#RPGaDay2019 27th August: ‘Suspense’

August has come around once again which means it’s time for RPGaDay 2019. In a shift from the questions format of previous years this year is characterised by a series of prompts, which I’ll be attempting to answer each day with a short post, with the prompt word highlighted in bold each day.

Day 27: Suspense

Suspense is a vital component of horror and supernatural games but in my experience it is difficult to achieve. My most successful attempts to build it have, in some ways, been through deception. I’ll drop hints and clues that foreshadow something ominous, let the tension build and then end the session. The deception? Most of the time I have no idea what I’m actually building towards and the vast majority of the elements have been improvised on the spot. Between sessions I’ll work through what has been introduced and work out what they might actually mean but even that isn’t fixed until its on the table. If the players start speculating and come up with something awesome I’ll use that but tweak it slightly to work with the larger story as in my experience most players gloss over or forget anything that hasn’t been mentioned for a few sessions.

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#RPGaDay2019 26th August: ‘Idea’

August has come around once again which means it’s time for RPGaDay 2019. In a shift from the questions format of previous years this year is characterised by a series of prompts, which I’ll be attempting to answer each day with a short post, with the prompt word highlighted in bold each day.

Day 26: Idea

Project Cassandra started life as a hack of Lady Blackbird but the idea for it actually came from The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. It’s a Cold War, third person tactical shooter and prequel to the typical XCOM games. It’s highly stylised and over the course of the game you gain access to a range of advanced technology that include things such as levitation, cloaking and even mind control. Playing the game it struck me that many of the abilities could easily be explained as psychic talents. It was a simple leap to go from that to secret government projects to develop psychics given they actually existed! MK-Ultra and the Stargate Project may have never yielded any results but what if they had?

The idea to focus on saving the life of the President was also inspired by Lady Blackbird. While you can play in the expanded setting of that game the published rules have a clearly defined and singular goal – escape the clutches of the Imperial forces and deliver the titular character to her secret lover. I wanted the same for Project Cassandra – a clear, single purpose adventure that could be run as a one-shot or mini-campaign. While the game could be expanded out into any number of ‘psychic operatives complete secret missions’ I felt that would spoil the central conceit. It’s worked well in playtesting and I’ve yet to feel the need to push out into a full blown campaign format.

#RPGaDay2019 25th August: ‘Calamity’

August has come around once again which means it’s time for RPGaDay 2019. In a shift from the questions format of previous years this year is characterised by a series of prompts, which I’ll be attempting to answer each day with a short post, with the prompt word highlighted in bold each day.

Day 25: Calamity

My first attempt at GMing was an absolute calamity. We were playing the Serenity RPG and so many things went wrong, in part because I tried it as part of an overnight GUGathon event and we didn’t start until close to midnight. Some players were drunk, others fell asleep during character creation. When we finally did get to playing one character pulled a gun on the rest of the group when they discovered that they had all been scammed and sold the same deeds to the spaceship. The spaceship that I’d included as a way to bring the group together, not start a fight!

Not surprisingly that session was canned and when we restarted the campaign a few months later it was with new characters and without a few of the original players. While we had fun the campaign was cursed and we played only half a dozen sessions over a two year period. It did have one of my favourite sessions though, with the crew getting high from fungal spores that had contaminated their cargo and having to stop one PC from opening the airlock because he wanted to step outside and clear his head!

#RPGaDay2019 24th August: ‘Triumph’

August has come around once again which means it’s time for RPGaDay 2019. In a shift from the questions format of previous years this year is characterised by a series of prompts, which I’ll be attempting to answer each day with a short post, with the prompt word highlighted in bold each day.

Day 24: Triumph

My first paid sale of an adventure outline felt like an immense triumph. To date my gross sales across everything I’ve released totals ~$30 and all of that has gone back into the hobby. I’m producing material on a budget of basically zero and then putting it together in a fairly ad-hoc manner, often on my phone. I then compile it into a single document with some basic layout, using skills that I’ve taught myself. That even a few people choose to pay for that material is immensely satisfying and helps keep me going. Long term I would love to start producing material regularly and even shadow launched a Patreon prior to the changes in the payout structure. I still don’t know what to do with it though. My current thoughts are to use it for releasing small amounts of Demon Hunters material but I don’t know if there is a market for it, especially given one of the creators of the game is already doing that.

All of the material I’ve published to date can be found on drivethruRPG or itch.io as free or Pay What You Want downloads.

#RPGaDay2019 23rd August: ‘Surprise’

August has come around once again which means it’s time for RPGaDay 2019. In a shift from the questions format of previous years this year is characterised by a series of prompts, which I’ll be attempting to answer each day with a short post, with the prompt word highlighted in bold each day.

Day 23: Surprise

When it comes to combat encounters I like systems where surprise makes a significant difference. During one encounter in our current D&D game the PCs set up a well thought out ambush – they had height, concealment and were able to ensure that the enemy had limited options for retreat. They stacked the deck so well in their favour that they downed half the enemy during the first turn (they were only level 3 so no over inflated HPs to grind down). I looked over the numbers again afterwards and it should have been a much harder fight, not the rout that they inflicted.

Unfortunately that is rarely the case. If we had been playing at higher levels the chance of one-shotting an enemy is basically zero, which I find frustrating. Even in games with modern settings and advanced weaponry it is usually exceedingly difficult to down an opponent with a single attack even if you are prepared (GURPS seems to be one of the rare exceptions to this). From a narrative perspective I understand why, it doesn’t make for a great story if PCs can die instantly but I think this is one of those cases where more games would benefit from an asymmetrical approach to character design. NPCs that go down quickly while PCs can almost always take a significant amount of damage. It’s certainly more cinematic though would need to ensure there is a way to heavily wound PCs on occasion.

Project Cassandra: Layout considerations

Project Cassandra started life as a hypothetical exercise – could I hack Lady Blackbird to a 60’s spy setting with psychic powers? The answer to that was yes but it quickly progressed to the point that I was no longer hacking a system but writing my own. During that time I also started to wonder – could I publish this? The simple answer to that is also yes. I could have written the game in a plain text file, put it up on the web and that would have been fine. The difference though was that I wanted more than that. I wanted a game where the presentation reflected the time that I’d put into the system and setting.

So I started to teach myself the basics of graphic design. Layout, image editing, desktop publishing. It helped that I knew the very basics from preparing material for academic presentation but diving in like that opened my eyes to how much more there was to learn. I don’t have any illusions about being able to produce material to a professional level but I do think that investment of time has been worth it.

Left – First version of the Project Cassandra character sheet. Right – Version 2, applying some basic approaches to layout.

One of the areas that stood out to me was the overall look of the page. When you’re working on a computer a white background really stands out. There is, it seems, a reason why most games apply a background image or texture to the page. It took me a while but I think I have finally found one that I want to use and thanks to it being released via Unsplash it is free to use.

As you can see it makes a noticeable difference without being demanding attention. I’ll definitely be using it when I get to the point of formatting the final document, though I intend to release a printer friendly version as well.

#RPGaDay2019 22nd August: ‘Lost’

August has come around once again which means it’s time for RPGaDay 2019. In a shift from the questions format of previous years this year is characterised by a series of prompts, which I’ll be attempting to answer each day with a short post, with the prompt word highlighted in bold each day.

Day 22: Lost

The ingenuity of players will never cease to surprise me. I’ve lost count of the number of times that they’ve come up with approaches or solutions that I could never have foreseen and it’s one of the aspects of gaming that keeps me coming back time after time. I have a Firefly adventure that I used to run at conventions but thanks to the players it never got dull even though I ran it close to a dozen times. They all completed the same mission, with the same NPCs and objectives but each went about it in different ways. One group incited a riot to distract the Alliance garrison, another seduced the station commander while some turned to brute force snatch and grabs. That adventure helped immensely in training myself to ‘create obstacles not solutions’ and I would whole heartedly recommend running an adventure multiple times to any budding GM.