Friday, June 30, 2017

Can you show us the map?

Map making is one of those things that some GMs live for.  The hours of painstaking detail to convey the lush world they're created.

There are other people however who feel that maps hinder their creative thinking.  Because once it's on a map their world no longer makes sense.

I tend to take a map of a real place and file off the serial numbers as we say.  My most recent fantasy campaigns I have been using my own version of Europe circa 1910.  I downloaded a few maps from the interwebz and broke out GIMP and made some changes and BAM!  My own fantasy world.

You can do the same sort of thing.  One suggestion I've heard is to take a map of a place and then change the orientation of the map so it's not as easily recognizable as that place.  The nice thing about using a real map is that the mountains and rivers and cities are already there.  You can use them or not, but the complicated elements of geography are already present.

But you don't really need all that complicated detail, yet you still need to have a general map so you can convey general ideas about location, proximity, etc. to your players.  Break out the spreadsheet.

For a recent game a friend was GMing I needed to sort out my character background, which involved me trekking from my home country East to the ocean, then South and finally West to the far coast.  He had given a description of how the countries were in relation to one another, and the main mountain ranges and rivers.  So I just marked it out in a spreadsheet.  I didn't get really fancy, the continent is a rectangle with a bunch of squares and rectangles color coded and labeled.  I sent it to him for review, he clarified a few things, and now it's effectively the official map of the world for the game.

Maps can be useful because some people are just visual.  They need to see things to understand them.  A map doesn't have to be detailed to be able to convey what the players need to know.  Sometimes colored blocks will do just fine.

What are your favorite ways to handle maps in your games?  Let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Fate Roll, or how I stopped making all the decisions about what's going on

The Fate Roll.

I have a custom mechanic, if you can call it that, to help me GM.  Sometimes there are times  when making a decision about something introduces your bias into the story.

"Is the food any good?"

"Does she love me?"

"Am I anywhere near them?"

For times like this I use what I have come to call the Fate Roll.  The way you do it can be modified to fit the dice engine your particular system uses.  I started it when I was playing the HERO System fairly regularly, so that was 3D6.  It got adopted as I changed engines over time, and it just requires a little bit of thought for how you want to do it in your game.

The basics are simple.  Two or more rolls are made.  It might be the GM and a player, or the GM and three different players, or two different players.  Everyone rolls with the GM playing the part of Fate, or the fickle nature of the universe.  Then you compare.  Take for example that question "Am I anywhere near them?"  Assuming there is no specific reason this isn't the case, you could resort to a Fate roll.  The player asking the question rolls and the GM rolls.  I will use two examples, one using 3D6 and one using D20.

In the 3D6 example the player rolls 3D6 and the GM rolls 3D6.  Compare the results.  The nice thing about 3D6 is that it offers a lot more 'Power Ups' you could say, which I will explain in a bit.

Player Rolls 3D6 gets 4,3,6 = 13

GM Rolls 3D6 gets 2,4,5 = 11

Let's say you decide the proximity of the rolls is how close he is.  He might be a mere two blocks away, or perhaps you might say 2 minutes.

Another example.

Player Rolls 3D6 gets 4,3,6 = 13

GM Rolls 3D6 gets 5,4,4 = 13

You could say the player is arriving at the scene now.  They rolled the same number total, so they're in the same place.

Using D20. D20 are a little less exciting than 3D6 because the variations are less, but it still works fundamentally the same way.

Player Rolls 1D20 gets 3 (player moans, they feel 3 is bad)

GM Rolls 1D20 gets 4

The player might be just a block away.  You get the idea.

You may decide that the proximity of the numbers has a bearing on how true something is.  In the example of "Does she love me?"  You might not as the GM know.  So you call for a Fate Roll. 

Using the 3D6 method;

Player Rolls 3D6 gets 1,3,5 = 9

GM Rolls 3D6 gets 2,4,6 = 12

Since the numeric scale on 3D6 is 3 to 18 or 16 'places' being only 3 apart would suggest she certainly has strong feelings for the PC.  With 3D6 you also have the potential for not only rolling the same total but the very same combination of numbers.  So let's look at the love example again.

Player Rolls 3D6 gets 1,3,5 = 9

GM Rolls 3D6 gets 3,3,3 = 9

So yes, she does indeed love the PC.

But what if the GM had also rolled 1,3,5.  Then it's more than love, it's true love.  Epic story changing love.  This might inspire you to make this NPC far more than they had originally been intended to be, or perhaps the PC does not love the NPC in return and thus the love turns them into a scorned love which sets about hurting the PC and their allies. 

And thus Fate has given you an opportunity for story.  And taken the decision out of your hands so that some things in the world can be as much a surprise to you as they are to the players.

The Fate Roll is not for everyone.  It was born out of my GMing style and has become a regular fixture in my games.  A Fate Roll might come as a response to something a player says about a scene, "Man, wouldn't it be hilarious if he got her pregnant?"  To which I might call for a Fate roll from the PC(s) in the scene to see if it happens.  Players say these things because they seem like organic ideas or directions for stories.  and if you're open to it, you can let the dice play a roll in these things so you don't always have to decide everything.

What do you think about the idea of the Fate Roll?  Is it something you think might help you, or would it be something that would drive you insane to try and do?  Let me know in the comments down below.

Monday, June 5, 2017

I got another crit!....No, really!

Dice don't lie, but players might.
Most groups have someone who gets these dice rolls that seem to defy the law of averages.  They always seem to pull off a critical hit or two during a fight.  Or they never seem to be hindered by the spell that seems to incapacitate half the party because they managed to pull off the resistance roll even though they had the least chance.

So how do you deal with this sort of thing?
There is a lot of advice out there on this topic.  Before you go and pick a solution that someone else wrote down, even me, give some thought to how it's effecting your game.

Is this player killing the fun because they seem to be a super hero compared to the rest of the heroes?  Is it ruining your plot because they aren't paralyzed and therefore easily captured like everyone else?  Figure out how it's effecting the game.  Talk to the other players about it.  If it bothers them, then as the GM you need to take some sort of action. 

What sort of action you take could be anything from expelling the cheating cheater face from the game, to having a heart to heart talk with them about how their cheating is only hurting them.  Or, you could just operate on the assumption that this is going to happen, and make sure they need to roll for things less.

We likes the dice we do.
Some games don't really have a dice mechanic.  This article is really about engines that have a dice mechanic for task/conflict resolution.  But this sort of behavior might also creep into systems that are free of dice, so stick around and maybe you'll pick up something that might help you with some other issue.

Back to the dice thing.  Don't ask them to roll for things.  Obviously there will be times when this is necessary, but you want to minimize it if you can.  Compile a list of everyone's skills (skills is where you will have the most discretion over when to roll) so you can see what everyone is good at.  Then make sure you engineer encounters so that everyone but your cheater gets to roll dice.  There will be times you just can't pull it off, but you can make it work for you fairly often. 

Then, you make sure that whenever possible, you make rolls for the cheater.  Stealth check, you roll it.  Appraise check, you roll it.  You do this for everyone so your cheater doesn't feel singled out, but you take control of the dice when you can to minimize the chance that the cheater can cheat.

Reward failure.
Another tactic you can use is to reward failed rolls.  Perhaps every time someone fails a roll they get a poker chip.  These can be cashed in for bonuses to later rolls.  Perhaps only damage rolls, or skill checks.  You can also reward failure with story.   Maybe the failed diplomacy check makes someone else take note of you and approach the PC later to offer a job, or an alternate way to do the thing you were trying to use diplomacy to use earlier.  Showing that failure is okay can reduce the incentive to cheat.

Does any of it really matter.
You may find that no one really cares about the cheater.  If everyone is having a blast in the game and they think it's fun, they may be fine with the cheater cheating.  It may be how they have fun.  I know, that doesn't seem right, but it might just be how they get their fun.  Most of the time we play these games to exercise a bit of control over the world that we don't have in real life.  So maybe, just maybe, the cheater is exercising control by cheating the dice.  In the end, it boils down to weather or not we're all having a good time.

If your stories are good, and your NPCs compelling, and your players are there and having fun at game sessions, it might be okay to let things like cheating some dice rolls slide.

Do you have a preferred tactic for dealing with someone who maybe has trouble reading the right number off their dice?  Share with us in the comments below.