April 18

Stat Block – Lasso Rod [Item]

The following stat block is a tool that can be dumped right into a game tonight. Stat blocks are meant to be quick and easy to use locations, items, npcs, and other device game masters can use to provide background, lore, treasure, or more for their games. Some will require refining, others may require a simple rules comparison, but most are drop and go items. Each block will include a description, GM Guidelines, and 3 system examples for their usage.

Lasso Rod [Item]

Description

A rod about a foot and a half long and a little more than two inch thick. It’s a pale tan color, and feels like wood in weight but stone in touch. The item has two notches near the top of it, and a leather strap or handle on the opposing end. Under the grip there is a small band of leather or wire to affix the rod to the wielder’s wrist.

GM Guidelines

The Lasso rod is meant as a tool for a prison guard or bounty hunter. It is as light as a small wooden dowel but is as strong as a steel or stone of similar size. When the wielder of the rod flicks it properly, the notched end expands into a lasso that will attempt to ensnare a target. This should require some level of proficiency or knowledge on how to use such items. The lasso as a magical item should be able to prevent magical creatures for teleporting or otherwise leaving an area if they are not as strong as the lasso’s magic. The Lasso as a technological item should be considered uncuttable and resistant to being pulled open. Both version of the lasso should have ammunition or charges to prevent overuse.

Shadowrun 5E Usage

The Lasso is a special nanoweave item initially meant for the handling of enhanced cyber critters and their training. It uses the same skills as whips and can be considered a specialization of such. When using the Lasso Rod for a Subduing Attack, use the Lasso’s rating+3 as the Strength of the Attacker’s Subduing roll. The normal Lasso Rod cannot inflict stun damage per Subduing rules. The shock Lasso Rod can inflict a 9S(e)[AP-5] attack that is resisted normally. The Shock Lasso Rod comes equipped with enough battery life for ten charges before it must be plugged in to recharge, at a rate of one charge every ten seconds. Wireless Bonus: Maintaining the Grapple requires only a Simple Action, but additional actions cannot be taken if a complex action is not spent to maintain the grapple. The Wireless bonus also enables the Shock Lasso Rod to recharge at a rate of one charge an hour of being wirelessly active.

Lasso Rod – Accuracy 5 | Reach 2 | Dmg (Str+1) P | AP -3 | Avail (Rating+3)R | Cost Rating*500¥

Shock Lasso Rod – Accuracy 5 | Reach 2 | Dmg (Str+2) P | AP -3 | Avail (Rating+6)R | Cost Rating*1,000¥

Numenera Usage

Capture Rod (artifact)

Level: 1d6

Form: A small dowel that appears to be made of stone but is as light as wood.

Effect: Produces a long rope like transparent lasso. If used to attack, the Lasso does no damage but causes the struck character to be unable to take any move action and all combat actions are increased one step. Missed attacks cause the Lasso to become stuck on something else, and a 3 Speed roll to free the lasso from the target.

Depletion: 1 in 1d20

Free Market Usage

Lasso Rod – [Wetwork; Nanoweave Rope; Quick and Accurate] – A small dowel that creates a rope useful to stop people before deathing them.

April 11

Stat Block – Duxe Lonis [Location]

The following stat block is a tool that can be dumped right into a game tonight. Stat blocks are meant to be quick and easy to use locations, items, npcs, and other device game masters can use to provide background, lore, treasure, or more for their games. Some will require refining, others may require a simple rules comparison, but most are drop and go items. Each block will include a description, GM Guidelines, and 3 system examples for their usage.

Duxe Lonis [Location]

Description

Deep in the burrows of swampland lies the ruins of Duxe Lonis. The city is built of heavy carved stone and arranged obsidian glass. The buildings align in concentric circles built around a large altar some 200 feet wide, and three large avenues span from this point. What appears to be precious stones dot the streets every twenty, and at night these seem to give off a faint glow. The place is deserted, and the only remains of humanoids that can be found seem to be fair more recent than when this city would have been built.

GM Guidelines

Duxe Lonis is an ancient city, once the home of skilled and powerful scholars. Some time ago the place was abandoned through a calamity the leaders of the city foresaw. They left behind traps, wards, and other methods to prevent their city from being reclaimed by anyone but their descendants. When an archeological team found it a century or two ago, they were meet by curses and death around every corner. Most history books have crossed the city from their records now by the surviving members of this dig, and only books from older than a few centuries may mention this place.

Dungeon & Dragons Usage

Treat Duxe Lonis as a surface dungeon to discover. Clues from nearby townsfolks or descendants of the archeologists may guide the players to the spot, but otherwise leave them to their fate. The traps should be magical in nature mostly, and golems and undead should be the primary antagonists, with a few wild animals on the outskirts of the city. Any treasure should be knowledge based, and aid magical characters primarily. Complication: One of the players’ guides is a descendant of the city, and will try to use the city’s defenses to kill the players.

Shadowrun Usage

A Johnson wants the team to investigate a rumored fourth world city that has been discovered unearthed recently. They’ll pay handsomely for artifact and treasures from the place, but powerful wards and strange paracritters guard the way in. Complication: One of the players is a descendant of the city, and can strangely interact with the city’s traps and magic.

Call of Cthulhu

A recently uncovered dig site, the players take on the roles of the original archeological survey of the site. Here they’ll discover clues of the ancient avatar that consumed the minds of the city’s founders. Eventually the players will find a cult within the city attempting to restart the ritual that brought the elder god’s avatar to Duxe Lonis. Complication: A rival ancient one seeking to undermine the ritual is the force behind sending the players in.

November 3

Allied Trickery: The Outsider

When we look at the people that populate a RPG world, we often think of them as part of the cultural context our characters are a part of. Aspects of tradition, community standards, practices and policies that make society work. Such behavior is how we usually judge new people we meet and if they are known to us or if they are an “other.” But the real world, especially for travelers, explorers, and adventures, often brings groups of people together who don’t share the same default states, and conflict, although unintentional, occurs on a regular basis. The Outsider is one of these others, and their approach to the players may put them off at first, because understanding cultural boundaries and pushing past them isn’t something a player may initially be willing to do.

The NPC Outsider has a great potential within a game setting. They offer a chance to break the mental shortcuts players will use with NPCs. Whether it’s the treatment of diplomatic customs, respect for religious or political iconography, or just normal manners, the chance to experience the world through another viewpoint is the heart of role-playing, and the Outsider reinforces that dialogue. Barriers such as language, upbringing, and class standing provide means for cultural impact on a game while presenting a Gamemasters the chance to expand the depth of the reality they’ve helped introduce to players.

Outsiders exist in all RPG genres as every world should feature a complex set of cultures and communities. Breathing life into these allies comes in the form of changing the norms players may be used to and twisting them on their head. In Fantasy, this may be the Druid who has come to aid your party, but their creed is one of respecting the natural order of life and so healing spells are not part of their preparations. In Science Fiction, aliens and artificial life forms may appear human but possess different biologies or forms of interaction. In contemporary fiction, the choices are myriad as the number of cultures part of our real world. The key is to not treat them as stereotypes but instead fleshed out individuals.

Remember though, cultural missteps are a two-way street. While an outsider may not fit in or understand the culture of the players, it is easy for the players to act incorrectly within the Outsider’s world view. Offense, breach of social contract, or damage to honor can turn an outsider against a party, especially if the party has been failing to be considerate of both cultural touch stones.

October 18

Allied Trickery: The Omni Potent Fallacy

When unrelenting evil comes pouring over the land, the light of the angel made flesh can push them back. The party is saved as the Johnson and his goons come storming in, taking out the go-gangers. The General listens and the nuclear option is diverted, so better special forces may move in on the alien invaders. Great power sometimes finds itself an ally instead of an enemy to protagonists, but such power sometimes offers a heaven bound level of vision and small details can be lost. Overconfidence and sure, the Omni-Potent Fallacy uses their abilities like clubs to solve problems, and in many ways creates waves that break open more rifts.

This NPC is a wild card. Pointed the right way and they assume they can solve the world’s problems in an instant, but without regard to cost and loss. Their assumption on being right can put them at odds to players who haven’t earned their trust, and keeping them calm, happy, and loyal is a juggling act. Such power isn’t something a player wants to content with, whether it comes from a great Wizard, a dragon, a CEO, powerful AI, or even a god. Once they’ve assumed the players are enemies, it’ll be hard to convince them otherwise without equal force.

The Omni-Potent Fallacy exists in most genres, often in the role as a figurative or literal Deus Ex Machina. Gods and Demons in Fantasy realms attempting to understand mortal risks and solving issues with lightning. CEOs and Spy Masters trying to keep their finger on the pulse of an ever deepening world. Military leaders sure of their place on a battlefield. The NPC need not have physical unlimited powers but merely the ability to command such power even through chains of minions.

The worst position a player can find themselves is on the other side of the Omni-Potent Fallacy finding out their wrong after they’ve acted. After they’ve killed loved ones, destroyed cities, ended the lives of innocents and guilty alike. These acts can send the figure spiraling in several hostile directions. They may become self-reflective and depressed, turning inward and losing their great power. They may lash out and blame others for being fooled. Or Worse, they can assume the loss and misdirected actions as proof of their conviction and dive deeper into dangerous beliefs. At this point, the players can try to guide them back to the true path and solve the problems their misdirection has caused, or seek to destroy the omni-potent figure and dismantle them before they can do further harm.

 

October 18

The Interesting McGuffin

Ok there’s the standard idea for starting a quest.  An old man says that the wicked necromancer is kidnapping the locals to use in his experiments. Your contact in cyberpunk tells you that Gideon, who runs the local pawn shop, sells info on his clients to the corps.  Local preacher says that there’s a powerful manitou that lurks in the abandoned mine shaft.  These ways of giving quests are straightforward.  There’s a problem and your players can go to resolve it, usually with a final result in mind.  But how about a quest with no “final result.”  Just a vague question that sits in the back of players minds.

 

Enter the “Interesting Mcguffin.”  This kind of item can usually be introduced underhanded, almost as an afterthought.  For instance, your posse from Deadlands just killed a Harrowed gunslinger.  You’re rifling through his pockets to see if you can get any identification of who he was or how he became harrowed.  In the breast pocket of his shirt you find a bullet, jet black.  There’s no makers mark on it.  And your huckster gets a bad feeling when he’s holding it.  So what is the bullet, why was it made, what was its purpose, and how did this Harrowed get a hold of it?  That’s your Interesting Mcguffin.

 

You need to make the Mcguffin puzzling enough so that between the “linear missions” your players want to spend time unravel the mysteries of the Mcguffin.  It can be anything depending on your setting.  A broken piece of an ancient tablet with weird writing on it.  An encrypted piece of data that sticks behind in your datalock.  A flower that never wilts but changes colour for some reason.  You as the GM know all about it and what it does, but your players don’t.

 

There’s an upside and a downside to these kind of items.  Downside is that some players just chuck it in with the rest of the loot and forget about it.  Or they may, inadvertently, find a way to get all mysteries resolved with no issues.  Don’t worry if that happens. Just run with it and don’t try to force things with your players.  The trick as a GM is not to be “invested.”  Just make sure that you remember what your players did with it, even if they forgot.  Like when your players are stopped by security and ordered to turn our their pockets.  Now they have to think on their feet and explain the “interesting Mcguffin” to their captors.

The up side?  It gets your characters thinking.  Not just Out of character, but in character as well.  Your science type may want to analyze it.  The greedy thief may want to try and pawn it (with sometimes funny results).  The Lawman may want to get it back to its owner.  Your mystic may want to unravel its deep secrets.

 

Nice thing about this kind of item is that it can eventually turn into a quest in and of itself.  They may abandon their current quest to figure it out.

 

Just be prepared to think on your feet.  The Mcguffin’s inherent flexibility can have the characters approach it out of left field sometimes.

October 14

Allied Trickery: The Anti-Knight

The Anti-Knight

Not all heroes are grossly incandescent. The dark appearance, the grim outlook, the broken path are popular threads for players to follow, and occasionally allies finds themselves on these roads. For many this is a path to heroic deeds but the worth comes from coin, wealth, and legend, and these followers are numerous and loyal as long as you can pay their way. There are others though who walk through realms of shadows and dark languages not for material growth but as a temporary band on their injured honor. Forever fallen from grace, these Ronin seek to create a facsimile of a life once worth living in their eyes. They are haunted by the past and by events caused by their inaction or perceived lack of skill. The Anti-knight no longer bears bright shiny barding. They carry no banner for a living lord. They garner no favor from a lady of the land. Their only goal is the holding up the husk of their broken glory.
This NPC is fiercely loyal, but defining what that loyalty is tied to is the challenge players face. They are still bound to their code of honor and ethics provided it supports the myth of their path of redemption. They’re a volatile ally because if crossed or challenged on their past or the path they seek they may quickly go from loyalist to betrayer, and in their eyes be completely justified in their actions. An Anti-knight that has crossed fully into the swamplands of dark knight will not return to their previous role for those who ushered in their final fall from grace.
The Anti-knight exists in any genre or setting where men and women can exist with a place of honor and prestige. In Fantasy, the knight figure defines this role, and when they are disgraced by politics or a battle gone wrong they’ll seek to reclaim their honor from heroic deeds or noble actions. Pushed over the edge and they become the brigade and sell-sword with ease. In science-fiction, they exist in the role of the grey-hat hacker, skirting the edge of legal actions while trying to maintain the façade of being “one of the good guys.” In contemporary fiction, they’re the disgraced soldier or police officer, caught in the wrong moment at the wrong time and rolled from their duty into civilian life. Now they’re the guard, the mercenary, or vigilant, justifying brutal actions against criminals because criminals forced them to fall from grace.
They are a shield against the harriers on your backside, but they are not there for the righteousness of the quest. They’re there for the prestige. The consequences of their existence will follow them until the players meet them. At this point, the players can help guide them back to a true path of honor and dignity or they can pull them deeper into the dark future the Anti-knight has been forging for themselves.

August 15

Character Building Options

Character building options are very important to a game. While some GM’s are able to run a game with any character build, most can not. So having a character options sheet or list can help the players to focus in on the feel that the GM is aiming for in their campaign. Some player may feel that this is heavy handed on the part of the GM but it helps to make characters that fit into the theme better.

Here are the points to consider when getting ready to have players start character generation.

  • Background: Character backgrounds are important not only because they give GM’s hooks to build stories from, and in some systems they give actual mechanical advantages to the character. Also the world has enough orphans in gaming.
  • Race/Class: These can be the place that most problems spring from. Everyone wants to be a unique magical snowflake. Sometimes it helps to set the mood by removing so many options.
  • Skills: In most games this is not a place that much tinkering really needs to go. Some gentle direction can go far. So if you are doing an exploration campaign and none of the characters have those type of skills play it up. having them get lost at the drop of a hat or they have no way to get food in this place and are always hungry.
  • Gear: Here again is a place that can use very little. But if you don’t like guns in your fantasy let the players know that. So they don’t come to the game session with a wild west gunslinger idea.
  • Character Linkage: Character linkage is how characters know each other. Characters should have a substantial link to at least half the party. Even if the character doesn’t know it outright.

Character Build Best Practices

  • Relevant: Make the information relevant to building characters only.
  • Clear: The layout should be neat and easy to read.
  • Concise: Make it short sweet and to the point in all regards. It doesn’t need to be a poetic edda.
  • Updated: Update it regularly. Nothing is as annoying as building a character and finding out there there new options that the GM has added.
  • Printed copies: Most people rely on email nowadays to stay up to date about things. Most people will not take the time to read anything long, they will skim it once and forget it. Make sure you have printed copies for each player with their copy of the campaign primer.

 

 

Inspiration for this article from Creighton Broadhurst.

August 7

Worldbuilding 101

When world building and designing, you have a few options. First, there is the Top Down option. This is the option that most professional game companies use. Then there is the Bottom Up method, which many GM’s use to make a world for their game. There is also the option I use, which is a bit of both and in no unified order. There is a fourth way but most do not consider it true world building as it is building dungeons alone.  Before we talk about the way I do this we will talk about the other ways.

 

As stated earlier, it seems Top Down is the game industry standard. You start with looking at things from the highest point first. Which for most games is a planet. Then you go to the continents then the country/kingdom, then finally the city or town. When doing this you are plotting out things and tying them to the overall world. The advantage of this way is things are unified and universally consistent. The disadvantage of this way is that it is hard to come up with everything for an entire world.

 

Bottom up is the way I feel many GM’s do world building. You start with what the PC will interact with first. So you get to think locally, the starting hamlet or town, then a few outlying settlements and towns – places the PC can get to easily. Once you have that, you get to figure out where the kingdom ends. Once you have a few kingdoms you will have a continent or close to one. Then you can think of starting all over if the planet has multiple continents. The advantage to doing things this way is you are creating what the players want to know about. The biggest disadvantage is adding elements will be hard to do  if you don’t have the bigger ideas finished.

 

Now I will just say a few things about the dungeon setting as a design style. This way is actually the oldest of them all. Thanks, Gary Gygax. See the original Greyhawk setting was built on towns around dungeons. Elements of the greater world history was buried in the dungeons. So this is something to keep in mind when doing things in your world. History should be uncovered in unusual places as well as the ordinary. I don’t really know what I consider to be the pros and cons of this way of world building.

 

With all of those out of the way now I will tell you how I design a game world and the pieces that I find to be important. I like to have a few big things figured out first. Those are the continent or the biggest part that I want to run a game in as well as the religions. The reasons for starting with those is very simple. The landmass gives me a set space to work in and the religion is because so many of the core classes in fantasy games I play have tie-ins to the faiths. Then I will do a few gross ideas for land features like mountains, rivers, and large lakes.

 

Once I have those things, I will start with a town or city that the characters will be starting in and do a few people and places for the players to interact with. After that I will place a few different adventure locations near by and hints for where some of the next towns are. This is something that can be done in a week or so to get a new group off and adventuring quickly. Asking players what they would like to see in town is an easy way to flesh out sections of town. An additional trick you can try is asking the players what is special in town to them. Once the initial town is finished then it is time to do a bit of detailing on the outlying towns.

 

While working out the basics you should be doing some idea crunching on the story you are wanting to tell. But that as they say is a topic for another time.

August 2

Allied Trickery: The Reborn

Allied Trickery

This series documents a number of NPC concepts designed to give complex allies for Game Masters to present to their players. The allies here are never meant to be traitors or double agents. Instead, they have mixed backgrounds that bring them away from being the standard friendly “Good” helper. Like other Seize The GM concepts, these examples are meant to be system and genre neutral although not all of them will include a full array of examples.

 

The Reborn

Rebirth brings great change. Flesh becomes new. Personality shifts. Outlooks follow new morality. The Reborn is an ally who born of a dark past. Through the corrupt actions of their former self they’ve had a chance to become something new; someone with different morality and outlook than the darkness they held before. The very nature of their change has come with an ethical and emotional cost that haunts now even in their new existence.

This NPC is always willing to assist the players, but for the mixed reasons of trying to be the new “good” person they have become as well as to pay penance for the past sins they enacted on the world. They should always have an undertone of mistrust, of seeking to hide something. Revelations of their past may have dire consequences in interactions. They may revert to their previous form, they may lash out to desperately hide the truth, or those who have come to know them in their new form may turn on them. At the same time the players are given a unique opportunity with this event. They may be able to help heal the wounds of the past, or they may seek to bring the dark history of the NPC forward and demand justice be served.

The reborn exists in all genres. In fantasy, she is the necromancer now physically inhabiting a new body. She regrets the flesh she stole and the soul destroyed for her to become someone new. The remains of the dark ritual can still be found and she will desperately seek to hide the site of it. In science-fiction, he’s uploaded his brain into another person, or erased his memories. Files exist out there, possibly on the chips in the reborn’s head. The new identity may not even acknowledge the previous. In contemporary fiction, they’ve taken the identity of another person. They’ve left behind a criminal past and their new existence is tied to forged documents. It’s only a matter of time until the paper trail catches up to them and its best if it happens right in front of the party.

They are an ally, despite the lie of their existence. The consequences of their exist will haunt them from the moment the players greet them, and in the end their story arc should close with the price of their resurrection being paid in full.