The Art of Downtime

Ever hit that point where you just need to take a break from it all? Here at the Forged Front, that happens from time to time. However, in a campaign though, it is a matter of taste and what you want to accomplish.

bed-pictogramVarious systems have tried to capture the essence of what could happen in downtime.  In D&D/Pathfinder, wizards tend to research spells and various characters can pursue either building magic items or buying more magical gear to make them more effective. They have also gone further than that – given the players a wide variety of options to pursue to further their own goals.  In a similar vein, the just recently released Dragon Age Set 3 also has guidelines for organizations that the players could either get involved with (or form their own) to further their interests.

Meanwhile, the Conan RPG had a mechanism that would keep players constantly on their toes for new adventures by having the characters burn through their existing riches at a fast pace.  In Fitz’s multi-part The One Ring: Adventurer’s Book (Part 6) review, he mentioned that they also have a system that details downtime.

However, at the end of the day it comes down to two simple questions for me:

  1. What does the GM want to accomplish when an adventure is over for the players?
  2. What do the players want to do once they have wrapped up an adventure?

With my GM-hat firmly in place, downtime is the gravy that makes the world go-around. I like to attach various threads to each of the characters to help grow the characters presence in the world. It allows them to pursue backstory goals, plus give them plenty of interactions with NPCs that they have developed bonds with. (And not necessarily positive bonds either, depending on the nature of the relationship.) I also like to show the players that the world has been in motion while their characters have been on their latest epic quest. It also provides me additional opportunities to foreshadow other things that might be coming plus plants seeds of future possible adventures that are to be had if the players are interested in them.

Most important to my plans for downtime though, is it simply gives a chance to throw the campaign a change-up and have a session or two that isn’t the typical fare of what an adventure might take place. But that is just what I like to do.

I’m curious though, what do you like to do between adventures in your campaigns as GMs (and as players)?

Leave your downtime suggestions and stories in the comments below!

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The 50000 Foot View, Part 2

Last week in part 1 we talked about a few of the broad brush strokes of the campaign. Let’s keep going on that front…

  • The Far East — the Jade Empire and its Rainbow Court. This was the least fleshed out by me for my original campaigns, but it was envisioned to bring classic Chinese, Japanese and Southeast Asian themes to the fore. I envisioned they had similar problems that the “Roman” Empire did with their own twists. They had diplomatic relations to the other Nations and Free Cities, but were largely at peace with them all. (Aided by the fact that the only empire close to them was the “Arabian” one.)
  • The area that would be roughly “India” has descended into civil wars. Rumors have that some dark power is arising there and will end the civil wars and usher in a new age of darkness.  Or is that rally cry of the “Arabian” Empire that is secretly sowing discord along with the Jade Empire to keep the area weak?
  • “Transylvania” fights anyone that threatens their borders. They watch for the darkness and fight it by any means necessary.

So now that we have the broad strokes of the campaign landscape, where do we go from here?

When I came up with this world, I offered it up to my players as:

  • northpolemapBritish Isles: Either forcing out the seasonal raiders and a declining “Roman” Empire, or immediately after the empire has departed, can the heroes bring peace and stability to the chaotic realm?
  • “Roman” Empire: Working for either a noble house or the emperor, the players are in the midst of the storm. Can they achieve glory and wealth while protecting what they care about?  (In the campaign, that we did run, the players are attached to a Library that is trying to compete with the Great Library of Alexandria.)
  • “Arabian” Empire: A campaign could explore the diverse nature of this empire. I linked the campaign that was run in this sector with exploring more of the Church of Illuminating Scales.
  • “Egyptian” Empire: What does the empire watch to the south?  Can they fend off their greedy neighbors?
  • Jade Empire: Really the sky is the limit with this empire.  I would probably have the same corruption themes at work within the court politics.  Wheels within wheels.
  • The shattered kingdoms of “India”: Can the players help a small warlord establish their mark upon the world? Is there a dark tide rising and if so, can they stop it before it gains too much power?
  • Free Cities and the Barbarian hordes:  What drives the barbarians south?  Can the free cities hold on in the face of such unrelenting hostility?
  • “Transylvania”: The heroes are agents sent out in the world to watch for spreading of “darkness” and battle against it.  This really could be a worked in parallel with the other ideas.

Once a region is picked, I would work on developing that more so the players have more of an understanding as to what is going on in the part of the world they are playing in. It doesn’t make much sense to develop the Jade Empire if telling a story in the “Roman” or “Arabian” Empires. Even less sense, if the PCs are in Avalon.

The other thing facing this campaign setting is simply what rules you use.  If it is D&D, you want to work in how the races and magic system fit into the land. Other settings provide similar challenges…

I’m sure in future posts, I’ll talk about this idea for a world setting more because I ran into several interesting problems that I’m not sure if I had the best solution for. In the meantime, it’s a brave new world out there. Care to shape it?

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Interview: The Wizard of Oz (AUS) – Joe Sweeney from StoryWeaver Games, Part 2

Yesterday we started chatting with Joe Sweeney of StoryWeaver Games on a variety of topics… (You can read Part 1 here.) What do you think about continuing that now?

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Joe the GM!

Joe the GM!

Q: What are the keys to exploring the world of horror at the game table without sacrificing sanity to the Old Ones?

If I told you that, I’d have to kill you! Or perhaps you’d kill me first? Who can tell!

Actually, I produced a short video that discusses the psychological and physiological foundations of fear, and how you can use that knowledge to create a great horror gaming experience. Rather than going into detail, what I would say is that a good horror game uses the same mental pathways as humour: it is about cognitive dissonance. You want to give people just enough ‘fear’ in a manner that does not trigger deeper fight or flight reactions. I’ve run horror games where I genuinely upset people, which took them out of the story and thus game. Not fun. These days I’m much more careful and introduce horror – even gratuitous splatter horror – in a way that most people would find amusing and ridiculous. You can think of this as the difference between “Cabin in the Woods” and “Saw.”

Q: What is your favorite story as a GM at the game table?

I don’t really know to be honest. It depends upon the group of people around the table. If I know the gaming group are largely “story swine” in the game is going to be all about their character development, or exploring (and blowing up) social concepts. If I am playing with a group of “hard-core gamers” then the game might be a little bit more plot driven, with quite a bit more combat. Either way I’m happy just to be getting some gaming time!

I’ve mentioned this above, but I see GMing primarily as a way being of service to the gamers. It’s a discipline. Thus, it’s not so much what sort of game I want to play, as much as what the players want to play.

Of course there are some game mechanics that I really don’t enjoy. But that’s a completely separate discussion.

Q: What drew you towards the dark side (publishing) side of gaming?

I began writing games when I was about 15-16 years old. However it was not until I turned 40 that I decided to finally publish. To be honest, I was far too shy, even embarrassed, to publish. Which is rubbish of course, because my games rule! :-)

What actually happened is that I got some really good personal coaching, and began to realise that there were reasons why I wasn’t pushing myself to publish games. Basically, putting yourself out there in the market is a sure way to scare the crap out of yourself. I talked to quite a few other gamers, including some folks who have written absolutely brilliant materials for cons and realise that this was a common situation. So when I published Rapture, which was not the first ever game I wrote (far from it) it was as much a way of me facing my fears as anything else. Yes I know that sounds very new age and hokey pokey, but it is actually the way it all came about.

In fact, StoryWeaver has been structured as a business in order to help others overcome their fear of publishing (putting themselves out there). I’m a real believer that many, many gamers have a game inside them just wanting to burst out and take the market by storm. Now with the Internet, virtual table tops, kickstarters and all the other channels available to us, there’s really no longer an excuse.

Q: Any guidance for prospective publishers? Perhaps the top three things to remember as they start down the dark path?

First: being a game designer is a bit like being a musician. Don’t give up your day job.

Second: don’t scrimp on production excellence. Surround yourself with people who are better than you. No really I mean this. You will need to invest heavily in artwork, editing, and play testing. It’s not enough to have a great game or even great writing. The entire package needs to be put together professionally and beautifully. That, more than anything else, is where people fall over.

Third: Playtest! Playtest! Playtest! And don’t stop until you have completely rewritten the game. Twice.

PLAYTEST PLAYTEST PLAYTEST

PLAYTEST PLAYTEST PLAYTEST

High-Space Full Color 3.5 x 7Q: What has been your favorite project so far as a publisher, writer, or artist?

That is a hard question! Too many!

Rapture still has a huge place in my heart. I did the original artwork, wrote the text, produced the audio files, background music, and more. From the ground up, I wanted to make Rapture a completely engrossing, transmedia gaming experience, yet retain the purity of the tabletop experience. It’s also a truly evil product, in that on the surface it can be played as a schlock horror game, yet underneath that it poses some deep theological, and philosophical questions. Plus, how many other games are there where you can only earn experience by having your characters killed off in horrible, horrible ways?!

Another project I really enjoyed working on was Hael, a sort of sci-fi fantasy mash up by Patrick Taylor. Its production quality was high, and took ages, but I really enjoyed working on it. Unfortunately Hael has not sold too well: perhaps just bad timing, or too many fantasy settings already for Savage Worlds? Makes me a bit sad.

These days I’ve been enjoying working on the soon to be published game “Deniable” which is about as far away from Rapture as you can get. The artwork is all stark photography, the world setting light, and the tone incredibly sardonic and humorous. There is no real deep subtheme to Deniable, other than “people are all pretty messed up, and that’s just fine.” What I like about Deniable is that it simply plays well, even with newbies. The extended play-test phase has given me some of the most fun games I’ve ever played.

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(Miss part 1 of this interview? Check it out here!)

First, I have to thank Joe for answering my litany of questions… Second, I have to thank Jaie, his trusty sidekick and gnome illusionist, for helping wrangle the questions to and from with all the relevant bits.

Want to know more about StoryWeaver Games? Check them out on the web, on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+. They’re very busy folks!

Want to interact with Joe, Jaie, and many other folks? Sign up for AetherCon which is a cool online gaming convention happening in November!

Interview: The Wizard of Oz (AUS) – Joe Sweeney from StoryWeaver Games, Part 1

Interview!

It’s been a long while since I’ve had an opportunity for an interview! Thankfully, Joe Sweeney of StoryWeaver Games was kind enough to subject himself to a few questions about his gaming career, StoryWeaver, and more…

So let’s get started! (Note that this interview was SO HUGE I had to break it up into two . . . → Read More: Interview: The Wizard of Oz (AUS) – Joe Sweeney from StoryWeaver Games, Part 1

The 50000 Foot View, Part 1

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Welcome back to the Front.

Last week in Framing the Picture, I discussed different options that a GM can use to get the players up to speed on the same page. So let’s look at the last fantasy world I shared with various players. For this exercise, I haven’t decided which area is going to . . . → Read More: The 50000 Foot View, Part 1

Framing the Picture

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Welcome back to the Front. In a one-shot adventure, the GM has a relatively self-contained story idea to explore — maybe the gaming group wants to try out a new system or maybe they want to just run through a module. The players don’t have a whole lot to go on other than some general . . . → Read More: Framing the Picture

The Gassy Gnoll: The Smell of Magic in 5e

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Even as this Gassy Gnoll gets excited about diving headlong into the 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, I struggle mightily with the balance between low level wizards and damage capability that I’ve seen even with the Starter Set and online PDF of the 5e rules. And I’m not a system guy, so bear . . . → Read More: The Gassy Gnoll: The Smell of Magic in 5e

This Means War…

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Welcome back to the Front. Have you ever notice that when open up a history book or browse a multitude of news media sources odds are that it tends to be filled with wars and conflicts? The reasons for war (or “conflicts”) are very diverse. A few that come to mind are 1) that they . . . → Read More: This Means War…

My Name Is … (Finale)

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So the online game that I came up with my name was Mechwarrior 2. For whatever reason, my internet connection made it such that the easiest mech to fight in was a heavily armored Missile boat. I teamed up with a few friends locally and we became Clan Soulreaper.

As my handle, I chose Forged.

. . . → Read More: My Name Is … (Finale)

My Name Is… (Part Deux)

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As you well know, Fitz loves random generators. For some things I’m ok with them, for others, I don’t really care for them. Honestly, they are great if you are absolutely stuck … as long as the result doesn’t continue your being stuck on how two put together seemingly random words to describe something.

However, . . . → Read More: My Name Is… (Part Deux)

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