My 9 RPG Story Goals + The 5 Stages of Getting Lost in the Dungeon
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #614
- My RPG Story Goals, Part 1
- Build Lego Castles
- Story Goal #2. A Well-Woven Web Of Activities To Draw PCs In
- Smart Villains
- Then plan another move.
- Character Backgrounds
- Great Rewards
- Character Sheet Rewards
- Character Development Rewards
- Story Goal #3. Outcomes Personally Involve PCs
- Tell Me Something Cool About Your Campaign
- Denial and Isolation
- Use Angel Iron For Gritty Campaign Balance
- Overcome Blocks In Creativity By Breaking Out Of Your Habits
- Handling Planning Roadblocks
- Episodic Game Template
My RPG Story Goals, Part 1
From Johnn Four
I’m cleaning up my basement, carving out more room. The rule is, if I haven’t touched it in 10 years, it gets the boot.
So I come across a stack of folders with old gaming notes. I find one from November 1999 titled “Good RPG Story Goals”. It’s got 9 items on it.
Here they are, all the way back from last millennium:
I’m going to go through each goal and see whether they are still valid in 2014. In the process, I’ve got some tips and suggestions for you about how to improve your GMing and game sessions.
Here’s the first goal.
Story Goal #1. Play Like Good Fiction Reads But Avoid Following A Pre-Determined Path
The best way I know to do this now is to create your Lego pieces first.
- Keep adding to them during the game
- Make each piece interesting for gameplay
- Recycle them for future situations and campaigns
Build Lego Castles
Examples of Lego pieces are NPCs, locations, items and events.
For NPCs, you want a lot of bad ones active in the world. And you want a number of good ones beleaguered by the world. And then you have the rabble.
For locations, you want several that get reused and have interesting features. For action scenes, give them cool features too. Use logic and imagination to build other places as needed. Record details.
For items, give them an interesting mix of rules-plugins and fiction. The plugins feed the character sheet. The fiction feeds the story.
Events are when two or three pieces collide. That’s where you want the PCs. Hopefully the collisions are their fault.
So now you’ve got your Lego set, your inventory of gameplay. Build it up during each game.
“So what do you do now?”
Good fiction to me means lead characters I care about and fast plot. The best stories are when things hurtle. When I wrote “like good fiction reads” I meant, and still mean, those things.
As a collaborator and audience member, I want to care about the PCs. I want a personal and vested interest in seeing how things turn out for the person in the story. (While I’ve offered tips in the past about player investment in PCs, I’ve never written about GM investment. I’ll add that to the ideas list.)
I also need to compartmentalize: I need to keep the PCs’ lives interesting, to facilitate, and to referee.
Fast plot means chewing through named NPCs, lots of mysteries revealed and solved, aggression, a reactive milieu. The PCs also have goals or strong desires that put them in constant danger.
Like a game of asteroids, the world throws large rocks around, and the PCs weave, shoot, and score.
The good fiction emerges over time as you recount events. The rules fade into the background, and details of actions and consequences become prominent. Funny moments, surprises, low points, high points, and cheers fused together by what the PCs did and how it turned out.
With this Lego Castle model hurtling through space and time, you need some skills.
Transitions are critical. How do the PCs move between encounters and scenes? How do players move through them? How can you make these transitions glide?
To paraphrase Dungeonworld’s advice, the best transition is for players to answer the question, “So what do you do now?” Their actions drive the plot.
My players like to think about their moves a step or three in advance. So I try to give them time between encounters to plot. Even if there’s a looming danger, I can still offer small pockets of safety for player chat while characters catch their breath.
If the group stalls, I advance the plot. I either trigger an event or drop a good hook.
Good triggers involve villains or boomerangs from what the characters have thrown at the world.
Hooks lure PCs into action by promising to lift a wee bit o’ fog of war on mysteries and open loops. Cater to player greed/power cravings, curiosity, and fear to dirty hooks with emotion.
Take good notes. Ask the group to keep a session log. Make your own doodles during the game. Do a brain dump on paper after the session. Clean notes up often.
Keep your information organized. My favourite method is old school => a GM binder. But of late I’ve turned more to Evernote, MyInfo and other digital tools.
Get more visual. Notes on maps work great. Mind map and <http://sketchnotearmy.com/>SketchNote your ideas and plans.
Add juicy details. Most GMs worry about making stuff up as you go. Practice by adornment. You don’t have to add extra details, and players aren’t expecting it, so the pressure is off => have fun with it.
Appearances are a great place to start. Visualize and describe what’s in your mind’s eye. Then adorn descriptions of actions. Then let adornments become personal challenges to be creative and generate interesting gameplay.
More details give you informed choices. This helps make ad hoc GMing easier because you’re knitting, not digging holes.
Juicy details build up existing Legos, keeping inventory of pieces to a manageable level. They also deepen mysteries, create hooks, and trigger PC-driven actions.
If you take great notes, get good at smooth transitions based on what the players or game throws at you, and add juicy details like they’re action-viruses, you have a solid skillset for playing like good fiction reads and avoiding a pre-determined path.
Story Goal #2. A Well-Woven Web Of Activities To Draw PCs In
I’ve run my fair share of linear, simple campaigns where the PCs crawl dungeons, level up, and terrorize the monsters. I still like this gameplay, though now as part of a more complex, sandboxy campaign style.
A web of activities means, to me at least, that factions and villains pursue independent agendas, while some larger campaign-wide danger or threat looms.
For example, the Red Hands thieves’ guild, the Golden Scepter Church, and a cohort of drow lead by Elverra Tanor’Thal operate out of the Greenshield district.
- The Red Hands want to either take over or knock off their Beggars’ Guild rivals in the area.
- The Golden Scepter crusade against evil and protect citizens (though the leader competes with churches in other districts for prestige and holy favour).
- Elverra is on a mission to kidnap an elven official and drag him back to the Underdark for the secrets he knows.
I could run each faction as a separate plot thread. Each story would have its own swimlane in the campaign. Then the PCs could ping pong between plots and progress each story independently over time.
Or, I could tie two or all three plots together a few steps down the line for extra complications and a web of complexity for players. Maybe the elven official secretly funds the Red Hands, the Golden Scepter will target the Red Hands and Elverra as threats, and Elverra dominates the Golden Scepter High Priest and makes him her pawn. Meanwhile, a much larger threat grows underneath the city….
In reality, I’d start simple, with three distinct plot threads. I’d let my players try to pit the factions against each other or be faction/plot connectors themselves somehow. Between sessions, I’d just adorn NPCs and locations with connections and details after the fact to set up cool twists and event possibilities.
I’d do this regardless of whether the setting was a city, forest, or dungeon. Faction gameplay can thrive anywhere. And factions make the best web of activities.
To stay sane, I track all this stuff using my Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #488 – GMing Gods, Demons And Immortal Loopy Planning method and MyInfo or index cards.
My 4 Step Recipe for Creating Great RPG Campaign Seed Villains were discussed just a little while ago.
Here another tip: don’t make plans for villains. You waste time when plans go awry fast. And such planning is often dull.
Instead, plan the villain’s next move. Just one move. This is the core of the Loopy Planning method and why it’s so effective.
Mull over all the information and resources the villain has. Roleplay the villain in your mind. Picture the villain discussing with advisors, meeting with lieutenants, pondering what he thinks stands in his way.
Once the move gets triggered, see how the game and party reacts.
Then plan another move.
In this way you keep up with the PCs, but you don’t get so far ahead you become inclined to railroad the game to suit your plans. You also stay in response mode instead of reaction mode (response = you take the ball and carry it forward, react = you clutch the ball and go fetal). And, you can manage more content within your campaign – more villains, factions, plots – because things stay simple.
Make the players care about their characters and campaign. This is at the heart of my Chaos Keep adventure I’m working on. If players care, you can tell more stories. Here’s why.
Players who care pursue details. They want to know what happens next. They’ll think about or imagine the game. They’ll ask questions.
All of those things lead to a more detailed, deeper game. And such details always lend themselves to plot hooks and encounter ideas!
It’s amazing how it always works. If players ask questions, new game opportunities arise => assuming you’re listening. You’ve got to listen to the literal question, but you’ve also got to listen to what they’re really asking. You’ve got to kind of read between the lines so you know where and how to nudge the game.
When a player asks a question, they’re often asking two questions. First is the answer for what they are literally asking. For example, “What’s the door made out of?”
But the second, unstated question is, how do they intend to have fun now? When a player asks me about door construction, that’s a queue for me to listen hard to the unspoken question because it reveals their thought process and their intent. And if I can fulfill their intent as referee in a cool way, then the player’s gonna have a ton of fun.
If they’re asking about door construction, are they’re looking at the current situation as a puzzle? Is the thief about to flash his skillz? Is the barbarian about to flex his biceps? Is the wizard preparing a clever spell?
In all these cases, depending on who’s asking the question, I’m thinking ahead about details and situations to describe a cool situation if the PC fails or succeeds at their action.
However, maybe they’re really asking about construction because they’re wanting a safe place to rest. They didn’t ask about resting, but I see they party is pretty depleted and tired. They ask about door materials, but they really want to recharge.
In this case, I start thinking up details about the room, I consider the local area, and just muse a bit on the place as a campsite. I also think whether I want any encounters to trigger while they rest, or if I want to handwave rest and just have time zip by so the pace stays fast.
Do you see what I mean about the literal question and the hidden question?
If so, you can use this to weave deeper webs in your campaign when players start asking for world, location, and NPC details. Answer the literal question, but think about the hidden question that’s all about their intention for fun. Build out accordingly.
You can start this whole process off by fleshing out character backgrounds. Get a little history from each player, even just a paragraph. And think about the information on both levels => the literal text for more campaign detail, and the hidden expression of intended fun.
For some great character background questions, check out the Mother of All Character Questionnaires.
And here are a few more character background tips for you:
- RPT Weekly E-Zine Issue #392 — Assembling The Party – Reconciling Diverse Backgrounds
- RPT Weekly E-Zine Issue #354 — How To Work With Crummy Character Backgrounds 12 Options For Solving “X killed Y”
- Creating Past Lives For PCs — RPT#232
- Story Sparks Part I: New Ways To Begin An Adventure & Bring The PCs Together — RPT#227
- Story Sparks Part II: More Ways To Begin An Adventure & Bring The PCs Together — RPT#229
- Old Campaign, New PCs: Creating New Characters For Existing Campaigns — RPT#129
Make the game a great experience with lots of potential rewards.
There are two kinds of rewards:
- Character sheet rewards
- Character development rewards
To make “A Well-Woven Web Of Activities To Draw PCs In” put more emphasis on reward type #2. Here’s how.
Character Sheet Rewards
Anything that gives a +1 is a character sheet reward. Anything that provides new abilities, spells, skills, tags, attributes, and equipment is a character sheet reward.
Keep up with these as you normally would. Players love this stuff and getting more gameplay options combined with increasing chances of success.
Character Development Rewards
Character development takes place on two levels. First is things with special meaning on the character sheet. Things that expand play beyond combat, treasure, and encounters.
The second is gameplay experience that will live long in memory after the campaign has ended.
Things with special meaning include:
- Magic items that do things beyond dice rolls
- Equipment and possessions with special properties or history
- Home base
- Henchmen and followers
- Pets, mounts, companions (with personality)
- Rank, status, or authority
In the gameplay experience category you’ll find:
- Character place in the milieu
- Plot and story advancement
- Spotlight time
- Personal side plots
- Gameplay style support
- Recognition and respect from NPCs
- Secrets and revelations
- Cause-and-effect world development
- Accomplishments and goals achieved
- Open loops from background played and resolved
I don’t spend nearly enough time on designing character development rewards in my campaigns. Thank you past-Johnn for making me aware of this today!
The great thing is these rewards will add depth to your campaign. A +1 is just a dice roll modifier. But inheriting an inn to serve as a home base in a dangerous pirate city opens up many possibilities, even when the PCs grow in character sheet power.
Create plots with character development rewards in place from the start. These rewards often need “brewing time” or “evolution time”.
The PCs decorated their inn in my Riddleport campaign, for example, with the heads of tough monsters they overcame in their adventures. Later on, it became a place of intrigue rife with secret meetings, spying, and assassination attempts. It finally became a critical part of the grand plot as the characters made crazy discoveries in the basement.
None of this fantastic web of activity was captured on character sheets. I don’t think any of the players remember what feats their PCs gained at fourth level. But The Silver Chalice Inn will live long in all our memories because of the additional game experiences it offered as the campaign progressed.
By having character development rewards in mind ahead of time, you can work backwards to come up with events and Lego Castle ideas. A reward tuned to a player or character will propel them into action and keep them in action.
So use Loopy Planning, factions, smart villains, character backgrounds and goals, and lures of great rewards to spin your well-woven web of activities to draw PCs in.
Story Goal #3. Outcomes Personally Involve PCs
Much of this point is discussed above in the rewards tips. To reiterate, the best PC outcomes are those your game system does not have rules for. This gives you much leeway in how you mould the path to epic campaign climax.
Imagine I tell my players to bring new characters to a session. I tell them there’s a dragon that lives in the mountains. The dragon has 12,134 coins worth of treasure, and is probably worth a half level in XP. The dragon eats people. Attack.
My group would give me a strange look, but they’d roll with it and we’d have fun (pun intended).
But there’d be no investment in the game, really.
Compare that to my Riddleport campaign where a red dragon swooped down and blocked the road. It demanded money. The PCs refused and one perished. Then the PCs ran into the forest and escaped.
Let’s just say, after that encounter, there’s was intense investment in getting a day of revenge on that dragon.
You can’t find this in the rules. It’s all in what things mean to your players. It’s tapping into their attention. Do you observe your players and note those moments when they are most engaged in the game? Get into a habit of that. Fun ramps way up if you as Master of Ceremonies can make those occasions happen more often.
For example, one of my favourite types of NPCs is where there is a bond of respect between NPC and PC. As a player, this feeds my ego a bit. As GM, it’s often great roleplay as PC and NPC are peers on a personal level. Such an NPC need only ever ask a favour to trigger a whole new plot or just a bit of fun => that bond between player and game is now strong enough for that. No need to pull out circus antics to infuse gameplay.
I mentioned curiosity in Tip #1. This is a strong and simple motivator. Players always want to know why. They want to know how. They want to know where. But most of all, they want to know how it all turns out.
Keep the answers a few steps away. Then roll up your sleeves to dirty your hands with the plot to connect PCs. Do this and you’ll draw your players forward, step by step.
In the end, you want to think about how you define success and what your players think it is. Cooperate in the game to make both happen, and ask for that cooperation.
This ends part one of My 9 RPG Story Goals, coming to you from 1999. 🙂 In an upcoming email to you I’ll continue with discussion and tips on:
- Tell More Than A Single Story
- Begin And End With Excitement
- Test The Skills Of The PCs And The Players
- Teach Players A Bit About Themselves
- Reward Them With Glory
- Outcomes Affect The World In Small Ways
Brief Word From Johnn
Tell Me Something Cool About Your Campaign
In the Reader Tips section in today’s issue of RPT, you’ll find a campaign idea from Michael Garcia about Angel Iron. It’s a magical substance he’s invented to manage campaign economics better, and to maintain finer control on campaign challenge and balance. I hope you find his ideas interesting!
Have you created something cool and unique for your campaign? I’d love to hear about it! Just hit the reply button.
Are You Excited About D&D 5E?
It’s official, D&D Next debuts at this year’s Gen Con. And I’ve got the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set pre-ordered from Amazon (I’ve never been to Gen Con but would love to go someday).
A couple interesting twists with the new edition.
First is the D&D Basic game, which covers levels 1-20 and the cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard, plus the dwarf, elf, halfling, and human. The D&D Basic game will be a free PDF. That’s pretty cool. A try-before-you buy approach.
Second is they’ve outsourced adventure module creation to Wolfgang Baur of Kobold Press. I enjoy Wolfgang’s work so am looking forward to the first adventure arc, Tyranny of Dragons.
Certain past editions of the game have not appealed to me, so I’m not getting my hopes up too high, but I have to admit I’m excited about the new edition now, and I thought I wouldn’t be, and I look forward to GMing the boxed set and giving the game a run.
How about you?
The 5 Stages of Getting Lost in the Dungeon
From Johnn Four
Getting lost sounds fun, in theory. But when players realize their map is broken, the game often loses its way, too.
It occurred to me getting lost in the dungeon is like going through the five stages of grief. This gives you options in each stage to pull the game out of the pit and back on track, regardless of whether the map is a lie.
Here’s how to keep the game fun and moving when PCs get lost in the dungeon:
Denial and Isolation
The initial jolt of fear gets followed up with confusion. How could this happen? Where are we now? How can we find our way back? Will we get out of this alive?
You as GM have two choices right now, in this moment, and each has a big effect of the game henceforth:
Choice 1: Focus on the map. The players will try to drag you into the map and solve the problem. They want the feeling of control back. They want their escape route back.
This choice leads to technical ratholes that bog the game down and kill the energy.
Choice 2: Focus on action. Get the players moving. Give them a target of some kind to track. Create an imminent doom effect to push them.
This choice puts fun into getting lost.
In this stage, the mapper and the GM take some heat. Frustration grows. Fingers point. Blame accrues.
I enjoy blame. It’s GM XP for me. 🙂 So I don’t take anything personally. As long as I’ve been fair, I’ve done my job. If I haven’t been fair, I’ll correct the situation immediately with backstory, retcon, or corrective event.
If you were able to get the party moving in the Denial Stage, offer new clues in the Anger Stage for the track they’ve been following. Provide a new sign the imminent danger approaches (and is perhaps accelerating). Trigger an encounter if the party stalls.
The players will return to the map if you let them. They’ll keep pressing.
“Can we make INT checks to fix the map?”
“Surely my PC with eidetic memory can recall our route!”
“We track ourselves back!”
“Ok, we only map super-careful from now on. Every inch is double-checked.”
Part of the fun of being lost is the experience of stress and pressure. Encounters eat party resources. The imminent doom gets louder, closer, bigger, worse.
Ignore the map. Keep pushing.
The players lose hope. Talk of rolling new PCs passes between nervous glances at the screen.
The wizard has his only remaining spell, Read Magic, poised to cast. The rogue licks the stopper of the last healing potion clean. The fighter begs the cleric for an intravenous.
Provide easy victories here. No need to grind relentlessly. Award new provisions as treasure. Give succor. Offer hope to continue forward and survive.
The PCs gear up. A last-minute desperate audit of campaign notes and equipment lists turns up a couple of minor boons. The imminent doom is now wind at their back.
Stage the final battle with exit in sight. Make it epic.
Use Angel Iron For Gritty Campaign Balance
From Michael Garcia
Thanks for the tips. They are useful, as is the material in the Faster Combat course. On this particular topic, you may find it interesting our group tended to have the opposite problem [of resting after every encounter], and I’ve been working on it for some time now.
The game used to feel like one endless series of combats (regardless of how many encounters it actually was). Though the power gamers loved it, anyone that likes a good story soon deemed it silly. The party never ate, slept, or washed. They killed, regrouped, took healing potions, and moved into the next battle, occasionally stopping to disarm a trap or to solve a riddle.
When a few of our power gamers dropped out due to changing work schedules, I decided to DM a new campaign and bring some realism. That was 7 or 8 years ago, I think.
At first, it was a challenge to bring realism without bringing boredom too. I reduced the power and frequency of magic, which actually had the positive effect of making it much more mysterious and interesting. At times, the guys gave me crap about how there is no magic in the world, but they realized it had just become much more subtle.
Also, I had all magic, regardless of the type, fuelled by one rare substance called Angel Iron (think of the spice from Dune).
Angel Iron fuels all magic in my world, which I call Tartarus. Wizards and clerics alike use it, though each has a different interpretation of what it is and how it works. All magic items have traces of it within the item.
Bladed weapons are easy to explain, as they are made of the metal or have etchings and inlays containing the metal. Bows and other natural items are made from trees or animals that have somehow ingested traces of the metal. Heathens worship certain trees (such as iron wood trees) that drink from sacred pools, and the common denominator is a nearby source of Angel Iron that has leeched into the environment. Magic scrolls are written with ink that contains the metal. You get the idea.
Casters use Angel Iron as spell components. Alchemist and wizards tend to use vials of powdered Angel Iron. A 1st level spell requires 1 dram (1/8 of an ounce), a 2nd level spell requires two drams, etc.
This stuff is expensive! In most places, a dram costs 100 gold. I finally found a way to make a cleric be picky about whom he heals and when he does so! A cleric’s holy symbol is made of Angel Iron and can serve as a backup in case the cleric runs out of the powder. A symbol usually contains 100 charges, but each use weakens the symbol and brings a small percentage chance of ruining it.
Likewise for wizards and alchemists, each of which carries a philosopher’s stone. They primarily use these to detect more Angel Iron. Only the ignorant believe that alchemists try to turn lead to gold. The wise know alchemists desire not ordinary gold but aureum, a natural alloy of Angel Iron. Others seek argentium, a variant of Angel Iron called ‘true silver’, and it’s this that is a bane to werewolves, not regular silver (this has been the death of many a foolish adventurer). Higher grades of Angel Iron are known to exist, and one dram of this refined powder can fuel two or three level’s of magic spells.
Some of the most powerful organizations in the world (in the south, the Aurelian Sages, in the north the Northern Guild of Metallurgists and Natural Philosophers) seek out, harvest, refine, and sell Angel Iron. Churches are some of the largest buyers, as they use the metal for daily and weekly rituals. Clergymen of any given sect tend to debate fiercely over the true nature or proper use of Angel Iron.
Our campaign features all the fun and fervor of real world religious heresies, but I steer clear of anything that resembles real world issues (the nature of god, etc.). Instead, I focus most debates on Angel Iron.
Each culture or organization has its own legends on the nature and origins of Angel Iron and it has many other names. As DM, I secretly decided that the Dominite Church’s basic view is correct.
Aeons ago, obedient hunter angels chased renegade demons through space and time at the behest of the one God. Typically, after imprisoning a demon in a shimmering globe of angelic energy, the team dragged the glowing sphere through the cold void of space and hurled it down like a thunderbolt to the surface of a chosen planet. It struck the land or the sea like a meteor, often causing an earthquake or tidal wave.
Deep beneath the surface, the sphere of energy cooled, becoming a magical metallic prison. The metal drains the power from the demon within, keeping it weak. Only psionic powers remain to it. The nature of the core of my campaign’s specific planet is such that it regenerates Angel Iron, so a demon trying top punch its way out of a sphere has no luck. Moreover, in time the sphere grows tendrils and sends roots deeper into the earth, seeking energy from the planet’s core (or nearby volcanoes and such).
Over the centuries, a few demons have lured humans to their spheres and tricked them into releasing them by strange rituals. They are usually recaptured by the watcher angels that patrol the skies above the planet. Shards of these broken spheres remain deep underground, where they can be found and used by humans.
Also, as each demon is unique and the metal tends to leech out a demon’s powers, each sphere of Angel Iron can have slightly different secondary properties (this is another field of great interest to scholars, particularly clerics).
The above content is the foundation of our system. From that base, all sorts of variants are possible. We just developed a song mage that taps into traces of Angel Iron in the air by using ritual vibrations in song. Bards work in a similar fashion. Druids and their ilk strongly favor Angel Iron found in living things. Their spells must be powered by certain leaves and berries, or even blood from a sacrificial animal. You get the idea.
Regarding combat, this change in magic frequency meant that natural healing was actually important. It meant you might have to rest after a big battle (go figure). The narrative became more realistic. The PCs no longer seemed like transformers or terminators. They were still heroes, doing wild and dangerous stuff, but they were heroes in the Tolkein/fairy tale/Gothic horror sense, meaning they were ordinary people who found themselves in surreal situations and did incredible things.
I hadn’t recognized a need to change anything until I read Faster Combat. An emphasis on fast and deadly fights would indeed bring more drama, and I wanted that. I pored over that work and made myself a cheat sheet for use when designing encounters.
Yet, I had to deal somehow with your suggestion of “Let them sleep when they’re dead”, which seemed to go against all of my changes. In the end, I reconciled them thus:
To keep a realistic feel to a game, you need to ratchet down the magic and the combat, lest the game feel like a transformers movie (where machines blow things up and go 100 mph for 90 minutes straight–after five minutes, this is very boring and silly).
The PCs are encouraged to rest and eat and even wash to make things seem quaint and real. Verisimilitude, right. This is all part of pacing.
However…at certain times in the narrative, when I need to speed things up and give events an edge-of-your-seat feel, then I put all of your suggestions into effect: Conditions do not allow a rest, their provisions run low, a story-based deadline is in place, and their equipment begins to break from overuse. Not only do these elements work well in a vacuum, but they seem to work even better when contrasted with the normal (slower) pace of the campaign.
Thanks again for faster combat and for getting me to think through all this. I think our game is much better off.
Overcome Blocks In Creativity By Breaking Out Of Your Habits
From Gem Cutter Roberts
A reader wrote in saying they were afflicted with writer’s block. They had zero left in the tank for creativity and writing. I’ve had writer’s block and been burned out a couple times before. Here are a few things you can do to bull rush the block:
Take Up A New Hobby
The new neuro-connections will form new relationships with old thoughts, making those ideas new and exciting again.
Break thought and emotion habits by giving them new stimulus to break their patterns. It’s like going to the gym but for your brain and spirit instead. Read different types of books or watch different kinds of television shows. Listen to a different kind of music.
Master One New Skill
Something like a 30 day challenge. Rock climbing, new language, public speaking, Node.js. Anything that’s difficult and is a lot to wrap your arms around.
Again, this creates new brain patterns and forces adaptation to break out of ruts. It also gives you something new to get excited about.
Evidence is overwhelming that doing exercise works the brain and spirit too.
Eat Only Non-Processed Foods
Your gut has billions of neurons too. Same as the ones in your brain. In fact, many call it your second brain and it’s critical for maintaining proper chemical balance in you.
Eating better makes life easier on your gut, which has big positive effects on your health, mental state, and well-being. Try if for just a week and see if you don’t feel more energized!
Handling Planning Roadblocks
From Michael Christensen
Having someone to chat with about my GM stories/campaigns or troublesome player issues always stirs my inspiration and lures back my muses. It’s like that old trick…if you want them to think about X, talk about X. So make yourself talk/chat/write/explain your campaign, plot, and setting.
So a GM tip of mine would be to find someone you can bounce ideas off of and talk with about your campaign.
If you have a player in the group who also knows about GMing, and is able to separate player knowledge from the game, or better yet, is able to use it creatively in a non-destructive way, then bouncing storylines, plots, and ideas off them can also be a valuable way to keep the juices going.
Episodic Game Template
RPT reader Sam2978 has been running an episodic game of Stargate SG-1 for a long time, and he wanted to share his adventure template. I’ll let Sam tell us all about it:
The episode/session can be divided into scenes that either have defined starts and ends (to allow for “commercial breaks”) or flow seamlessly through to the end. Each scene roughly corresponds to a part of a real TV episode.
The episode starts with an idea, like a phrase, motto, or saying. Then you take that idea and expand on it a little, making it into a tagline, like a one sentence description of the episode. At this point you don’t know much about your story but that’s okay, the tagline is just a springboard for more ideas.
Now that you have a tagline to be your story seed, you flesh it out by fitting it into the formula, asking yourself questions about what could happen or what an NPC might do to bring about that part of the story. When you’ve gone through the whole template, viola’ instant adventure!
Of course, there are lots of more details to consider like locations and NPC names, but that’s the easy part (that’s what random generators are good for).
An example of an actual session I created and ran started with the seed word “Allegiance.” How could that term be used to make a tagline? I played with some taglines in my head, brainstorming ideas until one stuck:
Tagline: When the group realizes they are clones, they must decide where their allegiance lies.
Sure, the whole “it turns out they’re clones” thing had been done on the TV show before, but what a great idea for an RPG session. Now it was time to work that tagline into an actual adventure outline, before filling in the minutia like NPC names and locations.
Here is my base template for the one-session episodes. This was written specifically for SG-1 style game sessions, but could be tweaked to fit just about any genre.
Scene 1 – The Introduction
In the first scene, the PC’s are introduced to the problem as they know it. Adventures may start in medias res with the action already taking place, or with a more casual introduction such as a mission briefing. This scene sets the tone of the adventure, and gives the PCs a mission to accomplish.
The mission doesn’t necessarily have to be an official SGC mission. It could be “to go fishing” or “to track down that person I met at the museum last week” or something equally mundane. For missions like these, the Introduction might include General Hammond telling the characters to take some time off, or it might begin with the characters already on vacation.
Scene 2 – The Buildup
The second scene is where the PCs get involved. They are finding out what the situation is, gathering information, and working on the problem. This scene is where the PCs get their hands dirty with the mission, though they may not really know the truth behind the facts yet.
In a non-SGC mission this is where the problem, complication, or interference comes into play.
Scene 3 – The Climax
During the third scene the plot twist comes in to complicate things. This can be as simple as reinforcing a time crunch the PCs were already aware of, or it can involve a 180 degree twist from what they thought they knew about the mission. This is where the real decision making comes into play.
Scene 4 – The Resolution
This is the scene where things come together. The plans of the PCs go into action and the results are played out. This is the win, lose or draw part of the adventure.
Scene 5 – The Epilogue
The final scene is for reflection. Reporting to General Hammond, saying goodbye to friendly aliens, etc. This is the “how’d we do?” part of the adventure where the players get to unwind after the stressful resolution of the situation.