Monday Muse: The Doppelganger Event

Today’s Monday muse is a trip down memory lane. Looking back over the years I can proudly say that I for the most part have always been a lucky person when it comes to roleplaying games. I know that there are plenty of gamers out there in the world that struggled to find players over the years. I also know many a gamer that turned to Game Mastering just because it increased their odds of finding a group. Thankfully with the wave of digital game fronts like Google Hangouts, Roll20, and Fantasy Ground the number of players with no one to play with has been greatly reduced.

As I had said it was a rare thing that I was ever without a group to play with. When I got out of the service I decided that I wanted to move back home. I longed to get back in touch with my school age friends and reconnect after having been gone for several years. What I had not expected when I returned to my tiny town was to find many of them had much like myself had moved out of the small town we grew up in. Having moved on to be closer to school or work as one often does when they begin to have to be an adult. This is where our story begins as I had to put the word out that I was looking for a group. Not as easy in the pre internet world let me I tell you. About two or three weeks later I had found a group and made arrangements to meet them at the farm house where they gamed at.

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I was excited to play it had been several months since I had the chance at the joy of chucking dice with other lovers of the game. Just before I left to meet with this new group my telephone rang just as I was walking out the door. It was the group and they informed me that they had a change of plans. They had heard rumor I was a good Game Master from another of their friends and wanted to know if I instead would run a game when I got there. I agreed this sets the stage for what would become now known as the Doppelganger Event.

On the drive I told myself I wanted to knock this out of the park. If these guys had heard I could run a good game it was from my old local gaming friends I now had years of experience in several systems and styles under my belt I was going to wow them…Boy did I.

Since time was short I grabbed an excellent D&D module that I have run a few times over the years and a personal favorite. D&D Module A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity. It’s an excellent adventure that has encounters in many different environments I was confident it would help impress them.

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When I arrived we stat down and talked for a bit and it became more and more apparent that I had been invited to sit with some pretty hard core players. I noticed the players character sheets had detailed logs of their previous adventures. As well some of them had “X” stamped on their sheets representing that they had died and had been brought back to life. These “X” were a house rule that if that character died again not even magic could bring them back from the dead.

After looking over their things and giving them an overview of the adventure I was going to run.

The marathon of dice chucking began and it was going well. As expected the rich encounter locations were a great backdrop to some excellent roleplay and combats. Maybe an hour went by till the parties resources were depleted and they needed to rest. They chose to sleep in the dungeon itself instead of backing out to a more safe location. So, I rolled turned to the Random Encounter tables to see if they would make it through the night undisturbed. If you are imagining that this is where it begins to go downhill you get the prize.

The group of five hunkered down for the night leaving one man on guard duty. A human fighter stood vigil over his companions while they slept he remained alert for trouble. From the darkness he heard soft sobbing someone was crying just beyond the firelight. For the life of me I have no idea why, but he chose not to wake anyone up. I smiled to myself as the stepped into the darkness and found a human in slave clothes huddled nearby in a corner.

I stood up from the table and asked the player to join me in the other room. The players looked dumbfounded…WHY are you guys leaving they asked? I told them that they were asleep and I wanted to be sure they would not play out of character with the news that he would learn. Once out of earshot I informed the Fighter to roll for initiative and I watched the blood drain from his face. He knew his mistake was likely about to cost him his life. It indeed did as the “slave” and his four companion Doppelgangers gained the initiative and made short work of the already wounded Player. I stepped back into the room and had everyone roll a very easy roll to see if they had heard the scuffle. My creativity was rewarded with a round of bad rolls as no one had woken up!

I returned to find that the player who looked saddened at his PC’s passing. He frowned and said “Man, we are like less than two hours into the game what am I going to do with the rest of the night I do not want to sit around and watch, how long till you could get me back into game if I reroll.??”
I simply smiled and told him “how would you feel about helping the GM out and you can get right back into game. Informing him that he could return to the table right now “IF” he returned to the party as the Doppelganger. With the goal of helping me through role play to draw the rest of the party away from the main group one by one so that the remaining Doppelgangers could assume their place.

He as more than eager to help me put my new plot into motion. I also warned him that if he were discovered as a Doppelganger and combat ensured he would be out until I could find a way to get him back in the game. Lastly I told him he could not “Cheat or Lie” in the sense that if he were asked things by suspicious party members that only his fallen character would have known. He would not be able to answer these questions and would have to beat around the bush or avoid the question entirely.

Over the course of the next 5 hours of game one by one each party member was lured away. Suspicion at the table rose higher each time I asked a player to join me in the other room. Demands begun to be made “What is going on in the other room? Why do they need their dice? Why do they all come back to the table smiling, what the hell are you guys doing in there?

The Wizard and the Cleric were the last two real players standing as the Dopplegangers knew they would not be able to duplicate their spells. Tension began to rise at the table as the two remaining were now sure something was up. The Dungeon had become a backdrop for suspicion and murder now.

This is where the night reached its climax, the last two players had formed an alliance and vowed until they returned to town they would not allow themselves to be separated from one and other. They stood their ground and confronted the players that were acting differently as to why they were acting the way they were. I cut in and stopped the table talk announcing

“ A voice from the darkness cuts through your discussion and informs you that your friends are acting differently because they are all dead” A doppelganger steps out of the shadows and walked through the center of your companions as they begin to shift slightly at his passing. You realize they are all doppelgangers. Roll initiative “

The fight was over before it started, it was just a few futile dice throws in a vain effort to try and find a way out before the last HP hit 0. The game was over. I asked everyone if they had a good time all my Doppelgangers were thrilled. The last two players said that it was a good game. But the guy that owned the house did not seem pleased. So, I asked him one more time are you sure you had a good time. He tore his sheet in half and said that his favorite character could not be raised because of their house rule and died because of a bullshit game he did not agree too. I told him that since it was my game that night maybe the should just forget their house rule for the night. His reply to my thought was plain and simple. He then promptly kicked me out of his house and game group. I have never seen any of them again.

There you guy and gals I hope you enjoyed this Monday Muse.

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.

 

Monday Musing, Bringing a touch of Halloween to your table.

The other day I found myself at one of the local big box stores and discovered that once again it’s that time of year where three sessions of holiday items are on the shelves. Now as annoying as I find this in regards to the total commercialization of my favorite holidays. The gamer in me loves it. This is that one time of the year where I am able to get my hands on tons of alternative gaming goodies to use at the table.

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So this year my most recent find was my Giant undead frog that I used in my down the drain D&D game session. With his immense size, I gave him a swallow whole attack and a 60-foot reach with his undead tongue attack. led-fairy-string-lights-battery-operated-nbsp-nbsp-warm-white-3_260It was a blast and went over well. This was just one of the items I picked up so far. I also picked up some Halloween lights that I will be making torches and fires with.

I think that I can make a few very nice torch stands with these. Or some other things. Now it is not just about finding cool deals for me. Granted it is very nice to find anything I can implement well at the table for cheap. For me, it is times like this that I can head to the store and let my creative juices flow.

Over the years I have found some excellent things that I use to this day, here are pics of just a few.

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A fine example of an old setup that takes advantage of much of these wonderful sessional purchases I have found from trips to the store like this. In this amazing Dwarven Forge setup, I am also using. Trees that I had picked up in an after Christmas sale for a quarter. As well as the cool skeletal torches. I also added Tealights Halloween webbing for fog as well as my sweet Rise all Ye Dead statue I had found on sale at the local Michaels crafts. 2013-01-08 11.49.25

So am I the only one that does this ? Or do you love this time of year as a GM for the same reason as I do?  Or maybe I have inspired you to make a trip to the store? Let me know as I love to hear your input about any great finds you may have come across as well!

Just Insert Imagination Mini Review: Size Matters.

 Can’t run your usual game, running a Con game or looking for something short to introduce new players? Just Insert Imagination has you covered.

190529Size Matters is a for the whole family, sandbox adventure for Savage Worlds. Six people are shrunk to 1 inch tall in a laboratory accident. Can they reach help? Can they survive in a world of giants? Or will their tiny skeletons end up forgotten in an air vent or crack in the floor?

In the document (that is designed to fit inside a GM screen) you will find:

  • setting rules
  • twists and complications to use
  • bestiary
  • 6 pre-generated characters and character sheets
  • a blank character sheet to create your own character
  • 5 battle-maps
  • printable cards with size comparisons
  • a map of level five
  • figure flats
Man, I have have been looking forward to putting my thoughts down on this new product from Just Insert Imagination. Size Maters is done in the format of their Snap Sites modules they have put out in the past. So you know up front what to expect.

The theme here is just like the picture shows. In the vein of “Honey, I shrunk the kids!” and “The incredible shrinking Man/Woman” or the Littles. your players are either tiny people or become tiny people for one reason or another.

The layout as I said is much like the layout of their previous snap sites adventures like Fuggedaboutit. One of the things I love in this adventure is the size comparisons that are dropped into the background to help give the GM a sense of scale that he can better convey it to the players.
We’re now a quarter of an inch tall, and sixty-four feet from the house. That’s an equivalent of three-point-two miles. That’s a long way. Even for a man of science. – Nick, Honey, I shrunk the kids
They show a player standing up a pen, that is well over twice as tall as the player. And a silhouette of an actual one-inch man to help bring the fact of how small the players have become home. The Gist of this adventure is plain and simple, the players are all together in one room and become shrunk to the size of an RPG mini. There is nothing to do but find help. But the only help is at the other end of the building. Only 50 or so feet away, ONLY.

The adventure like all other Just Insert Imaginations products is made for Savage Worlds and designed for one-shot or convention play. It comes with a nice set of NPC’s and some pretty cool maps and cards. I love the size comparison hand out. Showing the size of the players compared to every creature detailed in the adventure.

I am not normally a fan of figure flats but I think just because this is a game where “Size Maters” I am very pleased that they were included in this product. And I know that If I run this I most definitely would use them unless I had enough time in advance to find toys or minis to properly represent them at the table.

The map for this product is super basic. It is nothing more than a standard you are here sign you would find in most any building or mall. At first, I was very disappointed in it. But in time the irony grew on me that in a modern day world that is about all your going to get out of a modern building map. Even with my Ding on their You Are Here map they make up for it in the combat maps they provide. I personally found the computer desktop battle map an excellent idea.

Size Maters also comes with a bestiary of critters one might encounter in the lab. Everything from lab rats to roaches. As well as the surprise bird if the players manage to find themselves outside for some crazy reason! This is a welcome little asset for any GM to have on hand when running a game like this.
Lastly,the character sheets are PRICELESS for this. I got a huge giggle out of them. If you are going to run this as a one-shot or a con game I strongly urge you to use these sheets for your game. The guys thought ahead and even made a PC blank sheet for groups that would prefer to make their own characters.

Overall my thoughts on Size Maters is this is a solid purchase! There are enough ideas here that you could have this adventure take place in several different locations and all of them would prove fun and virtually all the critters listed here could still be used.

Learning flexibility as a GM.

be-flexible

So today I wanted to talk about the philosophy of being flexible as a GM. Part of a Game Master’s job is to be prepared with their story and the scenes that they’re going to run each game session. Part of mastering running games is being flexible when the players throw you a curveball.

You must be willing and ready for when your players take a story in the opposite direction from the work that you planned. This will happen often even if you run a very on the rail style of game. It’s your job as a Game Master to learn to seamlessly roll with this. The beauty of running a role-playing game is that it is interactive and that the players can do things unexpectedly. This is one of the greatest differences between a video game and Tabletop RPG’s. It is also one of the most frustrating things for many new GM’s to experience. As well as one of the most fulfilling things to do on the fly. But only you will ever know because if executed properly, your flexibility will never be noticed in the game.

In my experience, it is always best to have several options prepared for when the players go off script. Develop side scenes that are not vitally to your story. While being generic enough to fit in several points along your story arc. Place these guideposts out there for your players to find. Leaving clues in those scenes that hopefully will point the players back to your planned plot line.

For example, say I want my adventuring group to speak to the mayor in my game session. Yet my players decide that they are going to go to the Guildhall or Tavern and look for work instead. There are several things I might be able to do to nudge them in the direction of the mayor while allowing them to still do the things they want.

  • I could have one of the town guards inquire  as they arrive in town “Are you the group the mayor hired/was expecting?”
  • I could have a player hear a rumor about town that the mayor is in need fo some “Skilled assistance”
  • Any shop keep might inquire if they were the Mayors “New men?”
  • The players find an item in the street with the family crest of the mayor on it. Or they loot the item from an encounter.

And the list goes on, give players a little cheese and one of them is likely to bite and go see what is up with the Mayor. If they don’t bite let them play, forcing them at pike point is not the way to handle getting your players to go see the Mayor. Unless that is actually part of your story.

Let the players have to have their freedom, Alow them to explore and do what they like. Along the way place guideposts in your story to hopefully direct them back to your plot. These things will likely be a subtle enough nudge in the right direction to get players heading where you are wanting the story to go. Alternatively if they choose to still not go in the direction of the plot you are left with a few choices.

  • Bring the mayor to see them in another scene.
  • Or just play out a prepared side quest and call it a night.

Myself I always chose to play out a side quest. If I lay out breadcrumbs and my players ignore them I need to keep the game going.  Always be prepared to take the story in another direction. Not hit the players over the head with the plot until they go where you want them too.

That said in my games I never let a good plot rot, Neither should you! After your game is done for the night and you are doing your after game review and wrap up. Take a min or two and advance that unaddressed plot the players did not take care of. I do this with all my plot hooks. This helps give your world the feel that time is passing and the choices your players make have an effect on the world they are in.

I will go into more detail about my plot advancement next time.

 

 

#RPGaDay2016 Day:22 Supposedly Random game events that keep recurring?

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I have a good one, But it is not an in-game event. This one has been happening for years and years of my gaming lifetime. It is my one pain that the digital world has finally stepped in to solve. Or so I thought. Just when I thought I was free of this event. Yet once again this weekend at our groups Shadowrun game. It happened again.

I lost my damn Character sheet! It is truly terrifying the number of character sheets I have lost misplaced spent hectic moments before game vainly looking to find my misplaced Characters.

Enter the age of Digital Character sheets and I cheer to myself knowing that the days of lost sheets are over! For a few years, I was free of the curse. Then just recently we started up a Shadowrun game. I dreaded writing up this character. Because I knew .. I just it would happen. It did not fail.
After about our 5 game session we sat down last week to play and it happens. I lost my character sheet. Sighs.. SO it is not in the game but it is recurring and it feels like it’s not random lol.

#RPGaDay2016 Day:21 Funniest misinterpretation a rule?

rpgaday2016

Playing catch up today ! 

Try and try as I might I could not think of a misinterpretation of a rule in my group that was the funniest. So I am going to alter this question only slightly. To

How do you handle misinterpretations of the rules

So this now gives me something I can work with! Misinterpretation of the rules happens, honestly far more than most people would want to admit. So how we handle them at our table?

Well often after a good laugh. So many that they all the laughter apparently has blended together into a mush that I can not pick one out from the mass to answer today’s question. After were done with our good laugh we take a look at the rule. Then we try to identify why we misinterpreted it ? Often also discuss if we prefer our interpretation of the rule. If we prefer our interpretation, Bam a new house rule is born !

GOOD NEWS! A funny & Tragic misinterpretation of the rules just came to mind. It was a short time ago in the 5th Ed D&D game that I was running for my group. The game was new and we were enjoying the story I was running … So Far. Then I decided to break all the rules and attempt to kill my entire group of PCs! The best way possible, by misinterpreting the rules.

For some reason I had determined in my mind that spells that were listed as Concentration were able to be cast and stack old school Spell suite style and ONLY when the caster was hit did they need to roll a Concentration check for any active spells the require it. OUCH..
So.. my players faced off with a fully off the rails veteran mage prepared to kill the players.

He had two Weights lurking nearby under invisibility. He had cast fly and was I think I was rolling a flaming sphere around the battlefield. Pretty much full on cheating my poor players. Until someone questioned..”Hey, Its cool and all but how is he stacking concentration spells.”
This was not a funny moment at the time as I felt like a total ass for putting a mage sized can of cheating whoop ass on my players. But for them, it was funny because I still occasionally get ribbed for that error.