How to Get Out of a Game? “Exit Strategies”

This is a topic that came up on the Facebook wall of a friend that fits the general style of these Monday morning posts. What to do when a campaign you’ve signed up for just doesn’t “do it” to you? How to get out of a game that you don’t want to play in anymore?

I am one of those people who always aims to please and never wants to be a bother to anyone. This means that I am exactly the type of player who finds the idea of leaving a game harrowing. And I had to quit a game I was playing in. This was about half a year ago.

Can you just walk out? How to get out of a game?

The campaign concept was brilliant, the GM is one of the most innovative bastards (that’s a good thing) I know, and the co-players were excellent. But sadly, the game would have required way more commitment than I could ever reasonably give it. While in my youth I could reasonably memorize the philosophies of three different fictional religious orders to get into the mindset of my character, doing something on that scale for every game session was too much for me (or at least that what it felt like, to the stressed-out me).

We had been playing for a good while before that realization hit me. It took me three more sessions before I managed to actually say something, and even that was because a non-gamer friend pointed out that I was supposed to be gaming for fun and if I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I wanted, I should stop.

First I considered calling. But I knew I could be easily convinced that I was wrong, so I decided on a written message instead. I did my best to write it out as clear as possible that I had to quit, and that it wasn’t anything personal (since it wasn’t), that the game just wasn’t for me. And all that poetry. Still, took the better part of the evening to get the simple message written. It was horrible to do. And then I sent it. And it was over. All I could do is wait.

I got a very kind and understanding reply back from the GM, and the world didn’t end. We’re still as good friends as we were before the “break-up” and as far as I know, the campaign still continues to this day (can’t be sure, since one of the things about the campaign was that we don’t talk about the campaign to people outside the campaign). It really was as simple as saying “I can’t play in this game anymore,” but believing that was pretty much impossible.

From the other side of the GM screen, it seems more complicated than it is as well. The thing that has killed more games I’ve run than any other is “scheduling issues”. And everyone who runs games knows that it is a code word for a) actual scheduling issues or b) dwindling interest in the game. You are never really sure. Players do not tell me if they want out, so they just make the arranging of a game date impossible. Which just doesn’t kill the game for the player but the whole group. It is a terrible way for a game to go.

While I haven’t spoken with the players about exit strategies in New Horizons, it’s next on my list of things to do. My plan is to tell them as clear as I can that I don’t mind people quitting. It’s not a bad thing to take a couple of months of break from the game. It doesn’t hurt me if people have to cancel the last minute. The only thing I ask is that the players are open about what’s going on and won’t just disappear. The game is designed to handle things like that, but only if I know about them.

This is a thing that has happened with me growing older. I value my time. I value my friends’ time. I would never want them to be suffering in a game I ran if it was inconvenient for them. I know that life happens. People have to move to strange countries because of their work. They get babies. They find other time-consuming hobbies. They die. Or they get tired because it’s cold outside. And we have to be willing to accept that.

The bottom line is that it is just a game. We play it for our entertainment. If it costs us more than we get from it, we shouldn’t do it. As players we should feel free to say this to our GMs. As GMs we should be prepared for it and accept it if it happens. There is nothing personal about it. That’s the part that’s hardest to keep in mind.

So, as a player tell the GM if you want out and you will probably not ruin the game for anyone. And as a GM explain beforehand how to get out of a game and you might save your campaign. Simple as that.

Things to Fiddle With: The Character Sheet

One of the staples of RPGs is the character sheet. That piece of paper that keeps a record of who your character is. It’s a solid constant that has stayed with us from the beginnings of the hobby.

For more mechanically complex games, you need that spreadsheet of abilities, skill scores and derivatives.But no matter how light the system, the character sheet has stayed there to remind you from one session to the other who you’re playing. Even if you use a system that has no scale of values for things like Strength, you will have it in front of you.

Some games have broken the mold, of course. They might not have a sheet per se or use it for other things than the characters. Building a story on the paper or something like that. These days some people have have gone fully electronic, having 9-page Excel sheets instead. But exceptions aside, the character sheet is one of the main reasons why Tabletop RPGs are called “Pen and Paper” games.

Since New Horizons is on fundamental levels a hack of Apocalypse World, using Playbooks for characters would have been natural. Those are basically a combination of multiple choice questions and all the relevant game mechanics you need to play the game.

But I have a more traditional game, with a character sheet to match. There are no lists from where your character name or gender can be chosen from. Just places to write down things and note numbers.

To keep track of what I’m talking about from this point on, this is the actual sheet (or sheets).

The first thing to note is that the sheet is for the most part written in Finnish, with only some mechanics (all the numerical stuff) in English. This is something I’ve been doing long with games, even before I started hacking them – if it is a term related to a thing that would never get used in-character, then it is in English. That way we don’t have to specifically mention if we talk in-game stuff or off-game things. If I ask “Paljonko sen Strength on?” (“How much is his Strength?”) it’s clearly a mechanical question. Asking “Kuinka vahva se on?” (“How strong is it?”) is clearly another thing, more tied to the in-game narrative.

But the actual character sheet. The first page is very traditional-looking. On top you have things like “Character name”, “Player name” and the various describing characteristics. There is nothing really interesting here from the design point of view. Text fields and free-form answers.

While the top is feel-good for the character concept (and things to use with Confidence), the middle contains the meat of the character. Both the character’s numerical stats and their relation to the team. As keep pointing out, team is the essential unit in New Horizons. You live and die with it, so it had to be a central part of the sheet as well. (BTW. to tell things as they are, I am stealing a lot in the team structure as well as the character sheet’s team representation from Unien Äiti, a campaign a friend of mine is running.)

The bottom of the page is dedicated to various things that affect character in the long term, but which are updated during short-term gameplay. Critical damage (and death), experience points, and the three Degenerations. This is the part of the sheet that has gone through most iterations, and at the moment I’m quite happy with it.

Basically everything you need from the character sheet during the game is there on the first page. The second page steals a lot from the Apocalypse World’s playbook structure – there is the list of the Moves the character has access to (without descriptions though) and the possibilities for experience usage.

The Moves list is half-filled out with the few things that are set in stone, like the common Moves all the characters share and some other small details. All else has to be filled in by the players. Why this is a “long-term” thing instead of important first-page stuff is that the Moves the player has in their use are also written on cards the player has in front of them during play.

The experience part is a straight-out version of the experience tracks in the playbooks. Well, mostly. I’ve made a three-tiered system to slow down the retirement and spread to keep things progressing on a more “old fashioned” speed. This is the spot where each character Role looks most different from the others — every Role has their own progression track that should generate unique game path to each character.

The sheet itself is printed on sturdier paper than regular, 200g/m² (the regular copy paper is around 80g/m²) to be exact. This is an important finishing step in the design. It makes the sheet feel more real. An object instead of just some paper waste you toss around. 200m/m² is quite extreme density, but the difference it makes in the way the players touch and handle the sheets is worth the extra cost and bulkiness (storing them is harder than you’d expect). I was going for 160g/m², but the digital printer was just out of it for the hour I happened to go there, so 200 it is.

8 Seduction Tips for the Game Master

If you look at popular magazines aimed at men and women, you find a lot of articles about seduction. Lots and lots of things in these articles are really basic human interaction put to words, but there are some hints of wisdom here and there in those seduction tips that can be used to improve the way you run RPGs. This is a rewriting of an old article of mine from an old blog of mine.

Seduction Tips. Go outside. Play.

8 – Be the Alpha

“In social animals, the alpha  is the individual in the community with the highest rank.”

That’s a Wikipedia definition of an alpha. At the table, this is your position as the Game Master. It doesn’t mean you need to dry hump lower-ranking members of the group back into submission if they get out of line, but you are expected to take charge of the situation and provide rulings and guidance. While games these days focus on shared ideas and executions, as the GM, you are still the one organizing the event and everyone there subconsciously holds you responsible when it comes to keeping things rolling.

The GM role is an authority role, and you should embrace it as such. The others are expecting you to be a good, reliable leader. Remember that actions speak louder than words do. So stand behind what you say, and deal with situations fairly.

7 – Stay Fit, Have a Life

Having an active social life and staying in good health is super-important. If you’re energetic and happy when running a game, this bleeds to the other players as well. Having social circles outside your gaming buddies mean that you’ll spend less time obsessing over game details and that you’re putting yourself out there. Meeting new people and getting experiences, stuff that give you tons of inspiration for your games. Maybe the new girl in the coffee shop is the basis for your next big NPC. Or she could be the love of your life. You never know until you get off your ass and actually go do something.

6 – You Can’t Seduce Someone Who Don’t Want To Be Seduced

Sometimes it’s just not meant to be. Not all people want what you’re offering. Maybe the way you two think about RPGs clashes or could be that they just think you’re a brute for your lack of interest in 12th century swimwear. It is all very natural, and you shouldn’t worry too much about it. If you get indicators that they’re steering away from your game by constantly canceling and being absent, you should offer them an actual chance to step down. A reluctant player in the game is worse to the game than one not being there.

5 – Use Stories To Sell You(r NPCs)

This one is a tip about selling your NPCs than selling yourself. You can make any NPC more memorable by introducing them with a story rather than just a description. The new recruit who comes late and explains how she almost got into a fight with an old lady over the last pair of the pink gloves she wanted is infinitely more interesting than a new recruit with pink gloves. Keep a couple of stories for each major NPC and use them to re-introduce the character to the players.

4 – Be Interested In What She Has To Say

Really pay attention to your players. What are things that keep coming up? What do they react best to in your behavior? When do they go non-responsive? You need to figure out what your players want. Sometimes you can ask them directly, but more often than not this will make them to tell you what they think you want to hear. Observe their actions, and keep eye contact with them to show them that you’re observing. If you are slumped into your rule books when they’re making valid points, you give a discouraging signal. A good GM is one that cares about what’s going on and shows it.

3 – Learn From Each Encounter

Players are notoriously bad at giving negative feedback. Listen to what they say, and listen to what they don’t say. Fill the holes and figure out what didn’t go well. And once you figure out that, try and improve. Don’t aim to get everything perfect at once. A goal of improving one thing per game session is already an impressive one. Even if you don’t manage to make things better with the first try, it’s a huge step every time you try.

2 – Know your shit

A good player can spot bullshit a mile away, so you better know your shit. If you keep pulling rules and ideas out of your ass, your authority ends up under inspection pretty fast. If you’re trying a new system, be willing to do the effort and learn how it works. Better than your players. The OSR has it right with their “don’t make rules, make rulings” policy. If you can’t remember how a rule really works in the books, make a ruling how it goes in your game. And then stand by that ruling from that point on.

1 – The Best Way To Get Over a Bad Lay Is To Have Ten Great Ones

And then all goes to hell. Half of the players don’t want to talk to you anymore because of your Norwegian artsy indie scenario that experimented with whale blabber as a randomization mechanic. It’s time to take a deep breath and get back on the horse. Pick up a Pathfinder adventure, make characters, kill goblins with people. Don’t let failure bog you down. Keep rolling them dice.

Cooking Your Way Through a Game

I’ve always loved using kitchen metaphors when talking about Role Playing Games. Usually while talking about the industry, since I’ve found the comparison between a traditional RPG core book and a beginner’s cookbook to be very apt. And other things like how by cooking or running a game, you will only ever touch small audiences at a time. But the gaming-as-cooking thinking fits the other parts as well.

Cooking your game

The real meat (sorry) of where I’m going today with this metaphor is how you build a good game.

You start with an idea. It might be “I’ll cook veal today” or “I’ll make Mexican food” or even “I’ll pick a random recipe from the net”. This also applies to your game. You need to have something. It might be that one adventure book you’ve wanted to try out, or maybe you are really itching to run a proper old school Call of Cthulhu game, or just that Halloween is coming up and you want something with werewolves.

Choosing the right protein for what you’re doing is essential for any meal. If you choose tofu and beans, you’ll end up with something different than you would if you use crayfish. So do you go with d20 or In Nomine? Is using a system with tons of moving parts really necessary for a game like this or would you be better of with something almost freeform? Do you use the whole system or just parts of it? Cut and trim it to what you actually need. Or maybe mix things up, borrow something from another system. Could the scallops benefit from some bacon?

As important as the protein are what you’re serving it with. This is where basic flavors actually come to play. Most systems out there can support multiple styles of game play. Just as you can use fish to make Japanese sushi just as well as some nice Finnish fish soup, you can use Pathfinder to run hack and slash Pathfinder or horror Pathfinder. And on the other hand, if you want to run a love triangle game, you need to consider what system would best fit that. You can run it with Conspiracy X, but if you want the game to focus on that aspect, you might want to go with something like Shooting the Moon. If you want to make a fish soup, might not be the best idea to use chicken for the protein.

Then you start to cook. When choosing ingredients, you’ve probably decided how you’re going to go. Seared, steamed, baked, boiled. By the time you’re having your players sit down and write down characters, you’ve pretty much committed to the choice of system and most of the other big parts for the game. Sometimes you realize at this point you’re missing something – you might need to take one more bell pepper or switch the red onions to garlic. Some things simply change once you get going. But once you heat up the pan, it’s go-time. All the preparation you have done has brought you here and you either succeed or you don’t.

Seasoning happens during this phase. You add salt, pepper, vinegar to taste. Maybe some blackened spice mix to get that Cajun thing really going on. You taste, you sample. Seasoning is getting the things taste just right. It’s the small details that affect both the system and the setting. Do you want Dark Elves in your fantasy world? Are the zombies fast or slow? You get the feel of the game – are the players going to enjoy a bit of heat or would they like to keep things smooth. Ask questions about preferences. While you can trust your instincts a lot, you can’t guess allergies. Ask and adjust.

And if you’ve done everything right, you’ll get a great meal that is both nutritional and delicious. And most importantly, it’s more than the sum of the parts you’ve used for it. But a good cook knows that the actual food is only a part of the experience. Presentation is equally important. If you make the game look nice and feel nice, on top of being nice, it will shine.

This is the point where you explain how all the carrots were organically grown by you over the summer and how this particular part of a bull’s body has been used for this meal by the Italian princes since the 1400s. You need to tickle the senses, tease the mind a bit more. Use the right background music, have a nice gaming table set up. Going that extra mile to get a dice set that fits the game’s theme. Players need seducing.

Or you know. Just heat up a microwave pizza. Nothing wrong with that if that’s the way to roll tonight.

Confidence, A Game Mechanic

Most of things in New Horizons are based on Apocalypse Worldthat I’ve been hacking quite extensively to suit my own needs. One of these hacks is the Confidence system, a derivative of Fate Aspects.

My core mechanics revolve around AW’s Moves. Moves, by design, are dramatic moments of success or failure or failure with a price, that get triggered at certain points in the fiction by player character actions. But horror games, with the pacing sometimes coming to an intentional slow crawl, tend to suffer from too big things happening with high-drama mechanics attached to them. I wanted a subsystem for the quiet parts of the narrative and use the Moves for those moments where it’s do-or-die and the tension of the card draw really brings up the drama.

Fate‘s Aspects are a good mechanic I like to use. They are short character descriptions, open to some interpretation, that have mechanical relevance. Apocalypse World doesn’t have anything that. At first I wanted to use Aspects as written, but like Moves, it is a high-end system. They would have ended up competing for the spotlight. The game would have felt cluttered and looked like it didn’t know where it is going.

Confidence tokens

On the character sheet the parts relevant to Confidence look pretty much like Aspects. Characters have a whole bunch of different traits on their character sheet, from their work background, to what their personal dark place is. Any of these can be tapped into for mechanical benefits.

When a situation arises, where Moves would be too flashy, we use Confidence instead. If you’re doing something the Moves don’t fit, I can ask you if you have something that would justify the character succeeding in the situation on your sheet. If you do, you succeed, if you don’t, you can choose to spend a point of Confidence to succeed. No rolling the dice. No chance. Just choice. You can succeed or fail, it’s up to you. And if the thing is more challenging, I’ll can tell you that you have to have both the appropriate thing on your sheet and use a point.

Oh, and failing always gives you a point of Confidence.

Because New Horizons is a team-based game, there are situations where a lot of the characters would be repeating the same Move someone else just made. That slows things down and bogs down the narrative with “ok, you all must succeed in this” or “ok, if one of you succeeds with this it’s ok” checks. I use Confidence to get past this points, picking one character who actually does the Move for the situation, and have the rest handle it as a Confidence “check”.

Another way that’s more tied to making Moves that it inherits from Aspects, is to support a Move with some Confidence. If you have something on your sheet that would specifically benefit your character with this Move, you can use a point of Confidence to gain a +1 to that Move. Simple as that. Once per Move a free +1 if you’re doing character-y things. It is a nice bonus, without being too overwhelming. This makes Confidence mesh up with the Moves system instead of being completely separate from it.

Confidence points are a currency. They started as a Game Master tool – if you do cool things with your character that fits the fiction, I as a GM would give you a point of Confidence. While works just fine in theory, I’m the sort of person who gets quite deep in the narrative flow when running a game, so keeping note of the moments when you are as a player being awesome is very hard for me.

I turned to Fan-mail distribution from Primetime adventures by making Confidence a player-to-player reward mechanic instead of GM-to-player one. The way handing out Confidence in New Horizons works is that any time any player thinks you did something they thought was worth a cheer, they hand you a point of Confidence from the (infinite) pool at the center of the table. Simple as that. Max gain of one point per one thing done. Instant reward by your peers. Also instant peer-pressure to do things that the group deems appropriate, but that’s just an added bonus. Confidence resets at the start of each mission, so there’s no point in hoarding it too much.

I admit that it’s a bit shaky and still hard for everyone to remember, but it’s one of those mechanics that I hope that will balance itself and shine once the campaign progresses further. At the moment, doing flashy things is an instant way to get a reward from the other players. But once the characters become more familiar, my assumption is that it will become a reward more for things like “Well, that was a very Lexi thing to do” or “Oh, I loved how that plays into what your character told her mom a few games back.”

But will have to see how it turns out.

Choosing the Right RPG System for Your Game

I hate generic role-playing game systems. And love writing about how much I hate them. The choice of the right RPG system for your campaign is the second most important decision you’ll be making over the course of its lifespan. And the most difficult one to change once the game has started, so it shouldn’t be made lightly.

RPG systems, even the generic ones, tend to do things right. Pick a game and you’ll find something that is done well in relation to the style of play it tries to generate. Most games are awesome like that. But one needs to think about systems as very specific tools. Trying to screw in a nail with a screwdriver can be damn difficult. Same with running campaigns with wrong RPG systems – make the wrong call, and you’ll ruin things.

Which of all these possibilities is the right RPG system for your game?

I have to admit, it is really easy to get stuck with your favorite system, even if it is not the optimal one to run a certain type of game. I was there for ages with the old World of Darkness, which is a dreadful system for any type of game. Generic rulesets like GURPS and Fate Core even encourage system-elitism. They provide “universal” rules and tell everyone that they are usable for any setting out there. And people confuse this with “any and all types of games.”

Systems generate gameplay, and that is different from the setting. If you take the rules of GURPS and run a Call of Cthulhu game with them, you will end up with a very different game than if you used the actual rules of CoC. I think it’s a shame that the big game systems claim that they can be used for anything. Sure. They can. Hell, coin toss can be used as a system for any kind of an RPG. But should they? Not really.

If we were talking about computer games, this would be a lot clearer. An aggressive first-person shooter might very well be set in the same setting as a complex team-based strategy game. They are very different because of the systems they use, and if you wanted the feeling of one, you wouldn’t use the system of the other. With tabletop games, that is easier to forget.

The big question is of course, how can one choose the right system for the game?

You’re lucky. It is really easy. Before you even consider a system, write down things you want from the game. They might look simple, but once you’ve written them down, start opening them up. “To get this, what do I need to have in the game?”

“I want a game that has highly tactical situations where the decisions that the players make have consequences” might sound quite straightforward, but it is the snowball that starts an avalanche, once you start to think about it. Decisions having consequences means that wrong decisions have to have negative consequences. That leads quite naturally to a damage and death mechanic there somewhere. “Highly tactical” and “player decisions” make me think that there aren’t that many layers of abstraction between the player input and what happens in the game. No “I roll for team leadership” generalizations, but more direct things like “My character gives Private Johnson the order to flank from the left.” And that means some team play rules. And so on. Keep opening up what you want, until you run out of ideas.

Once you have figured out what you want, it’s a matter of picking the system. Take your time. Weigh your options. Go to a forum and ask around. And find out that this is a point where you’ll have to compromise. The moment where your perfect vision gets mangled up by realities of life. Think what you are willing to sacrifice, don’t give up the things you can’t. Be willing to hack the shit out of the system to get those crucial points to to stay in the game. Nothing wrong with little creativity.

The system is the paintbrush. It’s not a blunt instrument. Choose the one that sings in your hands and paints the picture you want it to paint.  There are dozens and dozens of systems out there to choose from, pick something that fits the game you want to run. The use of the right RPG system makes any campaign a lot better.

Things to Fiddle With: The 2d6 Card Deck

Tactile components are important for me in RPG situation. There is that feeling to having something to play with while gaming. As a Game Master, I’ve never been the one to build elaborate props, but I have a tendency to make up for that by using a good many physical objects as part of the mechanical system for the game.

Now, as much fun as dice are to use and one can’t deny the gratifying oomph of rolling them, there is a certain acquired elegance in cards that I’ve come to appreciate lately. How they feel in hand and how you usually don’t have to hunt them from under the sofa every second roll. I used a Tarot deck in the previous campaign, and for New Horizons I’m using a deck of (sort of) regular cards as an alternative to dice.

What the look and feel of my deck would be was clear from the beginning – I had participated in the Kickstarter for the Grid 2.0 deck by 4PM Design, and had a nice pile of those decks in my shelf waiting for a project to use them on. They also nicely played in unison with the blue-tinted color scheme I had planned for +H.

Card deck works as a beautiful 2d6 replacement

New Horizons is Powered by Apocalypse, in the most traditional Apocalypse World way. This means that to be a purist, the players should be throwing two six-sided dice around when executing Moves. Luckily, to make a deck of cards that imitates this randomization is not that hard.

I started with a single 2d6 spread – one 2, two 3s, three 4s, four 5s, five 6s, six 7s, five 8s, four 9s, three 10s, two Jacks (11) and one Queen (12). That gave me a very thin deck of 36 cards with the correct probability matrix, but I had to use only a few (4) cards from a second deck, leaving me with one really crippled deck that would be useless for any future projects.

So, to get a bit bigger deck and make use of more cards, I doubled the count. two of 2s, four of 3s, twelve of 7s, etc. That butchered a total three decks, but to a more satisfying results, mostly because of the next steps.

To get an accurate simulation of a 2d6 roll, a deck needs to be shuffled after each draw of a card. While that would work, it would stall the game and feel like a constant magic trick of “pick a card, any card”.

The quick and dirty fix I came up with was adding four Jokers to the deck as “reshuffle cards” – two black ones and two blues (also known as red in other card decks). Drawing one means you need to reshuffle the deck and draw another card to determine the actual result. This makes the reshuffles themselves random, causing a proper enough randomness to the method.

But something was still wrong.

After meditating on the matter, I realized that the game really didn’t need a dice simulator. If I was using a deck of cards, I should really use the deck more. So in the final version of the system, when you draw a Joker, you choose if you want to reshuffle the deck or not. After a pile of Jacks and Queens, you probably would like to. After a streak of failures because of low cards, you’d want to keep going because the deck is now stacked in your favor. And if you draw all the fourth Joker, you are forced to reshuffle.

Another tweak to them was that the Blue Joker should give a +1 to the result and a point of Confidence to the player, while a Black Joker brings a -1 to the result and adds one point of Terror to the pool. This skews the original pitch-perfect 2d6 scale just enough to justify the cards instead of dice.

And as one last detail, I added some imbalance to the blacks and blues of the deck. There are 30 blue cards in the deck (including the Jokers) and a total of 46 black cards. The colors come into play in the damage mechanics, which I will get to in a future posting.

And the good thing here is that the deck feels like a real object. It gets passed around the table and the players draw from it one by one. And the used cards spread around the table, reminders of the past actions. All in all, it has a good feel to it. You know, a solid, tactile one.

The Importance of Honest Communication in RPGs

One of the greatest things about growing older is developing that confidence about who you are that enables you to openly express what you really want and what you actually don’t. Besides the obvious benefits in relationships and random encounters in the night, clear and honest communication has also done wonderful things to how we play our RPGs.

I’d really love to hear about what you guys are thinking of playing, so I can better build my character as the glue that binds the team together.

My character will appear to be really antisocial and cold at the beginning, but this is only because I’d like to let the growth out of that shell be a big part of her story.

I just got out of a rough relationship, so if it’s at all possible, can the stuff focusing on my character’s family life be bright and happy?

I’d love to see you guys push me to making hard calls.

I’m paraphrasing what various players in my games have voiced about their characters and preferences to the rest of us. Something like that wouldn’t have happened 5 years ago. On a really good day, we might have vaguely hinted the GM what we wanted, but having an open discussion about it, especially with the whole group – unheard of.

Honest communication?

(cards by 4PM Designs, tokens from Dapper Devil)

New Horizons is in a good place when it comes to honest communication. It’s been fun to see to the players making their ideas ideas, wishes, needs and wants known to me and each other. And as with many things, the two teams differ somewhat in their approach to this.

The Alpha Team’s players have been very open and vocal about the direction and pace they want the game to progress and what sort of things they’d love to see and feel in it. As GMs, they have a solid grasp of the structures underneath that makes them willing to talk about structural matters quite openly. They are also extremely careful about not stepping on each others’ toes or stealing the spotlight from someone else. Polite lot.

And as a more concrete example, The Bravo Team character creation / tutorial session began with a good long talk about what the players were looking for from each other and how “we should see how this plays out and be willing to change things if they don’t really click.” The conversation was started by the players themselves without any prompt from me while I was in the other room getting ready for the game. I walk back to the gaming table and there is a discussion going on about how they see horror in games and how they should play it together.

It’s a wonderful age to be playing games in. We’ve matured as people and as gamers a lot over the years.

One thing that I just have to mention is something I came across while reading Ashen Stars after Joonas (Who plays The Leader in Alpha Team) recommended checking it out. The game actually has a formal system for dealing with characters’ personal plotlines. While I will not use this particular system in detail, I will be asking the players to come up with a few themes, plot points or motifs that they want to see their character exploring and encountering in the campaign. But this will wait until after the tutorials are done so the players have had an opportunity to see and feel the game for what it actually is.

I’ll leave you with a thought about your next game. With RPG campaigns becoming more “this our game here” instead of “the GM’s game that we get to participate in,” and things like “How violent and how graphic do we want to be?” or “At what point do we fade to black in a sex scene?” being standard discussion topics (which reminds me, I need to cover these with the players in +H): Why not expand the dialogue further, to things like “What are our themes?” “What do we want to explore with this game?” “Where are we going with this thing?” “What do we need from this?”

Introduction to the New Horizons RPG Campaign

Welcome, fellow RPG person. To the world that is not apparent to the naked eye. Where we as humans are not the only dominant species, and we are not even aware of it yet.

This here is the mandatory first post of a new blog. Something that’s usually the hardest bit for me to write, but I have a good feeling that since there’s a lot of ground to cover, I’ll manage to write something. And I’ll be expanding on each topic I touch here later in their own posts.

New Horizons has officially started. It’s a tabletop roleplaying game campaign that I’ve been planning and working on for a good while. The elevator pitch of what sort of a game this is is “team-based sci-fi horror game set in the modern day” with the players playing characters who form a field team of a firm called New Horizons (which is the source of the name, obviously).

Mechanically, the game runs on a system Powered by Apocalypse that’s been adapted to a more traditional team and mission based format. Biggest influences in system design have been Apocalypse World itself, The Regiment, Star Wars World and Tremulus. While the new mechanical things it brings to the table are few, the presentation and goals of the game differ quite a lot from that what Apocalypse usually barfs out.

The table morning after a New Horizons RPG game session

Structure-wise, I have two player groups in the campaign. Five-character (and five-player) teams each. Ten players quite a lot, but compared to my previous long-term campaign and the 54 players who participated, this is relatively manageable. The way I chose the players for the two teams was different for each.

The “Alpha Team” has five veteran GMs as players. The least experienced one has some 18 years of running games under his belt. I wanted people who knew what they were doing, and also people who don’t get that many chances to play games, because they’re busy running them all the time.

The “Bravo Team” has been hand-picked to build a team that would play out the horror aspect of the campaign the best. All of them are people who I know to be as immersive players as they come (not to slander the GM group – there is something that years of GMing games does to the way you view and play games), regardless of the experience.

Both teams’ players were given character roles to fill. The Leader, The Techie, The Seer, The Empath and The Voice. Each role came with a limited pool of things that they could choose to be able to do and a short description that might point at what the characters could be. The end result is two teams where the characters essentially fill the same purposes, but in descriptive text, they are quite polar opposites.

The game is a horror game and I’m planning on exploiting all the possible tricks in the book to get there. The initial idea of mine was that I wanted to do something of Cthulhu, but without resorting to a) the Cthulhu Mythos or b) all the tropes that come with Cthulhu. It’s my Cthulhu heartbreaker.

And it’s off to a good start. At the time of writing this, Alpha Team is somewhere in the rainy woods of Heartland, Maine; while Bravo Team is examining maps at a seven star luxury hotel in Dubai, UAE.