Category Archives: Bubbles

Role-playing 303: Communication Skills

In earlier articles in this series (301 and 302), I briefly mentioned how role-playing games can improve your communication skills in the work place. This week, I’m going to cover that particular subject in more detail.

I’ve already explained how role-playing helps you communicate better and in a sympathetic manner, so today I’m going to talk about how it helps you react to social situations, use written communication methods to convey information clearly and read people in order to make it easier to communicate with them.

If, like me, you are not comfortable in social situations, there is a phrase you should always bear in mind; ‘fake it, until you make it’. I’ve been applying this for years when it comes to appearing confident in front of others, and to some extent it works. I’m never going to be good at small talk, that is simply not a skill I possess, but I can act confident for long enough that I feel it, for a short time at least.

Role-playing has played a large part in this. A few years ago, I decided to break from my usual characters and rolled up the bard I speak frequently about here in an effort to force myself out of my rut and into a more… socially comfortable mind-set. It was, to some extent, effective. Role-playing that kind of character has taught me about the social cues I display and the behaviours I fall back on when under pressure. Knowing these things allows me to monitor my reactions to other people in conversation and tailor them according to the situation. This isn’t a fool-proof plan by any means, but it helps me to react to things in a much calmer, controlled manner.

When I feel the panic and social anxiety starting to kick in, I let myself slip into my bard’s mind-set, rather than my own. This, obviously, is a learned skill and takes a certain amount of self-confidence, or a willingness to push past the discomfort. What I have realised, and what I believe is the big takeaway here, is that if you have a ‘library’, so to speak, of personalities to draw upon, as long as you take only those aspects which are helpful and which you have learned from, you’ll be able to deal far better with situations that throw you off-balance, or make you uncomfortable.

My next point will likely come more naturally to people who run role-playing games for others, as opposed to those who play them, but will hopefully still prove useful to anyone reading this.

Writing adventures (whether one-shot games or longer storylines) teaches you the importance of concise summaries (of the relevant happenings from any given game session), coherent notes (whether world building or in terms of planning) and a consistent style. The purpose of any game, in my opinion, is to draw the players in, make them invested in the world in which their characters exist and to maintain a sense of continuity. In order to achieve these goals, you must maintain a consistent style in your storytelling, as well as be able to refer to your notes on a subject days, weeks etc. after the fact and recall any relevant information. Being able to do this in a professional context is invaluable.

Not only does it allow you to build effective relationships with people you do not ordinarily see face to face, because they are able to quickly understand who you are through your writing style, register and tone, but you will also be able to convey the importance of information by altering your writing style, something that your correspondent won’t be able to pick up on as easily if you don’t have a consistent baseline when contacting them.

The importance of concise summaries is more related to the presentation of information, than it is to the actual way in which you communicate, but remains important here nonetheless. As in the context of the game, being able to accurately produce concise summaries of information allows you to quickly and clearly convey your message, without confusing the matter with an abundance of extraneous information. Naturally, of course, some people prefer to have more facts than fewer, and you will have to tailor this approach accordingly, but being able to do it is an invaluable talent to possess.

My final point is related slightly to something I discussed above; role-playing allows you to familiarise yourself with a wide variety of personalities and character types which gives you the ability to understand people more quickly than you otherwise might. This isn’t a comprehensive psychological process, nor is it fool-proof, but it does help. If you understand a person’s behaviour, you can gain an insight into their motivations, and might even be able to work out what they want, whether out of life or at that current moment, which allow you to communicate effectively with them by tailoring what information you tell them and the manner in which you put it across.

To some extent, being able to read people like this does rely on learned experience and gut instinct (I know I’m only just starting to get a feel for it) but people I have spoken to recently have explained, in great detail, the value of being able to do this.

The main point of this post, I believe, is that role-playing allows you to build a ‘database’ of character types and personalities that you can draw upon to help you in social situations, or to help you read people and alter your communication with them accordingly, and that it helps you to develop your written communication skills. All of these things can make you better at your job, and they are all things that can be taught to other people, but ultimately, they’re skills that are useful in all aspects of one’s life.

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Remnant: Roleplaying in the World of RWBY

In celebration of RWBY volume 5 beginning tomorrow, I’ve decided to throw open the doors of my game design archive and am proud to present the playtest rules for ‘Remnant’. ‘Remnant’ is a tabletop roleplaying game I designed a few years ago but never did anything with.

It is my hope that it proves at least moderately enjoyable for the fandom, and I’m happy to receive any thoughts, comments or criticisms on this website or at the contact e-mail provide on the About page.

Disclaimer: Remnant is not endorsed by Rooster Teeth in any way.  Views, opinions, thoughts are all my own.  Rooster Teeth and RWBY are trade names or registered trademarks of Rooster Teeth Productions, LLC.  © Rooster Teeth Productions, LLC.

Anyway, now that’s all over with, Remnant can be found here.

Enjoy!

Plot Hooks 4

I’ve broken from my usual formula this week, instead of grouping hooks by genre, I’ve grouped them by a person/societal group of interest. As ever, of course, these plot hooks can be used as writing prompts (there is a good deal of crossover between role-playing and writing), one-shots or as a seed for a whole campaign.

Enjoy!


Person of Authority (PoA)

Something has been stolen from a local PoA, but when the player characters find it, it isn’t what they expect.

The local PoA has been missing for a few days; they were last seen on the outskirts of town during a charitable parade.

The local PoA has sent bounty hunters after the player characters for a crime they do not remember committing.

A recent power struggle has left the player characters in the enviable position of choosing the next PoA.

A family member of one of the player characters has recently been courted by a local PoA, but said PoA seems too good to be true.

 

Those Shunned By Society

A local beggar has asked the player characters to help them find a friend the player characters found on a recent adventure. When they visit, the friend has disappeared leaving behind a single white feather.

An orphan claims to know a secret that could destroy one of the player characters.

A local street gang has been making hostile advances towards someone the player characters like; at first glance they appear to have been paid off.

A disease is spreading through the local homeless population and affecting no-one else.

When a known thief is found inside the house one of the player characters, they claim to have no memory of how they got there.

 

A Passing Stranger

One of the player characters finds a body which disappears when it is reported.

Someone has been following the player characters and tidying up their loose ends.

The player characters run into someone who knows them all, but who they have no memory of.

An ex-lover of one of the player characters is being threatened by persons unknown. The threats are intensely personal and seem to be escalating.

When the player characters find someone on their adventures, they don’t realise how much trouble their new associate is in.

A Moment to Herself

Hi all! I know the hiatus ran on longer than predicted, but I hope the wait was worth it. This week, I wanted to attempt a change of tone in my normal writing style so I wrote a short vignette concerning my latest Call of Cthulhu character.

Any feedback is appreciated!

Enjoy!


The record span in silence, the music long since finished. She sat in the room, her fingertips resting gently on the photograph in front of her.

A handsome man, his uniform smartly pressed and an infectious smile on his lips stared out at her, his youthful good looks belying his age.  The ornate golden frame was worn beneath the pads of her fingers, the grain of the carved wood as familiar as the matched pair of rings hanging from a chain around her neck.

A single tear rolled down her cheek, falling onto the glass, and she wiped it off with a rapid, jerking movement, a slight frown creasing her brow.

The pain was as fresh now as it had been all those years ago. She remembered when she had said goodbye the first time, as he left for Europe, and she remembered the brief moments of happiness they had snatched when he was sent back for convalescence.

Her hand drifted to her stomach as she remembered the news she had so desired to tell him. Another tear fell for the life that had faded when she said goodbye the second time, when he lay feverish on the hospital bed, his right leg a ragged mess and blood on his lips.

The hand on her stomach clenched as a spike of hunger shot through her and she looked away from the photograph to the plate on the low table in front of her. Her breakfast lay there, a single bite taken from it. She had intended to eat it, but the food had turned to ash in her mouth. Not even the sweetened mint tea, purchased through her contacts, had tasted of anything and remained undrunk in its cup next to the plate.

A sob forced its way from her throat and she hunched forwards, rocking slightly as more tears fell. Her chest felt as if it were wrapped in a vice made of ice-cold iron, a slow, cold pressure that made her feel as if her ribs would break at any moment. The tears, salty on her lips, brought a gentle warmth to her face.

The fire in the hearth had been lit before the maid had left for the day, but it had done nothing to drive the sluggish numbness from her body. The embers glowed dimly, a dull orange light in the bright room.

It was days like this that she felt like the fire, a muted glow surrounded by the life of this great, bustling city. She frequently walked the streets of London, the crowds not only serving to remind her of the humanity that she frequently struggled to feel a part of, but also making her feel adrift in a strange ocean, floundering for meaning and life. She rarely felt so alone or insignificant as she did when she was lost in the mass of people around her.

Helena, the maid, had asked her to remember to eat today. Her rebelliousness was what attracted Amina, but sometimes she was too perceptive. She wondered how much the maid really saw, and whether or not she realised that every day she had off, her mistress spent the day wrapped up in her own pain. The pressure of remaining positive for the rest of the week was almost too much to bear with so much grief and anger straining against her chest.

A letter from Winifred lay nearby, discarded after reading. Her dearest friend was the only person she had confided in and the elderly woman had reacted with her usual grace and poise, offering a handkerchief and a warm pastry from the café near her apartment. Amina suspected that Winifred had known a pain like this, the wisdom in her kind eyes had spoken of hard-won experience.

The tears gradually faded and the still, quiet air of the room returned as she stopped sobbing. She closed her eyes slowly and drew a long, heavy breath into her lungs. She had given the maid her word that she would eat and Amina Farah Atan kept her promises.

She sat down again, minutes later, a trembling hand lifting small pieces of fruit to her mouth. She had hesitated in the pantry, her eyes on the plate of halal meat resting under the fly net but the sight of it had turned her stomach over, reminding her too much of what she had seen in that hospital ward.

Her eyes stared unblinkingly at the wall opposite as she ate, the sweet fruit barely registering on her tongue or full lips. The only thing she really felt was the cool china of the plate as it slowly warmed against her skin.

She reached for another slice of fruit and blinked as her fingernails scraped the plate. She looked down slowly and took in the pattern on the now empty china. She lost herself in the design as half-remembered sensations of being held and late-night conversations filled her mind. She felt her throat closing again and forced herself back to the present, blinking away the tears welling in her eyes.

She stood and carried her plate to the sink in the kitchen before returning to the sitting room where she mechanically turned off the record player and put the disk away. That done she stood still, her eyes on the floor, for a few minutes before shuddering and walking to the mirror where she stared at her reflection and forced a smile. She held the expression for a few minutes until it felt natural and turned back to the room, taking in the orderliness of it.

The fire was the only thing that really needed tending to and as she was brushing her hands clean of coal dust, there was a knock at the door. She straightened, glanced at the clock, made sure her smile was fixed firmly in place and that her eyes weren’t red from crying with a quick glance in the mirror, and then walked to the house’s door. She drew a steadying breath as she reached for the handle and opened it.

“Rahim, please, be welcome.”

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.