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 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. 😊

 

 

 

Posted in Gaming Advice, Set Piece

Set Piece: Fly You Fools

The castle is being over-run; the King has been Usurped and the town is crawling with the enemy; Imperial troops have entered the base, or the undead have broken through the walls.  It is time to use discretion, the better of Valor, and live to fight another day.  In an RPG getting players to flee overmatched fights is hard to do, but when presented with an overwhelming force they may decide it’s time to fall back.   In this Set Piece, I will discuss how to run a fun encounter where the heroes are on the back foot.

Scene:

The Players are forced to flee overwhelming odds.  This kind of idea requires some setup.  As a GM you can spell out the scene.  The army arrives and your forces are falling there is no way you alone can stem the tide.  This scene could follow an epic Hold the Line type fight that failed or could just be the result of events the players had no hand in.   Try not to be rail-roady; if the players wish to fight to the end you should let them. Just don’t let up on them.  This should lead to a captured or imprisoned set-piece or maybe just player death.

Mood:

The mood could be utter chaos and fear or it could be composure in the face of adversity it really depends on how the players play things.  Do they give orders? Do they calm the hysterical? Or do they find a shadow to sneak in towards a hidden way out of the city?  Take your cues from them.  Show the effect they are having on the people around them with their fearless demeanor, or show the chaos and death occurring as they run away.  If they choose the latter route you don’t have to punish them.  Maybe show others trying to lead and get swarmed by the fearful mob, or cut down by a defector or the enemy.   Sometimes making whatever decision they choose seems like the right decision after-the-fact makes for a more enjoyable role-playing experience. Continue reading “Set Piece: Fly You Fools”

Posted in Gaming Advice, Rants

GMing Better: Failing Heroically

Games of late have given GMs a lot of new tools; rules that allow us to interfere with the narrative.  Whether it’s a GM Intrusion or a Despair dice roll we now have a codified reason to declare the player’s dropped his sword, slipped in the mud, accidentally insulted the princess, and ran out of ammo.  Lately, I have seen a lot of GM’s go mad with this power.  Myself included.

Recently I was talking with the GM of a Worlds in Peril game I was in and we were talking about these new mechanics.   He told me that he always tries to make sure to describe complications in a Heroic way. In the movies Captain America’s shield doesn’t accidentally fall off his back as he’s running for cover in an ‘oops’ kind of way; instead it gets blasted out of his hand by an enemy he didn’t notice, this causes him to dive after it, grab it and launch it at this new enemy.

This line of thinking open my eyes.  Too many times I would hold up 2XP in a Cypher Game and describe how the character “misjudges the weight of the grenade she’s about to throw, it hits the door jam and bounces back landing a few feet away from another PC,” only for that player to instead Hand Me an XP denying the intrusion.  I realize now that it wasn’t that the complication was bad per say, instead the problem the player had was with how I narrated it.  I made their Heroic character seem inept, or unheroic.  The Intrusion description did not fit with how the Player saw their character.  Intrusions are great in the way that players can buy them off if they don’t like how it paints their character, but in other systems, the player isn’t so lucky, so be mindful.

If I instead described: “you grab the grenade, yank out the pin, wind up, and as you are in the processes of throwing it down the hallway a sudden hail of blaster fire erupts from the far end of the hall, knocking the grenade from your hand, you watch in horror as it hits the ground and rolls next to Roselyn,” the odds are better the player will take that intrusion.   The PC wasn’t made to look like a fool, instead, something unexpected happened and caused the same result.

When you are describing the complication that is about the befall your player, make sure you take the character in mind.  Don’t have the sneaky thief accidentally knock over a metal candlestick, instead have a cat unexpectedly round the corner and hiss at the intruder. Same result but the catalyst doesn’t make the PC look bad.

There are of course exceptions.  The generally pacifistic hacker who doesn’t use guns is, of course, going to have the safety on the first time they go to fire the strange new weapon they are handed and odds are they don’t know where the safety is to turn it off.   That’s a humous beat that fits the character, and can lead to some great inter-party exchanges.  That same Hacker however isn’t going to fail to get the computer up and running because he forgot what he changed the password to.

So in closing, I will say:  When you as a GM are interfering with the narrative of the game, know your players and make sure your descriptions aren’t at odds with how they see their characters.  Do that too many times and you’ll have disgruntled players. Instead, if you can, make them seem more heroic.

Posted in Gaming Advice, Set Piece

Set Piece: Hold the Bridge

Olin, Hildr and Frode stood stalwart as the undead army approached.  They had set their traps, prepared all they could but it was a long time till morning.  They knew that the only way to keep the Illustrious City of Silasthorp from falling was for the three of them to hold the Bridge.

“Well Olin,” Hildr began as she grabbed her axe from her belt and turned toward the hardened warrior.  “We may feast in the halls of Valhalla before this night is through”

“Odin owns us all,” Olin replied.  The three then shouted the known refrain in unison as the undead army was upon them.

 

Introduction:

Whether it is the rickety rope bridge in The Temple of Doom, a strategic bridge to war effort like in Saving Private Ryan, or the last place you have to stop the Balrog a la Fellowship of the Ring,  a Bridge encounter is always a classic Set Piece.  One of the more exciting ways to use a bridge as a chokepoint, a place to hold from an overwhelming force. So let’s give that a go.

Scene:

Evil must be stopped and this Bridge is the last place for your heroes to make their stand.  Have they had time to prepare or are they desperate?  There is hope however, they only have to hold out for so long. Wherever the scene is, be sure to describe the bridge itself in great detail make sure you include features for the players and the enemies to exploit narratively. How’s it lit? is the railing weak in areas? Are their pot holes? Is there cover? This is going to be longer encounter be prepared with a few ‘intrusions’ that could alter the landscape and shake things up. Don’t be afraid to choreograph them in your description maybe your players get the idea to trigger events first for their benefit.

Continue reading “Set Piece: Hold the Bridge”

Posted in Gaming Advice, Set Piece

Set Piece: The Reverse Pickpocket

Introduction:

Will Smith is in a lingerie shop buying a present for his wife when an old friend (Jason Lee) runs into him.  The friend slips something in Will Smith’s bag, then runs off proceeding to get himself killed.  This, however, kicks off Will’s involvement in the wonderful suspense film Enemy of the State.    The reverse pickpocket idea is not a new concept.  It’s been used in fiction, film, and television for years.  Scott Lynch’s book The Republic of Thieves has got a great scene where the method is used multiple times by two opposing thieves on some unsuspecting officials.   Needless to say, you can kick off quite an adventure with a scene like this, without requiring much of any buy-in from your PCs.

Scene:

The PCs are in a crowded market buying good our trying to find a buyer for their cargo.  When someone runs into them.  Classic pickpocket scam right.   They check their belt pouch or wallet.  Their cash is still there.   What they don’t realize is, something else has been added.  A crowded market of any type does well for this.  However, any public space or city street will do.  Even an Inn, Bar, or shop could be a great location for this scene. Continue reading “Set Piece: The Reverse Pickpocket”