Thursday, December 22, 2011

Character Series Part 2: The Round and The Flat

How Two Games Handle Non-Player Characters:

There is an element of character that I would like to discuss that is really an orphan idea and doesn't belong in any of the other planned discussions of character.  I call it "character shape" but it has nothing to do with the actual shape of the character but in terms that are described by something like shapes.  The best example that I could think of to support this was in discussing the difference between NPC's in the Dresden Files roleplaying game so I am going to combine "character shapes" along with a re-iteration of the difference between the Feng Shui roleplaying game's named and unnamed concepts for npcs and player characters.

Character Shapes:

By character shape I mean one of two things.  Flat and round.  Not really shapes but close enough to call them that.  What is the difference between the two?  Read on oh bold adventurer.

Flat Characters:

A flat character is a character that does not change in the course of the story.  By this I don't mean that they enter some sort of stasis machine and travel through the story as luggage like Han Solo in carbonite.  I mean their nature.  They don't change their thought process, feelings or behaviors over the course of the story.  They don't seek redemption for past evils.  They don't grow as a person.  They are what they are through the course of the story.  Examples that we have cited of flat characters in the podcast include "Nick the Rat" and "Brother Ephram".

Nick the Rat is a "stock" character that I use as an informant.  Basically he is a plot device that, when the right pressure is applied, reveals the plans of the evil bad guys.  I have been using Nick in this sense since about 1996.  His nature has not changed.  He is a bit greedy and unwilling to let go of his information.  He has very little tolerance for pain but in line with this he has an unnatural tolerance for physical trauma.  Kind of like the cheerleader in "Heroes".  Do what you want to Nick.  He will generally cave in and give you your much needed information and will be back in one piece when he is needed next time.

Brother Ephram was a player character that we have mentioned a few times.  I played him in a roleplaying game back in the day.  I was feeling ornery on the day we made up characters for a new game.  I was tired, mad and mean.  I was wearing a black suit, black shoes and a white shirt.  A priest came to mind.  Priest from a military order followed.  Priest defrocked and kicked out of his military order for heresy came soon after that.  A defrocked heretical priest who wanted to teach his misguided wisdom and take over the universe by taking all of the loot from his criminal activities and make a franchised chain of evangelical pancake houses was about as far as he developed emotionally.  Nothing would change that goal or that drive.  Ephram was about as flat as his pancakes.

Flat characters can be fun if you put some thought into them.  They have a shtick and they stay with it.  They don't mature, they don't grow up, they don't change their minds about the world.  If you make a flat character make them interesting or at least funny.  A flat character, be it PC or NPC, with no character has very little to offer your group in a game.

Round Characters:

There are a lot of round characters in American Cinema.  Probably the most common one is the anti-hero.  The anti-hero in movies is on a path to redemption or death on the road to redemption in about 90 minutes.  Hollywood will rarely step away from that due to moral tradition, Hollywood history, and audience expectation.  Redemption is making up for something bad that you did or for being a bad person.

By far my favorite anti-hero characters are played by Chow Yun-Phat.  He is a good actor.  He is charismatic.  He had a lot of acting experience prior to making movies from being a soap opera actor.  If you ever want to skip acting school and become a good actor get on a soap.  Daily scripts to memorize and a range of behaviors to perform and it goes on and on and on until you get a better job and your character gets killed off.

Chow Yun-Phat often portrays roles in movies as the archetypal "Redeemed Killer" character in the RPG Feng Shui.  A anti-hero that is trying to make good for that one day when he made that terrible mistake or that one realization that after many years it is time to make good.  This is a tricky background to sell.  You have to do enough bad to show you were bad or enough restraint from doing bad to sell that you are trying to redeem yourself.  In cinema this might also mean that about 15 seconds after you find redemption you also get fataly shot to make the audience really feel sorry for you.  This is where Chow Yun-Phat really shines.  He can sell mean and evil.  He can sell redemption and he can die like a champ.

Redemption isn't the only route to being a round character.  A coming of age plot could do this as well.  Although most coming of age movies are about beer and cars and girls there is still a part of them that lends themselves to roleplaying and that is the transition from being a child to an adult.  This is a very round process as judgements, behaviors and expectations of the world change.

The journey of the hero is also a path to change even if they are not seeking redemption.  Take the Star Wars movies for example.  Across three films in each set of the three movies the hero changes from a naive boy into a considerably different man.  Luke, a hero's hero, goes from gullible to cynical.  From weak and untutored to strong and masterful.  Anakin, a tragic hero, goes from even more naive and innocent through a lot of whining and then to dark, ruthless and evil.

It is my opinion that in any ongoing roleplaying campaign that the majority of the characters should be round characters.  Ones that are not only willing to change but seek change.  Be it from good to bad, lucky to unlucky, or even bad to good.  A cast of strictly flat characters isn't a story.  It is a cartoon.  A long cartoon where you meet every Thursday at 7 Pm and that is not my idea of fun roleplaying.

Furthermore a campaign without at least one flat character to me would be boring as well.  As smart and dynamic as my friend Will is I would expect nothing less from him in a roleplaying game than to be the most flat and belligerent warrior type that he can be so well.  He does a great job of this and it is a lot of fun running about and fixing the relationships with npcs that his wonderfully flat characters destroy at the end of an axe.

Dresden Files Characters:

In the Dresden Files RPG mortal characters are by definition round characters.  "Monster" characters are flat.  Two things in the game to describe a player character are "free will" and "choice".  The two that define (non-mortal) non-player characters are "monster" and "nature".

Characters that react by their nature, the npc monsters, act like their type of monster.  Vampires act like vampires.  Ghouls act like ghouls.  Fey act like Fey.

This is true for the game and for the Jim Butcher novels as well.  I did a write up on the fairy "Toot Toot" from the Dresden novel "Storm Front".  It was originally part of last week's post but I edited it out.  Toot is a fairy.  By nature he is greedy when it comes to food.  In the novel Dresden uses this to trap Toot to get some information.  He traps Toot in a magic circle by baiting it with milk, bread and honey (favorite foods for Butcher's Fey) and once Toot starts eating it Dresden closes the circle so that he can interrogate him.

After getting his information and releasing Toot, Dresden is confronted by a warden of the White Council for using magic to control the mind of Toot.  This is a violation of the Council's laws of magic and Dresden offers up that he gave Toot a choice but knowing full well that with this "npc" it had no choice but a nature.

Toot is an EXTREMELY flat character.

As evidence of the roundness of mortal characters I offer this.  Characters in the game are collections of traits, skills and abilities.  There are quite a few character sheets, Dresden's included, that will note the changing of the character's traits over time.  For example an early trait of Dresden's is "the Sword of Damocles" or the fact that because he murdered someone using black magic, even though it was ruled to be in self defense, one more transgression against the laws of magic and Harry loses his head to a warden.  Later in the story line this trait is removed and Harry himself becomes a warden.  Enforcing the same laws to which he was victim in the past.

One of the best elements of the Dresden Files RPG to me is the distinction that mortals have choice and monsters have nature.  The round and the flat.

Feng Shui Characters:

I have discussed this game a bit and even the difference between it's named and unnamed characters.  Named characters are round, mostly, and unnamed ones are as flat as flat can be.  2nd guy on bus will always be 2nd guy on bus just like in a movie's closing credits.  If ever 2nd guy on bus becomes something more, something round, something distinct he is no longer 2nd guy on bus but something like Hobo Frank the friendly panhandler.

The distinction in this game between the round and the flat is so marked that there are even two sets of combat resolution.  That for the round or named characters and that for the flat or mook or unnamed.  The round get the benefit of their toughness, armor and hit points.  The flat, if they get hit, take one hit and are out of combat.  Chopped down like so much wood.


So here you are.  Some more sophomore English Lit to help you on your way to having a more fun game.  Just for fun the next time you sit down at the table for your roleplaying session look at each player and make a note.  Are they playing their character round or flat?


Monday, December 12, 2011

Character Series Part 1: Character Archetypes.

After doing the article on RPG's and movies I wanted to do an all encompassing article on just one story element.  The element of character.  There is just plain too much info to get into one reasonably sized and organized posting so here is installation one.

Character Archetypes

If you have studied literature in any depth you will have heard of character archetypes.  These are the rough categories that characters fall into and how I feel they can be addressed by players in roleplaying games.

Not being a lit major myself I looked up character archetypes and found a great article here: that I used as reference for the categories of the archetypes themselves.  This article is from a literature perspective and mine is from a roleplaying game perspective.

The Archetypes:

Main Character

Hard to define in RPG terms as this is the character through whom the story is told.  Each player character, to the player, in an RPG is in this sense the Main Character but not so in literature although some novels have the perspective of the story change from character to character based on writing style and who is observig the action.  This does not translate well in gaming terms except for perhaps Varric in Dragon Age 2.  He is used as a gimmic.  The game and all of its plot elements and choices is being related by Varric during an interrogation that serves as a plot framework for the game.  He has a gift of omniscience in this mode as he is relaying the choices you make in the story even if he was not there and did not experience the events.

Varric being Varric


The Protagonist is the character who moves the plot forward.  Still not a direct hit on RPG's as all of the players and the game runner share this duty.  Most often in fantasy literature and film this is a second role of the hero.  A fine example of this not being the case is "Big Trouble In Little China", a movie where John Carpenter made the decision to have the Hero, Jack Burton, tag along as the sidekick or companion of the Protagonist, Wang Chi, who was more of an archetypal sidekick but one who moved the plot.

Big Trouble In Little China trailer


Classically a hero would be a scion of a deity.  Someone with power beyond that of we wee mortals but also someone with high moral character who does the right thing ad infinitum.  In RPG terms this would perhaps be an especially gifted Paladin type character who plays "Lawful Stupid" as an alignment.

Aristotle defined the Tragic Hero, one who was not super perfect and without flaw or doubt in character but one who would have a flaw that would "change" his or her "fortune".  “The change of fortune should be not from bad to good, but, reversely, from good to bad.”  This would never fly in the world of electronic gaming where it is an unwritten rule that characters, especially player characters, get more awesome over time but for table top this is a flavor of character to consider.

There is also the Anti-Hero.  An anti-hero may be powerful or even a scion but foregoes morals for results.  An anti-hero may be pursuing a moral goal but they feel free to be immoral in the pursuit of that goal.  My favorite anti-hero, of course, is the one and only last Emperor of Melnibone, Elric, one aspect of the champion eternal in fiction written by Michael Moorcock.  If Marvel comics is any gauge of the anti-hero then anti-heroes are obliged to say the word "Bub" a lot.

It is perhaps easiest to cast yourself in the hero role in roleplaying games.  You want to do right and with character advancement you would like to think that who is stuck on doing the right thing.  I present to you the joy of breaking that mold and playing your hero on the tragic side, with a flaw, and perhaps on the anti side and have less than predictable morals.

Doc Savage as the hero.

Chow Yun-Fat as the tragic hero in "The Corruptor".

Bruce Dern as the anti-hero in "Silent Running".


We are finally getting into the meatier roles for the player character.  Antagonist?  That's the bad guy isn't it?  The antagonist is the counter to the protagonist.  The roadblock and scheming counter to the advancement of the plot.  In the nature of conflict in literature, film and gaming, that of person versus person the antagonist is that person that is versus the person we readers, watchers and players care about.

The antagonist should not be purely the realm of the game runner.  As a game runner I will pull a player aside and give them the role of an antagonist and have been assigned by runners to BE an intentional antagonist in their game.

As a player antagonist you should not be wholly against the group goals and ideas.  Referring back to last week a player antagonist may very well be aligned with the group mission of getting the "MacGuffin" but might want it for themselves and not to return to its owner or the person who sent you on this mission.

Everyone in the cast as the antagonist in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre".


Think Monty Python.  Think the holy grail.  Repeat after me ... "NONE SHALL PASS".  The Black Knight in that movie was a brief-lived and comic obstacle character.  B.A. Barajas in "The A-Team" was a narrowly defined obstacle character.  He wouldn't fly in aircraft.  In order to get from A to B by air the rest of the squad would have to sneak up on him and drug him so that he could go with them.

As a player I see the obstacle character as the one who lives by a code.  A priest who will not allow party members to murder or do evil.  A shaman who will not let other characters harm their totem animal and their totem is an agressive alpha predator that is common in these parts.

The obstacle character is not a full blown antagonist.  They are not contrary to the mission but the way that they go about doing the mission.

"None shall pass ..."


The most easily recalled character who fits in the logic archetype in pop culture would be Mr. Spock.  Even he was not purely logical at all times but had this 'flaw' in his character that he behaved along the lines of logic.

I see the logic character in RPG's as a soldier.  This is a character type that has a code and it might not be the most warm and fuzzy code but it is a codified set of behavior that may not fit in with what is moral but by what is necessary to advance the mission.

There will be conflict in playing a logic based character.  But then again what is drama?  Drama is conflict.  If everything was smooth and happy there would be no reason for literature or film or even roleplaying games as entertainment.

Leonard Nimoy as the logical Mr. Spock.


I just finished reading Jim Butcher's "Storm Front".  There was a great example of an emotion character in the story.  That example was "Toot Toot" the fairy.  Toot is a classic small fairy.  He has no real long term memory.  He has wants and needs and a pro forma set of behavioral rules.  If challenged he blusters.  If threatened he blusters.  If appeased he blusters.  Everything to Toot is either great or terrible.  Pizza is GREAT.  Being summoned by a wizard is TERRIBLE.  The pizza that the wizard used to summon him is GREAT. (No he wasn't summoned by pizza in "Storm Front" but if summoned by pizza Toot would think it awesome.)

The emotion character is the inverse of the logic character and potentially just as annoying to have around.  Greed is another example of how this emotional character may act.  If you are familiar with the race of Tieflings then their untargeted and racial greed for shiny and precious things is the example of emotional characters.

Rik Mayall as Drop Dead Fred.


The most pervasive example of the companion in American pop culture is the sidekick for the cowboy hero in western movies.  From the late 1930's to the early 1960's every hero in the genre had a sidekick, a horse and a dog.  All with names and who would follow the great hero on his adventure.  One of the easiest ones to recall is the scout Tonto to the hero the Lone Ranger.

Sometimes the companion role is nebulous and this is especially true if both the hero and the companion share the role of the protagonist.  For example in the United States The Green Hornet had a companion named Kato and in China Kato had some goofy gwai lo following him around on The Kato Show.

What are the goals of the companion?  The goals of their hero.  Where is the companion going?  They are going which ever way the hero is going.  The companion role to me is a very buddhist role.  The role of the companion is to relieve the suffering of the hero as the hero goes about on their journey.

A good example of this in gaming are the companion characters in BioWare games.  They are along for the ride and to share the experience of the hero.  Someone for the hero to speak with for movies as well.  Being a Jack Kirby fan I know the real reason that Captain America had Bucky as a companion.  Cap had Bucky as a literary device so he wouldn't have to talk to himself all of the time.

As a player character a companion is not a stretch to play.  Go along with the group and cooperate.  A well played companion can be a boon to the entire group.

Jay Silverheels as Tonto giving The Lone Ranger his life and his name.

The above archetypes can help you in figuring out how you want your character to behave and what pigeonhole they belong in.  To be honest a player group of eight players with all eight of them are playing in the hero role bores my socks off.  Try making your character another archetype to season your game.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Movies as inspiration for your RPG's:

Movies as RPG's:

So you wanna play a movie.
  We have talked about reference material in roleplaying games.  One of the sources often quoted is the humble moving picture.  How would you go about taking your favorite movie and turning it into a roleplaying game session?  First you need some rules.

The Rules:

Pick a Genre or Pick a Movie.
  Your first thought may be to go straight for a movie.  We have quoted the example of store-kid Alex using "The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo" as a background for his first time as being a game runner.  Choosing a specific movie has its advantages.  You know the characters, setting, props, NPC's and plot.  You could almost do something like this from the top of your head and you would not be the first to do so.

  I have one caveat though.  Unless you have a top secret source of movies that no one else has access to then you are setting yourself up for some heartache for both you and your players.  Odds are they have seen the movie too.  If you like a lot of control during your game running they might not like the fact that running a specific movie is a lot like a historical re-enactment of a famous battle.  It has the same sides, the same generals and the same guys win every time.

  Unless of course you are a Mexican historical re-enactor of the battle for their independence from Emperor Maximillian.  The re-enactors are nice and let France win every other year just to be fair and because Mexico gets to win the re-enactment next year.

  The easiest way to avoid this is to pick a genre rather than a specific movie.  Genre is a word for English majors that means "type" as in type of movie.  You get more flexibility running a film noir setting and plot than you would for say running the movie 'D.O.A.' specifically for example.  As a matter of fact film noir would be greatly served by writing your plot using the "Columbo Method" outlined in episode 003 and its supplemental podcast.  Figure out who done it and work backwards from there as to when and how they done it leaving a trail of bread crumbs back to the pick up of the story.

  The benefit of picking a genre over picking a specific movie is that you get to share elements but the plot is more difficult to derail.  Imagine 'Buffy the Vampireslayer' (the movie) but the plot gets derailed because Buffy gets mono and has to stay in bed for two weeks.  Plot derailed.  Movie spoiled.  Imagine a teenage monster hunter game where it shares elements of a movie and the lead gets mono.  Perhaps the lead and the rest of the group spend the evening trying to give vampires, mummys and demons a highly contagious and debilitating disease by smooching with them.  That is story, its own story, and cannot be derailed.

  I have only known one game runner who has walked the delicate line between both running a game as a specific movie and a movie genre.  My best buddy Mike, Aku Maiku or Evil Mike, ran a Star Wars game based on the first Star Wars movie.  We weren't the main characters but hired by a mysterious source to trail the original movie characters and to smooth things out for them as they went through the plot.

  The premise was that the main characters were incompetent and our party was formed to help them pull off the mighty things that they were not able to do on their own.  It had the premise of both the movie and a genre game and was ran perfectly.  We tuned up the Falcon to be able to jump so close to atmosphere.  We thinned the herd of the stormtroopers to allow the good guys to get aboard for each narrow escape.  We turned off the tractor beam on the Death Star while disguised as stormtroopers.  We ran interference so that wookies and 5'4" stormtroopers had the run of the station.  It was marvelous in both concept and execution.

  Should you pick a movie know that it can and will get derailed unless you have a docile player group or are a huge prick.  In either case not so sure I would want to hang with your group.  As a genre game you are 'like water' ("Master how may I win every battle?"  "Be like water.") as far as plot goes and derailing is impossible.  That is not to say that a genre game can't have plot elements or characters that are established elsewhere because that is a pretty good idea.  The reason is because anything that can happen in that genre can happen but if you go for a specific chain of events with specific characters your players are bound to tear your play house down and you need to be ready for that.

Know the genre or movie.
  If you have never waltzed don't learn by signing up for a dance contest.  Pick your movie or genre from something that you and your group know about.  Quick example: my friends and I used to have an after hours Feng Shui game at the shop.  Often I would bring a Chow Yun Fat movie to watch first.  I gave everyone XP for their characters for watching the movie and then we would start the game session.  Have your expectations for the game and share them with your players.

  If you are running a game based on a specific movie there are two ways to go about it.  Be sneaky like Alex's D&D version of Scooby Doo or be up front and tell the group like Aku Maiku did.  Be warned that if sneaky don't expect things to run smoothly.  It is hard to be on 'the same page' with your crew if you are the only one who knows what page you are on.  Letting your group know that your game is an homage is not a deal killer.  It can be a deal enhancer.  They know what to do and when to do it if they have a common frame of reference with your idea to run a game based on a specific movie.

  If you run a specific game or a genre game and your players know where you are coming from they will know a lot more than you would think about the tone of the game.  They will know what they can, can't, should and shouldn't do during the game.

Running a film noir game and pulling out their +10 wizard staff of AWESOME!!?  Not unless it is a Dresden Files and that game is an exception because it is noir in a magic world.

Make your characters one dimensional.

  Show me a movie about pure character development and I will show you a movie with little action.  Show me a movie about pure action and I will show you one with little character development.  Not saying that action is the only way to go in a movie based game.  Play your game based on "Waiting for Gadot" for all that I care.  BUT if your game is meant to be a single session then use the Rule of 5.  Unless the body count is at least 5 in the first 5 minutes of the game something is awry.

  If you are going for an indefinite number of game sessions character development is not the big thing.  Remember that most movies are in the 80 to 90 minute long range and they are mainly about one specific thing about characters and it is not development.  It is redemtion.  Unless you are European and then it is about everyone dying and then 15+ minutes of silent gloomy visual reflection at the end.

  What is redemption?  Someone, despite their intentions, screwed up either before the movie started or during the course of that movie.  Their job by the end of the movie, alive or otherwise, is to redeem that act.  Are they a hero?  Their job is to redeem themselves or society or to fix what the bad-guy did.  Are they an anti-hero?  They screwed up big and must fix things even with the cost of their morals, dignity and/or life.  Are they the villain or even a cold-hearted killer?  They have to make good prior to rolling the credits.  They have to fix what they screwed up.  Likeable cold-hearted killers were Chow Yun Fat's bread and butter part for years.

  When coming up with characters for your game try to limit the 'but she also's' and 'but he also's'.  Unless it is Buckaroo Banzai they 'don't also' and that movie is a one picture genre in itself.

Location location location.
  You owe it to yourself to do one of two things about locations in your game.  The first is to make it so generic and stereotypical that there is no need for research.  The second, which is exclusive of the former, is to do some research on location.

  In one of my past gaming groups we had a generic location.  We used it a lot.  We described it like this "you guys and the bad guys are in a high school gymnasium and there is a big box of guns in the center of the basketball court ... GO!!".  It wasn't a real gym though conceptually it got the job done.  It was Istanbul in 1955.  It was the desert of Tattooine.  It was Al Amarja. It was the secret robot Nazi moon base.  It was like being a kid with a cardboard box who made it into anything and everything.  Gaming is quite simple and fun with terra generica but the key to this generic place was that it was a space built for action.

  Places of action aren't the best for suspense.  They aren't the best for quiet and unnerving tension.  They aren't the best for travelogues or globetrotting adventurers.  This is the place for location specific research.  Let's take the example of a car chase.

  In Venice, Italy, a car chase is a boat chase:

  Since this clip is from a James Bond movie the boat chase turns into a boat vs hovercraft chase that confounds the pursuit.

  What if that car chase is in the Philippines?

  The Philippines uses a type of 'jitney' cab service for public transportation.  The vehicles were first made by modifying US Army surplus Jeeps so the word for them became "Jeepney".  This is something unique to the location and a potentially cool idea that you would never get from terra generica.

No Good Prop Goes Unused.
  The "No Good Prop Goes Unused" rule is something that I came up with from watching movies.  Movies are very expensive to make.  A lot of stuff gets cut out during editing.  Why did the hero look under the bed in the apartment in act 2 and notice the house was wired to explode and then do nothing about it?

  That house is going to go *BOOM* in act 3 because no good prop goes unused.

  In this type of game props are objects that are meant to be used later.  As sure as I once sung in a barber shop quartet in Skokie Illinois they can be subtle if needed.  (If that was too subtle for you I have a movie you need to see.)  Often, like aforementioned bomb, they are not subtle.

  Usually this prop is not directly tied to a character but is there to do some specific thing like blow up a house once the bad guys have been lured inside by a phone call or something.

  Props tied closely to a character don't follow this rule.  Thor without his hammer is just some dude who needs a haircut and a job.  That prop is part of his character.

  Inanimate objects that have lines and action and are persistent aren't props at all.  They are characters like Robby the Robot in 'Forbidden Planet'.

  Much like the movies if the prop is going to be there expect it to be used.

Pardon my MacGuffin.
  A MacGuffin is a very specific type of prop.  It could be a known thing like the 'secret formula' from 1940's and 1950's spy movies or it could be arcane and nebulous like the contents of Mr. Wallace's briefcase in 'Pulp Fiction'.

  The definition of a MacGuffin is "what everyone is after".  In this case the prop moves the story along, or that part of the story where it is used like in Brad's apartment in 'Pulp Fiction'.

  Simple but powerful plots can come from finding the MacGuffin, keeping the MacGuffin, losing the MacGuffin, or taking the MacGuffin away from people who shouldn't have one.

  Several movies are MacGuffin movies.  All of the action and plot are based secifically around the possession and disposition of the MacGuffin.  You may recall some favorites like Spielberg's 'Raiders of the Lost MacGuffin' and the three movie 'Lord of the MacGuffins' franchise that made Peter Jackson famous.

2nd Guy on Bus or Your NPC's.
  The Feng Shui roleplaying game is a game that asks the question "what if you were in a Hong Kong action movie?".  To this end there are three types of characters.  Player characters, named characters and un-named characters.

  Player characters and named character follow the same rules for combat and conflict resolution.  Un-named characters are the bit players who have no great roles or great lines but are pretty much there for the hero to shoot up.  Jim and I use the term "mooks" a lot.  That is Feng Shui shorthand for un-named characters.

  The un-named characters don't upstage the players or the named characters.  They don't get the cool lines or the cool stuff to do.  They are at most a distraction or an obstacle to the players and named characters who the 'movie' or the game is all about.

  Also in the game, and as I think befits most other games, they have just a few stats and perhaps a few generic weapon props and maybe a jazzy costume description but it ends there.  If there are ones who distinguish themselves make them a named character and give them a more important role.

  A personal example of this is the Captain in my write up of The Lair of the Goblin King.  When we first encountered him he was a simple combat opponent.  He could have been a bear or a goat or a walrus and it would have made no difference.  When the game turned to political intrigue he came forth as a player in local politics.  He became a possible candidate for village constable.  He had a more defined role to do if he didn't get the job as well.  Then he became Captain Stanley because who he was mattered.

  In more classical games make your un-named characters something pulled straight out of the game's critter book.  If they have a more important role work on defining their role in the game and their relationships with other characters and groups and give them a name.

  No hero or bad guy in a movie was ever 2nd Guy on Bus.

MDQ and Classical Plot Structure.

  Sophomore English time.

  Classical plot structure goes like this.  We have rising action, the climax and then resolution.

  During the rising action we introduce characters, settings, show you props that won't go unused and pose dramatic questions.  Dramatic questions?  What are they?  Will Mulder and Scully ever smootch?  Will Cary Grant fall off of Mount Rushmore?  Is James Mason's character as gay as Martin Landau's character thinks he is?  The answer to that was different if you asked Mason or Landau after the release of 'North By North-West. These are examples of dramatic questions.

  Not all dramatic questions will be answered.  One that must be answered is the MDQ or major dramatic question.  This question is so important that the climax of the story is just about answering this dramatic question.

  Think of your game's climax.  With no major dramatic question it may have a peak in action but it will not have a proper climax.

  In a simple MacGuffin plot the MDQ might be 'will the good guys get the Maltese MacGuffin from the bad guys?'  The action in the story's climax answers that question.

  After the climax it is all down hill and we go into resolution.  Will they get to keep the MacGuffin?  Will they put it in a home with people who will be kind parents?  Will it fall off the face of Mount Rushmore?  The plot resolution is a chance for you and the players to tuck away all of the lose ends from the rising action and the climax and to put a nice and gentle end to your story/game session.

  Make yourself aware of both the MDQ and classical plot stucture.  Following it can make your games more clear and each session better.  If you are going to run games walk into each one armed with your MDQ at the very least.

  If you can't recall the elements of MDQ and CPS remember that like a lot of other things it is a euphemism for sex.  Rising action, climax, and then the descending action or resolution.

The Hitchcock Maneuver.
  Alfred Hitchcock, who invented the term MacGuffin, didn't always follow classical plot structure.  He cheated much like a good game runner will do. The Hitchcock Maneuver was simple but groundbreaking for movies.  He stopped just after the climax.  This gave him more of his 90 minutes to spend on strong character development, rising action and dramatic questions.  Feel free to steal the Hitchcock Maneuver.  Many do and that is why it is a maneuver.

Don't get "butt-hurt" if it gets derailed by your players.
  Movies are very tightly controlled in budget, plot, location, casting and effects.  Roleplaying games even under the most draconian game runner typically are not this tightly controlled.  If your game gets derailed because you can't get them to do what you want then, man, don't have a cow.

  Beating the Hitchcock drum again.  He was a production designer before he was a director.  He worked the movie out in his mind before he ever shot a frame.  He had the lines, delivery, set design and blocking down before the first day's shooting.  When someone wanted to improvise he did have a cow.  Literally.  He is also famous for his quote "Actors are cattle."  His actors were not allowed to improvise.  "That's the writer's job."

  Give your player their options.  They are not automatons and even if you are trying to base your game session on a specific movie marching lockstep through the plot with no chance to be creative or an individual is for the movies and not for roleplaying games.


Synopsis of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

Who is Dr. Buckaroo Banzai?

Is he a soldier or is he cooler than that?

Is he a physicist or is he he cooler than that?

Is he a neurosurgeon or is he cooler than that?

Is he a  a race car driver or is he cooler than that?

Is he a rock star or is he cooler than that?

He's all of the above and he's cooler than that.

In the first 5 minutes of this movie we are introduced to Jeff Goldblum, for you youngsters he was quite the big deal in 1984.  But he's not Buckaroo.  Buckaroo is Peter Weller because as cool as Jeff Goldblum is Weller is cooler than that.

They reattach a young Eskimo's arm and wire verbal control of the arm to his brain.  But this movie isn't about a brilliant young neurosurgeon.

Then Dr. Banzai goes to the desert to set the land speed record in a jet powered pick up truck.  But this movie is not about a race car driver turned physicist that uses a truck and a mountain range as a practical laboratory for quantum physics.

At the end of the course Buckaroo veers off course and drives through, not over or around or under but through, a mountain.  The movie is about this.  He travels not through the mountain per se but through the 8th dimension, the 4th through 7th being too hum-drum to warrant Buckaroo's time, via his oscillation-overthruster enabled jet powered pick up truck.

After traveling through this mountain and out the other side through a quantum slice of space time explained to be in the space between molecules in our universe Buckaroo comes under the scrutiny of the red Lectroids who have been stuck in our quantum time space since the 1930's.  They want his oscillation-overthruster and they wanna go home.

Led by the terrestrial leader of the red Lectroids Lord John Whorfin who has lived inside the head of Dr. Emilio Lizardo, a contemporary of Dr. Banzai's parents who made it partially into the 8th dimension, headfirst and up to his neck, several decades ago this starts a skirmish to get the overthruster away from Team Banzai, who are also the rock band called The Hong Kong Cavaliers, and mount it on their space ship and fly into a brick wall in a Grover's Mill, New Jersey warehouse and back to the 8th Dimension.

The black Lectroids come to Buckaroo and his team and level the playing field and all hell breaks loose in the Grover's Mill HQ of Yoyodyne.

And you know what?  There are no spoilers in the above synopsis.  The movie is that frikken awesome.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Write up for Show 004: Intrigue Based Gaming or Lair of the Goblin Warlord Part 3

Lair of the Goblin Warlord Part 3: Intrigue
The village of Watford is in a point of transition and flux based upon the last two adventures. Is the threat of the goblin raids over? Are they friendly now? Are they dead? Did the players get distracted with MacGruder and leave them to their same old same old?

How did the players handle MacGruder? Is there a power void? Is he still alive? Either way Sojourning Constable Dugal Von Wesselbach, a powerful and ruthless politician is on his way to the village of Watford to set things back on track or perhaps to put the wagon back in its ruts. If there is a power void who will step forward and fill it? Captain Stanley? The Players? Auntie Grizelda and her endless line of favorite nieces?

Only the game master and the players will know for sure as they enter the world of free-form intrigue in small town politics in the village and county of Watford.

Below is a list of cast members and further below a list of relationships between cast members. If you haven't read parts one and two of the Lair of the Goblin Warlord I suggest that you do. You should also have listened to Grim Darkness pod casts one through four and the two supplementary podcasts at


Smith Hamfist -- She has been suspicious of Constable MacGruder for some time. Although he has kept petty crime down during market day Granny Hamfist has known that it is only because MacGruder has held the reins on local crime and not because he has actively sought to prevent it. She would be a political ally with anyone who would depose MacGruder but ONLY if MacGruder were to be replaced with a constable who was just as strong but not corrupt. If needed Hamfist can use her reputation to pull in money, legal aid or anonymous heavy handed help from Townover.

Innkeeper Watford -- Keeper Watford knows exactly what MacGruder's methods have been over the years since he is a second generation innkeeper in this small town. He is worried that MacGruder will turn his machinations one day towards taking over his inn. He knows just how it will happen. A slip from on top of Watford Gorge. A knife in the kidneys on the way to the outhouse. An untimely death followed by a constable's tax auction where no one would bid against MacGruder for fear of sharing the same fate. Watford is not willing to give help through overt means but is willing to do some dirt of his own, or through discreet hired muscle, but only behind the scenes.

The Wizard Merganzer -- A wizard who prizes his solitude. One constable is as good as another as long as his studies are not interrupted by outsiders. This specifically means especially the local magistrate. The only place the magistrate will stay is at Merganzer's tower, as fits his station, and this puts all research on hold and frustrates Merganzer to no end because he is duty bound to raise his head from his books and to play the diplomat when the magistrate is in town.

Sojourning Magistrate Dugal Von Wesselbach -- Known behind his back, and even then at some distance, as "weasel-back" due to his self serving nature. This guy probably was Machiavelli's editor on "The Prince". Even if not the editor he could have given a few pointers and at least a chapter or two on the "algebra of leadership". To be fair Machiavelli wrote about ruling and gave examples of both the moral and the expedient routes to power. Wesselbach would have nothing to point out regarding the moral means of taking and maintaining power at all. Dugal is interested in preserving the status quo. Not so much as to keep MacGruder in power when or if the village of Watford is in an uproar but so much as to keep his cut of the organized crime money in Watford coming his way. The magistrate lives in Townover and is willing to come to the back waters of Watford if the town is in an uproar or if his payola stops. Once he steps foot in Watford, with residence at Merganzer's Tower, he will not leave town until his payola is re-established. As a matter of fact if he is called out to Watford he will make the road between Watford Gorge and Watford itself a toll road along with the road to Townover. A toll road that will be patrolled by the road wardens of Watford and Sojourning Magistrates and their retinue will travel for free. A toll road that will have a hefty monthly minimum expected payout that goes directly into Von Wesselbach's pockets.

Captain Stanley -- The captain of Merganzer's guard who finally gets a proper name. Captain Stanley would be a logical choice as constable. His guards already do the heavy hitting duties related to law enforcement in Watford. As a moral but ruthless veteran he would see the need for a guard tower in Watford and the construction of a wall around the businesses and the market for defense. He would also need an increased staff of guards, perhaps doubled or more of their current numbers, and a strong lieutenant or three. Building and recruiting would have to be overseen and more importantly paid for. Perhaps Stanley would even dance with the devil Wesselbach for the finances. Perhaps he would keep his honesty and morals. Perhaps with his pockets swollen with his cut of things and a large unvetted mercenary force he could be more of a local terror than MacGruder ever was.

Constable MacGruder -- Would kiss Satan's ass smooth in the middle and pretend he enjoyed it to keep from dancing on the end of a rope. If he wasn't killed during part two then he stands at an interesting cross-roads in his life. He will first petition to Dugal Von Wesselbach for protection. If the village is in an uproar the magistrate will not hesitate to string him up to keep the peace. However MacGruder knows where the bodies are buried in this county and is more than willing to have Crash Ferguson dig them up to keep him out of this mess. Of course there will be needs for funding. Poor Crash needs a new shovel and shovels are very expensive in this village. If faced with no options MacGruder will design a hasty but well planned escape with the help of Ferguson. And if it comes to that MacGruder will be back. At a time of his own choosing, when least expected and with great vengeance.

Crash Ferguson -- A thug. A puppet. Hey Mister! Wanna buy a puppet!?!

The Sons Hamfist -- Mother knows best. If you have any questions about that I will have Fritz explain it to you carefully. Fritz get that axe handle off the wall and explain this very carefully to these nice people.

Auntie Grizelda -- Several assumptions here. The first is that she is still alive and the players didn't shine up their +1 boots of goblin-kicking and make her clan extinct. Should the players have destroyed the goblin village there will be a goblin special forces unit in the area, from the next tribe over, who is led by Grizelda's favorite niece who managed to escape the chaos.

Task Force Goblin -- If the goblins were destroyed this team will conduct guerrilla warfare on the occupants of Watford and the surrounding farms. By guerrilla I mean the following: no pitched battles, retreating from the presence of armed and trained resistance, destruction of unguarded property, poisoning of wells, ritual magic from afar, sleep with one eye open mean and nasty stuff that only a goblin would dream of including lighting the livestock on fire and stampeding them through town to cover an assassination of Merganzer or just because it is Tuesday.

The Goblin Trade Delegation -- Should the players strike a deal with Auntie Grizelda for peat harvesting there will be a vigorous amount of trade and new monies both for the town and the Yellow Throated Catfish Tribe of goblins. Peat is great fertilizer for farming and will be a dear commodity if held scarce. Peat, if harvested in great quantities can be used for both fertilizer and fuel. I wonder what the Woodcutters Local #312 would have to say about being put out of work over night? I also wonder what the locals would think about bare-footed half naked goblin teamsters driving sledges of swampy smelling peat hopping into town pulled by giant teams of giant toads on market day?

Goblin Same Old Same Old -- Should the goblins be largely ignored during part two then the raids continue but this time lead by a more crafty and less testosterone driven Warlord, Auntie Grizelda or a suitable niece. Raids will not be for destruction of property but for the capture of it. Raids will no longer be held using poorly constructed male goblin tactics. Once again it will be a campaign of "hit 'em where they ain't" but instead of standing four abreast on a bridge and marching to their doom. There will be ambushes. Not just proper military ambushes but ambushes goblin-style. Farm houses assaulted in the dead of night after keeping the farmers awake for nights at a time by goblin children raiding the chicken coop. People taken in the dead of night if they trot off to the outhouse alone. The goblins will also be looking for slaves to help restore the ecosystem in the swamp. The best thing about this is this is one way that the goblins can stop starving. Goblins don't feed slaves. They work them until they can work no more and then feed them to the spawning giant catfish. Labor restoring the channels and shallows of the pond and a food source too! What a bargain. Do you also recall that the goblins are opportunistic cannibals?


Contable MacGruder: Loathed by most. Feared and worshiped by Crash Ferguson. If caught with the goods during part two held in contempt by the magistrate. Ignored by Merganzer.

Smith Hamfist: The matriarch of the Hamfist family. The insurance that Watford is thriving financially. Would cut out the cancer of MacGruder or any other crooked merchant or official that brought woe or unease to the village. Not on the same playing field as the magistrate but if things get too bad accidents could happen to anyone. Thinks Merganzer is silly but for a land-count he is fair and isn't cruel.

Wendal Watford: Paranoid that MacGruder is after his money and his business. Sometimes takes coffee to Granny Hamfist to swap gossip though he goes to her and not she to him. Is willing to take the side of anyone who he thinks will genuinely protect his interests. Hates things that are sudden. Especially hangings. A proper hanging should have a two week notice to make sure that the inn is full and that he can set up food and souvenir stands.

Captain Stanley: Lives by the wise words "don't start no shit and there won't be no shit". Will not start a fight but will not walk away from one and is a veteran of ruthless military campaigns. Once the fight is on he believes, like most soldiers, that if the fight is fair then something has gone very very wrong. Honorable and moral but can only be pushed so far.

Sojourning Magistrate Dougal Von Wesselbach: Has both a short memory and a long one. A short memory for any good deeds done for him and an elephantine one for any dirt kicked his way. The Romans thought the ideal politician was one who had power even though they were not at the head of an army. Dugal is as such. As a politician Dougal is on a plane above even Merganzer, the count of these lands, in political power and if needed can activate both Captain Stanley and the king's own regiment to do his bidding.

Crash Ferguson: Would buy you a drink to get you to lift your chin so he could slit your throat but would be doing it under orders from his boss. Would also do this to his old boss for his new boss. Who is his boss? How much coin you got? Unless fronted by a boss with perceived strength would quickly turn into the town drunk and pour the slops jar over his head to dance in the street for drink money.

Auntie Grizelda: In relationships she is a mirror. Treat her well and be treated well in return. Spite her and die in bed coughing with pink and purple spots all over. The same goes for her seemingly endless line of favorite nieces should she be killed in part two.

Lord Merganzer, Count of Watford and Wizard of the Wizened Tome: All he wants is solitude in his tower and peace and order in his county. To be honest he was happy with how MacGruder ran things. Even though things were crooked they were orderly and there was no need for the magistrate to poke his nose into Watford. Emotionally much like a sleeping dragon. Best left alone and asleep. Captain Stanley has fought by his side in years past during the king's campaigns. Partly Stanley was there to protect him in battle and partly Stanley was there to cut him down if he lost his mind in a fit of wizardly battle fury. This is still Stanley's job to this day. Don't piss off Merganzer. You will not get a second opportunity.

This should give you more than enough of a start on an intrigue game especially if used in conjuction with parts one and two of The Lair of the Goblin Warlord.

Stay tuned for part four next week.

Write up for Show 003: "Bread-Crumb Trail" Based Gaming or Lair of the Goblin Warlord Part 2

If you get the chance listen to the Grim Darkness Podcast #3.  This write up is a companion piece to the podcast.  Furthermore the supplemental podcast for episode 003 was recorded while writing this update.

It discusses pitfalls of the investigation sort of game as well as how to write one.

Using Jim's "Columbo" method of writing this sort of adventure I have worked out the "crime" in reverse.

For those of you unfamiliar with Detective Columbo's "just one more thing" investigation style where he ties all of his clues together then here is a short clip from youtube:

Peter Falk versus Rip Torn in "Columbo"

Columbo going in for "the kill" ... re=related

The "Crime" in reverse from The Lair of the Goblin Warlord:

Goblins start raiding travelers and farms.

Goblins go hungry from loss of their food source, the giant yellow throated catfish.

Constable MacGruder orders workmen to drain Snell's Swamp so that it may be cleared for more farmland in this prosperous area. The Constable plans on eliminating the Goblins and taking their land so that he can sell this "free" land at a pure profit.

Constable MacGruder registers the deed to Snell's Swamp with the regional land office in the city of Townover.

Constable MacGruder steals the deed to Snell's Swamp.

Vincent is buried in the cemetery at Watford.

Constable MacGruder falsifies weapon assault charges versus Vincent and sees that he is hanged.

Constable MacGruder discovers the legal and proper deed to Snell's Swamp in the personal effects of Vincent.

Constable MacGruder arrests Vincent Von Snell, the nephew of Victor Snell, for public drunkenness. Victor Snell was an original settler in the Watford area who left shortly before making claim to the lands that are now Snell's Swamp. Victor was a peat cutter who gave up trying to make a living in the swamp that was occupied by Goblin fishermen and moved to Townover.

Vincent Von Snell travels to Watford to investigate his new fortune.

Victor Snell dies of old age and his solicitors forward his will and his deed to Snell's Swamp to his nephew Vincent Von Snell.

Writing the crime in reverse actually makes writing it simpler. I Knew the plot by heart from the first step of the process down to step three because I have ran this plot before several years ago.

About Writing the Crime in Reverse:

In the middle of step three I didn't have a motivation or a person who was behind it all. Reviewing my list of local NPC's made it easy to come up with a motive of greed and the greediest person in Watford is Constable MacGruder. That fit well.

In steps four through eleven I worked out the chain of events that would give MacGruder what he needed for legal claim to the land. Now that we have the "crime" lets flip it into proper chronological order and get to work on the clues.

What these clues will reveal is that Constable MacGruder is a ruthless and evil guy. He probably shouldn't be in charge of the policing of Watford. How the adventurers go about finding this and what they do to resolve this is totally up to them by using the clues provided and an investigation of their choosing.

The Crimes and Clues of Constable MacGruder:

The crimes of Constable MacGruder in chronological order with the appropriate clues for the adventurers to find:

Victor Snell dies of old age and his solicitors forward his will and deed to Snell's Swamp to his nephew Vincent Von Snell.
Clues will be hard to come by as Victor lived in Townover which is, oddly enough, one town over from Watford. Townover is a proper walled city.
Victor's solicitors are Perquode, MacIlhayneigh and Hoke, public solicitors. They have a copy of the original deed and Victors will.
Victor's solicitors also have copies of their correspondence with Vincent and a receipt for his collection of the deed to Snell's Swamp.
Victor became a shop keeper in Townover and sold his townhouse to cover any and all debt and for internment costs.
Victor is buried in a small crypt in Townover Memorial Gardens. While a dead end clue here in a fantasy game people could talk to a passed spirit.
Gertrude Hamfist remembers Victor Snell from when she was a young woman. She can recall that he was a peat cutter who left Watford. She also recalls that he is the reason the swamp's name is Snell's Swamp. She is unsure if it was because he found it or owned it.
Wendal Watford, a second generation Watford, recalls Snell as a nice man who helped frame and raise the inn but later left Watford.
Constable MacGruder will openly know NOTHING about Snell or Von Snell. He knows Snell by reading the deed and will.

Vincent Von Snell travels to Watford to investigate his new fortune.
Vincent stayed in the best room at the Tattered Trout. Innkeeper Watford recalls him as being boastful and being a large tipper.
Gertrude recalls Vincent's coming to Watford. She fixed a shoe on his horse and sharpened his sword.
MacGruder recalls Vincent's coming to Watford and will express that it is a shame that such a fine man would sell his inheritance to raise cash to impress the locals and then do something so bloody foolish as to get in a drunken duel with his Deputy Crash Ferguson.
Crash Ferguson will recall Vincent and lie that he was assaulted in one of the few alleys in Watford by Vincent and that his left arm was crippled in the fight. In truth his left arm was crippled by MacGruder who was a bit over zealous in making reports of an assault look convincing.

Constable MacGruder arrests Vincent Von Snell for public drunkeness, discovers the deed and sees that Vincent is hanged. He is buried in a mass livestock grave.
This is an actual fact.
While registering Vincent's personal effects MacGruder finds the deed to Snell's Swamp.
MacGruder arranges the framed assault charges and hangs Vincent the next morning.
Vincent's personal effects and money is confiscated to pay for his burial. MacGruder sees to both.
Vincent is buried in a mass grave with two mules and the carcass of a pig. Magical and supernatural types may find a way to question Vincent.
Watford is upset because of the lack of notice on the hanging. A hanging brings in big business. He thinks MacGruder has eyes on someday getting the Tattered Trout from him by foul means. Watford is probably correct on that assumption.
Gertrude Hamfist thinks that something shady may have gone on regarding Vincent. Usually MacGruder holds prisoners and waits for the next market day to hang them. The money he stood to make on just pick pocket warrants alone makes Gertrude wonder what was on MacGruder's mind.
MacGruder will not state any specifics relating to Vincent. He hangs a lot of people and is a very busy man. If pressed he will state what a shame it was for that vagrant to cripple a perfectly good Deputy. There were no services for Vincent. He was buried with livestock. MacGruder pocketed the burial expenses and Vincent's personal effects. He often wears a fine pair of Vincent's shoes even though they are too tight. They are expensive and that is all that matters to MacGruder.

MacGruder steals the deed to Snell's Swamp and registers it in the regional land office in Townover.
There are records including a copy of the bill of sale from Von Snell to MacGruder in the land office. Von Snell's signature is an "X" which is often the signature of illiterates. Von Snell was no illiterate. The witness to the sale was Crash Ferguson. He signed with an X as well. He is illiterate.
The Captain of Merganzer's guard recalls Macgruder being absent from his duties during a market day. The Captain filled in as constable that day and no pick pocketing warrants were issued. He finds it odd that MacGruder would miss on two opportunities for warrants. The abrupt hanging and the missed market day.

MacGruder hires workmen to drain the swamp so that he can sell it at a pure profit.
All NPC's know of the workmen. It has been a small boom in the local economy.
Watford provides tents in his side yard because the crew needs more room than the inn will hold.
Hamfist repairs their tools and weapons and finds it odd that MacGruder is interested in something outside of Watford.
MacGruder thinks you should mind your own bloody business.
Merganzer's Captain has noticed an increase in calls to help MacGruder with arresting Drunken Workers.
Merganzer has his "nose in his books" and cannot be bothered.

Goblins go hungry from loss of their food source, the giant yellow throated catfish.
The deep pools of the swamp that are necessary for spawning new generations of giant yellow throated catfish are pretty much all that is left of the water in Snell's Swamp.
Goblin women-folk do their best to keep the large females in the spawning pools alive since they no longer have the shallows to swim about in and feed on smaller fish.
The male catfish population has taken a very large hit and are near extinction.
Watford Goblins are a matriarchal society and the females do all of the important work but let the cannibalistic Goblin-men hunt and make war to keep them away from the tasty young Goblins.
The male Goblins in the Watford area are extinct and have all recently been defeated at the battle of Watford Bridge.
The remaining Goblins in residence are all starving.
The remaining Goblins in residence are all female, more slight of build and more prone to magic, children, and the old and crippled and infirm.
There is evidence of the work crews tools about the edges of the swamp and a broken wagon with MacGruder Land Management Company painted on the side.

The Goblin Caves
The goblin caves are populated, as noted before, by only the small children, the unfit, the infirm and the female population.
The leader of the Watford area Goblins is Auntie Griselda. She is a caster of no small skill and a fine builder of traps.
The entrance and area about the cave is rife with crude but clever traps.
Auntie Griselda will prefer to negotiate than come to blows. But once the fight is on she and the remainder of the village will scrap.
Anyone playing on the "good" side of an alignment system should see that they are starving and that no one is left but the women-folk,elders and children. If this leads to standard "lets kill them and take all their stuff" shame on them.

New NPC's

Goblin Female
Smaller than the Goblin men and more wiry.
Meaner than mean if cornered. Literally fighting for their life and the life of their tribe and culture.
Has the ability for minor offensive spells and spells that aid in stealth and evasion.
Has the ability to cast an illumination spell that explains "swamp lights" in the swamps at night.
Priority of defense is to note intruders and tell the village, impede progress to the village, ensure the safety of the children and the old, fight to the death if cornered.

Auntie Griselda
Larger than some Goblin men.
She is an elder and hasn't eaten in days.
She has the ability for moderate offensive spells and perhaps one large damage offensive spell. Also same spells and types as typical female.
Is the animist/shaman leader of the Watford Goblins.
The religion and way of life of the Watford Goblins is directly tied to the well being of the large female giant yellow throated catfish.
She will negotiate in all candor and honesty with adventurers with the goal of them leaving the goblins alone.
She will explain the raids were not due to piracy or wealth but for mere survival under sociological and ecological pressure from the swamp draining project.
If nothing else she will attempt to buy time for the children, elders and remaining females to escape if things look threatening.
She will also be more than willing to organize the remaining goblins to cut peat for the farmers to use as fuel and fertilizer.

Crash Ferguson
A thug who is the deputy of Constable MacGruder.
Conspires with MacGruder on all of his plans.
Is the "weakest link" in MacGruder's local crime syndicate.
Has a crippled left arm.
Is not very bright.
Kills joyfully and has an animal cunning to make up for his lack of intellect.

The Adventurers don't have to grab all of the clues to make this a fun and challenging game session. Just a few of them should be more than enough to put them on the trail of Constable MacGruder. Then it is up to the cooperation of the adventurers and the game master to come up with a suitable resolution based upon what the players find.

This should keep you busy for the next week or so!!

Have fun,


Write up for Show 002: Encounter Based Gaming or Lair of the Goblin Warlord Part 1

The Lair of the Goblin Warlord:

An example of an encounter based role playing adventure. In writing this adventure I tried to make it as 'generic' as possible. It can easily be used for any version of Dungeons and Dragons that you wish. You will need to look up statistics for monsters and do a little homework there fleshing things out. Primarily I have given structure and story and characters.

This could also be used for any other RPG system with a little homework on your part.

The first part of the game is in the village of Watford. There are no scheduled encounters in Watford. This is a roleplaying and information gathering segment. The idea here is to get the players interested in getting jobs as road marshals for the local lord.

The village of Watford:
This consists of an inn, a blacksmith, a town constable and an area for a farmer's market that has minor merchants there full time but has many merchants on market day.

Posted around the town are wanted posters for the Goblin Warlord Pitstain.

Pitstain is wanted for stealing livestock, disrupting the general peace, and for crimes upon the high road. The reward for the capture of Pitstain is 35 gold pieces and there is a further bounty for each pair of goblin ears returned to the constable's office of 10 sp per pair.

Players have access to typical items from the player's handbook in the market area so may stock up or replace gear. Master crafted simple weapons are available at the blacksmith.

Also posted around the town are posters recruiting marshals of the road. Applicants who wish to be hired as marshals of the road should report to the innkeeper at the
Tattered Trout Inn.

The adventure hook is to have the players become marshals of the road. Adventure-wise there is very little else going on in this village. Just remember: The hook is in the Trout!!

The Tattered Trout Inn:
The owner of the Tattered Trout is Wendal Watford. On market day the inn is rather busy as Wendal has regular customers among the more rich farmers and merchants who travel to the farmer's market. When it is not market day things are slow and the inn is seldom crowded.

If asked about the jobs for marshals, Wendal can give this information:

1. The person who actually hires the marshalls is the wizard, Merganzer.
2. Wendal can give directions to Merganzer's tower.
3. The duties of the marshals is to keep the roads leading into town safe from wild animals and from the goblin warlord, Pitstain.
4. Marshals make their living via a monthly stipend from Merganzer and from collecting bounties and turning them in to the local constable. The constable is in charge of law and order in the town and is a government official.
5. The constable is not a skilled enough warrior or organizer to keep the roads clear. Also he does not see that as his responsibility. His responsibility is keeping the peace within the area of town where things are often much more peaceful.
6. Anyone interested in the job as road marshall must meet with Merganzer, himself.

Oaken Anvil Blacksmith Shop:

The owner of the Oaken Anvil is Gertrude Hamfist. Gertrude is a mother of four young men who work with her in the smithy. She is also the grandmother of two young children who run errands for the shop.

Gertrude's main business is caring for the horses of the local and visiting farmers as well as taking care of the smithing needs for the town. She does make fine simple weapons and has a selection of all simple weapons of master crafted quality. She does make shields of various types that are wooden shields and perhaps some are covered with hides or metal. She and her boys do not make armor or other adventuring supplies. These items would however be easily found in the market place.

Gertrude will not stand for someone wasting her time but she is not unfriendly.

What she can tell you about the town is this:

1. There is money to be made on market day. Watford is the busiest market in the region.
2. The constable is old and slow. He wasn't really that great when he was young and spry either.
3. The inn is a safe place to stay and Wendal is a fair trader. He is not a cheat.
4. There hasn't been a road warden who has stayed alive for quite a while. Pitstain and his tribe have been in the area for generations. Over the last few seasons they have become quite aggressive. This is unusual. Perhaps it is because Pitstain is a new chieftain and is trying to prove something.
5. Merganzer is the lord of this region. He keeps to himself in his tower and keeps his nose in his books too much. He hires the road wardens but few of them ever stay around and none of them have done much good.
6. Since summer has ended Pitstain and his raiders have become more and more aggressive. Since the last market day of the season is coming soon I wouldn't be surprised if he tried to raid the village itself.

Contsable MacGruder:

Constable MacGruder is a portly gentleman in his 50's. He lives on a stipend from the king. Although he might be a lazy constable and quick to point out that his jurisdiction stops at the edge of the fairgrounds he is a shrewd man. He has kept his job as constable for the better part of two decades and knows how to keep the peace.

If trouble starts he will send a runner to the gate house at Merganzer's tower where the runner will get the help from the guards at the gate house. MacGruder will keep an eye on the trouble makers but will not make a move until the guards have arrived.

Once the guards have arrived he will then dispatch the guards to break heads. If the trouble makers are subdued he will place them in the cells in the constable's office and start negotiating fines for release for minor crimes. If the prisoners commit capital crimes he will dispatch a messenger for transfer and allow a magistrate to take over.

If the guards fail to subdue the troublemakers then MacGruder will leave town and seek greater help from a neighboring city. He has scrolls from Merganzer that cast a powerful ranged version of the Arcane Mark spell that will mark the trouble makers as criminals so they can be properly recognized and dealt with when sufficient force is sent their way.

This is the news about the area that MacGruder is willing to share:

1. Pitstain keeps out of the village so he is not my problem.
2. I will pay a bounty for the head of Pitstain and also for each pair of Goblin ears.
3. If trouble comes to this village then that trouble will be matched with greater trouble. From the king's own regiment if needed.
4. Pickpocketing will only be allowed on market day and only by licensed pickpockets bearing the proper warrants from the constable. Warrants cost 5 GP and 20% of the take.
5. Murder, rape, assault with weapons or spells, kidnapping and unlicensed pickpocketing are punishable by hanging.

News about the area that MacGruder will not be keen to share:

1. Burglary may also be licensed in advance if he gets a deep enough cut of the proceeds.
2. He will thoroughly verify all bounties before paying out any money. Too many people have tried to go into the business of 'manufacturing' goblin ears for him to open his purse strings too quickly. He will ask questions about the warpaint and markings of the goblins and these questions must be answered precisely before he will pay out. Although he does nothing about the goblins he knows quite a bit about them from being a long term resident of Watford.

The journey to Merganzer's Tower:

Merganzer's tower is a few miles outside of the village. It is on a road through a forest and away from the farms or any help from the city.

Encounter -- A Bear in the Road:

About half way to the tower the group will come upon a bear that is in the road that stands over the fresh kill of a deer.

There will also be one bear cub per each two players.

The bear will stand its ground and be aggressive. It will charge the group in defense of its kill.

Should any player attack a bear cub before the bear itself is killed or subdued then the bear will go into a frenzy and gain bonuses to its attacks and damage.

Encounter -- The Gate House:

Merganzer's Tower is surrounded by a sturdy stone wall. In the wall is a gate and it is protected by a gate house. Inside the gate house are soldiers hired by Merganzer.

The soldiers are used to any scruffy ruffian who is full of themselves applying for the job of being a road marshall. The captain of the guard has left standing orders that applicants must prove themselves in order to apply for the job. Too many underprepared people have been wasting his master's precious time.

There are two possible trials. The first is a trial by combat. The second is a trial by deed. The players are allowed to choose which trial they wish to complete.

Trial by combat:
The players choose a member of the party to duel the captain of the guard. This is a duel to measure skill and not a duel to the death. The captain is a veteran soldier and trained fighter. He is also well equipped. He is wearing plate mail, he carries a shield and uses a one handed axe in combat. He also has his cloak of office, The Cloak of Merganzer, which gives a +1 to reflex savings throws.

The Captain will yield to the other dueler if he is below half of his health. The dueler may yield at any time. If things turn mean and hostile then the party is most likely out of a job and the guards from the gatehouse will pour out and settle accounts. The Captain will fight fairly and honorably.

The Captain has no news to share. If he wins the duel, he will laugh and taunt and shame the loser. If he loses the duel he will direct the party to his master, Merganzer, in the central tower.

Trial by deed.
If the party chooses trial by deed then the deed is simple to explain. With the gates locked and the guards in the guard house posted and on duty a party member must infiltrate past the walls and ring the bell at the door to the tower.

This is not a combat challenge. Killing guards will be considered cheating and the guards will once again pour out of the guard house and settle accounts if the players are detected cheating.

Any guards who 'mysteriously go missing' will indeed be missed and this will also count as cheating and bring bad stuff down on the heads of the party.

This trial will be conducted honorably by the Captain of the guard. Players spotted prior to the completion of the objective will have the opportunity to escape and evade. The object is to ring the bell not to kill anyone.

Meeting with Merganzer:
Assuming that the players have completed one of the trials they will meet with Merganzer.

Upon taking the job as a marshall of the road each character will receive 5 gp monthly stipend in advance, a Cloak of Merganzer (with a +1 to reflex saves) as a mark of their employment and if needed they may revceive a master crafted simple or martial weapon as a further token from their Lord.

Merganzer has the following information about the area.

1. Pitstain is a new chieftain of the goblins and since he has risen to power the usually wily but peaceful goblins have become aggressive. They have raided travelers and some remote farm houses.
2. As winter is approaching the goblins have become more bold than ever.
3. Their favorite ambush spot is a bridge over the gorge of the Watford river a few miles down the road.
4. Watford the innkeeper is a good man and a fair one.
5. Smith Hamfist is a fine craftsperson and undoubtably the reason the village of Watford is so prosperous.
6. Constable MacGruder is probably the biggest thief in the region but he keeps the peace.

Encounter -- Battle of Watford Bridge:

At the advice of Merganzer the party heads to the bridge over the gorge of the Watford river.

At the bridge they will meet the Goblin Warlord Pitstain and his raiders.

The raiders are in full warpaint and battle gear. Their weapons are crude and with the exception of Pitstain will consist mostly of pointy sticks (short spears) and clubs. The goblin raiders wear tribal totems and garb but this is not considered to be armor.

Pitstain has a suit of goblin sized hide armor, a wooden shield and a short sword.

The raiders will fight on the bridge. There are four goblins for each party member. They will fight in ranks of four across. Pitstain will fight in the back. The goblins will not retreat and will fight to the last 'man'. Goblins will not advance off the bridge unless the entire party starts attacking from range. Pitstain will shout encouragement to them and will not allow any to retreat. Once he is the last goblin, he will stand and fight. He will not retreat.

The point of this fight is for every goblin to stand and fight and lose. And to fight to the death and to the last man.

Aftermath of the Battle of Watford Bridge:

In Pitstain's personal effects there is a map marking the roads into and out of Watford. Also on the map is Merganzer's tower, Watford bridge, Snell's Swamp and a cave in the hills on the edge of the swamp.

Now is a good logical time to take a break if players need one. It is also a good time for a break in the session if players need one.

Players may also wish to return to town and re-outfit themselves and cash in their bounties with the constable or report to Merganzer.

This adventure will continue after Grim Darkness Pod-Cast #3 when we discuss running games in the "bread crumbs" method.

Happy gaming.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Plastic Man - Worst Justice League Character EVER!

Plasticman is quite legitimately the lamest Justice League member EVER! OK, he actually has
a legitimate superpower. But look at it this way. He is like Mr. Fantastic without all that fancy
super science and genius mind.

This rant started off with a conversation that took place between my buddy Gary and myself
at work. He took the position of Batman and I took the position of Superman in an imaginary
argument about inducting the bubblegum jerk into the Justice League of America. It went
something like this:

Superman: Now that Diana has finished reading the minutes of our last meeting we can move on
to new business. First off we have some membership applications here I would like to put on the

Batman: Clark. What the fuck are you doing?

Superman: What?

Batman: I saw the picture paper clipped to that file.

Superman: I am sure I don’t have any idea what you are talking about.

Batman: Look. We have had this discussion before. Plasticman is not Justice League material.
The guy is a freakish mix between Elvis, a spooky clown and a beach ball. I mean come on!
This is the Justice League!

Superman: Bruce, we can’t really sit here and pass judgment on people with legitimate
superpowers who want to use them for the benefit of others. He could prove useful in the future
and I for one don’t think we shouldn’t rule him out.

Batman: Can’t pass judgment? Can’t pass judgment? The dude runs around in a private jet with
a blonde bimbo and a fat Hawaiian guy as sidekicks chasing after bank robbers like some kind
of balloon animal Scooby Doo. We have to draw the line somewhere. Sure, I can let Aquaman
slide. Just in case we have to do some shit underwater, but I am drawing the line at this guy. He
is a joke and I know from jokers.

Superman: I don’t understand what the problem is. He is neigh indestructible. He can take on
just about any shape we can imagine. He regenerates. He can alter his color AND he is immune
to telepathic control. These are legitimate superpowers. You know…. superpowers. Not to
point any fingers at some people who don’t have any superpowers at all.

Batman: I will end you pretty boy.

Wonder Woman: Easy fellas. Let’s not get our panties in a bunch. But, Clark, I’m going to
have to side with Bruce on this one. This guy is fucking clown shoes and you know it. How are
we going to be taken seriously with this guy around? Look at what he is wearing! Paris Hilton
sunglasses, a dance leotard with lacing on the chest and no friggin pants. Hell even I got sick
of the pantless thing after a while. He is like that really weird European guy at the beech with a
speedo. EWWW!

Write up for Show 005: Free Form Gaming or Lair of the Goblin Warlord Part 4

Lair of the Goblin Warlord Part 4: Free Form Gaming

The title is a trick.  Actually you have all of the elements you need to take the Lair of the Goblin Warlord to a free form game in the three previous write ups.

You have the characters, the locations, the relationships and the major plot points.  If you were so disposed you could use that to start a game that could last for years in a free form environment.

The meat of this write up is to help those who are interested dip their toes, and maybe go in up to your waist, in the river of creativity that is free form collaborative story telling.

The list of tools tools that can help get you started are as follows:

The Creative Whack Pack: A business resource that is actually cheaper new on Amazon than used. and

Mad Scientist University from Atlas Games at

Toon from Steve Jackson Games

The Amber Diceless system, out of print, see

Over The Edge from Atlas Games at

The Creative Whack Pack

A business tool from the 1990's to help deeply entrenched corporate drones raise their heads out of the lifeless muck that was their daily job and be more creative.

The Whack Pack has a book but the cool factor is from a deck of cards that gives you a nice allegorical lesson and then a question.  The question asks you to enact a spontaneous implementation about the lesson or to share how you would do so.

I am assuming that your spirit is not as broken as a firmly entrenched corporate slug in the 1990's but the Creative Whack Pack gives you the 'whack on the side of the head' to shake off your shyness and to look at things from the crooked angle that is creativity.

Mad Scientist University

Another card game with more game this time than happy lessons on cards.  Each player is dealt cards with phrases on them and in turn plays two of their phrases and then explains how they would use the phrase on the card to take over the world.  After each player has gone once all players vote on who they think had the best idea.

Why is this a creative exercise?  Please explain why your laundry soap with sheep pheromones is better at taking over the world than my penguin powered orbital mind control laser.

This game can get you past the reach of your usual silliness and let you freely express yourself creatively in roleplaying games.


If you have EVER been a child of any sort of description you know a great deal of cartoon physics and how cartoon characters behave themselves provided you were exposed to television in your youth.  If you were NOT exposed to television while growing up this is the PERFECT way to see how people who did wasted a lot of time and really enjoyed it.

Toon is a simple game with quite simple mechanics that demands you act in a silly and creative fashion while you fight, zip, smarts, and chutzpah your way through the simulated plots of your own personal cartoons.

Using the basic rules of the game and basic rules of the cartoon plot Toon can help you extend yourself into a realm where the impossible is quite common and creativity is at times your only advantage.

The Amber Diceless System

Though out of print this game is a genre of roleplaying all by itself.  The idea of using no dice to resolve conflict was and largely is still a novel idea.

The wikipedia write up can cover the whats and wherefores of the game much better than I can but I will tell you this one thing.  With enough time to yourself in this game it is possible for anyone to do anything.  Based on Roger Zelazny's World of Amber which itself is based on a fusion of magic and quantum physics and ultimate possibilities this is one creative springboard that you should not miss.  Hit EBay and used book stores to find this truly golden grail of creative roleplay.

Did I tell you that my first con was an Ambercon?  Yep.  It was.

Over The Edge

Another offering from Atlas Games.  Dude.  This is to games what the Creative Whack Pack is to 1990's corporate wage slaves.  I would consider myself a person who played roleplaying games before I picked this one up but not a roleplayer.

The rules including character creation are one page of this 240 page book.  Everything else is background and specific methods to make your game cooler to play.

The first question in character creation is "If you could be anything what would it be?".  Game runners are told to reject answers to that question if that anything is trite or passe.  Why be a sparkly vampire if you could be a mail box with an IQ of 250 or a time travelling ectomorph that only speaks 31st century French?  You are given the sky.  Think big.

Even more fun with Over The Edge?  Could it be more fun?  YES!! We used to play this game in conjunction with the On The Edge card game, a sister product from the same studio, and flip the cards to see what the group encountered next.  On the way to drop off or pick up the ransom money?  Deal with a rain of technicolor walrus while in a car chase with flying giant sentient cockroaches.  Live through that and you are a ROLEPLAYER.


These are some games and products that have helped me to loosen up and get ready for free form roleplaying fun.