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How to create a Player Packet for Your New Campaign

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carnival-logoUnless your game is a simple series of published dungeon crawls  with little to no storyline, it’s a good idea to create a player packet (also commonly called a campaign pack or game packet) for your players. This packet should contain all the information players need to create their characters.

You need to know what you want your campaign to before you create your player packet. Use your elevator pitch, if you created one. If not, you want to express your campaign idea as simply as you can. This version of the campaign idea is for the players: it may differ from the version in your notes. After all, you don’t want to give away any secrets in advance. Still, reveal as much as you can; think of this as a commercial or preview of your game and make it as exciting as you can. Some GMs  even create video “trailers” for their game. This is a great idea if you have the time, skill, and software to produce it. Don’t worry if you don’t; a printed packet is more than sufficient.

Your packet should tell players what to expect from your game. You want to highlight the parts of your game that make it different from the “typical” game of that system and from other campaigns you’ve run. The second job of your player packet is to entice your players and make them as excited about the game as you are. (if you aren’t excited about your game, you need to retool your campaign concept until you are. Because if you’re not excited about this idea, your players won’t be, either.) There’s no wrong way to write a campaign packet, but try to match the tone you want for your game. Use active verbs, possibly even second person viewpoint. Anything you can think of that will build interest.

Divide your player packet into three sections:

  1. Information players need to create their characters. Be sure to include any house rules or character restrictions in this section.
  2. A brief introduction to your game world. This part should be a quick, general overview of the most important points. Just include a basic overview of the most important parts of your setting that are of direct importance to starting characters. Keep it short.  Don’t expect them to read a 200 page description detailing every piece of cultural information you can cram in there and expect them to skim (if you’re lucky) the information you do include.
  3. A brief summary of game mechanics. Don’t copy pages of the book—just provide a summary in note form. You just want to give them a cheat sheet to the most important and commonly used mechanics. Even if you don’t include a mechanics cheat sheet, you still need to detail any house rules and any table rules you want the players to follow. It’s also a good idea to make a list of any game books you’ll be using beyond the core rules.

Even if your players are die-hard setting junkies who will eagerly pounce on every tidbit of information you provide, you should still weed your information down to the most important points for your player packet. You can give them the rest of the information just before it becomes important. Or you can provide them with a separate setting booklet, describing your world in full detail. Again, include only the things of most  importance to the players. By sorting your campaign ideas into core ideas versus side issues, you can tighten up your own notes and have a better idea of what are the central points of your campaign and what can be dropped if necessary.

Consider adding maps and illustrations to help jazz your pack up. If you’re not an artist yourself, check out stock art sites. Many time even paid stock art sites  will have some free images you can use. Or you can often get a few images for a nominal fee. Here are some places to get stock art:

The important thing about a player packet is that it’s for the players. It’s not to show off your writing skills, or to detail every last inch of your game world. Keep your player packet short and useful.

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August Blog Carnival: Campaign Creation

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carnival-logoThis month, rpgGM.com is hosting the RPG Bloggers Blog Carnival and we’re talking campaign creation. Do you have a method you use to create your campaigns, or do you just “wing it”? How would you like to create your campaigns? Is there something specific you do that you think would help other GMs create better campaigns? What’s the best campaign you ever ran and why do you think it was so successful? Or what campaign went horribly wrong and what would you did differently? If you’re a player, what would you like to see your GM do when he sets up a new campaign?

Campaign creation is a big topic, so your posts can be as broad or as narrow as you like. Talk about the whole process of campaign creation or just one small part of it, like making antagonists or choosing a game system. Or discuss the player’s responsibilities regarding campaign creation. To participate, write a post relating to campaign creation. Then leave a comment containing a link to that post. At the end of the month, I’ll do a round-up post listing all the sites that participated. Have fun with this, guys. I looking forward to seeing your ideas.

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Where I’ve Been

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bookshelvesI know this blog has been dormant for the past several months. The truth is, I’m running through a gaming dry spell. My GMing is off and I’m having trouble getting myself enthused about my game or writing here. I think that’s largely because my creative energies have been going in a completely new direction.

Like probably a lot of you, I’ve had a dream of writing fiction. A year ago, I decided to stop dreaming and start writing. Up to this point, my forays in fiction have been…well, “terrible” would be a generous description. I’d get a page or two in and then *pwffft*. No more ideas. This time I determined I’d keep at it until I got a first draft and set out with the goal of writing the suckiest first draft I could possibly managed. And because I knew I couldn’t create plots well, I decided to do what many of us did in high school (large warning bells here), I decided to write a story about my current favorite PC. I know, bad, bad, bad. I got permission from my GM to use his homebrew world and many of the NPCs as a starting point for my setting and permission from the other players to use their characters as well (with big warnings that these would be my versions of their characters, so not to expect them to be the same). I did that, thinking that if nothing else, I could use events as the game for my plot.

This is, of course, generally where things go wrong with game fiction. But I wasn’t married to the game events. Just used them as a starting point. I wrote about 200-300 pages of character development, world setting, three or four plot outlines, even a few scenes, but the story was going nowhere. Even when I completely stripped out the game events, the story still went nowhere. I gave myself permission to change anything to make it work as a fiction piece (which actually, I’d done at the beginning of this adventure) and threw out all the game events, all the other PCs and most of the NPCs, except for my main antagonist and his primary agent. That helped. I could tell there was a real story in there, I just wasn’t sure how to get it out. I vetted my PC, my main character, out on a couple of writing boards (“Would you read a story about this character?”) and got a very positive response, so I knew there was  a story to be told, I just needed to keep digging.

A year out from my first start I’m now about a quarter of the way into the new first draft and it’s working. I mean, really working. I’m averaging about 2000 words a week on the rough draft alone. That’s slow going, but it’s taking shape. I’m finding surprises as I write constantly and I’m starting to see the complete picture of the story. What changed? Well, I won’t go into detail here, since this is a gaming blog, but I’ll briefly say How to Think Sideways, a fiction-writing course from Holly Lisle (author of Talyn, Hunting the Corrigan’s Blood, Fire in the Mist and about fourteen other novels) that reminds me of Gamer Lifestyle for fiction writers (having taken both courses now, I can say that ;) ). I’m not an affiliate, just a very satisfied student. I highly recommend the course for anyone with the dream of writing fiction.

I’ve still got some gaming projects in the works. I need to take a day or two and force myself away from the story to finish revising The Adventure Creation Handbook. It’s almost complete. Just needs an edit of the new appendix I added on quick adventure ideas and then some packaging and it’ll be done and out. And I’m still wanting to finish the The Campaign Creation Handbook, but that’s till in first draft. I just need to make myself work on it. Maybe with the reboot of Gamer Lifestyle, I’ll get more inspiration to do it.

I’m starting a writing blog to share my journey (and–I admit it–start promoting the book, since I plan to self-publish). I’m not going to be talking about it here, because this is a gaming blog and I’d guess that most of my readers here probably don’t care about how my novel is going. For those of you who do, my fiction blog is currently titled “Jade’s Fiction” (though I’m going to come up with a better title). There’s nothing up there yet; that’s one of my goals to do tonight. I’m going to try and continue posting here, but if you don’t hear from me, now you know where I am :) .

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Beyond ‘Fred’: Sumerian Names

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Sumerian necklaces and headgear discovered in ...

Sumerian necklaces and headgear discovered in the royal (and individual) graves, showing the way they may have been worn. British Museum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finding a character’s name can sometimes be the hardest part of building a character. If you’re looking for something different from the usual fantasy sources and more pronounceable that a random name generator, you may find something here you like.

Beyond ‘Fred’ is an occasional series that provides lists of names from real-world cultures, both past and present. In other posts, I’ve covered everything from Italian to Ancient Egyptian. This time, we’re covering names from ancient Sumer. Some of these names are names of gods and goddesses, some are names of kings, and some are names of ordinary people. A few lists didn’t even have names broken down by gender or seemed to be used for either gender. For that reason, I’m including a third category I don’t normally use: unknown gender or gender-neutral names.

An important note: I’m listing names that I think sound cool for rpg game purposes. I’m not worrying about historical accuracy. If you’re looking for a name for historical re-enactment, please check out my list of sources at the end of this post. I also don’t usually cover name meanings, but again, most of my sources list those. Finally, I tend to stay away from names that are currently in common usage. I figure if you were interested in those, you wouldn’t be looking at this list. ;)

Male Sumerian Names

  • Aradegi
  • Aradlugal
  • Babum
  • Balih
  • Dadazig
  • Dumuzid
  • Entana
  • Enki
  • Gilgamesh
  • Gudea
  • Hablum
  • Hadanish
  • Ibranum
  • Iltasadum
  • Kalbum
  • Ludari
  • Luninni
  • Mageshgetil
  • Nanni
  • Puzur-Suen
  • Tuge
  • Undalulu
  • Yarlangab
  • Zizi

Female Sumerian Names

  • Aea
  • Anunit
  • Bau
  • Elutil
  • Ereshkigal
  • Gemekala
  • Gesthinanna
  • Inanna
  • Ishtar
  • Kishar
  • Lahamu
  • Mesh-he
  • Nammu
  • Nigbau
  • Puzur-Nirah
  • Uttu

Sumerian names of unknown gender (or gender-neutral)

  • Bauninsheg
  • Meania
  • Sheshkala
  • Urusilim
  • Zimu

Sources

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5 Great Podcasts for Game Inspiration

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podcast-logoThere are a number of RPG-related podcasts, everything from RPG news and GM tips to recorded play sessions. But there five non-gaming podcasts that regularly give me game ideas and I thought I’d list them here:

  • Stuff to Blow Your Mind: The stranger side of science. Really, the real world is much stranger than anything I could come up with in-game. Topics have included everything from teenage angst to the shadow side of the mind to slime in the animal kingdom.
  • Stuff You Missed in History Class: The interesting bits of history that classes tend to leave out. Recent topics have included Nikola Tesla and the current war, John Wilkes Booth, D.B. Cooper, and historical hoaxes.
  • The History Chicks: The real lives of famous women in history. The hosts Beckett and  Susan do a great job of bringing the world of the women to life. The also have fairy tale episodes where they discuss the origins and history of fictional heroines such as Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. If you thought you knew these stories, think again. Also check out the website, including the show notes. It’s got links to other history resources that bring each of the time periods alive.
  • Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know: Video podcasts of conspiracy theories. You could watch an entire episode while waiting in the grocery line. Take two, they’re small.
  • The Podcast History of Our World: Having trouble remembering the Assyrians from the Sumerians? The history of our world from the dawn of man. They’re only up to Assyrian Empire right now (episode 22), so you don’t have an excessive amount of episodes to catch up on if you decide to start from the beginning. The site also has links to a musician who recreates ancient music, just in case you really need some background music from Ancient Rome.

How about you? What non-gaming podcasts give you idea? Let us know in the comments!

[Graphic courtesy of derrickkwa via Flickr Creative Commons]

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Tabletop RPG Games by Genre

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A D&D game session in progress

A D&D game session in progress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a list of several RPGs and the genres fit into. Some games are harder to classify than others, so you may not agree with my placement; as always, YMMV. Also, a few games fit more than one genre. In this case, I’ve placed them in all genres I feel are appropriate.

Animals (You play animals)

  • Bunnies and Burrows
  • Critter Commandos
  • Furry Pirates
  • Justifiers
  • Mouseguard
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Anime

  • Big Eyes, Small Mouths
  • In Nomine: Anime
  • Teenagers From Outer Space

Cartoon

  • Bullwinkle and Rocky Role-Playing Party Game
  • Elfquest
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Toon

Fantasy (also called “High Fantasy”, “Straight Fantasy”)

  • 7th Sea
  • AGE
  • Amber Diceless RPG
  • Arcanum
  • Arduin
  • Aria
  • Ars Magica
  • Burning Wheel
  • Castles & Crusades
  • Chivalry and Sorcery
  • Conan
  • Dangerous Journeys
  • DragonQuest
  • DragonRaid
  • Dungeons and Dragons (all editions)
  • Earth Dawn
  • Elfquest
  • Elric
  • Empire of the Petal Throne
  • Everway
  • Exalted
  • Fantasy Hero
  • Furry Pirates
  • HackMaster
  • Harn
  • Iron Claw
  • Lace and Steel
  • Lord of the Rings
  • One Ring
  • OSRIC
  • Man, Myth, and Magic
  • Middle Earth Role Play
  • Palladium
  • Pathfinder
  • Pendragon
  • RoleMaster
  • RuneQuest
  • Talislantia
  • Top Secret
  • Tunnels and Trolls
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
  • Ysgarth

Historical (includes SF and fantasy firmly grounded in a historical periods)

  • Adventure (1920′s)
  • Ars Magica (Medieval; Fantasy)
  • Bushido (Feudal Japan)
  • Call of Cthulhu (1920′s; Horror)
  • Castle Falkenstein (Victorian; Fantasy)
  • Gangbusters (1920′s)
  • Gaslight (Victorian)
  • Indiana Jones (1920′s)
  • Lace and Steel (Cavalier)
  • Legend of the Five Rings (Feudal Japan)
  • Mouseguard (Medieval)
  • Pendragon (Medieval)
  • Qin (China, Warring States period)
  • Space 1889 (Victorian; SF)
  • Vampire: Dark Ages
  • various GURPS supplements, including Japan, Russia, China, etc.
  • Victoriana (Victorian)
  • Werewolf: Wild West

Horror

  • All Flesh Must Be Eaten
  • Call of Cthulhu (and it’s off-shoots such as Cthulhu by Gaslight, Cthulhupunk, etc.)
  • Chill
  • Deadlands
  • GURPS Horror
  • It Came From the Late, Late Show
  • Kult
  • Little Fears
  • Necroscope
  • Nephilim
  • Nocture
  • Ravenloft (AD&D and d20)
  • Unknown Armies
  • Whispering Vault
  • World of Darkness
  • Zombi

Humor

  • Bullwinkleand Rocky Role-Playing Party Game
  • Bureau 13
  • Ghostbusters RPG
  • HoL
  • Macho Women with Guns
  • Murphy’s World
  • Pandemonium
  • Paranoia
  • SLUG
  • Stuporpowers
  • Tales of the Floating Vagabond
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Teenagers From Outer Space
  • Toon

Modern

  • Bureau 13
  • Dream Park
  • Dresdan Files
  • Etherscope
  • Feng Shui
  • Gumshoe
  • Immortal
  • In Nomine
  • James Bond 007
  • Macho Women with Guns
  • Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes
  • Ninjas and Superspies
  • Nobilis
  • Over the Edge
  • Pandemonium
  • Scion
  • Stargate SG-1
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Twilight 2000
  • World of Darkness (Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, Wraith/Ghost, Changeling, Hunter, etc.)
  • Unknown Armies
  • X-Crawl

Near Future

  • Aberrant
  • Cybergenereation
  • Cyberpunk
  • Judge Dredd
  • Shadowrun
  • Teenagers From Outer Space
  • Trinity
  • Underground

Post-Apocolyptic

  • Aftermath!
  • Darwin’s World
  • Gamma World

Science Fiction

  • 2300 AD
  • Alternity
  • Blue Planet
  • Darwin’s World
  • Dr. Who
  • Fading Suns (D&D)
  • Gamma World
  • HoL
  • Jovian Chronicles
  • Justifiers
  • Mekton
  • Murphy’s World
  • Paranoia
  • Serenity
  • Skyrealms of Jorune
  • SpellJammer (D&D)
  • Star Trek
  • Star Wars
  • Tales of the Floating Vagabond
  • Traveller
  • Trinity
  • Universe

Spies (Espionage)

  • James Bond 007
  • Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes
  • Ninjas and Superspies
  • Top Secret

Steampunk/Victorian

  • Castle Falkenstein
  • Cthulhu by Gaslight
  • Gaslight
  • Space 1889

Superhero

  • Aberrant
  • Champions
  • DC Heroes
  • DC Universe Roleplaying Game
  • Marvel Superheros
  • Mutants and Masterminds
  • Stuporpowers
  • Villians and Vigilantes

Westerns

  • Boot Hill
  • Deadlands

Licensed Games (based on books, movies, or TV shows)

  • Amber Diceless RPG (Amber series by Roger Zelazny)
  • Bullwinkle and Rocky Role-Playing Party Game
  • Conan
  • Dr. Who (Dr. Who TV series)
  • Dresdan Files (Dresdan Files books and TV)
  • Elfquest
  • Elric
  • Ghostbusters RPG
  • Lord of the Rings
  • Middle Earth Role Play
  • One Ring (Lord of the Rings)
  • Serenity (Firefly TV series and Serenity movie)
  • Space Opera
  • Star Frontiers
  • Stargate SG-1
  • Star Trek
  • Star Wars (Star Wars franchise)
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • TWERPS

Generic or multiple genres

  • d20
  • Amazing Engine
  • Dream Park
  • FATE
  • FUDGE
  • GURPS
  • Hero System
  • Rifts
  • Savage Worlds
  • SLUG
  • TORG
  • TWERPS

Of course, this is by no means and exhaustive list. I concentrated on games available in the US, mostly because I’m not familiar with any others. Even so, I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone’s favorite game; if so, leave me a comment and I’ll include it in a revised list.

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Begin at the Beginning: RPG Campaign Creation Resources

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campaign-setupSetting up a campaign can be a challenge. Where do you start? What’s important to develop before play? How the heck do you even start planning a campaign?

Below is a list of campaign creation resources available online:

  • How to Organise Excellent RPG Campaigns (http://dukestreet.org/archives/004096.html): Eleven tips for working with players and what (and how much!) information to prepare for your game.
  • How to Start an RPG Campaign Step 1 — Want It (http://homework.never-ends.net/2010/01/how-to-start-an-rpg-campaign-step-1-want-it/): The first post in a series on setting up campaigns. This one covers getting yourself motivated to begin a campaign. Other posts cover choosing a game system, choosing a genre, story creation, worldbuilding and more.
  • Campaign Creation (http://www.campaignmastery.com/blog/category/campaign-creation/). A list of posts about campaign creation on the Campaign Mastery website.
  • Obsidian Portal (http://www.obsidianportal.com/): A site that hosts campaign wikis. A GM can set up a site for his game here, providing a one-stop place for the campaign’s players to look up important NPCs, summaries of previous game sessions, game calendars, and more. Offers both free and paid services.
  • What qualities are important when creating a fantasy RPG campaign? (http://rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/11/what-qualities-are-important-when-creating-a-fantasy-rpg-campaign): Tops for creating a generic fantasy setting for an RPG campain.
  • 11 Questions for starting a new campaign (http://www.rpggm.com/blog/2012/12/13/questions-for-starting-a-new-campaign/): My own post giving eleven questions that will help you set up a new RPG campaign.
  • RPGTable Online (http://www.rpgtableonline.com/welcome.php): This site offers on-line tools to help you run your game, including die rollers, maps, monster stats, tokens, and more.
  • Building RPG Campaigns (http://thewargate.blogspot.com/2011/10/building-rpg-campaigns.html): Advice on choosing a game system, creating adventures, creating a campaign story, setting up for sandbox campaign play, using published adventures, closing a campaign.
  • Campaign, Adventure, and Encounter Design Articles (http://www.roleplayingtips.com/rpg-articles/#design): A list of articles on the Roleplaying Tips website related to rpg campaign creation. Some topics include Choosing a Setting, Preparation of Material for a Roleplaying AdventureWriting the Effective Villain, and more.
  • Creating an RPG campaign for children, pt. 1 (http://rpgathenaeum.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/creating-an-rpg-campaign-for-children-part-i/): The first of three posts on planning a campaign for kids, using as an example the campaign the author created for his 7 year old son.

How about you? Do you have any favorite campaign creation resources? Feel free to post them in the comments section below. What do you find the most difficult about creating a new campaign? Any tips for making campaign creation easier? Please share!

[Image courtesy of aleske via Flickr Creative Commons]

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What RPG games do you want on deserted island?

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deserted islandIf you were stranded on a desert island, what five RPG games would you want with you?

The RPG Circus podcast posed this question at the beginning of December and it got me thinking. For the purposes of the question, it was assumed you would be able to choose the systems you were stranded with and that you could have all the dice, supplements, paper, pencils, etc. that you needed. It also assumes that there would be other people stranded with you, so you’d have players.

Here’s my list of five:

  1. Classic World of Darkness – Yeah, okay, I’m kind of cheating with this one, since it’s actually five separate games. But I love this setting and I’ve had many happy hours playing it. If I absolutely had to pick only one of this games, it would be Mage: the Ascension.
  2. D&D – No brainer, right? The grandaddy of all RPGs. The only real problem here would be if I had to choose an edition. I’d either want 1st ed AD&D or 3rd ed (d20). Each has their strengths and weaknesses, but if I had to choose, I guess I’d go with 3rd ed., since I find it a more flexible system. But I’ve also got a soft spot for 1st ed, since it got me started in gaming.
  3. Savage Worlds – I wanted a generic system in this list and I love Savage World’s innovative dice system (combined with playing cards) as well as the “wild die.”
  4. Traveller (4th edition, also called “Marc Miller’s Traveller”) – Yes, this edition had issues with editing, but it was the first version of the game that made me go “Oooh, I want to play that,” despite the fact that I also have a good chunk of the original “Black Box” books. I love the campaign setting and reading it gave me more campaign ideas than I could possibly use in a lifetime. I also prefer it to the “Black Box” edition partially because computers no longer take up a huge amount of your ship’s capacity and you can’t die during character creation. I’ve never gotten a chance to play in a Traveller campaign, but it’s on my bucket list of games.
  5. Skyrealms of Jorune – I’ve only gotten a taste of this game in a campaign that lasted about three sessions, but I would love to play more in this unique setting. I figure if I’m stuck on a deserted island, I’d have the time to sit down and really learn the game setting as well as being able to convince other people to play it.

It was hard to choose just five. I figure I’d also have Amber, because I already have everything I need to run it in my head. But I’d have loved to include Everway, Cyberpunk 2020, Trinity, Shadowrun and In Nomine, as well.

What about you? What five game would you want with you if you were stranded on an island and why?

[Image courtesy of steve conry via Flickr Creative Commons.]

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