had a map that led them there. So maps were more valuable than rumors, and any place that was connected by the Fire Tube Tunnels that needed to be navigated had a mechanism.
In Dungeon World I used the move but in other games a random encounter mechanism could be used, such as roll a d6 and on a 6 you encounter trouble of the GMs choosing. That could even be modified to be roll a d6 and on a 3+ you encounter trouble of the GMs choosing. I had a lot of things that could cause trouble in the Fire Tube Tunnels. It could also be roll on a random table instead of the trouble being of the GMs choosing. That’s completely up to how a GM would handle it.
Here’s the custom move I used:
When Navigating the Fire Tube Tunnels have one person designated as the scout and roll + WIS.
- On a 10+ the party reaches the location without incident.
- On a 7-9 the party encounters something interesting. It could be trouble but it might just be interesting.
- On a 6- the party finds themselves in a difficult situation with the person who rolled choosing who gets the XP for the 6-. That member of the party is in a particularly difficult spot.
A number of years ago, I decided to try something bold with a campaign of the Kult horror RPG that I was about to run. I wanted to play around with past lives and the theme of duality, so I decided to run a campaign with two story lines that would eventually merge into one. I had the players create two sets of characters: one set for the modern day story line, and another for a historical story line to take place during 1864 in the southern United States. We would play two or three sessions using one character set, then flip to the other for the next few sessions. It was an interesting and fairly successful experiment, so I thought I would take this opportunity to share some of the learning from it with you.Avoid the Metagame Problem
If you want to try something like this, my first piece of advice is to allow the characters to be aware of what happens to their counterparts in the other time period. Whether it be through a dream, a flashback, a hallucination, or whatever, Character A-1 should know what Character A-2 is thinking, and what is going on. This allows you to neatly sidestep the problem of player meta-knowledge. When employing this method, things can get confusing for the players, and allowing them to not worry about what Character A-1 knows vs Character A-2 is a great help for them.
In order to do this successfully, you will need to have an in-game reason for why the characters are able to have this knowledge. Is one set of characters a figment of their others’ imaginations? Are they a collective hallucination? Perhaps the modern set are clones, created from the genetic material of the characters from the past. Is it a past lives situation? Are they really the same person? You have plenty of options, and though you don’t need to disclose the reason right away, you will need to eventually.How to Switch
You will need to come up with a switching mechanism. I have actually performed this exercise a few times over the years, and have tried a variety of methods. For example, characters can go to sleep and dream of the other time period. If you use this method, then you need the characters to sleep in order to switch back and forth, which can lead to some awkward timing (and characters forcibly trying to stay awake in order to keep the story centered on them). I have used sudden waking visions that last a random amount of time. These have the benefit of happening whenever I like, but it can leave the characters in a vulnerable position as they are suddenly rendered comatose for a number of minutes or hours while they have their vision.
The point is that every time you switch back and forth, you need a mechanism with rules that work in your game environment. You also need to realize that the players may attempt to manipulate those rules in order to control the timing of the switch.When to Switch
Two sessions? Three? Four? I have personally found 2-3 to be the sweet spot. You don’t want so much time to pass that the players have trouble remembering what was going on with a particular set of characters, but you don’t want to switch too often either, as players like a couple of sessions to “get into” their characters. I recommend that you start off by switching every 2 or 3 sessions and then asking your players for feedback. Do they want to switch more often? Less? Are they having trouble keeping things straight? Would they benefit from a better recap, perhaps?
The other thing to consider is the in-game point of the switch. If you have some control over this, a cliffhanger or the beginning of a fight is an excellent time to switch. Starting your session off with some action can be a big help to get things rolling and help your players get back into their characters.A Rich Inner World
One of the unexpected benefits of the two time period structure turned out to be the rich inner world that the players created with their two characters. When a character was out of the spotlight for some reason or another, the player would often delve into the inner world of the characters, reflect on what they know about each other, their potentially conflicting motivations, etc. They can specifically “tell” their other characters things that they can act on in the other time period. Sometimes this would even lead to conflict between a player’s two characters.Their Own Worst Enemy
Another unexpected delight was that some players will choose to have their two characters actively work against each other, while others will have them cooperate. When they work against each other, it is pure gaming gold. They will try to deliberately exclude themselves from conversations so that their counterpart won’t be privy to important information. They will cooperate with enemies in order to sabotage the other character. They will ask other characters to arrange for their counterparts to betray the character. It can get pretty crazy, but this is a great way for a player to exercise some agency and work against the other group. When their plans are stymied, they have only themselves to blame!Crossing the Streams
Eventually your story lines need to converge in order to provide a satisfying ending. This can happen in a number of ways, but the real question is this – do the two sets of characters get to meet? In order to decide if you will allow this, you need to consider the following:
- Your players will want this to happen.
- Your players will feel confused and overwhelmed when this does happen.
- It can be an excellent idea.
- It is a terrible idea.
I don’t know the right answer to this one. One thing that I do know is that when it happens, you need to be well prepared, your players should see it coming so that they can be well prepared, and you need to keep it short (one session or less). Two sets of characters is almost as bad as doubling the number of players in your game, and it can really bog down a game. Players have trouble keeping track of which character is talking, so use props or name cards to help indicate which character is speaking. Be sure that you, as the game master, have a tight control mechanism for ensuring that the encounter will come to an end because you don’t want it to go on for too long.
You also need to consider what purpose the cross-over serves. I have done this a couple of times now with a few different purposes:
- The two sets of characters meet and merge into one being, with one of the two becoming the “dominant” personality.
- The two sets of characters meet to confront each other, with only one set able to survive.
- The two sets of characters meet to confront an external threat and save the world, but some will have to sacrifice themselves.
You get the idea.
I am always looking for interesting ways to play with the structure of campaigns, and this is one of the more successful methods that I have found. It works particularly well for one of my favorite games, Kult, which really encourages playing with memories of past lives. What do you think of this idea? Have you tried something similar? Do you have any other radical ideas for different campaign structures? If so, I would love to hear about them!
Join Ang, Camdon, and Jared for a discussion on different initiative systems and different ways to manage initiative in your games. Will these gnomes act soon enough to keep them out of the stew?
Download: Gnomecast #59 – Roll for Initiative
The product Jared mentions is the Axe n Shield Initiative Tracker.
About Jabari in their own words: Jabari Weathers is an illustrator and game designer who currently resides in Baltimore, Maryland. They also are (apparently) under suspicion of being a goblin princet from beyond the veil. In order to keep up their glamor, they make art and narrative games for themselves.
You can help them maintain their human facade by checking out their artwork at jmwillustration.com and their game design work at lunarveil.press. If you wish to follow along with their more anecdotal adventures, they can be found on instagram (jmwillustration) and twitter (JabariWeathers).Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work? What project are you most proud of?
Hi Tracy, thanks for inviting me to do this with you! I’m a black, nonbinary scifi fantasy illustrator by day, and tabletop rpg/narrative game designer by night. I live in Baltimore and attended art school here (at MICA). Soon after I found myself making so many tarot cards for roleplaying game publishers. The work I’m most proud of in that regard is, in fact, split between making the 7th Sea Sortè deck art, and the Bluebeard’s Bride Tarot of Servants art. Both projects put together took 8 months for me to make the art for, which kind of scares me. As far as my game design work, I’m working on an epistolary game called A Dire Situation, which is essentially a really perverse game of telephone inspired by Dangerous Liaisons and other acidic period piece dramas. It’s a good time. You can follow my artwork at jmwillustration.com, my (announced) game design work at lunarveil.press, and me at twitter.com/JabariWeathers and instagram.com/jmwillustration~What themes do you like to emphasize in game work?
Existential tension, often the questions of identity and knowing who you are. I’m in a few different professional and creative circles that I simultaneously feel indebted to as far as my taste in media and interests, and feel not immediately welcome in, having to have carved a niche for myself within scifi/fantasy illustration and game design. I often try to find ways to take the kind of performative tension I feel as a POC in both circles and fold that into game design terms. It’s sort of like journaling. There’s a mechanic in A Dire Situation where everyone chooses a secret for another person’s character, but you don’t know what secret has been chosen for you specifically, even though your *character* is understood to be aware of the secret and you as a player get to see all of the available secrets that are in play at the table. The result is nobody is quite who they themselves think they are, and you end up having to question a lot about the entity you’re stepping into for the evening. I like trying to get people to question their fictional personas, anyway!How did you get into games? Who did you try to emulate in your career?
Actually I got into games through my mom, who played DnD when she was younger and never stopped consuming speculative fiction. She kinda just passed the genre interest on to me. I also grew up with cousins who played a LOT of video games with me, and eventually made my way toward titles that valued a kind of emergent design that tabletop RPGs are especially well suited for (for example, Thief, Deus Ex [I grew up with Invisible War and Deadly Shadows and played the earlier games in late high school and early college], Morrowind). In high school, my religion teacher (I went to an all boys Catholic high school), was really my first longstanding GM with 3.5, but I had been reading the books for a solid amount of time before that point. I don’t know if I tried to emulate any one person in my game design upon starting, but I did try to chase the same kind of player choice that Looking Glass Studios baked into their digital work (which they pulled from tabletop games in a lot of ways), as well as their interdisciplinary approach to game design. Look at Thief: The Dark Project against it’s contemporaries and you can tell that it was made by people interested in things outside of the industry that it was making an impact on. I love how Looking glass trusts it’s players and doesn’t hold their hand, instead giving them tools to let the experience emerge. I also love how their games had such odd and idiosyncratic approaches that really challenged the player. I still chase both things in the social landscape that tabletop RPGs create, and I really hope I make something that’s half as inspiring as that Looking Glass ethos was for me!
More recently, I’ve been owing a lot of the recent game design lessons learned to Marissa Kelly, Sarah Richardson and Whitney Beltran from Bluebeard’s Bride, and John Harper’s work on Blades in the Dark. The former is such an amazing study in how to get horror and tension to emerge, and how to bake unusual ceremony into a game. A lot of people are intimidated by it when they are used to simulationist style games, and many admirers of Bluebeard’s Bride also label it as “simple” mechanically, but there is *so* much happening in the social and emotional landscape of that game, so much that gets mechanized so eloquently. Every piece of vocabulary that the players (including the Groundskeeper) use is calibrated perfectly to the theme and discussions Bluebeard’s is meant to provoke. Blades does a wondrous amount of things with a swashbuckling setup by letting players pick the details of their abilities and tools on the fly, but making *everything* a resource management game. When some of those resources aren’t just ‘coin’ or ‘inventory’ but are ‘stress’, it becomes evocative in a game that I wish a lot of other action/adventure RPGs would be. Both also have a remarkable relationship to violence that ends up more nuanced than what I think the common examples of games present show to those not entrenched in the game community. I’ve been studying these both *very* closely, and trying to digest the things they’ve brought to my game brain rather deeply.Do you have any advice for others getting into the industry?
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, and do so in person! I try to go to events because I meet people and make fast friends when in the flesh, and those are friendships I really cherish and feel enriched by. Also, don’t underestimate how much you as (not a designer) are valuable to game design! A lot of my best game design ideas come from me essentially abstracting the anxieties of my day to day life doing freelance and being worried about the world into game mechanics and procedures, or finding the particular joys of the media I consume and turning that into a game. A Dire Situation started as an attempt to capture the unique feeling of watching people read things they shouldn’t have access to, which I always enjoy seeing in films. Get weird with your ideas, someone will cherish it and you’ll get to know yourself better through that, and don’t be afraid to share yourself before you’re ‘polished enough’. This industry is so young, and I think a lot of people curtail the considerable wisdom they can bring to it because they aren’t established, but that’s the way that communities grow best, when people exert the best of themselves in the truest way they know.What do you think the most important things in gaming are right now?
That’s a huge question, and I’m afraid of my answer being too succinct to pin down a lot of the things that I think are valuable and important that are shifting in this medium and the community that fosters it. Right now, there’s a generation of designers and gamers that are pushing to be *way* more inclusive in this medium, which is amazing because it’s such an empathy builder. With that, we’re seeing a lot of games that are reflecting that wider spectrum of experiences and needs at a higher frequency, and seeing that it’s getting good and wide reception. Games like Bluebeard’s Bride, Star Crossed, Mutants in the Night, and BFF:Best Friends Forever are challenging questions of who’s stories are told, who’s perspectives are shared and what kind of exchange do we expect from such a social medium. As things move forward, I think that kind of willingness and encouragement to lean into new experiences without apologizing to established patterns of play and design is going to only help this community grow faster and stronger, even with the anticipated challenges. This medium is showing very explicitly that Joy isn’t just killing goblins, and Pain isn’t just the threat of being killed by goblins, and that kind of emotional honesty is pulling the industry into it’s teenage years.
This also comes with a greater call for accountability in our community as far as social safety. There’s a lot more discussion of missing stairs, safe tables, and supportive gatherings than I felt just a decade ago as a teenager. A lot of conduct has been pulled rather painfully into the light, a lot of social patterns are under intense scrutiny at our tables and in this industry, and I think that’s rightly so. Being in this world, much as I love it, can be so quietly, exhaustively bracing, and the people that make up this industry should feel able to assert what makes them feel safe and when they are threatened. People are actively doing this in games and in the community, and that’s amazing.What’s your most meaningful gaming experience?
Generally, one that has enough trust to get uncomfortable. One where I can lean into the vulnerabilities of characters, and embolden fellow players to do the same. I look for kind of emotionally intense, bracing media, and I love feeling that way (or provoking that feeling) in a game. I want my assumptions shaken up a little bit, and, assuming it’s navigated compassionately and safely, I value going to dark places in games. It pulls a lot of the horror and strife of my actual world into perspective. I generally like my fantasy to reflect my reality and give me the vocabulary and process to make it better, or at least see it more clearly. There’s nothing wrong with lighter fare, but this is what will get my attention reliably.What’s the most important change you could see occurring in the industry?
More than a few, but paying freelancers livable wages (even if it means shrinking the density of content) is the big one. There’s tons of ways to unpack this, and tons of reasons that workloads are overweighed and underpaid, many being unintentional for the majority of the market. In some ways, that’s made it even harder to check. The flipside is that I’ve had ADs in the industry say things along the lines of “artists take (RPG work) on as a hobby, nobody is doing this for full time work” and that sentiment really blew my mind. So many really talented artists spending so much time, money and effort perfecting craft and that’s a sentiment that’s we might be competing against when trying to navigate to a workable and healthy architecture of work. I think there’s a lot of wanting to do better on the business end, especially in indie RPGs, but the whole industry needs to (and is trying to) go through that learning process. The continued challenge to stick with those better principles I think is an instrumental change to the community’s sustainability.Anything else you want to add?
When practicing magic, make sure to add salt!
And thank you for your time, Tracy!
While it is by no means an element unique to me, my earliest gaming memories are deeply intertwined with 80s media, given the time when I grew up. Freddy Krueger showed up in my Ghostbusters campaign, our group fought a Terminator when we played Mechwarrior, and I remember running to the basement to make up characters for a Top Secret S.I. game after watching a Rambo movie.
Shadow of the Century is a Fate Core supplement that moves the Spirit of the Century setting into the 1980s. It attempts to add all your 80s action movie and TV series tropes into a tabletop roleplaying game. I’ll admit up front, as much as I enjoy playing Fate based games, I never fully invested in Spirit of the Century. I am familiar, and have played with, a lot of pulp tropes, but I never felt confident enough to fully embrace the setting to run a game using the material.
How well does Shadow of the Century address the idea of running games in an 80s action movie setting? How well does it integrate these ideas into the existing Spirit of the Century setting? Let’s dive in and find out.The Fate Core Manuscript
This review is based on the PDF of the product. The PDF is 214 pages long, with a page for the character sheet, and an Evil Hat ad, and a six-page index at the end.
The book has similar formatting to other Fate Core books, and the interior line art is full color. The style almost reminds me of the John Buscema/Tom Palmer artwork in the 80s Avengers comics, with less weight to the lines, but more lines for details in the art.
There is a clever tweaking to the standard Fate Core formatting, as the color choices and page numbers in the book are a nod to 80s design conventions, while the headers and structure still follow the established trade dress for Evil Hat.The World We Live In
The opening chapter of the book has a brief summary of the established Spirit of the Century setting, then introduces the differences in the setting moving into the 80s, with elements that have changed between the original material and Shadow of the Century. All the broad elements mentioned in this introduction are further expanded upon later in the book, but it’s a good, quick explanation of the setting and how it relates to the earlier era.
In broad terms, the setting has moved from a handful of people born at the turn of the century to embody certain zeitgeist, with their own organization that opposes the World Crime League, to a setting where the old Spirits are hunted criminals, and the heroes come from all walks of life (expanding walks of life to accommodate for 80s action movie walks of life like wandering martial artists or lost time travelers).
Evil doesn’t all belong to the same over the top organization but is broken up across several (slightly less) over the top organizations that are deeply entrenched into politics and business across the world.
Also, it really sets the tone of the setting to know that Variable Hyperdimensional Simultaneity (VHS) is a term used to measure how much mathemagic has caused time and space to be warped.The Pitch Session
Something that is often a strength of Fate products is that the themes and structures of the campaign are often explicitly spelled out at the beginning of the campaign. While many games will have sections that discuss setting expectations and getting buy-in, Fate products often mechanize this step in a very specific way, and Shadow of the Century continues this tradition.
In Shadow of the Century, the group will be making decisions on what kind of structure the campaign has, following the structure of a movie or a series. This will create a different feeling and will trigger different advice. There are actually a few rules presented in the game that differ based on this decision as well.
The group will then collaboratively decide on “the Man,” which is one of the entrenched group of villains that their story will involve. The group will come up with issues (which have different guidelines based on series versus movies), cast members, and villains. It is important to note that all of this happens before the players make their characters.
Phase Six: Heroes I’m calling this section out specifically, because there are a few differences between how you create Shadow of the Century characters and Fate Core characters. While it doesn’t use the 1 for 1 stress boxes that some more recent Fate releases have used, extra stress boxes aren’t granted for skills, but can be purchased during character creation. While characters have a Trouble, a Call to Action, a War Story, and a Team-Up aspect, the last two aspects are called out as aspects that can be created in play later. This addresses some of the aspect overload that Fate Core introduces with its default character creation.
It’s also worth noting that there is a full-page discussion on 80s characters and the overreliance on cis white male heroes. It’s a call to action to keep the fun, crazy things from all the 80s stories you are emulating, but to do a better job of including marginalized people in important, and starring, roles.Who Are You, And What Do You Do?
Shadow of the Century also introduces roles for characters. Those roles all have specific stunts that play into the overall theme of that role. The roles introduced in this chapter include the following:
- The Brain
- The Brawler
- The Cop
- The Detective
- The Dilettante
- The Face
- The Hacker
- The Inventor
- The Leader
- The Ninja
- The Saboteur
- The Soldier
- The Spy
- The Thief
- The Warrior
- The Wheelman
This is the section of the book that introduces the rules that surround montages. The Ad-Mon-Tage, the Challenge Montage, and the Milestone Montage all have separate rules.
An Ad-Mon-Tage is a montage used to generate a bunch of free invokes on aspects that revolve around getting ready for a specific known threat. The Challenge Montage is similar to some of the group check rules in Fate Core, where characters are trying to do “something” narratively, and the number of successes from the PCs engaging in their montage determines how well that “thing” gets resolved.
The Milestone Montage involves punching beef so that you can borrow the benefits of your next milestone to use for a confrontation. Figuratively speaking. Or maybe literally. I’m not going to tell you how to montage.Going Gonzo
This chapter introduces the Gonzometer, the Gonzometer level, and Gonzo feats. It also touches on creating a Centurion, the special characters that have previously existed in the setting, and who operate on a special level no matter what the Gonzometer is in the current scene.
The Gonzometer can be set from 1 to 3, with 1 being the over the top, but not quite supernatural level that a lot of 80s action movies and TV series portray. You might have a talking car (which is totally justifiable by science, if you think about it), but aliens and magic may not be an element. At 2, more fantasy and sci-fi elements may show up, but those elements are noteworthy. At Gonzometer 3, everything is crazy.
Characters can be Gonzo characters and spend their feats to build Gonzo feats to play into that theme. Gonzo feats have different levels, and if the Gonzometer of the current scene is lower than the tier of effects that you are attempting to use from your Gonzo feat, you must spend Fate points to make up the difference to trigger the effect.
Gonzo feats and how they interact with characters showcase one of the biggest strengths and biggest challenges of Fate based games. There is an example Gonzo feat, and a lot of advice on how to build Gonzo feats, but a lot is left up to the player and the GM to custom build for the character concept. That is both great, from a character customization standpoint, and challenging for people that don’t feel they have system mastery of Fate enough to “balance” the tiers of their stunt.Your Character Goes to 11
The next chapter of the book addresses character advancement. This involves the standard Fate concept of Milestones, but exactly what can change will vary, and there are different sets of Milestones for episodes, movies, crescendo milestones, season finales, rising action, and confrontation. There are also milestones introduced for villains and Methuselah Fragments.
That all probably sounds more complicated that it is. The episode milestones are generally minor milestones. Crescendo milestones are important, goal-based milestones. Season finale milestones are important milestones that are triggered by closing out a season arc, while rising action and confrontation only come up in movies, being triggered when characters realize who they are fighting, and when they get ready to bear down on their final fight.
Villain milestones track how the organization’s goals are progressing, and if one of their goals is no longer attainable. Depending on how things progress for the organization, it may change in scale, and if it’s low enough when the villains drop in scale, the villain organization disperses.
Methuselah Fragments go into one of my favorite aspects of the setting. Doctor Methuselah is a character that has rewritten reality multiple times to maintain his immortality. This has resulted in fragments from other realities that he has overwritten to appear from time to time, causing weird rifts and changes, and it also means that there are multiple versions of Doctor Methuselah in the setting. The Methuselah Fragment milestones are only used if this plot element is a major part of the campaign and tracks how reality is warping and changing based on who has interacted with one of these fragments.Say Hello to Our Little Friends
The next chapter of the book addresses how to stat out extras, mooks, mobs, lieutenants, shadows, NPC Spirits and New Wave Heroes, and monsters. In addition to the descriptions on how to stat these different style characters, there is advice on the actual purpose of the different types of characters and how they should be used.
One of my favorite parts of this chapter is the roles for the Shadows. The Shadows are the leaders of the evil organizations in the setting. The Shadows all have the following roles instead of individual skills:
It’s a nod to an 80s trope where supervillains are almost always omnicompetent. If you are awesome enough to run an evil villain organization, you are at least moderately competent at all these roles. Business leaders know what their scientists are talking about and know how to shoot people in the head. Ninja masters know super science. Mega-criminals know how do use military grade hardware. It’s so 80s.Bringing the ‘80s to the Max!
This chapter touches base on 80s-based themes and what exactly from the 80s the game is trying to capture. I like this, because it is very easy to think that your nostalgia or knowledge of an existing period is going to carry you through portraying an era. It is much better to make sure that everyone is on the same page about the tropes and themes that are specifically being addressed.
In addition to discussing the tropes that are at play in the setting, I enjoyed the idea that it examines lots of these tropes both from a generally positive side, and from a more destructive, problematic direction.Something Strange in the Neighborhood
I tend to like when core rulebooks or setting books have a sample adventure, because I like the example of how the designers expect the game to work. One place where Fate products often shine is that, instead of having a sample adventure, they often have adventure ideas and described campaign arcs. While not as fleshed out as a sample adventure, getting more of these outlines provides more of an idea what types of one-shots and campaigns play to the intended design of the setting.
In Shadow of the Century, we get about nine different paragraph-long ideas for one-shot adventures, as well as three campaign frames — general ideas for who the PCs are and what they would do over time. The example campaigns are:
- Team Black (with a general A-Team vibe)
- The Sentinels of Science (with strong Buckaroo Banzai overtones)
- Anna and the Kareninas (Sort of Jem/Josie and the Pussycats with Robin Hood overtones)
The campaign frames provide sample characters as well, so it’s possible to just take the pre-generated characters and run with it. They are a few examples of Gonzo stunts with some of the sample characters, and kudos for using the term “synergy” on the character sheet for one of the Anna and the Kareninas characters.The Greater Universe
This chapter dives much deeper into the lore of the setting, how it connects with Spirit of the Century, and how various moving pieces fit together with other moving pieces. It provides a lot of inspiration, but given the assumed campaign structures, it’s not mandatory that anyone fully engage all the deep lore and interplay going on in this chapter.
One thing I will say up front — given the idea of Doctor Methuselah and the multiple alternate realities and reality fragments, I love the idea that you can’t have continuity errors. I mean, you can, but you can also just say “Methuselah Fragment” and get on with your day.
Overall, the villains belong to one of the following broad groups:
- The Kroll’X (aliens from another dimension)
- The Gentlemen’s Agreement (various crime organizations that don’t exactly work together, but agree to not get in one another’s way)
- The New Science Party (Evil politicians—It’s not always redundant to say it that way)
- The Board (Mega-corporations with agreements to carve up global markets and control everything through commerce and consumerism)
This chapter also introduces the Golden Seeds, organizations that might be helpful to the PCs, and carry on some of the legacies of the Centurions but may also serve as rivals or opponents if the PCs don’t oppose The Man the way their organization would prefer.
In addition to introducing the broad elements of all these groups, there are individual crime families, corporations, and sub-groups discussed, which can help to point GMs towards which elements of that faction are the most useful for their campaigns, and to hint at inter-group rivalries that can be played up in longer form series.Pick Your Poison
This chapter is filled with example characters that can be used as pre-generated PCs for a Shadow of the Century game. Beyond their skills and stunts, they only have a High Concept and a Trouble, leaving several aspects to be filled in, and none of a specific history or name assigned to them. The archetypes presented are:
- Army of One
- Coolest Kid in School
- Earthbound Alien
- Fugitive Android
- Loose Canon
- Martial Artist
- Sorcerer for Hire
- Teenage Werewolf
- Time Rider
- Unlikely Chosen One
The Earthbound Alien, Fugitive Android, Sorcerer for Hire, Teenage Werewolf, Time Rider, and Unlikely Chosen One include a few more examples of Gonzo stunts, for people that want them. It’s also easy to mix and match these pregens with the more fleshed out characters in the campaign frames, to have a good range of pregens to jump in and play with the setting, necessitating less work on the front end.Be Excellent to One AnotherShadow of the Century does a great job, not only with invoking nostalgia, but with defining what the setting is about, and what tropes are at play. It provides villains and organizations that are both suitably 80s, and iconically vile.Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1Email
Shadow of the Century does a great job, not only with invoking nostalgia, but with defining what the setting is about, and what tropes are at play. It provides villains and organizations that are both suitably 80s, and iconically vile. It does the work of helping the table set up the overall campaign and provides tweaks to Fate Core to play to the pacing and themes present in the setting.I Know You Are, But What Am I?
While I don’t think these things are bad, overall, Shadow of the Century still retains some elements that I have seen beginning Fate players struggle with, such as custom-building stunts, and retaining different value stress boxes. While it specifically calls out the less inclusive elements of 80s media and entreats the table to avoid these, there isn’t a specific safety section in the book, and for the era where R rated cinema was deeply entrenched in the cultural zeitgeist, that may have been a worthwhile section to include.Recommended — If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
I freely admit that this might be due to the circumstances of my birth, but I am way more invested in this period of the setting than Spirit of the Century. I generally enjoy pulp tropes, but I think the idea of passing the torch from the golden age to a more jaded “modern” era really resonates.
I think this is a solid, broadly appealing Fate supplement, but in addition to that, it is a great overall sourcebook for a general 80s action setting, which even non-Fate players may enjoy reading. Unless you have no use for any 80s based campaign elements, or more modern action-based roleplaying, I think this purchase is going to have value for anyone picking it up.
What eras do you think would make for great gaming? What tropes define those eras, and what kind of campaigns would you picture for those timeframes? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Last time I introduced the Airy Peaks, talked about the premise of this megadungeon, and the way I found to have a successful campaign around a megadungeon that lasted. Check that out here:Welcome to the Airy Peaks. Today I want to dive into the Dragon’s Plot and how that can help inform the story of the megadungeon known as the Airy Peaks.The Dragon’s Plot
From last time, we know the fearsome dragon Eyetog is trying to become a death god – some dragons just have ambition after all – and he already has a plan for how to do it.
- Consume a god of death
- Collect enough energy to ascend
- Fashion himself a body that can hold the energy of a god and infuse that energy into the body over time
Each of these tasks has its own complications or if it’s already been done, has left an aftermath of some sort in its wake.Consume a God of Death
Gods are no joke, even to mighty dragons. I knew this when I started planning it out so I just decided it had already happened and the gods of this world weren’t super important, only that a death god wasn’t around anymore. It could possibly be a clue later in figuring out what Eyetog was up to, and maybe a clue in determining how to stop him. In the end the Dead Gods of the world of the Airy Peaks became a living breathing part of the campaign, inspired and created by one of the players at the table because of a move on their playbook. I took that inspiration and we went pretty crazy with it. That led to the story of a god of death of a mostly forgotten pantheon of gods having been summoned by Eyetog and then consumed in a great battle within the Airy Peaks.
I didn’t have that when the campaign started. I did have an idea that magic was weird in the Airy Peaks and that the barriers of existence were thinner. What I didn’t have was a why for that. I like having whys. It helps when players ask questions that need answers. It means I have something I can improvise on. The death of a death god and the fight this god and Eyetog had were a perfect reason for the oddness of the magic in the Airy Peaks, at least the reason the barriers of existence were thinner. There is another reason magic is so bizarre in the Airy Peaks and I’ll get to that right now.Collect Enough Energy to Ascend
Energy is not the easiest thing to come by and when you need enough energy to become a god we’re talking about over-the-top amounts. I also didn’t really want it to be a timer or anything in this campaign. When the characters finally got to the dragon I wanted it to be a throw down with the worst thing they’ve ever run into in this game, not something they could really thwart without having to fight it. This meant the collection of energy had to be a story beat and an oddity of the Peaks.
I also had this vision of the caverns of the Peaks all being suffused with a low level of light radiating from the very stone of the surfaces, casting the characters in an orange glow. With that imagery and the idea of needing a ton of energy I came up with this:
The Airy Peaks are a giant soul battery. Anything that dies within the mountain and it’s nearby outskirts has its soul drawn into the stone of the Peaks for Eyetog to consume as he grows.
Deciding this made two things make sense for the setting.
- Magic is weird because there’s so much ambient energy around, so wild effects can occur pretty regularly.
- There’s always this low level glow in most of the caverns. If there’s not it’s because some other magic is suppressing it or that part of the mountain has died for some other reason.
I needed Eyetog to not be involved right away – at least not his dragon form – so I decided he was sleeping on his giant horde of treasure somewhere in the mountain. I decided he was doing this because to become a death god you can’t just suck up a bunch of energy in five or six minutes. If you did that you’d explode. I mean someone else could just decide that is how it is but it didn’t work for my personal head-canon or for the playability of my setting, so I decided to go that way.
Once I decided this I asked myself, “Well, what happens if a party of adventurers finds his lair? Do they just stab him in his sleep?” Probably not. If this dragon was smart enough to come up with this idea, he’s probably smart enough to protect himself.
Now I get to where the rest of the monsters in the complex come in. Eyetog needed help, so I gave him assistants and guardians. A lot of them actually. Then I wanted a story for why these guardians would even come here and help Eyetog. I also needed a way for more monsters to replace the ones who were killed by adventurers. I mean part of the plan is to feed souls to the soul battery of a mountain. So how to solve this problem? The White Fangs and Many Eyes.The White Fangs and Many Eyes
The White Fangs are one of the aspects of Eyetog’s personality that he learned how to split off and give a semblance of sentience. These White Fangs are a spiritual entity. They can communicate, grant power, and invade the dreams of creatures of a less savory morality. This is the way Eyetog can reach out into the world to recruit creatures for his plan. He invades their dreams, finds out what they desire, and offers it to them in exchange for service. He’s essentially making Faustian deals with many creatures, luring them to the Peaks — one such creature is Many Eyes.
Many Eyes is actually a decrepit entity that’s lost the use of their body, has become feeble, bitter, and yet, they can see everything. This creature has a power to manifest some eyes and control the eyes of any creature it kills. These eyes that float about – often in a swirling mass or flock – allow Many Eyes to see everywhere, can fire eye beams with a large variety of effects, and can phase through solid objects as if they weren’t there at all.
Eyetog promised Many Eyes a functioning body as soon as Eyetog achieved his goal of godhood, in exchange for helping keep an eye over his Airy Peaks. Many Eyes serves as spymaster, informant, general, and horrible adversary to any who would oppose the dragon. The worst part is no one knows that Many Eyes’ true form is that of a feeble old body hidden deep within the Airy Peaks. There, behind a metal monstrosity of gears, fire, and magic, Many Eyes watches, plans, and moves the machinations of the White Fangs forward — all while hoping to someday soon have personal autonomy once again.Two of Many
The White Fangs and Many Eyes are just two of the many creatures which exist in the Peaks, but all of them have reasons for being there. This is just giving creatures reasons to exist in places. It can help with improvising a game or having interactions when you’ve decided you need a different beat in your game since you just had four fights in a row. Then again you can just dispense with all the reasoning and just put those monsters in the way for your players to bash and let the story come from there.
Next time I wanna talk a little about the Airy Peaks’ overall map, and the numerous caverns that exist within. Until then I hope you find a little adventure in your lives and let me know what you think of the Airy Peaks so far.
The header art is by Drew Smith
Hey folks. This will be a series of articles that shows off the Airy Peaks, a fantasy setting. Over the course of several articles with the Airy Peaks tag, you’ll find a bunch of stuff you can use in your fantasy games, including but not limited to a town called Foot, maps of the areas of the peaks, NPCs, magic items, stories of the peaks, adventure seeds, rumors about Eyetog – the great red dragon that once ruled over this small mountain range, adventure hooks, and interesting things you can use for your games.
To begin let’s start with a story.The Legend of Eyetog & The Airy Peaks
Eyetog the terrible is the most fearsome dragon that has ever existed. For thousands of years he’s been known as the ender of ages, the taker of treasures, the eater of heroes. It was pay tribute to the dragon or have your nation destroyed by fire. As of today no one has seen the dragon for 50 years.
Some thought the dragon might have died, others believed he just retreated to his lair in the small mountain range to the north known as The Airy Peaks. After 30 years, adventurer’s became curious and made their way to The Peaks to find out for themselves. Inside they found the mountain range had been hollowed out. There were miles of caverns and tunnels of smooth stone that glowed with energy. The stone looked as if it had been shaped and melted by dragon’s fire. There was also treasure in those caverns and it was guarded by all manner of monster and horror. It became a siren call to adventurers.
Soon after a small town called Foot was established and it became a haven and base for adventurers to make their forays into the mountains. Many died. Some became rich. Stories and legends were born. This is the Airy Peaks. What legend will you leave?The Premise
The Airy Peaks is a massive dungeon complex. It was created to run Dungeon World, which is a game I very much adore. I’ve used it to run a number of one shots, Long Cons – convention games where two or more consecutive sessions tell a longer story with the same characters and players, and several campaigns. This means you can use it to run games in a variety of situations, but it’s dungeon crawling at its core. There’s a town. There’s a dungeon. You’re supposed to go into the dungeons, explore, find treasure, return to town, spend your coin, go into the dungeon, and now you see the cycle.How to do this effectively
I’ve been fascinated with dungeon crawls my entire life and especially the mega-dungeon. My problem has always been how do you tell a compelling story around the idea of these dungeon crawls? My answer was the Peaks.
- Step 1. Variety
To start I wanted to make sure the dungeon was compelling and had a number of areas. When I started, the Airy Peaks had eighteen different cavern complexes for adventures to explore. These were not all highly detailed. A lot of them were just the name of the cavern complex, like The Dragon Fire Forges or The Mushroom Cavern. Some were drawn out and more detailed to begin with, like the Wild Caverns and the High Halls. In either case I had a lot of places the characters could explore and travel when we started.
- Step 2. Evolving Ecology
I also decided that each of these cavern complexes wouldn’t just be stagnant. They’d have evolving situations based on the things that happened around them or too them. So if adventurer’s went into a cavern and cleaned it out, the cavern would eventually be repopulated by different monsters. For example there’s the High Halls.
The High Halls have a very tall ceiling and when my Airy Peaks Campaign started it was inhabited by a tribe of Hill Giants. Once those giants were dealt with, a tribe of Cyclops moved in and took the place over. The High Halls are adjacent to a huge cave area called The Wild Caverns. When the giants were there the characters could encounter giants in The Wild Caverns. When the Cyclops moved in they were up for random encounters in The Wild Caverns. This made the ecology of The Peaks an evolving thing.
- Step 3. A Home Base that Matters
The next step was to make the town of Foot a living, breathing place that had a purpose. It’s an adventurer’s town and is there to service adventurers. It’s sort of like a resort town and tourist trap for adventurers. It’s a place for adventurer’s to bring their gold to and spend it on carousing, getting into trouble, gear, the bath house, the pleasure boat, bribes, information, and whatever else an adventurer can think of.
The place was also filled with a number of NPCs that had their own agendas and desires in the town. Some of them even belonged to the Cult of the White Fangs, which worshiped a spirit aspect of Eyetog. To go along with those NPCs who lived in Foot, I also had a bunch of adventurers who were also delving into the mountains. They would have their own stories of exploits in the Peaks and sometimes they wouldn’t come out. This helped to show that the Peaks weren’t a kind or forgiving place.
- Step 4. The Dragon’s Plot
Here’s the spoiler about the Peaks. Eyetog is trying to become a god — a god of death to be precise. The first thing he needed to do was discover the way to become a god of death. He already has when the campaign began and set up his situation for this plan to succeed. Here’s what else he’s already done or needs to do:
- Consume a god of death
- Collect enough energy to ascend
- Fashion himself a body that can hold the energy of a god and infuse that energy into the body over time
Next time I’ll talk about how the dragon’s plot helped shape the Airy Peaks and gave me the flexibility of steps one and two. I hope you enjoyed this and if you have any questions I’ll do my best to answer them in the comments below.
Header art is by Drew Smith
Not everyone uses ambient music during their tabletop sessions, and it really should be used as a tool whenever possible. Background music holds the power to change even a mediocre reveal into a grand revelation! Music has transcended being a pleasant tabletop accompaniment, evolving into a must-have in any GM’s arsenal.
Background noises are nothing new to Tabletop RPG’s. In fact, everyone and their brother has already written articles on the subject, but most miss the point of how it actually influences the game, the players and the world around them. I set out to prove that it is an important tool for any GM. I can dictate, using examples, how music can set the tone, fill in the setting, influence your players, or build tension.Set Some Scenes
Let’s bring in some examples. An instrumental version of Smash Mouth’s “Walkin’ on the Sun”
plays in the background as the characters arrive at school, ready to serve a Saturday detention. PC’s can absorb the lighthearted-pop song giving them a feeling of invincibility walking into the school. Unconsciously, the players can feel the tone of the song and build off of it as their characters get set up for the session. It sets the entire tone of the scene: how they should act, what the feeling is in the world around them. In this case, it can also describe the setting just as well as words can, you can feel the late 90’s oozing out of this Breakfast Club rehashing.
Changes in music can alter how the players want their characters to react. Moving along, let’s say these same characters decide to leave the classroom to explore the school, keeping “Walkin’ on the Sun” may lead them to some lighthearted shenanigans, but to subconsciously cause them to push the envelope, change the music to The Ramones “Blitzkrieg Bop”, and an entirely new set of characters emerge. Ones that can be filled with teenage angst and destructive tendencies. You
may soon find instead of deciding to stealthily pick open a locker the players may use a fire extinguisher to bash it open.
The easiest way I’ve ever found to shift scenes is to change a song. Let’s change the characters and scenario entirely. Let’s go with a group of adventurers in D&D preparing for a large-scale battle alongside many allies they’ve gained over the campaign. The DM (that’s you) pumps up some epic jams for the battle, and a difficult battle ensues for the PC’s and some random enemies. All while this fight is going on, other skirmishes are happening simultaneously around them. Then, when the battle is over and the PC’s have a chance to catch their breath, you change the music to “Dearly Beloved” from the Kingdom Hearts OST. The hauntingly beautiful sounds wash over them giving them a temporary reprieve before they look upon their allies that were stuck in other matches. Allies bruised, battered, bloodied, and dead. This moment speaks volumes to the PC’s, what’s occurring in the campaign is no longer child’s play. This is where things get dangerous.
Now, I’ll preface my last example that follows by saying all of the examples above are actual events that I took from games that I’ve run. The reason that I remember them as clearly as I do, is because of how the songs impacted the mood of the characters playing. However, none of them hold a candle to my final example. This is my greatest moment of Game Mastering I can ever hope to achieve.The Perfect Storm
It was during a superhero campaign — the PC’s created their own superhero agency, recruiting their classmates in a superhero high school. These heroes had just beat the Big Bad for the first half of the campaign, bringing him to justice. They were exhausted, battered, and in need of a long rest. Flash-forward two in-game weeks to New Year’s Eve. The PC’s have some champagne, hors d’oeuvres, and are surrounded by their friends that they’ve known for years. “Auld Lang Syne” plays in the background, as the PC’s celebrate. Then the countdown to midnight: 10, 9, 8, 7… That’s when something happened. All of the superheroes in the agency suddenly froze as a new Big Bad announced his presence. In this moment, “Auld Lang Syne”, instead of carrying the joy of being done with a year of heartache and pain, now instead conveyed pure terror, as all of the heroes were unable to move, and could only watch as the emerging villain monologued. The speech concluded with the villain firing a bullet right at one of the Player’s favorite NPC’s, killing them immediately. By pure chance, this happened right as “Auld Lang Syne” hit its crescendo, then filtered into silence.
Now, this scene would have been good, if not great by itself. This was the turning point of the entire campaign to let the PC’s know they weren’t in the minor leagues anymore. But the inclusion of the song was the single factor that brought this gaming moment to Legendary. For once, in 6 years of playing with this group, everyone was honest-to-goodness absolutely speechless.
I’ve always been a fan of having ambient songs in the background of gaming sessions, but after this moment, I will never run another session without having pre-selected at least a dozen songs to play during a session. After having a defining moment only augmented by an appropriate song choice, and to have that moment become iconic for your players, that’s an achievement that all Game Masters will eternally pride themselves in.
Do you use music in your adventures? Will you start, or are you opposed to it in general?
If you’re like me, you really enjoy having visual aids at the gaming table. While I enjoy 3D terrain made by companies like Dwarven Forge and Mantic Games, their products are both expensive and tedious to transport and set up. These products require a lot of financial investment if you’d like to create an engaging and reflexive tabletop experience.
So what’s the solution to this conundrum?
This is where the Index Card RPG (ICRPG) comes into play (pun intended). An easy to learn game in its own right, what I love most about ICRPG is just how relevant it’s become in ALL of the RPGs I play.
What is the Index Card RPG? ICRPG is a simple, easy to learn take on classic games that gives players tools to tell stories and create dynamic and responsive challenges. While there are many simple systems like Black Hack and pretty much any Powered by the Apocalypse Game, what intrigued me most about this particular product was applicability of the namesake card sets. There are currently four volumes of the ICRPG card sets. Volumes 1 & 2 feature sword & sorcery-themed art while volumes 3 & 4 feature science fiction and weird west respectively. Each set features 100 unique pieces of art that can be cut out for use as locations, props, story building tools, and more! As a professional GM, I’ve found myself playing games with clients around the city. In 2018, I ran 5 in-person sessions PER WEEK across the Greater Toronto Area! Transporting and setting up complicated terrain is not only costly and a hassle for a mobile GM, but also incredibly limiting.
Say I’d like to set a game in a small town. I would absolutely LOVE to use a Dwarven Forge City Builder set, but that’ll set me back several hundred dollars. Alternatively, I could draw the entire town (or important sections) on a grid. If only I had the money and artistic talent. This is why I love ICRPG cards – they allow me to focus on the story while still providing a cool visual experience for players. As I narrate and describe a town to the table, I lay out individual cards – the fountain, the gates, the market stalls, the blacksmith, etc. In a matter of minutes, I have the entire town laid out for everyone at the table! For players that like using miniatures, I have them place their pieces on the icon cards themselves. The best part is that the “set up” is all part of the narrative experience. No time is wasted, and every moment is spent telling stories together.
Stay curious and game on!
Daniel Kwan is a storyteller, media professional, and game designer based in Toronto, Canada. He is one of the co-founders of Level Up Gaming, an organization that provides individuals with autism and other disabilities opportunities to develop their social skills through group gaming experiences. His first educational RPG, Zany Zoo, was released in 2018. He is currently working on Ross Rifles, a Powered by the Apocalypse RPG about the lives and experiences of Canadian soldiers stationed on the Western Front during the First World War. Daniel co-hosts the Asians Represent! podcast on the One Shot Network.
A few nights ago as I left my dinner spot, a lady behind me on a scooter handed me a rose and told me she just liked to brighten people’s days. She rode around with a bouquet of flowers all day and handed them to people. The rose is beautiful and it smells divine, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the kind of emotional giving that’s possible in a tabletop rpg. I was lucky enough on a few weekends ago to sit down with Ryan Macklin and fellow gnome Angela Murray so that Becky Annison could run us through her upcoming kickstarter game, Bite Me. I loved the game — it’s all werewolves and feelings — but the people at the table reminded me of an important role player skill: shining the spotlight.
When I land in a game where the spotlight isn’t being shared freely and generously, it’s rough both as a player and a GM — it can feel boring, or like a power struggle. Share25Tweet18+11Reddit1EmailWe frequently talk about sharing the spotlight, and sharing it is key. Sharing it is how we work as a team and collaborate to create a story (and fun times for all). Sharing the spotlight is when I bring someone in to my scene, or hook them in to the story in another way; give them fodder to play to with my character and engage with them. Without sharing we have a group of disparate characters who are loosely held together by the fact that the people at the table are in the same physical space. When I land in a game where the spotlight isn’t being shared freely and generously, it’s rough both as a player and a GM — it can feel boring, or like a power struggle.
Shining the spotlight to me is a little different. When you shine the spotlight on another character, you are making them the most important part of the scene or story. Shining the spotlight requires selfless players, creativity, and an ability to prize the group story over the personal story of a single character and individual time in the spotlight. It also requires trust — trust that the other players in the game will shine back to you when you shine on them. In this particular game, Ryan did two things that I thought were spectacular examples of shining the spotlight on another character: he tossed Ang’s character Jax in to the front lines of a negotiation, and he sank a thousand teeth of creepy prophecy (we’d agreed there was one, but that was all) in to my character. So how can you shine the spotlight at your table?
- Be on the lookout for story beats that you can toss others in to. When our werewolf pack needed a negotiator, Ryan, playing Old Dog Miller, didn’t use his pack status to jump in to the negotiation role — he actually did the opposite and thrust the situation on Jax before disappearing from the scene entirely on a mysterious errand of his own. Narratively, he created the story that seeing his face across the table would only have made the negotiations go even more poorly than they did, since his sister led the opposing pack.
- Trust that you will receive play time in return. Trust that when you take the spotlight and point it at someone else, they will do the same for you in return. Instead of hoarding or fighting for your time, allow the spotlight to be gifted back to you, which leads directly to…
- Celebrate your fellow players (and GM). When you are excited not just about what someone else’s character is doing, but what they could be doing, when you are just as excited about their story as your own, then you can shine the spotlight on them selflessly, and the game is better for it. Be interested in the ways that your fellow PCs will react to situations, and then help build those interesting narratives. That’s not just tossing Jax in to the lion’s mouth on negotiations, it was also building up a prophecy related to my character further and further without my character’s knowledge, until we could have a moment where it all came out in the open.
And finally, when the spotlight is being pointed at you, accept the gift with grace…and share the moment. When the beam of story is aimed at you on high, now is the time to share that light out and make sure that others are involved with you. Take the story offering that is handed to you (given that it is safe and consensual), and make it the coolest moment you can. Once your moment is past, take the light and reflect it on someone else. Give someone a rose, just to see them smile.
What is a memorable time someone shone the spotlight on you? Do you have any other tips for shining vs. sharing as a player?
If you are interested in more information about Bite Me, which is coming to kickstarter in February, you can follow up here!
January is the time of the year when I am often learning a new game to run for my home group. This time around, we are gearing up for Spire by Grant Howitt & Chris Taylor. When it comes to learning a new game, especially a bigger game, I have a method for how to learn it. It’s not really a deliberate method, though it may bear some thought on to how to make this into a more structured process. But, I wanted to share with you, as I am in the middle of this process right now.Class Is In Session
When it comes to learning a new game, I am looking to learn more than just the rules of the game. Don’t get me wrong, the rules are critical, but they are not the only part of the game that you have to learn if you want to be able to run the game effectively. When you are learning a new game you are really learning the following things:
- Rules – mechanics and procedures.
- Setting – the world(s) where the game takes place, the cultures, etc.
- Genre – the relevant tropes, and trappings for the type of game you are playing.
When you are starting to learn a new game, you can start by figuring out the difficulty for each of these areas, relative to your own skills and experience, and then prioritize them in terms of what you need to learn. If you are running a game in a setting you know, then setting will be easier, or if you have run a number of Powered by the Apocalypse games and you are running another PbtA game, you are going to be more familiar with the mechanics.
If we now look at Spire, starting with the description:
You are a dark elf. Your home, the towering city of Spire, was occupied by the high elves two hundred years ago. Now, you have joined a secret organization known as the Ministry, a paramilitary cult with a single aim – to overthrow the cruel high elves and restore the drow as the rightful rulers of the city.
What – or who – will you sacrifice to achieve your aims? Will you evade the attention of the authorities, or end up shot in the street like so many before you?
So, picking up the book here is what I know. The mechanics are new so they are unknown to me, but Grant’s style tends to be lighter – so that is a plus. The setting is new and novel, so that is something I don’t know about, and I suspect learning this new world will be the heavy lift for me. The genre is fantasy and resistance/revolution. I am pretty solid on fantasy tropes, and resistance/revolution is one of my favorite genres, so I know that this will be the easiest part of the game for me.
So picking up the book I have two questions I want to find out:
- How complicated are the mechanics?
- How intricate is the setting? (That is to say, how much of the setting do I have to memorize to effectively run the game).
With those questions in my mind, I can then start reading the game and directing my focus as I read to answer these questions.Learning Methods
When I am learning a new game, I often rely on more than just the game to help myself get up to speed. The game itself is key, but there are other things I can tap into to help me get oriented and acclimated.Rules
When it comes to the rules of the game I use the following sources:
- The Core Book – First and foremost, the mechanics of the game as written by the designer. This is the first source for learning the game.
- Actual Plays – Listening to APs are a great way to learn the game, but many APs cut corners on the rules or edit some of the dryer parts out, so they are a good way to get a general feel, but will never replace the Rules.
- Making Cheat Sheets – If a game lacks cheat sheets, then making your own is a great way to solidify the game in your head.
- The Core Book – Again, the core book is going to be the main source of the setting and the first place you should look. Most will have chapters dedicated to the setting for their game.
- Supplements – Many larger games have separate setting supplements. These are, of course, great sources for info, but may be more than you need for getting your game started. Often when I am starting a game I skip these until I am sure the game is going to take off.
- Adventures – I am 50/50 on running published adventures, but I will always read them for more setting info.
- Other related media – If a setting has fiction, comics, or movies, these are a great source for more setting info as well. You want to balance the knowledge gained and getting trapped in canon.
- The Core Book – Now here is where the core book does not always spell out what the tropes and important genre elements are. Some games do this specifically and others expect you to pull it from the setting material.
- Other related media – you will have to pull the info for the genre out of this material, as it is never spelled out. But if you consume enough of this media, you will start to see the tropes and other conventions. A number of games will have an Appendix N or other lists of media inspirations that you can use to do your research.
- TV Tropes – This gold mine and time sink is the best place to look at tropes for any genre or media. Be warned, you will get lost in reading when you go here. Set a timer before you click.
When you are polygamerous, learning games is something you have to do all the time, and I wind up learning a few games a year. The faster you can learn them the more games you can play. Learning a game, and being prepared to run it, is no small task – and having an efficient method for learning and getting a game ready to play is a valuable tool for any GM to have.
Over the years, I have cobbled together this method above, but it is one that works for me quite well. What about you? Do you have a method for learning new games?
Join Ang and get to know one of the newest Gnomes, Jen, in this “Meet a New Gnome” episode of Gnomecast! Learn about Jen’s start in gaming and her plans for future games, conventions, and Gnome Stew articles! Will Jen’s game theme extremes be enough to help her avoid the stew?
I, like I suspect many GMs, have a “player” that I have difficulty actually getting into a game. There are many reasons for this, but the one I want to focus on is a specific type. They want to play. They like to play, BUT:
- Read a rulebook?
- Fill out a character sheet?
- Come up with a concept that plays well with others and fits your game?
To that you get a resounding: “No THANK you.”
So what’s the solution other than telling the player: “Well, guess you don’t really want to play that much. Bugger off then.” Assuming for some reason that’s not the answer you WANT to give? In this case, the answer is: Pregens.
These can be new whole cloth characters, OR you could grab likely NPCs that you didn’t really flesh out for game play: Jondo the overeager town guard from last session, that genius whiz-kid inventor the PCs had to save from his own creation, that sort of thing.
O.K. Article over. Go make a bunch of pregens so that your one player who’s kind of non-committal can play one, or on the off chance you get a drop in. Shoo!
Oh. Still here? So depending on system, making a bunch of pregens can be a pain in the rump, and maintaining them over time to be a good match for your party can be yet more work. Every time your party advances a bit you have to go and update all those pregens. And while it’s fine if you don’t mind the work, I’ve never been much of a “Do a bunch of work on the off chance you need it” kind of guy.
So from here, there are a couple options:
- Steal them: So you could find a set of already made characters appropriate to your game and just steal them. Depending on your game that could be easier or harder to find. If you’re lucky you can even find a variety of levels so that you don’t have to do advancement either. You can just grab the selection that fits. Some systems even have entire books dedicated to pregens.
- Bribe your players to do the heavy lifting for you: Not everyone is into lonely fun anymore, but chances are you have a player or two that would love to crank out a few basic pregen characters and/or update a few from the stable you already have. Just toss them a few xp, hero points, or heck, let them choose the pizza toppings next session and you’re good to go.
- Some mix of the above: Steal some and update them yourself, Have a player make them and you update them, You make them and let a player update them, etc… Whatever matches your bandwidth.
O.K. Article really over. Standard closing questions: Have you used pregens at your table? What’s a new and clever way to apply this that I didn’t think of? And as always, anything you want a gnome to wax philosophical about? We’ll write about pretty much anything if it keeps us out of the stewpot.
Do you have too many games just collecting dust on your bookshelves?
Is it a struggle to get your players to try something new?
Are you just too busy to finish reading that new tome of a game book?
You are not alone.
As Convention Coordinator for the Indie Game Developer Network and as a self-published game designer, I travel to monthly conventions to sell and run role-playing games. I’m always asking what games people are playing, running, and are interested in. And, let me tell you, there are plenty of others who feel the same as you. They face the same challenges, the same struggles.
You don’t have to go it alone.
Together, I think we can build/borrow a system to help solve all of our (current) problems. It won’t cure them overnight, but it will treat the problems and help to create a foundation for other like-minded locals. Together, we can unite to build more than a gaming group. We can create a movement! One to tackle the difficulties of having too many unplayed games, of luring players to try something different, or the reoccurring learning curve of each new game. First things first, we start by building a community. To meetup and game together, we’ll need a pool of potential players and Game Masters. Thanks to social media, this is surprisingly easy to start, however, difficult to master.Build a Community?
We need a place for people to gather in order to build interest in our idea—our movement. With the utility of social media, we can easily recruit, message, and share ideas (posts) at times that are convenient for one another. A community can be fostered in something as simple as a Facebook Group. You could start today. Add the people you game with, the people that you know game locally, and the Game Masters that run events at local stores or gaming hangouts. Most game stores have their event schedules posted on a website or community board in their store. Take advantage of these to help you find where people are gaming and who is facilitating these games. Talk to your local game store owners about what you’re working on and who else they think you should talk to. Don’t assume that every game played will be publicly posted. Also, dig around for other local gaming groups on Facebook. Search the name of local game stores for groups that share their name. Search for groups that prominently state your city, town, or region’s name with the keywords RPG, Tabletop, Geek, or D&D. You may be surprised to find how much is already going on right under your nose.
How Will This Solve My Problems?
A model that I’ve adopted in Northwest Indiana is that of Games on Demand. You may have heard of their work or participated in a game with them at Gencon, Origins, or Pax. Their model consists of several Game Masters, each offering up two or more different games per time slot. Players that attend the event(s), pick from the games offered in a first come, first served basis. They generally select from table tents that give a blurb of each game with a picture. As games are selected, the choices begin to narrow, and focus shifts to filling the games selected.
To solve your problems, you need to foster an environment that builds demand for new games and that attracts players who want to be involved in those games. Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1Email To solve your problems, you need to foster an environment that builds demand for new games and that attracts players who want to be involved in those games. The Games on Demand model is attractive to players and Game Masters looking to play and run new games. It has an easy to understand structure that clearly defines what a Game Master needs to prepare for (two different games, two different one shot sessions, expect new players). Not to mention, with other Game Masters sharing games, you can learn more of them without having to read or research them one at a time.What Do I Need for This to Work?
- Game Masters: With the help of another Game Master or two, you could offer up to six different games for a game night. Each Game Master already has games they know how to run and games on their shelf they are just dying to put to good use. Creating a community with game nights and a Games on Demand model provides the opportunity you’ve all been waiting for. Give yourself and other Game Masters the opportunity to share all of the cool games you’ve been collecting.
- Public Places to Play: Potential players need to feel safe before they will join you for a game. Playing with strangers can be very intimidating, especially if it is at a private home where you don’t know anyone. Reach out to your local game stores or anywhere else people are gaming in your area (coffee shops, tabletop friendly bars, churches, the local library) and schedule a time for 2-3 free tables. You may be asked to institute a rule that everyone buy their drinks and snacks from the establishment. That’s only fair, besides, you want the opportunity for there to be foot traffic. Shopping customers and regulars can be recruited to play and invited to future events. They may even have friends…
- Game Day Events or Meetups: What good is the community if we have nothing to rally around? Create events to attract people in your local area. Ask your friends to share the events with their friends and families. Spread the word on Facebook in your local groups with similar interests. If you have the skills to make a flyer, put some up in your local school and game store bulletin boards. It takes time for people to understand what you’re doing and also to carve out time to attend. Don’t be discouraged! Some people will need time to find themselves in a situation where they are also looking for new people to game with or new games to play. I have had more than one Game Master tell me, “I’ll be there when I’m no longer running two games a week.” That’s fair!
My local contingent is called the Tales of the 219. Yep, that’s our area code! Northwest Indiana Story Gamers just didn’t win over the hearts and minds of our founding members.
On January 31st, we mark our one year anniversary of running events at local game stores on a monthly (and more) schedule. Setting out, I found other Game Masters interested in diversifying the games that they play and struggling to find players for their games not named D&D or Pathfinder. Sharing my vision for a more vibrant, inclusive, and variety rich gaming community, I reached out to local game stores. To their surprise, we didn’t want money or to sell attendees something physical. We just wanted to grow the community of role-players in Northwest Indiana, to bridge RPG enthusiasts beyond their favorite game store, gaming group, or routine game of choice.
I remember speaking to Matt and Jared, two of my friends and early adopters of our vision.
“This (Tales of the 219) is probably going to be like four of us running games for each other for a year or two. But, one day, there will be others, and they’ll talk fondly about how they found the Tales of the 219. We’ll be like forefathers that paved the way to make a more vibrant and diverse role-playing game community possible. This will work. We just need to be persistent and deal with the inevitable trying times that will come with the occasional successes.”
I’m happy to inform you that it never did end up being just the four of us playing each others’ games. We’ve hosted events at six different game stores and one local convention for a total of fifteen events in 2018. Attendance varies from 5-15 individuals with an average of 8-9 folks attending per gathering. At our local convention Arcticon, we held eight games seating over 40 players! It’s a good feeling to not only play more games but to help others experience brilliant games they never knew existed. It’s a good feeling to not only play more games but to help others experience brilliant games they never knew existed. Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1Email
Some things I’ve learned so far:
- Meetup.com was an excellent tool for engaging and managing a growing role-playing game community. It isn’t anymore. Some Meetup accounts are doing very well and holding strong to the format, but they are mostly groups that have been around for years. All the action is on Facebook these days, even if respondents ARE flaky. If you aren’t familiar with people checking interested instead of going for your events, get used to it. Phone based Facebook users really gotta dig to find the illusive going option. So, don’t be too hard on those that mark interested. Searching Meetup for other gaming groups in your area can be very useful, though. You can reach out to them and talk about consolidating efforts.
- D&D can be a powerful tool for recruiting and finding new players to join your burgeoning RPG community. It can also lead to exactly what you may have been trying to avoid—people only interested in D&D(or Pathfinder). I’ve spoken to a few of the larger role-playing game Meetup leaders about using D&D as a gateway for players. It will inflate your community numbers but may not convert many people over to trying out new games. People like to like D&D in this day and age! Experiment at your own risk.
- Going to where the people are is worth it. Finding your people takes good word of mouth, a little luck, or consistency. Hopefully, you can find two of the three! Sometimes, it takes several events at a location to find the people who will become a core part of your new community. Most of us have busy adult lives and might skip a few of these events until it fits nicely in our schedule.
- A lot of role-players choose not to be on Facebook or social media in general. Form an email list to keep them in the loop. You may be stunned by how many people that is. I certainly was!
- It’s a win-win for game stores, you attract RPG enthusiasts to different stores and show them new games to purchase and run for others. Don’t be afraid to approach them. Also, don’t be surprised at how many still want telephone calls to schedule or are bad at email conversations. I like reaching out with Facebook Messenger as that tool trains businesses to reply timely. It has been very effective, for the most part.
- Giving prizes to first time attendees and Game Masters for running games has been far less of an incentive than I had hoped for attracting players. I’m always giving away full games to new players and it doesn’t seem to really sway whether they return or not. Convenience seems to be king.
Don’t have a game store nearby? Can’t find role-players locally? Have you thought about building an online community or joining something like the Gauntlet? An earlier conception of this idea, this movement, was to build a role-playing game group with a rotating Game Master dynamic. On G+, we called ourselves the Janus GM Project. The members would announce games they wanted to run for the next round of games (like 3 rounds a year) and then we would vote on our favorite titles per Game Master. Each Game Master then knew what game to start reading with months to prepare, read up, or research the game. We’d play each game every other week for a 3-5 session story arc. It was a ton of fun and very effective! We played over twenty-five new games in about two and a half years.What Are You Really Doing This For?
Maybe, you’re a Game Master overloaded with games that just need to be played. Maybe, you’re a game designer and want to build an audience that will playtest and buy your game(s). Maybe, you are a new player looking for the game that is uniquely your fit, your niche.
Don’t settle for the status quo. Build a Games on Demand community where you live! Grow the community YOU want to be a part of. Build something for the future players of your neighborhood.
I’ll be there for you. Together, we can build a network that communicates and shares best practices. You just need to be persistent and share your love for RPGs with those near you. I believe you can do it, and this is a fun way to grow the hobby we love so dear.
Special thanks to the crew at the Tales of the 219 (Sout, Matt, Jared, Adrienne, Pedro, Tom), my local game stores (By the Board Games & Entertainment, The Librarium Cafe, Galactic Greg’s, Tenth Planet), and the RPG enthusiasts of the region! Thank you for the added joy to my life!
I want to know:
How have you brought people together in your local area?
How do you attract new players or sway your gaming group into trying something new?
Where do you game and who else could you invite?
I’ve written about the agony and frustration of organizing a gaming group before, offering advice on how to coordinate schedules and expressing my frustration when the rest of the group isn’t on the same page. Recently, I was talking with a friend about this subject again and we were commiserating on how hard it is to get a group’s schedule to line up and how frustrating it can be when it isn’t the same level of importance to everyone involved.
Over the years, I’ve seen how groups live and die based on scheduling and how much the group respects that scheduling. My first group that started in high school was a loose collection of people the GM would wrangle. It all revolved around him and because of the nature of what we were playing (usually super lethal 1e and 2e D&D) there were rarely campaign concerns that needed a consistent group of players. The folks I found in college were much more static about who was involved, but there was still only one GM and he often had difficulty maintaining a commitment to any one campaign. Eventually, we all stayed close friends, but the gaming faded away as adult lives got in the way. Today I have a local group that has been going strong for well over a decade, but that has taken a lot of determination from a couple of us that are too stubborn to fail. I also have a couple of online/remote groups, but scheduling is still tough and though our campaigns are wonderful, they’re sporadic.
Over the years, to maintain my own sanity, I’ve had to accept that not everyone is going to rank their commitment to a game group as high as I do. Gaming means a lot to me and it’s a hobby I have obsessed about for literally decades. I mean, I do write for a blog about this stuff after all. Not everyone who enjoys gaming is going to hold it to the same lofty pinnacle that I do. Many of these folks are still totally worth gaming with, but they’re not going to be the ones to initiate organizing and wrangling a group into playing. There are also of plenty of folks who love gaming just as much and will do it whenever they can, but simply do not have the right temperament or skills to be good at organizing. The struggle is real.
If you’re organizing your game group:
- Be patient but persistent. When you’re trying to herd cats, patience is a virtue. Even if you’re working with a small group of gamers, it can be trying to try and balance everyone’s schedule and make the timing work. Finding a time that everyone can make requires patience or it will drive you insane. You also need to be persistent that a decision is made. So many groups will debate things endlessly and never actually decide on anything. Or worse, some folks will think a time was set, but the rest didn’t get that same message. Your persistence also helps in making sure everyone stays on the same page. Even though my group has a nominal ‘every-other-Friday’ agreement, I still send out a reminder at the beginning of the week to make sure everyone remembers what, when, and where.
- Find the method that works for you. This should go without saying, but if you’re in charge of keeping the group organized, you have to find a method of organization that works for you. Honestly, if you’ve stepped into the role as a group’s organizer, you’re probably pretty organized to begin with, but everyone needs to start somewhere. My group uses a shared Google calendar, but relying on only that doesn’t work. At the end of every game session, I check in with folks about the next session. This helps remind folks to bring up things like vacations, cons, or special events, and it lets us potentially reschedule which night we play on if necessary. There’s also that ‘week-of’ reminder I send out.
- Don’t burn yourself out trying to accommodate everyone. This is important. As I said above, not everyone will or can rank gaming at the same level of importance as you or I do. This doesn’t mean they’re not fun to game with, but their priorities may be different for a wide variety of reasons. Be honest with yourself when you’re struggling to coordinate and one person is consistently the problem. Maybe it’s worth it because you love gaming with that person, but maybe they shouldn’t be part of a weekly group. If the problem is they often forget about the game or have to frequently cancel, it might be time to say goodbye. Find the people that are at least in the same ballpark with your priorities. I accept that not everyone in my group will be as dedicated as I am, but they’re all willing to try and maintain our schedule.
If you’re agreeing to join a game group:
- Respect the efforts of the organizer. I don’t say this just because I am an organizer, but you will absolutely frustrate and burn out your group’s organizer if you’re dismissive of how much work they do to keep things going. Or, if you constantly brush off gaming because something else came up, you’re disrespecting the time and effort of not only the organizer, but the rest of the group. If you’ve agreed to be part of a group and agreed to a time to game, you owe it to them to do your best.
- Give as much warning as possible if you need to cancel. Life happens and things do come up, so it should be common sense to let everyone know as soon as possible when you have to cancel gaming. Unfortunately, I’ve seen the last-minute cancel that shouldn’t have been last-minute way too often to not bring it up. It’s incredibly disrespectful to the group as a whole and to the GM of the group. Do you know how much it sucks to be the GM who planned an adventure with a focus on a particular character only to have that character’s player not show up for game?
- Be realistic about your availability. Folks really want to game, so they sometimes agree to games that almost immediately fall apart because no one could admit they really didn’t have the time for it. Recognize when you’re the one consistently making scheduling difficult and take a moment to think about whether or not this group is going to work. Sometimes difficult scheduling is okay because everyone is on board with it, but sometimes it’s just getting in the way of everyone else’s fun. I have one online group that has difficulty with scheduling, but we generally still make it work. Another fledgling group I was part of last year died essentially on the vine because we as a whole weren’t realistic about what our time commitment could be. Understand your own limitations and find the group that fits that.
I think this is a pretty universal struggle for all of us who try and game regularly. There’s a reason there’s a ton of memes out there about the impossibility of game scheduling. I’m curious about your struggles and what you and your groups have done to get past this issue. I’d love to hear your advice on the subject.
It’s a new year, which means you’ve got an excuse to look for cool new people to inspire you. I’ve curated some of my favorite creators doing cool stuff right now in ttrpgs, and what projects they’re working on.Jabari Weathers
Jabari Weathers has been killin the rpg illustration game recently. Their vibrant colors and geometric linework brings a somewhat abstract and art nouveau look to traditional fantasy style pieces. Jabari’s artwork is gorgeous and inspiring in it’s interpretations of genre and style. I love the character portraits, and the inherent evocative romanticism in each piece.
Two recent projects they’ve worked on include a tarot deck for Seven Seas, and Joshua AC Newman’s newest game in production The Bloody Handed Name of Bronze. They’ve also done gorgeous tarot illustrations for Bluebeard’s Bride!
DC has just released the design for a Blades in the Dark hack called Mutants In The Night. As a streamer, game designer, and community organizer, DC is creating a massive amount of stuff for the ttrpg world. They’re currently streaming a campaign of Mutants In The Night on Twitch, but you can watch on YouTube if you can’t keep up with the live streams. DC also has a Patreon where they’re sharing behind the scenes design process and drafts of their rpg work. Their Patreon says a lot about their beautiful game philosophy: “Role-playing games are transformative. On a small scale, these games can begin in a place you’ve planned and controlled, but end in a place you’ve built. As the scale grows, people find themselves with more heart, courage, and understanding than they’d ever expect to gain from pieces of paper and small dice. ” If you want to support DC here’s some links and also their Twitter at @DungeonCommandr: Twitch: Twitch.tv/dungeoncommandr Mutants in The Night:dungeoncommandr.itch.io Patreon: Patreon.com/DCrpgs Allie Bustion is a GM, streamer, game designer and artist who’s currently working on a game called Misbehavin’, a Blades hack alternate history/urban fantasy set in the Prohibition Era United States. It seems rad as hell and I’m sad I’m not playing it right now. Her streams focus on game dev and story driven games, and her art is this gorgeous colorful digital illustration. Over at her Patreon you can see some of her design thoughts as she creates and even playlists and inspirations that she shares as she works. Her games on itch.io include themes of relationships, monsters, and buddy cops. Check out her links and follow her @madpierrot Games: http://madpierrot.itch.io Twitch: http://twitch.tv/madpierrottv Tristarae streams and guest stars on numerous ttrpg streams on Twitch! Recently starring in the aforementioned Mutants In the Night, as well as Blades in the Dark, AGON, and several other ttrpg playtests. She’s a delight to watch, her wit sharp and hilarious, and her perspectives fresh and relatable. The best place to find her streaming schedule is on her Twitter: @trist_chi Twitch: twitch.tv/tristarae Laura Simpson designed the game behind the hugely successful Kickstarter A Companion’s Tale, a mapmaking game where you play the companions of the hero and construct the hero together. She’s one half of Sweet Potato Press, which has also created Love Commander and The Dance and the Dawn. Laura also has a game in the #Feminism anthology about four black women driving together to their reunion. Her games have a focus on diversity and protagonists that we don’t normally see at the forefront of the narrative. Find her work at Sweet Potato Press Misha Bushyager is a game designer, writer, and GM who’s currently working on the Afrofuturist space opera Orun. Orun had a great Kickstarter campaign and one of the most compelling elements of the game to me is that everyone plays an alien! Misha’s own project is under the name Black Girl Gameworks and is also 1/3rd of New Agenda Publishing, both of which are making and supporting games by diverse creators. Misha’s written for multiple games including Chill: SAVE, Lovecraftesque, and Dead Scare and was an editor of the award winning #Feminism collection of nanogames. She’s also a curator with me on More Seats At The Table. Check out her Twitter which is always on fire at @BGGameWorks Tanya DePass’s work in game communities is so, so important. Her project I Need Diverse Games highlights projects, work, and articles by marginalized creators across many platforms and types of games. I’ve seen her at booths and panels at conventions, streaming games as a partner on Twitch, and generally being a badass on Twitter. Her feed enriches and educates my understanding of marginalized communities in gaming. INDG also hosts a variety of support projects for marginalized creators, like scholarships to visit conventions, pay for articles, and boosting the signal on games. Tanya also helps organize Orcacon, an inclusive game convention in Washington. There are few projects in gaming that I think are as important as this one, definitely support, follow, and share Tanya’s work. Find her on Twitter at: @cypheroftyr Twitch: http://twitch.tv/cypheroftyr main site: http://cypheroftyr.com Patreon: patreon.com/cypheroftyr Whitney Delaglio is a game designer who recently Kickstarted a game called Prism, which is basically about the relationships among fantastic aquatic creatures. The game focuses on relationships and feelings as a way to navigate both the story and the mechanics. Whitney did not just the game design for Prism, but also all the artwork, which is whimsical and delightful.
DC has just released the design for a Blades in the Dark hack called Mutants In The Night. As a streamer, game designer, and community organizer, DC is creating a massive amount of stuff for the ttrpg world. They’re currently streaming a campaign of Mutants In The Night on Twitch, but you can watch on YouTube if you can’t keep up with the live streams. DC also has a Patreon where they’re sharing behind the scenes design process and drafts of their rpg work. Their Patreon says a lot about their beautiful game philosophy: “Role-playing games are transformative. On a small scale, these games can begin in a place you’ve planned and controlled, but end in a place you’ve built. As the scale grows, people find themselves with more heart, courage, and understanding than they’d ever expect to gain from pieces of paper and small dice. ”
If you want to support DC here’s some links and also their Twitter at @DungeonCommandr:
Mutants in The Night:dungeoncommandr.itch.io
Patreon: Patreon.com/DCrpgsAllie Bustion
Allie Bustion is a GM, streamer, game designer and artist who’s currently working on a game called Misbehavin’, a Blades hack alternate history/urban fantasy set in the Prohibition Era United States. It seems rad as hell and I’m sad I’m not playing it right now. Her streams focus on game dev and story driven games, and her art is this gorgeous colorful digital illustration. Over at her Patreon you can see some of her design thoughts as she creates and even playlists and inspirations that she shares as she works. Her games on itch.io include themes of relationships, monsters, and buddy cops.
Check out her links and follow her @madpierrot
Tristarae streams and guest stars on numerous ttrpg streams on Twitch! Recently starring in the aforementioned Mutants In the Night, as well as Blades in the Dark, AGON, and several other ttrpg playtests. She’s a delight to watch, her wit sharp and hilarious, and her perspectives fresh and relatable. The best place to find her streaming schedule is on her Twitter: @trist_chi
Laura Simpson designed the game behind the hugely successful Kickstarter A Companion’s Tale, a mapmaking game where you play the companions of the hero and construct the hero together. She’s one half of Sweet Potato Press, which has also created Love Commander and The Dance and the Dawn. Laura also has a game in the #Feminism anthology about four black women driving together to their reunion. Her games have a focus on diversity and protagonists that we don’t normally see at the forefront of the narrative.
Find her work at Sweet Potato PressMisha Bushyager
Misha Bushyager is a game designer, writer, and GM who’s currently working on the Afrofuturist space opera Orun. Orun had a great Kickstarter campaign and one of the most compelling elements of the game to me is that everyone plays an alien! Misha’s own project is under the name Black Girl Gameworks and is also 1/3rd of New Agenda Publishing, both of which are making and supporting games by diverse creators. Misha’s written for multiple games including Chill: SAVE, Lovecraftesque, and Dead Scare and was an editor of the award winning #Feminism collection of nanogames. She’s also a curator with me on More Seats At The Table. Check out her Twitter which is always on fire at @BGGameWorks
Tanya DePass’s work in game communities is so, so important. Her project I Need Diverse Games highlights projects, work, and articles by marginalized creators across many platforms and types of games. I’ve seen her at booths and panels at conventions, streaming games as a partner on Twitch, and generally being a badass on Twitter. Her feed enriches and educates my understanding of marginalized communities in gaming. INDG also hosts a variety of support projects for marginalized creators, like scholarships to visit conventions, pay for articles, and boosting the signal on games. Tanya also helps organize Orcacon, an inclusive game convention in Washington. There are few projects in gaming that I think are as important as this one, definitely support, follow, and share Tanya’s work.
Find her on Twitter at: @cypheroftyr
main site: http://cypheroftyr.com
Whitney Delaglio is a game designer who recently Kickstarted a game called Prism, which is basically about the relationships among fantastic aquatic creatures. The game focuses on relationships and feelings as a way to navigate both the story and the mechanics. Whitney did not just the game design for Prism, but also all the artwork, which is whimsical and delightful.
I had a lot of early influences that led to my later interests. I can just barely remember seeing Star Wars at the drive-in when it came out. The first birthday present I can remember is a toy Batmobile. More to the point, one of the first non-Star Wars movies I can remember seeing was Clash of the Titans. While I had already started hearing stories about King Arthur and his knights, this was something else entirely — a whole different scale. My love of mythological stories was born, as was my deep abiding affection for mechanical owls.
It’s not much of a leap for me to gravitate towards roleplaying games that allow you to build your own mythology. This led me to my current review, Part-Time Gods Second Edition.Content Warning
While I’m not going to spend much time on any of it in this review, the game itself does have some instances of discussing adult professions, cannibalism, potentially compromised people put in dangerous situations, and occasional descriptions of violent acts. It isn’t constant, but each of the above pops up in a few places across the course of the text.Manifestation
This review is based on the PDF of the game. The PDF is 318 pages, with a four-page index, 12 sample characters (in addition to the sample characters used in the text), two pages of Kickstarter backers, three pages of random tables, a blank territory grid, and a blank character sheet.
The cover has gorgeous full-color art, with similar black and white art in the interior. While the interior art is black and white, interior headers and borders are rendered in gold and purple, and the overall effect looks very sharp.Introduction
The introduction gives the quick pitch of the game, which is that the player characters are portraying modern-day gods that must balance their responsibilities as everyday people with the responsibilities inherent in the divine spark that they possess. Complicating this is that mortals that aren’t worshippers that get too close to the gods usually don’t have a happy ending in store.
In addition to the pitch, there are brief sections on what a roleplaying game is, what is needed to play, and the core resolution mechanic. That mechanic involves assembling a dice pool of d10s, counting 7-9s as successes, counting 10s as two successes, and counting 1s with no successes in the pool as a critical failure. This section wraps up with a glossary of terms that will be introduced in the upcoming chapter.
Between chapters, there are one-page pieces of fiction illustrating how the lives of modern gods play out.The Descending Storm
The next section delves a bit deeper into the lore of the assumed setting. The first mortal touched by the power known as The Source spent time with other mortals, and those mortals became gods. In order to keep a tighter rein on who gets to become a god, the existing gods locked up The First Mother.
This leads to some bad consequences that result in the creation of Outsiders, mythological monsters that originally just wanted to wipe out the gods (although some of them lost this drive over time).
All of this means that modern gods are a generation of people with amazing potential but burdened with the consequences of the actions of an older generation that was unwilling to fully share their power. Why does that theme feel somewhat familiar?
In addition to the broad history lesson on the gods and their origins, there are explanations of theologies, dominions, territories, pantheons, worshippers, outsiders, and why modern gods are less overt than their predecessors.
I really enjoyed the way the history weaves in and out of matching and diverting from what might be common knowledge about different mythologies. It is a history section that hits the highlights and lets you know what happened in broad terms but doesn’t assign specific fates for all of the old gods or go into details that a GM may want to provide in their own campaigns.Spark of Divinity
This section of the book walks the reader through creating a character. This involves the following steps:
- Occupations (what you do for a living)
- Archetype (the type of character you are)
- Dominion (what you are the god of)
- Theology (an organization that has a specific philosophy on what gods should be doing)
- Attachments (your ties to the mortal world)
- Final Touches
Each of these steps adds different ratings to a character. By combining them, you end up with what skills a character has, how much wealth and downtime they have, what their truths are (abilities that are either always true, or can be activated, but don’t involve rolls), and the people, places, and things that are important to them.
At the end of each of the Theology sections, there is a sample character sheet for a god that belongs to that Theology. After walking players through the steps of creating a character, there is a section on XP, including how it is awarded, and what can be purchased with it.
At the end of this section is a summary of character creation. I was glad this was included, as the individual items are simple enough, but they are being accumulated across a lot of different options, and it might be easy to miss something that a character should have received from some section of character creation.
While I liked some of the items that will net a player XP for their character, I have become a much bigger fan of having tailored questions that trigger XP when answered. It’s great to award XP for characters being present, having scenes with their bonds, and highlighting their curses. I feel less excited about trying to determine spotlight awards, teamwork awards, or memorable moments. I would have rather had more specific questions tailored to the different aspects of the character as chosen through character creation, as some of the triggers feel too open-ended to me.Divine Expressions
This section engages how to use the “big picture” aspects of the rules, such as how sparks work, legendary acts, hearing prayers, the limits of immortality, how manifestations work, rituals, and other worlds.
Legendary acts are big narrative things that gods can do to make a major change, but that drain them whenever they are done. Gods have to recover after they do these, and there are mechanical penalties assessed afterward, but the legendary act itself is a narrative thing that fits within the god’s dominion.
Whenever a god does something that isn’t a “standard” thing, such as using more mundane skills, they can use their manifestation skills to attempt to do supernatural things. The further away from their dominion the manifestation is, the more a god might take a penalty to their die pool to create the manifestation. There are example costs for things like magnitude and effect which a god must spend to create the manifestation, and if used against another creature with a spark, they must spend successes to overcome that oppositions defense before they can spend for effects.
The final section of this chapter explains how a god can create their own realm away from the mortal world, as well as detailing a few previously existing supernatural realms. There are also rules for detailing what happens when gods go exploring realms beyond the mortal world.Blessing the Dice
The next section gets more into the rules for doing more day to day actions in the game. The group has a pantheon pool of dice that can be drawn upon when the entire group agrees and invoking a character’s curse (narratively suffering the effects of that curse), adds to the pantheon pool. Blessings often involve giving a character extra dice when they attempt certain skills or in certain circumstances.
Instead of adding a skill to an attribute, as many dice pool systems do, in Part-Time Gods 2nd Edition, you explain a primary skill related to what you want to do, and then explain how a secondary skill could supplement that skill, and the number in these two skills forms the number of dice that make up the dice pool. Higher difficulties require more successes.
Tools that are high quality or especially helpful to an action add additional dice as well. Getting three more successes than needed for a given result gives a character a boost and getting a 1 on one of the dice without getting any successes creates a critical failure. There are example boosts and critical failures given in this chapter to guide what should happen when those come up.
There are derived statistics for strength and movement. This was actually a little baffling to me, because so much of the game is abstract–the territory grid, wealth, downtime. It feels odd to quantify exactly how far characters can move, or exactly how much they can lift and carry, and it feels a little at odds with the overall feel of the game.
Moving around the territory grid and entering a scene causes a character to spend downtime. Characters can go to their job to get back some wealth or downtime instead of participating in a scene, and when a character is out of downtime, they have to spend time with their bonds, or risk damaging the relationship with that bond (bonds take stress a certain number of times before being broken, and a broken bond creates new penalties for the god). Some obligations can be met by spending wealth, but not all.Divine Battles
This section sets up how to structure a scene when player characters are in direct conflict with NPCs. There are different, but similar, rules for Battles of Fists and Battles of Wits. Characters have both health and psyche to track how much harm has been done in these conflicts.
When entering conflict, characters roll individual initiative, and they pick a major and minor action, and when they must defend against an action, they take a minor and major defense.
In addition to taking straight damage to health or psyche, characters can opt to take on conditions, which have specific consequences, but keep a character from using up all of their resources to stay viable in the scene.
Armor and weapons are a bit more granular than the overall description of the tools in the previous chapter, although most of the interactions deal with specific instances where they are more or less effective, and ways to mitigate costs for an item.
I’m a little torn, because I really like the depth that the interaction of major and minor choices adds to the narrative but coupled with the individual initiative rolled each round of combat, it feels like this could bog down quickly. It is noted that players could roll initiative once and keep the same turn order if they like, and I’m inclined to think this is what I would do, even though I like to run systems as written first, before introducing any modifications.
At least one of the defense options had me really confused, until I reread the actions sections and realized that (I think) it chains off of a character picking a certain action on their turn, which in turn allows them to then have the option to benefit from a defensive option when they are being acted against.The Opposition
This section presents statistics for noteworthy mortals, mortals touched by the gods, other gods, and outsiders. While there is plenty of room to customize these stat blocks (and the GM is encouraged to do so when a character becomes a recurring character), there is a wide enough variety to present any number of threats on the fly. In addition to the specific examples, there is a chart giving “generic” dice pools, defenses, and resistances for different threat levels, to help GMs build and improvise anything that doesn’t appear.
The outsiders are drawn from a number of different mythologies and folklore, many of which have just a slight twist on what might be expected of them. Like the section on deific history, similar monsters from different mythologies are given more of a streamlined and common origin, such as the giants all originating from Atlas.Creating New Myths
This section includes inspirations for the game (which draws on a wide variety of media), tips on developing stories, pacing a campaign, and utilizing story tricks. In several places it addresses specific game elements, such as getting the best use out of curses in the narrative.
There is a lot of solid advice in this section, and I particularly liked the range of inspirations for the game, citing comics, television, books, and movies, some of which may be obvious, but others that clearly have a similar theme to the game as presented.
I was a little surprised that there wasn’t a dedicated safety section in a narrative-heavy game such as this one, especially with some of the topics introduced. I do not want to give the wrong impression — the text definitely talks about paying attention to what players want and do not want in a game and building the story together, but this is interspersed, rather than concentrated in a specific discussion on safety.
I was also a little sad that there wasn’t more time spent on an idea briefly touched on in this section about starting the characters as mortal for one session, then layering on their deific powers and their association with the various theologies. While I understand what was said from a mechanical standpoint, I would love to see this as an alternate path to starting the game, with an expanded exploration of what this would look like and how it should unfold.Divine Domain Part-Time Gods Second Edition manages to ignite a spark for modern urban fantasy roleplaying, creating a nice balance of game mechanics to drive the themes of the game. Share16Tweet1+11Reddit1Email
I enjoy the exact level of detail given, that manages to give a strong feel for the setting, while leaving plenty of room to expand the campaign. Wealth and free time provide a great ebb and flow for driving the kinds of plots that the game describes. There is a broad cross-section of different cultural influences to create a richer tapestry to draw from.Mortal Concerns
The more granular rules about strength and movement feel a little at odds with the more free-form aspects of the game. It feels as if there is some potential for slowed pacing with individual initiative and multiple choices for both the attacker and defender in combat. I wish there had been a little more time spent on detailing the concept of playing characters as mortals discovering their sparks, and I wish there was a little bit more of a dedicated safety section in the rules.Recommended — If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
Part-Time Gods Second Edition manages to ignite a spark for modern urban fantasy roleplaying, creating a nice balance of game mechanics to drive the themes of the game. If you aren’t interested in urban fantasy, this may not change your mind, but it may still be worth a look just to see how the grid, wealth, and downtime are utilized.
When you want to play god, what games to you enjoy? What are your favorite urban fantasy settings, and what is compelling about them? What kinds of mechanics do you feel support the themes of a game? We want to hear from you, so please leave a comment below! We’ll be waiting for you.
WHERE you play the game is important. I mean, it’s not as important as having good people, and a good game, but a well-thought-out game space can enhance the enjoyment of any event. Here are a few design principles that I’ve uncovered in the process of creating game spaces in my own home, and in surveying game spaces in other people’s conventions, stores, and homes.
Every devoted gamer has spent time wistfully daydreaming about their PERFECT game room. Here are some ideas to help you design a comfortable, efficient game space in your own home.Here’s our game space with some important elements labeled. Shelf Space
Think of how much shelf space you need.
Now double that.
Nope, still not enough.
No, you still need more than that.
Your collection of gaming, and gaming-adjacent stuff is likely to outgrow your shelves, so when you’re designing, you’re going to have to think through what happens when you get more shelves. Our game area is part of our open-plan dining room/living room area. We have overflow shelving on the opposite side of the room on either side of the TV. It’s still not enough.
Cheap shelves will bow and buckle under the weight of your books and other supplies, but that might take a few years. The more expensive your shelves, the less frequently you will have to replace them. If you’re in a space and you think you’ll be moving within 5 years, the cheap shelves are probably fine. They almost always disintegrate when you try and move them anyway. If you’re planning on being in place for 10 years, consider the next grade up of assemble-it-yourself shelves. If you’re planning to be in the same game room for a couple of decades or more then find a local carpenter or cabinet maker and ask them about making custom built-in shelves that will house your collection without ever buckling under the weight.
In addition to hundreds of pounds of books, your game space will accumulate props. In our case, hats from our Deadlands campaign, various hyena-related costuming bits, a jester hat that once belonged to my friend James, a bag full of badges from every con we’ve gone to, and so much more. You’ll also need to store notebooks with game and DMing notes, extra dice, board games for when not everyone can play D&D, and other essentials. You should have a plethora of writing utensils and scratch paper at hand for your guests.Natural Daylight
I started playing D&D when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Therefore, I spent a lot of my formative years in the 80s playing D&D in dark basements where it could be safely hidden from adults who might get excited-in-a-bad-way about a bunch of kids playing D&D as well as any cool kids that would make fun of us.
Times have changed. D&D is now socially acceptable and maaaybe even kinda cool!
Get your D&D outta the basement! It’s okay if your friends, parents, in-laws, and visitors know you play D&D. Natural daylight helps keep people alert and awake while they’re playing, and is generally better for people than being in a space that is dim and without natural sunlight. Of course, the price you pay for natural daylight from a wall full of windows is that you’re giving up that wall space where you could put shelving, but you have to weigh your tradeoffs.Chairs are Mission Critical
Give your gamers chairs that they can stand on without breaking. Sometimes the drama calls for standing on a chair. Most importantly, get chairs that are comfortable enough to sit in for 8 hours. That means your chairs might be expensive, but it is SO worth it for the comfort. Before you buy seven or eight of them, buy one (and confirm you can take it back in 48 hours if you don’t like it) and spend 8 hours sitting in it. Have someone else try it as well. Is it comfy? If not, take it back. If the chairs are rickety or uncomfy after an hour, no one is going to care about your shelves, your expensive table, your lovely game space, or your game. If the chairs are rickety or uncomfy after an hour, no one is going to care about your shelves, your expensive table, your lovely game space, or your game. Share25Tweet1+11Reddit1EmailGame Table
This is worth it’s own post. I’m only going to go into the basics here. You need a table that is big enough to seat 8. You need to buy a home that has a space big enough to seat 8 people. Seriously, if gaming is Your Thing, then go all-in with it. When you’re looking at houses, know how big your table is, with chairs and shelves, and make sure the house has a room with natural daylight that will do.
Our table is a Geek Chic Vizier game table for 8. The center slats come out of the table and we have a lexan grid underneath for wet- or dry-erase markers. Geek Chic has since (sadly!) gone out of business but an upright citizen at Board Game Geek has done the homework to compare and contrast custom game-tables here: and I can’t give you a better or more thorough analysis than that one.WiFi for the Masses
Some people have a no-electronics rule at their tables. My only advice is to turn off wifi during games. Otherwise, skip this section and carry on.
We like using D&D Beyond so we use computers. Therefore we need wifi. Our wifi was terrible and we couldn’t figure out why, but we did some math.
We have 2 desktops, lights, fire alarms, thermostats, 1 TV, 1 Xbox, 2 work laptops, 2 personal laptops, 2 tablets, 2 personal phones, 1 work phone, and 1 data watch on our wifi. Then our players each bring a personal phone, some bring work phones, and they each bring a tablet or computer, and some have data watches. Our wifi was absolutely inadequate! We ended up having to buy a router that would support a lot of devices. Make a mental note of how many devices you have and guesstimate how many more your guests will bring, then add another 10% on top of that for all the new stuff that will need to be internet enabled, and get wifi resources accordingly.
Having a stash of charging cables and LOTS of plugs is definitely a great way to treat your guests. Consider buying the plug covers that include a USB port. (Look up “electrical plugs with usb ports” on Amazon and you’ll find an abundance of them.)Easy Access to Kitchen
We bought this house because someone could be in the kitchen and still participate in the game. (Which took a lot of looking!) Being able to get a drink or snack and not miss a word is great! It’s only human to want to bond over food and drink, so it’s an integral part of gaming culture. It’s polite to have a variety of drinks for your guests, and it’s also okay to ask them to contribute.Health and Safety
You should have, and your guests should know how to locate, the fire extinguisher and first aid kit. Paths to them should be clear and uncluttered. You should also have a well-stocked restroom with plenty of paper, air freshener, and Kleenex. If you have women players, having a few pads and tampons in a plastic box under the sink is kind. Parking is also Always A Thing at most people’s houses. Have enough parking and clearly communicate where and when your guests should park.Cats (also Dogs!)
Pets are a lovely part of the family and are often welcome in gaming spaces. Make sure your pets are good with having strangers in the house. If not, they need to be safely put up while guests are around. Make sure your guests are good with having pets around (and definitely let people know to bring allergy medicine as needed.) This is Fluffy, aka Giles. Note that he is NOT allowed on the table, but he IS allowed to sleep on my computer bag. He jumps up on the bag without touching the table. I am so amused by his rules lawyering I let him do it.
What about YOUR game space?
While this game setup is great for the games at MY house, everyone’s game table has different wants and needs. What is the most important element of your game space? What’s one thing you LOVE about your game space that really works well for you? What’s something that you can’t wait to CHANGE about your game space?