Monday, 24 July 2017

The Random GM

Whilst I am currently favouring the phrase Maitre d'ungeon after inadvisably watching Robin Hood, men in tights (for the second time this year) I am at heart a Games Master. I have already mentioned that I am playing Conan: Exiles on the PC at the moment. Not that long ago I was talking about turning this into a tabletop RPG. The computer game is currently locked in a desert environment which has a decidedly Scorpion King vibe.

Aside from needing to buy (and paint up) a load of figures, the biggest problem has been coming up with a scenario. Over the years I have been more about substance than style. Players then tend to complain that they are getting railroaded as you try to keep them on the track of my well crafted piece of theatre.

You cannot get more random that just rolling a dice (well technically you can but...). Have an idea and see what happens. This was the heart of Patron Encounters in Traveller. There was a website a good long time ago called Tales of Terror which was the same sort of the for Call Of Cthulhu. This has a simple, usually one paragraph, scenario with a number of options. This was usually accomplish with a dice roll but it was always possible to use several of the options to give a layered scenario with a few false ends.

Ages ago I had a copy of an old DMG. This had a fair section at the back dedicated to random dungeon generation. This had a lot of appeal to me at the time. To be fair it is great to take the mental strain out of generating dungeons. Wandering monster tables were a staple of Tunnels + Trolls as well as D+D. The downside is that they take a bit away from the flow of the game as you sit there with a chart and some dice.

Once I had been told about this (a few times at least) I decided to do something about it. At the time I was playing Conspiracy X. Here I used tarot cards to allow the players to divine the future. I had a pen outline for each card using traditional interpretations of the cards. To keep it to the theme of the game I attached characters and events to certain cards.

To be honest I had a number of possible scenarios outlined and I took a look at the cards and tried to work in the ideas on the table  in with the overall campaign. I was surprised how well it worked. To back me up I made sure that the readings were all photographed so I had evidence that it was all in the hand of cards. Having different characters attached to different cards and a dash of "genuine" tarot babble it gave some credence to a game that was pretty heavily locked into the supernatural.

More recently I have been using Rory's Story Cubes. There are three main sets and a number of smaller tag on sets. Generally I pick one of the larger sets, typical this is the original set, and then one or more of the smaller sets. The smaller sets are more specific so I pick the sets that are most relevant to the setting and my plans for the scenario.

Normally I stick with about eight or nine dice out of the one available. If things don't seem to make too much sense I will swap the facings of a few of the dice over. Someone accused me of cheating by doing this but I think they had a borderline psychiatric condition.  This isn't cheating, you are creating a story. It can be helpful to put them in order. Then I would get out a pen and a piece of paper and make some very rough notes. If I need a trap or a monster I will wait until the players are talking amongst themselves and quietly pick something out.

Savage Worlds has a tag on system called the Adventure Deck. Most GMs don't seem to use this. Many of the cards give bonuses in combat. Generally I think that combat is easy enough so I ditch these before doing anything else. I favour the ones that add to the roleplaying side of things. Although there is a standard deck, there are plenty of fan created cards out there and there is also a way to create you own cards. This hands some of the random over to the players. It helps them to buy into the game and giving the cards that help further the plot is always good. They can be crated for specific games for even more flavour and I have done this for the Viking Game and Fallout.

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