Friday, February 10, 2017

Gods of the Fall - You Are Not Alone

Unless your gaming group is HUGE you probably only have 3-6 players and therefore 3-6 emerging gods. That's not a lot. It's not nearly enough to fill the kinds of multitheistic pantheons that are implied within Gods of the Fall. Luckily there are always NPCs!

NPC gods are written into the book in spots but there is also plenty of room for your own creations. These NPC gods can be incredibly useful for a number of reasons.

  • They can be remnants of the past who have survived and act as patrons or antagonists. 
  • They could be new gods who are further along the road to godhood and can offer advice and aid to the PCs, or become bitter enemies who don't want to share the divine power gained from worship with other gods. 
  • They could be equals, gods to be who are following the same path and who act as allies or enemies. 
  • And lastly they can be up and coming gods who have not yet advanced as far as the PCs who need help and are potential friends, or who need help because they are a potential danger.

There's a lot of options there. Godly survivors of the prior age will have to wait for another column, that's just too much of a topic, but the rest are worth discussing here and now.

These NPCs, like any, may be freind, foe, or merely neutral. The important thing with these characters, as with most every NPC, is to give them enough detail and personality to stand out. These are gods and should have strong motivation tied to their godly journey and their dominions. They need to make sense.

They also need to not be cliché. Don't make your NPC antagonist gods all be gods of death, war, violence and the like. There's no reason why you can't twist a dominion into something antagonist by taking an extreme stance that would oppose the PCs. A god of nature who operates like the Afterworld's version of a militant Greenpeace would make for a great antagonist. So too would a god of health who euthanizes the sickly, or a god of hearth who refuses to allow people to leave their homes.

The opposite spin is also true. Player character gods may find unexpected allies in gods of their dominion's opposing force if those NPCs approach their domain in interesting non-cliché ways. A god of death who is not bloodthirsty but instead seeks to have death seen only a natural part of the cycle of life (as I got to watch +James Walls play in a game). A god of war who understands that without peace to stand counterpoint war becomes meaningless. A god of trickery who adheres to a strong code and deals fairly & honestly if you follow his ways (think of how traditional Faerie would act).

"Older Siblings"

Early on in your game the characters are more likely to meet gods who are closer to apotheosis than they are. As allies these NPCs can be invaluable, offering advice and guidance to the characters based on their own experience. If they come along early enough they may be able to provide a copy of the Seven Prophecies, or even guide the characters toward finding their dominions. The trick is to make sure that these NPCs provide assistance but don't monopolize the story or do the player's work for them.

Older god antagonists can be great. As enemies they can be terrible to behold and challenging to defeat, flush with power beyond that of the characters at that point. Defeating one may be able to fulfill a labor if they have fallen from their path and are working against the seven prophecies. They also may be ways that the GM can introduce artifacts to less exploration prone characters; relics that have been uncovered but are being used or abused can be taken as trophies. Defeating a more powerful NPC god may also provide a way for characters to gain followers or establish their own following from those that had been oppressed.


Allies and enemies. Peer gods can provide much needed help against powerful enemies like greater Ravers or even unique foes like the Hellmaw or the Nightwolf. They can also join the pantheon of the characters and provide plot hooks via their own quests.

Likewise, peer goods can, with assistance from monsters or followers, provide credible threats to the characters. More to the point antagonistic peer gods can often provide thematic contrast to the players, standing in opposition and acting as foils by using their dominions to hold the world back instead of redeeming it (or the opposite if running an evil game).

Those that Follow

Eventually the players will gain the chance to do for younger gods what they may have had done for them by providing guidance and aid to those who follow them. This allows the players and GMs a chance to show how their characters will welcome, or rebuke, upcoming gods who need their help far more than they are able to provide in return.

Regardless of how you use your NPC gods try to keep in mind their place in the world and how they will interact with the PCs as well as the world. These gods are movers and shakers in the world, regardless of their level of power and they may both shape the interactions of the players directly and indirectly. Similarly don't allow the PCs to be the only gods in the world, it's important both thematically and for game play and story to have peers, mentors, and neophytes to help populate the setting and make it as rich as possible.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #106 - RPG Blog Carnival Rethinking Encounters

Welcome once more to the RPG Blog Carnival. You can find the kick-off post here, at Tabletop Terrors.

This month's topic is "Rethinking Encounters." Obviously that's pretty open to interpretation so today I'm going to look at how I decide to include a scene in my game. Before I get started I should also note that I don't think of them as encounters but as scenes, because RPGs are like movies with an unlimited budget that you and your friends screen in your mind's eye. Also because a scene can happen without the group "encountering" anything at all if you do it right.

The Why of the Scene

When it comes to planning a game session or a written adventure I can lump scenes I use into one of three things categories based on their purpose in the overall narrative. That narrative is often times confined to a session, but can be as easily scaled up to a campaign if longer term planning is your thing.

Plot point - a.k.a. slave to the story
The best game sessions, adventures, and campaigns have a story to them. These stories may be loosely defined, like an open world "sandbox" game, or very tightly written, like a any number of published adventures and campaigns, but regardless there's a story at the heart of them. When it comes to adventures and game sessions these scenes are the ones that push that story along. They might be the kickoff scene where the players are hired to rescue a kidnapped princess. They could be a bridging scene, where the players find the princess and find out that she wasn't kidnapped but instead ran away from her uncle who wants to usurp her throne. Or they could be the denouement where the players finally defeat the uncle and restore the princess to her throne. 

You really can't have a story without a couple of these kinds of scenes. Hopefully sometime after the initial idea and before they game table these scenes evolve from obligatory story advancement into something cool that pulls the players in or keeps them interested. 

These are also the scenes that you can't cut for time. If you find that you got started late and only have 3 hours instead of 4 to run your session you can probably skip that scene where the party has to find a way across a collapsed bridge, but you really can't leave out the scene where the princess tells the party about her jerk of an uncle. 

I try to keep my plot scenes to about 1 per hour of play. So for a weekday evening session I'm probably using only 3 and keeping my plot somewhat simplistic compared to something I might plan for a 4 or 6 hour weekend game. 
Session Balance - a.k.a. keeping everybody engaged
Nobody likes to be bored, but depending on your players you may have to juggle very different personalities and very different interests. You may have some players who want to do combat all the time, others who want to deal with social interactions and role-play, and others who want to explore and solve riddles. Your plot point scenes will have one or more of these aspects of course, but you may want to inject additional scenes to play to the goals of the other players. 

By ensuring that that everybody gets a chance at their preferred game flavor you can stave off boredom at the table. If you know your group well enough you may be able to run a whole session without combat, or intrigue, or whatever, so long as the campaign is well balanced to suit all the players. However sometimes an intrigue faced session may still call for a late night ambush by assassins that the combat focused player will love. 

Inspiration - a.k.a. the cool scene
Basically these are scenes that are specifically included because of their cool factor. For me this could be a really cool boss fight that the rest of the session/adventure is designed to build up to. It could also be a cool set piece like a rooftop chase, or battle in a unique locale, or with a unique enemy. The point here of course is that I think the idea is cool and that it gains entry on that merit. These scenes often take on aspects of session balance or plot points, but that comes after the initial idea. Often these ideas are the kernal for a whole adventure to be developed. 

These scenes often also need to be made to work in the narrative either as plot points or as a way to balance the kinds of scenes to appeal to all your players. It's also possible to back into the cool. Maybe you are planning your big finish with the players confronting the evil duke. This could be in a throne room, but it could also be on the palace's parapets, with winds whipping through the air and the only thing between the characters and a deadly fall being the crenelations of the castle walls. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Story Seed - The Thousand Rune Lock

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"Hurry up! Come on!" Naerl said, tugging her brother's arm to try and get him moving faster.

"Naerl, I'm sure whatever you found isn't going to disappear in the extra moment it takes to walk there like a civilized person." Horion said, gently chiding his little sister. He was older by almost a decade, and with their mother gone and their father often locked away with his studies Horion was as much partent as sibling at times.

"Don't be such a grown up!" Naerl yelled over her shoulder as she broke away and scampered across the lawn. She stopped at the thickly overgrown hedge that marked the end of the lawn itself and, as far as Horion knew, the edge of the manor house's grounds. "I found a thin spot and you won't believe what's inside!"

Horion frowned, he began to wonder just what Naerl had found. He thought back to when he was her age, seven years old, and always crawling about in the wilds outside the small house they'd lived in before their mother had died. Strange rocks, curious insects, and secret spaces had consumed his carefree life then.

That had ended little more than a year later when Naerl had been born and their mother had gotten sick. At last their father had won out and brought the family to his family's manor house with the hope that the nearby city would yield up a healer with sufficient skill to save his wife from the sickness.

That hope had proven to be in vain, and Horion had lost both parents. His mother dead, and his father now engrossed in his studies of who knows what. Horion and Naerl had been raised by relatives and nannies, and Horion had gone from a curious and excited child to a reserved and serious premature adult.

"This way!" Naerl cried, bringing Horion's attention back to the hedge. There was indeed a thin spot, and by the looks it may once have been an intentional opening. Nearl was small enough to crawl through the thinnest part near the ground, leaving Horion to push his way through, the branches scratching and clawing at his robes.

Beyond the hedge he took a moment to straighten his clothing before realizing that instead of an overgrown wilderness he was standing in what seemed a carefully constructed clearing. "It's a maze!" Naerl breathed excitedly, "And I found the center. You won't believe what's in the middle! C'mon!"

Naerl grabbed his hand and tugged and this time Horion found himself following her as fast as she was going. The maze was a blur of carefully trimmed hedgerows. wild and unkempt but still navigable. Horion quickly lost his bearings to a seemingly endless parade of left and right turns. Pulled along in Naerl's wake he could only follow and hope that she knew her way.

Suddenly the narrow and winding maze fell away into a large clearing nearly ten paces across. The ground was covered in low crawling ivy and dead brown leaves except in the middle where a portion had been cleared. An arrangement of concentric circles of stone around a central disc. Naerl pulled up at it's edge and pointed, "What is it?"

Horion stared at it for a long moment. What indeed, he thought to himself. "Let's me see." He bent down and touched one of the outermost stones. At his touch a glyph formed in glowing energy upon the surface and Horion drew his hand back so quickly that he fell backward, leaving Naerl giggling. "It's a rune, but ... it can't possibly be."

He moved forward on his knees and reached out for one of the inner rings, touching a stone there which also displayed a glowing glyph at his touch. The second glyph lasted only a moment before fading. Horion saw that both glyphs were now faded and he swallowed hard, "It's a rune lock, like on father's study door."

Naerl looked at the vast lock and then at Horion, "But daddy's lock only has eight runes!"

Horion nodded, "And this one must have nearly a thousand." He looked at Naerl, "What could possibly be so important as to be locked behind a thousand rune lock?"

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Last Week Today - January 30 - February 5, 2017

Story Seed - Overland Travel

Nuts & Bolts - Review: How to Write Adventure Modules That Don't Suck

Gods of the Fall - Session Prep - The End of the Beginning

Speaking of Gods of the Fall ... my adventure "Thirst" for Gods of the Fall was published in issue #8 of the CypherCaster! If you have a Gods of the Fall game running, or plan to start one, this is a great (my opinion) adventure for shortly after your players hit tier 2. Please consider checking it out. If you like the magazine please consider reviewing it on DriveThruRPG, and if you run the adventure please let me know how it went!