Category Archives: Editorial

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.

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.

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.

Review: Dragon Age Roleplaying Game

Your humble author, a mere scribe in the service of the Chantry, was recently tasked with conducting an in-depth review of the impressive document compiled by the fine folk of the Green Ronin publishing house. This document, titled ‘Dragon Age Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook’, purports to be able to cover any eventuality that the peoples of Thedas may encounter in their everyday lives.

It is my hope that my examination, as presented here, will allow you to be able to draw your own conclusions regarding the veracity of this claim and the importance that the text places upon the heroes it strives to portray.

Presentation

The first noticeable thing upon opening the tome is the clarity of the text and the clear layout. Whilst this scribe has some niggles concerning the organisation of the work itself, for the most part it is a pleasure to read and to reference as needed.

Full colour art is lavishly displayed throughout and both chapter and heading breaks are clearly demarcated. There is little to say about the layout and general art design of the work, save that it is polished to a high degree and complements the paper stock.

The information contained with the book is well organised and excellently indexed leading to little time wasted when searching for relevant information. In many ways, the work mirrors that of the Chant of Light and with a little study could easily become as familiar a text among those who are required to know it.

Setting

The continent of Thedas is well documented, thanks in no small part to the tireless efforts of Brother Ferdinand Genitivi, and some of that information is reprinted here. While by no means presenting a detail analysis of the known world, the work presents a comprehensive overview of the peoples that make up our land, their cultures and some of the more prominent organisations.

Because of the easy availability of information concerning Thedas, I will say nothing else save that the information contained within will answer the vast majority of questions you may have.

Mechanics

In darkened rooms and smoky bars the continent over, it is possible to find groups of people engaged in a most peculiar activity. When conflicts become difficult to require resolution, Thedosians employ their own, unique method that I have been lead to believe is known as AGE, or the Adventure Game Engine. AGE refers to the principle of rolling three six-sided dice to resolve almost all problems. Depending on the numbers rolled, the ‘test’, as most problems are known, succeeds or fails, with some dice combinations resulting in so-called ‘Stunt Points’ that can be used to gain extra benefits.

Thedosians use the common six-sided dice for everything, applying and subtracting modifiers as necessary. This approach presents a simple, but streamlined, process to conflict resolution and one that is easily understood.

This humble author has been informed that, in practice, the three classes the work divides Thedosians, from every conceivable background, into work extremely well and present a wide variety of scope for an accurate representation of the people that inhabit Thedas, whether human, elf, dwarf or qunari.

For those concerned with such things, mages utilise a system they call ‘Mana Points’ to cast Circle-approved spells.  The document itself lists several non-approved spells, but this scribe was reassured that no-one would actually cast them.

Conclusions

Green Ronin’s work is an incredibly robust document that provides all the information needed to construct the lives of any number of Thedosians. Using their unique AGE mechanic, conflicts and tests of any kind can be resolved swiftly and simply, allowing more time to be spent enjoying Thedosian life and the experiences inherent within it.

My Driving Why

It’s a later post than usual today, but I wanted to get this right the first time.

I know I don’t usually ask this, but please, PLEASE, share this article with anyone you know who might benefit from reading it. Thank you.


Recently, thanks to the fine folks at Innovators Hub and their Catalyst program, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about my motivations for doing things.

My conclusion is something that I feel warrants being posted on this website.

Originally, That’s How We Roll was created to host a podcast. The plan was to record every game session, edit it down to the highlights and then hope people find some enjoyment listening to us tell bad jokes and play a game together. That quickly fell by the wayside but the intention, to create something that people could find entertaining, remained.

The website went ignored for a while after that. I had to focus on university and student society things, as well as eventually graduating and moving to live with my partner.

The site as it is now really took shape when I started writing the TitansGrave adventure series (which isn’t forgotten, I just lost my inspiration for a while). This was something that I felt would draw people together to try a novel magic-tech game as well as being proof of my writing skills.

So, THWR slowly became a portfolio (of a sort), whilst also being somewhere to host articles and other gaming aids.

I started the Intro to Role-playing series out of a desire to help more people get into the hobby, to show them that it isn’t something to be afraid of and that it needn’t have a high barrier to entry. From there, I just kept adding to the site, writing whatever I thought someone might find useful or interesting.

I started adding the fiction element to things because sometimes I found that the easiest thing to write.

Throughout all of this, the purpose of the website was to inform and to entertain.

For a while, I’ve thought that is the main reason why I do everything that I do. I thought that I wanted to teach people about things they weren’t familiar with, and to entertain them for a few minutes at a time.

I don’t think that any more. Or rather, I recognise a deeper reason behind everything.

I’ve been pretty open on this website about my struggles with disability and mental illness. When I relaunched it with the TitansGrave content, I wanted to be honest with anyone who stumbled across THWR that I’m not perfect, I have bad days and that that’s okay.

Only now, after a lot of introspection, do I realise why.

There is a reason that I want to spread this hobby that means so much to me, and has been such a help on my bad days. There is a reason why I write so much and on so many topics.

The reason that I do what I do with such enthusiasm and passion is because I want to make sure that no-one else feels how I feel.

Mental health, up until recently, was not widely understood. The support for it isn’t there for everyone and this has a knock on effect with treatments and coping mechanisms. I want to change that.

I want to use this soapbox to offer a place where people can, hopefully, find some respite. Even if it’s just for a few hours in an evening, I want people to feel included in something. To know they aren’t alone. To know that their voice can be heard.

So to everyone who struggles with mental health, disability or anything else, I say welcome.

You are not alone.

You are not ignored.

I am here and I am listening.

Role-playing 301: Role-playing in the Workplace

Today will be a bit of a departure from my usual articles on role-playing. Rather than being aimed at helping people get into the hobby, this article will begin to explore how role-playing can be used in a professional context.

It will not delve into every facet of this, and I plan on returning to this topic in a future update, but for now, it will serve as a basic introduction to the value role-playing games can have in the world of work. Before delving into this subject matter, however, I should remind the reader that my viewpoint is necessarily limited by my own experiences and so some of the material found below may not be applicable to every situation.

The main focus of this article will be upon team-work and the benefits that role-playing games can have upon a team’s ability to work together.

Most role-playing games depend upon a high degree of team-work to be successful. Many games involve puzzles of varying difficulties, investigations that require careful attention to detail and organisation, and enemy combatants that have weaknesses or attack patterns that can be exploited by a party of characters working together.

Team-work, in this context, depends upon several things: communication, organisation and a willingness to listen to the advice of others. These three skills are the three main things that a person will have to master in order to work well as part of the party in-game, as well as in their employment outside of it.

Let’s break down each skill and look at how it relates to both the game and the world of work.

Communication is perhaps the most obvious. It is the ability to convey your ideas in a manner which others can understand.

In-game, how your character communicates will be flavoured by their character’s peculiarities and experiences, as well as their relationships with other characters.  Regardless of that though, you should always be aiming to convey the information you have that your party needs in an accessible manner, or interacting with other characters to in a way that achieves your goal for that interaction.

Out of game, communication fulfils much the same role. You’ll need to relay relevant information in a manner that people can understand and in a way that you get the answers and results you require from any given situation (compromising where necessary).

But more than that, role-playing games can foster inter-departmental communication. In my experience, different departments of organisations are usually fairly insular. They’ll talk to each other but the information flow between two departments can sometimes be lacking. Playing in a group composed of members of different departments can help break down these barriers.

By spending time with other members of the organisation, you will grow to understand how they communicate best and a level of familiarity will exist that might not otherwise happen. This will have a knock-on effect in that you will know how to phrase questions and tailor your conversations with that team member, in order to get what you need to do your job.

Organisation is pretty much the same in-game and in the office (so to speak). This is more about keeping track of information, being able to have relevant resources to hand and generally having an easy to follow method of gathering and storing useful material.

The benefit here for the work-place is that the other members of your group will quickly pick up on your organisation methods (and you, theirs) which means that if you are asked to track down information only they have and they aren’t available, you’ll have a good idea of where to look or who to ask.

It also has the added benefit that players will share good organisational practices with each other, meaning everyone becomes more efficient at organising things that they are responsible for.

Finally, the ability to listen to others is an undervalued skill that role-playing games promote. Beyond merely paying attention to others, this is actively internalising what they say.

This is tied in somewhat with the familiarity that spending time with others breeds, but it is also a mind-set that some people lack or ignore. The puzzles presented in role-playing games often require a mixed skill-set that it is rare to find in one person, so listening to the advice of others is important.

In the wider world of work, being able to do this means that you will be able to learn from those more experienced than you. Team-members will be able to share skills and knowledge between each other when completing projects and the project as a whole will benefit from it. The practice gained in-game should translate to an ability to internalise and build upon the advice of others, as well as allowing team-mates to listen to each other fairly and not ignore less vocal participants.

By freely sharing information, knowledge and experience, as well as by listening to everyone equally, team morale should improve and projects should be completed smoothly and efficiently.

Efficiency and a greater degree of familiarity with each other are the two main outcomes of role-playing together in a team-work sense, but they are by no means the only benefits that role-playing can offer in a work-place setting.

I will expand upon other benefits in future updates, but for now, if you have any feedback, please let me know in the comments. If you feel like role-playing is something you would like to try in your workplace, share this article with the relevant people so they can see some of its benefits.

Until next time!

Class: Runecarver

Today marks the release of my next class for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, the Runecarver can be found here.

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

If you aren’t sold on it already, from last week’s design notes, here is the first page of the supplement to explain the lore behind Runecarvers.

Enjoy!


The halfling laughs as they swing their hammer in a wide arc. Across the field of battle, their human ally crushes a glowing stone and a rune on the halfling’s weapon flares brightly. The hammer becomes surrounded by a corona of flames and slams into the orc’s shin where a cloud of sparks peppers the brute’s skin.

The dwarf whispers under its breath, plucking a faintly glowing stone from a pouch at its belt and crushing it into a fine powder that disappears into the air. The rune etched into the glass lenses of the dwarf’s spectacles glows with life. The dwarf pushes the glasses up its nose and grins in delight as the enchantment allows them to see into the Ethereal Plane and find the party member trapped there.

The tabaxi hisses in frustration as the hobgoblin cuts the last rope holding the bridge in place. It collapses with a loud rattling noise. Wordlessly, the genasi next to it offers a cloak embroidered with an intricate rune, already glowing with power. The tabaxi takes it, a savage grin on its lips, and springs into the air, flying across the crevasse.

Students of the Enchanting Arts

Runecarvers are driven by an insatiable need to tame magic and bring what order they can to the chaotic nature of the world. They are the both the quiet scholar in the dark corner of the library and the wild explorer, testing out their new theories and skills in the middle of a raging battle. When not breaking the laws of nature with a variety of magical effects, most Runecarvers can be found practicing their inscribing abilities and refining their knowledge of runes.

Runecarvers can be found in many areas of life. Whether dominating the battlefield with every swing of their magically empowered weapon or aiding their allies by boosting their defenses and giving them a variety of supernatural abilities, the Runecarver knows the value of teamwork. Their skills naturally lend themselves to a frontline support role where they can keep an eye on their allies and activate the effects of their runes for maximum effect.

Patient Scholars

Runecarvers are the ideal of the careful artisan. The runes they study, and the magical power they channel, require a calm mind and a steady hand to inscribe properly. Every apprentice is taught about the dangers of their art and knows too well the risks of activating poorly inscribed runes. Most Runecarvers learn the basics of their craft in a magical school of some sort, studying alongside wizards and other practitioners of the arcane. Others are taught by a travelling Runecarver who recognises the potential of the student. However they learn the basics of their craft, all Runecarvers quickly realise their life is not an easy one, nor for the easily distracted.

Runecarvers, almost without fail, are sent into the wider world to develop their art in a practical setting. Even those more at home in the library and behind the walls of a magical institution quickly learn the value of refining their runes through practical application. Whilst they know their travelling companions may not fully understand the intricacies of rune-carving, a Runecarver is usually happy to explain what they are doing. It is, after all, a rare skill to possess.