Monday, August 26, 2013

Pimp Your Game

The pitch is an important part of attracting players who want to play in a game that you facilitate.  Often we think about the pitch as essential for a convention game, where you are literally spruiking your game to strangers in the hopes that something about your description will appeal sufficiently for them to give you several hours of their time, and choose your offering over others. 
However, even when you are proposing a new game for your regular gaming group, a short, succinct and strong pitch will help focus attention on what you’re offering, and encourage the players to engage with that material.
In 2010 I wrote a post about The Art of the Pitch where I suggested that characteristics of a strong pitch are; a short and compelling piece of setting or fiction to pique the readers interest, and a description of what experience I might expect, as a player.  Both these pieces of information help potential players understand what is being offered, and ensure their expectations are closely aligned with those of the GM offering the game.
Bad Players or Bad Games?
Sometimes games fall flat, and the reasons for this are not obvious.  When this happens in a convention setting I’ve often heard the GM or facilitator complain about the players.  It’s a common response.  A GM has often spent hours carefully crafting a scenario, anticipating possible actions, and detailing characters – playtesting and preparing and so when the session falls flat, the variable over which the GM has had the least influence is the players, ergo, this must be the cause of the problem.
In EPOCH I argue there are no ‘bad’ players.  Only players that are not ‘activated’ and that it is possible for a GM to activate almost every player using a variety of techniques.  However, by far the most important technique is to ensure the players of the game are aligned with the style, an objective of the game that the GM wishes to run.
The most likely criteria for a such mismatch (in my experience) include:
  • a game which features a strong investigative component
  • a game which features a highly complex setting, characters or NPCs
  • a game which relies on players absorbing significant amounts of detail, either character or system related to drive the action
  • a game which requires the players to share narrative duties
  • a game which has a strong combat focus.
This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch, but games which feature any of these elements strongly, and fail to communicate this to the players in advance, are more likely to fall at the first hurdle of player activation and result in a mismatch between GM and player expectations.
Pimping your game
So how to do it right?  Probably the most important tip for any game facilitator is to be honest about what the core activity of the scenario is.  What are you expecting of the players, and what is expected of their characters?  If you spell this out in advance, through the blurb or description of your game, then I think you are much more likely to find an audience that wants to play the same kind of scenario as you.
In my game, EPOCH, I provide 3 simple sentences for each scenario, after the blurb which provides the setting to help fulfil this criteria:
"EPOCH is a game of character-driven survival horror. The goal is to deliver a tense and scary experience in a single game session. EPOCH players are active participants in the creation of the game atmosphere and have complete control over the creation and ultimate fate of their characters."
However I was also very impressed with the description provided by venerable GM Marcus D. Bone for his Kapcon games here and here, which exemplify the kind of clear communication I'm proposing.
On the subject of good game blurbs, I'd also like to highlight the creative efforts of the grandexperiment who has adopted alternative media in lieu of text to create an arguably stronger initial impression with his potential audience.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Last night we finished Beyond the Mountains of Madness, which is widely considered one of the great epic Call of Cthulhu campaigns.  I have previously posted about our ascent through Mountains here and here and my thoughts about how this campaign contrasts with another of the classics; Masks of Nyarlathotep.
I am pleased to say that providing a strong character focus during the early sessions of this campaign let us pick up the action after a nine month break and dive straight back into it.  The finale was played out over several different scenes, as written in the campaign which offered some great action moments.  I think the most important part of running any game which involves dice, is for the GM to understand the system well enough to set the odds so they are likely to deliver the best outcome for the story, then turn it over to the characters and the dice, and accept whatever results are rolled.  This transparency leads to real tension amongst the players, and makes survival, or indeed triumph, so much sweeter.
However, in a campaign like Mountains this can be a high risk strategy.  A finite number of characters are on hand, and after spending time building some intense characterisation, there is always the possibility that a player will have atrocious luck, and be eliminated at any juncture.  In Mountains I tried to mitigate this risk somewhat with paired down house rules from my pulp outings which granted each character a single fate point (allowing survival when death would otherwise have been inventible) and this point gave each character two skill re-rolls per session. Setting the odds for each encounter also allows a GM a high degree of influence in determining a likely outcome which is often not immediately apparent to the players.
The enduring reward for running this campaign, investing in the characters, and having the vast majority survive the campaign, is the legacy of each of these characters after they leave Antarctica.  How they reconcile their harrowing experiences and the dreadful truths they have learnt and what this will ultimately cost them.  This attempt by broken and shattered people to reconcile horror with life in the modern world is, I think, the essence of Lovecraft and a fitting way to leave the campaign.
Campaign Statistics
Sessions Played: 14
Chapters: 16
Number of Players: 7
Number of Characters: 7
Total Fate Points Expended: 2
Character Deaths: 1

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Rise of New Zealand RPG Products

In February 2011, I posted about  some of the great New Zealand roleplaying products that had recently been released.  Two and a half years later it seems appropriate to post an update, and celebrate more of the fantastic products authored by Kiwis since then.

First up, Monster of the Week by Michael Sands - Monster of the Week is an action-horror roleplaying game.  Most people don't believe in them, but they're real. Mostly, when someone finds out that monsters are real, that's just before they die.  But some people are mean enough, smart enough, crazy enough, or hurt enough, that they live. And some of those people go and hunt down more.  That's who you are – someone who decided to go on a crusade against the evil critters that are scurrying around out there.  You can get it direct from Mike, from Lulu or DriveThruRPG

Next, On Mighty Thews by Simon Carryer - On Mighty Thews is a pulp fantasy roleplaying game that’s fast and easy to play.   Mighty warrior-heroes face mortal peril in a land of sword-fighting, strange cultures, monsters and magic.  On Mighty Thews lets you and your friends tell bizzarre and bloody tales of swords and sorcery in a world of your own creation. Perfect for a casual and quick game, you can be playing within minutes of opening the book. Pick it up from the indie rpgs un-store.

Also by Simon Carryer, is the recently released adventure The Cosmic Trader - The Cosmic Trader is a short one-shot adventure module suitable for classic level-based fantasy gaming. A strange shop in a small border-town is the gateway to a bizarre and terrifying adventure in distant space. Characters will explore "The Cosmic Trader", a magical interplanetary trading ship, meet its strange and sinister captain, grapple with his collection of oddities and amusements, and maybe even uncover dark secrets and find rich rewards. Check it out at DriveThruRPG.

Then its on to The Bell by Stephanie and Catherine Pegg - The Bell is a science fiction suspense live roleplaying game that is intended to be an emotionally intense game that pushes moral dilemmas.  (It isn’t recommended for novice roleplayers.)  It can be run for 12 to 20 players with a play duration of two hours. You wake up with your memories fracturing around you. You're going somewhere, and there's something wrong, and you know these people here with you, or maybe you only think you do. All you really know for sure is that you can hear this Bell. Buy it from DriveThruRPG.

Stephanie and Catherine Pegg have also published two other live action games, including Super Sparkle Action Princess GX! which is a modern day chaotic live roleplaying game for 13-16 people. Players take on the parts of the cast and crew filming an episode at short notice in difficult conditions, using a live camera and  But Nobody Loses An Eye! which is a modern day live roleplaying game about the magic, chaos and terror of childhood, for 8-12 people.

Back in the world of tabletop roleplaying, Morgan Davie has continued his work on the ICONS superhero game with his contribution to the recently released ICONS Team-Up a Game Master's toolkit for the critically-acclaimed superpowered role-playing game.

Steve Hickey has also been busy with several offerings in the works including Left Coast, A roleplaying game about science fiction writers living in California - inspired by the life of Philip K. Dick. 

Finally, my game of character-driven survival horror, EPOCH, has had ample coverage on this blog, but I also wanted to note that so far 6 other New Zealand authors have so far contributed original scenarios for the game, including the sci-fi collection Frontier of Fear, The Cold Shore and the forthcoming War Stories.

So, all in all, a pretty impressive collection of products. I look forward to seeing what's next for New Zealand roleplaying writers and publishers.

If you know of a product I've missed, comment below or drop me a line and I'll add it.