Category Archives: Roleplaying

The Great Bee-trayal

In Honey Heist, a one-page RPG by Grant Howitt, found here, the players take the part of criminal bears pulling off the heist of the century to steal as much honey as possible from HoneyCon. The party I had the pleasure of guiding through the halls of this hallowed convention consisted of;

Iorek Byrnisson – a polar bear Hacker

Sir Arthur Bearington – a sunbear, one half of the Brains

Bjorn  – a sunbear and the group’s Muscle

Lan Xiongmao – a panda, the other half of the Brains


The party were given the following briefing by their unseen benefactor:

A newspaper clipping:

The Geistburg City Council is proud to announce, in conjunction with Arthur Richardson and Midas Events, the arrival of HoneyCon 2018! Events include; a mead brewing contest ($2000 grand prize), small pet show and competition, bee-keeping tutorials and demonstrations and a one-night performance from Queen Bee-yoncé herself.

Once exiled from the world of pop music, the Queen has returned and is set to take the world by storm with the release of her new album, Bee-hive Yourself. Book your ticket now to avoid disappointment.

For those conscious of security matters, the convention centre boasts a state of the art security system and an impenetrable vault, kindly provided by Securotech.

In a handwritten note:

Alright, listen up, bears.

We got a job.

Client wants us to bust into HoneyCon and steal as much of the good stuff as we can, as well as arranging a private viewing of Bee-yoncé’s comeback performance.

He’d like her unharmed and as calm as possible, but it’s a bear-eat-bear world out there, so I’ll be happy if she’s alive when you get back to base.

Arthur Richardson is a known weak point, the man craves money and influence. Lean on him if you want to.

Secureotech’s system is a series of hidden gas vents that spews out anaesthetic if the alarm is raised. The vents are only in the public areas, so try to avoid those once it hits the fan.

As for Geistburg, the place is creepy. Ain’t no two ways about it. You might see things that make you question your eyes , but keep ‘em on the prize and we’ll be richer for it.

Overpaw, out.


The game began with the party stealing a posh car to suit Arthur and Xiongmao’s status as bears of standing.

[GM Note: The rules include an optional hat table, Arthur was wearing a top hat and Xiongmao was wearing a crown]

Their first obstacle was the gate guard, a bored-looking man asking to see passes to permit entry. Arthur managed to persuade the man to let them in through growling and gesturing in a foppish manner.

After leaving the car, the party were denied entry to the main convention centre (an old plantation manor) because of their lack of passes. The party had determined, through the skill Sense Honey, that the largest honey stashes were in the house. One stash (the biggest) appeared to be underground, and another appeared to be at the back the house.

After a short conversation, it was decided that Iorek would hack into the security system and print them all-access passes. The closest computer on the network was in the gate guard’s hut and so he snuck in as Arthur and Xiongmao distracted the guard. His attempt at breaking into the system failed, shorting the network and causing a brownout. This attracted the attention of the guard who, unable to see in the dark hut, was able only to react to Bjorn’s feeble attempts at subduing him. He collapsed after Iorek swatted him with a paw and Bjorn stole his hat and radio.

There was some alarm as another guard turned up to investigate the source of the brownout, this one wearing a fancy badge in addition to his hat and radio, and soon enough George had been taken of.

“George” and “Robert” (Iorek and Bjorn posing as the guards) used the authority of their hats to get some passes from the next group of visitors under the pretext of accepting them as a method of entrance.

Using these passes, the party was able to enter the house and start looking around. They quickly found the locked security door leading into the kitchen and Arthur tried to break it down while “George” tried to get the access code over the radio. He was told that the code was written in a book in the main security office and was on his way there when Arthur tripped the alarm.

After a back and forth on the radio, the alarm was disabled and the party broke the door down as “George” went to get the code. They explored the kitchen and found a set of stairs leading downwards, probably to the largest stash of honey. They followed them and encountered a locked door with a keypad.

“George”, meanwhile, was on his way to the security office. Once there, he tore the page containing the vault access code from the notebook (when the officer nearby noticed, he explained that he was very clumsy) and attempted to copy the information from the page in his paw onto  a clean page in the book. He then returned to the kitchen and found a collection of warning signs (Wet Floor, Open Flame, Bears, and Danger of Electrocution) and set up the “Warning! Bears!” sign to stop people following them. He re-joined the party and found that the vault access code did not work on the door in front of them, so he hacked it open/broke it and opened the door to reveal a wine cellar.

After searching the cellar, including pulling one of the wine racks over to see if the wall was fake, the party gave up and left, just in time to hear a radio broadcast concerning a report of the sound of broken glass and a request for someone to check the door in the cellar. With that prompt, they managed to find the secret door hidden behind a wine-rack.

Using the vault access code, they opened the door to reveal a huge, steel hatch with three tumblers on it. Correctly guessing the code to be 833 (BEE), the bears managed to open the door and find the collection of finely aged honey within.

[GM Note: As I improvised the whole thing as we went along, when Arthur’s player suggested that was the code, I found it such an elegant solution that it worked. My original idea was they would try to crack each tumbler].

Seeing how much honey was in the vault, the party decided they would need a bigger car and Iorek left to steal a people-carrier from the car park whilst the others boxed up the honey with boxes from the wine cellar. As they finished, the security team watching the camera feeds alerted the supervisor to their activities and they deflected all suspicion, by telling her to alert the Secureotech facility in the city that they were moving the honey in response to a possible threat. With that done, they hid the people-carrier in the car park once more and proceeded to the second part of the heist – Bee-yoncé.

It was no difficult task to find the stage, and the entrance to the backstage area, nor was it difficult to convince the two bodyguards standing outside the door to let “Robert” and “George” (now played by Lan Xiongmao) in as part of a security check. With only six doors to choose from, “George” quickly found Bee-yoncé’s dressing room and opened the door to reveal a bee-sized replica of the building they were in, a glass box outfitted with speakers and a screen hooked up to a microscope, and another bodyguard.

It was around this time that Iorek removed his hat (revealing the fact that he is a bear to all nearby onlookers) and began to create a disturbance, terrifying the guards at the backstage door. Bee-yoncé immediately flew into the glass case, where the microscope turned on and revealed a queen bee in a tiara, and “George” convinced the bodyguard with them that he should go and help deal with the bear whilst they carried Bee-yoncé to safety. He agreed and handed the glass box over to them.

The three bears still disguised as people made their way back to the carpark where it was decided that “Robert” (still played by Bjorn) would drive the honey to their rendezvous while Arthur and “George” took care of Bee-yoncé. As the people-carrier was hidden further into the carpark, Arthur and Xiongmao left the Con first and drove to meet Iorek (swimmingly frantically through the bayou that surrounded the convention centre) at the rendezvous, unaware that Bjorn had been seduced by a life of crime and intended to take all the honey for himself.

As he drove past the rendezvous, and left them to realise his betrayal, the bee in the glass box flew up to a tiny microphone and said,

“I wonder if this ever happened to Bee-yoncé?”

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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.

 

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.

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 110 – Character Development

I’ve covered character improvement already, so now I’m going to talk a little about character development. The distinction, to me, is that the former is tied to the levelling mechanics of the game being played and the latter is tied to the narrative.

When entering the hobby, it is entirely okay for you to focus more on engaging with the game through a mechanical approach and learning the ropes before diving into the role-playing aspect of things. The D&D game that I’m typing up in the Actual Play section of this website remains focussed on the player characters and not their backstories for this very reason.
It is important that you feel comfortable with the game before increasing your engagement with it. As such, if you don’t feel able to deal with matters beyond what your character is currently experiencing, tell whoever is running the game. They’ll understand. There is a lot of trust needed around the game table, so to speak, and if one player isn’t comfortable with what they are doing, it will show and the game will suffer.

Assuming a certain level of comfort and familiarity with the game, then, how can you further develop character?

There are, as ever, a few ways to do this, and I shall try to explain them to the best of my ability.

The first method is the most obvious; through role-play. This is what you’ll find yourself doing through the course of play as your character reacts to the events of the game. You’ll find this method to be a constant drip of development as your character (guided by previously established facts of their personality) responds to the situations they find themselves in.
Something else to realise about this method of character development  is that other members of the party will play a large part in how your character develops. Inter-character relationships and interactions are a huge factor in how they will grow over the course of the game. Whilst you are under no compulsion to allow these things to impact your character, it’s generally better for group morale to follow them through to their end.
One of the most enjoyable things, in my experience, is to see how your character reacts when other party members put them in impossible situations.

The second method is tied to the first, but definitely separate; through play. As you play, you will discover what aspects of the game you like, and which ones your character feels like they thrive in. At the very least, you should have a good idea about which aspects of the game you would like your character to improve in.
Just by taking an interest in these aspects, you’ll be signifying to the person running the game that you want to see more of them and, all being well, they will likely plan on involving them more often. In this way, you should be having a self-directed manner of character development that evolves organically over the course of the game.

The third method is something that requires you to step out of the game and, as such, should only really be done when you are a) comfortable with doing so and b) when you are comfortable with whoever is running your game. The latter is important because this method requires you to talk to the GM about what you want for your character.
A lot of the time, this method will also involve clues and hooks you include in your character backstory.  If you are comfortable with leaving your character plans hidden in the backstory for your GM to uncover and elaborate upon, that is perfectly fine.
If you want something more, however, you need to arrange some way of talking privately to your GM. When you are able to do this, tell them what you think the future of your character could involve, what aspects of their personality you want to explore and whether or not you want anything else to happen. Really, if you get the chance to do this, you should tell them anything you want to regarding your character and the game, but I digress.
By telling them any of this, you are letting your GM know what you enjoy exploring and playing. As a result, they will hopefully try to incorporate more of it into the game.
One benefit of this method is that, in your discussion, the GM may suggest things about your character and their development that haven’t occurred to you but that you like. Another is that they may include things in the game that you’ve never thought of but which act as a good springboard for character development.
As a coda to this, you can also talk with your fellow players to discuss how their characters can help with the development of yours for roughly the same benefits.

Whatever you choose, it is important to remain comfortable with your choices.

These are only a few possible methods, of course, but hopefully they are informative. If you can think of any more, or have any other comments, let me know below.