Saturday, July 28, 2012


The first maps weren’t anything like what we know today. Instead of being big pictures of the land as if you saw it from the sky, they were lists of how you got from one place to another. Think more along the lines of an online set of directions telling where and when to turn. (Terry Jones did a show on it called the Great Map Mystery, which is free on YouTube.) They were called road script maps. So what? I know, it always comes down to that. I think it is vastly better for GMs to use these for planning missions. First, if you’re giving the players a set of directions, you should use these road strip “maps”. Here’s how it works - I’ll bet you’ll feel it’s familiar: Start in the city of Forsbury. Travel 3 miles north long the caravan road. Stay right/NE on the road north, avoiding the NW road to the castle. Continue traveling 12 more miles NE to the town of Tabler. Do not take the Forest Road east (one mile north of the castle). There are good inns in Tabler. Continue NNE for 17.5 miles to Redwell. Redwell is a large town with many inn and entertainment alternatives. Along the way there might be some land marks to help keep the reader on course: bridges over streams, religious spots, road markers, etc. Second, you as GM now know exactly where they are supposed to be going. You put a little thought into it, so now you know where you might want to put that ambush, or place the fake ambush that you want to use to keep them on their toes. You can also plant the NPCs who are going the other way at the inns and they might have the clues you need to pass out. These maps will not replace the overall “normal” maps. You still need those for when the party wanders off the route and tries to off road it. The problem is that if you give them a more modern map of the area, you give them way too much information. They can look ahead for where the hills press in on the road (that ambush we talked about). They might see what they think is a short cut, that will make you play way more off the cuff than you wanted to. And besides - it’s not like they just photocopied the other map. To produce a real map could take a cartographer weeks. Producing a road script map would more likely be a day, at best. Here’s a pic of what they looked like:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Game Master Screens

We talked about screens a short while ago, but I just want to throw out some ideas on making your own. Now a days with such easy access to scanners and copiers, anyone can so easily craft their own screens. As much as we feel that LQ does not require screens (because the rules are pretty simple: Attribute x 10% + Skill Level x 5% = Percentage Chance of Success), there are charts that you’ll want in front of you. Clearly this is also true of other games. Plus, you need to keep those maps and die rolls hidden from the players. You do need to make certain that the screens to do not serve to hide their rolls from you, because there will always be that temptation to cheat. OK, that was darker than this light little blog post was supposed to be, so on to other things. Screens are as easy as taping copies of charts onto cardboard. While you could use a cereal box (with the top and bottoms cut off), I prefer to use sturdier cardboard. Anything will do, but my favorite is to use the backs of legal pads. When you’re done with the pad, just cut off the stapled part at the top and the bottom is not only 8.5”x11” (perfect size for storing), but it is fairly sturdy cardboard. The cardboard they use to support most calendars is stronger and bigger, but tougher to transport to a game. Just duct tape the “pages” together. Duct tape is strong and will endure the constant folding and unfolding of your screens. While most published screens are three “pages” I prefer two page ones. They fold up easier. They adjust their size easier, and in my experience they just last longer. So go for three pairs of two pages. Get two binder clips, so you can hold them together and there is far less chance of them falling down. The binder clips let you change the size of the three screens, because you can have one screen completely block another if you’re squeezed for space. Plus, if you need to hang your map or something vital to the game session (but not the game as a whole), you can clip it up and in front of you without cluttering up your work space. Does it sound like we put too much thought into screens? OK, maybe we do. But what charts? The ones on the outside (facing the players) should be for the players. Usually this is character building/improving charts, but you might also want to put a gear costs charts. (The most frequent and thus annoying question from players is “How much does _____ cost?”) Meanwhile, the really juicy stuff like damage tables and critical tables can go on the inside where they are all yours. As silly as it sounds, decorate them. Find little illustrations and put them in here or there. We’re not talking about wasting two panels with a picture of a dragon or an army marching; we’re talking about heraldry shields, tiny dragons, and pictures of weapons. These tiny additions break up the monotony of tables and charts and prevent your game table from becoming boring. Boring is NEVER good!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

NPC Personalities

I’ve previously described how one time I had too many bad guys and couldn’t keep track of them, so I assigned them all the names of professional wrestlers (they were ogres - so it seemed to fit) and had a much easier time tracking them. Also, the party fought them, ran away, fought them, then was sieged by them in an inn. Using the wrestlers’ personalities made things so much easier, as I simply assigned the personalities to the same guys as had the names. Sweet - easy, great, right? I think the reason this worked for me is that each of the wrestlers is a melee warrior, so they were going to act in a semi-similar fashion. Where this doesn’t work is if you miss the types. The easiest one would be where you intended to overlay the personalities of folks from a comedy show onto NPCs in a more serious situation (or vice-versus). Overlaying Grandpa, Lillian and Eddie Munster onto NPC vampires, is probably a mistake, as is using characters from your favorite cop show to overlay on a squad of bandits. The cops are likely more intelligent and less violent than you want your bandits to be. The tone here really matters, because the tone of the characters you overlay is going to affect the tone of the mission. Here’s some that I think often work: The Four Musketeers, Robin Hood’s Men, Cop show characters for soldiers (where they need to be disciplined and most listen to the boss), and one of the better ones: using soldiers from a war movie for your combatants in game. The whole point of this technique is that #1 - You sort of know what these story characters would do, so you can more easily role-play them, and #2 - Who has time to make up personalities for every soldier your players will come across. Not even if you use my previous Myers/Briggs method. After all, if things go right, these guys will be dead soon, so don’t put your energy into their back story. (Don't worry - This is the last NPC one we're doing for a little while.)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

How to Name NPCs

Names can be the toughest part of NPCs. Somewhere (I think in Character Foundry), I mentioned that I created a template with various “sounds”. Six columns would each pick a random sound, mainly consonant sound, vowel sound, consonant sound, consonant sound, vowel sound, consonant sound. There were blanks in there too to come up with shorter names. I had a “base” one, and one I altered to sound more Germanic for the Rhum names. This works for huge lists of names, but remember, it’s still like I mentioned in the last post - This is only a spark of imagination - it does not control you. (I originally wrote this in BASIC in order to name all the folks who worked at the Rhum factories. You can see I have been using this technique for a LONG! time.) The other thing I like to do is translate English words describing the character into a language that sounds similar to where the character is supposed to be from. I never use the literal translation, but I alter it (normally into something I can pronounce). Combine words, split words, use pieces parts of the foreign words. I love how this works. For example: “black” “smith” is schwarz schmied in German and noir forgeron in French and zwart smid in Dutch. Well, I think everyone knows schwarz means black (probably because I had several years of German as a kid), so I’m not using that, but Zwart is a useable name in my mind. Murrisch means grumpy in German - now that will fit my Rhoric blacksmith: His name is now Murrisch the smith. Very few players will catch on, but the name fits the region. Eons ago I mentioned something along this line to the wife, and she changed it around and made it her own. The majority of her MMO characters have names that mean “evil” in various languages. She modifies them to sound more feminine, but the root words are still there and obvious to anyone who speaks that language. My biggest problem with this method? That I have no idea how to handle Greek and Russian letters, so I cannot use most online translators for those languages. The other one is that pretty much every Polish word sounds the same to me, so I don’t think I’m getting enough variety in my Velesan names.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

How to create NPCs

It’s been a while since I gave away the “keys to the kingdom”, so here I go again. First off, let me say that my ADHD (no not that game system) enables me to come up with dozens of ideas in a day. I write down as many as I can, though this can be an issue when driving. I will never write a novel, because I cannot stay focused long enough, but coming up with characters - I pretty much kick ass. But even with this, I sometimes need either more characters than I can generate quickly or I’m just stumped a little bit, so here is what I do: Open a spreadsheet program that allows for a random number formula. Here are your columns: Extrovert, Introvert, Sensing, Intuition, Thinking, Feeling, Judging and Perception. Anyone recognize these as the Myers/Briggs test? That is what they are. If you don’t understand anything about Myer/Briggs, look it up and sort of review what they mean by these. In many ways, this can be used to describe any person’s personality. So now what? You have eight personality descriptions. For example - If they have a high extrovert and a low introvert as well as high scores in Sensing and Perceiving, then you have someone who can stand up in front of folks but is also very logical and concrete in their thoughts - sounds like a college professor to me (a stereo-typical one, not an actual one). I hope you saw how I did that. By looking at the highest two or three scores, I make wildly inaccurate decisions about their personality. But is doesn’t matter if they’re inaccurate, because the personality grows out of what I decide. If these personality types don’t work for you, look up the 16 general categories. Instead of trying to make the assessments yourself, just randomly choose one of these 16 personalities. But wait, there’s more. Because of the adult way that my campaigns usually twist, I have to have a morality score for people. People of low morals, have a low score here. I also usually use a beauty score. Both of these are less on a straight line, and more on a bell curve. To be really ugly, you need to score in the low teens. A 33 in beauty makes you more plain than really ugly. What else - Well I sometimes use a couple of different columns as well. In Forsbury, they have a 70% chance of working for one of the major cartels, so I determine which cartel they work for. I often throw a 10% nobility chance in there too. If I’m really looking to create a character, I will have three columns for skills. Yep - A quick look up table determines which three skills they randomly have. I almost always throw out one of these. This gives me a personality, a couple of skills they likely know, who they work for and if they’re noble, as well as looks and morals. Sometimes, it is fun looking at the more challenging ones: An extrovert, noble with mining experience and upstanding morals. She is actually a pretty cool character now. The point of this is NEVER to force you to accept a character you don’t want. The point is to instantly create a couple dozen character concepts, and you choose the three or four you want to flesh out. Then hit the recalc button and instantly make up dozens more. The randomness keeps throwing new ideas at you until something appeals or fosters that “spark of imagination”. You’re a GM - You should only need the spark, and you’ll be up and running (at least mentally).