Posted in Gaming Advice, General Writing

Hosting a Murder

Every year good friends of mine from my gaming group host a Murder Mystery party around Halloween. They are fun affairs where you get to act like someone else, play a preassigned role, meet new people, and try to figure out which one of you is not who they claim to be. Here’s a hint, everyone.

It’s been years since I have hosted something like this myself, but I figured I have had enough experience to write a little bit about them, and talk about some tips to doing them well.

Please note even though I am referring to these dinner parties as “Hosting a Murder” not all of them actually involve someone dying or having died. It can be about a Curse, a Prophesy, a Secret Cult or many other things depending on what the plot is.

(Pictures in this Blog Post from Paramount’s 1985 movie CLUE.  If you haven’t seen it.  Do yourself a favor and watch this gem.)

 

Why Host a Murder

So you’ve been thinking about hosting one of these murder mystery parties but never pulled the trigger. Let me help. Murder mystery parties have a lot of fun side effects. First off, if you are an RPG gamer (which you are reading this blog you most likely are) a party like this is a good way to feel out slightly geeky coworkers or friends who don’t fully know your nerd side. You might find your friend really enjoyed playing a character or your coworker has a history with RPGs. Many a new member of a gaming group was found via a murder mystery.

Hosting a murder allows you to merge different friend groups seamlessly.  Invite your work friends and your gamer friends. It also gives you an excuse to invite your child’s best friend’s parents to a social function that doesn’t involve your kids.

Hosting an event like this around Halloween is an excuse to dress up in costume, be it a character in the mystery or just because it’s Halloween. Saying ‘costumes are encouraged’ lets your guests decide their comfort level without forcing them into a theme. I also find that being in a costume(be it their character or just batman or a hotdog), helps guests that don’t normally role-play, more easily shed their personality and take on the character they are assigned.

 

Clue 2 Continue reading “Hosting a Murder”

Posted in Gaming Advice, Set Piece

Set Piece: Big Boss Battle – Escape

314017_CNThere is an old Gaming cliché where you finally meet the Big Bad of this part of your campaign, you engage them in combat and the Big Bad gets away to menace you later. It is a scenario as old as Roleplaying games and a great way to build a report between the players and the big bad, while encouraging more player engagement in the story at hand. It is also, however, a huge source of player frustration sometimes, for the execution of this ‘escape’ can easily be handled poorly and the players feel cheated.  So I’ve decided to write a blog of tips and tricks on how to do this well.
 
I come to the subject because I have been running a 5th Edition D&D game of Tomb of Annihilation for some time now, and my players just got into their first fight with the Adventures first big bad a Yaun-ti named Ras Nsi. As I was looking over the encounter I noticed some great things that Chris Perkins and the writers of the Adventure put in place to allow a reasonable way for the villain to get away if the DM so desired.

Scene

The players have finally made their way into the Throne Room\Lair\Laboratory\Warren of a Big Baddy. On the Baddies home turf, the heroes are in for a fight.

Mood

The mood of these fights should always be a little tense, for you and the players.  For you never want to create an encounter like this that is a pushover for the players, nor should you want a TPK. However, bad dice rolls and bad tactics could have this go south for the players.  Make sure you are prepared for that possibility as well.

Threats

The Big Bad is a threat, but for the first meeting, they should not be fighting alone. Maybe they have Champion by their side, a witch, a trusted advisor, or some other exotic enemy.  Just don’t make it a bunch of mook guards. Sure have a couple of those but there should be more than one Creditable threat so that the party can’t just focus on the Big Bad and down them in a couple of rounds.

Another great idea is to have a monstrous threat just out of the scene. Maybe the Big Bad has a pet monster or a chained up creature, something that in itself poses a threat to the party.  This was something built into the Ras Nsi encounter, another large threat that could enter the scene and spell doom for the players, but it is also a great tool to let the major villain escape. The players cannot pursue because the other creature is coming, or maybe the other creature arrives in the encounter allowing the big bad to get away as the players have to tactically change their strategy to face the new threat.

Mechanics

Fight Mechanics are fight mechanics, the mechanics we are looking for in this scenario are ones that allow the Big Bad to get away.

If the Big Bad has their own way instantly get away, via magic item or special ability, make sure the players know about it beforehand. Have the villagers tell tales of the fact that the Bad guy can turn into a swarm of bats, or talk about the magical ring they stole from some poor halfling. Don’t have the first time they learn about this item or ability be when the bad guy uses it to get away. It will cheapen the experience for the player, they may feel like you simply cheated.

Other than Special Powers or Items, make sure the description of the room describes the ways of egress from the room. Secret doors are one thing, but you better make sure you call out that nice bookshelf or ornate wardrobe that secret door is hidden as part of. Even if it is magic. Describe the strange alcove with the rune inscribed metal disc on the floor.

This gives the players options. They may and should try to maneuver to cover these exits so make you have more than one way out and put them on opposite sides of the encounter to make it harder for the players to cover them all. 

Tips

I’ve thrown in tips throughout this whole article, but the biggest tip I can give is don’t force the escape. Players are crafty and they may have come up with a plan that nullifies the big bad’s escape plan, or the rolls swing the wrong way and they have the big bad dead to rights. Let it happen. Lose the Big Bad. Give the players the big victory and start thinking about who will come and try to fill the power vacuum, what are the consequences of the Big Bad’s death.

Posted in General Writing

Grey Matter – Alien Invasions in RPGS

Welcome back to My20sided life. It has been awhile. A friend of mine, Marc Plourde, over at https://inspstrikes.blogspot.com/, did a twitter poll awhile back asking if he should start back up his blog. He was a regular blogger for some time. I had read his stuff long before I started my own. Upon seeing the poll, however, I told him, if he started blogging again I would too. This led us to start chatting about what to blog about and possible collaborations. So we are going to try to push each other, feed off each other’s ideas, and create a blog dialogue if you will. Let’s see how this works out.

So last week Marc posted a Blog about Gideon IV, a world he was using for an Alien Invasion Cypher game. He had some neat ideas about making the game a bit more Survival Horror, and less plucky resistance. Well, Alien Invasion has been something on my mind in the RPG sense for some time. Something I have never gotten to the table. So, sit back, and I’ll tell you MY tale.

Back in the Mid ’90s when I was a freshman in High School I was introduced to two things that consumed a huge portion of my free time. One was Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, the other was a Computer game called X-Com: UFO Defense. (1994 Micropose)   X-Com was a complicated Computer where you controlled an organization trying to find out what the aliens were doing and stop an invasion. In the meat of the game, you controlled soldiers on a tactical map trying to find and kill/capture aliens that were terrorizing the populous or that wandered out of UFOs that you had shot down. The soldiers had names (you could rename them whatever you wanted) had their own stats and were persistent from mission to mission, unless you got them killed. Their deaths were permanent. The similarities between the soldiers in this game and an adventuring party in AD&D were not lost on teenage me. I kept thinking about the stories of these poor soldiers and how I convert X-Com to an RPG to bring to my high school friends.

xcom

My ideas of an X-Com style RPG never came to pass back then, however, with the Cypher System I have had a renewed interest in making this game a reality. I have written quite a bit that I wanted to give you all a taste of. Once I get my hands on CSR2 I might try to make my ideas of an Alien Invasion setting I call “Grey Matter” into a reality. Continue reading “Grey Matter – Alien Invasions in RPGS”

Posted in General Writing, GM Prep, Rants

The Voyages of the USS Schrödinger: A Star Trek Adventures Post Mortem

So, it’s an interesting revelation that I stopped making posts to this blog about the same time as I started running a Star Trek: Adventures game. Now STA is not solely to blame, we did have an exchange student at the time as well as my job went through some drastic changes as we were sold to another company, but a lot of my free creative time was taken up by coming up with Star Trek Adventures, Adventures…

So now after 2 Seasons and over 30 sessions, we are taking a break from The Final Frontier.With that much mileage under my belt, I figured I should relay my thoughts. These are my personal thoughts after my experiences. Your experience will vary.

A Universe to Explore

Star Trek is a vast property with endless possibilities. Star Trek Adventures does a great job opening the universe up to you. It provides all the tools you need to come up with great adventures, your own stories as well as your own unique crew to inhabit them. I was never a big Star Trek fanboy. I watched the first few seasons of Next Generation in my youth but didn’t stick with it. I didn’t dislike Star Trek, I saw all the movies, it just wasn’t that big a thing for me. So, going in and running a game I was behind the curve. It became clear almost everyone at the table knew more of the universe than I. But a did a lot of research. Memory Alpha is your friend, I got lost in their linking wiki more than a few times.

It was neat creating stories for Star Trek. It was different than any other RPG I’ve run. Instead of creating a big bad, a dungeon, and a good versus evil plot, I leaned more towards moral ambiguity. I put the players in charged situations and forced them to make hard choices, and those choices had consequences. A lot of the 2nd season was about the consequences of their actions in the first season. But designing adventures like this meant “action” took a back seat. Sure, there was combat, but it wasn’t the main focus. The players would actively try to get out of fights rather than in them. (Which is the Star Fleet way… Negotiate first) However, coming up with ideas got quite difficult after a while. You see with Star Trek Adventures there is very little player contribution to the story I found (At least for the A plot) You had to come up with the problem, the NPCs involved, all of their motivations, as well as if/then scenarios on possible player actions. Not to mention I had to come up with a series of relevant facts about anything I introduced for I needed to make sure I had something to tell the players if they spent momentum on finding more information. It was a lot, especially for someone who didn’t know the universe like the back of his hand.

Continue reading “The Voyages of the USS Schrödinger: A Star Trek Adventures Post Mortem”

Posted in Fan Friday, General Writing

Fan Friday – PAX Unplugged – Post Mortem

So I went to PAX Unplugged back in November.  Being my first PAX I was excited, being the first ever PAX Unplugged I had no idea what to expect.  There were a couple other firsts for me there too.  My first time to Philadelphia, and the first time I had gone to a convention with my family in tow.

Let me first say that Philadelphia is a fascinating city with a lot of history.  My family and I went up a day early to do all of the touristy stuff we could.  We visited Founders Hall and saw the Liberty Bell along with a ton of other old buildings and museums.    Our family enjoyed our time there immensely.

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Look the Bell is broken

 

 

The Con itself was an interesting beast.  The convention floor was a decent size, about a third of the size of GenCon’s Dealer Hall.  However, They broke the floor up quite a bit.  Only a third of the space was actual dealers while another third was full of empty tables for you to grab a game and go play, the final third was used for the tournament tables and the main show stage.

Early on the first day, I was a bit underwhelmed… This was a PAX? It was tiny compared to GenCon.  The Dealer space was taken up with a lot of cool vendors selling stuff I’d seen at GenCon along with what they had new since then, and a lot of catch-all board game booths selling every board game under the sun.

I’m a fan of board games, but mainly when I gather 5-6 friends together I’d like to play an RPG instead.   I must say I’ve been spoiled by GenCon, it’s the only gaming con I’ve attended in about fifteen years.(gosh I’m getting old) That being said I’ve gotten used to how they do things:  Register online to run events, then register to attend them.  With Unplugged you can register to run RPG  events ahead of time but you have to wait in a line early in the day to try to get a slot at one of the RPG games. It seemed like a huge hassle for not a sure thing. I may be wrong it might of went smoothly and everyone enjoyed themselves, but how the Enforcer explained the process too me made me just want to steer clear.  Hopefully, they have a better fleshed out RPG running/Playing system next time.  This was their first year, there were some kinks, and I am sure they will learn from them and only get better.

What the Con seemed to be about though was playing board games with friends.  That is where the Con thrived.  The Con had a massive collection of Checkout and Play games, and in the evening the convention hall was full of people at every table playing games.  This is great if you came with a group of friends you could grab a game and start playing.  You could learn a new game or visit an old favorite.  It was neat seeing a lot of people playing games into the wee hours.  However with my wife back at the hotel putting our little one to bed, our exchange student and I were relegated to playing small 2 player games, it seemed rather daunting to try and saddle up to another table with people, especially since most games were already in progress.

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The Line to the Acquisitions Incorporated Live Game

 

Of course, you had the panels, the Acquisitions Incorporated games, the Q&A’s and others which seem to be a staple of the Con.  I was happy to have a chance to meet a few of the Rollplay crew as well as see the Acquisitions Incorporated game live, though the people watching from the comfort of their homes had a much better view.

Overall I would say the Con was a success.  The city alone was such a delight and worth the drive up.  The panels were fun, the dealer hall underwhelming but the atmosphere was great.  I’ll probably attend again, possibly even next year, but I can’t see it becoming a yearly “must go” on my schedule like GenCon.

Posted in General Writing

Blog Update

So my blog has been quiet for the last month.  Let me tell you what has been going on.

I had more Star Trek content planned but the play session got changed last minute which caused me to have to hold the content because some of my players actually read my blog.   And with the crazy holiday times, we haven’t been able to make up that game.  But we will soon and more Star Trek Content will be forthcoming.

I’m venturing into D&D5E.  Yes, I’m like the last holdout whose never played the latest edition of the hobbies staple.  I month or so ago a cousin of mine who lives close by, asked me if I played D&D.  He’d apparently gotten into watching Critical Roll and thought this whole Role-playing thing sounded cool, and he wanted to give it a try.   Initially, I was going to run him through some Numenera instead.  I already had committed to Star Trek so I didn’t think I had the time to learn a new system and make up two separate campaigns for two systems that require quite a bit of prep.  Numenera rules I know like the back my hand and can come up with ideas quite easily and run with minimal work.   Then, however, something caught my eye.  I started watching Roll20 Presents: Tomb of Annihilation. A hex crawl adventure in the Jungles of Chult.  As a teenager looking at a map of Faerun I was always interested in what lies inside the unexplored (then) Island of Chult.  Dinosaurs lost civilizations, and ancient Mysteries all sounded like a great place to adventure.  My GM at the time just told me. “You’ll die in 5 minutes” and that was that.   I never got to go.  Now, however, Chris Perkins has written this wonderful adventure that expands on the mysteries of Chult and fleshes the place out into a full and interesting campaign.  Adam Koebel and his gang at Roll20 create interesting characters and have great fun in their delve into the danger field jungle, and they sell me on learning 5E and taking my cousin and a few others though dino-filled land in search of a way to stop the death curse.  We had our first Session last Thursday and so far everyone is having a blast.  Even if the DM had to take pity on a player and prevent a session 1 player death.  ( Seriously we had 3 death saves roll in the first session for 2 separate characters. None above a 10, and one and actual 1)

 

Another thing I did over the last month was, attend PAX Unplugged in Philadelphia.  I’ll have more on my thoughts on this Convention later in the week.

 

On the life front the Company I work for Decided to offload the division I work for, so they sold it.  I get to keep my job with the new company, saints be praised, but the whole transition has been a massive ordeal.   I actually start at that new company the day this post goes live.    This transition has sapped my desire to sit at a computer in write when I get home.  Instead, I’ve been watching TV, relaxing, and playing a bit of Star Realms with our Exchange Student.  But alas I need to get back to writing and my commitment to this blog.  My apologies readers I will try to be more consistent.

Posted in Gaming Advice, Star Trek Adventures

Star Trek Adventures: My First Taste of Space Combat

Last night I had the opportunity to run Space Combat in my Star Trek Adventures game.  I was running the scenario A Vulture Among the Stars by Fred Love that was in Issue 2 of Modiphia.   Combat called for a single Ferengi Marauder against my player’s Intrepid Class ship.

I had 4 players at the table that night so that meant it was 4 crew turns against the 5 of the Marauder (it’s scale) a round.  This is where I come to my first recommendation in running space battles.  Since the Initiative is ‘popcorn-like,’ jumping from one side to the next unless momentum/threat is spent, I recommend having markers for each player and each enemy initiative slot.  Something you can flip over to denote that person/slot has acted this round. I found a shorted the enemy an initiative or 2 because I forgot the players spent momentum to keep the initiative a time or two.  Having a clear indication of who has and hasn’t gone each round would have helped.  Especially when determination can be spent to take a second turn in the same round or the commanding officer can direct others.

Tip #2 versatile is going to generate the players momentum and you threat so go ahead and use both before you roll damage.  Phasers have Versatile 2… meaning every Effect rolled grants you 2 Momentum/Threat.  Due to the Momentum Limit, you might as well spend it before you roll damage to gain extra dice on the attack roll and extra damage.  Be sure to leave 1 behind for a reroll of that damage dice if necessary.

One of the cool parts of the scenario is that it’s not just a pitched battle.  The players had 4 lifeboats to worry about as well as a pending warp core breach on wrecked vessel.  All of this put some urgency on the players and gave me great things to do with my threat tokens and complications rolled.  So, try to have either a cool location with your fight with environmental hazards that add an unknown element or outside factors that the players need to worry about.   It will add a lot.

One of the things that is mentioned in the book that I think really worked well to keep the feel of Star Trek, was not hiding what the enemy was doing. There wasn’t a PC sensor operator at my table last night, but every time I had the Marauder do something I had the Sensor Operator(me) say to the table “Captain they are moving into attack formation.  Captain, it appears they’re recharging their shields.  Captain, we are being scanned.” And so forth. It pulled the players from all the dice I was rolling back into their characters and to the scene.

There is a bit of bookkeeping in space combat.  Power management will be a factor in longer engagements.  It may be a good idea to have a visual representation of that rather than having to erase a number over and over.   We used poker chips for Power it worked well.  However, in this instance the combat went quickly it was over in 3 full rounds The Marauder fled the field after suffering 3 breaches.

Which brings me to my last point.  Space combat is vicious.  With good momentum spends you can easily Breach with just about every shot.  The Marauder breached the Intrepid class vessel twice missing it’s third phaser blast altogether.  While there was a bit of flipping through charts and descriptions to find out what each breach meant the end result was great.  Describing the hit; the players shaking about in their chairs; the consoles sparking; my players really enjoyed it.

I do have to say hats off to Fred Love the writer of the scenario it worked quite well.  Also, Captain Brasha became an instant favorite villain of my table.  They wanted her to escape so she can be a reoccurring menace to them, and boy do I have plans. 😊