GM Excuses VII: So That’s What An Invisible Man Looks Like

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GM Excuses, Part VII

droodWorldWithoutTearsIf you’re new to this blog thread, I’m following the Writing Excuses master class on writing, and transmogrifying it to be about adventure design. In Part 2, I mixed up ideas from Part 1 to create a mash-up, an adventure based on Drood, the novel by Dan Simmons and  World Without Tears, a song by Lucinda Williams. In Part 3, I auditioned NPCs for the lead role in the adventure and let the blog readers vote for their favorites. In Part 4, I sent three of these NPCs to do a dead-drop.

Homework Time! Who Are All These People? Have a listen.

Writing Prompt: Pick one of the dead-drop characters  and turn them into a secondary character. Now take one of the characters with whom they interacted, and write the same scene again, but from this new character’s POV with the characters focused on the other NPC.

I’ll pick Anton, Nalo’s brother, as they had the only dead-drop with two characters. Last time Anton was unseen. Again, I’ll do it as Read Aloud text in an adventure.

Anton In the Market

Read the following aloud, or paraphrase it in your own words.

You cast your spell to make the invisible visible and the silent heard, then search the crowded marketplace. Sure enough, when Nalo D’Costa enters the market, her invisible brother fades into view right there at Nalo’s side. Unlike his sister who is well dressed, Anton wears threadbare clothes and is shackled, dragging a chain behind him.

They are only two black skinned people in the market, but others only see one. 

“You hear these English talk?” Anton asks his sister. “They hate you. You are too smart, too pretty, too well dressed, and most of all, too black. They will kill you like they did me. See how they stare?”

Nalo struggles not to look at him. Under her breath she hisses “Yes, I know they are looking at me. Always me, and not you. Why don’t you make yourself useful and create a distraction?”

Fish MongerAnton smiles. “Only because I can’t hold the bag myself. Stick it in that barrel while I overturn the fat man’s fish cart.”


Aha, so this is a big change from the scene in Part 4. While it relies on a spell, I like this one better as far as getting the action going. The other one distanced the character watching. Now that they see and hear Anton, they are more in the game. I think in games with mystery, you can wait too long to really engage the players, where only the GM has a clue what is going on. The players are so lost they don’t know what to do.

And why can he overturn fish carts but can’t hold the bag?

Interesting when you try a scene where the PCs are spying on Nalo, then try it again, when they spy on her invisible brother Anton.

GM Excuses VI: Win or Lose, Still Fun

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GM Excuses, Part VI

lightsaberFollowing along Writing Excuses‘ master class in writing, we get to a very interesting discussion on the magical 1%. As in Star Wars, the Jedi are the 1%, all that matters to the plot. And then comes Han Solo. Great stuff, have a listen.

The homework is going to have to be reskinned:

Writing Prompt: Think about the last time you lost at a game. What was the process of thought that led to your loss? Now, replicate that moment in the dramatic structure of the story, except the story isn’t about games.

What a wonderful fiction prompt, but for a RPG adventure, how can we use it? The last game I lost was Carcassonne, a Euro Game. Hmm, how to create an adventure out of my blunders in cathedral and farm placement…

What are some of the reasons I like Euro games? They are fun even if you lose. The entire time you are playing, you’re usually make progress, building things, and racking up points. Even if someone edged you out, you were building your own empire.

Now, let’s apply that to an adventure. While RPG players can always lose, they don’t usually lose while making progress, getting stuff accomplished. They walk in a door, find something awful, roll badly, make bad choices, and either flee or reacquaint themselves with the character creation rules.

Adventure Writing Prompt: Create a scenario where the players can make progress, accomplish great things, have a good time doing it, and still lose. 

keyThe goal is create a key out of parts found inside an underground temple, rescuing prisoners and destroying evil shrines along the way. Then take the key to the final encounter and unlock the imprisoned avatar of good. So, besides ending up on the sacrificial altar, how can they lose? They can lose to a second adventuring group that finds it’s own key and rescues the avatar, putting the PCs in second place. “Nice try…” But the big rewards are for first place.

Let’s make three keys that will work, bronze, iron, and steel, each made of three parts. The temple is an inverted pyramid. The fourth, lowest level, holds the door to the imprisoned avatar. The third level has three chambers, each of which has key pieces of different colors. The second has six chambers, three with different colored key pieces. The top level has nine chambers, three with key pieces. Frightful guardians, prisoners, and evil shrines are scattered throughout.

Bishop Beesir is the patron, and sets the two teams in motion. The NPC team, the “Silver Shadows” includes NPCs the PCs have run into before, either as rivals or allies. There are two known entrances, the front door and side entrance. The PCs pick their entrance. The clock is ticking, as the avatar can’t survive much longer in it’s extra-dimensional prison.

While it may be possible to get to the goal in four encounters, the evil complex is warded against abilities that show either party what is where without looking. It’s not wise to skip freeing prisoners and destroying shrines, because these actions give the avatar respite. Sprinkle clues to the keys among shrines and prisoners.

To keep things abstract, we’ll measure time in encounters the PCs face. All things being equal, the Silver Shadows will free the avatar in 10 encounters.

Headwinds: If the PCs are racing to an easy win when they hit the third level, they find the Silver Shadows have already looted a key piece they are looking for. The PCs will have to find the other group and arrange a trade, or switch to another color key.

If the PCs are lagging behind, one of the surplus key pieces they have picked up is needed by the Silver Shadows. The NPCs backtrack and find the PCs, offering a trade. This adds 1d3 to the number of encounters the NPCs need to win.

Treachery: If the PCs attack the Silver Shadows to rob them of their keys, they hear a thunderclap as their deeds feed the evil complex, adding to the difficulity of all future encounters. Plus they find themselves applauded by an evil priestess who offers them a deal if they bring her Bishop Beesir in chains.


A nice change of pace adventure. What about you, can you think of an adventure where the players would feel like they are doing good, even if they “lose” in the end?

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GM Excuses V: Lovecraftian Horror

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GM Excuses, Part V

And the 3rd will be 5th. Somehow we jumped over the Lovecraftian episode of Writing Excuses. Perhaps our broken minds blocked the show out. And now, it’s back, more terrifying than ever!

MaplecroftAnd it’s a great episode, with guest speaker Cherry Priest. Her latest novel is Maplecroft: Lizzy Borden with an ax vs. Cthulhu! Hello?

Take a listen, then let’s do our homework.

Writing Prompt: Take a character, and from that character’s point of view, describe their reaction to something horrific and awful, but do so without describing the thing itself.

OK, great fiction writing prompt. How can we twist this for gaming? If we use an npc, when would the players ever hear about it? If we take a PC, how would you describe something to them without describing it?

Here’s my shot. It’s a PC, and here’s the READ ALOUD text addressed to ONE character:

As you step across the obsidian floor, white glyphs flare into existance across the surface and twist and turn. The rest of the party watches in horror as you vanish.

You fall to the floor in front of your friends, covered in a foul caul of mucus. How long were you gone? Thankfully you don’t remember, until, then you do. Just bits and pieces. Being on a stone table as surgical implements held by what? Pincers? As you were cut open? There was a lot of screaming. Yours.

And they put you back together. But not quite the same as before. And didn’t they add something? Cold and wriggling? Can you feel it now wrapped around your heart, or is this some delusion?

You hope it never happened. But you know better. There is no hope, and it’s only going to get worse.

So the poor player doesn’t really know what took them away, nor what they looked like. What all the players know, is any of them can be taken at any time. And unspeakable horrors are hovering.

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GM Excuses IV: What Do You Mean My Main NPC is Boring?

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GM Excuses, Part IV

Because of my hiccup, I’ve gotten behind in my homework! Time to file for an extension and get back to work.

droodWorldWithoutTearsIf you’re new to this blog thread, I’m following the Writing Excuses master class on writing, and transmogrifying it to be about adventure design. In Part 1, I came up with five adventure ideas. In Part 2, I mixed up the ideas to create 4 new ideas. One of them is a mash-up of two of my ideas from Part 1, an adventure based on Drood, the novel by Dan Simmons, and one based on World Without Tears, a song by Lucinda Williams. In Part 3, I auditioned 5  NPCs for the lead role in the Drood/Williams adventure and let the blog readers vote for their favorites.

Take a listen to the Writing Excuses Podcast, What Do You Mean My Main Character is Boring? (only 15 minutes, and time well spent).

Today’s Homework: Take three different characters and walk them through a scene. Convey their emotional states, their jobs, and their hobbies without directly stating any of those. The scene in question: walking through a marketplace, and they need to do a dead-drop.

Fish MongerCool! We’ll take Nalo D’Costa, Robert McTavish, and Elizabeth Dixon. You can see their biographies in Part 3. I haven’t created hobbies for them yet, unless you count looking damned suspicious. We’ll do these as Read Aloud text from a published adventure.

Nalo D’Costa:

You hear a hubbub from the city marketplace in front of you. Shoppers and stall owners comment on an unseen woman. You hear a lot of “Who does she think she is?” and disparaging remarks about the woman’s dark skin color. You spot a fidgety brown woman dressed in a teal day dress wearing a deep bonnet that prevents you from seeing her face unless her head points straight at you. The fingers of her left hand are stained with ink.

She seems to be arguing with someone, but you see no one walking with her. Her accent is both educated and Jamaican. “Yes, I know they are looking at me. Always me, and not you. Why don’t you make yourself useful and create a distraction?”

A fishmonger’s cart collapses, but you can’t see the cause. Cod spills across the cobblestones. While all eyes are on the fish, you see the woman stuff a brown sack into a barrel, close the lid, and walk away.

Robert McTavish:

You enter the city market and are surrounded by the calls to buy fresh fish, produce, and the like. An old gentleman with long sideburns and a mustache hurries past you. You meet his watery blue eyes for a moment, then turn away. There’s an intensity about those eyes that is unnerving.

The gent marches up to a grocer and points to turnips. When the grocer turns to grab the turnips, the old man looks around, then puts his hands on the lid of a barrel. He stares across at a fishmonger’s cart, where a woman calls out “Snakes! Snakes under the cart!”

You see the old man stuff a brown sack into the barrel, close the lid, and walk away, turnips forgotten.

Elizabeth Dixon:

You enter the city market and are surrounded by the smells of fresh fish, poultry, and the like. A bespectacled woman, perhaps in her 30s, rummages through a cart selling old books. A black ankh pendent graces her neck. She’s talking to a corpulent Turk, fez and all, and they seem to be arguing. She points at a fishmonger’s cart with a folded hand-fan, and says something sharp to the foreigner.

The Turk nods, and ambles over to the display of cod and mackerel. He stops, closes his eyes and falls into the fish-cart, hands flailing and grasping. The cart tips forward, spilling fish and causing a scene.

You see the woman stuff a brown sack into a barrel, close the lid, and walk away.

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GM Excuses: Audition Your Lead NPC

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GM Excuses, Part 3

OK, class is in session again, and we have more homework. If you’re new to this blog thread, I’m following the Writing Excuses master class on writing, and transmogrifying it to be about adventure design. In Part 1, I came up with five adventure ideas based on the homework assignment. In Part 2, I mixed up the ideas to create 4 new ideas. One of them is a mashup of two of my ideas from Part 1, an adventure based on Drood, the novel by Dan Simmons and one based on World Without Tears, a song by Lucinda Williams.

Check out the latest (15 minute) podcast from Writing Excuses, Q&A on Ideas.

WX-bannerThe podcast is well worth a listen, but instead of dealing with the very interesting questions the cast answered, I’m jumping right to the homework:

Take one of the ideas you’re excited about, and then audition five different characters for the lead role NPC in that story. Make sure they’re all different from each other.

I changed the idea from the lead role, to the lead NPC because your player characters, lovable idiots that they are, are already cast in the lead roles. The question is who do they get to bounce off of? It could be the antagonist, an ally, or a another important person, perhaps one around whom the adventure revolves.

drood WorldWithoutTearsLooking over the ideas from the last GM Excuses, I’m going to go with Drood meets World Without Tears. Everything revolves around the famous writer, Charles Dickens. I’m going to mix it up, and replace Dickens with a fictional writer, but we’ll say they are a famous and successful Victorian author.

Elizabeth Dixon Liz is a popular writer who has an aura of scandal around her. She’s been seen traveling with another man while her husband stayed home with the children. Somehow the scandal has only increased her sales. She’s taken a bizarre turn since a railway accident, and can now be found wandering graveyards and dealing with foreigners and other odd people. She’s the daughter of a wealthy shipbuilding family and something of an expert in Egyptology. Secretly she believes she is the reincarnation of Hatshepsut, a woman pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty.

George Kingsport George is a popular speaker and writer on occult topics. He’s known for his seances and being able to make contact with those who have past beyond the veil. A happy charlatan, George has been milking the naive since he was a teen, but now thing have taken a turn for the strange. For the last few months, George’s fake powers have started to work. He speaks in tongues, recites ancient Egyptian poetry, and has the power to bend people to his will. Which would all be great, but for the blackouts. George wakes in odd places and has no recollection of how he got there.

Nalo D’Costa Nalo is a Jamaican woman who has burst onto the literary scene in England. Aided by a following in the upper class, she has transcended racial and gender barriers and gained a popular following. One worry is her belief that she will be fashionable only for a brief moment, and then the English will find another “exotic” author to pay attention to. The other worry is Anton, her fraternal twin who died at birth. Nalo sees and hears Anton, and while she used to believe he was a harmless hallucination, recent events have proven him neither.

Connor Synge is a celebrated Irish playwright and poet. Intense and brooding, he’s a bit of a walking contradiction — often seen in bars, he never drinks; popular with the ladies, he never marries; said to be gifted in Irish, he only works in English. Connor has recently been frustrated in his work. The play “The Droods” just will not write itself. He’s torn up more versions than he can count. And each time he stops writing, he sees a pale face in the window. When he looks, he sees a figure vanishing down the block. He follows, and then finds himself lost in the most peculiar places. He’s been talking to himself, and his friends are worried.

Robert McTavish was unknown outside of his Scottish landholdings until he reached the age of 70. He claimed he found a Pictish burial site and vanished for three days. When he came out, he began writing at a furious pace, and soon started on well attended speaking tours. He has watery blue eyes that force people to avoid his glance. He’s also taken up poetry, and his latest poem is entitled “Before Man, Serpents.” His dark writings have embarrassed his offspring, and they are looking for someone to rein in the old man.

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