Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Gamemastering - just do it

Gamemastering, that is, being the game master (or dungeon master, for those D&D players out there) for a roleplaying game is not something done easily.  I've been playing for thirty-one years, and over those years I've been the gamemaster (GM) since day one.  Starting with the red box Basic Set back in 1985, I've helmed countless games.  I like to think I've become rather skilled at it, if my players are to be believed, but I'm not providing this information to brag, only to provide some context in that I know a bit about what I'm talking about.

First rule of gamemastering: just do it.  Get out there, take charge at the head of the table and run a game.

I leave that on its own line, because that's the most important part.  Gamemastering is, by and large, a performance skill.  I don't mean actual performance, though that helps and can be fun, but rather performing the act of running the game makes you better at it.

"Yes, yes.  Thanks tips, glad you're on that for us." you're thinking.  And in some ways you're right. Practice makes perfect and all that.  However, I've seen people be overwhelmed by the task of running the game, with all the story details, character details, monster/opponent details overwhelms them, because they aren't used to channelling that flow yet.  That's the real core of the practice part.  You've done it enough times that some things become mental muscle memory, and you focus on the action going on in a particular scene.  That's what happened over the many years I've been GMing.  Now I make it look easy, because I've been over the hard parts.  That said, I'm always learning and tightening my game.

If you're a new GM, one thing you need to accept is that your game will not run perfect.  Hell, I've been doing this for 31 years or so, and my game sessions aren't always perfect.  If it goes well, you and the players have fun, and you get to tell a group story, then the real goal has been met.

There are two areas that, if you pay attention to them, can help your first (or latest) session go well:


  • The adventure itself - whether written notes, a published module or something in between, you need this
  • Dice - if I have to explain this...  (mind you, have plenty)
  • Pens, pencils, erasers - include extra for 'that guy'
  • Paper for making notes, maps, etc.
  • A gamemaster screen - yes, I've known GMs who don't use one.  It's creepy and weird.  As a player I don't want to know what's going on there, and as a GM I like to have the privacy to keep things surprising
  • Campaign notes - even if it's your first session, have some idea of who the heroes are, where they are, and what is happening around them
Optional materiel (depending on game system):
  • Vinyl game mat marked in squares - for those games like Pathfinder which work well with minis for combat or situations where you have to ask "where, exactly, does your character step?"
  • Markers for said mat
  • Miniatures
  • Props - this one varies, but sometimes, the right prop at the right time works wonders
  • Read the adventure.  Oh, you wrote it?  Read it again.  Be prepared for what happens in it.  Think ahead to the NPCs and how you want to play them.
  • Make sure your notes are organized.  No one wants to wait while you flip for the random factoid written on the 35th post-it note stuck in your spiral-bound notebook, half the pages of which are scattered on the floor around your chair
It sounds like a lot, but really it's not.  Have the tools you need, and be familiar with the adventure you plan to run.  That way, when the players do something oddball, or a foe dies easier than planned, you can adjust because you know what else is there.  You know that if they whip through one encounter, the guard trolls in the next chamber are probably going to come to investigate.  If you misjudged their power, you can add an extra enemy or two to some encounters (or take them away).

And now a note for players:  cut the GM some slack.  I'm not saying put up with a terrible game, or not give some feedback, but when you know your friend sitting behind that screen is taking their shot as a beginner, understand that they're not going to be as smooth as your regular GM.  He or she will say "give me a sec, have to check something..." so be patient.  If they need to do a retcon here and there (yes, just because the baddies forgot to take your weapons doesn't necessarily mean it was planned that way).  Give them a chance, and they'll tighten their game.  Until one day when they forget to take your weapons it will be intentional, and that encounter, my friends, is like an open book exam.  Bring your worst because you'll need it.

More musings on the fine art of roleplaying games to come, but remember - gather your tools, plan your adventure, and get stuck in and do it.  Practice will make you perfect, and you'll have fun doing it.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Star Trek Beyond – A Review

Image result for star trek beyond

We finally got out to see the new Star Trek movie, and frankly, I was impressed.  Full disclosure: I am not as much a fan of the new (Bravo) timeline as I am of the original (Alpha) timeline, with TOS, TNG, DS9 and VOY.  That said, I have been entertained by all three new Star Trek films to date.  In fact, I found Beyond to be the best of the three.

There will be some spoilers ahead.  You were warned.

Firstly, about Beyond it and of itself. This one seemed to have the best balance between activities for all the crew.  No one was neglected, and no one stole more spotlight than normal (let's face it, Kirk, Spock and McCoy are still the big three).  I liked Scotty's scenes and the guest stars were really good in their roles.  Jayla in particular I thought was a really fun character.  The action was well paced and neither too fast (such as in the first one) nor was there any dragging parts.  Well done to the writers, director and editor on this one.  I also found that each character started coming into their own, rather than being a slight caricature of the previous incarnation in the original series and films.  While they can't seem to go a single movie without showing some emotion on Spock, it was well handled.

The film itself gave some serious fanservice to the timeline that wasn't erased by the first film.  The USS Franklin is the same class of ship as the NX-01 Enterprise, captained by Capt. Archer.  They even talk about polarizing the hull plating and using phased array cannons.  Very nice to see, and it ties the movie into the greater Star Trek multiverse.

This one also had a pleasantly independent storyline.  It wasn't a less-effective remake of The Wrath of Khan (looking at you Into Darkness), and also wasn't loaded with heaps of backstory like Star Trek (2009).

Another good point is that J.J. Abrams was only a producer on this one.  While he's a decent director (not as hot as he's made out to be), he shows no respect for the established milieu of a world he goes to play in.  This showed in his blatant disregard of even the most basic treknology, and was also apparent in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  This film was much more true to the Star Trek milieu and felt much more like a Star Trek story.

While Star Trek's place is better served on television, this film was a solid addition to the new timeline and really set them on their own course into the new unknown being created in this film series.  While there might be some quibbles,  I recommend it highly to fans and casual fans alike.

It will be interesting to see the adventures of the new Enterprise-A.  (Though at this rate they'll need more of the alphabet.)

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Unboxing - Epix Haven Terrain

Here's another Kickstarter I threw in on.  A feed popped up from the Pathfinder Society facebook page, and the miniature terrain buildings from a Norwegian startup called Epix Haven looked pretty good.  When they said these buildings were true 28mm scale I figured I'd go in for one, maybe two.

Well, they arrived (back in the spring) on time and in great condition, thanks to the packing methods.  Each piece has it's own box.  The two I kickstarted for were the Freestanding Tower and the Tudor House.

Let me first say, before I let the photos do the talking, that these are awesome.  I mean really awesome.  So many buildings out there are not true 25/28mm scale, and while they're perfectly usable, these have full interiors with 1" grids marked in the surface texture.  That makes them good for wargaming and roleplaying games.  They are also super impressive and beautifully detailed and painted.

Now for the pictures...

First up is the packaging.  Every single one of these comes in it's own box.  And not just any box.

Each one comes in it's own full package, packed in tight-fitting foam to keep it safe.  Here's the Tudor house:

Take out the upper floor piece on the right and you see the packing job on the smaller pieces:

Take all the pieces out and you can see the difference true 28mm makes:
The miniatures in the photo are a few human-sized ones from the Pathfinder Battles range.  You can see the scale of it already.  The chimney is attached to the roof by magnets built into the parts already.  The upper floor is on the left, the ground floor on the right, and there's even a set of stairs.  This adds to the sense of scale:

The Tudor house is just waiting the heroes' next bar brawl.  Add that to the bar set from the latest Pathfinder Battles Rusty Dragon Inn expansion and good things will happen.

The stand alone tower is just as impressive.  Packed the same way:

Each segment is one of the floors of the tower.  The stairwells are packed inside each level, and assemble as shown (again with the built-in magnets):

You can see the 1" squares inside.  Ignore them and you've got perfect wargames terrain.  Note the warrior in the third photo.  Again, true 28mm scale.  The 'stick' on the right is a flagpole that goes on top (left off for photos).  The Tudor House in the background shows scale as well, and just how awesome a layout you could do with more of these things.

Look carefully in the windows and you may even see the archer in there.  

Ironclad approves!

These terrain pieces are premium models, and while not cheap, their price is certainly competitive for what they provide.  Without question this is a case of getting what you paid for.  Thankfully I got my pieces at Kickstarter prices.  Would that my budget was larger I'd have the entire castle.

In summary, these terrain pieces are fantastic.  They are high quality, well-painted resin that match the most common scale out there for RPGs and wargames.  You can't go wrong with laying some of these sweet pieces out on your table, and frankly, I can't wait to use them.