Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Workshop #3 - Character Development

On Sunday, spontaneously as it happens, we had another Gamesmaster Workshop on IRC at the MagicStar network. It was once again a lot of fun, and really good practice. We ran the workshop for four participants and had a couple of lurkers who wanted to scoop the logs. The way I run it each participant gets a Trope, in this case a standard NPC, such as "The Black Knight", or the "Paladin of the King", or "The Whimsical Flute-Girl" (I tried to create mostly standard tropes, but threw in a few oddballs to illustrate the diversity that I think Worlds can benefit by). We have a bot in the Channel named Igor. He's great. What he does is randomly select a trope and then send it to the participant so that no one else can see which one is selected, including the moderator. This makes it more fun as we don't know what we're up against. Once Igor sends the trope then the participant gets 5 minutes to think about how they want to frame the scene and describe the character. When they're ready to start they type (Start) in the channel and then send off the three or four sentences to us. When they're finished they right (done) so we know it's our turn. We, the peers, act as a pseudo party and discuss what we think we should do. We spend a few minutes (at most) in deliberation and then decide to do xyz. The GM then gets 3 minutes to compose a response and types (start) and sends the description back to the channel, and then writes (done). The moderator then writes --- Critique ---!!! and we discuss. Comments, criticisms and suggestions go on for a about five minutes. We then move on to the next participant who acts as GM and do the same. We do this until each of the four participants gets a turn. For four of us it takes about an hour. And its a LOT of fun!

For more information regarding how the Workshops are run please read GM Workshops on IRC. More will be coming along as time and resources permit. We schedule these through the LRGPSW Meetup on

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Few Deadly Traps

I was watching some old and wonderful kung fu movies from the Shaw Brothers, and stumbled on The Five Venoms series. And now, introducing, a few deadly traps from The Kid with the Golden Arm.

The Poison Needles - Having come to a logical resting place in the wilderness midway or so between the two towns our hero's men have a seat. Only to die. The wooden logs are invested with scores of poison needles that cause instant death. No crying out, just sit and die. Mean. Stepping forward on the path to get away from that spot was a bad idea however. Two more die. The ground itself is also peppered with poison needles. Very mean.

The Poison Water Bucket - Having made it to the next town our heroes find it quite empty of citizens. They've been chased away by the rival gang. And the entire town has been booby-trapped. After a long journey over rough terrain it's time to quench your thirst at the town inn. But only if you want to die. The water in the buckets has been poisoned. Damn. Two more henchmen lost.

The Poison Torch Holders - In the town's main inn our heroes think that all is well since they are going to eat only their own food, and drink only their own water... and even use only their own torches. Little do they realize but the torch holders themselves are the trap. The metal of the holders has a bi-thermal element which heats up and expands - releasing the holder's hollow tube and the deadly red-gas sprays into the room. A nasty and repulsive death for those who can not leap out through the windows fast enough.

The Poison Chests - It's not what you think. The chests do not have poison needle locks. That would be too obvious. The entire chests themselves are poisoned and anyone who touches them dies a horrible agonizing death. Mwahahahaha.

Now I'm not saying that Gamesmasters should flood their worlds with deadly poison traps. But having a few available for special occasions such as when the government gold supply is being brought to the famine wracked town, can be a very handy way of weeding out the henchmen from the Heroes. Arch-villains can be ruthless, you know.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Skill of Improvisational Narration

While most Gamesmasters know to give descriptive narratives, it is nevertheless a particular skill that has a number of components worth thinking about.

1) Descriptiveness. It's really great if the players can get a full view of the scene being described and at the same time get a feel for the mood and features of the scene as they encounter it. For example, if they come upon a scene in which there is action, describing it in the blur of motion is great. Whatever the elements that the GM gives in the narrative should provide information that the PCs would normally focus on - ie those things that might cause them to decide to do one thing over another.

2) Brevity. It is good to pack as much information into as few sentences as possible for the introduction of the scene. Notice that in the example cases we get a sense of the weather, the lighting, sounds, smells, and the terrain.

3) Suspense. It is good if you can convey at the same time enough implied or actual tension in the scene to cause the players to be concerned, either for their safety, or perhaps some moral hazard.

4) Speed. Usually during a game the GM does not really have a lot of time to think about how to phrase what the Players are encountering, especially if the GM is running his or her World in "Sandbox" mode and the PCs wander off into not very well defined terrain.

5) Accuracy. It's important for the GM to keep their facts straight, and if there are particulars such as names of things, often the GM will not have time to look them up. So the next best thing is to use more generic common terms. However, it is important to keep the scene cohesive by not introducing wrong-facts (unless it's an illusion or some such, of course). Probably the most important impression to give the Players is an accurate depiction of where they are in relation to the environment (are they far away or close by? Is the door near them open or closed? etc) so they can make well informed decisions as to where they go and what they do.

6) Interest. Of course perhaps it goes without saying, but each scene should present something interesting in some way. Even a mundane situation such as wolves stealing birds from the hen house can be made interesting by good GMing. And that's important to remember.

Good narrative is what brings your World alive to the Players. Don't short the process, I say! And be willing to stop the action and take a minute or two to think about how you want to introduce a new scene to the players if you need to. That's my advice.

Monday, August 03, 2009

LRPGSW GM Workshop

In ancillary news we had the first Gamesmaster Workshop through the Literary Role Playing Game Society of Westchester. The subject of the Workshop was "Improvisational Narratives" for Gamesmasters. Initially we planned this as a live activity through the local meetups at the Cobblestone Tavern. Then it was suggested that we try this on IRC as well. So I selected the MagicStar network, posted a notice or two on theRPGSite and the LRPGSW Meetup & Yahoo Group, posted a request for scheduling preferences on, and voila. I was very happy with the results.

Here are the original GM Workshop Instructions.

We had four participants, which was just right for a one hour Workshop, as it gave us each 15 minutes for the exercise. We also had a few lurkers who wanted to watch the proceedings. The event was fast and furious and a lot of fun. And I think we all got something out of it. So we'll be doing those on a regular basis, and they will be scheduled through the LRPGSW Meetup Site, in case you want to follow the scheduled IRC activities.

So that was a lot of fun. My thanks to the participants and observers. I look forward to the next one.