GROGMEET2020, the fifth annual meet-up of the GROGSQUAD, had to be held online to avoid pathogens. It didn’t stop us having a fantastic weekend which included a Pub Quiz, a Mausritter Tournament Dungeon, and an eclectic mix of games over four time-slots: seventy sessions in total.
To end the event we recorded this live panel in the Zoom of Role-Playing rambling (with an audience of over 50 people!).
This post is to supplement the discussion and point you towards other publications that you may find interesting. I have also reiterated some of the points that were made and expanded upon them.
Guides to GMing are usually shaped by the following broad topic areas:
Scenario design, these include ‘story’ or ‘structure’ generators
Preparing for a session, tips and techniques to ensure that you are ready to run the game
Running a session, a guide to some of the ways to keep a session moving while in play
General tips, some pointers towards good practice is applicable to all areas of game-play
Many are a combination of all of the above, but some specialise in a particular aspect of GMing. The best ones are the ones that don’t offer an overall philosophy, instead they offer ideas for particular circumstances.
This follows the usual 1d6 format of 5 highlights and a fumble.
1. Peterson’s Rules of Good Gaming – these are a set of five ‘rules’ to use during a game session that I have adopted through osmosis as I’m not sure I’ve actually seen the original source. The Design Mechanism quotes these in their ‘Games Mastery’ section of Mythras.
The principles are ‘baked in’ to elements of Basic Role-Playing (which after several dalliances elsewhere, remains my go-to system).
I mentioned the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule during the discussion, which means that players should always have three opportunities to make an informed decision to escape their fate. I sometimes summarise this as ‘three dice rolls from death’.
‘The Right to have fun’ is Peterson’s ‘Rule of Cool’ to make sure that you inject pace and hook the characters into the action at every opportunity.
I also like the principle of ‘Make Bonuses Worthwhile’ – don’t mess about with a 5% boost – go big or go home. If the players come up with something, make sure they have a good chance of succeeding, otherwise their clever plans will result in disappointment.
Perhaps it’s a bit rich coming from Mythras given that it’s possible to have a 1d2 damage bonus.
2. The Alexandrian – During the discussion we focused primarily on Justin Alexander’s essays on running investigative games. Here are some of my favourites from the random Games Master Tips section to pep up your game:
This blog is an excellent resource and should be part of every GM’s toolkit.
3. The Angry DM. I have been blocked by The Angry GM on Twitter for asking him a question at the wrong time. He really is *that* angry. Grrrrr.
The Angry schtick is what made Scott Rehm’s blog exciting. Anger is an energy and this is energic writing about RPGS.
Game Angry: How to RPG the angry way is a collection of the writing from the blogs which is not confined to GM Advice – this is geared towards making you a better player whether you are new to the hobby, a player character, or a Games Master.
He starts from the basis that “this is not complicated”.
He’s frustrated that people who are curious are put off by the apparent complexity. He remarks that playing RPGs is the most fun you can have with your friends and FOR GOODNESS SAKE, DON’T MAKE IT COMPLICATED – the people are responsible for explaining it are rubbish and make it too complicated.
What follows is 220 pages, about not making it complicated.
The tone is a consistent, demystifying explanation from a ‘man of the people’ trying to make this as easy as possible.
I like his short-hand for representing NPCs if you don’t have the energy to keep it going. He has his patented “Four Ps of Play Acting” one of which is “PFIDGET” – a little thing that the character does to make them distinctive, such as pulling their fringe, puffing on a pipe or stroking the chin.
4. Liminal If like me you like the laconic and cogent: it doesn’t get much better than Paul Mitchener’s guide to developing the multi-factional, investigative scenarios that drive Liminal.
Tales from the Loop adopt a story generator approach, but Liminal has much leaner recommendations on how to think of structure, twists and building cases.
It guides GMs on how to form a structure for investigations and use appropriate, varied conflicts as obstacles.
Ideas will generate just from reading this chapter and being absorbed into the setting.
5. Seth Skorkowsky – This stretches the remit a little as this is a YouTube channel rather than published advice, but Sly Flourish also dispenses his advice on a vlog as well as his respected Lazy Dungeon Master series, so I’m giving it a pass.
Skorkowsky has a pragmatic, unpretentious approach to RPGs that he presents in an easy-going, comic manner. His series of GM ToolBox, RPG Philosophy and Running RPG programmes are informative and entertaining.
I highly recommend his How to Run a Module programme as it is a topic seldom tackled. He talks through his method of working through pre-written adventures to get them into your head before running.
This channel is my lockdown discovery. It’s entertaining as well as informative.
6. Gary Gygax – at the point when he was in the wilderness following his split from TSR, Gygax wrote two mass-market paperbacks: Role-Playing Mastery (1987) and Master of the Game (1989). These are densely written paperbacks with prescriptive set of rules to “bring forth your personal best during play” and “total mastery” of the game by players and GM.
In some ways, it’s a toned down version of the original Dungeon Master’s Guide, but no less Gygaxian in its approach. You could never accuse him of understatement. There’s a portentous declaration in every sentence. Here’s a quote concerning the ‘problem GM’ dealing with different players inconsistently:
“…This kind of attitude can spread like a cancer through the playing group if the players who are being treated properly feed the GM’s ego even more by supporting and approving of his actions toward the downtrodden ones. No campaign containing such participants can exist for long. The reasons are obvious, and I will not deal further with the subject. A new campaign must be had, and that suffice.”
One of the most articulate and engaging commentators on the RPG scene past and present is Baz Stevens, from the What Would the Smart Party Do? podcast. Along with his co-host Gaz, he has always been incredibly supportive of the GROGNARD files and has contributed to several episodes. Over the years he has challenged and informed my thinking about RPGs and made me a better player.
He’s written an RPG rules set within a framework that imagines “Adventuring as a career” in a way that is flexible enough to fit in any setting. What would your obligations be to your guild? How would the clauses a contract be negotiated? How do you compete in a dog-eat-dog world where everyone is chasing the same gold piece?
At GROGMEET this year, the game is being set in both Glorantha and the worlds of Earthdawn.
The rules are based on 13th Age but stripped down to the essentials, so there’s a familiar old-school feel to how the rules operate. The character creation is great fun (you’ll spend evenings just generating interesting player characters with quirky features) and the resolution is quick but puts drama first.
The rules are written in a disarmingly chatty style that is like a mate, enthusiastically explaining how to play while drinking a pint.
Many GROGSQUADers are supporters of the campaign already, but in case you missed it, this is your alarm call. The best adventurers always have an eye on the prize.
The co-host of The Smart Party, Gaz, has been touring the autumn cons (including GROGMEET) with his WFRP 4e adventures. We played “Here comes the Prince!” set in an Empire backwater of his own design.
Here’s the play report from those sessions. Five highlights and a fumble.
1 The Enemy Within – Asako Soh revived ‘Mistaken Identity’ for last year’s GROGMEET and this year’s virtual GROGMEET. From the start of the session when we answered the call of a proclamation, it felt like we were in the throes of a classic.
It starts off simply enough with a straight forward across country journey, but an encounter with vile chaos sends the adventure spiralling into warped direction.
The adventure is cunning as lures the players into a tempting get-rich-quick scheme that quickly becomes complicated.
Phil The Dice Mechanic made the observation that the skills are very well considered in the 1st’ed as they quickly establish the character and their place in the world. He also observed that the critical tables are very lurid and colourful but at the top end of the tables, the descriptions are likely to reoccur. Never mind ‘hit left leg’ we had many ‘shattered pelvis’ results.
I thoroughly enjoyed the session, as it was full of sardonic humour as well as the gross-out pestilence. The scenario is smart too, probably a little rail-roady for modern tastes, but it never felt like that in Asako Soh’s hands.
2. Game for a laugh?
“I know that it’s a darkly comic game, are we playing it that way?” asked Matt.
“No, we’re playing it straight as games played for laughs are annoying,” said Gaz, carefully framing the scenario, “if comedy emerges then we’ll go for it, but otherwise it will seem forced.”
We solemnly nodded, before Gaz went into a description of our Lipsensnout Sausages and mash served by a man with sausage-like thumbs – we’d had wurst.
3. Get thee to Mittleburg
The marriage of Ines von Horgen to merchant’s son Frederich Friccen is rumoured to have been brokered to inject cash into the ailing fortunes of Baron von Horgen’s house, while elevating the common, yet wealthy, Friccen household to minor nobility. Scandal enough, but a week before the impending nuptials, Frederich has ridden off to Mittleberg for seven days of Volksfest revelry and a Junggesellenabschied to remember (or forget).
Our small band of ‘resourceful and discreet’ souls were sent to recover Frederich and treat him to ‘hair of the dog’ to get him back to fulfil his duty.
Mittleburg was packed to the jowls with grotesque NPCs who were brought to life with great gusto creating some memorable encounters.
Encounters such as Cunz Gunther, the sausage chef at The Boar and Truffle, or Juergen Schmidt who was abducted from a palanquin by our group, and forced to pay debts to the brothel in a wonderfully ‘Richard Lester’ Three Musketeer moment.
The setting in both editions is really rich.
4. Pre-Generation of the next generation
The character sheets were a little more complex than the 1st edition, but no less colourful.
Blythy was Magdelena von Horgen, an impatient, duellist of lesser nobility, who was easily distracted by her desire to seek out and confront her rival Marx Tuschman. She was guarded by her man-at-arms, who had seen better days, Hans Maiger (played by Mat Hart from Steamforge games).
Helping us to find out way around the city was Grete Vesars, a well connected racketeer (played by Dan, one of the original Smart Party).
I played Elspeth Voltz, a taciturn, single-minded Thief Taker who was more used to tracking down less salubrious characters. She is the impatient side-kick to the more deliberate Barold Loffen, an investigator, a literate and learned locator of missing persons (played by Baz).
5. Something wicked, this way comes …
Before long, we realised that there was something more pernicious at work. Rather than a stag-do that had got out of hand, the infiltration of chaos, symbolised by a dance-of-veils featuring a costumed sex-worker with a lobster hand and an exposed breast.
The final confrontation was satisfyingly horrific. The mechanics work differently than the first edition as it employees ‘degrees of success’ where oppositional tests are compared on a scale of 1 – 10 depending on the ‘tens’ rolled on percentage dice. There’s no example of combat in the rulebook, which means some of the finer points of ‘advantage’ are difficult to work out in play.
The comparison of scales of success means that if you fail less than your opponent, it is still possible to succeed: a rule that proved to be decisive in the final confrontation.
6. Corrupted files
We attempted to record the sessions for use as podcasts. When it came to playing the tapes, the file was ‘corrupted’, which was fitting, but frustrating. No one will hear of Mat Hart’s character dressed for a masked ball wearing a costume that made him look like he was riding a griffin, a la Bernie Clifton.
You won’t hear Phil The Dice Mechanic recreating Benny from Crossroads playing Werner, “SPEAK UP. YOU’RE VERY SHUSSHY.”
Fortunately, Gaz blessed the third attempt by Tzeentch, and it will appear in Episode 25 of the GROGPOD and followed up in a Smart Party bonus episode.