Mondays Muse, Run What You Love.

Today I am going to talk a little bit about one of the hardest things to do as a Game Master. Run what you love, I know it sounds easy. Yet ask a handful of GM’s and you will likely find that many of them are not running games they love. Often they are running games the group wants to play not what they themselves want to run. It’s an easy trap to fall into with more than a few ways to fall into it.

Most often we are just running the games that the group wants to play and someone needs to be the Game Master, Welcome to the trap.

The group has decided to run a game system that everyone knows rather than one that you as the GM know best. Welcome to the trap.

You are going to have to learn how to run the system some time this is your chance, Welcome to the trap.

The list goes on.

Granted there is a case to be made that there is nothing wrong with any of this. But in reality, if you want to be a game master for years to come head my advice and run the things that you love.

Everyone that runs games has enough to do with juggling game prep, manning the helm during the game and coordinating everything else in between. Why heap on the added weight of motivating yourself to even get into the mindset to run something that you are not enjoying. Because let me tell you if you struggle to find the motivation to run the game for your players. Everything else becomes exponentially more difficult.

So I wrap up my short little muse tonight stressing that if you or your group want you to try your hand at running games or tag you to run a game, Wonderful! Jump at the chance, embrace it and take it on with all that you are because it is one of the most rewarding parts of playing games you can do.

JUST RUN WHAT YOU LOVE and have faith that if you love it, your players will too!

Until next time.

Player Characters Backstories are Not Stories.

Not long ago I got in a twitter conversation about character backstories. One of my followers @CrossingNewLeafe chimed in on a conversation that I had commented on with @theGodDamnDM about making an awesome backstory that will impress your DM. One commenter had stated that they felt that a short backstory was the best. Others had stated that there was nothing wrong with a long and amazing backstory.  My reply was this.

Hot backstory tip. Do not make your backstory better than the story about to be told or there is no character motivator in your future.

This sparked a shift in the topic to the idea of: is there such a thing as too much backstory and should the GM just embrace it and rise to the challenge of penning a better plot to keep up with the tone set in the backstory. Also, the conversation went on to find many GM’s of the opinion that be backstory can never be too long. My last bit of voice on the subject was this.

paper-book-sculpture-art-jodi-harvey-brown-5

A good backstory is like a resume. Short & Informative with interests and motivations & some NPC references added at the end. 1 page is plenty.

Now that the stage has been set I will elaborate a bit. In the context of writing a backstory, it can be long or a prolog. In some cases, it can even be a prequel. In this situation, we are talking about handing your Game Master a backstory. So we are not writing a novel thus, the above intents of a backstory are not what we’re looking for. In this case what we have left is the other uses for a backstory.  A flashback, dialogue narrative exposition or a summary. Flashbacks are interjected into a scene. Dialogue is spoken backstory in character or by a narrator. What we are left with the only one that fits. A player Character backstory is a summary of events.  By definition:

sum·ma·ry
noun
a brief statement or account of the main points of something.
“a summary of Chapter Three”
adjective
dispensing with needless details or formalities; brief
“summary financial statements”

So a player characters’ backstory is not a story nor should it be a story even though many want it to be one. I want players to understand that backstory in the case of an RPG is at its core. A brief accounting of the players past. It is also used to reveal motivations, influences, fears and obstacles that made the character who they are as they step on stage for the first game.

I know you want to flex your inner author and I am all for creativity as the next guy. Even so, there are several reasons why I am making this blog to help understand that you can have a compelling backstory and still keep it in the space of a page or less.

 Reasons why you should keep a Backstory Brief.

  • The longer your backstory that more info that will fall through the cracks.
  • You are adding unnecessary workload on your Gamemaster.
  • It is lacking in any Gamemaster input or influence.
  • Less is more, You and your GM can always add to less. It’s hard to cut away More.
  • . Think back to your own life. It’s the defining moments we recall not the daily grind.
  • Your backstory tells the events that lead up to the moments of your stories beginning.

Tips to think about when writing your Backstory

  • Does the GM need this info?
  • How can I shorten what I have written?
  • Is this relevant to who my character has become?
  • Did I leave room for the Gamemaster to add input?

Be sure to add

  • Any Life changing moments
  • Achievements and Failure
  • Fears and Flaws
  • Motivations and Goals

All that said, what do I think a good Character Background would look like. Well as above I mentioned something akin to a resume. Something that would let the GM know my main traits. A few experiences or adventures that helped shape my life. As well as any contacts or rivals that may still be creeping around in my past and what kind of influance they may have.

This is mostly inspired by one of the best Character background sheets I have seen over my years of gaming. The Dresden Files Character Phase worksheet. Here is my version.

Your Name Here & Your PC’s Name Here

Class:
Personality Trait:
Bond:
Ideal:
Flaw:

 Long Term Goals

List one or two goals that your player would like to achieve.

Background (List three past events & how they affected you)

Event One, Location– Note here if any other PCs were involved

  • What Happened?
  • How were you Affected?
  • Was the Event Resolved?
  • Name a contact or Rival Gained? Roll 1d6 Even Contact Odd Rival

Event Two, LocationNote here if any other PCs were involved

  • What Happened?
  • How were you Affected?
  • Was the Event Resolved?
  • Name a contact or Rival Gained? Roll 1d6 Even Contact Odd Rival

Event Three, LocationNote here if any other PCs were involved

  • What Happened?
  • How were you Affected?
  • Was the Event Resolved?
  • Name a contact or Rival Gained? Roll 1d6 Even Contact Odd Rival

Contacts & Rivals

Contact/ Rival Name :
Influence & Resources:

Contact/ Rival Name :
Influence & Resources:

Contact/ Rival Name :
Influence & Resources:
Description:

 

Please let me know your thoughts! Thank you, fellow followers for the inspiration of this blog. I hope you all found this helpful. Did I change your mind or are you now further entrenched in long form backstories? I look forward to your replies.

GM Inspiration Dice & GM Compells House Rules

Today I decided to that I would like to share with you a favorite Homebrew Rule of mine for 5E D&D. This is a Homebrew rule that I developed because you see I love the Inspiration mechanic. Inspiration is simple and elegant in its both its intent and its use in the game. I have found that one constant with all players is that they love to roll dice. What is better than rolling one dice, rolling two! Inspiration is a wonderful carrot to encourage your players to roleplay and act on many or all of their background aspects.

As much as I love Inspiration, from the moment I read it I felt many GMs would miss the opportunity to not do more with this wonderful game enhancement. From the start, I feared that they would be treated more like Hero Points of old. Only to be used as a last ditch effort to pull one good roll and save a characters life. Sadly from what I have seen across many game tables. That is exactly how they are widely used by both players and GM’s alike.

Inspiration is a wonderful carrot to encourage your players to roleplay. Rewarding them for acting on many or all of their background aspects good or bad. In my opinion, inspiration was intended to be given fast and free to promote and reward roleplay. Hence why it is limited to only one point. When I look at how inspiration is written I think I see what the issue here might be. If you only focus on the first portion of the rule it sounds as if inspiration is given to you by the GM when you do something compelling or roleplay to one of your traits. Yet it goes on to say that the GM will tell you how you can earn Inspiration in the game. This is a key thing that I think may GM’s overlook.

Inspiration

Your GM can choose to give you inspiration for a variety of reasons. Typically, GMs award it when you play out your personality traits, give in to the drawbacks presented by a flaw or bond, and otherwise portray your character in a compelling way. Your GM will tell you how you can earn inspiration in the game. You either have inspiration or you don’t – you can’t stockpile multiple “inspirations” for later use.

The FATE system uses something very similar mechanic. Called Invoke and Compel. When a player wishes to gain the benefit of one aspect of their character they can invoke that characters Aspect. Much like inspiration they then gain a bonus to their next action. FATE then goes on to describe that the GM can also compel a player. If the FATE GM compels a player and they accept the compel they are given another FATE point (Inspiration) if they chose to accept on the compel. A player may choose not to act on a compel and play as they wish, but they will not get the FATE point.

Compelling

If you’re in a situation where having or being around a certain aspect means your character’s life is more dramatic or complicated, anyone can compel the aspect. You can even compel it on yourself—that’s called a self-compel. Compels are the most common way for players to earn more fate points.

 

So my homebrew rewrite of Inspiration is not really needed but helps to make clear how Inspiration works in my game. Reads as follows.

Inspiration & Compelling.

The GM can choose to give you inspiration for a variety of reasons. Typically, GMs award it when you play out your personality traits, give in to the drawbacks presented by a flaw or bond, and otherwise portray your character in a compelling way.

If you’re in a situation where any of your traits make your character’s life more dramatic or complicated, anyone can compel the you. You can even compel it on yourself. Compels are the most common way for players to earn more insperation. You may refuse any Compel but you are not awarded inspiration if you do so.

You either have inspiration or you don’t – you can’t stockpile multiple “inspirations” for later use.

Even my rule say that you can not Stockpile inspiration. I still wanted to encourage my players to use their Inspiration often. It is often hard to pry that D20 out of their hands unless it is a clutch roll. That and I often find that I have given out inspiration for good roleplay and my players just can’t burn it fast enough.  Enter the GM inspiration Die

GM Inspiration Dice

If my players do something creative or commit an act of good RP.  I award them an Inspiration point. The trouble I had was that Often my players had Inspiration and I still want to give them something. After some thinking, I decided to do the following. This is also a nice little alternative for some of the GM’s out there that prefer using inspiration as a “Hero Point” The benefit is smaller but players seem more willing to burn it over Inspiration often.

  • If the player has no Inspiration. I reward them with an Inspiration point.
  • If the player has a point of Inspiration I award them a “GM Inspiration”.
  • “GM” inspiration dice is not a D20 with advantage. It is treated like a Bardic Inspiration dice. It can be used at any time to add to a D20 roll.
  • The GM Inspiration Die is a D6.
  • Players can be awarded more than one, but only one dice may be spent at a time.
  • Once used it is gone it’s only useable for one roll.

Lastly, GM inspiration dice go away at the end of a session. USE EM OR LOSE EM!

 

Homebrew Monster: Scorpion Moth Swarm

Earlier this year I asked my readers what you all wanted to see more of. The resounding answers were homebrew content and the return of creature features in my blogs. You asked and I am more than happy to oblige.

So I reached back into my bag of tricks from when I was working on the concept of my homebrew world. There I found an interesting note about the dangers of flying scorpions. I recalled running a game session where the players came across a swarm of what at fist looked like butterflies on a log. On closer inspection, they realized two things. The log was not a long but a decaying corpse. The second thing they realized was that the butterflies were not butterflies but flying scorpions feasting on the body!

So the first thing I wanted to do for the blog was to update the Scorpion Moth for 5E. Additionally, I am a fan of two frames of thought when it comes to creature creation. First If possible, I prefer to reskin creatures so as to ensure the monster I am crafting is balanced for the encounters I will be using them in. Second if possible I try to find creative ways that I can use a creation over the breath of several levels.

In this case, I was successfully able to not only reskin once creature but introduce several forms that the GM could implement them in play. I am pleased with the result and if you bring these to your table you should be able to fit them in a wide range of encounters CR’s.
I hope you enjoy the Scorpion Moth.

blood-moth-swarm-page-001

A few years later I found this wonderful piece of art over at Deviant art so I clipped it and kept it around for future sessions.

Finding Inspiration & Note Taking.

Today I wanted to talk about the importance of note taking at the table as a game master. For years I did not take notes. I just ran my games and a day or two later I would sit down and pencil in the high points mentally and carry on with my game. I am not sure if it was my youth that kept me sharper or that we were gaming nightly, Likely a combination of both. As I became more experienced, older and game far less frequently over the years I have come to understand the importance of note taking.

I am not suggesting that you should be running game with your head down scribbling away at every little thing that your players are saying or doing. I am talking about jotting things down in shorthand or recording your session and going back to the audio later to take notes. I know some GMs that record their games and go back over their sessions later. Myself I have never done this.  I do take more and more shorthand notes during my session. One thing that you will quickly begin to realize after a little bit of doing this is that your players will provide you with tons of thoughts and content for you to expand on between games.

Personally these days I take more and more shorthand notes during my session. One thing that you will quickly begin to realize after a little bit of doing this is that your players will provide you with tons of thoughts and content for you to expand on between games. Taking notes is also extremely helpful when your party takes that inevitable hard right turn off the rails of your planned storyline.

So as I said, I am not encouraging you to go into a ton of detail. Actually, I am suggesting that you to write as little as possible so that you can easily maintain focus on the game you are running. So only focus on what is Important. So what is Important.

  • Names, Race, Disposition/Connection to party or players.
  • Locations of discovered interest to detail later.
  • Game Notes from players players
  • Random stuff

Here is an example of my own notes from my recent Star Wars FFG game. Before the start of the game, I knew my players would meet the crew of a starship that might be their way off the planet. But I also know my players may have found other ways off worlds so my notes looked like this before the start of game.

Ship Hanger
Cs Comet Light Freighter.
Captian Zhane Human.
Crew
Twilek
Gamorian
Ithorian
Note: Ship Shields down from Imp Encounter

Starward Light Freighter
Captian Drall the parts dealer
Crew
none

Nebula Light Freighter
Captian Vance Yanish
Crew
None
Note: On Safari

I knew what was going to go on that night that my players were going to HAVE to get off the world. So I penned in a few ships that were in the port and left it at that. Because I had no idea what ship they were going to take. In the end, the way the story unfolded they took a quick shine to the Comets crew for being shady about their damage shields and that was the ship they ended up taking off the world. Minus the crew that came down with a bad case of Imperial Blaster fire.

After that session even with the crew dead, I detailed the crew a bit since they are part of the history of the vessel. Also, this might come back to haunt the players. So my notes from before became:

Ship Hanger
Cs Comet Light Freighter.
Captian Zhane Ordo Human Spice Dealer/Smuggler. 
( one paragraph of backstory)
+3 contacts Names/Planet they reside
Crew
Jae Yovv Twilek Starship Tech
( one paragraph of backstory)
+3 contacts Names/Planet they reside
Gralbacc Gamorian *classified*
( one paragraph of backstory)
+3 contacts Names/Planet they reside
Forrannnish Ithorian Scout
( one paragraph of backstory)
+3 contacts Names/Planet they reside

Note: Ship Shields down from Imp Encounter
2 paragraphs on the history of the ship. Because it will be with the players for a long time.

Now just from my expanded notes on the ship alone I can gather tons of side quests and options as the players maybe seek out the contacts of the former crew while they try and make contacts of their own.

Now if I were running a game and my players ran off the rails and into any generic location I would not take the time to make a note of it. It is unlikely your players will care about the power fixture salesman ten min let a lot ten sessions from now. Don’t waste your time detailing him.

NPC’s that I will note down often are in places I had not expected my players to arrive at or I had not planned to introduce yet. Ie The Sherif, A Mayor or anyone in a position of power. If the players do this I jot down something like this.

Alex Gateway Sherif, Landover.
Walks with a limp.
Players got on his nerves.

This is enough to let me remember him between games and fill out more detail about him when I need to. Or play him as is when the group revisits him out of the blue in 6 sessions for their own reasons. Other notes I might make might be.

PLOT
PC’s Suspect Sherif ?

In this case, it is a short side note to remind me to think on away from the table. Like I said your players will hand you Tons of plot ideas if you just take a moment to listen as well as write them down.

So all this is good but where will you put your notes or write them down on ? Pen and Paper this works fine but at the game table, I find that Index cards are the best for a quick note. That or either Evernote or OneNote. Personal I use a combination of Onenote and Index cards. The nice thing about Evernote and OneNote is that both of these products can store your notes on the cloud and you can even check them from your phone. Giving you the ability to look over your game ideas from your phone.