RPG a Day 2018 – Day Nineteen – What music enhances your game?

What music enhances your game?

I don’t use music in my RPGs anymore, which is one of the issues with running in somewhere like Dice Saloon. I’ve been tempted to reinstall DMDJ on my iPad in order to have atmospheric sounds, but that iPad is also where my game books live and I don’t know how well the sound will carry.

At home, I tended to use long soundtrack YouTube videos, much like I do for board games. I try and pick something thematic. The last game to be run at the house, 7th Sea, had a Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack playing. Sometimes a player might find an epic music video which was fine for dramatic scenes, but Two Steps from Hell isn’t great for quieter scenes.

There was a short time in the start of the Gen III In-Fighters where the GM at the time, Andy, would play a single track of music to act like an opening theme tune for a session. It was a good way of signalling that it was time to play rather than chat about out of game things. He used Frank Ferdinand’s Fade Together for a GURPS game based on the 20000AD ‘Leviathan’ comic. While I wasn’t a fan of the GURPS itself, I enjoyed the story. That song and Leviathan are now inexorably tied together in my mind.

I followed suit in Hunter: The Reckoning where my Black Falls campaign had Tom Waits’ ‘Little Drop of Poison’ as the theme, as it felt fitting for the kind of small town horror and paranoia I wanted to foster. And I always like a bit of Tom Waits…

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RPG a Day 2018 – Day Eighteen – What art inspires your game?

What art inspires your game?

I love using art in games, mainly for markers of who people’s characters are in game and on Obsidian Portal.

Amnesiac City

The main ‘art’ I use for my games tends to be photos of actors or random models. Inspired by Epistolary Richard, I printed out a bunch of photos and stuck them onto business cards to hand out to players. This way the heroes and villains could have faces. For games like Amnesiac City, anyone who died was crossed out and left on the table, showing the increasing body count as the three-season series came to a close.

This kind of style also adds a sense of recurrence to some of the characters. For ages we always had someone who was played by Mark A Sheppard as he seemed to be in every television show for a while. A loud member of the Blackstone Sentinels was played by Brian Blessed and a nihilistic non-binary ex-noble was played by Tilda Swinton.

As I’ve been thinking about this, I hadn’t just used faceclaims in RPGs recently. There was a point when I had a copy of Photoshop and tried to make CCG cards based on some of my games. I made a bunch of Legend of the Five Rings cards for our characters which I think are all gone now. I do still have some Buffy ones, which I think I discussed with folks on the Buffy RPG forums, a rare RPG forum which I actually engaged with. In discussing TV shows of a comparable level in order to get castings, people mentioned a bunch of shows including one I became a massive fan of, Gilmore Girls. Without any context for the cast, I ended up using the actors of Dean, Jess and Paris all as cast members, just based on how they looked. I gave Dawson’s Creek a second attempt at a watch, which was a formative show for the genre but not really good. Then also 7th Heaven which was pretty terrible. The Buffy CCG wasn’t all that good and I’ve no idea if my mechanics actually worked, but they made for good representatives of the cast and their locations.


A few of the cast.


I made a few cards for local locations. Also some action cards… also yes, I tried to look like one of Smashmouth when I dressed up fancy when I was younger.

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RPG a Day 2018 – Day Seventeen – Describe the best compliment you’ve had while gaming

Describe the best compliment you’ve had while gaming

The standard answer to this is the simple one, a thanks is enough, as is the attendance of the players. It sounds trite, but it’s still true. If the players say or message a thanks, it’s nice. It makes it feel like the work put in was worth something. The same works the other way, too.


Still, we’re not here for the obvious one. Dredging up the mind canal, one of the nicer compliments I had was in a GenCon UK game of Spycraft. It was the year where the con was in what was pretty much a giant tent in a Butlins. I wrote a trilogy of Spycraft adventures which frankly could have been better, but were still entertaining to run at conventions. I ran the first one a ton of times at this Butlins GenCon UK. It was midday and no one showed up for a game. Not at first. Then these two players showed up and while I was’t used to running for two players, I decided to keep going.

The game seemed cursed. Despite knowing each other, the players both had created the same character class; a snoop. While the adventure was some investigation of a town where the populace thought they were birds, segueing to a chase on a train, these players simply showed up with briefcases and legal papers. Still, we played. As people on the RPG tables had got used to, there was the smell of the portaloos being drained which happened far too often. We kept going. Then there was a power cut. The players made their excuses and left.

I didn’t have anywhere else to go, so I stayed at my table and read. The players returned. They explained that they figured they’d go back to their chalet, grab some beers and hopefully at least the smell from the loos would have dispersed by the time they returned. They handed me a beer, said that they’d been enjoying it, especially with the mission working despite their atypical set up. I don’t even like beer, but in that moment at the con, it was the perfect time for a beer and the rest of the adventure with those players.

Those Spycraft adventures are tricky to find these days. They’re available here with the other Living Spycraft documents.

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RPG a Day 2018 – Day Sixteen – Describe your plans for your next game

Describe your plans for your next game

For the first time in a long time, I know what my next few games are. Plans are a little more vague these days, but that’s fine. The next games are:

Night Witches – This is a game about the real life Russian all-female bomber squadron. It has some pre-made duty stations and we’ll be playing the game to find out what happens. I’ve got no real plans, although it has a mechanic for rotating the GM when duty stations change, so I’ll be gunning for another player taking over GMing for one station, even if it’s just a short one.

Masks – This one I have plans for. Not vast amounts yet, but I have the rough idea. This is ‘season two’ of a game we’ve been playing. Last season the group were superheroes too obscure to be of much note to the public. They fought The Periodic Table of Evil, who have now come forward as The Periodic Table of Heroes. Only the players know they’re really evil, so we’ll see what they do in reaction. I have a ‘darkest future timeline’ story arc which will be activated when one player is absent from a session. They also have Chadlantic to deal with. He’s a meathead bro who inherited the role as the city’s saviour. With the Periodic Table taking over the superhero game, who knows what’s happened to Chad.

The Warren – This is a game about playing bunnies. It’s another ‘play to see what happens’ kind of game, but I’m making my own playset which is on Race Hill, just up from me in Brighton. I have some scenarios which are single sentences, but I won’t share those here as my players might read the blog.

Dungeon World – This is the last half of a story where I sent the group to hell in the conclusion of season one. From there, they’ll need to get back out of hell and face Rath, The Antigod before it turns their world into its new home.

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RPG a Day 2018 – Day Fifteen – Describe a tricky RPG experience that you enjoyed

Describe a tricky RPG experience that you enjoyed

A tricky RPG experience I enjoyed came from a time before I was aware of any story games, which I assume were possibly in their infancy at the time. I wasn’t aware of any safety mechanics or anything at all along those lines.

I was running Buffy: The Vampire Slayer: The Roleplaying Game, set in Brighton. I’m a big fan of Buffy, of trashy teen drama, but I never expected to see it at the table. Buffy was a massive change to the way I run games and viewing them more like television episodes, with one monster a week and a general plot leading towards a Big Bad.

One week, there was a werewolf convention on the Brighton seafront. In my version of this world, werewolves were pack creatures so of course they had a general convention to discuss werewolf things. The previous generation’s Scooby Gang had dealt with the convention before, so they dealt with the adults while the players dealt with the daughter of the lead werewolf. Beth was a terrible person, looking for fun (trouble) at any moment. The group’s nerd, Jordan, was instantly smitten. The group’s jock, Quentin, was also smitten. They followed her round as she got into scrapes and risked breaking the pact of the different werewolf tribes. Despite being an NPC, the group clicked with her enough that I had to bring her back for a couple more appearances. The love triangle was brilliant and terrible, as painful and lacking in any actual finesse as a real teenage love triangle would be.

In the finale, Jordan and Quentin finally confronted Beth about her affections. Beth gave the most perfect, horrible letdown talk to Jordan. I felt bad acting through Beth’s part in the story. Steve Two looked heartbroken as Jordan, a character who’d suffered a lot through the campaign. I’d had versions of this talk and I can only assume Steve Two had as well. It was raw, awkward and fantastic. There’s a thing called ‘Bleed’, which I was introduced to by the wonderful Kate Bullock talks about on The Gauntlet’s podcast. This was definitely our first experience of bleed at the table.

I had plans for the sadly nonexistent season two, where Beth would get into werewolf drugs and try to drag the straight-laced Quentin in with her. I had an NPC Jordan might get interested in, who I would kill and turn into a ghost, because literally everyone but him was a monster in the series.

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RPG a Day 2018 – Day Fourteen – Describe a failure that became amazing

Describe a failure that became amazing

I’m a terrible British geek. Outside of Red Dwarf, I never really bothered with most of our big institutions. It took me years until I bothered with Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy. I never watched Dr Who and outside of a couple of cheap volumes, I’d not read much Judge Dredd. Terrible, I know.

Well, I started reading those lovely giant Judge Dredd tomes to undo that sin, and I started watching Dr Who after a massive endorsement from Antony and Ashly Burch on their podcast a few years back. It was just before Matt Smith’s run started and they were gushing about Waters of Mars. I caught up on all of the modern Dr Who over one winter, all while playing Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood. It was great and of course I did what happens whenever I see a media property I like. I bought the role-playing game and started planning.

The group were mostly fans as well, so we had a great time going through time and space in a TARDIS which looked like an ice cream van. They met Lovecraft, whose hometown had become phased into an alien menagerie, they fought autons in a fun fair, teamed up with David Bowie and fled from 31st century debt collectors.

The Student was our Time Lord and he had a long-suffering companion just called Parker, another player character. The group had found World War I soldiers dotted around space and time, all pretty perplexed about what had happened to them. In the finale, we found out. The players arrived in No Man’s Land shortly before The Battle of The Somme, underneath a bombed out church. They quickly identified that Weeping Angels were attacking the soldiers and stranding them earlier in the campaign. Luckily the players had their TARDIS in the basement. Unfortunately it was surrounded by Weeping Angels, lit only by the TARDIS’ headlights.

The players were playering their way with blinking alternation systems and such to make sure no one blinked and the statues stayed where they should be. Then Lee, the player of Parker, pressed the button on the TARDIS’ keys to switch off the car alarm. There was that typical ‘bip bip’ noise and the headlights… blinked. It was such a brilliantly unconscious action, which messed everything up.

The lights blinked. The Weeping Angels were gone, the doors of the TARDIS were open. Then is vanished, stranding the group in World War I, in No Man’s Land, with no TARDIS. Suddenly this was a two-part episode and the kind of event where the players present still haven’t forgiven Lee for losing the TARDIS, several years later.

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RPG a Day 2018 – Day Thirteen – Describe how your play has evolved

Describe how your play has evolved

I’m someone who’s tried to be a writer for many, many years. When I was first into role-playing I let that instinct take over. Initially I only made up anything to get players from one second-hand AD&D adventure module to the next.

There were occasionally recurring NPCs and the players either liked or tormented them. Either way, it was good. I kept pressing on and had some relatively fixed story expectations with a few of the campaigns.

I read a lot of Knights of the Dinner Table at the time and the contest between players and DM seemed like the natural state of things. Sometimes they’d ‘win’ and sometimes I would. There were some great times where we’d all hit the same kind of goal but there were often bumpy rides as well.

Games like Fiasco really changed me. They allowed me to hand off ownership of the world and story to other players. In Fiasco the first quarter to a third of the game is making characters and their connections. The rough idea is there from the playset you pick, then in creating everything, you load the story like an elaborate firework, ready to go off. Lovecraftesque’s ‘leaping to conclusions’ phase at the end of each scene has people make assumptions about where the story’s going and they’ll drive towards that, each in their own private direction until we make a mystery we all built but none of us planned.

It wasn’t just a case of surrendering the story to the players, sharing responsibility for it with them, but also of sometimes not prepping at all. Monsterhearts taught me this, as the first Powered by the Apocalypse game I played. Then Apocalypse World really drove it home. Have some ideas, but don’t come up with a massive plot. Some larger plots will happen naturally, some will be gifted to you by the players and their actions, some rough ideas can be jettisoned and some can be harvested for stories later if you need to.

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