Category Archives: Bubbles

Role-playing 111 – Common Mistakes

Apologies for the unannounced hiatus. Things will be irregular for a few weeks due to personal life occurrences, but should even out in the new year.


Whilst the following article is aimed primarily at new GMs/DMs, the points raised here are ones that I have to remind myself of constantly. Before starting, I want to stress that there is no wrong way to GM and that nothing in this article is intended to be judgemental, merely helpful. Another thing worth remembering is that I don’t have all the answers, all the experience I draw upon to write these articles is solely my own and your experiences may differ.

Now that that is all out of the way, my topic for this week is one I’ve wanted to write about a for a while; common mistakes made by the inexperienced (and experienced) GM. It is a topic I will definitely be returning to in the future, but for now I will be talking about drawing comparisons to other GMs and expectations of player progress.

With the (frankly welcome) rise in popularity of role-playing games, and in particular D&D, on services like Twitch and YouTube, there is a wider awareness of GMing styles and tricks. Part and parcel of this is greater visibility for the GMs running those games, usually people who prove to be extremely popular among their audience and who prompt people to begin GMing their own games. This is all well and good because a wider awareness of storytelling tricks and good practice can only improve the hobby, but with this increased visibility can come an increased pressure to perform to the standard of the GM onscreen.

This, especially for first time GMs, is nigh impossible in most cases, but can result in the GM feeling like they haven’t done a good enough job for their players. This is something that I am guilty of, and something that can adversely affect the game.

While there is nothing wrong with imitating another’s GMing style, and certainly there is nothing wrong in cherrypicking the parts of their style that you enjoy the most, it is important to remember that everyone has different strengths, weaknesses and styles. I know that, for example, voices aren’t my strong suit. While it is something I am working on, I try to focus to what I can do (create believable characters and a living world to fully immerse the players) instead of slowing the game down by doubting my abilities. That, really, is my best recommendation; try to accept that you probably won’t be good at everything your first time around, focus on what you can do to keep the game, and the story, flowing.

At the end of the day, the hobby is all about having fun, not comparing yourself to others. I cannot stress enough that every GM, and every game, is going to be different.

My second point is one that even GMs with more experience than I struggle with, namely expectations regarding player progress.

Sometimes, certain aspects of the game mechanics themselves will stymie game progress, but most often the players themselves will either breeze through your carefully crafted plot, or get hung up on the smallest of details. The easiest way to deal with both of these problems is to prepare more than you think they will be able to get through in one session, even if it is just a rough outline.

For the former situation, this means that you have a good idea of where things are headed and where they can go next and for the latter, this means that you have enough material prepared that you can flesh out at a later date without worrying about running out of detailed plot.

In both circumstances, in my experiences, the ability to improvise and react to player choices is incredibly useful. This is almost entirely because you will never be able to predict which aspects of your game your players are going to pick up on and explore, so from time to time (or most of the time with my players) you will need to be able to elaborate on things without slowing the game down. That said, don’t be afraid to ask for time from your players. Explain to them that you didn’t have anything prepared and they should be understanding about the matter. You do have a whole world to prepare, after all.

On top of improvisation, having a vague idea of the direction the plot could take is always useful, as is having a good idea of what items might be useful later on. Both of these things will allow you to seed the campaign with hints that hopefully point your players towards future possibilities. One of the dangers of doing this is forcing the players in the direction you want them to go, so called ‘railroading’, as opposed to giving them agency so please be on the lookout for that.

Player agency is, of course, a very important part of the hobby and should be respected where possible.

Ultimately, the game you run is yours, no-one else’s. Find your own GMing style and experiment with preparation to find the sweet spot of prepared material vs. improvisation (Mike Mearls, one of the D&D team, has a rule of thumb that you should spend no more than half of the expected play time preparing material).

If you have any advice to offer first time GMs, feel free to leave it in the comments below.

 

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Rustwell

The village of Rustwell is small, barely 200 strong. Its population is a mixture of hunters, miners and guides for the local pilgrimage route.

Situated in the foothills at the base of the Wyvern Crags, the village takes its name from the rust coloured waters of the well it was built around. The iron rich countryside nearby has provided mining opportunities for generations of villagers and has attracted newcomers to the area for the last fifty years.

The village itself is roughly semi-circular, built against the base of the roaring waterfall that pours down from Iron Rock, the tallest mountain for miles. A large pool at the base of the waterfall provides a secondary source of water and a defence for the village’s valuables and stores, hidden in a cave behind the torrent of water that falls endlessly into the pool and drains away into the cave system beneath the village.

A few farms on the edge of Rustwell provide most of the food the village requires from their fertile fields, but every few weeks, some of the villagers travel to the nearby market town of Shepherd’s Hollow to trade for more.

People

Marshall Yannick – the village leader. A retired military officer, Yannick moved his family to Rustwell in attempt to escape the memories that haunt him. Confident and proud, he is an honourable man who has led the village through some tough times.

Hera Yannick – Marshall’s daughter and the village’s physician. As confident in her abilities as her father is in his, Hera serves as the village’s main source of medicine and is also the head of the village guard. Bandits in the nearby mountains have pushed against her forces more than once and have been beaten soundly every time.

Artur Helmsson – the owner of the Cracked Anvil and the village blacksmith. Artur originally settled in Rustwell as a spy for the largest of the local bandit groups but has recently begun to question where his loyalties lie. Many in the village consider him a good friend and a skilled bartender and craftsman.

Aria Larain – the village’s priestess. Few know that Aria turned down a senior position within her church’s hierarchy to follow her love to Rustwell. Even fewer know that she has eyes only for Hera, who she met briefly when Marshall brought his family through the city she was working in on his way to Rustwell. All, however, know of her endless patience and compassion. (Please note; Aria’s sexuality is not her sole defining feature, it is merely a highlighted facet of her character intended to create an interesting plot hook.)

Brand Eront – the head miner. Brand is a blunt, but wise, man of middle age and is well respected among the community. Under his careful leadership, the mines have prospered in recent years and there are rumours that he is considering opening a new working.

Plot Hooks

Rusthold, the abandoned keep further up the cliff, has recently been claimed by an unknown group of people. The village has sent a representative to begin friendly communications but are waiting for an answer.

The local bandit gangs haven’t been seen in a while. The villagers hope they have been driven off, but there are rumours they are simply massing for something large.

Marshall Yannick has been receiving reports of strange occurrences on the outskirts of the village, so far his investigations have found nothing. A few of the farmers think that something supernatural is occurring.

A few of the children playing near the waterfall have told their parents about voices calling to them from the water. No-one is sure if this is youthful imagination, or something more sinister.

A recent cave-in caused several deaths and many injuries. A few of the miners believe that it was not a tragic accident but the work of a saboteur.

 

 

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.

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.