Sep 30

Prep in Progress: Chapter 26, Part 3

TalesOfAGM Cross


Improv notes & fast prep


The Prep in Progress entries are short summaries of my prep for my ongoing campaign The Tales of the Hero Wars.


Despite my best intentions for the weekend, I was simply too busy with the birthday party to have the time for game prep. Once again, this means that the backlog of updates for the Wiki is slowly growing. I should like to make progress with that tonight, but I doubt I will find enough time to make much of a dent in it.


Moving on, my main game prep time is Wednesday afternoon. As we have a game this Saturday, I need to prepare some notes. This week I will be looking to rely upon some improv during the game. Essentially, I want to write notes for some game elements that could appear, and then see where the Players want to go. Death Valley, as brainstormed with the Players at the end of the last session, is a fascinating place. There are plenty of things to explore, but for now I have no idea where the Players will be going.


However, I want them to be at the planar portal for the end of the next session. Thus, I have a final outcome in mind, but no idea how the Heroes will reach this goal. Of course, there is always a chance that events during the session will take over, and carry us along to another conclusion. Thus, I need a selection of tools that can be used in a number of different ways.


So, the next session could prove to be quite challenging. I shall prepare a small number of people, locations and obstacles suitable to Death Valley. The actions of the Heroes will determine which of these are encountered, and in what order. I shall be aiming to end the session with the Planar Portal, but the flexibility of my options ought to allow me to cope with whatever the Players decide to do.


This is all new territory, but the basic method appeals to me as it should ensure faster prep for me and more story for everyone. I shall report back on my preparations on Thursday.


Lessons for Your Prep

Stay focused on the main goal, which is to prepare for the next session. Be prepared to try new techniques if you like what they can offer your game.


Happy Gaming


Sep 29

Dice on Film 04: The Fellowship of the Ring


The previous Dice on Film was the pun-tastic Grapes of Wrath.


DoF 04 Fellowship


I knew it would not be long before I returned to The Lord of the Rings films!


This image was taken by Kenny “The Cabbage” Norris, so all the visual credit belongs to him. I just wrote the caption, but the image does rather suggest it.


Even now, I can hear John Rhys-Davies saying “I hit you, then I hit you, then I hit you!”


Kenny currently blogs at Lone Cabbage, but this will be changing soon.


Happy Gaming



Sep 26

Trollbabe and Scale: Defining the Power of Heroes


A second look at the ideas of Ron Edwards expressed in his game Trollbabe.


My first article considered the concept of Hero as a nexus of change.


The next idea that I want to discuss is the use of scale in Trollbabe. This concept was touched upon in D&D Fourth Edition, but Ron provides a more detailed look at the idea. The Trollbabe version of scale can be applied to a wide range of games.



trollbabeFor those of you who have not read the first article in this mini-series, here is a quick overview of Trollbabe.


My 110 page pdf is the second edition of Trollbabe, released in 2009. Ron Edwards is perhaps best known for his game theory writings at The Forge, but he also designs RPGs.


Trollbabe focuses upon the actions of female half-troll warriors. The setting is a hybrid of pop culture and the Norse sagas. The mechanics are very simple, but Ron devotes a lot of time explaining the theory behind his narrative-driven mechanics. There are also plenty of examples of how to play the game, which help to explain the concepts.


Scale in Trollbabe

Ron summarizes scale in Trollbabe as follows:


“The extent of actions and effects in the fiction”


In other words, scale represents what the Hero can affect, and the impact of the changes that the Hero can inflict on the setting. The higher the scale, the greater the impact of the Hero’s actions.


If the Hero attacks an army, what impact can she have?
Slay a few individual soldiers? Rout a company? Shatter a regiment?
Or could she take control of the entire army?


The outcome is determined by the scale of the Hero. If everyone understands the current scale of the game, then shared expectations can be met and the GM has an easier time pitching plots to the Players.


Ten Scales

So what are these scales? Trollbabe only has seven scales, but I have extrapolated upwards to expand the scope to fill all the likely options for a game. The examples are given for a fantasy game, but the principle also remains true for modern and SF games.


  1. An Individual
    One person, or at most a few people.
  2. A Family
    A small group of linked people, such as a small heroband or adventuring party.
  3. An Extended Family
    A larger group of linked people, such as the crew of a ship, a company of soldiers or a street gang.
  4. A Village
    Or a group such as a regiment of soldiers, or a Guild.
  5. A Town
    Or a small army.
  6. A City
    Or a large army.
  7. A Country
    This scale represents a large geographical area, perhaps a few cites and associated towns and villages.
  8. A Continent
    This scale indicates a collection of countries, more than a geographical area. It could also equate to an empire.
  9. A Plane
    For most fantasy settings, this scale represents the entire world. For a SF game, then it could be a planet and its satellites.
  10. The Cosmos
    This marks the largest scale for a story, this is where the gods walk.


Scale your Heroes

Using scale in your game has several benefits. This framework can help the Players understand their role in the game. Managing these expectations is an important step to keeping everyone on the same page. It allows the Players to have some idea about what they can achieve, and the likely strength of any opposition that they may face.


With this knowledge in mind, it becomes easier for everyone to frame their intentions and describe the outcomes of the Heroes’ actions. The current scale serves as a benchmark for the possibilities within the story.


As an example, let us suppose that the Heroes are in a fight with some soldiers. If the game is at the first scale, then the Players know they are facing a tough fight against individual soldiers. At the third scale, then the Heroes can cut down an entire patrol, and the individual soldiers are little more than speed bumps as the Heroes slice their way through the patrol.


Finally, for this example, if the game was at scale six, then the Heroes can take on the entire army. Doubtless at this scale, they would have troops of their own. Or one Hero could call out the opposing champion or general for single combat, and thereby defeat an entire army single-handedly. Alternatively, the Heroes could be mighty warriors who hold off vast numbers of troops by defending a single location. This would be in the style of 300 or Horatius at the Bridge.



Scale your Plots

As a GM, applying scale to your game is a great way to speed up your game prep. Scale automatically tells you the type of foes, and level of effect, to use with the Heroes. They also remind you to expand the scale of your game to reflect the growing power and influence of the Heroes.


Of course, not every threat needs to exactly match these scales. At each and every level, there is still the option to introduce individuals, or groups, who are at the same scale as the Heroes. Lone warriors or scheming mages can always appear to challenge the Heroes. Likewise a cartel of merchants or a Chaos Cult could hold a greater scale than their numbers suggest.


There is no set speed for a game to progress through these scales. Nor does every campaign need to chart the progress of the Heroes through each and every scale. Rather, the scales are a framework for you to build your story around. Players will feel the increase in the power of their characters when you move the game up a scale. Conversely, keeping the scale low in the face of a Hero’s increased abilities should help the Player understand how the setting is a grim and gritty one.


Up and Down the Scales

Scale serves very much as a power indicator, for both the Heroes and their opposition. Keep these scales balanced, and the Heroes face a challenge equal to their powers. Yet, there is nothing to limit you to only telling stories focused upon the Heroes’ current scale. Playing with scale gives the GM plenty of story options, while also helping the Players understand the relative power level of their Heroes.


Setting the Heroes in opposition to a force at a higher scale shows the Players how much of a struggle they face. This could be the overarching story for a lengthy campaign, as the Players struggle to survive and rise up to a scale high enough to have an impact on the big villain. For a grim setting, then the Heroes may never reach such a scale, and thus be confined to evading the villain, rather than outright confrontation.


Alternatively, a story pitched at a lower scale can challenge the creativity of the Players. It is all very well being the greatest mage in the kingdom, but how do you stop your husband being bullied by the King’s Steward?



Using scale in your game helps the Players understand their relative power in the game, and provides a useful framework for the GM. Scale eases the story creation process by tracking the current power level of the Heroes, helping you to match the size and power of the opposition accordingly.


What scale is your game? Share your experiences in the comments below.


Happy Gaming


Something for the Weekend next week: Ebb and Flow

Sep 25

Prep in Progress: Chapter 26, Part 2

TalesOfAGM Cross


Dead laptop battery & a shuffled schedule


The Prep in Progress entries are short summaries of my prep for my ongoing campaign The Tales of the Hero Wars.


This week my post-game tasks were disrupted by my laptop draining its battery during the game. This meant that I could not use the bus journey home to write up the game session. The loss of this hour of work has had a knock-on effect all through the week.


I have since completed the game write-ups, but that was during time I would normally use for my administrative tasks. These too needed to be done, so they were completed only yesterday. As you may have guessed, this used up time I would otherwise have spent working on the next game session. This one disruption in my tight schedule has a knock-on effect throughout the week.


This is not too much of an issue, as we do not have a game this Saturday. However, it does mean that I did not catch up on any of the Wiki backlog. I am hoping that the time I would normally spend printing out game sheets on Friday night can be used this week to clear some of that backlog. Thus, the overall workload for the week may come good over the weekend.


Lessons for Your Prep

Keep your schedule flexible, and a dedicated “catch-up” period can help you tie up any loose ends.


Happy Gaming


Sep 24

Kickstarting Feng Shui 2: An Action Movie RPG


The previous Kickstarter I recommended was 13th Age in Glorantha, the thrilling combination of a modern RPG and a classic setting.


Feng Shui 2


September just keeps improving, with a string of amazing crowdfunding projects. The latest to share with you is a project by the great Robin D Laws. Feng Shui 2 is a new edition of the RPG focused on action movies in the style of Hong Kong cinema. The campaign page describes the game as follows:


Eunuch sorcerers. Slick conspirators. Cyborg apes. Control freak monks. Armed with the secrets of Feng Shui, all aim to conquer the past, present, and future. Only you have the guts, guns, and flying feet to stop them!

It’s back in all its explodey, chi-blasting glory: Feng Shui, the classic game of Hong Kong-inspired cinematic action, refurbished with a fresh bag of ammo for a new roleplaying generation! Original designer Robin D. Laws rushes your way on a bullet-riddled gurney to serve up the thrills fans remember, furiouser and faster than ever.


I may only run Feng Shui 2 as an Interlude game, but I am still excited to read it.


I am sure I am not alone in seeking to run a cinematic-style game. This game will be packed full of ways to achieve this at the table. There are always plenty of great advice and insightful mechanics to take away from a game by Robin D Laws. Free-flowing fights and ways to use locations as sources of power are just two of the ideas that I want to study.


I am hoping for some cool Rules Widgets to add to my game.


Funding for Feng Shui 2 closes Saturday, October 18th. This campaign is already funded, and well past making it’s initial goal ten-times over. Unlocked stretch goals have added ten more archetypes to the core rules. The stretch goals are sure to keep tumbling before the end of the campaign.


Support Feng Shui 2 for a great cinematic RPG.


Happy Gaming

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