Sep 18

Prep in Progress: Chapter 25, Part 4

TalesOfAGM Cross


Artisan Keywords & Whitesmiths


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


With my schedule still disrupted, there was little time for game prep yesterday. I had put in some time on Monday, but there is plenty still to do. Last night saw a long list of tasks to be completed, so the game prep suffered again.


However, I did complete the conversion of the Artisan Keywords. These are divided up into Apprentice, Journeying Artisan and Master Artisan. For the weekend, I shall only need the first two, but it made sense to complete the set while I was focused upon them. These will be used for two Whitesmith Heroes: Apprentice and Journeying.


Whitesmiths are the in-game term for silversmiths, or goldsmiths. This being a fantasy setting, they would also be experienced in forging exotic precious metals. This is in contrast to Redsmiths, who deal primarily with bronze, the main metal for the setting. Finally, there are Blacksmiths, who deal with iron, a rare metal in the setting, or other “black” planar metals.


As the keywords were designed for generic Artisans, I wanted to keep the terms broad enough to apply to any craft. Thus, these Keywords are not as flavourful as some I have designed, but these ones have a broader scope. A weaver, carpenter and a whitesmith would all have slightly different abilities, but the broad categories are the same.


Having completed the Keywords, I now need to fill in the character sheets as much as I can. These need to be printed out, so there is more for me to do. I am still waiting to hear back from the last Player as to what Occupation Keyword she would like, so there may yet be some improvising in Saturday’s session.


For Your Prep

Broader planning and prep can give you better returns on your time than narrow ones.


Happy Gaming


Sep 17

Kickstarting 13th Age in Glorantha: Modern RPG & classic setting


The previous Kickstarter I recommended was Spirit of 77, a funky 1970s RPG written by David Kizzia and Bob Richardson.




Here is the next of the awesome September crowdfunding projects. As the title suggest, 13th Age in Glorantha is a supplement to 13th Age that focuses on the world of Glorantha. Arguably the greatest RPG setting, Glorantha is now being given the 13th Age treatment. The campaign page describes the game as follows:


13th Age in Glorantha is a hardbound full-colour 196+ page roleplaying supplement that brings the award-winning 13th Age rules to Greg Stafford’s mythic world of Glorantha. 13th Age in Glorantha teams up the original designers of 13th Age, Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, with their 13th Age comrade Ash Law and with the designer at the heart of the new Gloranthan renaissance, Jeff Richard. . . not to mention the marvellous Gloranthan artists who follow Jeff’s art direction.

The book’s classes, monsters, and rules are compatible with existing 13th Age games while opening new doors to myth-crawling adventure in the legendary setting of Glorantha. As a standalone supplement, 13th Age in Glorantha doesn’t repeat the rules presented in the 13th Age core rulebook; you will need the 13th Age core rulebook to play.


I love the depth of Glorantha, and the number of cool ideas that it brings together. My Tales of the Hero Wars campaign is set in a version of Glorantha, and here is a fantastic opportunity to explore the setting further. The Kickstarter is also producing a special 128 page Glorantha source book that will open up the world to gamers. This book will complement the epic Guide to Glorantha that Moon Design recently published.


If all this were not enough, the campaign is also steaming through the stretch goals. Already unlocked are Trolls as a playable race, and being Gloranthan Trolls, this will be a lot different from the green, regenerating trolls of typical f20 games. Also, unlocked is the Crimson Bat, champion of the Red Moon. If you like fantasy with a twist, then you need to look at this campaign.


Funding for 13th Age in Glorantha closes Tuesday, October 14th. I am sure that more of the stretch goals will be met before the end of the campaign.


Support 13th Age in Glorantha for a modern twist on a classic RPG setting.


Happy Gaming

Sep 16

Prep in Progress: Chapter 25, Part 3


TalesOfAGM CrossNew Heroes & new priorities


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



Due to another unusual week, my game prep was shifted to Monday afternoon. As ever, there were other commitments too, so I only managed an hour or so to work on the game. The good news was that I finally completed the write-up of the last session, but have yet to add it to the Wiki. Also, I completed the Session Outline, so I have something to work from to frame the scenes for the next session.


The big news for the game, however, is that we should have three new Players arriving next session. HeroQuest is very good at allowing for Hero creation through play, so we should not lose the entire session to character generation. Yet, it may take up the first half of our allotted time. This rather changes the type of prep that I need to do.


Obviously, I need to print out the required character sheets and information sheets for the new Heroes. To speed things along, I will start filling in some of the details on the character sheets, such as some of the Keywords. One Player has already discussed with me the type of Hero he wants, and I have checked the Keywords I have already designed. I do still need to finalize the contents of his chosen Occupation Keyword, which will be a variant on an existing Keyword.


The other two Players, however, have not replied to my email. I will have with me the standard Keywords that have been created previously. There are plenty of options here, but for anything properly original, then I need to prepare this in advance, subject to discussions with the Player.


Moving onwards, I still need to complete the details on the confirmed Occupation Keyword. I also want to email the other new Players to nudge them along, and present them with the next round of decisions that I need from them. As always, there is also the Wiki to update.


For Your Prep

The lesson here is to stay flexible with your prep schedule. Prepare for the Session you expect to have.


Happy Gaming


Sep 15

Looming Deadline for the September Contest

journal square
As mentioned previously, September sees a new home for the Warlock’s Journal.


It is now with Vicki at Tabletop Adventures. As usual, a new home means a new Contest. This round of the Warloack’s Journal Contest is tied to International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and requires you to design a location suitable for pirates.


The entries for the Contest must be in by 17th September 2014. You need to write, edit and submit 100 to 500 words describing a pirate location VERY promptly.


All the voting rules, and the additional details about the Contest are outlined on the contest page.


Best of luck, and get designing VERY quickly.


Sep 14

GMCs as Onions: Building Personality in Layers


Shrek: For your information, there’s a lot more to ogres than people think.
Donkey: Example?
Shrek: Example . . . Uh . . . Ogres are like onions!


One of the hardest tasks for a GM is to populate their world with interesting GMCs.


Yet, by adopting the layered approach, this need not be such a difficult task. We are all onions, made up of layers that we reveal to different people in different ways. There is no reason why the inhabitants of a RPG setting should be any different.


This technique can give you faster prep and more story, as it both simplifies the creation process and suggests greater depth to the world. As an example, let us follow the story of Isander.


Layer 1: The Passer-by

The Heroes first meet Isander on the streets of Pyraeus, as they are looking for directions. The Heroes are newly arrived in the bustling town, and have no idea where they should be going. The tell the GM that they are asking a passer-by for directions. Enter Isander.


At this point, Isander is just an improvised GMC. The GM reacts to the Player’s request by announcing that they stop a random man, who gives them the necessary information. The Heroes thank the stranger, and continue on their way.


At the first layer, Isander need not even be named. All he has is a basic description, human male, and a home, Pyraeus. For the moment Isander is the equivalent of an extra in a film, and little more than just a face in the crowd. This layer represents GMCs as background. If the Heroes are in a town, then the town must have inhabitants, even if they are not individually fleshed out in game terms.


Layer 2: The Barfly

Let us take Isander onwards another step, and introduce him to the Heroes properly. Suppose the Heroes have gathered in a drinking establishment for some reason. There is a lull in the conversation at the table, and one Player asks who else is at the bar.


The GM decides that the Heroes recognise the passer-by from earlier in the day. One Hero wanders over to talk with him, and the Players are properly introduced to Isander. At this point, he now has a name. Or rather, he always had a name, but as we are reaching the second layer of Isander, when his name is given to the Players.


As the Player has a conversation with Isander, more details are revealed. Perhaps he has been unlucky in love, and is drinking away his coin. The GM can use this opportunity to pass on some rumours or other information that needs to be given to the Heroes. Along with the transfer of information, more about Isander is presented.


There is likely to be a more detailed physical description, perhaps his lopsided grin and unkempt hair. Likewise, his mannerisms may be revealed, such as taking a long pull of his drink before answering a tricky question.


Finally, some of his background and personality are revealed. This is not a complete character portrait, but at this point Isander has progressed from being just a face in the crowd. Now he has a name, some motivations and snippets of background and personality. In film terms, Isander has progressed to being a bit-part, one that has a speaking role, and is named in the credits, but may only appear in a scene or two.



Layer 3: The Shopkeeper

Let us suppose that the Heroes stay in Pyraeus for several days, or return there regularly. Either way, they certainly explore a lot more of the town and wander into the leather-worker’s shop for equipment or trade goods. There they meet Isander, but now in his role as shopkeeper.


The GM has now elevated Isander to a recurring role. He is a drinking companion to at least one of the Heroes, and now appears in a different situation in his primary job. This is a good way for the GM to revisit GMCs, to reuse them in different roles to maximise their function in the game, and make the most of the time spent preparing the character.


Isander’s mannerisms have previously been established, but this layer deepens his backstory and adds nuance to his personality. Isander has moved from being a slightly one-dimensional barfly into a more rounded character, with a job, staff, residence, personality and likely some elements of background.


In film terms, he has become a supporting actor, who appears in several different places in the story, and can fulfil different roles. The GM can use him as a friend to the Heroes, a Patron or as a source of information about Pyraeus. As the layers of Isander are revealed, he gains functionality and depth.


Layer 4: The Lover

Finally, let us take Isander to the last stage, and make him a lover of one of the Heroes. This would have developed out of the drinking companionship, and would not progress without the agreement of the Player concerned. Although, this could be unrequited love, which pushes Isander into the role of antagonist as he initiates events in pursuit of his love interest.


Howsoever it happens, Isander has grown to take a more central role in the story. Further elements of his personality have been revealed, and by this stage the GM has created some game statistics or abilities for Isander. If Isander progresses to being the significant other of one of the Heroes, then he may even merit a full write-up, and thus become as detailed as the Heroes themselves.


In film terms, Isander has become a regular character, virtually one of the central roles in the story. At this point, he would almost certainly be cast as a famous actor, although not quite as the star of the film. His role has grown steadily, as the layers of his personality have been peeled away.


Layers and Faster Prep

Applying the principle of layers to your GMCs brings you several advantages. Firstly, it streamlines the process, giving you faster prep. Only create those layers that you need for the given role, or current role of a character. If you can cut your workload to a bare minimum, and do not over-prepare, then the process will be a lot faster.


Of course, there is no reason why you cannot return to a previous GMC and bring them back in a bigger role. Again, this saves you time, as you have already put in the work on the character. Just as Isander developed in the examples above, so too your GMCs can put in repeat appearances to build up their presence in your story.


Such repeat characters build a greater sense of community for the Players. Yes, it could have been entirely new people at the tavern or in the leather-worker’s shop, but that could make a town seem disjointed. Instead, by having Isander fill all those roles, there is a sense of Pyraeus as a small, living community.


Layers and More Story

Yet, the biggest advantage of the layers approach to GMCs is to present the Players with the sense that everyone really does have personality and story. As the Players learn more about a GMC, they find that there is more to discover, more background and a more complex personality. This suggests that this principle is true for all of your GMCs, which it would be.


Suddenly, instead of cardboard characters named Willam, your world is seen as being full of individuals who would have stories to tell should the Heroes speak to them. So long as the Players believe that your setting is full of story, then you have a story-rich environment providing you reinforce this idea when the Players go looking for these stories.


My previous article about Heroes as “nexus of change” presents a different approach to support this concept.



Building your GMCs as layered characters both saves you time and brings more story potential to the table. The Players will be rewarded for interacting with your world, and many characters will grow organically through the story.


How would you present the layers of your GMCs? Share your ideas in the comments below.


Happy Gaming


Something for the Weekend next week: RPG Blog Alliance Carnival

Older posts «