Make a scene

Approaches to establishing, cutting and actively using scenes in roleplaying and freeform games.

A conversation with Austrian game aficionado Johannes this Easter reminded me of the unstated premises in play cultures. We played together for the first time at Danish Fastaval, having discussed games online for a year or so. He said having me as GM shed light on some expectations he’d found unclear in Matthijs’ Draug 2 draft on this blog.

Namely; how “we” run scenes.

Photo: Ole Mørk Sandvik (1927), via Nasjonalbiblioteket.

This article aims to illustrate some of that, from my perspective but with help from friends. They will appear in colorful comments along the way:

Elin is a veteran of the regional larp and freeform scenes, and co-editor of the Larps from the Factory anthology.

Matthijs is founder of this blog and a productive local designer.

Mikael is on an epic quest to play all the indie games.

In indie/freeform circles these days, thinking and planning in terms of scenes is well-established. I use the term loosely like in a movie context. Scenes are discrete parts of the action where something central to the story happens. You can cut back and forth between scenes occurring at the same time, like when central characters are in different places. Or you can compress a bunch of (down)time in those cuts, using it for pacing.

Stories have been compressed and chopped up in more easily digestible chunks since we started telling them. But I hope there will be some useful reminders for our particular format – roleplaying – below.

Cut!

The first encounter I recall with explicitly stated scene framing was at a local gaming convention in the early 00’s. It was a fairly straightforward fantasy scenario, but with an experimental approach. The GMs were instructed to cut ruthlessly, sometimes even in the middle of the action, and then establish a scene somewhere completely different, giving the characters (and players) little information about what had happened between scenes. That particular empowering of the GM made a lasting impression.

Since the word “cut” is in use as a safeword in local larp, I tend to say “thank you”, perhaps signalling with hands or other body language that it’s time to wrap up.

When to cut?

Using this technique, you’ll develop a sense for timing, of what’s right for the story. Generally, I’d say “cut sooner rather than later”. If the scene had a particular purpose or conflict in focus, when that has been resolved or complicated further could be a good place. I’ll usually try to cut before the scene, and players, lose steam and energy.

Erik Werenskiold (1883): Illustrasjon til “Kjærringen mod strømmen” i P. Chr. Asbjørnsen og J. Moe, Eventyrbog for Børn. Foto: Nasjonalmuseet / Ivarsøy, Dag Andre. Fotolisens: Fri ikke-kommersiell bruk (CC-BY-NC).

Matthijs: “Once your group is used to this rhythm, you can play with it by not cutting when the group expects you to. It becomes an unspoken statement, an expectation that something significant can or will occur”.

Elin: “What Matthijs mentions is also a good method to prompt the players to look for what kind of story you are after.”

Often it’s a matter of cutting when you see a good opening for it. It can be an interesting exercise to time scenes (I’ve hardly done this before last week), to get a feel for how long they are in minutes. Might surprise you.

When a really good, punchy line has just been delivered by one of the players can also be a great place to end the scene. You sort of underscore such statements when cutting after them. “And on that note…”

If some time is about to pass in the fiction, but you don’t expect anything particularly relevant to the story or interesting to the characters/players will occur during that time, skip it with a scene cut & time jump. E.g. don’t spend several minutes of game time having character shop around for junk they need to complete a task. Just assume they get it (or not), and move on.

Cutting is also an effective tool for pacing. A slower pace for more introspective scenes or “looking into personal issues”, a more rapid pace for action scenes, confusing circumstances and so on.

Elin says: “To provide a tight story, cutting is one of the primary jobs of the GM as they (often) have the only clear plan on how the story will develop. Unless it’s a prewritten game with clear instructions for when to (or when not to) cut.”

(Note that our discussion covers a wide spectrum of games, from GMless, via scripted freeform and chamberlarp, to convention games with prewritten scenarios and to more improvised home campaigns. I’d rarely say I had “a clear plan for where the story should go”, because finding out together is a big part of the joy. But in a convention game, that way of putting it will often make sense).

You could also, more trickily perhaps, cut early in an emotionally charged scene, to deny that tension release.

Elin: “Another technique is postponing the cut, to keep the characters lingering in the moment, and play on what’s beneath the surface: doubts, saving face, being uncomfortable and revealing their humanity.”  

With great power…

I think my GM style can seem authoritarian. But I believe I have more of a bird’s eye view than the players, and will often “know better” than them what the sweet spot for cutting is.

I also make an effort to see all the players, even those whose characters are not central to the scene/dialogue, and consider it part of my responsibility that everyone gets a chance to take part. In an ideal group, I think that’s everyone’s responsibility, but this isn’t an ideal universe. So even if you’re in the middle of something fascinating with your character, I also keep an eye out for Ola, whose character hasn’t been in the spotlight for a while.

Making it crystal clear who has this responsibility at a given moment will also allow the other players (whether the game has a GM or not) to focus on playing their characters and making things up. There is someone there who will help them when they start rambling, or when the scene is losing its edge.

Finding the Tao

Torghatten: Fruitful Void. Photo: Amanda Graham, via Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I am aware of, and have made sort of a resolution to work with, my impatience as GM. My sessions tend to run 2-3 hours. To my mind, that is focused, high-tempo play, with little downtime and meta/off-game talk. I do short breaks every hour or so, but little of that in-between “are we playing yet or talking about Something Else” stuff. I enjoy this up-tempo play style, both as GM and player. But see some challenges:

  • Some players are slow(er), but still have gold to contribute if given time.
  • There is value in slow scenes, and in breather scenes. Tempo shifts, stuff that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the main action, but still highlights characters, opens the floor for surprisingly sweet or humane moments…
  • My default style can be a little exhausting.

Matthijs adds: “I have yet to explore those slower scenes fully, myself. Very often I feel there’s untapped potential in these breather scenes, and that we’re missing out by cutting scenes too quickly.”

Mikael: “Sometimes a slow buildup to establish characters and setting is necessary groundwork. This can also be done in the middle of play, to add context.”

Setting up scenes:

When I’ve cut a scene and want to establish a new one, I early, clearly and briefly establish who is there, where this is and what is going on.

Sometimes, the rough sketch for a scene will come from my prep or a scenario, usually it just grows naturally out of the action. Previous scene: they decide to go to the library to investigate, this scene: at the library. Often “what do you do?” establishes the basis of the next scene. It’s also good to ask the players if they have an idea for a scene they’d like to see. If you never give up asking for this kind of input, it usually starts coming naturally after a session or two.

Poster, ca. 1897-1915. Keller & Toft/National Library of Norway. Public Domain.

A great way of activating players whose character is not in the scene is letting them play secondary characters. I do this all the time, or ask them about other kinds of input.

Mikael cautions: “Keep in mind that NPCs often are your main vehicle to drive the narrative forward as GM. Only use this tool when you think the other players are willing to add as much tension as you (the GM) would. If this holds true, it should work fine.”

When I started using this technique over a decade ago, I was surprised how players (in general) would often push harder than I would allow myself as GM. Both messing up their own character’s plans, and those of the group. The early Itras By chance/resolution card experimentation drove this point home clearly.

(I’ll admit that not all NPCs are created equal, though. With a few, “central to the story” type NPCs, I may give a little instruction before “outsourcing”. Or keep them out of player hands.)

Outsourcing other elements of story also works. Maybe a player whose character is in the scene will ask about some detail: “what’s the weather like?” “What does this glyph symbolize?” I’ll often ask a “non-active” player to make up details like that. This has the added benefit of keeping players invested in the story, and focused during the session.

This collaborative approach also takes some of the entertainer responsibilities off my shoulders, and I like to think it underscores that what we’re doing is a collaborative pastime.

“Prompt”?

The term “scene prompts” wasn’t really in my active vocabulary before this Easter, but it seems to be something I do. The term reminds me of an early image I formed of GMing: poking an anthill with a stick. Throwing something at the characters and see what they do. Put them in a situation, some drama, some noise. If it’s boring, send in the guy with the gun, etc.

Photographer: Solveig Lund (1869-1943). Telemark, Norway 1905-10. Digital copy of postcard. Owner Institution: National Library of Norway. Public Domain.

Now, it’s usually best if the “prompting” or poking or whatever is a bit more focused, that there is some method to the madness. Some Forge-ite coined the term “character flags”, I still think that’s quite good. Look out for what is important to the characters (and the players). If they have invested character points in a +1 tubular flux wire of welding, you can safely assume they want to weld some shit together.

  • Read their character descriptions (or stats if that’s how you roll). It’s a wishlist addressed to you and the group. “I want to see this cool stuff in play!”
  • Listen to what the players connect with, what their characters talk about.

But also: surprise them, throw them some curveballs from time to time.

Mikael suggests an excellent alternative to reading up on old character and campaign notes: “Ask what they want”.

Make the scenes primarily about the characters! Not your cool plot, or some super-interesting NPC you made up. Make sure all of them get in the limelight. In 90% of roleplaying games, the characters are supposed to be at the centre of the action, the drama. You can certainly play around with that premise, if you do it in a mindful way. But not just because you forgot.

A scene can be “about” one character, and the scene based approach can be a good way to highlight an individual character’s intrigues or cool thing. Usually, I prefer at least two active characters per scene.

Elin, with her background in freeform, has the following tip: “if you have time to plan these scenes, mirror-scenes that seem to be primarily about one character but deliberately reflect the story of another character – or whole groups – can be really fulfilling, for both players and GM”.

What kind of scene?

On the topic of scenes, Mikael adds: “a big part of playing with scenes is to have players set an objective for the scene. It can either be something at stake or a color scene for characterization.”

Matthijs notes, along the same lines: “Prime Time Adventures does a cool thing where the group also decides whether this is a plot or character scene. It helps bring focus to the scene and balance to the story.”

(Personally, I’ve been underwhelmed by several systems for formalizing “the nature” of a scene before it’s actually played. Or at least that part of the system. I remember PTA as good fun overall.)

If you want to have a look at a different and elegant take on scene framing, I encourage you to keep an eye out for Jackson Tegu’s “The Boiler”.

That’s our show, folks! Readers are welcome to continue the discussion in comments.

Pregame prayer

Close your eyes if you wish. Hold hands if you wish. Someone reads.

Breathe.

Together we will ascend to the sphere of imagination.

We will meet angels and demons, gnomes and elemental spirits, maybe even gods.

They all stem from ourselves. They all gain reality by our words. We will see them, with our mind’s eye.

Yesod is the sphere of dreams, the unconscious, sexuality. Of the Moon. The word means “Foundation”.

Our journey is not without dangers, the creatures we will summon are real, after a fashion. And it will be us, speaking these words.

For the duration of the spell.

But we are armed with the sword of discernment, the cup of compassion, the wand of creativity and will. And our feet are firmly planted here, on this material floor.

Now, let us open our third eye.

And begin.

 

A GM’s Guide to Session Prep and Play

200 Word RPG Challenge contribution: Supplement.

You have characters, setting and system. You’re running a game tomorrow. What do you do?

Pick two (or roll 1d8):

1. Skim character and campaign notes. Note ideas.
2. True dilemmas: sketch situations the characters must react to.
3. Outline 3-5 NPCs. Names and keywords only. Link some to characters or plot (adversaries, helpers, obstacles).
4. Countdowns: events that will unfold unless the characters intervene.
5. Keywords about scenes/locales, groups (with agendas), special items.
6. Extrapolate ideas from specific character agendas/abilities/backgrounds.
7. Organize some of this info on a mind-map. Keywords will suffice.
8. Detail one element you really dig. Delve into it.

If more time:

* List(s) of names. People, places, items.
* Random-tables: monsters, events, weather, locations, etc.
* Maps.

(May be recycled in later sessions).

_GM Principles (during the game)_

Practice two each session (pick or roll 1d8):

1. Ask questions, build on the answers.
2. Accept, and add (go with player ideas).
3. Decline, but offer.
4. Reincorporate elements.
5. Be obvious (say what comes to mind).
6. Discrete scene-framing and cutting.
7. Throw curveballs.
8. Sometimes delegate responsibilities (like NPC control).

And:

* Take breaks.

Sources: Imagonem, Old Friends, AW, Sorcerer, Håken, Play With Intent.
Thanks: You guys, David Schirduan.

20.000 Little Islands

“I have, with no exaggeration, lost track of Archipelago. There are now hacks and translations that I only find out about by chance, and I don’t remember all the stuff that’s been done with it.

All is as it should be. The game is officially out of my hands. Who would have thought it.”

–        Matthijs Holter

Archipelago is a story/role-playing game where each player controls a major character. Players take turns directing and playing out a part of their character’s story, leading them towards their selected point of destiny, while other players interact with and influence that story. The latest edition also utilizes fate and resolution cards, as well as the ritual phrases.

(The majority of the games and downloadable documents linked below are for free download, as usual here on Nørwegian Style):

Playsets

In other languages

Hacks, expansions, adaptions

Summary

It’s hard to know with these things.

Put together, the Archipelago II and III main landing pages have gotten 19.650 page views since 2009. Dropbox doesn’t provide download statistics, which would be even more “proof of the pudding”. Many sites link directly to the Dropbox documents, so we just have no way of knowing the exact # of downloads over the past seven years.

If we missed your favorite hack, adaption or translation, please let us know in comments.

Cover photo: Høgåsen, Hidra/Hanne Feyling/Visit Sørlandet (CC BY-ND 2.0).

 

 

 

And now for something completely different…

insight

Insight Fantasy RPG is currently kickstarting. Made by fellow Nørwegian Even V. Røssland. A bit different to the fare we usually serve up at this blog, but who knows? Even writes:

“What the GM knows is not always the truth. Change the story as you play, and complete your quests in a way no one could have predicted.”

Guess that sounds like us, after all…

Couldn’t make WordPress talk to the Kickstarter embed right now, but there’s a video and everything over there. Stretch goals, I’m sure. 

Reviewers say of the previous incarnation, The Insight RPG System:

RPG.net
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)

“An interesting, simple universal RPG system that’s worth the intro price.”

GMSMagazine review video (YouTube)

“What I hope is gonna happen is somebody – please – approach the designer and have a Kickstarter campaign, to get it out. Because this is an absolutely brilliant RPG system, and it’s flexible enough that you’ll be able to use it for pretty much any game.”

Guess this is your lucky day, YouTube review person!

The game’s homepage and Facebook page

 

 

Nihuab

Of course he knew the Empire was built on airy, at times vulgar, symbolism. He was, after all, an educated man. He knew how to interpret the Laws of the Elders. Could equally well listen to the speech of the stars as kiss one of his concubines below. He believed neither in ghosts, nor in symbols as anything other than representations.

Still, a part of him; one might say the child, believed firmly in the virtues:

  1. Fidelity to the large and the small family. Even when the decisions of the concubines or the Emperor seemed enigmatic.
  2. Friendliness and good will towards strangers.
  3. Ritualized blasphemy by the altars along the roads, at night.
  4. That you will reap as you sow.

Now he was standing by one of the altars, on the road to the Imperial City. The sunset painted the sky in shades of gold, pink, violet and orange. But not red, that had been forbidden by the Emperor.

Soon the star-song would begin.

The altar was a scrawny, ancient spike of stone. The little roof that was supposed to protect the sacrificial gifts; fire, incense, beautiful stones, blood, flowers and perfume, against wind and weather would probably break down completely in a few hundred years.

He left a small die for the enjoyment of the altar-eaters. Said a silent prayer to The Guardian of the Road that the ghosts he didn’t believe in would leave him alone this night.

On the long way home.

Random Nørway

An OSR inspired romp to bring Nørway to your table.

Crowdsourced on Rollespill.info.

On a roll of 1d100:

  1. Lutefisk is served. Aged stockfish and lye. It is gelatinous in texture. Its name literally means “lye fish”.
  2. Social Democracy: hear it SQUEAK! Now you have to share. (Toll booth, taxes, guilds etc).
  3. Winter Depression. Moods turn dark.
  4. Hyggelig. Uncomitted pleasantries. A sparkling fireplace. Hot chocolate.
  5. Saving throw vs. Fjord (or there will be a terrible avalanche & mini-tsunami this session).
  6. We come in Peace! Next encounter, the characters must attempt dialogue/diplomacy before attacking.
  7. Wellfare region: free healing @ the next temple. Taxpayer crowns pay any fee.
  8. Snow falls slowly from above, succeed on a will saving throw. On a fail immediately leave your current situation, isolating yourself in a wooden mountain cabin for no good reason.
  9. trollTroll attack! Real troll, not those skinny-ass Monstrous Manual bitches. Big as a mountain (it IS a mountain). Completely stupid.
  10. You need skiing proficiency to traverse this area.
  11. You hear a gleeful scream! 1D6 children on skis and sleds are coming right for you! Roll a reflex save.
  12. Law of Jante: Anyone who excels or implies that they may excel compared to their peers loses one level. Per transgression.
  13. Enjoy Norway: Unless you consume only Norwegian produce, you may neither regain hit points nor spell slots from resting.
  14. Karma Shield: You may kill civilians, make deals with villains, or even further the world hurtling towards apocalypse, this will neither impact your alignment, self-image or standing in the world.
  15. Peace Treaty: an unstable, patchwork and ridiculously unbalanced peace agreement reigns in the region, brokered by The Friendly Kingdom years ago. Characters may be hired as “peacekeepers”.
  16. hygge

    Jævla hyggelig.

    Mandatory Sunday hike: parts of the second day of down time MUST be spent on a walking trip, either on foot or by ski. Roll a difficult Diplomacy to get out of it, otherwise roll a Con check against exhaustion. Tagline: “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing!”

  17. Your rations consist of only fish. Roll an endurance save against scurvy once every week of adventuring.
  18. Brown cheese: Looks like soap, tastes like caramel and nothing like cheese. It’s illegal to not like it. It burns remarkably well.
  19. Scandinavian Crime: A series of atrocious murders takes place in the most harmonious location of the campaign world. The local law enforcement turns out to be at best chaotic stupid, otherwise Lawful Evil. The players must solve this on their own. Anyone expressing disbelief loses a level.
  20. The Kindly King opening a road (encounter). The King is bored, but friendly. Unarmed, low level.
  21. Rogue Princess: You meet the Norwegian Princess. Each round she randomly casts a spell. Roll 1d6:
    1: Speak With Dead.
    2: Cure Light Wounds.
    3: Prismatic Spray.
    4-6: Uncontrollable Hideous Laughter.Whichever spell she casts, the party must pay her 100 gp appange per spell level, until they leave the encounter.
  22. Zone of Credulity: belief in the supernatural, healing and hedge magic is particularly strong in this area. +1 modifier to all magic-related throws. +2 for healing spells.
  23. Were You Raised In A Barn? You must leave your footwear by the door whenever you go indoors. Keep your socks on.
  24. Tax Free! In any foreign country, you must buy alcohol whenever it is offered. This will lead to penalties, whether through encumbrance or inebriation. On the plus side, you paradoxically gain the number of gold pieces the beverage would have cost you. You may not, under any circumstance, abandon the booze, you must drink it all.
  25. Gender quota: At least 40% of the party is now female. Roll randomly.
  26. The Red Danger. You have a constant paranoia conserning invations from the Northeast.
  27. Hallingkast: Unarmed Attacks against hats have Reach.
  28. Government Grant: Government Grant: Provided you spend 4d6 hours formally organizing your party and writing applications, you may receive 100 gp per party member to supprt your next venture. You receive an additional 900 gp per party member under the age of 26*.
    *If you have any party members under the age of 26, you may claim have a 100 times the number of sub-26 party members you actually have, and receive 1000 gp per claimed member. If you fail a Bookkeeping roll, you have to pay back the money, and your alignment is shifted one step towards Chaotic Evil.
  29. Norwegian stiffness. Locals engaged in social conversation by the PCs have -1 penalty to AC due to stiffness. PCs suffers disadvange on persuade rolls. Consuming alcohol negates both effects.
  30. Pant: All potions cost an extra 5 SP, which is reimbursed if the empty bottle is returned to the vendor.
  31. Friday Night Firefight: everyone is drunk and want to fight, fuck or “just get to know you”.
  32. Tight-lipped egalitarianism. Social advantages due to high social standing, (f.ex nobility, fame or a succsessful adventuring career) are lost if ever mentioned or referred to directly. They function as normal as long they remain unspoken or only indirectly mentioned.
  33. Dugnad: the party is press-ganged into 4d6 hours of tedious, heavy labor, rewarded with a minor gift (worth 5 gp, usually in the shape of food or wine.) Attempts at exchanging the gift for money or demanding wages will be met by hostility. You don’t get a gift, but maybe “lapskaus” which is a kind of stew Uttrykksikonet smile
  34. dugnad

    Dugnad.

    Kidnapped by the Russ: It’s the first half of May. You are suddenly overwhelmed by 20 hammered 18-year olds dressed in red jumpsuits who takes you into their bus and drives you to a random location and leaves you there.

  35. Bunad: this traditional costume is ridicoulusly expensive, and made of so thick, heavy fabrics that it offers a +1 AC. If worn with all possible silver jewellery, it gives an additional +1 AC, but the cost increases to “a metric f*ckton of cash”. Foreign-made bunads are available at 1/3 price, but they will give a severe disadvantage to social rolls with locals if discovered.
  36. Predator policy: The livestock of local farmers is beset by setting-appropriate predators. Hunting, killing or otherwise harming these predators will result in harsh punishment from law enforcement.
  37. bunad

    Bunad

    Nordic Social Awkwardness: You are unable to initiate dialogue with anyone unless they talk to you first. Intoxication removes the restriction. Other characters with the same trait will give you a -5 charisma reaction if they are sober, but a +5 reaction if they are intoxicated.

  38. The List: The establishment the players are trying to enter is currently hosting a private event, and they are not on The List. (Ignore this condition if all players are human and/or females with Cha>12). Also ignore if the party’s barbarian belongs to the same tribe (“treningssenter”) as the bouncers.
  39. Constitution Day: Everyone currently not hung over gains +1 bonus to every roll. Anyone drunk may ignore the penalty from being hung over, and gains an additional +1 to every roll. Anyone drunk and wearing a bunad gets +4 to every roll. On the down side There Are People And – Most Especially – Hordes of Kids Everywhere, which causes an Entangle effect. Your bonus from being drunk and/or wearing a bunad is reversed for the Entangle check. Being hung over also causes a -4 to this roll.
  40. schafer

    Norway’s one single remaining wolf.

    Hellemyrsfolket: Any character reading this book must succeed on a Will save or suffer 1d4 Willpower damage due to depression.

  41. Adventure NAV: You go to the office of unemployed adventurers seeking a quest. After waiting in line for 1d8 hours and filling out 1d4 forms roll a d20 and consult the tiltaks-table. On a roll of 18+ you get a quest. All other rolls result in 2d6 goldcoins of Trygd.
  42. Western Weather: While travelling on the western coast, players must specify every day that they have packed waterproof clothing and/or umbrellas at the top of their packs, or be considered Drenched (Every 1d12 hours, they must make a Con DC12 roll, or contract Man-Flu).
  43. Lucky Seafarers: Immune to sea-sickness, increases speed of sea-travel by 25% and decreases risk of sea-bound incidents by 25%. 25% chance per day of sea-travel to find a lucky barrel of valuable oil.
  44. Situation aspect: Strange customs in small places. Leaving urban Norway, the party meet lots of weird people doing very peculiar things while speaking words in an almost dead language. The party could end up drunk in a barn, or chased up a mountain by aggressive degenerates.
  45. Dialectical: You are able to speak several versions of the language, which may all be entirely illegible to other speakers of the same language. Roll d20 per person to see if two people happen to speak the same dialect (they must roll the same result).
  46. berrrgen

    Lovely weather in west-coast capital Bergen.

    Pol-ferd. You arrive at the village seeking potions to heal your wounds after a dangerous quest. It turns out that only one shop in the village may sell potions. They have a long list of exotic (and heavily taxed) potions. Roll a d6. 1-2: Potionmonopolet is open! 3-4 it’s closed for the day. Come back tomorrow. 5-6: it’s closed because of a national holiday. Come back next week.

  47. Double the price of any potion costing 300 gp or less. Halve the price of any potion costing 600 gp or more. (You should have bought potions on the tax-free store. Eventually take a Harry-trip to Sweden where potions are sold at 60% of Norwegian prizes.)
  48. Snillisme: For the rest if the session, the GM lets everyone roll dice twice, and choose the result they like best.
  49. We Do Not Sow: You gain a +4 to any roll to search for hidden treasure. If you find treasure under water, or gain treasure from sea monsters, roll normally on the treasure table, but increase any treasure found fivefold. This bonus if permanently lost if you share with foreigners, especially foreigners who live where you found the treasure. Whenever you attempt to spend the treasure, you must make a Will save or you will instead give it to The Elderly.
  50. Hel ved: The orientation of the bark in stacks of firewood is taken deadly serious by the locals. An Easy Perception or Intelligence test will reveal the local preference.
  51. Pacifist militia: While you may own arms, these must be constantly hidden or locked away in very secure circumstances to avoid accidents. You spend the first 1d4 rounds in combat finding your weapon, but you cannot fumble.
  52. lutefisk

    Lye fish. Yum-yum.

    Snowdiver: If you spend at least 15 minutes in a very hot environment (such as a sauna), you gain 15 minutes of immunity to cold effects.

  53. Conscription: All characters roll 1d6. If they roll a 6, they spend a year doing military service. While time consuming, this gives the characters proficiency with small arms and a +2 to any survival rolls. They also get a +4 Morality bonus on social checks with npcs who have also been in the armed services.
  54. Not racist, just a an idiot: Gain a +2 bonus to any check where you try to shift blame to immigrants.
  55. Religious Inscrutability: You may dismiss any questions about your religious views with the phrase “It’s a matter of personal conviction”. Doing so invalidates you from participating in any discussion or decision of a religious nature.
  56. bd5e48c55

    Beer prices in Norway.

    Travel Fever: The night before the onset of an adventure, you break out in fever. -5 to all rolls the next two days.

  57. You order a beer at a tavern – check for heartattack when you get the bill. Loose 100 GC (noen får sette en passende pris).
  58. Navelgazing: For the remainder of the day you are unable to talk about anything but yourself. You lose all social interactions automatically.
  59. Splinter-Eye-Beam: You project your biggest flaw onto someone you meet, criticising it loudly and maliciously.
  60. Nostomania: Whenever you encounter a new person, you must make Will roll or do your best to get them to tell you Where They Are Really From. The DC is doubled if they are non-white or non-human. You are oblivious to any negative reaction to this behaviour. If you get them to reveal their lineage to you you get a +1 bonus to your next roll. If you can establish any relation or common point of origin both of you get a permanent +1 to rolls to aid one another.
  61. Nordic Cuisine: Whenever eating foreign food, it will immediately become your favorite food. Eating your favorite food gives you +1 moral bonus on all die rolls with a 5% chance of diarrhea for the day.
  62. Olympic Potion: This very secret potion gives you unlimited endurance and double hit points in cold weather, but your nose and mouth will produce a constant stream of slimy mucuous as long as the potion is in effect. If you ever admit to drinking the secret potion, you will be affected by 1d6 random curses.
  63. Personal Space: Adjacent characters suffer penalties to all social interactions towards you. Sitting next to someone when there is room one seat over is not possible without gaining penalties yourself.
  64. Everyone’s Related: When you meet the next stranger, no matter the circumstances, you are compelled to discuss their ancestry until you find a common relative. Roll against Will with -5 to be able to break away.
  65. Peace Prize: Once per session, you can give a «Peace Prize» to a monster you encounter. This will make it too confused to attack anyone for 1d20 turns. You will receive the same amount of XP for defeating a monster in this way as if you had killed it in combat. (You are not allowed to attack the monster while it’s suffering from the effect of the Peace Prize)
  66. jantheigen

    Norwegian Eurovision contribution. True fact.

    Greener Grass: You will never be satisfied with what you have, always craving something just beyond your grasp.

  67. What’s the recipe? Whenever eating food in someones home, you must ask for the recipe. If you succeed a diplomacy check this increases your standing with the individual and you gain +2 to Profession (cooking) for 48 hours after which you forget the recipe.
  68. Pølse i lompe: Hot dogs in Norway are served in a soft potato flatbread called “lompe” with ketchup and mustard.
  69. Leave me alone: In order to make first contact with anyone you don’t know, you must first succeed on a will save.
  70. In The World’s Richest Country. If you are in any way affiliated with the state (this includes having the benefits of a Government Grant or We Do Not Sow) people will never be satisified with what you do, rather whining about shortcomings, and any quest bonuses are voided.
  71. Rake-Fish: A dangerous, putrid undead trout living in remote mountain lakes. If you manage to catch one of the Rake Fish, you can try to eat it, but that requires a saving throw against curses. If you successfully eat the Rake Fish, you get 500XP, if you fail, you get Botulism.
  72. Raspeball: This ball of ground potato and flour has a local variant in every settlement of the land, usually with its own name.
  73. Gutta på Skauen: If reduced to 0 HP during an encounter, you may immediately withdraw to the nearest wilderness area instead of being knocked unconscious. If your opponent is later defeated, either by your own allies or someone else, you may emerge from your hiding-place and declare victory as if you had been involved in the encounter all along – with a full share of XP and loot.
  74. 710

    baa

    Tåkeprat: You gain a +5 circumstance bonus to any bluff check made to avoid answering a question, by engaging in “tåkeprat” for an exceedingly long time talking tangent nonsense, making it seem as if you’ve answered the question. Other characters can neither react with hostility or friendliness as a result of the answer. Aka “Fogspeech”

  75. The dungeon of Jante: In this dungeon all the monsters are level 2. The monsters ignore any adventurers of level 1 or 2 entering the cave. But anyone who claims to be level 3 or higher will be not be tolerated.
  76. Birkebeiner: The stat effects of middle age are +1 Dex, Con, Cha; -1 Str, Int, Wis instead of the normal adjustments.
  77. Trønder Rock! This rare artifact stone can only be used when you are reduced to 0 HP. Produce the Trønder Rock and howl «ÅÅÅÅ-ÅÅÅ-ÅÅ» as loudly as you can. For each party member that replies «Levvå Livet!», gain 1d4 HP (This can only be used once per session, and your character has to wear a leather vest and bolo tie for the rest of the session)
  78. Inferiority issues. Don’t mind us, we’re just, here and… uhm, hope this wasn’t your seat.
  79. Horrible pronunciation: Regardless of points spent, you will never be able to pronounce foreign languages correctly. This gives you a -2 charisma reaction speaking the language, however you only spend 1/2 the amount of required points and time to learn a new language.
  80. Smalahove: A charred, smoked and boiled sheep’s head is served as a local celebratory dish. Enthusiasm is expected while eating this dish.
  81. Once on the Eurovision Song Contest: a scruffy-looking bard seeks company. He offers vaguely racist tunes for entertainment.
  82. The three part cooperation: All wages are agreed upon by the heroes union, the heroes employers association and the government once every second year. It’s useless and very unsocial to oppose this.
  83. aage.jpg

    Trønder Rock

    Lokalhistorie: Finding NPCs with proficiency in Knowledge (local history) is a trivial task, although this is at the expense of the availability of any other skilled NPCs.

  84. Tur: When the party returns from a quest without finding any treasure or gold, they will claim that they were not on a quest, they were just out for a «Tur», instead.  A lovely nature experience is just as rewarding as XP, and nobody ever lost any hitpoints from fresh air.
  85. Huldra-Theodor_KittelsenHulderfolk: Nubile young women and attractive, bearded men encountered in the mountains should be checked for cow’s tails, otherwise the character risk being trapped within the mountain for at least nine years.
  86. Bergtatt: (compulsion) [mind-affecting]. Whenever encountering a Troll, you have a % chance equal to your charisma to charming the Troll making him obsessed with kidnapping you away to his cave, inflicting no harm on you. Female only.
  87. Cold? This isn’t cold!: You gain a +2 to your next save vs. cold or frost effects, by invoking that one time (probably back in ’86), when it was REALLY cold. Referencing an incident related to army service gives an additional +1, but only if you also make a point of showing how not cold it is (removing your hat or gloves, unzipping your jacket, etc).
  88. Snowtanned: You are exceedingly white, giving you a +2 circumstance bonus on hide checks in snowy or otherwise white areas. However exposure to sun in temperatures above 25 degrees Celcius gives you a horrible sunburn after only 2 hours and a -4 dexterity adjustment. This will heal after 2d2 days if you remain out of the sun. After 3 sunburns you are immune to this effect for 1 month.
  89. Karsk: Potion brewed by coffee and moonshine.  -1 INT, +1 CON
  90. You have outstayed your welcome. Not-very-subtle glares, silence and other social clues notify the party it’s time to leave. Failure to do so may result in ahem’s and throat claring unpleasantness. Better just leave.
  91. No such thing as bad weather. Physique stunt. +2 to survive any weather hazard if dressed in good clothes.
  92. Confiscated: all possesions worth more than 1000 GC will be confiscated on the border to pay for your wellfare services.
  93. Drunk-at-arrival: When engaging in overland travel for more than 2 hours you must succeed a Will DC 18 save or arrive completely smashed at the scene. Traveling comfortably (i.e. not by your own effort) for more than 4 hours removes the saving throw completely.
  94. Per Spelmann: You end up making a bad bargain while very drunk, trading your most valuable item for a cow.
  95. Uføretrygded: If you choose not to heal and instead being permanently wounded you get 1000 gold pr. wound every session for the rest of your hero’s career.
  96. Obnoxiously rich. Mild hindrance. -4 charisma when talking to people with less money than you.
  97. Regional birthplace bonuses:Finnmark: +4 to ride skill when riding reindeer. +1 intimidate.
    Nordland/Troms: +2 to perform joke. +2 to occupation fisherman.
    Trøndelag: +2 on any alcohol related roll.
    Namsos: +2 perform rock music.
    Møre og Romsdal: +3 to barter related skills.
    Oppland: +1 to attack and damage against trolls.
    Sogn og Fjordane: +2 climb, +1 to charisma if lawful.
    Hordaland: +20 feet range to sound related effects.
    Hardanger: +2 perform hardingfele.
    Telemark: +2 perform langeleik.
    Stavanger: 10D6 extra starting money.
    Jæren: +5 speed in flat terrain.
    Agder: +2 knowledge religion.
    Vestfold, coast: +2 navigate sailing boat
    Vestfold, inland: +2 profession farmer
    Østfold: +2 language: Swedish.
    Hedmark: -2 intimidate, +2 to charm related skills and spells.
    Oslo: Knowedge nobility and royalty +2. +2 gather information.
    Svalbard: +2 saving throw against cold effects.
  98. Kaare Berg asks to join your party as henchman. All is well. All manner of things are well.
  99. Peer Pressure Vulnerability: Whenever 3 people or more agree on something you must succeed a DC 15 will save or state that you agree with them and comply with any requests or suggestions. You may later change your mind if no longer observed.
  100. Reodor Felgen: Ancient wizard living on top of a cragged mountain. His minions are unholy hybrids of men and animals. Felgen is a master trapmaker and few adventurers survive the perilous climb to reach his lair. The only treasure there are his demented inventions and blueprints for doomsday devices.

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Principles

Listen

Give others a chance to speak. Hear what they say. See how you can build or act on the information they impart to the story.

Accept, and add

If something is stated or established in the fiction, it’s probably true. Characters may lie, and you may forget details. But try to stay with what has been said. Add your own details as they come to you. Don’t try too hard. Say the first thing you think of. Reincorporate elements that have come up previously.

Decline, but offer

It’s perfectly fine for your character to refuse a suggestion, but try to come up with a counteroffer. Don’t block or stall the game. If you get stuck in discussion-paralysis; act. Make something up, like an accusation. Do something stupid.

Just pause. And breathe.

Reincorporate

Before you add a new element, consider: what has already been established? Can I re-introduce it into play? Will it create contrast, or shed new light this time around?

Stay fluid

Be willing to discard your plan, or even better; don’t plan for a certain outcome. Pick up on the creative “balls” others throw out for you to play with. Go along with ideas. This is key to having fun in this game.

Let the story emerge

There are no true secrets here. There isn’t a prewritten plot to discover. This story will emerge during play, and you will see the totality in the end. Relax. Give your character time to play their hand, say their piece. Watch what the others do. Listen.

You don’t have to be funny or smart. Let the words come to you at their own pace.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Cover photo: Steve Slater (CC BY 2.0).

“Beyond Words”

[The roleplaying games] I like most tend to be termed ‘surreal’ in their approach; some parts feel real, some imaginary; others symbolise greater truths. It doesn’t matter too much to me if the game has a GM or not, or labels itself a ‘story i130408170137363367game’ or as part of the Old School Renaissance; what matters to me is the generosity of spirit of those taking part. Trust is everything. I like the approach taken to this issue by the Nørwegian Style, a movement prevalent in the roleplaying scene in and around Norway until a couple of years ago.

Some generous and interesting thoughts over on the British blog A Kingdom Is.

Read the whole thing here.