Monthly Archive: June 2012

Jun 28 2012

The Idea and the Mechanic

I have a lot of discussions with a friend of mine named Drew about games, mechanics, how to implement them, what’s good, what works and why. Recently he was telling me about how one of the guys in his group mentioned Dresden Files and how a campaign starts with characters who were already set in the world and interconnected. Drew’s player then mentioned it was something Drew did for them in a Savage Worlds Deadlands game. This brought up the concept of Idea’s in RPG’s and how they can be imported from one game to another.

My favorite idea from a RPG is the Core Clue concept from Gumshoe by Robin Laws:

  • If there’s a clue give it to the players but don’t tell them what to do with it.

That’s the idea but the mechanic changes a little bit in the Gumshoe system:

  • If there’s a clue in a scene and a character has a point (training) in the field they find the clue. If they choose to make a spend, and there is extra information to be gained, they learn it.

The mechanic leads to a game where it pays to have people specialized in a variety of investigative fields offering some niche protection along with a resource management mechanic. Once you spend a point in one of your fields you won’t get it back until the next scenario. Even if you hit zero points during the scenario you’re still considered trained so will find any Core Clue associated with the field, but are tapped out from finding the extra information.

I’ve only played a little Gumshoe but I like the idea more than the mechanic. The problem is if you want to use the idea you still need some way to implement it since mechanics are the implementations of ideas. My mechanic is a little less mechanical and relies on one guideline:

  • During an investigation scene a core clue will be found as long as a character states they’re participating in an action that would find it.

In other words, if the core clue is the gun wrapped in plastic and dropped in the back of the toilet seat then an investigator stating they’re searching the place is good enough to gain the core clue. Now if I’m playing a D20 game or Savage Worlds I’ll have extra information gained, if there’s any to be gained, on a successful roll or a raise. I might introduce a complication if the roll is failed and a complication makes sense. Either way the clue is found so the story continues and we move to the next question. Now that the players have the gun what does it mean and what do they do with it?

These are the mechanics I use in a D20 or Savage game with an investigation. The idea behind them is the same as Gumshoe but my mechanic puts forth a slightly different agenda. I require my players to interact with the scene (I think Gumshoe also does this), there is never a dead end in my investigations, and I use the mechanics given to me by the game I’m playing to facilitate the idea given to me by Gumshoe.

That’s only one example of porting an idea from one game to another. I’ve done it with FATE points and aspects into D20 and I’ve used different campaign framing devices similar to Dresden and Smallville. It’s all about understanding the idea so you can build the idea into the games core mechanic.

Say you want a conflict resolution system in your Pathfinder game for social situations that’s a little more robust than a single diplomacy roll and less fiated than just talking it out.

First I identify the core mechanic:

Pathfinder uses a D20 roll plus a modifier vs a difficulty number to determine success or failure.

Second I identify the idea from another game I want to use:

I like how Fate and Dresden uses stress tracks to determine how much you can take before your taken out. I also like the idea of setting stakes before the conflict from a variety of games.

Third I figure out how they can be melded together to create the idea from the second step into the mechanic from the first step.

This one takes a little work. I think I’m going to need a stress track. Charisma is force of personality and I feel it’s the best ability score to use to build a stress track. Design wise I think a social stress track in Pathfinder should be 2 + your Charisma modifier. Now that we have a way to build a stress track we need a way to have the conflict. This means guidelines.

A conflict like this should be something that is a point – counter point situation, maybe includes more than a single point, or has different angles it can be argued from. If the conflict is of sufficient importance then stakes must be set. Stakes are what one side is looking to achieve vs the other sides goal.

Now that we have a guidline for what constitutes using this system we need to resolve it. I break a little from convention here and would have each side argue one point and make opposed rolls using d20 + diplomacy, take the difference and divide it by 5 rounding up. Whoever lost takes that much stress on their track. Repeat this until someone is knocked off the track.

To make things more interesting I would include a couple things:

  • If you get knocked off the track you can take one complication to save yourself from being taken out but your track becomes full. A complications is something the player and GM create to make the characters life harder in the future. It will never be good and the GM can pull it out whenever they want. For example if the character is having a conflict with the local lord and gets taken off the track but decides to take the complication the GM and player decide the complication is the local lords ire. This means the GM can pull the local lords ire complication out once in the future at any time he wants as long as it makes sense in the story.
  • If the character has some advantage to the situation they gain a +4 to their rolls. Having incriminating documents, witnesses, a drunk opponent, a crowd favorable towards the character, ect.

That’s all I got for today. I hope this sheds a little light on how to transfer an idea from one game to another. It’s sort of a 101 on hacking games. If you have anything to share or insights on the topic I’d love to hear about them.

Game On,
Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Jun 27 2012

Episode #17 – ANCon and Campaign Structures

ANCon and Campaign Structures  –  Mark’s back from AnCon and he played a bunch of games and hung out with some cool people, we talk about Campaign structure in the workshop, and we just wanted to say congradulations to the Buffalo Gamers Society at hitting over 500 members.

Show Notes

0:55 – Announcements

4:15 – The Gameroom

24:28 – The Workshop (Campaign Frameworks)

45:33 – The Freezer


Dresden Files RPG
Leverage RPG
Cards Against Humanity
Savage Worlds
Indiana Jones RPG
Masterbook System
Free RPG Day
Dragon Snack
Conspiracy X
Catalyst Games
Monster Hunters Inc.
Agents of Oblivion
Reality Blurs
Dungeons and Dragons
Dungeon World
Sean Patrick Fannon
Hebbie Jeebies
Buffalo Gamers Society
Leverage TV Show

Jun 25 2012

Actual Play UBCon 2012 Part 2 of Learn to Play 4e D&D

Actual Play UBCon Learn to Play Part 2


Jun 21 2012

Never Unprepared: The Test and Review

This weekend I ran another session of my longest ongoing campaign but the new twist was I used Never Unprepared, by Phil Vecchione, and published through Engine Publishing, to Prep for it. I’ll be honest, it was really useful. Using the process of Brainstorming, Selection, Conceptualization, Documentation, and Review prepared me to pull off the session I wanted and gave me enough foundation to improvise when necessary.

I consider myself a very good improvisational GM. I can do quite a bit with very little. Heck. One time I designed a game engine and ran a game of it off the cuff in fifteen minutes. It was a solid a two hour session with a complete story and satisfied players. One of the reasons I’ve trained myself to do this is because I’m one of those people who wanted to do less prep. I’ve run games off a half a sheet of notes, a bullet pointed list, a couple of notes cards, and kept searching for ways to do less prep because it wasn’t fun. Coming up with plots and trying to figure out what the antagonists were up to was fun, creating interesting situations was a blast, but I didn’t have a way to organize and access all the idea’s in my

head at the table. So once I got Never Unprepared I did a test. I read the book cover to cover and then went through it step by step to prep my next scenario.

Through this exercise I realized a few things about myself. I try to hold to much information in my head, I have terrible note structure, I’m bad at coming up with names on the fly, my NPC’s are hit or miss when I make them up on the fly, D&D 4e has too great a reliance on Stat blocks and I need to figure out a better short hand or system for them, and I waste a lot of time preping because I don’t have a system. I got all this from one pass through Never Unprepared and am well on the path to fixing a fair amount of these issues.

This leads me to believe Never Unprepared is more like a self help book for GM’s who feel overwhelmed with prep. It doesn’t tell you how to do things but breaks down the steps of prep into digestible chucks and then guides you into building a system for yourself based on your GMing strengths and weaknesses. For example the books tells us to use a session template and then scene templates within the session template. This makes sense because most of our games are just a series of scenes, the scenes being the places where the camera closes in on our characters. The nice thing is the book helps GM’s discover what is necessary to them because what is good to one person might not be for another.

To start us we’re given a huge example list of things we could include in a template but only two are thought to be necessary. The Purpose and Closing.

The Purpose of a scene or session reminds us of the why. In a scene a few examples might be “an interesting trap for the party to overcome”, “a conversation with the king to give the players a chance to gain his trust”, “to have an action packed chase through the streets”, or “a fight to decide the fate of the universe.”

The closing is an end condition or two for the session or scene. Take the last Purpose example, “A fight to decide the fate of the universe.” The Closing could be “The universe falls into darkness” or “The universe’s fate is decided by the PCs.”

I throw NPC’s and their defining traits along with some notes on rules or motivations in my scene template. Some people would want to have different things like Combat tactics, bits of Dialog, maybe the Weather, or any number of things. The point is getting to a place where you feel comfortable behind the screen.

I hope this wets your appetite for the book. Before I’m finished I just wanted to say a few more things. This book has been lovingly edited and laid out. It reads smooth, never feels preachy, and has some nice anecdotes about Phil’s life as he’s preped for games which helps with the books flow. The art style is pretty interesting, going for a concept art look which is more like finished art with a concept art feel. Of course the book is hyper-linked but being less of a resource book and more of a GM help book it’s less important than Masks or Eureka but implemented well.

So as I check out from my first sort of overview of a product I do want to give my opinion. I got as much from reading this book as I did from reading John Wick’s Play Dirty or Play Unsafe by Graham Walmsley. I think it’s an invaluable read for GM’s who want to take their games up a notch and even more for those GM’s who are starting to feel the time crunch of their life. This book will save you time. This book will help you keep your games going. Just because life is filling up for those of us with families, work responsibilities, and anything else life demands, doesn’t mean we need to stop gaming. Pick up Never Unprepared. It’ll help if you let it.

Game on,
Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Jun 20 2012

Episode #16 – Long Running Campaigns

Long Running Campaigns    This week I have my very good friend Mickey with me to talk about long running campaigns. We’ve been playing a D&D campaign for almost four years. We tangent a lot in this one and there’s a lot of chat about our Second Son’s campaign but I do try to break down what’s makes good long running campaigns. I also exhausted my self on links last week so there are none today.

Show Notes

0:35 – Intro

2:52 – Gameroom

18:11 – Workshop (Long Running Campaigns)

1:02:21 – Freeze



Jun 18 2012

Actual Play UBCon 2012 Part 1 of Learn to Play 4e D&D

UB CON Actual Play Part 1

Mark shows off his teaching and GMing skills in part 1 of this learn to play 4e D&D game from UB Con 2012.

Jun 14 2012

Does System Matter?

I fall on both sides of this question so I’m going to split myself into Pro system Chris and Con system Chris.

Opening Statements

Pro system Chris: Systems are important in conveying the feel of the game through its mechanics. They give us guidelines for creating stories with specific focuses and feels, help us tell the stories we want, and play the games we expect.

Con System Chris: The system is meaningless in the face of the story which should always trump the rules in every way. Besides, all the mechanics need to do is give the players a way to decide a conflict when it comes up, be it the logic pass-fail dichotomy, or the bargain with consequences, and that’s only if something more interesting can’t be decided at the table.


Pro system Chris: Let’s take a look at Fiasco. This game presents us with all the tools necessary to create a story which will simulate movies like The Hangover or Fargo. The play-set sheets create situations for the players to improvise these stories within a framework. Each player has the interesting choice of setting or resolving several scenes while giving the other players a chance to work their agenda based on what’s interesting for the story and the relationships created from the set up. In the middle of play we run into the twist, creating the same kind of complications we find in movies similar to the previously mentioned ones. In the end we have the montage to wrap up each characters stories based on how many dice a player has accumulated and how close to zero they total when rolling them. This is determined by subtracting the black total from the white total. This game’s mechanics create a framework for telling a total story in one session through scene pacing, interesting selections, and game created player agendas.

Con system Chris: I give you Savage Worlds. Savage Worlds is a generic system which claims to be able to do any game and any genre. It does Pirates, Weird West, Flash Gordon Pulp, Solomon Kane, Sky Ship Post Apocalyptic, Victorian Horror, Super Heroes, Epic Fantasy, and many, many others. All these different styles, genres, and themes are played using the same rules set. So does the system really matter as long as it’s playable? Based on this I’d say no. You don’t need different systems for every game. You can play however you and your group want and just have a generic system in place to assist you when a decision can’t be made by consensus. The feel is in the flavor and not the system.

Cross Examination

Pro system Chris: So you say Savage Worlds is a generic system which can run any type of game.

Con system Chris: I do.

Pro system Chris: Then how do you explain setting rules?

Con system Chris: They still fall within the realm of the generic system.

Pro system Chris: Yes but they are distinct rules to help create a feeling for a specific setting so those mechanics wouldn’t feel right in a different setting.

Con system Chris: Possibly, but everyone hacks games to get what they want anyways.

Pro system Chris: I’ve never hacked Fiasco.

Con system Chris: But you pick different play sets to get different themes and settings. The structure is always the same. One system with many different possibilities.

Pro System Chris: This is my cross examination.

Con System Chris: Well then, maybe you should do a better job.

Pro system Chris: Hmm…You do make some interesting points but you did say you hack games to get the feel you want. Why would you do that? Why not just come to a group consensus or use the simple mechanic?

Con system Chris: Because the simple mechanic doesn’t always satisfy what we’re trying to accomplish. Sometimes you need something a little bit more robust or variable.

Pro system Chris: So you’re admitting you sometimes need some mechanics to play the game you desire?

Con system Chris: Yes, but not all the time. It’s not a black or white issue.

Pro system Chris: I agree.

Final Thoughts

Time to cram the two back together. I’m really not insane but I do like to have these discussions with myself from time to time. It helps me sort out how I feel about certain topics, trying to come at them from different points of view. I think system does matter but is not king and you can have a great time playing a generic fantasy session using Rock, Paper, Scissors as your core mechanic just as easily as a game like Dread. That’s the Jenga tower game where the longer the game goes the more tension is built because the tower becomes more unstable. Hence, Dread. I am curious as to what any of you readers think about concerning how important the system is to your gaming experience. Please drop a comment here or on our Facebook page and let me know.

Game on,

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Jun 13 2012

Episode #15 – Old School Gaming Round Table

The Old School Round Table 

This week we have Phil Vecchione of the Gnome Stew and Engine Publish along with Kevin and Daina Burke back for our old school round table where we talk about a variety of topics concerning old school gaming. Check out the pictures of some of the stuff we had on hand and feel free to browse the bazillion links from the show. There’s even a link for Ditto.

Show Notes

0:42  Intro

2:21  The Gameroom

8:15  The Workshop: The Old School Round Table

61:25 The Freeze



The Kingmaker Adventure Path
Car Wars
Buffalo Gamer’s Society
Changeling the Lost
3.5 Dungeons and Dragons
D&D Next 
Never Unprepared: The Complete Guide to Session Prep

4th Edition D&D 
Gnome Stew 
Red Box Set 
2nd Edition AD&D 
Tracy Hickman 
Marvel Super Heroes
GURPS Auto Duel
GURPS Horror
Monte Cook
Malhavock Press
Star Wars SAGA
Reality Blurs 
Fred Hicks
Evil Hat Productions
Wizards of the Coast
Open Design Project
Labyrinth Lord 
Swords and Wizardry 
Basic Fantasy Roleplay
Castles and Crusades 
Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG
Lamentations of the Flame Princess 
Dungeon World Kickstarter
Table Top Forge Kickstarter 
The Logic of RPGs
Sim’s Medieval 
Dungeon Rampage

Young Justice 
Ultimate Spider Man

Jun 07 2012

Identifying Expectations

I don’t think gamers do a good job of identifying their expectations well enough because we understand what we want out of a game. The problem is we don’t think about what the other players, including the GM, want out of the game. This gets into discussions of social contracts, meeting in the middle, and all that lovey dovey hippy tree hugging stuff. Nothing wrong with that. Really. There isn’t. I love a tree hugger as much as the next person, plus, my girlfriend is a tree hugger. Sorry. Got off point.

So where was I. Ah yes, identifying expectations. This seems self explanatory, you identify the expectations of the game and share them with your group. First off how many of you do that. Now be honest with yourself. Ok. Good. Now the real question is how is this done effectively? My preferred method is an expectation blurb. It’s a blurb because it’s pretty short. You should be able to explain your games expectations in a paragraph and reinforce the paragraph with a bullet point list. Here’s an example of an expectation sheet I should have made for an Eberron game I ran until I killed it because of too many unmet and divergent expectations.

This is an Eberron 4e D&D game of gritty pulp-noir action. Expect to be in over your head a lot of the time and feeling like the whole world is against you. Deciding who to trust is as important as how well you can fight. You’re the little guys and the “Man” won’t hesitate to take you out. Your problems aren’t something you can walk away from. You need the truth, either for salvation, a clear conscious, or to clear your name.

The Game will be:

    • Tough – Don’t look for balanced encounters
    • Filled with mystery
    • Gritty – There is a system in place for damage beyond hit points. Broken legs and concussions won’t be fixed by spending healing surges.
    • Loose with the rules – Trying things outside convention is encouraged and I will be trying different house rules to get the pulp noir feel.

I hope to use blurbs like this in my future games so my expectations can be understood but for it to be useful to others I’ll try and break down what I did. I identify the style, feel, system and setting of the game, I push a few ideas I feel are important to convey the style and feel, throw in some of the weird things I want to try, and give the players an idea what role the characters will fill. The hope is this prepares the players for what is coming. Once they’ve read this a discussion about what they expect should happen to answer questions and see if things match up or need a little tweaking. This is also a good way to find players who are interested in a particular style of game and to keep players from getting involved in something they won’t have fun with. This can be done with a discussion but I like having a document to reference back to and allow the players to reference if any of us ever need a reminder of what the game is about.

This method may also be effective for building a new gaming group. It’s short and packed with a lot of information so potential players should read it all be it on a message board or Facebook post.

If you have any ideas about this topic please leave a comment below, hit me up at, or drop a note on the Facebook page or get into the Misdirected Mark Facebook group.


Game On,

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Jun 06 2012

Episode #14 – Origins and Episodic Gaming

Mark’s back and tells all about Origins and is excited about Artemis, the Spaceship Bridge Simulator. We then chat a bit about Dungeon Command, a new skirmish WotC game before moving over to the workshop and get into episodic gaming, the structure and what pieces you need to prep for such a game before chatting a little about comics in the Freeze.

014 – Origins and Episodic Gaming

Show Notes

0:37 Intro

0:48 Origins Talk

3:13 Chris’s Knee is jacked up

5:35 The Game room (It’s dusty)

6:29 Mark can’t kill PCs

8:37 Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator

16:19 Dungeon Command Discussion

21:03 Workshop

40:25 Misdirected Mark running D&D Next at UB

42:42 The Freeze


Wizards of the Coast
Ashes of Athas
Living Forgotten Realms
Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator
Queen City Conquest
Mouse Guard
Burning Wheel
Get Bit
Table Top
Changeling the Lost
World of Darkness
Dungeons and Dragons
Marvel Heroic Role Playing Game
Dungeon Raid
Defender II
Dungeon Command
Never Unprepared – The Complete Game Masters guide to Session Prep
Roleplay DNA
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Law and Order
Dr. Who
Eureka – 501 Plots for any game
Plotto by William Wallace Cook
D&D Encounters
Forgotten Realms
D&D Next
Temple of Elemental Evil
Marvel’s Civil War
50 Shades of Grey
OotS – Start of Darkness
Keith Baker