Tag Archives: GM tools

Adventure Creation Handbook Now Available

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Want to write your own adventures?

You can learn to write good adventures and The Adventure Creation Handbook will show you how. Maybe you’re searching for an original idea. Or maybe you’ve just looking for a way to take that exciting climatic battle you see in your head and put it into a form your players will enjoy. Wherever you are in the adventure creation process, this  book will guide you step-by-step through the process of creating an adventure for any genre, any game system.

Overcome creativity blocks and dry spells. The Adventure Creation Handbook describes several methods of coming up with adventure ideas your players and you will enjoy.

Customize plots for your group and your game. By using your players and their wants as a starting point, this method allows you make adventures your players will want to play.

Integrate adventures into your campaign. This method integrates the adventures into your game system and campaign world from the very beginning. No trying to shoe-horn or retrofit ideas that don’t really fit.

“If you ever opt for an affiliate program, I’d be proud to represent your book.”
Johnn Four

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What’s included:

  • A step-by-step method for creation adventures that covers
    • Generating the original idea
    • Translating that idea into a series of events by asking and answering questions
    • Putting the events in a meaningful order that’s flexible enough to take player whim into account
    • Developing incentives to entice your players to go on the adventure
    • Getting it all down on paper (or in the computer) so you don’t forget anything important
  • Suggestions for running your newly written adventure
  • A worksheet to help you put your ideas in order
  • A checklist so you don’t miss any steps
  • Printer-friendly black & white design. No heavily colored pages to eat toner.

In addition, when you purchase The Adventure Creation Handbook, you receive these free bonuses:

  1. Life time updates. You’ll receive a free copy of this book every time it’s updated or revised. No need to go searching for errata or buying the next version, just to have up-to-date information.
  2. An example of adventure creation using this method, illustrating each step.
  3. A booklet of GMing tips from my blog Evil Machinations.
  4. 90-day unconditional money-back guarantee.  No questions asked.

What’s it cost? $7 for the next 30 days. That’s a special launch price. After August 15, 2011, the price will go up to $10.

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Why and How: Using Adventure Seeds/Hooks/Starts/Ideas, pt. 7

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Up to this point, in this series on turning adventure seeds into full-fledged adventures, we’re down to the last of the questions that will give us the background information we need for our adventure. So far, we’ve covered the who questions, describing all the people involved in our adventure, the what questions that tell us what’s going on with the adventure, the where and when questions that tell us about the adventure’s location and time it takes place in. Now we’re down to the very last of the questions: why and how.

[Photo provided by exfordy via Flickr Creative Commons 2.0]

Why Questions

In many ways, these are the most important questions of all, for they give us the reasons that the adventure and its events are happening. They’re also the most often over-looked. Have you ever played through an adventure that doesn’t make sense? That’s usually because the adventure’s creator never fully answered the “why” questions.

Why do the PCs need to be the ones to go on this mission?

This is the question that covers our adventure hooks — the reasons why each of our PCs would go on this adventure. For that reason, we need to know the individual PCs involved in the game. Since we haven’t created a party for this adventure, this is a question you’d want to answer for each of the characters in your game.

Collectively, however, we can posit the reason the prince would hire the PCs as a group, rather than using some of his own men. The reason here is that the PCs are outsiders–which gives Alexei and Fedor plausible deniability. They can always claim that the PCs are acting on their own behalf and have other, ulterior motives on the princess.

Why did the leader hire these entertainers?

The princess wished for these entertainers because they’re the ones performing the most popular play around. Also, the wizard, who arranged for the performance in the first place, was an old adventuring buddy of Kirill, the head of the performing group. We can state that perhaps the wizard isn’t fully convinced about this marriage himself and is hoping that perhaps Kirill can turn the princess’ eye away from himself.

Why is (s)he holding the performance?

Entertainment is a traditional part of a princess’ confinement time. After all, she’s shut away from everyone else for six months. We could make part of the tradition for a princess’ betrothed to supply entertainment for her during her confinement.

Why is the mission taking place?

While we’ve pretty much covered this in earlier questions, it helps to spell it out clearly. The mission is taking place because the Prince Alexei views his sister’s marriage as a threat to his own inheritance of the crown. It would make the king’s favorite adviser a member of the royal family which could, potentially, threaten his inheritance. It would also give the wizard even more of the king’s ear. If he can somehow get the princess to marry his best friend, Fedor, he can put someone else into power who’s more loyal to him than to his father.

Fedor doesn’t want the marriage to take place because he’s been in love with the princess since he was a boy and he doesn’t want to see her married to anyone else, but particularly not an “old man” such as his master.

Do the PCs know?

The PCs are actually being given a false reason to go on the adventure–they’re being told that the princess is being forced to marry against her will. Alexei and Fedor hope that this will give the PCs even more reason to help them, hoping to engage the PCs’ on an emotional level, thereby making them more committed to the mission.

Why should the PCs go?

This goes back to our motive question, but with a slightly different twist. Instead of explaining why Alexei and Fedor would want the PCs, we explain why the PCs themselves would want to take the mission. Again, individual motives would have to be determined by the GM for each individual PC and for each individual group. For the group as a whole, though, one reason would be that Alexei and Fedor will pay very well for a successful completion of the mission. Also, it would place the future king of the country in the PCs debt–never a bad thing, since adventurers have a habit of causing trouble wherever they go.

Why are the entertainers taking this job?

Presumably the payment for the performance would be a huge incentive. But we can also say that the leader of the entertainers, Kirill, sees it as a way to thumb his nose at the king, using it as a way of counting coup against him. Also, perhaps Kirill owes the court wizard (let’s call him Roman) a favor from their adventuring days and this would allow Kirill the chance to repay it.

We’ve also brought up a couple more “whys” while answering the earlier questions:

Why would Fedor want the plan to fail?

Back in our who questions, we posited the idea that maybe Fedor wants the mission to fail. But why would he? Perhaps he’s having second thoughts about. Maybe he’s realizing the princess wants to marry Roman and that he wants her happiness above his own desires. Or perhaps he and Alexei had some kind of falling out and Fedor sees this as a chance to get revenge. The GM would have to determine the circumstances of the falling out.

Why does the princess want to marry Roman?

Perhaps our princess Darya has a crush on Roman–a May to December romance. Maybe her own father was cold and distant and she sees in Roman someone who cares for her and will take care of her.

Just to add another twist, let’s say that Roman doesn’t want to marry our princess. Very likely, he could see her as the daughter he never had. Let’s also say that he knows Fedor is in love with the princess and let’s say he thinks Fedor would make a very good husband for her. So perhaps Roman’s gotten wind of this plot on the part of the Prince Alexei and his apprentice and is actually hoping it will succeed, particularly if he believes that Darya and Fedor would actually be happy together. Maybe they were close friends growing up, which would give Roman a reason to believe that the marriage would be a happy one.

How Questions

Usually in an adventure, how to solve a mission is best left up to the players to figure out. Still, it’s a good idea to have at least one idea as to how to solve it. That way, if the PCs get completely stuck, the GM can drop some hints to get them moving again. We also have a few “how” questions  that need answers:

How are the PCs going to fit in with the entertainers?

Entertainment groups have their own culture and the PCs are likely to stick out like sore thumbs. I’d actually leave it up to the PCs to determine how they’re going to fit in, but they do have a week to prepare, so Kirill can do his best to give them a quick introduction to the life of a traveling player.

How might they prepare for this mission?

Obviously, their week of training would be the major way for them to prepare for the mission. It’s also important for the GM to remain flexible and incorporate the players’ ideas for preparation into the mission.

How might they succeed?

Well, given all of our plot twists, success could very well be in the eyes of the players. If they do manage to get the princess out to marry Fedor, they’ll have succeeded at the parameters of the mission as originally outlined. There are several ways to go about this. One way would be to disguise the princess as one of the entertainers, another could be to smuggle her out in one of the prop trunks.

How might they fail?

The main way the PCs would fail is to be detected and reported to king. That would pretty much ruin every plan they could come up with (now that I’ve said that, some group will come up with that as their actual plan and make it work).

How are the entertainer going to perform?

The confinement compound could have a central courtyard that would provide a space for entertainers to come and perform in. Since our group are traveling players, they’re going to travel pretty light, meaning they actually use few props and scenery. So their performance is going to be an acting one, with the play’s emphasis being on character relationships rather than scenery and special effects.

Now we’ve answered our main questions and we’ve got the beginning of an adventure forming. Using these techniques yourself, you’re most likely to move back and forth between questions as answers to one question lead to more questions that need other answers. Keep working back and forth until you’ve answered enough questions– “enough” being defined as “until the adventure takes shape in your mind.”

Next time we’ll go back over our answers and begin pulling this information into an actual adventure.

Other posts in this series

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What Do You Need Help With?

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In addition to the world setting I’m creating, I’m looking at producing a line of products to help GMs run better and more immersive games. To that end, I’ve created a short survey asking for your input. Please help me out by taking a moment to give me your ideas. I’ll post the results here next week.

Click here to take survey

Want to be a Better GM? Ask Your Players

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rpg blog carnival logoHow do you know how good a GM you are? You’ll need to ask your players. Below is a questionnaire I hand out to my players from time to time to find out what’s good about my game and what needs to be improved. Please feel free to change, update, modify the questions to fit your game.

[This article is part of the March 2010 RPG Blog Carnival: How to be a Better GM].

GM and Game Evaluation Questionnaire

Please check all answers that apply. Feel free to add any commentary, answers, or smart-ass remarks 😉 .

1. Game difficulty

  • I think your game is much too easy for characters. No matter how stupidly we play, we always achieve our goals
  • Your game is much too difficult. If I wanted the brutality of real life, I’d watch the evening news.
  • I think your game is at a good difficulty level.

2. PC experience / power level

  • I like to play beginning characters, who are just figuring out their abilities and how to use them.
  • I prefer to play mid-level character who know their abilities and have some clout in the game world.
  • Really powerful characters are the most interesting. I like the challenges that come from having a lot of ability.
  • I like starting with low-powered characters and work my way up to the be as powerful as the game allows.

3. Gaming Group Size

  • I prefer small groups of 2-3 players.
  • I think medium-sized groups of 4-8 work the best.
  • I fell that really large groups (10+ players) are the most fun.

4. Character Death

  • I don’t think PCs should die. Ever.
  • It’s okay if the GM kills a PC every once in a great while, but only if they die heroically and during a hard struggle, or if their death can have some meaning.
  • I don’t think the GM should kill PCs, but if the PCs get themselves into a fatal conflict, the GM shouldn’t rush in to save them.
  • PCs should drop like flies.

5. Threat of Character Death

  • I like knowing that my character probably won’t die. It allows me to take more risks than I would otherwise.
  • I would find it more interesting if there were more of a threat of death over my characters head.

6. NPC Quality

  • Your non-player characters really help bring your game to life. We run into the most interesting and/or believable people.
  • Your NPCs are okay. Every once in a while we get a really great one, but the rest are a little cardboard. They could use some more individuality or development.
  • Your NPCs are totally flat and unbelievable. Where did you get them–a Dover paper doll collection?

7. Story Quality

  • The stories in your game are really good. The make the game interesting and enjoyable.
  • Why do you make your players think so hard? I just want to hit things!
  • Your game is too intense; couldn’t you lighten up a little? Do we have to have to do major soul-searching every game session?
  • Your game isn’t intense enough. Let’s have some depth and meaning here.
  • I don’t care about a story–it just interferes with my hitting things.
  • You have a story?

8. Game Session Mood

  • I like it when GMs vary the moods of their game sessions, like running a silly session after a particularly dramatic one.
  • I prefer it when the GM varies the mood within the game session, but keeps the overall mood of the game the same.
  • I like roleplaying to be serious and intense. The GM should never let up on the pressure.

9. Game Humor

  • Your game has too much humor for me.
  • Your game has too little humor for me
  • Your game has just the right amount of humor for me.

10. Game Pacing

  • The pace of action in your game is just right. Things are happening fast enough to keep me interested, but not so fast that the game feels out of control.
  • I think thing are happening way to fast in the game. I can’t keep up with it.
  • Your pacing is too slow. Please pick it up a little, I’m getting bored.
  • Your pacing is too inconsistent from one game session to the next. Please smooth it out.
  • Some more variety in your pacing would make your game more interesting.
  • Pacing? You have pacing?

11. Creating Characters

  • I prefer to create my characters one-on-one with the GM, even if it takes a few weeks to actually start playing. The mystery about the other characters off-sets the delay.
  • I prefer to create my characters a group so that we can balance our party.
  • I like to create characters with the whole group, but I don’t want to know much about the other PCs until play starts.

12. Background Information Sheets

[I always create a short background information sheet–one to two pages–that tells players how their character fits into the game world].

  • I loved the background sheets you created for our characters. It makes me feel like I have a real place in the game world.
  • I didn’t care one way or the other about the background sheets you created.
  • I hated the background sheets. You mean I have to learn this stuff about my character before I can actually play?

13. Character Advancement Knowledge

  • I don’t like any ambiguity about my character. I want to know how much experience I have at all times.
  • I don’t mind not knowing how much experience I’ve gained, number-wise, but I want to be told when my abilities or powers increase.
  • I like not knowing exactly where I stand, experience-wise. I enjoy finding out about ability and power increases through game play.

14. Adult Content in Games

  • I would feel comfortable role-playing “adult scenes” (sex, etc.) with this group.
  • I would feel okay about role-playing adult content with the GM (i.e., with an NPC) or with the player involved, but I want to do it in a one-on-one situation.
  • I don’t think sexual and other such situations should be role-played at all. Just acknowledge that it happened and move on.
  • I don’t think the game should contain any adult content at all.
  • Is hitting things adult content?
  • What a question! I’m not sure how I feel about it; I think we should discuss it as a group.

15. Power Balance.

Your game gives too much advantage to:

  • magic
  • combat skills
  • psionics
  • class abilities
  • other [please specify]:

16. Power Restrictions.

Your game puts too many restrictions on:

  • magic
  • combat skills
  • psionics
  • class abilities
  • other [please specify]:

17. Event Balance.

Your game could use more/less [please circle your choice]:

  • magical events
  • combats
  • power contests
  • NPC enounters
  • non-combat skill challenges
  • other [please specify]:

18. Player Input

  • You don’t let the players have enough input in how the game runs. After all, it’s our game too.
  • You let one/more of the players bully you too much. You need to be stronger about making executive decisions.
  • You expect too much input from the players. We don’t want to have to make every decision–that’s why we have a GM.
  • The amount of input we have is just about right.

19. Mid-Campaign Rule Changes.

I would rather you:

  • Discussed the situation with the group so that we can have a say in how things are going to work from now on.
  • Do whatever you want. It’s your game.
  • There should never be any mid-campaign rule changes. You should always play by the rules you set up in the beginning, even if they don’t seem to be working.
  • I don’t mind some mid-campaign rule changes, but if they’re going to affect my character, I’d like a chance to change my character so that my character idea stays consistent with the new rules.
  • Make all the changes you  want as long as it doesn’t hinder my ability to hit things.

20. Rule Questions.

On the occasions when you can’t remember a particular rule, I would rather you:

  • Look up the answer, no matter how long it takes.
  • Only look up the answer if you feel you absolutely have to.
  • Never look up anything during play. I’d prefer you make a decision, any decision, as long as you don’t slow down play.

21. Bad Rulings.

When you realize you’ve made a “bad call” in a previous session, I’d prefer you to:

  • Discuss it with the group before you begin the next session and come to a group consensus about how to run similar situations in the future.
  • Tell the group you made a ruling you’re unhappy with and explain how you’d handle it differently in the future, but not allow any changes to the events of that previous session.
  • Tell the group you made a ruling you’re unhappy with and allow the party a “do over” with your new ruling.
  • Don’t tell anyone and just run it differently next time. Every situation is different, after all.

22. Adherence to Printed Rules

  • GMs should always go exactly by the rule book at all times.
  • Each GM creates an individual version of the game universe. The books are really only background and guide-lines.
  • Make what ever rules you want, as long as it doesn’t harm my ability to hit things.

23. Adherence to Source Material,

If your game is based on pre-existing source material (such as Dr. Who, Serenity, Amber, etc.):

  • I don’t like it when you deviate from from the published background material. You should follow pre-existing material exactly.
  • I like it if you’re not tied down to published material. It makes your game more interesting because I don’t know what’s going to happen.
  • I don’t mind some deviation from pre-existing source material, if there’s an in-game reason for it that we, as players, could potentially find out.
  • I don’t care about pre-existing source material. I just want to hit things.

24. Internal Consistency

  • Your game is internally inconsistent. Please keep better notes so aspects of the game world don’t suddenly change on us without warning.
  • Your game is very consistent. New information builds logically on old information we already know.
  • I don’t care about consistency. I just want to hit things.

25. In-Game Time. Time in our game is:

  • Consistent. It makes sense, even if the GM plays with it some; there’s always an in-game reason for any inconsistencies.
  • Inconsistent. In one session, it takes us two weeks to get from our fortress to the capital, in another it takes us two days. What gives?

26. GM-Player Direction

  • We could use more direction in your game. We spend too much time stumbling around blindly.
  • You’re directing us too much. We want off the train tracks.
  • You give us the right amount of direction. We can choose our own path through the game world, but if we get lost, you always give us in-game assisstence.
  • I’m not sure what you’re doing, but it works for me.

27. Types of Adventures.

I’d like your game to have more or less [please indicate which] of the following:

  • Dungeon adventures
  • Wilderness adventure
  • City adventures
  • Combat scenes
  • Role-playing scenes
  • I like the mix you currently have

28. Intra-Party Conflict

  • I think they’re way too much intra-party conflict in your game. PCs should always work together and should know each others’ strengths and and weaknesses. Otherwise, how can we plan anything?
  • I like it when PCs are at cross-purposes to one another, but not to the point of harming another party member or making it impossible for the party to accomplish things together.
  • I love intra-party conflict. Bring it on! That’s what makes the game fun for me.

29. Session Rating.

In general, your game sessions are:

  • fantastic
  • pretty good
  • fun
  • better than being hung up by my toes for four hours
  • a few more like least ones and I’ll stay home an wash my hair
  • awful; I didn’t get to hit things once!

30. The Best Part

The best part of your game is:

  • the incredible detail of your game universe.
  • the fascinating NPCs.
  • the intrigue and politics.
  • seeing my characters advance.
  • the inventiveness you encourage in your players.
  • the fact the PCs can have major and permanent effects on the game world.
  • the interaction you encourage between the players
  • other [Please specify]:
  • There’s nothing enjoyable about your game.

31. Please add any information you think I should know.

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Taking the Initiative: Review of Paizo’s Combat Pad

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This review is part of the Game Cryer Holiday Gift Guide.

Running combat in d2o/3.x systems is no task for the faint-hearted. Multiple characters, each with their own initiative, spells, delayed actions, held actions, potions, magic items … whew! It’s a lot to keep track of and it’s easy to forget who goes after whom … oh, and when does that spell take affect, again? No wonder so many GMs resort to laptops to keep track of who’s doing what and when.

What is it?

paizo-combat-padBut what about those of us without laptops? Luckily, Paizo.com has a solution for us, too. Called their “Combat Pad“, this sturdy magnetic board takes much of the drudgery out of keeping track of combat. Individual magnets allow you to write the names of the PCs, NPCs and monsters in dry or wet-erase pen. You can also take notes directly on the board itself and there’s a large space on provided to do just that.

The center “column” is numbered down the side allowingyou to place character/monster magnets near the number corresponding to each N/PC’s initiative roll. Is one PC readying or holding an action? Just move his magnet to the appropritate column on the right-hand side. Then once the character uses his held action, just move his magnet to the new initiative order number. No more “When did you come in last round?”

The line of numbers across the top allows you to keep track of what round you’re currently in. I also use it to note what round a spell goes off and what round it finishes. After many years of trying to keep track of it in my head or on scraps of paper, this is a very welcome addition to the product.

What’s so good about it?

First of all, large notes section. It allows me to track hit points as well as combat rounds. Secondly, the rounds tracker, which I mentioned above. The fact that it’s magnetic means I don’t have to worry if the cat decides to take a short-cut across my notes during combat.

I generally use wet-erase markers (I’m always dragging my hand through what I write, so dry-erase for me ends up being one big blur) and both the magnets and the board come clean with a damp cloth or paper towel. And when I say clean, I mean clean. No color residue left. The different colors of magnets — blue for PCs, green for NPCs and black for monsters — makes it easy to tell at a glance which you’re dealing with right now. The board comes with a good number of magnets, but if you lose some or find you need more, Paizo offers an extra magnet pack.

I also like the size. While a larger board would allow for more notes, the current 81/2″ x 11″ fits easily into my game notebook. Which means I can carry it with me wherever I’m running. A big bonus, since our group tends to rotate hosting the game. And it works for more than d20; I’ve used it with my Vampire: the Masquerade game with the same success.

The price tag for this product — $16.95 — is very reasonable. The extra magnet pack is $7.95. It’s a great gift for that special GM.

Beg, Borrow, and Steal

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Evil Machinations is branching out. Starting 6 October 2009, I’ll be publishing a free weekly newsletter called “Beg, Borrow, and Steal”. Not a repeat of my blog posts, BB&S will contain:

  • Small locations you can drop into any game — a tavern, an inn, a spaceport, etc.
  • NPCs — people you can add to your game
  • How to’s for everything from making props to setting a mood
  • Anything else I feel like throwing in 😉

The idea is to provide GMs with small bits of information they can use immediately. My ideal would be to provide you with something to cause you to say “Hey, that’s really cool — I think I’ll use it tonight.” The information will be as non-system specific as possible. You can sign up for BB&S in the box at the top of the left column of this blog.

I’m also open to ideas from other GMs. If you’ve got a great tip or idea you’d like to share, send it on over. If I like it, I’ll use it and give you full credit (which, right now is the only thing I can pay you with, since the newsletter’s free 😉 ). Just email your ideas to jade(at)rpggm(dot)com.

Look for the first issue on Tuesday, 6 October 2009.


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