Monthly Archive: July 2012

Jul 31 2012

Episode #21 – Never Unprepared

021 – Never Unprepared

This week The Mark is joined by Phil Vecchione of the Gnome Stew and Engine Publishing to chat about his book Never Unprepared which is tearing up the charts of RPGdom. If you’ve been wondering if this is the book for you we do a chapter by chapter overlook so listen up and then you’ll know if this book is for you.

Show Notes

0:33 – The Water Cooler

5:04 – The Gameroom

9:54 – The Geek Seat

29:35 – The Geekery


Vincent Baker
Agents of Oblivion
Savage Worlds
Engine Publishing
Marvel Heroic Role Playing Game
RPG Crosstalk
RPG Podcasts
Never Unprepared
Gnome Stew
Iron GM
Kingmaker Adventure Path
Plague Incorporated
Ticket to Ride
Lords of Waterdeep
Dresden Files
Kan Jam
Vampire: The Masquerade.
Iron Heroes
Ennie Dream Date
Spider Island
The Avengers – Earth’s Mighiest Heroes
2009 Fantastic Four
Young Justice
Monte Cook
John Carter of Mars

GenCon Events

– Gnome Stew
Never Unprepared: A Discussion About Session Prep
Gnome Stew and Engine Publishing – What’s Cooking?

– Monte Cook
Monte Who?

Jul 25 2012


I recently started reading the rules to a game called Bulldogs by Brennan Taylor and Brian Engard. The following is the introduction:

Who could be desperate enough to sign his life away for five long years? Desperate enough to take a job hauling volatile and hazardous cargo to the most dangerous places in the galaxy? Planets where the very air is a corrosive acid. Planets where the locals might cut your throat just so they can turn you into a nice steak. Planets where petty thugs and warlords are engaged in constant running gun battles and you’re just as likely to catch a blaster shot in the skull as get a signed delivery manifest.

You are, that’s who. Welcome to Bulldogs!

Bulldogs! is sci-fi that kicks ass! Bulldogs! is a high action space adventure. Bulldogs! is about freebooting ruffians flying from planet to planet causing trouble. Bulldogs! is about far future technology—sci-fi movie technology that probably wouldn’t work given what we know about the universe today, but who cares? Bulldogs! is about blasters and faster-than-light travel. Bulldogs! is about hopping from planet to planet and running into a vast variety of weird aliens. Bulldogs! is about being shot at and pissing off powerful locals and fleeing just in time. Bulldogs! is about starship dogfights and ambushes by space pirates in rarely traveled star lanes.

Welcome to Bulldogs! You’ll be flying in a starship and kicking ass in no time.

If I could write an intro like that I wouldn’t be doing this. Well, I probably would, but it’d be a lot better. Those words just make me want to play that game and that leads to the idea of introductions and their importance, not just concerning games and their design or any other writing but in how we present games to our players.

I approach pitching a game the same way people pitch screen plays or a book. First I come up with an elevator pitch which is short and to the point. I try to hit genre and style while letting the players know who the characters are in the setting. See the Bulldogs intro above for an example.

If the player or players are interested then you can hit them with system and a few more constraints. That’s right. I said constraints. If you give someone the choice to pick anything they will generally choose nothing or your players will all choose such disparate idea’s that the game will have a lack of focus and be not enjoyable for any involved. Constraining isn’t hard. You’ve already set some walls with your pitch by throwing out the genre and who the characters are in the setting. You can further define where the characters start by making them part of an organization or giving them a goal but not a reason. For example the players could be part of a mercenary company or they’re all childhood friends who have the goal of becoming Agents of the Crown. This will create a creative box for the players to work in and gets their creative juices flowing. This leads into character creation, or world creation if your playing a game like that. This also means you’ve gotten past the Intro and garnered the interest required for your game.

If anyone has any other ideas for how to introduce games I’d love to hear them as I’m always trying to refine and learn new ways to do things.

Game On,

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Jul 24 2012

Episode #20.1 – Jumping On

20.1 – Jumping On:

Hi Folks. Short Episode this week as I was busy getting engaged and wanted to give people who’ve never heard the podcast a place to jump on and hear what the podcast is about and will be about going forward. This is the one you want to tell people to start with if they want to know what the podcast is about. Next episode I’ll be chatting with Phil Vecchione and doing a in-depth discussion of Never Unprepared.

Game On

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Jul 19 2012

A Rant on House Rules

I was part of a comment string on Google+ (Once again G+ is not a wasteland) about Never Unprepared concerning the book’s value for games that were less traditional. The comments were very civil and reasoned, which is much better than most of the experiences I’ve had on Facebook, but one of them irked me. I let it go because it wasn’t relevant to the discussion at hand. Also I enjoy the civil discussion on G+ and take great strides to not upset that balance. Still, it bothered me for the rest of the day. Actually, this subject has been bothering me since the first time I was confronted with it. It was during a discussion about how 1st edition D&D is a well designed game.

During the discussion about 1st edition D&D the person I was talking with said new games were unneccessary and new rules weren’t needed. RPG’s didn’t need new rules sets to do what the old rule set already did. That’s when I questioned him about the rules and discovered he’d house ruled a bunch of them to make the game do what he wanted it to do. On the surface I think this is fine but in my head I keep think this:

If you house rule your game then you’re not playing the game as it was intended so are you actually playing the game you’re defending?

It’s an interesting question. It’s interesting to me at least and more so when I start looking at games like Burning Wheel / Mouse Guard which are explicit in their play, or games like Apocalypse World which has been hacked into Dungeon World and Monster Hearts. Those games use the same core mechanic but are not Apocalypse World. The thing here is if you change the rules to a game you should call it something else. My 4e games isn’t 4e D&D. My players call it Chris’s 4e D&D because I’ve added a bunch of stuff to it and I understand that my D&D game isn’t the stock D&D game.

Getting back to today the comment about traditional games was:

“I don’t think those games have to be run that way, but they commonly are.”

Like I said before, on the surface I have no problem with this. Games should be fun and if someone choose to change the rules to a game and still has fun playing it then I think that’s awesome. Underneath the surface I’m wondering why you’re playing game A when game B can do what you want much better, and without having to change it. I’m also confused when someone says “this game sucks” when they’re not even playing the game the way it was intended. Maybe it’s not a bad game. Maybe this person had the wrong expectations.
And there it is. A house ruled game isn’t the game you bought, should be acknowledged as such, and the house ruled version shouldn’t be judged as a bad game just because it doesn’t do something you want it to do but was never designed to do well.

Point the Next. All RPGs are not games and shouldn’t be called Role Playing Games. I’m looking at Savage Worlds here. You can look at GURPS too if you’d like. Savage Worlds is not a game but a set of tools to create your own games. Now if you buy a Savage setting like 50 Fathoms or Necessary Evil then you’ve bought a game. It has a setting, rules associated with the setting, expectations on character creation, and a campaign built into it in the form of a plot point. The difference is the Savage Worlds core rules don’t imply anything. They’re genre and setting agnostic and promise Fast, Furious, Fun but there’s no inherent game expected except you’ll probably be fighting stuff.

Now before people jump the shark, or think I have, let me talk about D&D. D&D (this includes Pathfinder) is a game but it isn’t as explicit in its setting or what it’s supposed to be doing. fortunately we can tell what the game should be doing by looking at the rules. D&D is a game about adventurers who live apart from normal society by exploring wonderous locations (AKA going into Dungeons), overcoming foes and death-defying situations (killing monsters and avoiding traps), and gathering wealth to advance your cause (taking their stuff so you can go into more dungeons, kill more monsters, avoid more traps, and take more stuff). If you look at the rules of the game most of them are geared for this. There are some social skills but they’re minimal meaning they’re less important than the rest. I know people play this game in different ways but when they do it ends up being less satisfying or a hacked version. Doing a heist job is more fulfilling when you use Leverage. Political intrigue works a lot better with Houses of the Blooded. A game about fighting monsters works better when using D&D.

So where am I going with this? I think people should be more open to understanding RPG’s because there isn’t a one size fits all game out there. Different mechanics highlight different things in games. Different games will influence and create better games for you and your groups in the future. I house rule or hack most games because while I have the mechanical set I want for 80% of the game I want to run I’m always missing that last 20 which irks me and leads me into the realm of design. This is how we got to the games we have today. We built them on the foundations or in direct opposition of the ideals of older games. We cobble together the bits we like and dislike. The thing I see as I read more games is there is probably a game out there to do what you want it to do and while it might be West End d6 it probably isn’t.

To finish I would just like anyone who reads this to ask themselves a question. How much have you had to change your game to get it to do what you want it to do? If the answer is more than I realized or way to much then maybe you’re not playing the right game.

Now I feel better. I’m sure all four or five of you who read this probably think I’m nuts or have un-subscribed by this point but if you haven’t and you have something to say I’d love to hear it.

Game on,
Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Jul 18 2012

Episode #20 – The Retro Gamer

020 – The Retro Gamer

This week we have Wes Young, writer of How to Appreciate Retro Games and founder of the now 500+ member Buffalo Gamers Society. We chat about retro games, gaming, and the Buffalo Gamers Society.

Show Notes

0:43 – Intro

9:20 – The Gameroom

15:28 – The Workshop

39:14 – The Freeze


How to Appreciate Retro Games
The Dambusters
Silent hunter
System Shock 2
Cards Against Humanity
The Doom Pool
Piazo cards
Ultima 4: The Quest of the Avatar
Car Wars
Buffalo Gamers Society
On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness 3
World Works Games



Jul 12 2012

Red Herrings

The Red Herring

A red herring, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is a clue which is intentionally or unintentionally misleading or distracting from the actual issue.

I’m not a fan of red herrings in my games. Mostly because I’m invested in the Core Clue concept put forth by Robin Laws. Give players the clue but don’t tell them what to do with it. Still, the topic was broached with my friend Drew during one of our discussion about RPG’s and I think it’s worth looking into. Especially since I’m always trying to put more tricks and tools into my GM bag. To do this I’m going to approach red herrings from the idea that I want to seed some in my game and in doing so I want them to be interesting and purposeful. So how do I do that?

I would make sure even a red herring lead to interesting situations even if they are dead ends. Here are some examples of how I would do that:

  • Lead the players into a trap or danger of some sort. Danger always creates drama and if the point of the clue is to steer investigators into a danger that can’t be linked to the primary clue, even better. They can overcome the danger and go back and hit the next lead. The point is there’s something to overcome so there is something to accomplish.
  • Create a mini story with a beginning, middle, and end which has nothing to do with the ongoing investigation but gives the players some sort of closure and feeling of accomplishment.
  • A red herring can be a great chance to show off a part of the game world you wouldn’t otherwise be able to explore. Just make sure with the world building you include something interesting for the players to do.
  • Make the red herring(s) a part of a set of clues the investigators in your story need to sift through. Make sure they have a chance to figure out which clue is the real one and set some detriment to the outcome if the investigators choose the wrong clue. This way there is a consequence to their action or even inaction. This is great for serial killer styled scenarios. The serial killer gives his next set of clues creating a situation where the investigators need to figure out which clue is the right one or someone dies.

A few more points about red herrings in general. Make sure the players can attain enough information to make an informed choice. If it’s all random then there’s not much fun for the players. If you want them to run down a bunch of possible leads make sure the situations you highlight with screen time are interesting and please don’t just use these situations for a chance at exposition. It’s always better to show things through actions and drama in your games than just having your players be related a story by an NPC.

Now I’ve just started wrapping my head around the idea of using red herrings in games again. What do you folks out in internet land have to say about them? I could use a little feedback on this one. Can’t wait to hear from ya and Game on.

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Jul 10 2012

Episode #19 – Player Investment, The QCC, and Spiderman

Episode #19 – Player Investment, the QCC, and Spiderman : Sorry about the audio quality on this one. I promise I’ll work harder to clean it up in the future. This episode we chat about the QCC, Player Investment in campaigns, and The Amazing Spiderman.

“I’m sorry I sound so terrible in this episode!” – Mark


Show Notes

1:02 – The Intro and News: QCC Talk

9:49 – The Gameroom

20:24 – The Workshop: Player Investment in Campaigns

59:56 – The Freeze or Freezer: The Amazing Spiderman


Queen City Conquest
Dragon Snack
Jar of Dreams
Sickboy Productionz
Cheap ass games
Master Plan
Mouse Guard
Five Crowns
Ticket to Ride
Settlers of Catan Cities and Knights
Dresden Files RPG
The Amazing Spiderman

Jul 05 2012

Perpetuating the Hobby or Starting to GM

Last night I was chatting with a friend who has been running a Leverage game for us on Friday’s when we get the chance. This is her first go around at GMing and I’d have to say she’s doing a mighty fine job of it so far. The people in the game also find her to be doing a good job but she’s having some confidence issues and asked me if I was ever nervous about games I’m about to run. I told her no, not anymore, but I also understand where she’s coming from. I used to get nervous. I used to be worried. I’m not anymore because I have a firm foundation for my gaming and GM philosophy fall back on. I told her all of this and then gave her some of the base idea’s I work with.

1. The most important thing a GM does is make sure everyone is having a good time. This statement is a little deeper than it seems. The first part concerns everyone. That means the GM needs to make sure they’re having fun too. The game can’t be geared to entertain the players if what’s entertaining the players isn’t fun for the GM. That way leads to sour gaming all around or no gaming because a GM who isn’t having fun is probably not going to run the game. This leads to the second part of the statement which is figuring out what is fun for your players. This can be done in any number of ways from having conversations, trial and error, or even questioners. All I’m saying is what is fun for one person might not be fun for another and the GM needs to find out where everyone’s fun zone is.

2. The GM needs to figure out what the game their playing does and how it does it. Once again this is a little deeper than just the statement. The Leverage RPG is trying to simulate the situations and plot developments seen in the television show which is about thieves pulling off a heist. In a session of Leverage no one dies. That means the game is about how the job goes down. This happens through the complications the GM can put on the job as ones are rolled by the players. The complications in the story are more like twists in Mouse Guard, they make things interesting. Once you understand your agenda as the GM and how you can push that agenda it becomes a lot easier to run the game.

3. The GM needs to figure out how to make themselves comfortable when running the game. This takes a bit of trial and error and self analysis. It helps to ask yourself some questions like what kind of notes do you need? How many people can you handle at your table? Do you need a quick reference rules sheet. Do you prefer rolling in the open or behind a screen? Mini or not to mini? Pens or Pencils? Index Cards or Sticky notes? Outlines or Paragraphs or Power point presentations or whatever? There’s a ton of tools out there you can use to assist you. It’s up to you to figure out what works best and that means trying things out. I use different tools for different games but I almost always like to have an outline of things that could happen, a list of NPC’s along with some tags for their personalities and quirks, a name list when I need to make up an NPC on the spot, and the motivations for the scenario. Everything else after that is game dependent for me. 4e I want some miniatures. In other games I might just need a piece of paper to scrawl the map on as they explore. Sometimes I might not need anything but some note cards to write down NPC names on as the PC’s meet them so they don’t forget who they’ve met. I suggest you just think about what you might need for a given game after you’ve got your scenario hashed out and then go with it. I will also recommend Never Unprepared: The Complete Guide to Session Prep. It’s a solid book for doing such work.

To conclude I’d like to say to the GM’s out there. Start encouraging people in your groups to do a little GMing of their own and if they ask for advice think about what works for you and why. Then let them know this is what you do and why you do it. It might not be the same for them but it might give them some idea’s because your strengths as a GM might be their weaknesses and their strengths might be your weaknesses. Beyond that I can recommend some other books to help GM’s with the craft:

Robin’s Law’s of Good Game Mastering by Robin Laws
Play Dirty by John Wick
Play Unsafe by Graham Walmsley
Never Unprepared: The Complete Guide to Session Prep by Phil Vecchione
Masks: 1000 Memorable NPC’s for any Game by Engine Publishing
Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters by Engine Publishing

I’m sure there are other books out there and I’d love to hear about them. If you know of any I’d love to build a list of GM help books for people to reference.

Game On,

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

Jul 04 2012

Episode #18 – Taboo Subjects

018 – Taboo Subjects

This week we talk about taboo subjects in our workshop. I hope you find the conversation to be as interesting I I thought it was when I had it.

Show Notes

0:36 – Announcements

2:19 – The Gameroom

5:10 – The Workshop (Taboo subjects)

48:03 – The Freeze


Coming Soon