Monthly Archive: March 2012

Mar 29 2012

Bang, now what do you do?

A bang is a situation you throw at a character or group of characters and watch how they react. There isn’t something to overcome, just a choice.

Bangs are something I heard about on a podcast. Go figure. Me, hearing about something gaming related on a podcast. It was on the Walking Eye during a conversation between the shows primary host Kevin and Clyde from Theory from the Closet. You can hear their conversation here. From there I went on to check out story games (a forum dedicated to bringing more story out in all games) and started reading about bangs. Then I moved onto the best of Story Games section on their forum and started reading about bang types. You can check out the whole post here but I’ll try to summarize.

Bang Types

Dilemma Bangs: You take two things the character values equally and make the character choose one over the other.

Multivariate Bang: The character has no clear choice but can do “anything”.

Unary Bang: The choice comes from a single value instead of two as in the dilemma bang.

Escalation Bang: You do the same bang as a previous bang but alter the stakes slightly.

Raymond Chandler Bang: The universal survival bang. People come in guns blazing but the bang comes not from surviving but in the dealing with anything going on during the situation, innocent bystanders, valuable objects, ect., and the aftermath.

Omnipresent Values Bang: Bang a value that is accepted as universal, such as sexuality, family, gender roles. Something a character might not have on their character sheet but a person will generally have some reaction to.
Identity Bang: You challenge some value central to the characters identity.

Win Repercussion Bang: You take a clear win and confound it.

The credit for this list should go to Mike Holmes and Josh Roby. Mike put the idea’s out there and Josh shortened the list to three sections. The above are types of Bangs. Josh felt there were player responses and ways to apply bangs.

Player Responses

Batman Bang: The player chooses not to choose and raises the stakes of the situation in some way in an attempt to choose all values. Think of the Riddler situation at the end of the third batman movie.

Player Instituted Bang: One of the other players creates a bang in the fiction with his character. This is not a bang off a bang but just a player creating a bang. It might feel like PvP but I suggest you just run with it and facilitate the situation by involving all the players.

Accidental Bang: Sometimes you don’t mean to set up a bang and it just sort of happens. A player is confronted with a difficult choice. These are gold so pay attention to the outcome as it will tell you and the player a lot about their character.

Ways to Apply

Multi-Player Bang: This hits more than one character in terms of shared values.

Cross-Player Bang: This hits more than one character but each character has a different value affected. This usually leads to lots of character interaction.

Emergent Bang: You throw out a situation in which you know it will affect the characters values but your not sure which values the characters will attach to the situation so you feel is out and react to the players as you play. The bangs result emerges through play.

As I said earlier these are ideas I’ve heard about and started to look into. I know I’ve been doing them for a long time without realizing it. Now I have a name and concept to associate with so Bangs are a solid tool in my GM tool box. Check out the links and go through story games. There’s a lot of good information there for all types of games.
Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Mar 28 2012

Episode #4 – The Where of it all

004 – The Where of it all

We’re on ITunes – 1:35

Marvel RPG – 2:12

Adventure and Encounter design: Environments – 8:25

Creating enviornment, interacting with the environment, and Player Agency- 12:20

Traps as environmental hazards – 17:40

Environments that change – 19:45

Level system rant tangent – 25:31

Podcast Wrap up – 27:01

Final thoughts – 32:48


Marvel RPG
Walking Eye
Civil War
Age of Apocalypse
Lady Blackbird
Dresden Files RPG
The Nerdherders Podcast
The D6 Generation
Queen City Conquest
In Spaaaaace by Greg Stoltz
 Penny Arcade
Indiana Jones bridge Scene

Mar 22 2012

A Charged Encounter

This is a situation I came up with a while ago for one of the D&D campaigns I’ve been running. I thought I’d share the original idea with you and show you the break down of the encounter so it can be used in any game.

Origonally this was an encounter in the home of a mind flayer. It had all the Cthulian trappings; walls of bio organic material that pulsed as if it had veins pumping blood through them, cilia hanging down from the ceiling here and there, a floor of squishy biomass. At one point they exited a vascular tunnel into an open area with a curtain of cilia splitting the room roughly in half. As soon as one of them pushed aside the thick curtain of cilia they spotted a Large warforged attached to the wall by pieces of bio-matter, in fact one of the warforges arms was a pink and purple tentacle and his other arm was embedded in the wall.

In any case, as soon as one of the players walked through the curtain the entrance tube closed, the whole room electrified, the warforge thing started looking around, and its tentacle arm started whipping about. As the room electrified each of the players had a black or white aura appear around them. They were positively or negatively charged.

In the origonal version I had seven players. I simulated the random charging taking four white and black poker chips, dropping them in a dice bag, and having each player pull the a chip out of the bag at the beginning of the round. The players then then go through a round of combat and at the end of the round the charge would ignite. If anyone of opposite polarities was within 5 squares of each other lightning would arc between them causing a substantial amount of electricity damage. This damage was for each lightning arc. In the original game no one decided to see what was up with the aura during the first round. They were to focused on fighting the warforge. Boy did a bunch of them get a shock. By the way, the warforge had a long reach with its tentacle and got a free shot against anyone who came to close to it. If the warforge hit it would slide the characters around the room and try to position them. Also anyone who passed through the now electrified curtain of cilia could be shocked and caught in the cilia, having the added effect of ending their movement. In the end it became an encounter about moving around and getting position as much as taking out the aberrant warforge who was the conduit for all the electric energy being pushed into the room. He was sort of like the distributing nerve node. Here’s a map you can use if you so desire:

The Pieces

So that was the origonal encounter. Let’s see if I can break it down so you readers can steal the bits:

  • You need an enemy that can move people around and also acts as the relay for an energy current.
  •  You have to have some sort of curtain or divider in the room that has the potential to limit movement.
  • You need an enclosed space with no easily accessible exits.
  •  You need some reason for the characters to be charged with polarized energy.

With these four pieces you have the encounter.

Changing It Up

Instead of trying to beat the thing which conducts the energy you can have some other object the players can interact with to shut down the energy in the place. Place the item near the adversary which conducts the energy. I would suggest making the item take a series of checks to shut off or disable it. While that’s going on the other players would have to distract the conductor since it would try to harm the person who is trying to disable the energy as it’s highest priority threat.

Another option is to make the conductor adversary a mobile opponent with an energy source or cord it is trying to protect and by destroying the energy source or cord the power in the room shuts down.

I’m sure you folks out in internet land can come up with a bunch more variations on this theme but if you enjoyed this leave some comments saying so and I’ll share some of my other situations I’ve put my players in.

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Mar 21 2012

Episode #3 – The Drunk Cast

003 – Drunk Cast

Show Notes

1:50 – Why’s Dave Here

3:05 – Failing Up

11:00 – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

13:40 – Death in Gaming

18:10 – Twisting the Story

21:32 – Mark’s Wife Loves him

24:35 – The Choice

Game Mastery Critical Fumble Deck (via Barnes and Noble)
Call of Cthulhu
Star Wars Saga
Lady Blackbird
Mouse Guard
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Mar 16 2012

Failing up

One of my pet peeves in a lot of games is when you fail. Why is a pet peeve? Because when you fail nothing happens. The game stagnates and change isn’t affected. When you miss in combat your action had no effect on the situation. When you’re trying to pick a lock on a door and you fail the door stays locked. Fail at breaking the door down and it stays up. I always feel a game isn’t doing its job if failure means stagnation. If you have these problems I have a few tricks I use to make failure a little more bearable.

A Word of Caution

As a GM you have the power to define what failure means in any situation. Remember that. It’s your choice to ignore the written rule but do so at your own peril. The rules are in place for a reason so make sure you don’t set a poor precedent for anything you decide to change because you’re players will hold you to it. If you do make a mistake you can just admit you made a bad call last time, and if your players aren’t douche bags they’ll give you some slack.


One of the tricks I use is called twisting the story. I ripped this off from Mouse Guard by Luke Crane. If someone fails you don’t just tell them no. Twist the story, add a complication, make the goal more difficult to accomplish. Heck, you can get a whole session from a series of bad dice rolls if you just keep twisting the story. As a Game Master this makes failure more interesting and allows you some creative freedom.

The Choice

Sometimes I like to give my players a choice when they botch a roll they really want to make. I set an asking price, usually some personal resource or story based action that will come back to bite them later, and then see if they’ll pay it. There might be some bargaining and eventually they make the choice. Here’s an example:

A cleric was casting a ritual to pull terrible energy out of an angelic being. He succeeded on the roll to remove the energy but not enough to disperse it to the ether. The energy was wildly flying about and the cleric realized it was going to randomly enter someone or possibly disperse. I asked him if he wanted to let it go randomly or would he take all of the foul energy into himself. He chose to take it into himself. Now he’s got a sort of doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing going on and it’s not good for him or his friends.

The choice doesn’t always have to be that dramatic. Sometimes it can be as simple as you missed the attack roll so you can sacrifice some amount of health to hit or you open yourself up to an attack to land your strike. In a social situation you can debase yourself, lowering your reputation, in some way to gain access to your goal. Maybe your trying to lie and the GM tells you yes you can succeed but someone in the room realizes your lie and you don’t know who it is. The only real rule is trying to find a cost equal to what the character will achieve.

Tip: If you’re running an ongoing campaign this cost can be something you put in your back pocket and pull out sessions later. If you’re paying attention and listening to your players you can pull off some amazing things by just tempting your players with the things they want. The best part is when you pull out the consequence the player who made the decision will be having a blast because they’ve affected the world in a meaningful way, and you got a plot point created organically through play. There’s also the flip side of a player complaining but you can retort by telling them they got what they wanted before and there are consequences to actions.


Here’s the newest trick I’m trying out which is a more codified rule. When someone fails you ask them if they want to try again and set a cost. They pay the price and can try again. If they fail a second time you set a second cost but tell them they will succeed if they pay it. It’s a different take on the choice idea, but I’m excited to try it out in play.

If anyone else has any ideas about how to make failure more interesting drop a comment here and share some ideas. Thanks for reading and I hope all your games are awesome.

 Chris “The Light” Sniezak


Mar 16 2012

Missing isn’t Fun. Never Missing is worse.

“So, what kind of character would you like to play?”

“Some kind of barbarian guy. I want to get in their face and do lots of damage. Definitely not a human either. I want an interesting race.”

Back when I helped my friend build a character, there was no barbarian race available for 4th edition D&D. We ended up settling on a Warforged Ranger. I had also just learned how much missing sucked by playing a wizard who failed to hit about 70% of the time. This was also before the wizard encounter powers had a lot of miss effects.

So, I went in with the approach that I wanted my friend to have fun, and not have to experience the lameness of my previous wizard. I started with giving him the high-proficiency bonus longsword. I gave him the expertise feat that gives +1 to attacks with a heavy blade. We upgraded to a Bastard Sword later on for more damage but still having that high proficiency. I gave him a warforged racial feat to give him a bonus to Attack whenever he had an ally next to his target. He always flanked. His strength was maxed at 20 and kept getting better. He started out with a base attack bonus of 5(str)+3(prof)+2(flank)+1(wfg tactics)+1(expertise)+1(half lvl) = +13 at level 2. Most Soldier type creatures at level 2 have an AC of 16-18. My friend had to roll a 3-5 in order to hit any of the most heavily armored creatures in the game at his level. Any thing that wasn’t the most heavily armored had no hope of surviving.

With twin strike, he regularly rolled twice, hit twice, did quarry damage, + 5 str damage each. His damage roll was 2d8+d6+10. That averages to 21. If he action points, he kills anything that isn’t a brute, or an elite/solo. When he upgraded to Bastard Swords, with that magical ability that does an extra d6 when he’s bloodied (and he was always bloodied), he went to 2d10+3d6+18 for an average of 39 on Twin Strike. Probably more there that I’m forgetting.

By the time we were done, this character was the living embodiment of destruction. He didn’t miss. He only rolled the dice to make sure he didn’t get a critical failure. It was an epicly amazingly awesomely fun character to play.

For about 2 levels.

After awhile though, it became a little monotonous. When his turn came around, I would end up asking him ‘Ok, who do you want to kill? Did you crit fail? No? Ok, it’s dead. Don’t bother rolling damage. It can’t possibly survive.’

Failing every time was boring. But there were ways around it. I could have fun during the role-playing scenes. I was useful during skill challenges because of my knowledge skills. And every so often, I could drop a daily power, or hit something unexpectedly, and get a little thrill in combat. My Rituals even came in useful on rare occassion.

Succeeding every time seemed like a fun for awhile, but it got boring too. And even worse, because the character was such a combat monster, his skills in the other areas of the game were weak. He didn’t do well in skill challenges, unless athletics was involved. Even then, he was just someone with good athletics. Other people, like the fighter, did just as well. The player wasn’t much of a role-player, so he faded to the background during those scenes. And when he did miss, he would usually just action point, or use some other resource to get a reroll and kill it anyways.

You need to have a niche to fill in each of these scenarios, in order for your character to give you the most enjoyment possible.

Mar 14 2012

Episode #2 – Live at Craggnarok

Episode #2 – Craggnarok Live

Show Notes

:44      Live from Craggnarok

7:03    UBCon with Spike – Director of Media

14:11  Aaron Winkler on States – After the Fall

31:43  Chat with Craggnarok Con director Jen Monheim

38:49  Garrett Crowe from the Threat-Detected podcast

58:10  The Outro


Child’s Play
OotS Board Game
Thunder Stone
Eric Vale 
Monica Rial
Aaron Winkler – States after the Fall
C.R.A.G.G. on Facebook 
D20 Radio
Pathfinders Cronicles Podcast
Rodney Thompson 
Savage Worlds 

Mar 09 2012

The Dice

I’ve been reading the new Marvel RPG by Margaret Weis Productions, and I’ve found the dice mechanic to be interesting and engaging for the player. This is only conjecture as I haven’t seen it in action yet but I’m hopeful. This thought has got me thinking about dice mechanics in other games and how they help enhance the play experience.


In d20 all you do is roll, add a modifier, and see if you beat a number usually called the DC (Difficulty Check). This is a pretty simple dice mechanic. You either pass or fail. There’s no choice and the mechanic can fade into the background. It’s just a randomizer for the tough decisions you make. It’s like a logic switch. Pass or Fail. On or Off. All the d20 games I’ve ever liked had a bunch of other stuff going on which affected the d20 roll or had nothing to do with it. The most interesting thing about the D20 dice mechanic is the critical hit and critical miss. Roll a 20 or a 1 and something interesting has the potential to happen. Sometimes this is mechanized; in D&D a 20 means you do extra damage where a 1 is always a miss. This can become more interesting if you start adding in rules like the Piazo Critical hit deck. The critical rule also matters because one of these numbers is coming up ten percent of the time. That means one out of ten rolls something interesting outside of the expected should happen. That’s a bit nifty.

Savage Worlds

The Savage World dice mechanic gives the players a d6 wild die to roll with their test die and you choose the higher of the two results. It’s a target number game like d20 but the target number is usually 4 unless it’s an opposed roll. There are a couple more things going on here.

  • Catastrophic failure: If you roll a one on your wild die and trait die you’re pretty much at the GM’s mercy and it won’t be good.
  • Exploding dice: If you roll the highest number on a die it explodes, which means you roll it again. If you roll and get the highest number again it explodes again.
  • Raises:  If you hit your target number by four or more it’s called a raise and you get some extra benefit.

I like this dice mechanic even though there are things I don’t like about Savage Worlds; you get to roll two dice, they can explode, there’s a moderate and major success level, and the probability for catastrophic failure is related to your characters skill. Skills are rated to dice type so it’s more unlikely to fail catastrophically if you have a high skill level. It’s kinda nifty.

Dice pool mechanics

This is a little weird to talk about because I’ve seen dice pool mechanics used in a couple different ways. In the newest edition of Shadowrun you roll a dice pool equal to the characters skill plus relevant attribute modified by any modifiers. Hits are equal to the number of fives and sixes rolled. If you get enough hits to equal the threshold you succeed. Any hits beyond the threshold make whatever is being tested a more extraordinary success but the rules are a little vague leaving effect up to the GM. On the other side if more than half the dice rolled are ones you’ve glitched and something bad happens and the GM has the final say. That’s Shadowrun but Mouse Guard is similar with some interesting additions.

Mouse Guard builds a dice pool from the skill in use but this game is a team game. The first person to speak has to make the check, it’s actually a rule. Everyone who wants to help can give one of their own dice to the player but they must narrate how they help in relation to the skill they’re using to help. Very cool and engaging, everyone can participate in every check if they’re clever.  This game also has counts successes on a d6 roll of 4+ and has the threshold success mechanic found in Shadowrun. Furthermore, if you fail in this game the GM has the option to give you some kind of stress or twist the story to create some complication. I know, it’s not really a dice mechanic but it’s a neat idea.

The New Marvel RPG

Now we come to the Marvel RPG. This game uses Cortex plus as the engine. In the past Cortex used the take your skill and attribute die, (This game had skills and attributes equal to die types similar to Savage Worlds) roll them, add them up, and see if you beat a target number. The Cortex plus engine takes this idea and messes with it. In Marvel you build a dice pool based on what your character is trying to do. This dice pool is built from your character sheet which has a bunch of things on it like distinctions, powers, affiliations, specialties, power stunts, stress, scene distinctions, scene attributes, and a few other things. All of this stuff has dice type ratings which you build your dice pool from. Then you roll it, set aside any 1s for the Watcher (Marvel’s GM) to use as opportunities, which could also gain you plot points (One of the storytelling currencies of the game), choose two dice as your effort, then decide if you’d like to spend plot points to add more dice from your dice pool to your effort. On top of that, if you beat opposed roll number by 5 you can step up your effect die. Your effect die is chosen from what’s left. It’s important to note the effect die is the die type and not the number rolled. For example, if you rolled a 2 on a d10 it can still be used as a d10 effect die. You can also spend plot points to add more effect dice, but you can’t ever cause the same effect to the same target twice. It’s a neat option when you want to take out a bunch of mooks. This becomes even cooler when you get to your specialties because you can trade dice down. For example you can convert a d10 Master specialty into 2d8 or 3d6. That’s kinda nifty.

To end this though about dice I want to ask you folks out there if the dice mechanics in your game are interesting to you? Do they enhance your gaming experiences or do they just fade out of the way? I’d really like to hear from someone who plays GURPs or Hero and people who play Vincent Baker games like Apocalypse World and Dogs in the Vineyard. How do the dice mechanics enhance play in those games?

Mar 07 2012


I’m going to play Encounters tonight. Encounters is a program initiated by Wizards of the Coast. It’s purpose is to provide players with a regularly scheduled bite-sized portion of D&D. It’s also a great entry point for new players. I’ve been playing in and running Encounters sessions since the beginning of the program, and I’ve learned a few things.

  • Tokens

Using Tokens is a double-edged sword. They are fantastic for cheap, portable markers. They are terrible for immersion, and description. Of course, if you are using a bugbear mini in place of a hobgoblin anyways you aren’t losing much. Where this really hurts is with the characters. Each character should have its own mini that gets close to what the character actually looks like.

  • Poster Maps

I love the Poster Maps concept, but it seems to fall short when every map is made from Dungeon Tiles. The maps that come with printed modules like Thunderspire Labyrinth are amazing and wonderful. The maps that come with Encounters are not wonderful, but they are appropriate for the Encounters format.

  • Character Restrictions

One thing I don’t enjoy about Encounters is the restrictions placed on character creation. I understand that Wizards is trying to support their product, and the store, but I don’t see it doing a whole lot in either area with my group. I’ve started allowing experienced players to bring in any character they want, as long as its thematically appropriate. I encourage the use of Essentials characters, especially ones that use the source from the book associated with the current season, but don’t restrict it to only that. For newer players, I try to guide them to follow the rules, and I always make sure those who break the rules have a backup character which does follow the rules, in case they get a DM who isn’t as lenient as I am.

  • Prizes

I’ve started a tradition of giving away prizes at the end of each Encounters season. I usually buy the book associated with the upcoming season of Encounters and give it to whoever earned the most Renown Points. I then buy a 2 packs of Fortune Cards and give them to the runner up. I think a store would earn a lot of credit with the players if they did this regularly.

If you are looking to get involved in some D&D, Encounters is a great way to go about it. Find your local store at

Mar 06 2012

Podcast Addict: Happy Jacks RPG Podcast

Hey there folks. First I need to go drink a 6 pack of craft beer then I can write this thing…

Ok, I’m back and ready to roll. The Happy Jack’s RPG podcast is a group of friends and musicians who reckless venture into the RPG hobby…with beer, and they do it with as much awesomeness and douchebaggery as possible. In fact Stu Venerable and his collection of Boggarts bring the douche each and every week to a podcast that has rabid fans, and is about as unfocused as this paragraph.

In all seriousness the Happy Jacks Podcast did something I hadn’t heard many podcast’s trying to this point, a lot of listener feedback. They read a ton of email and give their opinion’s on the listener’s problems. This did two things for them. It gave their audience a voice, which made them pretty popular, and gave the Jackers a lot of content they didn’t have to come up with. Combined with the variety of craft beer they drink and talk about along with the excellent music by gaming podcast standards, (to be honest the music is pretty good by any standard) and you have some serious popularity.

I have another theory as to why this podcast is well loved. They embody the gamer who left the hobby and has come back. Stu decided to start gaming again after a long layoff. There are a lot of people who seem to be doing this since new technologies make it easier to find games to play in. The Jackers also do a fantastic job of showing how gaming isn’t geeky. Yeah we’re all geeks to some extent, but it isn’t a bad thing, and maybe geek isn’t what we stereo-typically think of anymore. I think geeks are more like the Jackers. They’re sociable, decent people, with jobs, families, hobbies, loves, and passions like the rest of the world. The douche crew helps show a portion of the world this truth. I’m not saying they’re saving the world or anything but from a pen and paper stand point they’re just every day guys and girls in the world. I have the conversations they have at my own game tables. I’m kind of a pervert just like those douche bags. I like craft beer as do they. I can identify with them, and I think a lot of other people can too.

Now that I’ve praised Happy Jack’s I do have a few things to say about their show. It can be a little hit or miss. Sometimes they’re unfocused with a lot of random chatter and tangential conversations, and the content suffers for it. Worse, and this is because they’re just a bunch of guys shooting the shit around some microphones, is they sometimes make statements that are ignorant. For instance in one of their most recent episodes Stork was talking about how D&D is trying to be WotC’s big money maker and the 5e situation is something they probably can’t afford to screw up. Now Stork is just guessing from what he’s seen. Unfortunantly he’s wrong. Magic the Gathering has doubled its profitability in the last three years from a hundred million dollars to two hundred million. Magic is the money maker and it’s still growing. I don’t know why. I’m not a magic player nor am I a fan of the game. I assume people like the game and WotC does a good job promoting it. I’m just trying to express the point that Stork “Storked” it. You can read the article here

WotC also has a substantial game catalog to pull from and are a subsidiary of Hasbro so I don’t think they’re hurting in the game publishing category. You can see the list here. Also the Duel Masters property is the largest card game in Japan between eight and twelve year old’s and they’re bringing it back in America as Duel Masters: Kaijudo. To go along with the game Hasbro’s TV network, Hub, is launching a new Duel Masters cartoon. For the full article I’ve gotten this information from you can click here.

My point is WotC probably won’t fold if 5e doesn’t do well. On the other hand if 5e flops then WotC and Hasbro might sell the D&D property which would be kinda of cool, but this isn’t the place for conjecture. I just tangented to give you the feel of a Happy Jacks Podcast.

To close I do want to say I like Happy Jack’s. Stu, Tappy, Stork, Kimi, JiB, Bruce, CADave, Tyler, and anyone else I missed do a fantastic job of entertaining and informing gamers, new and old alike, with douchey debauchery and little to no class. Keep on drinking.

P.S. The Happy Jack emailers like to put post scripts at the end of their emails.

P.P.S. Did I mention the emailers like to put post scripts at the end of their emails.

P.P.P.S Ok, this is just ridiculous but maybe I can make up for it. Just imagine Kimi saying “Fan boy penis” in a sexy Russian accent. If that doesn’t work for you then you’re a douche bag.

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Mar 05 2012

Episode #1

Episode #1

Show Notes Episode 1

Introductions :55

Our Goals 4:30

The Reason 6:44

The News 9:00
– The QCC 9:15
– Craggnarok 12:10
– The Humble Indy Bundle 13:40
– OotS 16:10

A bit about 3.5 D&D 19:10

Adventure and Encounter design 33:07


Least I Could Do comic
Tracy Hurley AKA Sarah Darkmagic
The Tome Show
Child’s Play 
The Humble Indy Bundle 
EFF(Electronic Frontier Foundation)
Queen City Con 

Mar 02 2012

The Chase Part II – Run em Down

(See Part I at

You’ve escaped from New York, the boulder chasing you down the trap infested hall was easy to avoid, and even if agents can jump into any body in the matrix they can’t catch you. You’re a leaf on the wind, the running man, and John Connor all rolled into one. Even if your not you can create scenes for your players so they feel like they are. That’s awesome but it’s only one side of the chase. What do you do when the rolls are reversed? What happens when you’re players are running down someone and how do you make it happen with style.

In chases we have the runner and the chaser. The Chasers are now the players but things won’t change to much. There will still be goals for each side, there will still be complications but the implementation is a little different.

As a chaser the basic goal is catching the runner before he accomplishes his goal. Keep in mind the runners goal could be anything: escaping the chaser, assassinating someone before the chaser stops him, hitting the big red button, alerting the rest of the base to the chasers presence, or any other goal you can imagine.

 Example time

He looks in on Eleita sleeping in her bed from outside the Inn’s second story window. He lifts the latch with his thin blade, opens the window, and steps in. The only sounds come from the bar downstairs. Standing over the pale beauty he lifts his blade. Feet come pounding up the stairs, Eleita’s eyes open, the blade descends.

There’s a scream from within the room as Kir bashes in the door. Eleita is lying in her bed with a long thin blade jutting from her right shoulder. A man stands over her in a white cloak, takes one look at Kir and the others behind him and leaps out the window. Kir and the others follow.

The above is the set up to the chase. I ran this adventure a while ago and knew my party well enough to assume they would chase the assassin. How could I assume this? Motivation. This particular group has very tight character connections so attacking one of them is like attacking all of them. I also knew a single blow wouldn’t hurt Eleita enough to take her out so she can participate if she wants. The point is you need to know your group and how to motivate them into starting a chase.

The man in the white cloak runs down the rain slicked cobble stone street and around the corner of a building. As Kir turns the corner followed by his companions the man in the white cloak runs by a wagon full of barrels and slashes the restraining ropes, spilling two dozen barrels into the street. The group leaps, dodges, and bashes their way through them but Adoy is barreled over and falls behind a bit.

When I set up a scene where the players are chasing I change from a time line of events to a series of challenges the players need to overcome in order to catch the runner. The above example is just the first of eight different challenges the players had to overcome. The trick to making these interesting is having consequences for failure and, if possible, boons for success. In this particular example there were no boons for success but a consequence was falling farther behind in the chase. Falling farther behind made a difference for a challenge later in the chase. I like making the early challenges effect later game play. I enjoy mechanics assisting in the creation of story.

Kir leaps from one roof top to the next. He takes a quick glance over his shoulder as he lands on the same rooftop as the man in the white cloak. Elieta and Adoy just reached the roof of the building he and the white cloaked man climbed onto three rooftops ago. When he looks forward the white cloaked man isn’t running away but towards Kir with two long razor blades in each hand. “Uh oh” are the only words Kir can say before the dance of blade and fist starts.

Remember when I said I like early challenges to effect the story. This is what I’m talking about. Kir’s a monk and managed over come the previous challenges better than the others. I like throwing a curve ball sometimes. This is one of those cases. I planned on having the white cloaked man turn and fight whoever managed to keep up with him here, but only for a bit. Kir kept up so now he has to deal with the white cloaked man alone. Since the white cloaked man is a tough challenge for the whole party Kir just trying to survive until the others can catch up. A couple of rounds of fighting and the white cloaked man continues running. By having the white cloaked man stop and fight in the middle of the chase for a moment I’m trying to accomplish a few things. I change the pace of the chase, show the runner isn’t above fighting, give the players an idea of the runners ability, and create an encounter where previous challenges effect later ones.

The white cloaked man ducks into a fenced in construction storage area filled with lumber. Kir and company follow him but the white cloaked man has created enough separation to give him a chance to hide. Elieta peers to the right and glances a flash of white behind a pile of lumber. “There” she yells and moves before the others just in time to get out of the way as the pile of lumber topples over on the party.

Once I got to the storage yard I had a decision point. I had to decide if the white cloaked man should stay and fight them here or run away to fight another day. The series of challenges are my barometer for the white cloaked man’s decision. If the group succeeded at more challenges than failed he would stay and fight believing he couldn’t get away from them. If they failed more he would get away to assassinate another day.

Elieta gets away from the toppling pile of wood but her friends do not. as the man in white vault over a fence. She takes a step towards him, stops, and turns to help her friends. When she finally unburies Kir and company Kir asks her, “Why didn’t you go after him?”

Elieta shrugs, “I thought I should help you guys. Besides, I saw what he did when you went one on one. I’m not as dumb as you.”

Kir laughs and shakes his head.

Got me there.” He ponders for a moment, “I wonder who he was?”

Elieta looks towards the fence “I’m sure we’ll find out sooner or later.” then looks at Kir, “Lets get out of here and grab a drink.”

They failed more than they succeeded so the white cloaked man got away. I feel it’s important to have consequences for failure. Without the possibility of failure their isn’t a challenge and the more ways you can find to give your players the possibility of failure without killing them the more interesting you can make your game.

Next time someone decides to run make it awesome. Create those scenes from the movies and stories you love and experiment. People are thinking of new and innovative ways to create chases all the time. If you want some other places to look for inspiration for chase mechanics check out the Pathfinder chase mechanics at , or get the new Savage Rules Deluxe edition which has new chase rules. You can pick the PDF up at . Both have some excellent idea’s for building chases.

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Mar 01 2012

The GM’s Role

I was reading a post on a message board about the GM’s role in RPG’s. This was my reply. I though it was interesting enough to share it so here’s the posts that started the conversation by Michael Hoff:

“What is the role of a GM? (As it applies to RPGs)”

To get the ball rolling, I’d offer the view point that a GM is two-thirds story teller, one-third referee.

I think the bulk of an RP is in the story: the characters, the plot, the world, the ebb and flow of actions and reactions. Anytime I hear about somebody relating fond memories of RP experiences, the rules or edition used is always secondary to the events that made it up. Doesn’t matter much whether you beat an Orcs THACO or AC as much as how engaging the experience was.

And while I’m always a story supremacist over rules lawyer (Which is really what wargaming is for anyway) the GM still has to keep the story itself within the boundaries of rules or else we really are just sitting around playing pretend. 

I’d love to hear how other people feel.

Here’s Robert Ferrick’s response:

I would agree though I would add a few other roles that GM’s often play:

  • Teacher
  • Social Organizer
  • Chef
  • 3-D artist

These are just a few of course, but it is often left to the GM to organize the chaos of getting four or five people in the same room on a regular basis and getting them fed, making sure they know how to play, creating props, models, terrain, and sometimes the representations of the heroes they play and finding new and interesting ways to provide excitement and challenges while balancing the needs of the story with the needs of the individuals.To me the story always comes first but learning what kind of experience a diverse group wants as individuals and meeting those needs is a great challenge. By this I don’t mean that it is a hardship, but a joy. The people who are always looking for the next challenge and trying to come up with quality material on a regular basis are the GM’s people come back to. 

Each GM has strengths and weaknesses of course…personally I could give a flying fart about rules lawyering. I once persuaded a GM to let our NPC viking mascot crash through a wall rather than simply walk around the side of the building because it was more visually pleasing and more in keeping with the personality of the character. And it worked. Just that little change to an ongoing story can make a great moment. When a plaster covered viking with lathes sticking out of his fur came charging out at the guards they just about peed their loincloths.

Moments like that are what make a personally told story better than video games and even some books. Ok, so the story may not be a Pulitzer but by Crom you were THERE when it happened.

And here’s my retort:

I think the GM’s role depends entirely on which game you’re playing because there is such a plethora of games out there today. The GM’s role in a game like mouse guard, is different from the GM’s role in the New Marvel Superhero’s RPG by Margret Weis which is similar but different from the GM’s role in the old Marvel RPG from TSR, which is different from Dog’s in the Vineyard or Inspecters, or Dread, or Blowback or ect…

Ok now that I’ve gotten that out of my system I suppose you’re talking about more traditional RPG’s like the various iterations of D&D including Pathfinder, Traveler, Cortex, Savage Worlds, and such. In that case I think these are the rolls a GM should fullfil:

  • A facilitator to telling stories.
  • The one who challenges the PC’s by creating conflict so drama is created and interesting stories can be told.
  • The interpreter of the games rules so he can do the best job possible with steps 1 and 2.

It’s a short list but it has a deep meaning. In a traditional game most of the pressure to create plot is on the GM. Most trad games don’t have rules for creating back stories, it’s just the way it is. Crafting a character suggests idea’s of back story but they’re just not there most of the time. This has changed in recent times as gaming is evolving and the line between those hippy indy designers and the trad designers is getting blurred more and more. Sorry got a little off topic. The point is even if the GM has back story from the players he can choose to ignore it if he’d like, which would be silly since my personal feeling is GM’s should be story facilitators.

Interesting stories are created by drama and drama is created with conflict which is the GM’s job. With out the conflict or challenge there’s really no game because there’s no decisions to be made to change the state of the story. This is necessary for an interesting game experience otherwise we’re just having round robin storytelling and that’s when I get to the rules interpreter.

We use rules to help us decide what happens in those situation. It’s the random element that keeps us guessing at the stories events. GM’s who understand not just what the rules do but why they’re doing them and how they can create a certain feel are the best GM’s. They can understand when a cool scene, like a viking breaking through a wall instead of walking around, is better for the scene and can manipulate the rules to create the chance for the event to occur. I’m a rules guy and I’m a story guy. You can be both, especially if you understand a games rules should reflect the games style. If they don’t then you’re making more work for yourself than is nessessary and you’re cheating your players out of the experience they really want.

Question: What do you think the GM’s role in gaming should be?

Chris “The Light” Snieak