Nov 22

Countdown to Dragonmeet: 2 Weeks


dragonmeetThe Countdown is running, and now there are only TWO weeks left.


Dragonmeet is on Saturday December 6th at Ibis Hotel, Earls Court, London. Their website has details about games, an impressive list of guests and you can buy tickets online.


I began my Countdown to Dragonmeet two weeks ago.


My task for this week was to look at my schedule.


This was made a lot easier when the Dragonmeet website finally added the Seminar Schedule.


As anticipated, there is a Ken & Robin Talk About Stuff seminar. This is easily the highlight of my show. Now this is locked into my plans for the day, I can think about finding other things to do. Sadly, this seminar is 4.00-5.00pm, so we shall have to make a swift exit afterwards. Our train is a 7pm, so two hours to cross London is not cutting it too fine.


See here for my review of Ken & Robin Talk About Stuff.


Now I have Ken & Robin confirmed, I can look at the other seminars on offer. My excitement took another step upwards when I spotted Jeff Richards on the list, running a Glorantha seminar from 2.00-3.00pm. The timing is perfect for me, and I am eager to see what Jeff has to say about the future of Glorantha. I can even hope this will give me a chance to buy the forthcoming HeroQuest Glorantha. Failing that, we should at least receive an update.


Jeff Richards is not listed on the guest list, which seems an omission. This made his appearance in the seminar schedule all the more surprising. Clearly, I shall have to scour the Trade Hall for a Glorantha stand.


With the afternoon blocked out for seminars, the morning will be used in the Trade Hall. I hope to bump into some friends, old and new, but this is hard to predict. Phil-the-Artist and I will be in our Tales of a GM T-shirts, so we will be easy to find. Plus, I have business cards to hand out, so I need to meet some people.


Anyway, studying the Trade Hall plan, there are a few stalls I know I want to visit:

  • Leisure Games, to collect my pre-order swag
  • Chessex, it is Dragonmeet, so I MUST buy some more dice.
  • Pelgrane Press, to chat with Ken & Robin, and have some books signed
  • UKRP Design Collective, meet indie designers and see what they have to offer
  • Osprey Publishing, there is a Ken Hite book I want for Christmas
  • Graham Walmsley, missed him last year, would like to talk about improv gaming


This seems like a decent list to start with. There may be some general browsing, and hopefully some chatting. Yet, these are the places I really want to visit in the morning, before the first seminar. For this week I want to annotate the map to make sure I hit all the places to visit. I should probably think about making notes about what to ask people.


How are your plans shaping up?


Only two weeks to go!


Happy Gaming

Nov 21

Trollbabe and Actions: Setting the Parameters of Contests


A fifth 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 second in this mini-series discussed the use of scale in Trollbabe.


Third in the series gave examples for the first five scales.


The fourth in the series completed the examples of scale with the last five scales.


Today I shall continue the series with a look at Ron’s discussion of actions in RPGs.



For those of you who have not read the earlier articles 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.


Action Types

In Trollbabe Ron outlines three types of possible Action:


The person who initiated the conflict also states its Action Type. Doing so feels obvious in play, but it can be quite subtle in its way. There are three to choose from: Fighting, Magic and Social. They differ drastically in what sort of stuff goes in them.


To make these categories clearer, I think it helps to rename them.


Killing Action

This is another name for Ron’s Fighting Action, where the intention is to inflict harm on an individual. This Action is intended to kill, or at least violently subdue the opponent. Killing Actions exclude dialogue, or any form of subtlety: it is all about the killing.


Ron notes how every action including fisticuffs or swordplay does not automatically fall within this category. I believe that by altering the name for this action, this distinction is made clearer. A bar brawl would be a good example of a combat which is not about killing. Likewise, a gladiatorial duel is more about performance and entertaining the audience, not outright murder of the opponent. Both of these examples are better categorised as Persuasion Actions.


Killing Actions may feel like the default for many games. I am looking at you, f20. Yet, this category is far narrower than it first appears.


In terms of modern film, a lot of Killing Action takes place in slow motion at a higher frame rate, giving it the feeling of hyper-reality. Good examples include The Matrix or 300. Likewise, the f20 games tend to have a special time frame for resolving combats.


Ritual Action

This is my alternate name for Ron’s Magic Action. The category encompasses all forms of ritual, both arcane and divine. The effects of the ritual are only limited by the type of magic an individual knows, and the time frame for a Ritual Action is very long. A Ritual Action is rarely an “action scene”.


As with the narrow definition of a Killing Action, any action involving spellcasting is not automatically a Ritual Action. The classic Lightning Bolt is clearly a Killing Action as it is intended to slay its target. The use of most spells are better classified as a Persuasion Action.


Actions in this category are the long, quiet rituals where the opposition is more likely to be the natural forces of the setting. In other words, the inherent resistance of the world to magical alteration, not an active antagonist. Lengthy summoning spells, rituals to create enchantments and divine acts of worship are good examples of Ritual Actions.


The category can also apply to more than just magic. Broader instances of Ritual Actions include lengthy academic research, artistic creation and the product of most crafts. This wider classification further justifies the alteration of the name of the category, to move the emphasis away from purely magical pursuits.


Looking at film again, the Ritual Action is often conveyed in terms of montage sequences. In RPGs the time taken is often hand-waved, and resolved in a single roll. The latest f20 games may use the Skill Challenge mechanism for these actions.


See my earlier article for a discussion of montages in RPGs.


Persuasion Action

This is the type of action Ron calls Social Action. As the new name suggests, this category of action is focused around changing the mind of the opposition in some way. This can be used to inspire, convince, lie, persuade, intimidate, frighten, bargain, seduce, solicit information or impress another person. This is not to restrict the tactics to achieve this change in behaviour, but to establish the purpose of the action.


Persuasion Actions will be the most common type of action in most games. The resulting action may be short, such as telling a lie to the doorman to gain access to the club, or long, such as an extended courtship. The common theme is the way these actions focus on persuading another person to see things your way, even if for only a short time.


Keeping with the film analogies, the Persuasion Actions play out as the bulk of events presented. If a scene involves dialogue, then it is probably a Persuasion action. These are the default scenes in many films, just as this category is the default format for action within most games.


Structuring Goals

The importance of these categories of Actions is how they then determine the parameters for tactics and goals during play. So often Players take actions within an RPG without first establishing a clear goal. Goals will form the subject of next week’s long article, where the value in these distinctions should become clear.


Narrative Actions

In many ways, the distinctions outlined here are more for the GM to keep in mind, not the Player. The type of action frames the narrative, and sets the tone for the outcome. It would probably be a bit too meta to require the Players to categorize each of their actions before, or even after, they announce their goals.


However, as the GM is using the categories to guide the Players when they set their goals, then it makes sense for the Players to understand these three types of action. These actions set the parameters for HOW a Hero will achieve their goal. This is especially true in narrative games, but these distinctions can have an impact on f20 games too.


As part of the process of establishing the Heroes’ goals, the GM must ensure the intended outcome matches the method being used. Should the two elements conflict, then the GM needs to identify this conflict and ask the Players how to make action and goal agree. Either the goal needs to change, or the action. This is intended to ensure common expectations during play.



This breakdown of action types in RPGs is very much a prelude to the all-important discussion on goals next week. Yet, it is still valuable to appreciate the different types of action the Heroes may take.


How do these categories of action apply to your game? Share your experiences in the comments below.


Happy Gaming


Something for the Weekend next week: Trollbabe and Goals

Nov 20

Prep in Progress: Chapter 31, Part 2

TalesOfAGM Cross


Story focus, a planned finale & faster prep


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


Yesterday’s prep was as streamlined as ever. The session outline is complete, and I made notes on a possible structure to the session. I see a couple of stories that must be resolved, so these will have to be our focus. There are plenty of loose threads that could be woven into the finale, but I do not want to swamp those core stories. Exact pacing will depend upon Player choices, but I need some idea as to what I feel should be highlighted.


Alongside the story elements, there were a few abilities I needed to assign. The finishing touches will be completed on Friday evening, as a way to refresh my memory in time for the game on Saturday. Otherwise, the prep all went to plan.


Finally, I should note my sense of satisfaction at wrapping up a mini-campaign with a proper finale. The two previous cycle of tales ended abruptly, essentially with a TPK and a social meltdown between the Players. This time we have had better luck, and can conclude the story in the way it deserves. I am very excited to see how it will play out for us.


Lessons for Your Prep

While it is possible in an RPG session to tell almost ANY story, sometimes the GM should guide the game so the MOST IMPORTANT story is told. Balance Player freedom with telling the best story possible.


Happy Gaming


Nov 19

Reading Around: Impro




The previous Reading Around was a review of Corporia RPG, which combined elements of cyberpunk, corporate culture and Arthurian myth.


This issue of the Reading Around series returns to the more normal format. The subject of this article is Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre, by Keith Johnstone. The blurb on the back summarizes the book as follows:


The book sets out the specific techniques and exercises which Johnstone himself found most useful and most stimulating. The result is a fascinating exploration of the nature of spontaneous creativity.

A book about improvisation has clear applications to roleplaying. The “Spontaneity” and “Narrative Skills” sections are just as helpful for GMs at the table as they are for actors on stage.


The section on Status has direct application to the portrayal of GMCs.


I first read about Impro in the pages of Interactive Fantasy magazine, back in 1995. I have long been meaning to read it, and nearly twenty years after IF, I finally tracked down a copy in Norwich library. The book was everything I had hoped it to be. Reading it now, as I am adopting a more improv-style to my gaming, made the book resonate strongly with me.


This is just a capsule review, as I want to buy my own copy, study it in greater detail, and perhaps write a couple of posts about it.


For something similar, and aimed at the RPG market, then I can recommend Play Unsafe by Graham Walmsley [affiliate link]


Happy Reading

Nov 18

Prep in Progress: Chapter 31, Part 1

TalesOfAGM Cross


Nomad army, journey’s end & plotting the finale


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


The game on Saturday was great fun, and the story is ramping up to the finale this week. The Players are in agreement that the mini-campaign should end next session. The tribe have reached the portal, so they need to complete the ritual to activate it while fighting off the approaching nomads and overcoming the corrupt monks guarding the portal. We have plenty of elements to work with, so I just need to orchestrate a thrilling finale.


Once again, the Players brainstormed some fascinating locations to add to the story.


My prep for this week, such as it is, needs to focus on creating a few more details to support these additional elements. I shall also give some thought to how to structure the session to give us a fitting climax to the mini-campaign.


There is also the possibility of a final twist as one of the Heroes turns bad, so that needs to be factored into the mix. I only have 150 minutes for the game, so I need to plan out the session a little more thoroughly than normal. Wednesday is my main day for the game prep, so I shall be addressing these issues tomorrow.


Lessons for Your Prep

Special sessions, such as a campaign finale, or a “boss fight” may require extra planning. Do not short-change your Players or your plot with a lack of preparation. Work to make these sessions epic!


Happy Gaming


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