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.

Shrine Master

shrine1

Itsukushima shrine, torii gate. Photo: Joe deSousa/Flickr (CC0 1.0)

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 color 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, twelve-sided 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.

Shrine Master is about building those wayside shrines. It uses the Soft System.

The Soft System

Character set-up
Goal
Problem
Relations (max 3)
Background
Occupation/Skills
Twists/ story seeds/ complications/ intrigue magnets

Skill/ability check results

On a modified roll of 1d12:

12. Critical hit
11. Yes, and
10. Yes, and
9. Yes, but
8. Yes, but
7. Yes, but
6. No, but
5. No, but
4. No, but
3. No, and
2. No, and
1. Conflict escalates

With a table you can add modifications to die roll results. E.g: you have a relevant ability = +1, bigger chance of yes-roll. Very difficult task = -1, etc.

The results are interpreted by another player (one who’s character is not attempting the action. Everyone can make suggestions.)

Whimsy

At the beginning of each session, the players get one Whimsy card each (draw two cards, keep your favorite). They can be played at any time during the game, the player interprets the result. Inspiration can be used to buy more whimsy cards, at the rate of 1 Inspiration point = 1 card.

Original whimsy cards: http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/systemdesign/cards/whimsycards.html

Inspiration points

Any player or the GM may award one (1) inspiration points to another player during a session. These can be spent [in interesting ways] to hack the narrative, setting or outcome of die rolls.

They are awarded when:

– A player does or says something unspeakably cool.
– A player acts in accordance with Goal or Problem.
– A player complicates matters in interesting ways.

The inspiration points are awarded immediately.

Inspiration points are dialed back to zero at the start of every new session.

Can be used to make small additions to the GM’s descriptions, add detail to the setting (the GM forgot to mention), auto success, introduce (useful) NPCs, buy a new whimsy card, etc.

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 and ghosts 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 up something, 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?

shrine2

The home village. Photo: dynamosquito/Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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 and the ghosts 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.

Your little village needs a new wayside Shrine, the last one was torn down by the forces of nature. You play the Shrine Master and her henchmen. They will gather holy materials for the shrine, and build it where the last one stood.

Random story table (d12)

1. Another Shrine Master, searching for the same material as your group.
2. Sex in the City: your materials are located in a brothel in the Imperial City.
3. Sacrifice Emotion: you must recall and reenact a childhood memory to empower the Shrine.
4. An Infidel Demon tries to usurp your shrine. You must battle it with your wits.
5. Consumption: shrine building proves costly. You must get day jobs. It’s terrible after a life spent adventuring on the road.
6. Enabler: you meet a wrinkled old crone who offers to make shrine building easier if you make a sacrifice.
7. Tallest tower: an essential shrine component is located in the top of a near-inaccessible tower. It symbolizes our vain efforts.
8. Priestess: you must also recruit a priestess to cater to the shrinal needs. She must be a virgin, and very hideous.
9. A special kind of stone is required for the shrine. You must establish a quarry and safely transport the stone to your home village.
10. The Shrine Master’s concubines approach her for a favor, interrupting the quest.
11. Harmonious ritual: the group must create a ritual to empower the shrine.
12. Personal demons: the entourage have to confront and battle their personal, manifest demons in order to complete the shrine.

Game master instructions

Because all new indie games must be AW hacks:

Thunderous roar: Give brief, short descriptions that relate to the setting. “The crystal shines like crimson terror. It’s cold and hard to the touch. Electric fragrance in the air.”
Address the characters, not the players.
Show, don’t tell.
Abrupt change: every time your attention strafes something you own: a secondary character, an object, organization or relationship: consider killing, destroying or altering it for good.
Name everything, make everything human: create a list of names before the game. Give the secondary characters simple, understandable, human motivations.
Ask questions, build on the answers: “when did you first understand you’d be building a shrine? Why do you want to build the shrine? What does the new location look like?”
Give them what they want, reveal the consequence.
Be a fan of the characters: give them what they fight for, let them build their shrine… but only at the very end.

Support wheels

To be used if there is inaction or you’re stuck. Choose something from this list that will fit what has already come to pass. Shake things up, good:

Separate them.
Take a prisoner.
Give them a dilemma/tough choice: you can save one friend, not both.
Announce future threat: a great, big column of black smoke on the horizon. A nasty noise in the bushes. A rumor spreading.
An eye for an eye: hit them the way they hit your secondary characters.
Reveal your hand: state what you plan to do, execute.
Take away their stuff (except what truly defines them)
Activate their flaws.
Explain possible consequences and ask if they still want to go through with the plan.
Offer an opportunity that comes with a price.
Always ask: “what do you do?”

Other tips
Maps, handouts.
Ask follow-up questions: «yeah, tell me; what does it look like on the road? What will the shrine look like in the end?”
Digression and detail, sometimes.
Go around the table, give everyone spotlight.
Take breaks. Take your time.

Endgame

The game ends when the shrine components are assembled, and it’s erected by the road near the character’s home village.

Go around the table. Ask the players what their character added to the shrine, and how it looks in the end. Go in great detail, this was the goal after all.

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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

 

 

Small talk the RPG

A conversational role playing game for 1-∞ players.

Characters: The player’s play themselves, so there’s no particular character set-up process.

Small talk is a game of conversation for its own sake. It’s a collaborative game. The reward is opening for deeper conversations, affirming relationships and avoiding silence.

It’s good practice to play the game with new acquaintances.

The game can last as short as a casual greeting or as long as it takes to get your hair cut at the hairdresser’s. Or the length of a taxi ride, as the case may be.

Some rules:

* Greet the other players in a friendly way.
* Try to keep the conversation upbeat and positive.
* Casual compliments are ok, but keep it superficial. Don’t get creepy.
* Try out some casual eye contact now and then, but don’t stare.
* Smile.
* Respect the other player’s personal space.
* Be polite and respectful.
* Find common ground. Be politely inquiring about the other player’s interests, and see if you can find some topic of conversation that will interest you both. Or that you can endure listening to.
* Ask open-ended follow-up questions starting with words like «how…» and «what…». Or make relevant statements.
* Share some stuff about yourself and your day, but don’t over-share. Don’t get into symptoms, diseases, sensitive subjects and extreme negativity.
* It’s ok to bitch and complain as long as you don’t do it about sensitive topics. The weather is a very good topic of conversation.
* Notice your surroundings. You can riff off of them for further conversational topics.
* Avoid sensitive subjects like religion, politics and sex. You can also drop death, divorce and diseases. You know what I mean.
* Humor is good. Just remember the taboo topics.

You can even play the game without anyone knowing you’re playing a game.

To round of, here’s a quotation from Keith Johnstone’s “Impro – Improvisation and the Theatre”, which you may or may not find relevant:

“Many people will maintain that we don’t play status transactions with our friends, and yet every movement, every inflection of the voice implies a status. My answer is that acquaintances become friends when they agree to play status games together.”

Sources: Slik blir du god til å småprate, How to make Small Talk, Wikipedia.