Tuesday, 20 May 2014

How to Grab and Keep the PCs Attention

This article was kindly submitted and shared by, Braden Jarvis. Thanks Mr. Jarvis!

1: See it to Believe It

RPGs require a large amount of using your mind unlike video games which is played in front of you before your eyes.  As many RPGers and nerds know the 21st century does not like using their mind. The way to fix this is to use a large amount of detail. Know that too much detail can be utterly boring and uninteresting. However in the right mixture of detail to action RPGs get much more interesting. Another way to fix this problem is by using drawn out maps and characters.  These may be very hard to get ahold of but can be made with simply paper and markers drawing out and using three dimensional pieces: checker and chess pieces etc. This allows people to know where they are know what to do.

2: Action!

Now many GM and players know RPGs are mainly appreciated for their action.  However, after a while of flashing and bashing RPGs become rather boring and unchanging. Always add puzzles and deep conversation to get the players attention. For example, during an RPG adventure, my companions and I were trapped in a dark elf tower. Every person in the party knew that there was absolutely no way to fight fight the guards for they were MUCH to powerful. However it was easier to escape other ways, but the challenge was much better than rolling damage die and hoping to win.  After all it is called a ROLEPLAYING game.  Your PCs should have a chance to get their juices flowing and actually think.  This is very rare in video games.

3: I do not Fear Death

I laugh at myself on how much I am a custom to making my PC's survive. Of course you always want to keep your players alive until the final battle. However at the final battle the must be an actual risk.  I have never had a character die in a battle.  I usually kill goblins and go back to the pub for more petty quests.  However this is good to offer an easy challenge for new players, but experienced players should be having adrenaline pumping throughout the entire game and at the climax actually have a challenge that could end up in throwing away character sheets.

4: You wake up in...

KNOCK OUT SCENES!  Nothing scares the pants off me like waking up after being hit to death by a giant troll. Also for a new players this adds an escape route from getting rid of their character sheet as I mentioned in the point above. This also makes suspense and straight out fear for your players.  Another thing to do is make players wake up somewhere else. I.e. you are KOd by goblins and wake in a gladiator fight with lions.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

8 Ridiculous Fight Scenes

Many campaigns are based around cool plots, interesting characters, and awesome settings. No matter how cool your campaign intrigues are, however, you’ll need an awesome fight scene at some point. While your heroes might be fond of solving all their problems with words and skill checks, there will come a time when they get the itching feeling that the villain simply needs a good drubbing to solve all the world’s problems. This is born from the basic human instinct that all problems can be solved at a critical juncture if you simply hit them hard enough with a hammer. Classically, this takes the form of the Russian astronaut kicking the 40-billion-dollar computer to miraculously get the engines on the shuttle to start. Whatever the psychology, it’s there, and it works.

Given that you’ll need a good fight scene, we now have only to quibble about minor points of realism and what form this scene will take. Most people try to think up the craziest bad guy they can and then put the PCs in a nigh-unwinnable situation which they’ll virtually always win. Other people flip over to the ‘will-kill-you’ section of their monster manuals and then toss that at the players. Whatever your system, so long as your recognize the need for a huge showdown, you’re good to go.

The grand finales of many successful games include all kinds of intriguing elements such as: puzzles, dialogues, monologues, traps, magical gizmos, and erupting volcanoes. Instead of worrying about all that, it’s best if you just focus on the huge fight scene.

A huge fight scene needs several things to be successful. First off, the players actually have to be apprehensive about the coming fight. It’s no good if they all sigh and say, “Aw, not another dragon.” And then lazily pull out their magical long-swords. A huge fight scene which comes out of left-field is equally as problematic. Nobody can get properly scared of a fight they didn’t even know was coming. They’ll likely tromp on the villains before they realize they were supposed to be super dangerous.

Secondly, the fight itself must last a certain duration to be deemed credible. No huge fight scene ever lasted under twelve seconds. All huge fights, by definition, must last a long time. I’m not talking about dragging the fight into the realms of boredom, but there has to be time to build up the momentum in a good fight. I figure, the bad guy has to actually get at least one good shot in, or the fight doesn’t qualify.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the huge fight scene has to have a grandiose element. The whole point of a huge fight scene is being over-the-top. If the bad guy isn’t the biggest, the toughest, the meanest, and the most over-powered thing the players have ever seen—then you’re losing points fast. It may not be possible—or reasonable—to continually outdo yourself, but you can at least give the new villains some crazy edge the party has never seen before; like being utterly invincible, or shooting 30d6 laser beams from their eyes.

The following are some fight scene ideas which should probably never be used in any serious game. GMs are fond of making up their own epic battles, and using someone else’s ideas should be the last resort. That said, if you like something, steal it.

The Evil Wizard

This guy is so powerful he can do practically anything. He knows all the spells of both Clerics and Wizards, and he probably knows some 10th and 11th level spells as well. Not only that, he can cast infinite numbers of all spells at-will, cast two spells at the same time, make up new spells on the spot, and he can do anything which can be blamed on ‘magic’.

The evil wizard will probably have a ‘pet’ which is powerful enough to destroy just about anyone. He’ll make liberal use of such spells as: teleport, invisibility, and ultimate fireball. Ultimate fireballs are the same as regular ones except they do however much damage the GM wants.

The weakness of the evil wizard is that he’s so arrogant he’ll overlook obvious threats which can kill him. Not only that, he also wears no armor and can be killed by the average dagger blow.

The evil wizard makes for a good fight scene because he can do practically anything he wants with magic and that scares the players.

The Giant

No matter what this creature is, it’s huge. I’m not talking regular huge, but totally massive. This thing is so big it could step on metropolises to destroy them. It could be a dragon, humanoid, spider, piece of Jell-O, or whatever. Savvy players have respect for huge creatures because such creatures can step on them and kill them without rolling for damage. Huge creatures can also eat people which generally kills them, also.

The giant creature is rarely working alone. There’s probably an evil wizard who summoned him and an army of lesser foes around him to get squished for dramatic effect.

The tactics of a giant creature are fairly simple: eat people, step on people, fall on people (when taking damage), ignore damage with thick skin, throw unbelievably huge things at people to squish them (whales, the empire state building, etc.), and roar loudly while doing so.

To make a giant creature a credible foe, the GM must explain to the players early on that there’s no saving throw or hit point damage for getting hit with a falling building, you just die. This will make the players scared for their lives because the GM can kill them on a whim. If they’re still not scared, the giant creature can threaten to step on a metropolis if they don’t agree to chuck down their weapons and face it in a wrestling match.

The weakness of giant creatures is getting hit in the head with a small rock. Seriously, though, they’re usually incredibly stupid and slow; making them easy targets for magic, mind control, and pretty much everything else. Players are also fond of ‘going for the eyes’.

The giant makes for a good fight scene because players usually respect things a billion times bigger than them.

The Black Knight

This character is almost always a human working for some other evil force, probably an evil wizard. The black knight doesn’t say much, but he’s epic with a sword. All black knights are probably warriors of at least 20 levels beyond the highest level anyone is allowed to get in the warrior class.

In combat, a black knight is essentially unbeatable. No matter how good the party is at fighting, a black knight will always tromp them utterly. He’s tougher, stronger, and faster than anyone. He gets 15 attacks per round. His sword can cut through anything. His armor is impervious to all attacks. He rides a black horse with fiery red eyes.

The weakness of the black knight is that he’ll have nothing to do with magic, and he obeys someone else. Casting a simple spell like Charm Person or Sleep on him will probably yield an easy victory.

The black knight makes for a good fight scene because he can beat up the party to no ends. Also, most parties will attack villains on sight in melee combat, so this plays right into the black knight’s wheelhouse. If the players get wise and cast a few spells on him or fly over his head, then you may have a problem. Backing up the black knight with a wizard who casts dispel magic or fly on him can solve this problem, but make him an unstoppable juggernaut at the same time.

The Dragon

If not overused, dragons almost always make for great fight scenes. The dragon is already portrayed as one of the most fearsome creatures around. Generally, you won’t have to do much to hype up the dragon’s deadliness.

Dragons have huge size, cast magic spells, have hyper-intelligence, have incredible senses, live practically forever, wear invincible scales, and breathe fire. Did I mention they can fly?

Played properly, a dragon can use just about all the tactics of any other villain you can think of. They can potentially cast infinite spells, squish people, burn down cities, and eat people.

The problem with dragons is that they also come with huge hoards. Most players won’t let you get away with a dragon who happens to be punch broke even though he’s been laying waste to the entire world for the past 500 years. The other problem is that they’re such an obvious choice for a huge fight scene that they can easily be overused GM: “You turn the corner and see…a dragon!” Everyone: “Again?”

Dragons don’t generally have any weaknesses unless you’re feeling in a good mood that day.

The Demon

The definition of a demon is probably: an unrealistically evil creature from another dimension you can’t easily get to. He’s also really powerful and wants nothing better than to trash up the world. Basically, this means that demons work well for huge fight scenes.

Because demons come from some other dimension, you can feel justified in giving them all kinds of wonky powers the players would never let you give to anything else. Players: “He’s immune to all damage except from +4 light swords?” GM: “Oh, yes, everyone from his ‘realm’ is like that. Pretty normal there, really.” Players: “He regenerates all damage taken from anything but fire?” GM: “Yes, it’s the yellow sun of earth. It makes him really powerful here, and he can also fly really fast and go back in time.”

Demons have horns. Other than that, it’s up to you.

The weakness of most demons is something really sissy, for the most part. Generally: iron, silver, magic, or anyone who can cast ‘Banishment’. If this troubles you, just say he’s a demon prince and gets to circumvent the usual weaknesses of the other demons because of his high rank in extra-planar society. Most players won’t argue the logic of this because they can then brag about beating out a bigger foe and princes generally have more money.

Demons can make for good fight scenes because, apart from the horns, the players don’t really know what they’re facing.

The Genius

The beauty of this villain is that he can be anyone: a little girl, a bald guy, a hunchbacked Halfling, an elf with cross-eyes, etc. He doesn’t have to have powerful magic, a strong constitution, or the ability to swing a sword. All he needs to have is an unusually powerful mind.

Because it can sometimes be hard to properly role-play genius, you can simply give this kind of character infinite amounts of any resource you feel like. I.e. because of his incredible intelligence he has infinite money. His incredible wittiness has earned him the undying loyalty of millions of goblins who will do anything he commands. His super genius regularly yields up new versions of computer software and the ability to mind control people by looking at them.

Essentially, all you have to do is work backwards from whatever end-goal you have. For example, if you want him to be invisible, just say that he experimented with alchemy until he discovered the secret to invisibility but a huge lab fire torched the recipe and even he can’t remember how he did it.

The genius, despite his vast intellect, will always be trying to do something incredibly stupid and counter-productive to the world: like fill it with magma or obliterate the moon with a nuclear missile. Who knows why he does this stuff, he just does.

Like the evil wizard, the genius is most often physically weak. He’s also liable to make really stupid mistakes like creating an impregnable fortress of death lasers but forgetting to lock the door to his bedroom. He’s probably also an egomaniac, and using his pride against him could be an easy win.

Geniuses make for great fight scenes because the GM can ask the players: “What would be the smartest thing for him to use against you?” and then feel perfectly justified in using that suggestion under grounds of, “Well, he’s a genius, see?”

The Invincible Foe

When the GM is running short of ideas for good enemies, simply making just about anything ‘invincible’ can often be a great trick. Nobody’s really scared of a goblin (unless they’re new to RPGs), but if he’s an ‘invincible’ goblin, that’s a different story. Now, he’s officially annoying.

It’s a good rule of thumb that any invincible foe be given a decent attack of some sort. Otherwise, the party might just sit there beating up on him all day and that can get really tiresome.

Players are justifiably wary of invincible creatures because they’re so cheap.

By definition, invincible enemies don’t really have a weakness. However, the players will argue that any foe must have at least one weakness. Ignore their words at your own risk. Also, players will quite often find ways of dealing with pesky foes like burying them in concrete or scattering their ashes to the four corners of the globe.

Invincible foes make for good fight scenes because they’re hard to kill off. However, this can backfire if the players get too annoyed at your incredible cheapness.

Aliens and Deities

Aliens, like demons, come from really far away. They can also have whatever technology and physical characteristics you can think of. Not only that, but their weird mindset can explain just about any irrational activities you can come up with.

Deities, on the other hand, don’t really have any business fighting the PCs. It’s usually the PCs who decide to go and have a beef with them. As the GM, you have two basic options. One is to say the deity is so powerful you can’t even fight them and then it does whatever it wants. And two is to allow the fight to take place which is like admitting the guy can actually get beaten.

Deities and Aliens can make for a good fight scene because you don’t even have to explain why they’re so powerful. It’s kind of just inherent in the nature of who they are. What you ‘will’ have to explain is why the party is fighting them in the first place. Most players don’t take kindly to being attacked by aliens if you have no good reason for it.

The weakness of aliens and deities is generally up to you. Given their immortal/weird nature, you can also probably have them come back to life with less questions asked than usual. Players may get touchy when an evil wizard comes back from the grave, but if he’s Thor they shouldn’t be able to say much.

The Big Fight

Whatever you choose, try to have fun. Also try to remember that not all great adventures need to have huge fights. It just tends to end up that way.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Destination RPG Website Q&A with Rob Bondoni

Hi, Rob.

I was mucking about the net one day when I happened to come across your site through Pinterest and a review of a game I had done a Q&A for: Flint and Steel. I had meant to read only one article, but I read a second. After that I read a third. Before I knew it, I'd read almost every article you've written so far. How did you become such a talented writer? Usually, I can only get through books like Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and A Game of Thrones.

I really appreciate the compliment. I have dreamed of writing most of my life and the thought of putting those thoughts to paper literally left me hanging on inaction and very little to show when I did take action.  Fear of rejection is a powerful feeling for procrastination.  Once I discovered blogging, I discovered my love of writing again.  So now I write all the time and the funny thing is, you are constantly improving…If there is a secret beyond actually practicing the craft, I have one rule.  Every time I create a post, I want it to be actionable or beneficial to the reader.  Even if my audience does not leave a comment or pitch in to a Kickstarter I want them to feel like they have learned something valuable.

You've mentioned that you're planning on heavily investing time into helping people find ways to promote their RPGs. Time is money. What prompted this great generosity?

I believe by helping others, we end up helping ourselves.  When I created my site, Destination RPG, I really wanted to make something useful.  While I want to finish my game I found many people were doing the same thing and most of them had better grasps of game design than I did!  In those same forum posts I was looking for help, they were rejecting the idea they could even make a car payment with their life’s passion. 

We are living in a time where technology makes it possible for anyone to be a publisher and challenge the industry whales for a pie small enough to take care of themselves.

So I said to myself, I may not be the next Gary Gygax but I think I can make my mark in this industry by helping other people help themselves.

I read in one of your articles that you're working on writing your own game design. I think it was code-named Fatebreakers. Is there anything you can tell us about this system, or is it secret? How do you find the process of writing and game design as a whole?


One thing I can tell you: it has nothing to do with Fate Core!

Right now, I am working on the game setting and if there are any specific rules I expect them to be very rules light.

The concept of the game is simply there are three types of people roaming the world.

Fated characters have a strong destiny and are able to jump across dimensions melding with alternate reality versions of themselves.  Either through a telepathic connection or outright body melding. 

The Nascent have a Destiny across multiple life spans to accomplish something greater than a single life could on its own.

Fatebreakers themselves are unique in time and space.  They have no carved out destiny and can instead do as they will.  Stealing powers from Fated and Nascent.  They also change other people’s destiny simply through interference.

So the main idea revolves around player characters romping through alternate dimensions and time to fulfill their chosen destinies while dealing with certain races that can do similar thins.

You said that you weren't going to focus so much on the design of game systems themselves, but more on the promotion side of things. Is there a particular reason for this? In my experience, the actual design of systems can be one of the most important parts of a good promotion campaign. What are your thoughts on this?

Good design is very important to helping sell a game once it is released, I will not refute that.  Most successful games coming through Kickstarter though do not even have a demo or sample of people playing the game.  Instead they have a vision, some artwork, and a lot of word of mouth surrounding their game.  They can make enough to finish up production of their game and take a stab at their vision.  If their backers like it, then the creators can keep on creating. 

What's your background in RPGs? What was your first gaming group and RPG like? Do you prefer to play as a player or GM? What other games do you really enjoy? What are your favorite games and hobbies? What do you look for in an RPG? What is your current favorite and most hated RPG system? What's the funniest RPG moment in your career?
That is a lot of questions!

I am not an industry veteran but I played a lot of RPGs.  I was in fourth grade when a my best friend's older brother Patrick invited me to play D&D with them.  Patrick gave me a character sheet and forgot to tell me how to fill it out other than rolling a D20 for my stats. I think I played a wizard that first time, but I was hit by a petrify curse and Patrick asked what my saving throw was.  I had no idea what he was talking about.

When I was in high school and college all I played was Werewolf and Mage in old world of darkness.  I think I have an authority complex because I only played the GM and was never satisfied when other people would run the game.

I used to really be into World of Warcraft, Diablo 3, and Magic the Gathering.

I spend a lot of time reading and writing now.  Unfortunately I have been a road warrior for the past three years and rarely have the opportunity to even play my X-Box anymore.  So I look for games I can quickly jump in and out of. 

My favorite system is Werewolf:  The Apocalypse.  Can I say I really hate the Arkham Horror board game? Talk about overly complicated and nothing happening.

How do you think technology is affecting RPGs?

I think we are seeing technology take RPGs and turn them into video games.  I think it is a natural progression.  People love a good story and high quality writers and artists make that and the math easy.  It is an unfortunate turn for book writers though, and I think with enough positive exposure people can turn this into a growing industry again. 

What do you think the future of RPGs will be like?

More interactive books and systems being handled by smart phones/tablets.  Rule clarifications will be embedded in the books with video example.  Integration will be key.

I noticed you wrote in one of your articles that you can't rely on anyone else to make your dreams (or game designs) come true. I think this is a very valid statement. Whenever I wait on someone or something else to get the job done I always end up waiting a very long time. Was there any particular event that led to this observation? Despite your inclination to 'go it alone' is there any way other people have helped you out over the years? Players, friends, family, etc.

Once I finally had a child, a trigger switched on that made me realize I have am actually responsible for this other person.  It did not help that my wife constantly called me her dreamer either.

My entire life has been one big dream of doing something and not acting.  One thing I did after  having a child immediately was to take a job I did not expect to receive.  Traveling the country I realized that I may only have a little more experience than other people I encounter.  The major difference is I do my best to take action now where other people sit there waiting for other people to make the first move.  When I applied the concept to my personal life, I realized just taking a lot of small steps typically results in a large momentum everywhere else. 

What can we expect in the future of Destination RPG?

 As you mentioned, Destination RPG is going to heavily focus on different ways to help promote RPGs.  Not just RPG books but tabletop, card games, and even some video games. This may be through coaching, courses, or directly helping in campaigns. 

Ultimately, I want to run a convention for independent developers along the lines of Gencon, but I prefer to focus on one thing at a time.  Otherwise I end up with 22 half finished projects!

Thanks for your time, Rob!

You can check out Destination RPG at: http://www.destinationrpg.com