JP On Gaming

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

[Old Pro Tips] Creating Effective Scenes

:I've been writing a LOT these days. And I mean A LOT for Gencon (see the blurbs for everything in this post). I have been thinking of other GMs who ran games that really hit home. I focused on scene-setting. What worked best? What didn't work?

What didn't work

Among a number of elements, one that doesn't work involves over-described room. Rooms with so many elements that get lost with the number of things present. Here are two examples that jumped to my mind (one was Pathfinder Society and the other from a GM I don't want to name here).

- An inn where you know the size, composition, type of the cups of beer, add the number, size, color, and history of the boar heads trophies on the walls, the exact position of the tables, the graffiti on them... Then the scene focuses on talking to the strange guy in the corner.

- A forest where you are told the type of trees in great details, the size of the fallen trunks and branches, the color of the leaves (it was set during summer), and the sound of the birds singing and squawking nearby. And then, what we had to do was sneak through the forest.


What does work

Reversing the scene, I kept thinking back to Mario (who ran WHFRP in 2009-10) and the other is from a more recent GM. These scenes were notable by focusing on the essential and unique elements of each location. The simplicity of their dressing made it so they allowed for us players to come up with solutions. Then if we, the players, wanted to do something with the environment, we can ask and go from there. Need vines? Now they are there! Need Spanish Moss? Sure! What about a very knobby tree? Oh yeah!

- A bandit camp centered around a fire pit with a series of tents in a rough circle around it.

- A thick jungle where a creek flows into a pond covered with waterlillies.

What I really like is that each of us were able to use the basic description and add elements to it based on our common imagination, with each player adding something. By the time we attacked the bandits in the camp, there were deer skins getting tanned for cover, buckets of water (and chamber pots), the two sentries huddled around the fire, and a pair of horses were tied nearby. I really love that scene because each of us, player and GM, built into something concrete we used in our plan.

We didn't care the bandit's spears were made of maple, oak, or pine wood. So it was never defined.


Everyone can picture a tundra. A sandy desert. A pinewood forest. A pool beneath a waterfall. A fortified city gate. See what I did there? You pictured each of those scenes and I use no more than 5 words to describe each of them.

KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid. Focus on elements that matter to the players or major elements. Unless you plan to have a confrontation or a trap-like with a scaffold, don't mention it unless/until it becomes relevant to the players. Work with them.

Yeah. KISS. And grow the story and scene together.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

[Question Time with JP] What would've happen to [NPC]?

What was up with [NPCs we didn't look in the game] by Sarah-R

This question was asked in-person by Sarah-R, a playtester for many of FOE's campaigns (and the one who GMs back for me).

This answer is really a non-answer. Basically, everytime I get asked, my answer may and will change, depending on whatever latest idea I have. Anything that is not in the adventure frankly is irrelevant.

For her specific question, she asked what would've happened if they tracked down some NPCs they heard about but never chose to track down.

One thing I have been doing in the design of larger adventures and mini-campaign is to set up a location and present unique locations with characters and main event or element that would happen there, and let the PCs explore and follow the threads they are interested in.

So, in short, if the party went to track down these NPCs, They could've been there, unaware of anything.

Or they could be in on the conspiracy and support it.

Or they could have been victim of the conspiracy.

Or they could have been replaced by robots.

Or be ninja turtles in disguise...

Or nothing.

Why are you asking me? I don't know.

Friday, May 13, 2022

[Kinda Book Report] Essential Hulk Vol 3

I've been binging a number of comics, many of which I bought at last year's Free Comic Book day. This is one of those.

I will say this one was better than the previous Essential Volume 1, but mostly because it was significantly more consistent. It does not trigger the nostalgia factor as much and I must say few stories really stood out. It was "fine". This feel very much like a story on cruise control as there is little that really stuck. Hulk's powers were much more like those we know today.

Even the stories where the Avengers co-star, do not feel like they have significant impact. It could easily laugh that this was like the TV show with Hulk wandering in to a situation or a situation.

This is a simple 3/5 rating. It was "fine".

Sunday, May 8, 2022

[Die Inspired] The Wild Ride Goes Bananas!

NOTE: I wrote this after the game on May 1st. I thought I had it scheduled to publish... BUT NO. So here it is with a delay.

Well this past Sunday was the second date of the craziness that is Die Inspired's campaign. My first post on it described it as A Wild and Crazy Ride and Day 2 delivered in the craziness department.

Having survived the deadly events on the ships, we made landfall. But that provided us no security. The type of work changed from Day 1 whereas we now had to cooperate as a team to tackle the island itself. All thirteen of us.

Yes. The ominous number proved prophetic...

The first combat was BRUTAL with the monsters scoring a critical hit against a player that left him dead.


*Squelch* Ouch.

We were on-notice and things did not really look up from there for us. We left the beach having lost a few people. One was rescued by a great bit of teamwork, one I am really looking forward to seeing how the final cut will look like. If you ever saw "A Million Ways to Die in the West" (the funny part at the start of the movie), well... it was a little like that. You know when you wince in pain when something really bad happens?

Yeah. That.

Now just for the record, I wish to state that my natural halfling sense was to get provisions, reload the boats and leave this accursed place. I was, of course, outvoted but I just want to put that here. So my (inevitable) ghost can haunt the others for not listening my wisdom.

We were not so gung-ho for the second scene. What started as a fun time in the jungle ended up with screams of panic, body parts getting thrown left and right, showers of gore, and the frantic fleeing of adventurers through the forest.

That's glossing over many details, ranging from hilarious to scary to nervous chuckle-able to odd to flat out worrisome. I was on the edge of my seat for most the encounter, scrambling through my sheet for find what the best option for myself and for others It was glorious and memorable. Shouts of joys. Animal screeches. War cries. Squeals of squeamishness. All broke the deceptive tranquility of the jungle.

No wait, that last one, the squeals were all me.

Not everyone made it. Instead many shone bright and then got squished on the forests of Black Glass Island, often with memorable squish (there weren't as many notable quotes for the ending.).

I am surprised and very happy to report that Figjam "Jim" Hawkins made it through. This time. I'll be back in two weeks to see where this goes. As a halfling, I curious to see what is coming up next...

The scenes set are simple but extremely effective, not requiring extensive descriptions or specific elements to paint the picture. It allows the players to tweak or add to make the scene work: A beach, a ship, a jungle-covered island. Their maps served to enhanced the picture, creating an effective and clear picture of what is happening without having to over-describe everything. I cannot say how much I appreciate that. (I will write further about my thoughts regarding creating these sort of scenes in a future post)

I admit that I am growing increasingly curious to see the finalized product. How it will look when everything is put together and finalized? Really building my interest in it... and I never watch/ listen RPG podcasts and web series, but this one I'll want to see what everyone did.

The game flow was much improved as not only the GM and DI crew, but we players got used to the formula and upped our game. Perhaps it was due to there being fewer players? As a player, I felt much more involved in the game as it seemed it was my turn more often. It is always fun to feel like you are in the thick of things at the heart of the action and get to act and react based on what is happening. I felt there was much more interaction and cooperation between players all around the room this time, not just in small nearby groups. This also added to the dynamism of the game.

One thing the crew did that was pretty cool was to bring guest-star GMs to run the monsters, allowing the Main GM (Roscoe IIRC) to focus on herding the cats and added to the flow. A great idea.

I will provide more insight after the next game. "Jim" Hawkins the ship's cook made it to round three!

Halfling's luck.