Aug 03

August 2015: A Review & Progress Report


TalesOfAGM CrossAt the start of the year I posted my Writing Resolutions for 2015.


Every month I keep these goals in focus by posting an update about my progress. The original post outlined four categories of resolution:

  • Blogging Resolutions
  • Freelance & Publishing Resolutions
  • Fiction Resolutions
  • Gaming Resolutions


Let us look at each of them in turn.


Blogging Resolutions

July turned out to be a good month for Tales of a GM.


The best traffic came at the start of the month when I published my loving review of HeroQuest 2.


This essay was picked up by both the designer and publisher of HeroQuest 2, who spread the link. This brought in a lot of traffic for me. July also saw the launch of Whispers of a GM, my weekly newsletter.


Have you signed up yet?


While there is always more which could be done, July saw some great progress in traffic, profile and development. I feel justified in awarding myself top marks again. Blogging score 5/5.


Freelance & Publishing Resolutions

Real life impacted this area of my writing, as I tried to wind down my schedule ready for the summer holidays. The plan was to complete a pdf ready for the summer break. I reached the layout stage, but then ran out of time. This was disappointing. Freelance score 2/5.


Fiction Resolutions

Fiction writing in the early part of July went well. I received some very positive feedback from the beta readers for my horror story. This should be ready for submission soon. The first draft of my latest children’s book was completed, and I began searching for an agent.


The end of the month saw my schedule heavily curtailed, so no further progress was made. A good month, but nothing spectacular and more effort required. Fiction score 3/5.


Gaming Resolutions

July gaming was a mixed bag. Roleplay was limited, but then we also had another new Player start. One deck for Friday Night Magic has been built and testing has begun, but this remains a slow process. However, the boys are showing a growing interest in gaming, which bodes well for the future. Gaming score 3/5.


July 2015

The final score for July is 13/20. This is a slight fall from the run of fourteens, but then the end of the month was more about childcare than writing. Thirteen is a decent score under the circumstances, and I expect the August assessment to be worse.


It will be September before I can really devote time to the writing again.


Have you made any progress with your resolutions? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Happy Gaming



Aug 02

Writing Goals, 2nd August, 2015


TalesOfAGM CrossHi Everyone,


Sunday again, so time for another weekly update.


Previously on Tales of a GM:


  • 1.5 hours – Primary Goal – Brainstorm Johnn Four essay
  • Bonus Goal – Smolensk pdf
  • 2 hours – Social Media – Visit different Forums and write five posts or comments
  • 2 hours – Write long blog post
  • 30 mins – Weekly Task – Website
  • 30 mins – Fiction


Last week as the first full-week of childcare. I managed to keep the boys busy and engaged, which meant a lot less squabbling. We played a lot of boardgames, but are yet to make a start on the roleplaying together. Maybe that will be something for this week.


Time was short, but it was still a decent week for my writing. I need to put in more time on balancing the output, as I need to invest more time in the work for Johnn. Social Media was okay, and I posted a good selection of articles to Tales of a GM.


Game Day yesterday was a lot of fun. We were back to just two Players for the HeroQuest 2 game, but there was plenty of laughter. The story emerged organically, and the Players embraced narrative over powergaming once again. Overall, it was a good week with my focus on the boys.


Moving forward, this week is more of the same:


  • 1.5 hours – Primary Goal – Brainstorm Johnn Four essay
  • Bonus Goal – Smolensk pdf
  • 2 hours – Social Media – Visit different Forums and write five posts or comments
  • 2 hours – Write long blog post
  • 30 mins – Weekly Task – Planning
  • 30 mins – Fiction


If I can be as productive as I was last week, then the summer will be going well. I wish you all a quiet week




Aug 01

Happy Lammas Day!


TalesOfAGM CrossOne of my contributions to the Summerland-themed RPG Blog Carnival I hosted was an essay about Farming Festivals.


I highlighted several agricultural festivals which occurred during the summer months. One of these was Lammas Day, traditionally celebrated here in England on the 1st of August.




So, happy Lammas Day. The name Lammas is derived from the Old English term hlaf-maesse, meaning loaf mass. The festival celebrated eating the first loaf from the new harvest.


Lammas Day therefore marked the end of the hunger gap.


The significance of August 1st was brought home to me today on my bus journey home from Game Day. From the bus window I watched two wheat fields being harvested. I do not often travel, so this was the first time I have seen combine harvesters in action this year.


An appropriate event for Lammas Day.


Happy Gaming



Jul 31

Dismantling the Movies: Film as RPG Research


TalesOfAGM Dice Sq SmAnother of my pastimes is watching films. Like many of you, I have a growing DVD collection. Mine has a selection of Geek classics, along with some non-genre titles.


As well as watching for pleasure, a good film is also research for both my writing and gaming. The parallel between film and fiction is quite clear. The benefits for a GM, however, may not be quite so obvious.


In this essay I explore some of the ways films can help us be better GMs.


Blowing Up the Movies

First, however, a quick journey through some of the writings of Robin D. Laws, the designer of my beloved HeroQuest 2. One of Robin’s latest works is Blowing Up the Movies, a guide to action films.


This was written in conjunction with the recent Feng Shui 2 Kickstarter.


In this book, Robin takes a close look at some classic action films, and offers up wisdom for the GM. As to be expected from the context, Blowing Up the Movies focuses on films with thematic links to Feng Shui 2. Even if these films do not suit your game, Robin firmly establishes the principle that films can teach us how to be a better GM. I cannot hope to match Robin for his level of insight, so this book is the best place for a GM to begin learning gaming techniques from filmmakers.


Blowing up the Movies is available through DriveThru RPG [affiliate link].



Hamlet’s Hit Points

As if one master class in film tropes was not enough, Robin D. Laws also wrote another superb book in this field. Hamlet’s Hit Points has a more academic tone than Blowing Up the Movies, but the core of the book is the detailed analysis of two films and a play by William Shakespeare. Can you guess which one?


The main focus of this book is the rhythm of narrative, and the way the plot is paced. Robin divides this rhythm into beats, and encourages Readers to apply the narrative analysis to a film or television episode of their choice. I have undertaken this exercise myself, and it is a great way to understand the presentation of narrative.


This book has a stronger link back to gaming, as the principles of narrative rhythm are applied within the rules of HeroQuest 2. Furthermore, the DramaSystem rules, at the heart of Hillfolk, grew directly from the theories outlined in Hamlet’s Hit Points.


Hamlet’s Hit Points is available through DriveThru RPG [affiliate link].



Film Takeaways

For an extended exploration of films for the GM, then I can do no better than recommend these two brilliant books. However, by standing on the shoulders of this giant, I can also offer up a few insights of my own.


Thinking about my own viewing habits, there are four areas where films can directly help and inspire a GM:

  • Narrative structure
  • Culture
  • Setting
  • Character


Narrative structure

Some of my favourite films show different ways to tell a story. These example plots may be tricky to implement at the table in the same way they appear in the film. However, they serve to illustrate how the conventional linear narrative is not the only way to tell a gripping story. I have two examples to share with you.


Firstly there is Hero (2002), starring Jet Li. This is my favourite film of all time, being beautifully made, with a stunning colour design and a clever plot. Essentially, it is several versions of the same story told with slightly different events. I cannot summarize the intricacies of the narrative in a short paragraph, you need to see this film for yourself. A simple takeaway would be how a revealing flashback can change the present, but this is selling short the beauty of Hero.


For all the problems I had encapsulating Hero, it is far worse for Memento (2000). Imagine a film cut into chunks of narrative, then play these chunks in reverse order. Intersperse with more flashbacks and some unreliable narrators. As with, Sixth Sense or Fight Club, Memento is another film which requires a second viewing to understand exactly what you have just watched. The premise seems impossible when I describe it, but the film pulls it off masterfully.



Another reason for a GM to watch a film is to learn how to replicate a culture at the table. If you are running a game set in feudal Japan, then watch samurai films to immerse yourself in the look and feel of a culture. Ideally, the film should have snippets of dialogue, characters and even whole scenes which the GM can reproduce at the table to convey these same cultural details to the Players.


My favourite film to achieve this is The 13th Warrior (1999). This is a version of the Beowulf story, but the plot deviates extensively from the original poem. However, the Viking culture presented in this film is ripe with elements to steal. The moving funeral oration is a standout moment for me, but much of the Norse culture presented here makes for great material to include in a game.



A film is a useful medium for GMs to study as the entire environment is deliberately created to evoke a specific mood within a scene. This feature is of more interest in genre films, where a GM can learn a lot about how to simulate a fantasy or SF environment. Clearly, we do not need quite such intense detail for our game. However, a believable film setting will have a lot of lessons for an attentive GM.


The clear leader in this field are the bonus DVDs for the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. Yes, the films are great, but the level of detail in the superb extras takes the experience to another level. Along with teaching the viewer so much about the technical nature of creating a film, there is a lot of material here for the GM. Costume, weapons, armour, furniture and architecture are all meticulously designed to create a layered setting and reflect their culture of origin. There are hours of viewing on these discs, but they are worth the investment.



The final element which a GM can lift from a film is a sense of character. A direct translation from screen to table may be disruptive to the game. Having every FBI agent appear as either Fox Mulder or Dana Scully will do nothing for your serious investigation game. However, the Players have no way of telling who the GM has in mind when roleplaying a character.


A good example of this for me is the Star Wars franchise. I confess, most of the villains in my game are portrayed with either an old, contorted voice, like the Emperor, or with a deep voice, in the style of Darth Vader. On reflection, I suspect most of my rogues bear a passing resemblance to Han Solo, too. Acting out my GMCs is probably the weakest part of my GM toolkit, but the Star Wars films have done their best to give me some clear role models to emulate.


Films at the Table

Hammy acting aside, the GM’s film research tends to have a subtle presence at the table. Films can provide inspiration for narrative structure, cultural details, broad setting creation or individual characters. Unless you are playing a game set in a movie-franchise, it is probably best to mix-and-match the details to avoid the Players spotting the source of your flamboyant rogue with a blaster and a waistcoat.



I watch films to relax, but my GM brain is always on. They can be a great source of telling detail to repackage, and present to your Players. If films work as a source of gaming inspiration for Robin D Laws, then they are good enough for me.


What films should every GM watch? Have you ever stolen a large part of a film to play out at the table? How did your Players react? Share your thoughts with your fellow GMs in the comments below.


To receive notification of my next long essay, please sign up to Whispers of a GM, my weekly-ish newsletter.


Happy Gaming



Something for the Weekend last week: July Blog Carnival, Weapons of Legend.


Something for the Weekend next week: Spark, Seven Principles of Storytelling.


Jul 30

Sigil PD: Chapter 23, Part 4

Character (4) head


Afternoon prep, improv GMC sheet & more Faction spreadsheet.


Once again, I had to adjust my schedule yesterday to allow for my changed circumstances. I had a busy morning with Jace, but come the afternoon he had settled down on my laptop. Rather than waste my time, I switched my game prep to the afternoon. As this is mostly handwritten, I could make progress while he was using my computer.


As ever, I wanted to achieve more, but I am pleased with how much I could do while sat beside a chattering little boy. I have most of the session outline completed, which is always the first priority. I wrote up a few more encounter elements cards, giving me some additional options for the session on Saturday. The updated version of the GMC improv sheet was also completed, with plenty of notes for improvising characters during the game. As with the melee improv sheet, this is a great tool to help me appear prepared for any choices the Players make.


The Faction sheet is another step closer to completion. I hope to have time on Friday evening to run through the last of my game preparations. With luck, I should be able to complete the Faction sheet tomorrow. Finally, I need to be ready to help the new Player with the next round of his character generation.


So, still work to do, but I should have done enough to run the game on Saturday.


Happy Gaming



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


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