Thursday, May 28, 2015

The "What Are You Good At" GM Challenge

Aside from posting about gaming sessions, I've been not doing a lot of blogging on this blog lately, so when Adam over at Barking Alien posted his What Are You Good At GM Challenge, I took the bait.

So I have to list five games I am great at running, three I am not so hot with, five reasons you consider yourself a good GM, and three things you feel you need to work on.

Before I do this, a sidebar.  I've had people tell me I'm a great GM, but some times I just don't see it.  I had a conversation last week where I began to wonder if I do this well at all, in fact.  So I have to overcome my own skepticism to do this list.  Also, I appreciate how Adam thinks that people have run eight different games.  God love that guy....

Without further equivocation...

Games I am great at running:

Old School Fantasy (the "murderhobo" campaign)
Picaresque Science Fiction (aka "Free Trader" sci-fi)
Pulp/Adventure stories

Games I am not so hot with

Cosmic Horror (aka Call of Cthulu)
Epic Fantasy
Military-style RPG's

Five Reasons You Consider Yourself a Great GM

Large Group Management
Acting in Character
Recruiting Players

Three Things I Need to Work On

Incorporating PC backgrounds into a campaign
Pre-session preparation
Maintaining a consistently serious tone

So there you go!  I hope this gets your own gears spinning to think about what you do well (or not so well).  Thanks to Adam for the great blog post idea.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Black Monolith is destroyed

Warning, spoilers for the module "The Tomb of Abysthor" lie ahead..

Tonight the group (at least a select five of them) managed to make it to the infamous Black Monolith of the Tomb of Abysthor. They fought past frogmen cultists...

Frog men and giant frogs?  Charge!
...Sphinxes with deadly riddles, and finally to the monolith itself, where they discovered the only way to destroy it was by making the ultimate sacrifice: levels of experience points!  What's worse, only one PC was the right alignment, Lawful Good!

The rest of the party?  Neutral good, the classic PC alignment.

His sacrifice was greatly respected by all, and the group swore to help him find a way to restore him, aside from just grinding on low-level monsters.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Plumbers

I had not realized this was Robert Deniro until I had to go looking for a photo.

Last night I was chatting with Adam from Barking Alien and the topic ranged around to difficult types of players.  There's lot of types that make for a challenge, but one of the most subtle kinds of challenging player is the one Aaron Allston dubbed "The Plumber" in his book Strike Force.

The Plumber is the kind of player who derives most of their pleasure gaming in the exploration of his or her own PC's character.  In many ways Plumbers are great players to have at the table: they usually have well-established backstories and roleplay a great deal.  Where Plumbers can run amok is when their interest in their own characters begin to eclipse the participation in group storytelling that is essentially to roleplaying games.

I'll give you an extreme example from my own gaming experience.  When I was running RPG's in college I had a Plumber named Chris in the group who one day came to me to ask if I would be interested in running a new campaign.  The kicker was that it would only feature himself as a player.  Moreover, not only would he run a single, well-developed character, but an entire group!  He had already created in his mind the entire cast, including the group dynamics, etc. and just needed a GM to host them.  I actually wondered if he hadn't gotten all he could out of the experience, since I suspected he would view my own attempts to introduce plot elements as an intrusion into his own story.

Plumbers can do more than just hog the spotlight (they do that with regularity too), in extreme cases they can disconnect themselves from the gaming world and the group, and just go down the trundle path of their own character's story.  And when you're in a group context, that can be disruptive.

In the old days, you could manage plumbers through "bluebooking," using actually small notebooks in which players could jot down their independent actions and have the GM respond apart from the group gaming session. Nowadays it is even easier, with email and the like.  Adam was lamenting the existence of two Plumbers in his own group, but that is his tale to tell.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Friday Gaming Recap, Revenge Edition

The group flees the scene of their vengeance

So, with their trusty NPC torchbearer Knobbyfoot dead at the hands of Natasha, a drow wizardess living in the second level of the Tomb of Abysthor, the group heads back to Grimfest (the campaign home base).  After some deliberation with the local clerics of Hieronymous, the group decides to plump down a whalloping 1,200 gp to have the gnomling not only raised, but reincarnated into a new, non-deformed body.

With a new high elf hireling in tow, the group heads back to level two with blood in their eyes.  After clearing a path through the manticores, a vrock, and several zombie ogres guarding her, they have their vengeance against Natasha, although not without no less than three PC's dropping to zero hit points.

Flaria, in a rather dark roleplaying moment, fulfills a vow she made when Knobbyfoot was killed when she drags Natasha's corpse back to the cave near the entrance to the Tomb of the 99 Mad Monks and leaves the remains for the bears to eat.

I'm kind of curious where the group is heading next.  At some point, they will need to wrap this thing up, I think.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Friday Gaming Recap: a torch (bearer) is extinguished

The tombstone may have cost more than the hireling's wages to date
Note: spoilers to the adventure "The Tomb of Abysthor" follow

Last Friday's group decided to explore the second level of the dungeon, which had really only been discovered the previous gaming session.  The northern half is infested with stirges, and the group managed to stumble across two chasme (fly demons) who are probably the source of them.  The two chasme were pretty lethal opponents because they have a droning they emit which causes PC's fall unconscious in their presence.  That's pretty nasty for a CR6 monster.

But the heroes prevail and make their way to the southern portion of the dungeon level, which is filled with a purple hazy cloud that prevents vision, a big problem when there are zombie ogres wandering around.  In the haze-filled area they find Natasha, a beautiful drow who says she is the prisoner/concubine of a powerful wizard named Balcoth.  The group agrees to rescue her and defeat Balcoth.  Natasha leads them back to the northern part of the dungeon, past a warning sigil they had seen before.  The group enters this portion of the dungeon, leaving Natasha behind with Knobbyfoot, their gnomling torchbearer NPC to guard her.

After defeating Balcoth's rust monster and Su-monster guards, they confront him (only he's a wraith, not a powerful wizard as Natasha said) and he calls them fools for listening to the drow.  They still attack and defeat him, but when they return to collect Knobbyfoot and Natasha, they discover that Knobbyfoot is dead, killed by a poison spray spell, and Natasha is gone.

In a dungeon crawl, you don't get a lot of opportunities to roleplay, which means it is harder to really get a group to really hate a villain.  You can show them how terrible they are (Balcoth had some nasty souvenirs in his lair), but how do you really get a villain under the players' skin?  Well, Natasha is that villain now.  The group is all over their private Facebook group talking about how they are going to get their revenge, including the notion of "feeding her to the bears," which is kind of an inside joke. I was getting texts late at night from players who were not at last night's session about it.

Sometimes, I'm a passable GM.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Gaming Ten Years Ago

Like so many others, I thought I'd take Lowell Francis' suggestion that we reminisce about what we were gaming ten years ago on our gaming blogs.

What's interesting for me is how ten years ago appears to be such a lull for so many gaming bloggers, and I am (or was) in the same boat.

Twelve years ago, I got a new position and a new assignment and was shipped out to a small, rural town in western Ohio.  I ended up staying there for eight years.

It would be impossible to try to sum up eight years of my life in a small frame of time.  Sublimely beautiful and deeply scarring might be a good try.  I'm still living with a lot of what happened in that time, not the least of which was the birth of my daughter (on the good side) and a lot of other stuff on the bad.  But let's stick to gaming.

I was in a very small town, and had little in the way of social outlets.  The internet put me in contact not with RPG enthusiasts, but GW-related wargamers, and so I shifted from running RPG's to wargaming around that period.  Eventually I tried doing RPG with wargamers, which didn't go well.

Finally I started recruiting friends that I had met in those first few years and introduced them to gaming.  Dungeons & Dragons was still really a standby for RPG's, and the OGL had made it a dominant force on game store bookshelves.  But I didn't care for Third Edition much, and when Castles & Crusades heralded the beginning of the Old School Renaissance, I was an early adopter.  I did a lot of reading on blogs and the like, re-discovering some of the core concepts of movement.  But even though I had been a really great GM of games like Champions, Star Wars, and Vampire, I was struggling with fantasy.  Partially it was because we were gaming with children and their parents.  Partially it was because I was unused to (and possibly ill-suited for) fantasy.  Partially it was all the other stuff.

Like I said, I was mostly wargaming then, with good friends and as a hobby it served me well.  When I finally left Ohio and came to Kansas, I realized I really wanted to do more RPG playing with people who really liked RPG's, and the larger college town had more people like that.  I've been gaming with this group now for almost five years, running mostly (but not exclusively) fantasy, and it has been going very well.

But ten years ago wasn't that place, not by a long shot.  And I don't mind saying I am glad to be gone from there.

Over at Strange Vistas