Spotlight Cards

Index cards HipsterIndex cards are a GM’s best friend. Remember the Hipster PDA?

I hate forgetting to give each player time in the spotlight. Therefore, I love having an index card for each player. I shuffle them before the game, and then flip the deck so I can see the top PC card.

On the left I put the information from the game system I need to be able to improv, things from the player’s character sheet. I don’t need numbers, just the background bits that help in roleplaying.

On the right side of the card I put the stuff the player loves to do in game with this PC. Play with his pet bear, drink at her regular watering hole, flirt with their favorite NPC, and so on.

I finish the left side with a question to myself. Has this PC gotten the spotlight yet? If not, I give them the spotlight ASAP, then put this card on the bottom of the deck and make sure the next PC gets a spotlight moment.

What’s a spotlight moment? When you let the PC shine, make them the star of a scene. If they have a favorite action, like pick pocketing, flirting, or flying, I let them go for it. Action scene or pure roleplay, I make sure the character gets center stage.

Here’s some examples. You can probably improve on these because no one knows your players better than you.

Cypher System; Dread Unicorn GamesThis is the Cypher System card. I have another question to myself: Has the PC had a GMI (Game Master Intrusion) yet? I’m talking a GM Intrustion that gives them experience points. The card helps me remember. GM Instrusions are fun, and players love the XP that comes with them.

Spotlight Cards

13thagecompatible250This is the 13th Age card. When I’m working on a spotlight moment, I need the PC’s One Unique Thing, their Icon Relationships, and their Backgrounds. Under the notes I might include favorite icon spirits and agents from past icon relationship rolls.

Spotlight Cards2

Ampersand on BlackHere’s the 5E card. What’s important for spotlighting a 5E character might include the PC’s background, trait, ideal, bond, and flaw.

Spotlight Cards3

gumshoe_logoHere’s a generic GUMSHOE card. Drive and Occupation give me a handle for spotlight scenes.

I thought about doing a card for each GUMSHOE game, but realistically, I’d do them as needed for the games I’m running. On the right side I’d definitely list any sources of stability if they are used in this system, species for Ashen Stars, and so on…

Spotlight Cards4

It’s easy enough to make your own for your favorite game system. They help me, maybe they’ll help you.

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Player Facing Monster Mash-up


I sometimes build monsters off of the PC’s backstories. I’ll use 13th Age as an example, because baGolthiarckstory elements are a major part of the game and every PC has them on their character sheet. But any game where you’ve got player character backstories will work.

For 13th Age PCs, I look at their one unique things, backgrounds, icon relationships, and whatever weirdness the players have latched onto, and try to build monsters out of this strange stew. I don’t use every backstory bit every time. I pick 2 or 3 for my monster mash-ups.

First I figure out what level, and then I mash up two monsters of that level that have some tie to my PCs backstories. There’s a great master monster list you can download here. Or just use the chart in the back of the Bestiary.

For example: Do the PCs have lots of icon relationships with the Orc Lord? And a PC whose background is an ooze and slime collector? I look for monsters associated with the Orc Lord and ooze or slime at my target level. I think it must be time for a 4th level Gelatinous Orc! Simply take the best features from both, and use them.

If I take a 3rd feature from a PC, I’ll take one that is just for flavor, like Cat Whisperer of the Elf Queen’s court. A little gelatinous cat sits on the monster’s shoulder, but has no mechanical effect.

13a_Bestiary_300Hmm, I can’t find any 4th level orcs, but a bugbear will work! A gelatinous bugbear! I take stats from the Barbarous Bugbear from the Bestiary. (I could level an orc, but if I’m improving in game, I don’t have time.)

And the gelatinous tetrahedron, also from the Bestiary. I better bookmark both pages.

I take the higher value of two out of the three defenses and for HP and initiative. I take the lower of the two for one of the defenses. I chose the lowest of the defenses from either monster and use that. I like to keep the rock, paper, scissors (armor class, physical defense, mental defense) design of 13th Age combat going.

I’ll write down the init, defenses, and hit points. So, AC: 18 or 19 -> 19; PD: 17 or 17  -> 17!; MD: 16 or 14 -> 14; HP: 51 or 160 -> 160. Init +12 or +3 -> +12. I’ll make the size huge for the gelatinous special effects. I might give small boosts to PCs with relationships to the Orc Lord or with ooze and slime backgrounds, say +1 to hit.

“It’s a huge bugbear made out of green gelatinous goo. On it’s shoulder sits a gelatinous cat who squints at you.”

I’ll just flip back and forth in the Bestiary for the attacks.

Bugbear stuff: The ferocious start is cool, I’ll use it. 2 attacks a round to start with, yay! I’ll also use the club attack from the barbarous bugbear, calling it a gelatinous club, but I won’t use the natural even hit or miss power. I’ll save the special effect for the gelatinous part of my creature.

Gelatinous stuff: I’ll say an even gelatinous club hit triggers the gelatinous tetrahedron’s engulf and dissolve, on an odd hit it does the club damage from the bugbear. “The gelatinous club splats all over you and covers you in slime, drawing you inside the huge jelly-like bugbear. The gelatinous cat licks its lips.”

I think I’ll leave out the gelatinous tetrahedron’s instinctive actions. I’ll save those for the full-on gelahedrons.

Nastier Specials: For extra scariness I like to ask my players. “What’s the worst thing about a gelatinous bugbear?” One player is sure to blurt out something awful. Probably about the gelatinous cat spitting slime balls. The rest will moan and beg them not to say things like that, but really, everyone is enjoying the fun. If no one offers a fun suggestion, I’ll choose from one of the base creatures or make my own (slime ball attack on a natural even miss!). Crits on 18+ is easy. 16+ if I’m in the mood.

See Also: The undead owlbear archaeologist.

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Had an amazing time at OrcaCon. Attended amazing panels and played amazing games. The organizers made everyone feel included. Ran some great 13th Age demos. Jonathan Tweet even stopped by during one.

Bumped into old friends and made new ones. Shanna Germain congratulated me on my success. I melted.

Great time.

Did you know that 13th Age has undead owlbear archaeologists?

13th Age tip: I made up the monsters to match the PCs one unique things (magical archaeologist), backgrounds (Red Wastes explorer, which is close to the Owl Barrens), and icon relationships (lich king). Undead owlbear archaeologists power!

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Happy New Year from Dread Unicorn Games!!!

Dread Unicorn Games in 2016

Dread Unicorn Games Logo

Are you going to OrcaCon? I am, please say hi! I’ll be running a few 13th Age games for Fire Opal and attending as much gaming goodness as I can.

Our first products are sister titles: Gods and Icons for 13th Age and The Gods Have Spoken: Deities and Domains for 5E. Why two? It turns out most of the writing and art will work in both products, so why not?

Here’s where we are now with Gods and Icons and The Gods Have Spoken:

  • The writing is 75.09% done (+ or -). Vanessa has done a great job with three pantheons, and I’m excited to plug in their relationship to the icons for Gods and Icons. There will be holy swords for paladins and religious items for all the divine classes.
  • I’ve been playtesting Gods and Icons for a few months now. Soon I’ll give it to the real playtesters to try out.
  • We’re going to Kickstart the gods! You’ll be able to pick either or both titles as your rewards.
  • Since this is our first kickstarter, we’re going to be cautious. We don’t want to promise what we can’t deliver! For example, we’re not going to do our own printing and shipping. For physical copies, we’ll use Drive Thru’s Print on Demand and let them do the shipping.
  • But we will have lots of great stretch goals: more content and more art!
  • Speaking of art, we have a great cover artist! Justin Wyatt has agreed to do our cover art, which will include three gods and three icons. Yay! Gaming art fans will recognize Justin from The Sun Below: City on the Edge where he did interior art and The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady, where he did the amazing cover and interior art.
  • Some of Justin’s work:

The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady; Numenera adventure; Dread Unicorn Games

Throne Room from The Sun Below: City on the Edge adventure for Numenera
From The Sun Below: City on the Edge

After the Kickstarter, our next title will be a return to Numenera with another adventure: The Sun Below: That’s How the Light Gets In. There the players will confront what happens to the underground world when The Sun Below starts to fail!

After that? We’re not telling! There is so much going on in roleplaying right now. We’ve got a lot of great ideas, but first, let’s get these three products out the door.

Happy New Year!