Session done, story told, dice are being put away. If you have finished your adventure, then you do the whole process again. WRONG! There are some things you should do after a game session, so the next session is even more better!
Over the last two weeks, we have talked about getting set up for a game. This will cover the final prep and give a brief overview of things to expect during that game. Once you have an adventure idea, and characters to experience and or carry it out, you need to get to the real meat of Role Playing games: The Playing!
to get started, we need to consider game set-up. This may be something you have already came up with based on the game system and or the setting you use. Or, it could be something that you haven’t given much thought. What do you NEED to play your game, and what do you WANT to play your game? Need is usually pretty similar from game to game: something to write with, dice, maybe tokens or counters. Some games have fairly specific needs, like Savage Worlds need some sort of bennie tokens as well as a card deck. However, the environment you are playing may have other needs…playing online, you will likely not need dice or writing implements as your on-line environment may provide those for you. A far as what you want, well…consider maps, or 3-D terrain pieces and miniatures, effect templates, candles or mood lights, music or sound effects, incense or scented candles! Anything that may add to the enjoyment of your game, or make it easier to play. Again, in some game systems, you may find that a want in one game is a requirement in another and vice-versa. (Do table snax count as a need or want? Might depend on your table contract!)
When considering this, think about what might add to the immersion, or connection with the games. Do you want theme dice? What about token that reflect the setting or the mood? If your game is set in the bootlegging 20’s, could you get a soundtrack from the times and keep it as background mood setting? Some games lend themselves to “theme-ing” better than others, but you can probably find little things to do for any game. BUT:
- DON’T forget your NEEDS when setting up your wants! If you get all of the terrain and miniatures you want to use, but forget dice…this might be a fail!
All of this could be several posts long, just talking about how and where to find the right music or sound effects, or what makes the best maps and so on, but really this section is here just to remind you of the basics of setting up the game. Once you are comfortable with the game set , You are ready to “Roll some Dice, and Move some Mice!” (I know many of you are too young for that reference, but just accept that it means get started!)
When running a game, you can encounter a great number of issues and challenges. Most of this blog is about how to deal with various iteration of those. But this post will address some specific issues and resolutions. If I can relate it close enough to another post, I’ll link it as well. Rest assured that no matter what you have seen before, and what I’m about to show you, the real answer to any game issue is:
TALK WITH YOUR PLAYERS
As we start lets recap just a bit: You have taken time to somewhat (or more) connect your characters to your adventure. You have spent either a small amount to a great amount of time setting up your “script” So, the first idea I want to convey to you is Murphy’s Law of Game Mastering: Expect nothing to go as planned!. The best battle plans do not survive contact with the enemy, and your plot is not much different. In an RP adventure, you control the world, the antagonist and his resources, but the protagonists, (the players). really tell where your story goes and how it gets there. You can influence that. Subtly, you can lay out clues like breadcrumbs, hints from NPCs, omens or the stray bit of overheard conversation. Or you can go to the other end, and have the PCs employer tell them what they need to do, or even the outside game GM discussion. Remember that this is not always bad. Sometimes the players are on a completely different wavelength than you and you need to go outside of the game to bring everybody back to the plot. This, oddly enough is why you did the prep you did. When things go sideways, you can look at the story, and see if your plot can be salvaged by changing some things. The benefit of the minimalist set-up, is you then just have to have the Antagonist respond, using its motivations and resources to still reach its’ goal. If you and your players are alright in a campaign where the enemy has gone (mostly) completely unnoticed, even though your tried to lead them to his machinations, and she succeeds to the detriment of what the players wanted, then bully for you! If this was just a short adventure, the players come as close to failure as you can in an RPG. If you and your players are not happy with that, then either bludgeon them over the head with the clue haddock, and show them the path (yes this may be simply a side comment that they missed something) Either way, if this is just a part of a longer story, or even a campaign, well, now the Baddie has a brand new asset, or assets at his disposal! (Whats that, he just took over the world? Then your players are in for a hard fight!)
Adventure? Check! Characters? Check! Set-up? Check! How do you start the game? This is as much personal choice as the theme of your game. For many games, a great way to start is in medias res (“in the middle of things”). This is the technique of starting, literally, in the middle of things; without introduction or lead in to the story. Usually, just a quick introduction, and pick up the game in the middle of some ongoing scene. This does several things: captures players attention, introduces game mechanics, and hooks the characters into what is going on. In medias res does not have to be in the middle of combat, though. If you are playing a game with a strong combat focus, it is very appropriate to do so, however. If you are running a bounty hunter themed game, maybe in the middle of a chase, might be appropriate. Something to keep in mind, is that this type of beginning need to have a bit of background, unless the goal is to start with the characters in a completely unexpected situation. Lets look at a few examples:
- Set-up: You are a group of WWII saboteurs, sent to find out about this new weapon and stop its production if you can
- …And automatic gunfire rattles off to the left…describe the warehouse they are in and what they see, or provide a map
- Once the battle is over, tell the brief story of how they discovered the research, and where it was being produced, in a heavily guarded warehouse
- Set-up:You and your crew are hard riding to get a message to a garrison commander before the enemy forces arrive
- While galloping through a mountain pass, there is a loud rumble, and snow begins cascading across your trail…set the scene in the remote mountain pass, or provide them a map
- Once they overcome the obstacle, fast forward to the real beginning of your adventure, the arrival at the garrison, with the enemy cresting the rise.
- Set-Up: You need to know the location of the villains lair.
- With the villains attractive paramour across from you at the baccarat table, You have a strong hand and a stronger drink…
As you can see, the in medias res can be a compelling opening to your game. However, some players would rather get to know a little about their characters before being engaged, so you might wish to accommodate them, or you may just want the theme to be a little less intense. (Note that the in medias res can be used for some fairly complex GM tricks. I will probably do a post about them soon). Another popular way of starting the game is the hire/impress/briefing style. In this method, the players are hired by a stranger in a bar / impressed by the local military / gathered in a briefing to be told what they need to do. If you have connected your players to the story, then this method still works well, because they are now being sent to do something they want to do anyway! They may not like how they are being tasked (such as trumped-up charges and facing the hangman’s noose unless they do this task), but they should have at least a little bit of self motivation to accomplish it.
However you begin it, you will then carry on through the adventure beats, or the action/reaction until the situation is resolved. During all of the game, there are several things to keep in mind, and you may well have addressed them in you table contract. But if not, or as a refresher:
- Don’t debate rules during game time. As ref, make a quick decision, and a note to discuss it after the session.
- Everybody is at the table to have fun, the ref included. when someone is getting bored (or worse, upset) try to fix the issue, even if it means interrupting the game momentarily…
- Remember that the Ref is not against the players, but the NPCs he plays probably are!
One more thing to keep in mind, and this has taken me a long time to figure out. Your story ends. No matter if it is a short one-shot type of adventure, or a full campaign, the end needs to be well-defined. lets say they beat the big bad (BB). You can end the game with an epilogue style wrap up after the combat/confrontation. If they lose to the BB, summarize what happens with them out of the way of the BB. Do they come home to ticker tape parades? Is the world safe for democracy again? Are the space ghosts never heard from again? If they lose, try not to make it TOO dark! Don’t use: “Because you died at the hands of Sodok the Slaughterer, nearly 1/3 of the population is sacrificed for her view of “the greater good” and for two generations everyone lives in constant fear for their lives!” You can soften this a bit by summing up that Sodok the Slaughterer continues as fearsome tyrant , whose name is spoken of in hushed whispers for generations.” This ends the game, and rewards the players or culminates the story. Another option,if it fits the tone, is prepare a newspaper article / News feed /Heraldic announcement for failure and success…hand the appropriate one to the players after the game wraps. Anything you can think of that is not, “OK! you beat the BB, now how do you get back to town to resupply?” Keep in mind that the characters may continue in further adventures, but this is a great opportunity for them to retire from the adventuring life.
My biggest problem, as an epic style ref, is that once the players dealt with one story line, I basically rewarded them, and then let the world go on…if the players sought out other story arcs, then great, otherwise…the story just kind of ran down like a clock unwinding. Not very exciting, no matter how fun the actual game. This took me years to realize, partly because I don’t get the opportunity to play often, but also because I thought a living world was more engaging and exciting. I no longer believe this. Stories need the beginning, a middle AND they require an end. The end needs to be as complete as the rest of the story. Sometimes it is played out, but usually this is a narrative conclusion after the final confrontation, just like the narrative to start the game. This does not need to be you, the ref, just telling the closing story. Talk to the players about what their characters will do now that this issue is taken care of, or talk about what the characters hoped for even in a poor outcome.
I will do one more of these weekly posts, next week talking about post game wrap up. Feel free to post questions or comments. Remember that I started this blog at the request of one of my players. I have done a lot of contemplation on a lot of these posts. I know that my rules and techniques may not work for everyone, but I hope that anyone can at least glean a few things from them. If you have had good luck with any of these techniques, or any of them turned out disastrous, please share!
Keep Rolling! And may your dice often critical/explode (in a good way…an explosive dice may be quite painful if not downright dangerous!)
What is a story (or an adventure) without characters? In last weeks post we talked about writing up an adventure, and how the conflict is Man VS., But remember that MAN can be any protagonist, whether male, female, protoplasmic asexual, or super-intelligent shade of the color blue. Depending on the game system and the setting, you may have all or none of these in your character group. Characters, both PCs and NPCs, are a distinct and important part of making your adventure, and I will talk about each of them in this weeks post.
We will start with NPCs, or anyone not played by a player character (hence: Non-Player Character) These range from major players, both heroes and villains, to walk ons. They are a shorter discussion in general,but that does not mean they should be relegated to forgettable status.. The more important they are to your story-line, the more thought out they have to be. While a chandler who sells the players waxed cotton line may need little more than a name (if even that), the big bad of the game needs quite a bit more!
Lets start small and go big. A simple walk-on NPC needs little thought.In many cases, a name, a quirk and a voice are over thought. Most NPCs of this type are stage dressing, shop keepers and villain fodder. They represent Joe average. They are OK in anything they need to do. The more important an NPC, or the bigger role they play, they need more consideration. Hirelings of PCs should all have names, and at least one characteristic like quick, Brave, giggles at inopportune times, cunning, untrustworthy, yawns all the time, etc… For names, there are lots of resources, from a phone book (if you remember those) for a modern game, to various random name generators such as those found at Seventh Sanctum or Behind the Name. At least keep a note card or page with a list of names, where you can write a couple of words about who they are, so if your players want to go back to them. If they are important enough, make a note about how they talk. If you are a 1st person player, imitate that when being the character. If your more 3rd person, remind the players that this mousey little bartender talks like John Wayne!
- Simply put: The more important the NPC, the more details you will need on them! Most major NPCS (based primarily on amount of “Screen time” they get) will need near complete character sheets with appropriate GM notes.
Before I even start on Player Characters, let me say this: PCs should not be created in a vacuum! PCs are informed as much by a setting as they are by other characters and/or story-line.
As the heart of your story, there are several things to consider when thinking about PCs.
- What type of character(s) fits the story?
- What character class, archetype or skill set is needed to meet the various challenges?
- In general, the 5-man band trope will cover most requirements. The RPG version is usually: Fighter (Heavy/Tank);Mage (Scientist); Rogue(mechanic,scrounge); Healer (medic); Shooter (sniper, Archer)
- What is the minimum and maximum number of players you need/are willing to run?
- How can you hook your characters into the plot, or with each other?
- The “you meet in a bar, and a mysterious stranger approaches” gives the player little connection to the plot or the other characters, but is a direct intro to the plot.
- If each character has a personal stake in the outcome, then they want to get a good outcome.
- If the players have at least some connection to the other players, then they will typical want to work together better. This can range from family, to same school or hometown. you can also connect each player with two other characters, and that way they web together.
- How tightly do the characters need to be tied to the story? Drinking in a tavern and being hired by the mysterious patron is so easy to get them involved, but it does not really give them any reason beyond, something to do other than drink. It is a great way to get a disparate group of unknown together. On the other hand, the easiest way to get them all directly involved is having them all be part of an extended group that must resolve the issue.
You could provide pre-generated characters to your players. This saves time during your first game, and allows you to control all the aspects of the characters. This makes building hooks easy! When building pre-gens, a couple of things to keep in mind:
- Most of the time it doesn’t matter if the character is male or female. So if you name the character either give them a name that is gender neutral, or a male OR female name. Often you can just leave the name to the player.
- Make them at least somewhat interesting. The background they have would not normally be “you work in a garage,”but should be they “worked in Uncle Vito’s garage since they could follow instructions, but when Uncle Vito was gunned down, you escaped by hiding behind a barrel of oil…”
- Build hooks so they can relate to the story! And conversely, make sure they have the skills to shine at least once during the game
- This can be hard if you don’t know how many players to create for. If you have two players and you had planned for 6, what do you do with the missing skills?
- You may need to build yourself a table that shows you how to modify each of your characters if you don’t have enough, or make not of which skills are shy and consider how to get around them in the game
The middle ground of PC is character outlines. Depending on your system, you may outline that you need at least a warrior, and a mage of a particular discipline; or you might say everybody needs at least one weapon skill at moderate proficiency, but you also need someone to be a divine worshiper of the god of black water. With these basic outlines, you can get with your players and put all of the requirements on a white board or on note cards or whatever, and then draw straws to see who gets to choose what untill all of your requirements are taken care of, then let them build what ever else they want.
If you know your players, or are confident in your ability to guide players you don’t know, then you can go straight to character creation. This gives your players the most freedom, but can put the greatest strain on your game, so lets look at some details:
Character Creation at the table
If you give your players complete freedom to create what they want (which is what I usually do), you have opened yourself up to the biggest headache. You now need to make sure that the adventure fits the characters, and that you have appropriate hooks for them.
- I recommend that you guide the character creation. Kind of like the middle ground, you know what you need to have. You know the setting and the scope. (Creating characters for a single adventure may allow some rule breaking to fit what you need. For a campaign…not really allowed!)
- Keep in mind your story. All of the next points assume you have a fairly solid grasp of the story you want to tell. If you are telling a story about Victorian monster hunters, who incorporate part of the monster into themselves to make better hunters, you may not want a holier than thou brimstone preacher, but a preacher who fight the stain against God might work, but do you have the requirements of skills and abilities to meet the challenges of your story?
- Talk with the characters about your setting. Depending on the genre, you may even give them basics of the plot. This might not work in a murder mystery, but in a” get the macguffin” (macguffin? you ask…the thing thqt MUST be gotten) dungeon crawl, you can probably tell them that.
- In that discussion, they will need to know what type of characters you expect, and perhaps more importantly, what won’t fit. In a witch hunting game, it is probably inappropriate for one of the characters to be a demon worshipper!
- However, if they want to play that character, find out why. Perhaps you can fit their desires into a character idea. They want to play a demonologist to cast black magic? What about White magic? More limited perhaps,but the holy priest may fit in much better!
- Feel free to have the players provide you hooks, but if your scope is a single game, help them change that hook to one that fits your setting.Let other players make suggestion about the character…get the ideas flowing. If you need the characters to know each other, work out how. do they each know all of the others, or is everyone connected to only one or two of the others?
- Once concepts are made, work through character creation. Try to make the build fit the idea, but make sure you get the skills covered that need to be.
Lets go to the example:
Continuing our example from before, lets touch on each of the ways you could create characters. We have come up with a story, so now consider the types of characters that you might need or want. NPCs we need, are the spider alien,and its brood, the proconsul and a couple of servants. That might do for a minimum. The way the story is written, we may only need to completely stat out the big bad. The rest can get by with a few notes.but we may create some of the stats to deal with things we don’t expect. Of course all of the bit players will need names, so I’ll have a random name generator (or a book on roman history) to create roman sounding names, with maybe space-opera monikers (Space runner, Star child, Voidmann).
If you are setting this game up for a convention, or just to try out a system or something, you may consider pre-gens.For the game you decide that all of your characters will have basic military training, so that defines part of their background. Perhaps in your game, they have been together since they were out of the crèche as they were destined to form this cadre. So now the players are connected. Using that, the mission becomes important because one of their creche mothers has gone to this frontier planet, and they haven’t heard from her since she left.Like that, you have given them a reason to be together, to work together and a want to undertake the mission. (Maybe mother is in one of the villas that has been attacked…she is OK, but wants the master avenged). You have soldiers; you also need perhaps a doctor, maybe with a xeno-disease specialty. One of the characters is a research specialist. You need a long-range fighter and a couple of close in fighters. How about a diplomatic face type. And then, as a final character, an insectoid non-citizen trying to earn its citizenship by serving the emperor. Its motivation is different, but it adds a bit of party conflict, so you only make it available if all of the other characters are taken. If you want, you can add character specific connections, but most single shot adventures don’t see a whole lot of use of them. You can make it a point of play, exploiting it during one of your beats! Otherwise, you are ready to play!
In the next situation, you may not know your players, but you are not limited by time, you may have a couple of session to cover the story, so you decide to have them create characters, but you will control the process.
You know you need all of your players to have Some fighting skills. So, depending on your game system, you may require everyone to take a weapon proficiency, or x number of points in combat skills. If your system is a pure class base, then this part of the decision is basically what sort of classes are needed. As you can see, this is where a class based system could have significant advantages. Assuming you are playing a skill based or class/skill hybrid system you will need to be a bit more defined. You have access to notecards, so you use them. If you don’t know how many players, you may need to mark the characters. something like all 1 star characters have to be taken before a two star character can be taken, and so on. This ensures that the minimum classes/skills are covered.. If you are using a class hybrid system you may put out cards for just the classes , so everyone can pick that first. Then, put out the skill cards with skill/talents/powers (whatever ) on them.These cards can include skill groups (skills for a thief, for instance) or maybe individual, allowing people to specialize as they see fit. Once skills and classes are distributed, you might talk about hooks, or you can lay them out for selection as well. If you lay them out, it might be best to be a little vague so character secrets are not common knowledge. If you are going to leave the players to work out the character hooks, you might consider the next iteration instead!
Lets now assume you are going to be playing with your usual group of players. You know the kind of things they play, but maybe this setting will get them to shake it up a bit. So, you get snax and start talking about characters for the new game. Everybody agreed to the setting, so you just need to tell them a bit about your story plan. Everybody is happy with what you need. So they can dive into character making right? Yes, but…THey can make their character and then work with you about fitting them into the group, but if everybody talks through the types of character ideas they have, you can guide them in their choices, and other players may have some influence to make better characters! Cool, eh? OK…your group is talking about characters, and one of the players really wants to play a dwarven priestess to the God of the Axe. You explain that this is not really a fantasy game, but they would really like to do this…now what?
Like so many other things at the game table – talk it out! Maybe after finding out why she wants to play that, you agree that it could be a fun concept, but it doesn’t fit. But (Later we will talk about the Yes, But.. .and No, and… concepts) how about she is a non-citizen from a high Gee Ice world called Graham Holt. So, she is short, and hairy, like a dwarf, and she actually has psionic powers that her people have attributed to divine intervention. You hadn’t planned on any kind of magic, but this minor power might fit well. So, she gets to play her Dwarven priestess, that is on this operation to work toward her citizenship in the Empire. Character motivation! She may not be connected to the other players directly…or, maybe she has been assigned to their cohort for a while! Maybe even the slave of one of the other characters!
Once created, then you need to wrap it up with tie ins. Once each of your characters is a closely connect with each other and the story that you are comfortable with, you are off to the races! (Not breeds of people, but competitions of speed…but actually mean you are ready to play!) Well…almost. Next week, I will discuss setting up for your game.
Let me know if this is of help!
I have talked about lots of different things about how to run a game, and how to do referee things, but only brushed on the meat of it. So, lets choose a setting and go through the steps of actually building an adventure to run your players through! I am planning on doing this in three sections, each a separate post, hopefully no more than a week or so apart. This one will go through outlining a session.
Some caveats to this process.
- Know your system. You don’t have to be a guru at it, but be comfortable enough to know what the system you’ve chosen can and cannot do well. As mentioned several times in these posts, you can tell any story in about any system. it’s just a matter of how well or how smoothly your system does it. Knowing this, you will not make a central part of your adventure something that the system does not do well.
- Consider your scope. How big of an adventure are you creating? If you are planning a campaign (out of scope for this article), your stories are considerably different from if you are making a single session game. This step becomes more important as the scope becomes narrower.
- The last caveat is more a reminder; plan to have fun! Know that your players will likely do things you had not expected and that’s ok. Know that you may miss a few things in your set-up, and that ok. This is not a matter of life or death (well,maybe to characters and a few stiff drinks, but…) and it can all be made better by a simple discussion. With these things in mind: Lets get started!
We will start by choosing the setting. For the purposes of these post, I am not going to refer to any system mechanics. I’ve mentioned a few created settings in these posts, so I am going to choose our Space Centurion setting. Next we decide how to set up our game. We need to make a few decisions at this point. Probably most important is scope. Generally the amount of work for a campaign set up is about the same as a single adventure, as well as anything in between, because as the focus gets smaller, the details need to be more fine.(however, the bigger the scope, obviously you will be doing more work overall because you will be bringing that focus sharp over a series of directly connected stories). For this, because of the impetus behind these posts, we will focus on a single story.
At this point, we need to come up with our story. Keep in mind that an RP adventure is not the same as writing a story. In a story, you control everything. In an RP adventure, you control the world, the antagonist and his resources, but the protagonists, (the players) really tell where your story goes and how it get there. So, what do we need? Conflict. Every story is a story of conflict, as we all learned in 7th grade English. Depending on your school, you may have learned different “Man VS” conflicts, but here lets just kind of look at Man VS Man (probably the most common in RP), Man VS Nature (This may be monsters, or just the world) and Man VS Self (Very difficult to do in RP (particularly with more players), but often very satisfying…doppelgangers do NOT count as Self! 🙂 )
Once a story-line is made, then you will need to turn it into an adventure. There are lots of ways to do this, but lets look at a low detail version, a high detail one and a middle detail one.
- For the low detail, you just need to come up with your antagonist, the goal of said antagonist, and the resources available to accomplish it.
- But wait! Can a Man VS Nature have an antagonist? Of course! the Volcano/earthquake/hurricane/flood/jungle may not Decide to interfere with the heroes and their goals, but it does anyway.
- Many Nature stories feature time as a resource of the antagonist…usually the heroes are running against the inexorable and may not have enough time to complete their task! Once you understand that, throw the players in the mix! you just need to figure out how the bad guy responds. Done.
- This usually requires a strong understanding of your game mechanics and your setting as well as the ability to improvise responses.
- A high level of detail would start with the basics, as above, but you may define specific resources, perhaps even down to the number of wagons and oxen the evil baron has, so you can keep track of the attrition afflicted by your meddlesome players.
- It requires you to work out at least partial stat blocks for the bad guy (as above), but also his support and at least generic supporting cast.
- You can work out a flow chart that addresses each scene/event and direct the players along it. Maybe each encounter has a very positive outcome, a positive outcome, a neutral outcome, a negative outcome and a very negative outcome (one step above Total Party Kill (TPK)) and each of those lead to the next event on your story arc. This method can be very gratifying visually, and perhaps some events might only have two outcomes (did they get it, did they fail to get it) and others may have more. This makes it quite easy to play out as you can see what has been accomplished what effect each success or failure has had on events and so on, but can be frustrating because you come up with all of these options and the players may get very lucky (or skillful) and blow right through your chart, leaving all of these cool ideas to never see the light of day! (A common hazard of the world building GMs!)
- Finally you might create beat or point arc. This is not as loose as the first version, but much simpler than the last version.
- Here, you take your villains goals, and determine a vague idea of where your players can affect them. Maybe they will have one chance before the boss battle, or maybe they will have three, and if successful with a key one of those, they will add one more.
- When building this version, remember that each point along the story or each beat of the adventure should have a fairly direct consequence on the outcome. It should weaken the players or the big bad, or strengthen them.
- Information about the weakness, or even just learning of the next plot (particularly in a campaign) gives them some bonus against the enemy.
This single story adventure will be primarily Man VS Man.
Homer III is a frontier planet of the Star Empire of New Rome, but a planetary non-citizen (read alien) has been capturing some of the intrepid citizens, draining them of fluids and leaving their desiccated husk draped across the archways of their villas. However, the citizens don’t know what is happening, they are just finding some of these farm holders in bizarre positions and bled dry. Is it an alien infection? is it an enemy of the Empire? Who knows. SO the Proconsul has contacted his senator and requested aid from the Empire to protect the Citizens and deal with this…thing.
OK. We have a story that is focused, has some intrigue and some sort of confrontation in the end. Obviously I need to figure out some details, but we have the basics. One of my first considerations is characters. However, characters are the topic of the second post, so we will cover that in more detail later!
Characters are considered, and perhaps discussed. Now you need to work out the story details:
If I am going to build the simple version, I simply need an understanding of Homer III, and I need to define this Man-Spider Alien. Does it have access to Empire level science? perhaps it is a wholly primitive hunter, or a bit of both, ala Predator? I need to stat it at least partially. If it is alone, how is it capturing these citizens? Do I want to throw in a few hints of a possible disease? Perhaps the proconsul is ill when the cohort arrives… It’s goal is to drive the Empire from its world so it can hatch its eggs in the upcoming rainy season. It is a member of a hunting pack, while not quite as intelligent as normal humans, it is quite clever.
In a detailed story I want to cover many possibilities. I will start with them meeting the proconsul, who is showing signs of a wasting disease. He will give them the information available, and explain that the Empire has never sent the normal Janissaries or the phalanx troop so the colonist are fairly vulnerable to issues such as these. If the players examine the proconsul, they will find he has a rare form of space cancer…one that requires high empire level medicine to cure…but it can lead to a wasting type illness, but it has never shown itself to be contagious before. If they try to send for information on the security detail they will have to wait 3 days for the response, and are then told that one should have been formed, are they sure? Eventually (enough successful negotiations) they will have a detail formed and sent, but it will take time to actually form, drill and deploy them…during this time at least one more colonist will show up dead. If they go to investigate the villas, they will find that all but the most recent have been scrubbed clean by the slaves. the most recent however, has had one of the slaves, a non-citizen of local stock disappear. The wife has gone to her fathers, so only the caretaker is left. He can tell what he saw, when the thing left his master in the archway. Knowing that the story can’t go on without some clue, if the players don’ talk with him, they can find a drag trail leading up to the villa. with enough success, they can tell it is recent, that there was two sets of foot prints, and that the drag marks represent bare toes…and there is a dried trail of some sort of liquid .
But, to keep from working out all of the rest of the details, i would finish this with a mid level of detail. Taking what was already detailed above with this: I want 5 adventure beats. The first is the interview with the proconsul. the second is the evaluation of the most recent villa. Next is the site of the killing, then is the tracking of the big bad, and finally the final confrontation. Again, to keep the story going, we know that none of these can lead to a complete dead-end (unless it leads to a return to the main story line…maybe the tracking point, but that would then strengthen the enemy by giving them one more victim) To workout the rest of this game, I need to create an impact for each point. If the players are successful they weaken the enemy, or get something to use against it. If they fail, then the benefit the enemy or hinder their own cause. And because it has been presented, i might overlay every beat with a virus threat…but they might be able to mitigate that at some point.
Alright! hopefully next week, I will post the next part of setting up an adventure, the Characters!! Keep in mind that when using the medium detail style for campaigns, each beat can be a complete adventure built like this. Like a bead on a string, that can be examined and expanded into the beads on a string of this post!
If you have questions, feel free to comment, and I’ll try to get you an answer!
A new favorite game! Could be the only game I’d need, forever, except…
One of the things I had planned to do with this blog was game reviews. And I have decided it is time to do one, the first one! My first review is of Savage Worlds, specifically the deluxe edition, but I don’t into to get into the detail that separate the versions I am familiar with.
To start, lets talk about what savage worlds is and what it isn’t. So, without further ado…
What is it?
Savage Worlds is a setting neutral (or generic) game. It is hard to call it rules-lite because its core rule book is fairly densely packed with rules. However, many of the rules are designed to address specific issues that may come up in a variety of settings. Since the core book is only ten bucks, and you can get the test drive rules for free, it is well worth the investment. The test drive rules are the rules lite version of the rule set, so the powers and setting rules are very curtailed, but you could acquire the test drive rules and, say the wizards and warriors supplement (also free) and have a pretty good fantasy savage world to try out.
The rules are not a game setting, but a rule set that allows the playing of any setting you want. It is very well supported with settings, both licensed and fan made. These range from standard settings like fantasy,pirate, modern or sci-fi, but they also include a great number of unique and mixed genre settings as well. The default rules tend to reflect life as an action movie, but it has mechanical adjustments that can make it more realistic or gritty.
The tag line of the game is Fast! Furious! Fun! and it lives up to it pretty well It has several separate resolution mechanics, but they all work well together, and are mostly easy to learn.
What it’s not…
Savage worlds is definitely not a simulation type game. All of the rules tend to be fairly abstract and simplified. Because is setting neutral, there are few rules dealing with unique situations and those that do, like radiation exposure, can best be read as guidelines.
How does it, uh, work?
The basic mechanic of Savage worlds is: Target Number of 4, if you roll over that number, then you succeed. What does that mean? Well, lets dive a little bit deeper. For this part of the discussion, I am just going to keep to Core rules, but even when using the companions, these mechanics don’t change significantly. Characters are made up of 5 stats rated from a D4 to a D12+2 or higher, with an average human score of D6 in each. Each character has a number of very broad skills, 23 in the rules, also rated from D4 and up. Broad as in the Shooting skill covers a bow, a crossbow, a rifle, a laser carbine, or tank gun. These skills are linked to attributes, so that if the character has only a D4 in Smarts, it will be more difficult, but not impossible, for him to become a world renown scholar in hydrotherapy! To enhance the characters, there are Hindrances and edges that make further define the character. A Major hindrance of Stubborn, for instance may make it just about impossible to change the character’s mind even from a bad idea, while an Alertness edge grants a bonus when looking for things or to pick up on subtle clues. The rules cover separate races as well as define how to make your own by modifying their base stats, skills or edges and hindrances. Dwarves, for instance, are slower, but have low light vision and increased Vigor, while Elves are penalized when working with mechanical items, but have higher Agility and low light vision.
Next, one needs to understand Wild cards and Extras. Player characters are always wild cards, as are some significant NPCs. These are main characters of the story. They have access to “Bennies” as well as an increased damage tolerance. Bennies are a mechanic to alter mechanical outcomes, such as avoiding a failed die roll or making a deadly wound merely a flesh wound.However, perhaps the most dramatic thing that Wildcards have access to is the Wild Die. Anytime they roll a test die, they also roll a D6, taking the higher die. Extras do not have access to a wild die, do not usually get bennies, and if they are wounded, they become incapacitated, while a wildcard does not become incapacitated until the 4th wound.
One more thing, the dice in SW explode! (That is, if any dice rolls the max, it is rolled again and added together, without limit, so, yes, it is possible to score over 20 when rolling a D4-2, particularly when a wild card throws a D6-2 as well, using the higher of the two). As I stated above, the general requirement to perform an action is 4. So a character rolls the appropriate skill, and wild die if able, and if they score a 4, the task succeeds, and improve their result for every 4 above that. There are lots of modifiers to that number and to characters rolls, but that is the core mechanic.
The last thing to cover about the mechanics of the system is powers, AKA Arcane Backgrounds. In the core book, there are 5 types of powers: Magic, Miracles, Psionics, Super Powers and Weird Science. Their specific mechanics each vary in their implementation, but they all use the same power list, just flavoring them with their own background. There is a list of many powers in the book and they define the pure mechanics of the thing. For instance, the power ARMOR increases a persons resistance to wounds. A mage might flavor it as actual spectral armor, or magic robes. A priest might be wreathed in holy light. A psionisict might have telekinetic shields around him, while the super power might grant hardened skin, or the weird scientist creates a force field belt.
There are a few mechanic’s in the game: Melee Combat, Missile Combat, Social Combat, Dramatic tasks, Mass Battle’s and even chases and vehicle combat. While each of these mechanics are abstract, they work very well in the system. Each one is internally consistent and mechanically quite sound.
What I Love
SW has a lot to love. The characters are simple but rarely simplistic. As I said, if you have a character idea, you can pretty much create that character in only a few minutes. Another aspect of this, and partly as a consequence of the Extras idea, NPCs can be created by the dozens in minutes. The range of edges and flaws, while extensive, are easily modified with a moments thought. Everything in Savage can be skinned or altered to meet specific tastes. Your character is good-looking? Attractive edge, but what if they exude pheromones that make people comfortable around them? Attractive edge accomplished that, just call it Friendly Pheromones (Attractive) and done!
This same idea is replete in the powers. One of the powers is BOLT. This is a basic attack spell, magic missile, fire bolt, ice dart…just the coat of paint that makes it look like something else changes it. But SW also has specialized skins, called trappings. For instance if you skin your bolt as a fire bolt, perhaps it has a chance to actually ignite something it hits. If you trap it as an electric spark, it may do extra damage to electrical systems.
Because the game is very modular, pieces can be added or removed without much trouble. Say you want your setting not to have Psionics, and miracles can only be used to heal, then remove the Psionics background, and limit the miracles background to only healing type spells.
Anytime the game goes to rounds, The Fast! Furious! Fun! mantra comes to life. First, cards are dealt from a normal card deck, instead of dice being rolled. Some edges or hindrances may affect which cards a player can use. Because the system emulates action movie physics, a character can take as many actions as they want, with penalties for the more actions. This is another thing to love, as it is not the I hit you, you hit me of many other combats. Wildcards are quite robust, and it is somewhat difficult to kill them. Not to say they cannot die from a punk kid with a shiv…exploding dice can be a bitch!
What I Don’t Love
Hard to find too much that falls into this category, except…it is so adaptable. That’s right, its greatest strength can be its biggest weakness. If you don’t want to play a game with action movie physics, then you can dig into the innards of the system, and throw a few switches, like setting rules, that might change it. For instance, if you want any good cut to hinder the victim, then use any variations on Gritty Damage. A small layer of complexity for a pretty significant change. You see, you really can play just about anything you want, but…
That very strength can make the game somewhat daunting to someone not familiar or without a lot of experience. I don’t want to make you think that it really is secretly complicated, but if you want to modify things, the system might crack under your modifications. How do you handle someone throwing an opponent against a wall? well…there is no rule…what is it like? It could be a push…or maybe it’s a grapple with a throwing trapping. What about …well, none of those are wrong. But knowing the rules well enough to make that choice quickly. As I said..it is a rules dense system.
In an earlier post, I talked about how much change a system might need to fit your idea. Savage Worlds makes those decisions easy, but that sheer simplicity might not fit the idea of what you want. If you need a system that requires characters to make things, particularly a detailed part, Savage might not cut it. You could run it as a Dramatic Task! F!F!F! answer….but does it meet your idea? If you want a More detailed skill system, maybe a performance and or an oratory or Politics skill. In Savage, you could just make a Common Knowledge roll, but that may be too abstracted. If you start adding skills, do you leave characters too weak when starting or do you need more skill points? Or do you want to make an edge that fills those criteria…see what I mean. Whatever you want to do you can do! Will it fit your need? Maybe.
Let try an example to make this clear; A foot race. For this example I will compare two favorite systems Savage Worlds and Role Master Standard System(RMSS). In RMSS, the participants would roll, add their relevant running skill (Sprinting or distance running) and look on the Movement/Maneuver table. This would then provide a value to multiply by your base speed (ranging from you fall down and break a leg, to 2 times the speed and wow everybody with your prowess). You would repeat this until one of the runners had completed the established distance. Very mechanical and precise, making those who are taller (who have a slightly higher base speed) have a slight advantage, but more than made up for by having an appropriate skill. In SW, you look at it from a plot view. If it is important, but not overly critical, everybody roll an Agility, with a bonus to someone with the Fleet Footed edge…highest score wins. Or, to deviate from the F!F!F! aspect, you could have everybody just roll a run die, move the appropriate distance, first one there wins. If it is a key point of the plot, you might run it as a dramatic task, drawing it out to maybe 5 rounds, and collecting successes. This raises the tension with the end result of the winner having the most successes.
To Wrap it up
So! Is Savage Worlds the only system I need ever again? Almost. It sets up quickly, plays well, fits with just about any setting. I can set up an evening game in a matter of minutes. There are so many settings already made, and it is so easy to create my own. I have enough practice that the open system is great fun. On the other hand, as an epic gamer, the system lacks some of the grit needed to deal with some of the story details that I often want to play. I can completely endorse Savage Worlds, and think it should be on every bodies shelves. But, I won’t be giving up my other games, even though they have dropped into the minority of game time. The stories I tell in other games have definite flavors and details that Savage doesn’t emulate that well.
Savage is exceptional for Episodic stories and very good at Epic-sodic, and not bad at epic story style. It definitely is designed as a collaborative storytelling game, what with bennies (and the Adventure deck if you use that), and I talked about my feelings toward that already. Savage could bend my feelings a little bit, though.
I hope that as a first review, I gave you something to consider. Thanks for reading. Let me know if you have another topic you want me to cover, or game to review! Talk to you in about a month!
I was considering a Halloween game. Based on an old The Dragon magazine enclosure, about a group of scouts in a Haunted House. I considered it, then discarded it, as i didn’t think any of my players would like the idea. (Also, I didn’t have the time to play) But…it definitely got me to thinking about playing characters who might do something that experienced players would be unlikely to have their characters chose to do…
When setting down to a gaming table and working out the social contract as well as what you are playing, it might be needed to consider the genre tropes you would expect. For instance, there is that recent GEICO commercial where the kids are hiding in the woods and one of them suggests getting in the running car a drive away, but the others decide to hide behind the running chainsaws…This commercial is obviously poking fun at a great number of the slasher flick tropes. The one character is the voice of common sense…Most players would normally play this character. But, if the game you are getting ready to play is the Jason Vorhees story line, the players need to accept that their characters are blind to, or completely accepting, of the trope of this kind of story. There are many fairly obvious examples of this, and some that may not be so obvious. Lets consider this, As well as the player types and how they might be convinced to play these genre appropriate characters!
OK…Slasher horror flick, pretty obvious. Your character need to not think about the general survival rules of these shows…never have sex, never separate, never go downstairs to investigate the noise or look for a weapon…Because, to play in this game, it needs to be understood that most of the characters will die. Of course, the GM can just force them into the kill situations using tricks or just saying “after smoking the weed, you find yourself in a dark bedroom upstairs in just your underwear…roll to see if you notice the closet door opening!” What about any zombie story since George Romero? Every person who has the slightest understanding of modern fiction knows that they need to have their brain destroyed! Again, the ref can change that by saying that his zombies need to have the heart, or the left pinkie toe destroyed…so the players are as clueless as their characters. How ’bout we consider a favorite setting of mine: Deadlands. Once the players have played for a few session, and likely from the moment you set down to discuss this setting, the players will know that evil is afoot. And, If they finish a story arc, they will have a very good feel for what is going on. But what about their next characters? The classic Will-o-the-Wisp: How many experienced players are going to go traipsing off in a swamp to check out the oddly flickering lantern? On the other hand, if the character is youthful, and has heard that some treasure hoarding fairies can be spotted at twilight in the same swamps…The wisp becomes an obvious threat again. (Unless of course they have heard the legends or had an ex-adventure that took an arrow to the knee tell them about when they lost the thief when he went after a thief’s light in the swamp…
Horror type stories are obvious for this type of acceptance, but any setting, like superhero, or exploration need to have this acceptance. So, to make these game better reflect their source material, or to maintain the replayability of a setting, players need to be willing and able to accept this. Like the difference between Player and Character knowledge, this is a matter of suspending disbelief for the sake of playing the game. The player may know that going into the rat infested cellar is actually a way to get them into the cellar and trapped in a caved in sewer, they may avoid it, unless that is the way the story starts. It may seem that experienced players would be hard pressed to fall for some of the genre tropes that a new player might, even if they are playing the young and inexperienced new adventurer. But take hope! Experienced players will likely willingly embrace these tropes even easier than someone who does not have much practice at suspending their dis-belief, if appropriately
If that’s the case, how do we lay the groundwork. Well, let’s go back to our player types! The Bestest character type may be the hardest to convince to play with a handicap, such as not being aware that zombies are only vulnerable in the head. How can they be the best if they have to wait like everybody else to learn that? These characters need to understand that they can BECOME the BEST, but need to start behind the power curve like everyone else. Once the characters start learning the secrets, then they can become their goal. Until that point, they may become the mad experimenter…the best at figuring out how to deal with the issues…But in general, for the good of the game, they will have to delay their gratification. Sorry. The rule about a lot of things for them to do can keep them distracted!
How bout the escapist? They are pretty easy! Because they are often not at the forefront of action, they can easily accept that they don’t know that crossing the streams is really not as bad as expected! Weather a tag-a-long or a dabbler, let them play the character who is there just to learn how the story turns out!
The Active explorer, profiler and storyteller may be your easiest to convince. They play the game to explore the world and/or their character…so it is just natural for them to separate what the player knows or doesn’t from her character. When you discuss with them the tropes of the game, particularly the latter two, they will likely embrace the challenge and the entertainment they derive. The exceptions are probably the troublemaker and the avatar. The troublemaker tries to break the setting, or at least test the boundaries. For them, the ref and the other players will simply need to remind them that breaking the trope is not the same as breaking the boundaries. As long as they keep that i mind, they should be controllable. The Avatar is probably as difficult as the Bestest for this, maybe more so. No body want to play a different version of themselves that has obvious dangerous flaws. The avatar player is likely to be one of the least likely to embrace a character’s death or major flaw, and by defining their character with this weakness will be nearly anathema to them.The best way to deal with them is probably bribes! The other option for the Avatars and Bestest might be for them to play the more sensible characters. The Stick-in-the-mud virgin in the horror story, or the grandparent who doesn’t “ken to no nonsense” or the nerdy scientist type.
All of these thing considered, this really is just a form of Player vs Character knowledge. When playing any game, part of the enjoyment is transporting everyone to some-PLACE else. If you bring a modern player into a medieval setting, the player may know how to make gunpowder, rendering most of the armor useless. You don’t let them do that, because it goes against the spirit of the theme. This is exactly the same issue. Most players know that getting in the running car and driving away will keep their character alive to fight another day. But if the trope of the game is we need to tough this out and survive til morning, then hiding behind the running chainsaws might seem a perfectly viable plan! Of course, no one would want to WIELD one as a weapon, (Too dangerous, I’m sure) until they are the last one standing and must face down the machete wielder! (Lets hope they haven’t run out of gas!)
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about game style…Epic, Episodic, even Epic-sodic, and, since I have not posted an entry for a while, lets try this one out.
In Some Common Ground, I discussed the basic differences in Epic and Episodic. I have also mentioned Epic-Sodic in Random-like, but let me get deeper into each of these and discuss the pro’s and con’s.
Epic is usually my go to game. However, I have noticed some things only on fairly deep introspection. Surprisingly, there are some thing that I don’t like about it. I have often defined an epic role playing style something like this: While the player characters are important to a given story line in the game universe, they are not all that important in the universe, overall. If, and when, they die, only a few people they have interacted with will probably notice their passing. Of course, if they have performed heroic deeds that saved villages, towns or even kingdoms, that would be different. But…the universe doesn’t care. The game will focus on these characters and their life in the world. It will be about the adventure arc they are following, but if they get in over their heads, the universe (in the guise of the GM) will not make the path easier for them, and if they die…oh well. Epic games are kind of like the Novels of role playing. The characters are a bit more detailed, and there is often significantly more character building in them. But because there is often many story lines going on in the world, I have found myself wrapping story lines pretty matter of factly. Hurray! They have beaten Lord Two-Dark and his minions. But, they didn’t even touch the fact that Yirk the Bloody is gathering slaves for the zanzabarbarians…or the ogres in the Yellow wood in the next kingdom over? From an Epic ref’s point of view…a hero’s work is never done.
In these games money is important. The cost for a healing potion and ammo will be specific, even if it changes slightly due to availability from one place to the next. It is important for characters to be able to estimate the worth of the things they find and/or be able to haggle for it. Often the players have a daily routine. It likely includes study or practice. Usually, encumbrance is carefully calculated, and wound can be deadly. Random encounters make the world feel more alive, because they represent things and people that are going about their daily business. A story can still be on the rails, going from one thing to another, but the details of the between becomes important. A map, graphic or textual, is a must in the Epic game. If it is 100 miles to point B from Point A and 300 miles to Point C, from Point B, then Point C is not 50 miles to Point A!
The Epic Style can support Top down or Bottom up, but it is very difficult to run without significant set-up. It can support any character style, but, because it often integrates daily routine, detailed survival and travel, it usually runs better with detailed characters. And, because the characters are dealing with the rest of their lives, and not just the “adventuring” part, they tend to build up quite rounded and deep characters. (Of course, an Epic character can be very shallow as well, but most players who really enjoy Epic style will build appropriate characters). In an Epic game, when a player is unable to play for a night it is often much better to not play that game, so as to not have another player mis-play him.
This does not mean you can’t play episodically with an epic style. It is just that playing from key scene to key scene is not very conducive to maintaining all of those details that make a complete and living character in a constant and detailed world.
The Episodic game is much more like a television show. The group of characters often have a three act style of adventure. There is often an over-arching story about the characters, but many of the games are just “monster of the week” style serials. There is nothing wrong with episodic play, and is really the only style of play suited for conventions and even the game group that can only infrequently get together, and need to get their story’s told before they (the players) die of old age!
The Episodic style is, as I pointed out, basically the opposite of the Epic. Usually money is not closely tracked. The players have what they need, but maybe not everything they want. Encumbrance is either not an issue, or is just not closely tracked. The Episodic style is, in the words of the Bard “The Play is the Thing!” Why worry about the minutia of basic life and upkeep, when you can just get to the adventure?
A map can be notional, as they get where they need when they need to be there. When Joss Whedon was asked about the speed of ships in Firefly, he allegedly claimed they “Move at the speed of plot!” (This was actually quite a revelation to me when I was setting up a Savage Worlds game. I had spent 20 minutes or so scouring the maps to determine where an encounter would take place…a railroad, in the mountains, near a gorge….I was getting frustrated because I wasn’t finding the right place…and then…a bolt out of the blue! It doesn’t matter where it is on the map…it takes place exactly where it needs to!)
Characters in Episodic games tend to be specialized, because their energies, as well as the needs of the gameplay focus on specialized skill sets. Not many TV characters are all that broad, skill-wise, but of course they can develop very deep characters as they are played as hooks become background, or vice versa. Savage Worlds, an excellent candidate for Episodic play, even has a mechanic for expanding a players background during game play, called a Dramatic Interlude.
Many games are really designed to be run Episodically. Any Mission driven game, such as Shadowrun is really episodic and follows the three act style :Get the mission, research and planning, execution. And, because of this style, characters tend to be more specialized, as they do not need all of the other skills. It is assumed their life goes on without major consequence, or it would be an adventure! And, like before, you can run Epic style games Episodically, but the whole point would kinda be lost, and it would probably be an “Upkeep” scene, perhaps played out as a montage, rather than played through.
This is my name for probably a very common style. It is basically Episodic gameplay, with Epic support. You might be able to consider it long form Episodic. How does it work? This might be best as an example:
The players wake, and take care of their morning routines. Do they have any particular requests this morning? OK..the Priest is going to temple for service. The others meet for breakfast, when a messenger arrives, and is properly introduced, he is somewhat confused as he was expecting one more person. They will need to convince him they are who he seeks, and that the lat person will join them after his devotions. If they cannot convince him, he will leave word where he can be found when they are all together. Knowing that it won’t do to interrupt worship they wait on the priest, and after he has properly broken his fast, the go to meet the messenger. Check for random encounters on the way, and resolve them. If any member of the party is incapacitated, then if they go on to the messenger, he will still not release the message. Once they get the message, it is encrypted, but it is not overly difficult to decode. It directs them to make contact with “The Green Man” and explains how to do it. What actions and or precautions do they take, and do they decide it is worth their action. Once they are prepared, they travel to the green man, in The Blue Knight Club, in the Rose room, a private room…
You have received and de-crypted a message to meet the “Green Man.” You have just arrived at the Blue Knight Club, with instructions to meet him in the Rose Room. Alibis?
You have recieved a coded message that directed you to meet the “Green Man” at the Blue Knight Club in the Rose Room. You have about 6 hours before the meet. What do you need/want to do? (Once all prep is done…You may set up a random or preparatory encounter on their way) You have arrived at the3 Blue Knight Club…
I hope, from those descriptions, you can see that the Epic style will obviously take much longer to work through. The life of the characters between adventures is important. The Episodic is likely to finish in an evening. You play out the important (read adventure) scenes. The Epic-sodic will take longer but not near as long as the Epic. You are focusing on the adventure/story parts, but the supporting background and characters are not necessarily a given. This has become my favorite style, I think. I love Epic games…The lives of our characters is interesting, if not fascinating, to me. But, as real life seems to allow less and less time for it, the development of characters and setting as well as the quickly getting to the adventure appeals. There is no reason you cant play epic story lines (notice the small e) while playing Episodic. The story arc just becomes more central to the separate adventures. However, as discussed earlier, playing an episodic story in an Epic manner kind of defeats the point. And, as Savage Worlds has become a new favorite, and plays very well in the Epic-Sodic, I guess I need to do a bit of a review for those of you who have never seen and/or played it! (Next post…whenever I get to it!)
Are these distinctions clear? I know you, my gentle readers, may have questions for your old Ref Mentor, and I’d be glad to answer them. And, if your questions require more than just a comment to discuss them, I’d be glad to write a whole Blog Post about it. So feel free to comment or ask questions. Remember, my goal here is to offer bits of wisdom from a person who has been playing, and primarily reffing RPGs for almost 40 years. I don’t claim to be the best, but I do have a lot of experience and have run a lot of things.
Live the adventure, folks! And be a great Ref!