Brent’s Dragon

Since I was a kid playing my first role-playing games, I thought about writing my own gaming material. And of course I did; I still have binders of stuff I’ve written for campaigns, seen by no one but me and the occasional player. But I always had the idea I could maybe write gaming material other people might actually want to play with. What with one thing and another, however, I pushed that down and never followed through (and the “why” of that is a whole other blog).

But lately the idea is back in front of me. Two…events, let’s call them, have pushed me to the point I’m ready to jump into game writing with both feet. One was the back-to-back reading of The Nerdist Way and Just a Geek on my bus ride home from Gen Con. If you’ve never done it and you need an inspirational kick in the ass, I highly recommend reading both those books. The second event wasn’t so much an event as it was the first event clicking with something I’d been reading for a while.

I’ve talked about Johnn Four’s Roleplaying Tips before, because I think it’s one of the single best game resources on the internet. Seriously, if you game master at all and haven’t signed up for his mailing list, you do yourself a disservice. But Johnn also runs Gamer Lifestyle, his program to encourage and support gaming nerds like me who want to publish gaming material. Johnn had revamped the course this past year and as one his original beta members I had access to the new course material. I had been reading through it, making half-hearted efforts to follow some of it.

After the bus trip, though, things clicked and a plan sprung up. Unlike previous plans where I’d had either the inspiration or the nuts and bolts, this plan had, and has, both. I’m inspired and I have a plan for the way forward.

Copyright TSR

Long story short (too late!), this post is the soft launch for my new venture, Prairie Dragon Press™. PDP is my imprint for the gaming material I’ll publish over the next several months. I’m starting with a series of game master resources, each one focusing on an inn/tavern located in the Pathfinder RPG’s world of Golarion. One of my favourite 2nd Ed. D&D game resources were the Volo’s Guides, and even now I’ll still read through them for fun. So I’d like to publish something like those, so other game masters have cool inns and taverns for their players to experience.

The hard launch will come November 7. Why November 7? Because that is the official completion date for Gamer Lifestyle’s RPG Bootcamp, starting October 7. The Bootcamp is designed to help a nerd like me (and maybe you) bring a product from idea to published in 30 days. I’d still have started without it, but the timing was too perfect to ignore. I think the Bootcamp is just the boost I need to get PDP on the go, and I’m really excited to get to work. So excited, I’ve actually started working on a few things now.

I’ll post updates of my progress and maybe a few sneak-peeks at the final product(s), along with a link to the Prairie Dragon Press™ page when it’s ready to launch. And if you want to give game writing a try I highly recommend joining me in the Bootcamp. If nothing else it will be a lot of fun.

When the Cupboard’s Bare

It happens to every game master at one point or another. Game night is here, players are expecting a continuation of your Super Fun Time Awesome Campaign™ and you’ve got nothing. Maybe it’s been a particularly busy week at work, or you’ve been caught up in your studies. Heck, maybe it’s the “centipede’s dilemma”, and you just have so many directions you’re having a hard time picking what to do next in the campaign. It happens.

So here are three quick and easy solutions to get you through that session. Maybe even a few sessions if you have to stretch it out, though excessive use can lead to the stall tactic becoming the new campaign.

1) “I heard tell there’s treasure in Baron Puddlemarch’s crypt!” – Time for a quick and dirty dungeon crawl. Doesn’t need to be a huge affair, as a matter of fact it should be small enough to wrap up that session. Don’t sweat the details too much: choose a main monster of the right challenge level, give it appropriate treasure, figure out a trap to liven things up and boom, done! Oh, you want a map, too? Fine. Go through your published modules and find a four or five room chunk from a dungeon you like. Give it an entrance and there’s your map.

There are all sorts of resources to help you with this sort of quickie dungeon. If you’re playing Pathfinder, having both the GameMastery Guide and NPC Codex means you are only a few minutes of reading from an interesting encounter. And if you want more general quickie information at your fingertips, slide over to Johnn Four’s Roleplaying Tips and download his free PDF of 5 Room Dungeons. I have it, and not only has it saved my bacon when I’ve needed a dungeon on the fly but I’ve actually built small campaign arcs out of some of the ideas found there.

The point of this is to keep the evening fast and fun, without bogging you down in campaign details. If the players are likely to baulk at pursuing something not related to the main campaign, though, no problem. Maybe some campaign Maguffin is rumoured to be wherever it is you want them to go. Or an NPC nearest and dearest to the party asks for a favour. Or for some reason, Big Baddie’s minions are crawling all over that location and now the party needs to know why. Just find the trigger that fires your band of psychotic murder hobos in the right direction, and pull it.

2) “Look, fellows, we’ve been invited to a party!” – If you are comfortable with improvising (and I mean really comfortable), maybe tonight is going to be a heavy role-playing night. Like the dungeon in point one you just need a hook to get the players involved. A party they know Big Baddie or his Chief Minion is attending. A local tavern or inn minions of Big Baddie are known to frequent. Heck, it doesn’t even have to involve your main plot; maybe the local townsfolk throw a party in your adventurer’s honour, and they’ll spend the session chatting it up and playing friendly games of skill and chance.

The point is to use this time to role-play. The key to this is to largely let the players decide where they’re going, and then fill in the scene around them. Most important, don’t block. If a player gives you an idea for what they think is going on, go with it. They’re obviously interested in it or they wouldn’t have brought it up. So let them help you direct the conversation, and don’t get too hung up on what your NPC is actually saying. After all, not everything out of an NPC’s mouth is going to be the truth. Just like real people, they lie, they boast, they pretend to knowledge they don’t have. So if you slip up and “reveal” something you shouldn’t have, no worries. It can turn out that NPC was full of crap.

This is, of course, where it helps if you’ve at least minimally fleshed out some NPCs. You don’t need a Briggs-Meyer’s breakdown for everyone, but name, occupation and a few words that will give the players a first impression. For example: Jacovo, coffin maker, easily moved to tears; Yolinda, potter, prays a lot. Why those three things? A name because the players always ask and it’s better to have one to give them right away. Occupation, because it gives you some clues as to physical details and appearance (coffin makers might have fine sawdust on their clothes and smell slightly of pine or sandalwood; potters might have dusty clothes or a spot of dried clay on the cheek) as well as something the NPC will talk about. And the last detail to add a bit of interest and give you an idea of how or why they might speak to the players; Jacovo might burst into tears upon hearing the party’s latest plight, and Yolinda might importune the gods every time a player mentions a monster.

3) “Okay gang, I have to level with you…” – This is my least favourite plan, but sometimes you just have to admit you have nothing on tap for that evening. Be up front, explain why (helps if you have a reason beyond “just didn’t get to it”) and promise you’ll get your stuff together for next week. Then break out a boardgame, pop in a movie or even head out to grab dinner or catch a flick in the theater. Part of playing role-playing games is socializing, so if the game isn’t going to happen you can at least keep the night positive by focusing on that aspect. And sometimes it can be good to just hang out with your group; get to know them better if you’re a newish group or just hang out and relax if you’ve been together for a while. But you don’t want to pull this too often, so make sure when the next week comes around you have something for the party to do (even if you’re just using points one or two).

What do you do when you’ve got nothing in the tank for your players? Any good tips or tricks? Share them in comments!

Edge of the Nest

I took the bus to Gen Con this year. That choice was motivated largely by a lack of funds, but also by a desire to have a bit of isolation. My trip was three days there and three-and-a-half days back, which gave me plenty of time for reading and reflection. Okay, and a not insignificant amount of napping. But I don’t think I have to tell you how awesome napping can be, so I’ll focus on the first two things.

During my trip back I read two books in particular that fed into my reflection: Just a Geek, by Wil Wheaton, and The Nerdist Way, by Chris Hardwick. I can’t recommend these books enough. Both are inspiring enough on their own; together, they’re like a motivational haiduken. If you read them back-to-back like I did, expect a tectonic shift in your brainhole.

Taking what I’ve grokked from these two books, plus some strategies offered by Johnn Four’s Gamer Lifestyle, I’m entering the world of content production. While I am largely still in the pupal stage of game writing, you can expect to see content available for download here in the next 3-4 weeks. The first taste will be free, as they say; I’ll offer up some useful samples of the kind of products I’ll be writing that you can snag on this site (or another site, we’ll talk about that next). If you like what you read I hope you’ll then check out the content up for sale on my site and Drive Thru RPG.

As part of that, this site might be going away, at least in name. I’ll shift the content over to the new site at the very least, so everything I’ve posted here on RG will still exist in the aether. But if my content production approaches the levels I’d like, I’ll really only have time for one blog, and so I’ll have to go with the one promoting my product. But don’t worry, the new site won’t be pimping my material constantly. In fact you’ll see a lot of what I wrote on RG, with, yes, the occasional mention when I publish something new.

I honestly have no idea how far I’ll take this, but I’m going to push myself out of the nest and see if I fly. I hope you’ll stick around and watch me flap my wings. Sink or soar, it should be fun to watch.

5 Resources Every GM Needs

I have been playing RPGs for a very long time, compared to many of my peers.  It is likely, though I haven’t conducted a poll, that I have been gaming longer than many of my players have been alive (first person to call me Grandpa GM gets shanked).  And while I do sometimes get to play RPGs, I am more often than not in the game master seat.  As I write this, of the four campaigns with which I am currently involved I GM two of them.  And 50% is pretty much the lowest that number has been in a while; it usually hovers around 75% and has hit 100% on occasion.

All of that is to say, I am a very busy game master.  Whether it’s coming up with the next campaign plot, statting out an NPC or just creating interesting encounters, I rely a great deal on outside resources to help.  It is much faster and easier for me to re-purpose an idea from another source than create something new from scratch for every session.

I have had a number of resources come and go over the years, but for this post I’m going to focus on my Big 5, my go-to resources for all my GM needs.  None of these are system specific, and all of them offer resources that make my busy GMing life easier.

Role-playing Tips

I’ve posted links to Role-playing Tips before, but it is definitely worth mentioning again.  I have been receiving Johnn Four’s gaming e-newsletter for years, and I have archived them all.  Every issues contains some idea I can use, some GM tip I can put to work for me.  I cannot recommend subscribing to the newsletter enough, you won’t be sorry.  As well, the site’s About page has several useful links and generators, useful for GMs of all games.  And if you’ve ever had trouble filling some empty seats at your gaming table, why not pick up a copy of his book Filling the Empty Chair?

The Labyrinth

I found this gaming blog through the RPG Blog Alliance, and I’m really glad I did.  It features some really good articles on gaming as well as game reviews.  But as a busy GM, what makes me love this site if the copious free maps he posts.  These are beautiful looking maps, presented with not writing on them at all.  As a GM on the go, this makes them perfect for dropping into a campaign as a treasure map (just add directions), or for use as inspiration for my next campaign.  And they are pretty enough to make excellent player handouts.  So come to The Labyrinth for the maps, stay for the excellent gaming blog.

Obsidian Portal

You have likely heard of Obsidian Portal, but if you are a busy GM you owe it to yourself to check it out.  This is the perfect wiki site for GMs that want a fast, convenient way to disseminate game information to their players.  But more than that, OP is a great group organizational tool, with messaging options, a group calendar and a widget that allows you to post character information on the group’s page.  If you have ever tried to struggle through a session missing a player and his character sheet, this last feature in invaluable.  And if you like Obsidian Portal, give their podcast a listen.  Haste promises to update you on gaming news in less time than it takes you to set up for your game, and it is a fun, entertaining 15-20 minutes.

Game Geeks

I don’t have as much time these days to sift through and keep abreast of the gaming books and supplements available out there.  Game Geeks, hosted by Kurt Wiegel, has provided useful and informative reviews of gaming material for years.  Each episode gives a great capsule review of a particular product or products, and because Kurt is a GM himself, he is able to offer a useful perspective on each book.  He is not without bias (he has gaming systems he likes/dislikes) he is open about this bias, and it generally does not interfere with the balance of his reviews.  If you want to know about a gaming supplement before you buy, check to see if the Game Geek has reviewed it first.

Gnome Stew

Another of my go-to sites for GM help, Gnome Stew provides a wide range of services and articles for GMs and players alike.  You can find useful GM tools, reviews of RPGs and supplements, great articles for newbie GMs, and so much more.  I have used the tools and articles on Gnome Stew more often than any other resource, and if I am looking for something specific I haven’t seen yet, I always start my search there.  If you are a GM, busy or otherwise, I think you should dedicate some time to explore the site.  You won’t be sorry.

So what are your go-to resources as a GM?  Let us know in the Comments below!