Category Archives: Bubbles

Hiatus + Plot Hooks 3

Hi everyone,

I’m going to take a few weeks off of regular updates to try and get onto a more even keel. I’m not afraid or ashamed to talk about mental health on here, so it should come as no surprise to some of you that every now and then, a bad spot occurs in my own mental health.

I’ve been struggling with content recently and I’m hoping this time off will help. All being well, I should return with an update on the 19th of August.

In the meantime, I hope you fare well and enjoy these plot hooks!

-Bubbles


Fantasy Plot Hooks

After the sky burned last month, no-one has heard from the nearby village of Pyre’s Well.

Is it orcs pillaging merchant caravans crossing the Redwyne Ford, or something else?

The local tavern is full of rumours about a mysterious song carried on the wind from the ruins of Elm Hall.

All the children in the school have been dreaming of a sunken house, burning eternally with an emerald fire.

Passenger ferries have been reporting sightings of some large, unknown creature as they cross the Mirror Lake.

Horror Plot Hooks

Something has been sighted on Main Street every night for the past two weeks, leaving only evaporating footprints behind.

Three members of the school football team reported dizziness and migraines shortly before disappearing entirely.

The local alt-fashion shop has been forced to close permanently after a parent blamed it for her son’s suicide. The owners maintain he left their shop alive, but was followed by a cloaked figure.

All the members of last night’s combat patrol have started mutating after encountering a shepherd.

A bizarre epidemic has swamped the local hospital. Whatever it is, is asymptomatic and presents as vivid hallucinations and nightmares followed by death.

Steampunk Plot Hooks

The remnants of the Crooked Fleet have been driven to ground in the ruins of Versailles. There are whispers they are building something there.

A new alloy has been discovered in the Americas, one that could revolutionise boiler production. There are sure to be many interested parties.

The legendary Captain Raul is hiring new crew members, he is sure to put new recruits through gruelling tests.

Venusian gas-hounds recently escaped from Lord Hawthorn’s manor and are causing havoc.

Brassen’s Finest Imports are looking for a courier willing to make a run into the jungles of Brazil. Such a journey would be dangerous, but profitable.

Role-playing 202 – Improvising One-shots

I’m a bit pushed for time this week, hence the early update, so the following post isn’t as polished as I would like it to be. I might come back to it soon and edit it slightly. But for now, here is my approach to improvising one-shots.


One-shots. When you don’t have the time to prepare anything longer, when you know you have a shorter play session than usual, when you’re running low on players, or just because you want to try something different, the humble one-shot is a viable alternative to skipping a game session.

As the name suggests, a one-shot is typically a short scenario designed to be played over a single session of gameplay and within a set time constraint. While some one-shots can be played over a few sessions, as a rule, they should generally be a self-contained story and can be a perfect opportunity to try new things or experiment with your play style.

If you have plenty of time to prepare one, a one-shot can easily suck up as much time as standard session preparation, or more, because you can devote a lot of time to polishing the ‘one and done’ experience, far more than the more sandbox approach  usually required for campaign play. The purpose of this article is to explain how I go about preparing one-shots in a shorter time frame. This kind of approach leans on improvisation and may require you to leave your comfort zone but can produce some incredibly dynamic situations.

The first thing to bear in mind when doing this is to know the setting, or to be comfortable making things up on the fly that are consistent with the rest of the world. The best way I’ve found of getting around this is just to use your own setting, or one that you have a lot of knowledge about.

The second thing is to know what kind of story you want to tell. By building on what you know of the world, you will have a good idea about what kind of things are likely to happen, or are impossible.

The third thing to create is the twist. Because it is a one-shot, it’s a good idea to have a natural climax to the storyline. The easiest way to do this is to have a plot-twist as the crescendo and then something big happen as the finale.

With these three things, you should have an outline for the plot. The next thing is to work out where you want the one-shot to be set. The type of story you’re telling will lend itself to certain locations over others, but there is no wrong setting. As long as it makes sense within the logic of the world, theoretically you can set any kind of story in any place.

The setting will influence the supporting cast as a matter of course and from there you can figure out the best way to introduce the player characters to the plotline. This can be the hardest decision to reach but, if done correctly, can create player investment from the very beginning. Some stories will be harder than others to create an introduction for so you should never be afraid to tweak a plot if you need to.

With all of these things in place, you’re ready to start the play session.

The above remains true when you have a lot of time to prepare, but the following points explain how I approach improvising a one-shot.

The first thing is internally consistent floor plans. Whilst you don’t need maps, drawing one as you go helps some player groups visualise the locale they are exploring. Even if you don’t draw maps/use maps, try to keep your floor plans/area layouts architecturally plausible. Believability is key to building the atmosphere you want and to gain player investment.

The second thing is know what plot point you want to hit next and keep the narrative flowing towards it. One-shots lend themselves more to so-called rail-roading than campaign play, purely because of the constraints of the medium.

The third thing is continually ask; “What if?” If your players are floundering for direction, or ask you a question, ask yourself about a facet of the world that is relevant to the situation. You can also ask yourself this question when fleshing out the narrative and throwing other things into the mix.

The fourth thing is relax. Due to the nature of one-shots, anything that takes place, any established facts or any NPCs are unlikely to have an impact outside of the session (unless you decide otherwise) so you should feel more free to make mistakes than usual.

Putting all of this into practice, I was recently required to prepare a one-shot during a short train journey.

I decided straight off to set the session in my homebrew world, and knew I wanted to tell a heist story. For a twist, I settled on the heist being a disguise for a ritual designed to summon something. I chose a fundraising event to repair a university building and used this as a springboard to populate the event with guards, party-goers and cultists. The PCs fit naturally into the event as guards and had a reason to react in the manner I desired (because they were getting paid to be security).

The “what if?” question threw up a few interesting events. The first was that because the captain of the guard left to defend the vault, the players assumed she was in on the attack (what if she left to fulfil her duties?). The second created a magical ward that the players unwittingly destroyed, paving the way for the ritual (what if the university was magically shielded to protect the guests?). The third of note produced loads of possessed guards and a crystal golem that acted as the finale of the one-shot (what if the ritual was orchestrated by an outside power?).

So that’s my approach to improvising one-shots, I hope it proves useful or inspiring. If you have any thoughts, or ways to improve my method, let me know in the comments.

The Meet

Something different this week, a short piece of fiction inspired by Shadowrun.

As ever, comments and criticisms are welcome!


Rain-slick tarmac reflected the cracked blue neon tubes of Harran’s Diner. Leonin leant against the cool concrete of a doorway across the road, his collar turned up against the biting wind. He’d been standing here for about thirty minutes, his hands in pockets and his cybernetic eye powered down, watching the door.

About five minutes ago, three patrons had entered, a couple of elves and a troll, and then left moments later to take up discrete sentry positions. He had smiled at that. He’d been told their contact was security conscious, but these were obviously trained professionals. He had begun to wonder if Mr Johnson worked for one of the mega-corps when the man himself turned up, striding confidently down the street as if he owned it.

A dwarf of middling years, Mr Johnson was dressed smartly, with the tell-tale sheen of synth flesh covering cyberware mods around his eyes and hands. The rain was deflected by an umbrella carried by an aide, one of five, walking at his side. The other four, all armoured, masked and wielding snub-nosed rifles, walked with military precision and dispersed at a gesture from their employer, taking up overwatch positions around the Diner.

Leonin counted off in his head, waiting for the agreed upon time and then shrugged himself upright. One of the guards noticed the movement, his gun barrel twitching slightly. The troll stepped from its position and sauntered casually into the Diner as he approached.

The Diner’s security, a broad shouldered female ork with a scarred lip, glared at him as he approached and pulled out a scan-baton.

“Stand,” she said, indicating a faded cross on the soaked tarmac. Leonin nodded and stood on the spot, raising his arms. The baton hummed into life and passed over his body, chirping at the sheath strapped to his belt. The ork wrenched his coat open and drew the knife, staring into his eyes as she did so. “No weapons allowed. Bosses’ orders.” She grunted, flipping the short blade and handing him a tag. “Claim it when you leave.” He nodded and smiled easily, he had expected something along these lines when Johnson had suggested the diner and when the ork had not approached any of his people.

“May I?” He asked, his tone smooth and unflustered, gesturing towards the door. She nodded, her eyes already sliding away from him and towards the steaming mug in the little shelter she had been provided.

The door ground slowly open as he approached, the mechanism whirring audibly.

“I apologise for the safety measures.” Johnson called out from the only occupied table in the Diner, his arms opening to encompass the few standing, and visibly armed, patrons in the place. “They are necessary for a man in my position.” Leonin laughed.

“What position is that?” The dwarf gave him a searching glance with narrowed eyes.

“That is of little consequence. Now, sit. We have business to discuss.” Leonin walked slowly over to the indicated chair, his eyes firmly on Johnson.

“Indeed, we do. You have the information Jorral requested?” The dwarf nodded and slid a folder across the scratched plastic table.

“Half of it is in there. The rest will be delivered upon completion of the job.” Leonin’s jaw clenched momentarily before he nodded, his face open and relaxed. “I appreciate your deactivated ‘ware, by the way. I assure you, your confidence in me puts you in good standing.”

“I judged a man with your security requirements would be unwilling to have his face recorded.” Leonin said quietly, reaching out for the folder. “I expect that the security systems along your route experienced short-term malfunctions upon your approach.” The troll, the one from outside who was now standing near Johnson’s shoulder, chuckled quietly.

“Indeed.” Johnson said, “Let me re-assure you that division of payment is a standard practice for me, it is not a slight on your reputation.”

The speaker in Leonin’s ear whistled quietly and Jorral’s voice came over the line.

“He has someone searching for your face. Halsa is slowing them down but don’t take too long. We need that mask to work for a few days more.”

“I appreciate your honesty.” Leonin said, meeting Johnson’s eyes. “To business then?” The dwarf nodded.

“An acquaintance of mine has stumbled across some information that he should not possess. I am willing to give you the rest of your payment after your decker’s services have yielded fruit. Nothing difficult. Just a simple server intrusion and data mining.” Leonin laughed.

“Nothing is ever a simple intrusion in this business. You have the relevant information to hand?” Johnson nodded and slid another file across to him. “Jorral has most of the details but there is an updated summary, along with some additional information, in the folder. I trust you will be discrete?” Leonin smiled, nodded and stood.

“Discrete and swift. That’s how we do things.” He nodded at the dwarf. “We’ll be in touch.”

Without looking back, he walked out of the Diner and claimed his knife.

“Have a great evening.” He called to the ork over his shoulder. “Take plenty of vid for what happens next.” His hand found the transmit button sewn into the cuff of his coat. “Contact Ares. Tell him I have the proof of the dwarf’s involvement. The job’s finished.” He smiled as he walked away, content with another run safely completed.

Role-playing 302: Personal Development Through Role-playing

Previously in this series, I have discussed how role-playing helps you build the skills required to work successfully as a team. Today’s article will touch upon this but will mostly be focussed on how role-playing can improve your workplace skills through personal development. As ever, I might return to this topic in the future, but for now this will do.

There are three primary areas of personal development that role-playing can help with; empathy, organisation and creativity.

Empathy synergises with the communication aspect I have discussed before but goes deeper. Empathy is the ability to understand, and feel, the emotions and experiences of others. To some extent it relies on imagination, but it also builds off of your own experiences.

In-game, empathy is developed through role-play. By the very nature of role-playing, your character will end up in situations that you have never encountered. Depending on how you approach character creation, your character may end up being wildly different to you anyway, further increasing your opportunities to build upon your ability to put yourself in the shoes of other people.

Out of game, this makes you a far more sympathetic (and empathetic) person. Because you understand more about how other people are feeling, you are able to relate to them better which helps you to build effective relationships with others far faster, and encourages your colleagues to place more confidence in you and your abilities.

Empathy in general is great as a tool for developing your communication skills because it can help make you aware of the effects of what you are saying and can help you realise how to alter your vocabulary and conversational tone to improve your relationships with others.

Organisation, much like in the previous article, is about keeping track of useful information. In this context, however, it is less about organisational methods, and more about memory and personal organisation.

A large amount of the organisation required in-game is related to the internalisation of rules and character abilities/history, even more so for the GM who has to keep track of plot points, background characters and the like. Whilst everyone has their own method for remembering these things, all of them improve memory skills, internalisation procedures and recall speed.

I feel I should point out that a lot of the memory skills involved are developed through repeatedly using the data, but they are transferable.

The final area of this article is one that I feel is important in every aspect of life but I’ll explain here how creativity can help you specifically in the workplace.

Role-playing, by its very nature, is an improvisation, a creative exercise. Through play, you’ll develop confidence in your ability to respond to unexpected situations, your ability to alter your role in a team as needed and your ability to solve problems, whilst also learning how you prefer to express yourself creatively.

Out of game, and specifically in the workplace, having confidence in all of these skills means that you are able to react to the shifting nature of the workplace, moving between teams smoothly, and knowing that you are able to solve problems by yourself if required. Creativity also lends itself to leading others and inspiration, making it an important leadership skill to possess.

As an outlet in, and of itself, creative exercise (writing, reading, painting etc.) is a fantastic way of coping with emotional problems and creating support groups to help you deal with anything you may not be able to face alone. Indulging yourself in this way means that you have a more positive outlook and are able to perform your duties better in the workplace.

The above is my brief overview of the benefits of role-playing for individuals in the workplace. If you have any thoughts on this, please let me know in the comments.

The Beginning of Things #1

At long last, here is the first instalment of my serial fiction featuring the characters I have introduced through a series of prologues. A .pdf is available here and will be updated as the story progresses.

If you have any comments or criticisms, let me know.

Enjoy!


The setting sun shone in through the large windows and warmed the pale marble floor under her feet. Around her, the sounds of quill on parchment gradually faded as the students left. Within minutes, she was alone in the Grand Library.

Caelynn Selasthrin, her auburn hair pulled messily back and her ink stained fingers trembling with fatigue, desperately wanted to leave the Library as well. She had been here for three days already, grabbing short naps where she could, and eating what little she had brought with her.

“You really should leave, you know.” The deep voice carried on the still air, causing her to jump. She looked up from the research scattered on the table and rubbed her eyes.

“I don’t have time.” She said, stretching out her spine. “I need to find what I’m looking for, much depends on it.” The priest approaching her smiled, the weather-beaten skin on his scarred face creasing along well-worn laugh lines.

“That’s what they all say.” He stopped at the edge of her table, folding his hands into the sleeves of his plain robe. “I’ve been a librarian here for a long time, and I’ve seen all sorts pass between these shelves. You, Caelynn, are not a researcher.” He cocked his head and looked at the scattered books and papers covering the wooden surface in front of her. “You have works on five different subjects, presenting thirteen points of view and collecting the results of at least two insane geniuses.” He sighed. “Please. Get some rest.”

“No. I need to find this, Raez. I need to. I just don’t know where to look.” She looked around, gesturing towards the shelves. “There is so much to go through.” Her shoulders slumped.

“What are you even looking for?” Raez’s voice was quiet and he placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“Lassin’s Rune of Protection. Master Gerund needs it for something and he said it was here. Somewhere.” She paused as a broad smile split Raez’s face. “What? What is it?” The priest said nothing in return, merely pointing at the ceiling. She looked up and her eyes widened.

Lost among the mosaic depicting the end of the Cataclysm, but plain to her trained eyes, a grand rune, undeniably a master rune, was hidden in the exact centre of the library’s roof.

She groaned and slumped forwards on the desk, her head cushioned on her right fore-arm.

“Are you sure this wasn’t a test? It’s not easy to forget where it is.” Raez said, struggling to contain his laughter.

“Of course it was a test.” Caelynn’s voice was muffled against the fabric of her sleeve. “It’s always a test. He’s been testing me ever since I got back to Scour with that caravan.”

“That’s just his way. You know what can happen if your magic isn’t applied properly.” She raised her head and stared at him

“I know, I know. I know I struggle to focus on things sometimes, I know that elves don’t make natural rune-carvers, I know that the tests are for my own safety. I just wish he would stop telling me that.” She sighed. “Sorry. It’s not your fault. I’ll sketch the rune and put these things back before leaving.”

“I’ll put the books back. Just go and rest.” Raez smiled. She couldn’t help returning the smile as she pulled some parchment towards her.

“Thank you.” She said, sketching the rune swiftly.

Raez began to silently tidy her desk as her hands drew smooth, sure strokes on the parchment.

As she put the quill down and craned her head to check her work against the original, he stepped away and made a shoo-ing gesture with his hands.

“Now go.” He said, smiling. “Sleep.” She nodded wearily and collected the few things on the desk that didn’t belong in the library.

“Thank you, again.” She said, standing. He nodded and grabbed a pile of books from her table as she started to walk out of the library.

The double doors opened smoothly at her touch and the golden sun painted the courtyard in shades of amber and bronze.

At this time of year, Temple Court was still busy in the evening. Students and faithful alike filled its numerous courtyards and meeting spaces.  The Grand Library, with its ornate façade, formed the entire south side of this particular courtyard and looked onto the unassuming rear of the Temple of Knowledge. Statues of both the Guardian and the Seeker, the two deities of knowledge, were recessed into alcoves along the temple wall and stood silent vigil over the Library.

She breathed deeply, enjoying the warm summer air, and started walking down the steps. The sounds of the city surrounded her and wrapped her in their familiar embrace as she crossed the square. The smell of food from somewhere nearby caught her attention and she realised how hungry she was.

Without really thinking about it, she changed direction, heading for the little café she favoured. Honeydew and Bramble was a small establishment, unknown to most and tucked away behind a few university buildings, that served a wide variety of traditional halfling pastries, as well as the honeyleaf tea she had thought she would never find again when she left the Starspire Forest.

It didn’t take her long to get there and sit down with a bramble-berry tart and a pot of steaming tea. She closed her eyes and inhaled the sweet smell of the infusion, smiling with satisfaction.

“Looks nice.” A sibilant voice said nearby. She opened her eyes and looked at the copper-scaled dragonborn standing next to her table. There was an air of lazy authority in the stranger’s voice, and a stiffness to her bearing, that betrayed an expectation of obedience.

“They usually are.” Caelynn replied, her tone guarded.

“Elenia Moondharrow wishes to see you.” The dragonborn said, reaching into her pocket and dropping a sealed roll of parchment onto the table. “She awaits you in her tower.” She turned to leave. “I wouldn’t keep her waiting.”

Caelynn froze as the dragonborn left, her hand hovering over the parchment.

The Guardian of Stability. She thought. What does she want with me? She began searching her memory, desperately looking for something she might have done that would result in being summoned by the head of Scour’s secret police and one of the oldest, and most powerful, members of the Twelve.

She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth, reaching for the missive. Without pausing, she broke the wax seal and unrolled it.

Caelynn Selasthrin, I need someone with your knowledge for a mission of utmost importance. Your tutors suggested you as a possible candidate and have given me permission to offer you a once in a lifetime opportunity.

 I can say no more about the mission other than that it is dangerous, but vital for the continued survival of the city. You will be well compensated for your troubles and I believe the experience will give you ample opportunity to practice your skills.

If you wish to take me up on my offer of employment, bring this letter to my tower and show it to my assistant. He will know what to do.”

She put the letter down and ate her tart as fast as she could, unwilling to keep Elenia Moondharrow waiting.

Battle Maps: The Pleasure Barge

The pleasure barge has yet to be finished, but is open to adventurers seeking shelter.

The middle deck, comprised mostly of a large ballroom and galley (in addition to an entrance hall), is ringed by a narrow gang-way that provides access to the ladder leading to the wheelhouse on the top of the barge. The crates here are full of furniture parts and ornamentation.

The bottom deck contains the engine room (complete with functioning boiler) and a yet to be installed spa/bath area. The crates on this deck are full of tiles and plumbing.

The top deck provides beds for special guests (as well as the master bedroom and attached vault) in addition to a mezzanine. Opening the crates on the top deck reveals more furniture parts and ornaments.


The map is designed to be printed on a single sheet of A4 paper with each square representing 10 feet. It was created in GIMP using assets from the Dunjinni Archive.

Pleasure Barge

Gaming with Anxiety

I’ve written about mental health on here before but this week I’m going to be addressing the subject of how anxiety affects me in a table-top context and how I cope with that.

If this isn’t something you want to read, or if it is something you find upsetting, feel free to click away from this page.

My anxiety in this context revolves around social matters, so experiencing it in the safe space of a table-top game actually helps me to develop coping mechanisms that allow me to deal with anxiety away from the game. Hopefully these methods can help you if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

The primary result of my anxiety is the consistent feeling that I’ve been rude, or otherwise acted inappropriately. Typically this is because I think that I’ve spoken over someone, or that my actions in the game have worsened their experience.
The only way I’ve found to deal with this (in addition to the general one I will explain below) is to carefully think over what I’ve done that could have prompted this feeling. Usually, when I’m doing this, I realise that what I’m worrying about, in a previous situation, was not as bad as my mind tells me it is. I can then use that realisation to persuade myself that I haven’t done anything wrong, and that there is no reason for me to be upset, to varying degrees of success.

The other most common result is, if you pardon the phrase, performance anxiety, specifically that I messed up in my portrayal of my character, that I wasn’t true to previously established facts and behaviours.
For me, table-top role-playing games are all about the story and the role-playing, so when I feel like this, I worry that I have ruined the game for everyone else around the table. This is harder to ‘get over’ than the previous example but it is still possible to do so.
My main method for coping with this is to consider what actions I undertook in the session, and what I said, and incorporate them into the character. At the end of the day, everything I do in-character is an opportunity for character development and by considering what I’ve done, my character can change in unexpected ways.
I’ve also found that keeping an in-character journal helps with this.

The third result that I’m going to talk about today is that I worry about having held up the game, or that I have otherwise detracted from the experience for the person who is giving up their time to run it.
The only solution I have found to this is one that also helps with all of the above.

To wit, ask someone in the group, whether a player or the person running the game, whether you have done what you think that you have done. Hearing that you have no foundation for your worries from someone directly involved with them, in my experience, helps to assuage said worries.

Obviously, all of these coping mechanisms have a fluctuating level of results and sometimes don’t work as much as I would hope them to, but it is useful to still enact them to bring a little peace of mind.

I know this is a little short, but it isn’t an easy subject to talk about, so I hope this has helped you gain a little understanding into some of the effects of anxiety.

If you find my coping mechanisms useful, or have your own, please let me know in the comments.