Old Magic, New Tricks

I’m always a sucker for random, instant inspiration. Sam Mameli has a nifty idea for those old Magic: The Gathering cards that may be collecting dust in your closet – pull them out, sort them into piles, and use them to brainstorm some plot and setting ideas!

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I’ve always said that the only thing that could make Christmas better is if it were scarier. Like he read my mind or something, Michael Tresca gives us a short list of Holiday Horror Scenarios for Tabletop Roleplaying Games.

It’s an Examiner link, so you’ll have to swat away a few ads to get to it, but there are some pretty nifty ideas to be had here.

Gamemastering: Preparing and Running Storytelling and Roleplaying Games is a 162-page manual that addresses the subject in six sections: A Gamemaster’s Tasks, The Role-Playing Group, Mastering a Gaming Session, Preparation, Adventure Themes, and Further Gaming Techniques.

The first thing I noticed about this book was the format – rather than looking like your typical RPG book, the use of color, graphics and subject icons on the cover and interior make this book look like it could easily share a shelf with “how-to” books such as the popular “X For Dummies” series. While it definitely gives the book a professional look, I can’t really say if this would lend any appeal to the target audience, who can be notoriously fickle about such things, and easily turned off by such a mainstreaming of their hobby. I didn’t encounter much of a problem with it during my own read-through.

The advice is solid and useful, and runs the spectrum from common-sense tips that only the beginners would find useful to common-sense tips that even the veterans never considered. Much of this advice can be found in other places, but the “For Dummies” style of the book invites a somewhat different approach to the material – for example, there are “Exercises,” or thought experiments at the end of sections to inspire the reader to consider how they would handle certain situations

The book outlines the tasks of the gamemaster and his relationship with the players, the different types of players (power gamers, storytellers, etc.), suggestions on dealing with problem players and resolving personality conflicts and conflicting player desires, as well as preparation and story structure. It is the latter two of these that I found the most useful, particularly the suggestions for using Mind Maps and Conflict Webs to structure and organize stories.

The book is wrapped up with an appendix that includes Georges Politi’s list of 36 dramatic situations (with possible RPG applications added to each) and possible solutions to the exercises presented throughout the book.

Gamemastering is an excellent collection of GM advice compiled in a familiar format – but one that I hope won’t turn too many gamemasters away, because the content is solid and very useful.

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I’m not sure how I missed this on Gnome Stew when it was first posted, but I’m glad I caught it through a more recent post – John Arcadian explains The 3-3-3 Approach to Quick Game Prep. It sort of reminds me of Dr. Rotwang!’s  Adventure Funnel, another great tool for prepping adventures quickly.

Both are awesome, and you should definitely print them out and put them in your RPG binder for future reference, as I have done.

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I’m not sure why I never thought of this before. While browsing through the Onsite Registration Book for Origins 2011, it dawned on me what I had in my hands – a long list of one- or two-sentence plot summaries for tons of RPG sessions! What better source of inspiration when one is looking for a quick idea for an RPG plotline?  Each entry, while very short, could easily be brainstormed into an extended adventure – and for plot twists, you could try combining two or more of them!

So save those old con books – pull the RPG Event sections out if you don’t have the room for the whole book – and take one down off of the shelf the next time you need an idea for a plot!

There’s a book I’ve been working on that I keep tucked into the backpack that I carry with me where ever I go. It’s not something I’m writing myself – I’m more of the editor/compiler of it.

It’s one of those paper folders with bendy metal tabs in the spine to hold three-hole punched pages into place, and it’s full of various things that I have printed out or photocopied that I find helpful in brainstorming RPG ideas. Whenever I have a bit of free time (and don’t have a anything else to read at the moment), I pull it out and read something at random out of it.

Here is a list of what I keep in that book:

  • The Big List of RPG Plots by S. John Ross – A list of 30+ basic plots that you can use as springboards for an adventure. Includes tips on how to use them creatively – combine two, reverse the roles, etc.  This is great for those times when you have to come up with something fast, but it’s also good for laying down the basic foundation of your plot.
  • Yes, But… Part One and Yes, But… The Scenario (from “See Page XX”) by Robin Laws -Two great columns on how to answer player requests with “Yes, but…” instead of “No.”  In the second column, Laws suggests running a full-freeform game in which the PCs ask you questions that are all answered with “Yes, but…” (To get these two, you’ll have to purchase a PDF of the first 24 installments of this column, but there is a lot more good advice to be found among them, and the price is right.)
  • How to Play Role-Playing Games and How to Run Role-Playing Games by Greg Stolze – Two free PDF pamphlets by one of my favorite RPG designers. Both of these cover the basics of the hobby, but I always find myself reading them to remind myself what those basics are. “How to Play…” is also handy for giving to anyone who would like to understand the hobby (when you’re too pressed for time to explain it yourself).
  • Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering by Robin Laws – Tons of incredible GM advice packed into 33 pages – focus, mood, story structure, improvisation, and a lot more. It’s hard to crack this open to a random page and not get something from it that you’ll want to try in your next session. (Thankfully, Steve Jackson Games made this one available as a PDF – the original print run sold out quickly, and dead tree versions are going for ludicrous prices on eBay!)
  • The Seven Sentence NPC (from the August 1992 Dragon Magazine) by C.M. Cline – This one will be a little tougher to get than the others, unless you have access to back issues of Dragon or the CD-ROM archive of the first 250 issues that came out a while ago.  The basic idea is simple, however: when creating NPCs for your campaign, describe them in seven sentences, based on seven character qualities. The article gives specific qualities, but you could certainly come up with seven of your own, that would custom suit your campaign.
  • The Adventure Funnel by Dr Rotwang! – This was one of his posts from his blog I Waste the Buddha With My Crossbow on how to brainstorm the basic elements of a story on the fly. I liked it so much that I use it almost every time I’m coming up with a plot – but I usually need to remind myself how to do it.
  • A Quick Primer to Old School Gaming by Matthew J. Finch – A brief manifesto on the old school style of roleplaying. Debates on old- versus new-school roleplaying have been running rather hot lately, and I’m not interested in getting into any of them.  I can appreciate and enjoy both forms. What this doc does is to examine the freeform style of old-school play, and shows how creative and intuitive it can be.

And that’s my RPG inspiration book… for now, anyway. There is still room for more pages, and I’m always open to suggestions.  Have any? Leave them in comments!