Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Oh, and he's a serial killer!

Players say the strangest things.  And sometimes, as the GM, it's our fault for not setting clear expectations.

I recently started a new campaign.  I sent out the elevator pitch and everyone was on board.  Folks started pitching character ideas, and one of them included the line "Oh, and he's a serial killer."

I squashed the players hopes and dreams, and immediately sent an email to the group saying, "In case I wasn't clear, your characters should all be 'the good guys'." 

I'm all for letting players explore interesting story ideas and plumb the depths of a character, but even I have to draw the line sometimes.  I think the issue was that I hadn't made it clear what sort of game we were playing (good guys) when I gave the pitch.  Thinking about it later I realized that it might have been possible for someone to think that a deeply disturbed person who has a drive to murder other people would be a fine character for this particular campaign.  If they stretched what I said to near breaking, or they had played in games where this sort of thing was pretty common.

It never fails either.  You start the planning phase and there is one player who drops a concept that is either really on the bleeding edge of not quite right for this game or that violates some of the ground rules.  Years ago I was a player in a super hero game where the GM said "No aliens, no children of gods"  One player's first concept was the child of Thor and an alien.....

Obviously when a concept is outside of the rules you have established for the universe, you need to say no.  But what do you do when the concept is just not quite right?

I recommend working with the player to find out why they want the thing or things that make the concept not really ideal.  Are they looking to explore a certain role-playing challenge or are they just looking to ensure they can do certain things in the context of the story.  There has to be a better way, and if not we should be able to help them find something that will work.

I never like to say no to a concept.  I might say no to parts of it, like no to the serial killer part, but rarely will I ever say no to a concept whole cloth.  It's crushing for a player and sometimes it just kills their desire to play. 

A recent example was someone in a game I'm playing in pitched a Wizard that was an alcoholic.  Knowing the player it was born partly out of a desire to explore how that affliction would play out in RP and partly because they hate the spell system and thus could use their alcoholism as an excuse for why they are a terrible Wizard.  The GM said no.  I assume the GM had a fairly specific idea of Wizards, or maybe they were hoping to pin some story elements on the character and having them be an alcoholic made that impractical.  Regardless it killed the player's mood for the game and they eventually stopped coming (their were other factors, but it was certainly a contributing element). 

This sort of goes back to the main idea I try and GM with.  Be flexible.  If you need to have every player portray some type of Bard, tell them.  And, as a side note, your cruelty knows no bounds!  But explain to them why you need them to fall into a certain range.  Even if it might give away some of the plot. They will thank you for it.  Or they will leave the group because they can't believe you would make them all play Bards!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Project: New Gaming Table!

Not really GMing advice, but I wanted to share a project my wife and I und4ertook this last weekend.

The idea.

I am starting a new table top game and hosting it at our place.  The dining table we have isn't really larger enough to 7 or 8 people, so I wanted something larger.  a friend who hosts games at his place from time to time has a ping pong table that they covered with some cloth, which serves them well for a multitude of tasks.  Effective, but not really what I wanted

Instead of trying to build a complex table we settled on something that would provide more surface and seating area.  Since we already a very solid dining table we opted for a surface that would sit on top if it.

[The base for the gaming surface]
Our table had a pair of leaves that would have probably made it large enough, but they have managed to escape, probably during one of our moves.

The parts.

So, with an idea in mind we went out to Lowe's to pick up the needed supplies.  We got three 16 x 96 inch solid wood panels to be the top.  These would be held together with nail plates (I'm not sure that is what they are actually called) to form the top.  8 of those plates would be used to held the panels together.  The top would then rest on the top of our current dinning table with a wooden box that was just bigger than the current top.  This frame would keep the top from shifting around.

[Ready to load in the truck]
The frame would be constructed from 1x2 lumber screwed to the underside of the panels.  We needed screws that would go through the frame and into what would be the top, but not through the top and screws to go through the nail plates and into the top but not go through.  This meant we needed two different kinds of screws.  We made sure to eyeball the length and once we were satisfied we picked up the rest of the supplies.

[all the goodies]
We got some wood glue, because I thought it might be a good idea to glue the plates down as well as screw them in.  We ended up not doing this.  So, three panels to make up the top, the lumber to make the frame, plates to secure the panels together and screws to hold it all together.  We also got a bottle of Howard Feed-N-Wax.  It's a wood treatment made from bees wax.  My wife uses it on sewing machine cabinets and we thought it might be a better solution that trying to paint or stain the top.

Putting it all together

 There was measuring and marking and anchoring of the plates.  Then we realized we'd put two of them in the wrong spot.  These sorts of things happen, and luckily it was easy to rectify.  We cut the 1x2 lumber for the frame
[Frame in place]

After the framing bits were cut and screwed to the underside of the top we were ready to give it a few coats of Feed-N-Wax.  For that we took it outside and set it down on some saw horses and took advantage of the nice weather.  I hit the whole top and the edges with 220 grain sand paper.  the edges had a few splinter spots and I wanted to soften the corners a bit.  Once that was done we started to apply the wax.  Put on a liberal coat, give it 20 minutes and wipe away any excess.  We went with two coats of wax, which only took about an hour total.

The finished product
It was time to bring it in and set it on the table to check the fit.  It's not terribly heavy, but being 8 feet long it's a two person job to move it around.  We brought it in the house and set it on the dining table.
[The finished table topper]

It fit pretty good, and it's very stable.  The gap between the panels that make up the top is a little annoying on one end, but overall it came out really well.  Now we have plenty of room to fit my players and plenty of table surface should we want to use a map of some kind for miniature play.
[My table topper topper]

We had made a small table topper for playing board games on the old dining table.  It provided an elevated surface to put the board on and play space below for markers and drinks.  There are lights under the edge as well, since the light in the dining room was pretty bad.  We put that on the new table topper as a reference.  Still plenty of room for players, character sheets, and books.


Not counting the new drill I needed to pick up (my cordless gets tired fast these days) the project came to about $150.00 and roughly three hours out of our day.  I think it was worth it, I'll have to see what my players think once we start playing.

Have you made a table for gaming, or been thinking about it?  Let me know in the comments.  Until next time, keep playing!

Friday, August 4, 2017

We kill it! no, we can't? Then we ruin the story!

Never Surrender!

You've seen it.  the PCs are up against a foe they can't defeat.  Strategic withdrawal is an option, a good option, but they don't take it.  They redouble their efforts to win.

As a GM it's not against the GM code to look over the top of your GM screen and say, "You guys think that you're not going to be able to win this fight.  Retreat is probably the only way to make it out of here."  Some GMs seem to act like it is a crime to do this, but it's not.

Players can be a stubborn lot.  We are the heroes after all, so we're supposed to win.  Right?  Winning does not necessarily mean winning every fight.  So again, it's not a sin to retreat.  But many players feel it is.

Nothing seems to be working?  What if I stab the plot?

Backed into a corner, even when it's only the perception that you have been backed into a corner, some players will flail about and do things that are pretty obviously going to sabotage the plot.  There are a lot of reasons for this, too many to cover in a blog post to be sure.  So how can you deal with this sort of issue?

Don't try and be clever.  It's been said, probably with those exact words, in other articles and books on gaming and videos.  When you as a GM are trying to be clever you run the risk of making a story too complex to make sense to the players.  They receive weekly slices of your story, and they have other things in their lives that are probably more pressing than who poisoned the King's dog, and why!  Keep It Simple Stupid.  It can be applied to many things, and story development is one of them.  Sure, throw in a twist, but don't make your plot look like an Escher painting.

Be forthcoming with data.  My favorite variation of this is "Barf forth apocalyptica" which is from the Apocalypse World game.  It's advice to get you to be free with descriptive information.  Use all five senses to describe a place.  Answer questions as completely as you can based on the situation.  If the players are asking questions that means you have them thinking.  Don't boil it (whatever it is) down to a skill roll if you can avoid it.  Mechanics are there to help resolve conflicts and determine the results of things that might be random or chaotic.  the game will be a heck of a lot more satisfying to the players, and you as GM, if the players are engaged.  If they need a skill roll, fine, but don't make the fare of the PCs hang on something like the roll of the dice.  Especially if you've ever seen my players roll dice.

I try and use the skill roll as a measure of scale.  The players are going to get (from me) a basic amount of information, and if I have them roll it's to see how much more they should have.  I like to keep the background of my PCs in my mind when they're trying to solve a problem.  There might be a nugget of information in there that suggests to me they should know more about the thing they're trying to understand than the other PCs.  When they roll I let the results tell me something about how much they know, or how well they understand the thing they're trying to understand.

You stabbed the plot, and now I must punish you!

So you've reached a situation where things got bad and a player, perhaps out of lack of knowledge or desperation, and supreme boredom has broken the plot.  For those of you who are movie buffs, this is the moment when one of the party has shot the Invisible Swordsman

Unless this is a deliberate attempt by the players to ruin the plot, and if it is then you need to seek help from another article, you shouldn't punish the players.  If they read the situation in a way that was different than how you read it, you shouldn't let the world crumble because the only way to save it was just pushed off a cliff into the sea.  Be flexible.

The most important thing here is to be flexible.  If you get so rigid that there is only ever one way to do something to move the story forward, than there is a good chance no one is going to have any fun.