Dry Spell?

I had intended to get a lot of GURPS game planning done on my trip to London/Europe in July. On the way over I did spend a lot of time brainstorming, writing and rewriting parts of Game 4 for my CyberTex campaign, and reading from a cyberpunk anthology (one that I’m not very impressed with). But frankly I was not happy with what I came up with. I was going to go with it and run the game the weekend after I got home, but I was so damned jetlagged and flat out exhausted that I had to once again cancel that game. It’s taken me a month to really get my mind right again. I just can’t do skateboarding trips like that anymore – no Henry Rollins red-eye flight endurance and coffee marathons. I was just depleted upon my return, though I had a really good time on the trip. I managed to get 3rd in the “Legends” freestyle division (ages 40+), which I think is good since 2nd place went to a guy who currently enters Pro at most contests, and 1st went to a former pro who is still really good. I managed to place above the other old guys, who were all really great to skate with.

Anyway, I am now feeling like thinking about RPGs again. I have one more skate trip planned for this coming weekend, and some filming to do for skate video project, but other than that my mind is on gaming. With the days getting shorter this is a good thing.

I’ve been listening to various episodes of the Gaming & BS Podcast, reading some good gaming blogs like DM David, and just essentially getting back into the right creative mind-space. I realized that perhaps some of the things I was trying to force into the CyberTex campaign just don’t need to be there. I think I’ve been trying to over-overcomplicate matters. I want things in the game to be somewhat complex, but the way I was going was just getting unmanagable. It is harder to write games that involve a lot of investigation and clue finding, but also cater to a certain amount of action and other stuff. And as I have probably noted before, the nature of Cyberpunk doesn’t really encourage long-term adventuring party formation. But I think I’ve come up with a reasonable way to bring the PCs back together — one that makes sense and that I’m happy with. I will have to diverge a bit from the hardcore cyberpunk every man for himself ethos, and blend in some more cooperative story elements, while maintaining the classic cyberpunk atmosphere.

Sooooo…I need to go through my many notes and versions of Game 4 and see what I want to keep, what to change, and what to throw out, add some stuff, and bring it all together. Yeah, I do kind of agonize over these games. If I didn’t we would have played a lot more, but I really take a lot of pride in these game sessions, and I want each one to be better than the previous, and I want to do better as a GM each time.

Also, I keep being out of town or having to work on the weekend our D&D group plays. That sucks. I miss playing my monk.


Working on a session

Finally getting serious about writing up CyberTex Episode 4. I’ve got this nice notebook and a nice pen, and I’ve spend a lot of time noting ideas for this game, so tonight I started typing it up. I’m doing it, once again, in scenes. This may be a much more free-ranging game. A lot less certainty about what actions the PCs will take, which is fine, it just means I’ll have to be thinking a bit faster. This is intended to be a one-session game. I have some encounter scenarios I can drop in when appropriate. They are flexible that way. I’m working on a contingency tree for the game as well — if they do this, then this, but if they do this, then this other thing, etc etc. I’ve used this before and it helps me guide the game a bit without railroading the players. And finally, I’m working on some interesting NPCs to encounter, as well as weaving the character backgrounds into the game. Will probably throw in a few hooks for future games as well. Fun!

Slow Session Prep

GMing once per month is turning out to be a really good thing. Rather than hammering out sessons and scenarios in rapid-fire mode, having several weeks to plan is fantastic.

neuromancer1After our first CyberTex game session, I decided to re-read William Gibson’s Neuromancer for inspiration. During this time I started working on game session #2, and had probably six false starts. Each false start, however, got me closer to a good outline for the next session. I want everything to make sense, and this becomes harder when you try to interweave the lives of four PCs into the overall arch of the campaign.

Anyway, I’ve been away from campaign planning for about 3 days, as I finished that book and did various other things. The book as been percolating around in my head a lot. Listening to the audiobook in the car helps too. It’s good to hear someone reading the novel dramatically, with a nice voice. It creates the atmosphere that I just don’t quite achieve reading silently. The more think about the novel, the more ideas I get for the game. Not stuff that will change the big-picture direction of the campaign, but cool stuff to add in and give it the right flavor.

So I will now revisit my session #2 notes and the campaign notes, and continue convoluting the story.


Adventure Design By Scenes

More thoughts on adventure design — probably been written about a lot in the last 40 years, but I just caught on. Here goes.

My current GURPS campaign isn’t a standard dungeon crawl. It’s CyberPunk, in an open-ended world. It isn’t 90% combat related. I want it to be about 80% skills and roll-playing. You know, mystery and problem solving stuff? These kinds of games can be challenging because the options for the PCs are endless. What if they don’t go where you want them to go? What if they don’t find the clue? How do you write an adventure that isn’t like the ones I played in and GMed when I was 15?

I feel like my first GURPS game (see previous post) went pretty well because after coming up with an overall goal for the session, I wrote it in “scenes”. This gave me a working organizational framework for the adventure. I sat on a plane, with my Chromebook, and wrote it like the plot and scenes of a short story, or maybe a couple of chapters from a book. I think some role-playing systems use this technique a lot, but I’ve never played any of them.

Working in scenes did a few nice things. For one, it got me in the frame of mind of really thinking about the atmosphere of the scene. I’m not saying I did a fantastic job conveying atmosphere to my players, but it’s a start. I think I can do better in the future. Next, by thinking in scenes, my job became moving the PCs from one scene to the next, or perhaps skipping a scene completely if the PCs somehow bypassed it  or I felt like it wasn’t needed. I packed each scene with clues to get them to the next scene, hoping they’d find at least one of them. They did. It worked. They didn’t find every single clue, but they found enough. I gave them chances to use a variety of skills to discover clues, rather than relying on one critical skill roll.

I’m sure this sounds very basic to experienced GMs, but in the past all my games have been D&D dungeon adventures, or Champions games where you just say “Dr. Destroyer attacks you in your HQ” and it’s on. Open ended games, or mysteries/investigations are just harder to write, but I think they are a lot more satisfying. At least that’s my impression now.

Once I had a scene’s location figured out and described, and I knew what the PCs goal was in that scene, it was time to fill it with clues, a memorable NPC or two, some challenges, traps, or just plain foolishness. Then I waited a day, came back and read the whole thing, and thought of more cool stuff to add. As it turns out, one of the NPCs I added as a “possibility” to Scene 1 turned out to be very fun and great for creating atmosphere. Without coming back for a good second look at the whole adventure, I wouldn’t have thought of that NPC.

I did actually drop one small scene right in the middle of play.  I combined it with the one to come after it. I made this decision on the fly, realizing during the game that the two scenes were very similar, and that doing two similar scenes back to back might be tedious. The game was running a bit long too. I told the players to give me a couple of minutes to think about the game — so I didn’t have to rush. My players gave me the time I need to keep some logic and flow in the story. Much appreciated.

All of this really helped me a lot. I’m fairly creative, but I’m not great at coming up with stuff on the fly. I like to try to make every game I’ve ever run the best it can be though, so some really good writing and prep work helped very much in this game. Hoping that Episode 2 goes as well. I think I have a good base to build from, and the PCs are developing really well.


An adventure partially designed…

I’ve been working on the skeletal structure of an adventure and a campaign setting. I think the setting itself needs a lot of work still, but it is at least a start. The structure of the adventure is coming along a little better. I think that my best DMing days were without a doubt the game I ran in the early 1990s for my wife and some friends. I wouldn’t say I’m a fantastic DM/GM, but I think I got a lot better during that campaign. I spent a lot more time working on various levels of plot, from the big picture to the character level.

I am also seeing why I haven’t gamed in a while, or at least DMed/GMed. I am not satisfied to just slap an adventure together. I really like the process of creating a solid game with some good rationale and motivations. Over the last few years I’ve been writing a lot in general – nothing I have published on blogs – and have come to appreciate the value of being a very harsh self-editor. After writing anything but a blog post , I give it a day or two and really go back and edit with great fervor. Even in the writing up the outline of this first adventure, I can see the effects of these years of writing on adventure creation. If I do DM a game, it may not be the greatest thing ever, but it will be a lot better than anything I’ve done before.

In particular, I think the enhanced editing skills and planning will help the non-dungeon parts of an adventure. In my experience, that is where a lot of DMs kind of lose it. It’s easier to keep a party on-track when they are confined to a dungeon or similar environment. They can still do unexpected things, but it’s unlikely they’ll do something terribly off the path you envisioned.  I’ll write more about this soon, but in my last game I started making what I called “contingency trees”, to try to envision what the characters might do at critical points in the adventures (for instance, finding a clue or something), and thus give myself a clearer route to getting them back on path without them ever realizing they were off it.

This helped me a lot, as I’m not super good at coming up with stuff on the fly.

That’s all for today.