The Session Achievement Alternative.

The previous trick - The Supply Uncertainty Principle - proved itself quite popular, so I decided to share more of my GMing tricks with the community. I even decided to give this little segment its own tag, and a, somehow scientific, naming convention - so the readers can spot, and find those entries more easily.
Without further ado - I present you with another trick - this time we will look at giving XP to the players.
Disclaimer: Same as before- this trick was used solely in my Savage Worlds campaigns, but can be used easily in other games.

Experience Points (XP), in one form or another, are a staple of RPGs. Nowadays most of XP given to the players are either points for killing enemies or fulfilling "quests". There, are alternatives, like the XP for gold spent in OSR games and even XP for hosting the game or bringing snacks in PDQ system.

Savage Worlds system, has its own approach, awarding XP depending on roughly how much of the planned adventure was accomplished during the session. I find this approach a little lacking, especially, when I am running no-prep games, where I have no idea what the game will be about. I needed something more, some kind of alternative...

Inspired by the video games' achievements, I devised a small system that gives a lot of fun to the players, and allows the GM to point the game in the direction he wants, without the feeling of railroading.
Let me introduce you to the Session Achievement Alternative.

Before every session, get some post-it notes - one per player to be exact. Write  3-4, character specific, tasks on each of them and hand them to the players. If a player accomplished his task he gets 1XP (1XP is 20% of a "level" in Savage Worlds) there and then. It is that simple.

The tasks can be anything you want: from something that is linked to the adventure at hand, trough a "side quest", to acting in character. Even a meta-gaming task will work here. It is a good practice to try to get one of each type of tasks to a player. Create enough, so the player can choose his tasks and will not be punished for not fulfilling all of them during one session. Unresolved (or even some resolved and/or ongoing) tasks can be used in the future. 

You can either collect the post-its, or leave them to the players as a souvenir. But make sure, that you have a set of new tasks per player for each session, and that, the players are aware that they can only get XP from "this week's" post-it.
Look at some Steam/Xbox achievements online for inspiration. Think of what the player would enjoy doing and what his character would do during the game (those might be two drastically different things). Think of a rumor in the game world and make exploring it one of the tasks. Don't be afraid of adding some tasks that will be difficult to achieve, or would require some out of the box thinking - players have a habit of surprising GMs.
Personally, I had a great experiences with this trick - so did my players. One player, kept it a secret, that he is a secret agent, trough a whole Deadlands campaign, getting 1 bonus XP every session. Another player took a "boss monster" 1on1 just because he would get extra points. This little change to awarding XP, allowed me and my players to explore the characters and the game world in a new way.
When used correctly, this trick can create some memorable moments in your game. Even if you are playing a game where you need to keep the character progression at bay (like D&D 3e for example) try  it - just make the awards smaller (5-10% XP needed to "level up" per task) - the idea of "extra" XP will make the players do things you wouldn't normally expect from them.

Roleplayers! Don't be afraid to Rollplay!

Disclaimer: Before we get to the topic at hand, I feel the need to highlight that I have not grown up in USA and I might have a different view on RPGs' trends and history. For example, D&D was never that popular in Poland. There where far fewer players of DnD, than of Warhammer, World of Darkness or Call of Cthulhu. Because of that, Polish roleplaying scene in the 90s and early 2000s was more saturated with dark and grim motives, and more narrative play, than leveling up and overcoming powerful enemies. So, while the statements about RPG fandom might not be true where you live, the rest of the article can still be of use to you.

There seems to be an understanding, that rollplaying (having your game centered around the dice rolls) is somehow lesser to focusing on the story and acting in character - in other words - roleplaying. But, the fact is, that rolling the dice and having unpredictable results is a big, fun generating, chunk of any RPG session... and was for ages. In the old-timey times of RPGs (so 70s and early 80s) rolling dice to generate the narrative was a normal thing to do. With the advent of TSR products (especially adventures), gamers abandoned this method and turned to more scripted way of playing - something that, the mainstream experiences to this day. Don't get me wrong - I am glad we have this approach - producing adventures and expansions for RPGs allowed the publishers to stay afloat, allowed gamers everywhere to experience narrative ideas of other people and expanded our hobby in new and exciting ways. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, we, as gamers,  lost the ability to skillfully benefit from random dice rolls in a narrative way. This article aims to bring back some of that old-school charm, show you the benefits of using some random fun in your game.

A BIG thank you to Fantasy Flight Games

If you ever played the "designer" or "strategy" board games, you probably heard about FFG or Fantasy Fligh Games. It is one of the biggest board game companies out there, always delivering high quality products, amazing artwork and overall great Ameritrash games.

But few days ago, FFG surprised me in a very positive manner!
As you might know, recently I moved from UK to US. Because of shipping costs, I sold most of my boardgaming library, and only shipped my favorites and some small games. 
Well, my favorite game up to date is Arkham Horror - a cthulhu inspired cooperative game, just oozing with theme and giving it's players (or at least me) great immersion. I love it so much, that I started making a custom case for it and all of it's expansions out of a 1920 suitcase (something that I will write about in more detail, once I will have a chance to finish it). So I shipped the secured suitcase with almost all the components (and this game has a lot of components).

Because I had all the cardboard counters stored in the original box, I have put them in a Ziploc bag and put it in a different, cardboard box. Long story short, the shipping company managed to rip this box and lose all my counters.
So I contacted FFG if there is a any chance I can buy only the counters for the game and expansions I have. This is what they came back with:
"We are more than happy to help you with your request and will send the requested replacement at no cost to you."
Wow! Just to be clear - this is a lot of counters. Counters that people on ebay charge good money for replacements. 

Thank you Fantasy Flight, you are sure that I will go out of my way now, to support your company.

The Supply Uncertainty Principle

This time I will share a little trick I used in many of my game sessions. While I used it mostly in  my Savage Worlds games, it is generic enough to use in any RPG game.

So what is it about? More or less, uncertainty of survival when depending on various resources.
Survival can be an interesting part of a game session. If done right can keep players on their toes, uncertain of their character's fate. Will they have enough fuel to reach the next city in this post apocalyptic wasteland? Will they find enough food and water before the rescue arrives? Will the damaged generator have enough power to keep the life support for the whole ship?

Sadly in all the RPGs that I encountered, tension was spoiled, by existence of items like iron rations (you have food for 3 days) and/or a dice roll to find water, food whatever other resource you might need for the day. Set numbers like that kill the feeling of uncertainty in the game - and this is fine in most of the games, but sometimes you might want to highlight the survival aspect during the session. 

While skilled GM can create tension even without the mechanics, it is always easier to do so, with a specific rule behind it. And this is less than a rule... it is a little trick GMs can use to create the looming fear of running out of "stuff".

This is how I do it:
When the need arises (let's say characters got trapped in a cave complex, or they are fighting off enemy fighter-ships in a heavy damaged derelict space base), certain resources get a numeric value next to it (e.g Food 20, Generators 45).  Sometimes I tell the players to roll some dice depending on what resources they had before the encounter, and tell them to add the results, at other times I will asign the number myself. This is their amount this resource for the remaining scene/act what-have-you.

Each time a character uses this resource (eating for food, driving for fuel, sustaining and using  the ships systems etc.) GM asks that player to roll some dice (dice number/size depends on the action, travelling for few hours by car can take off 2d10, eating enough food for a day, a d6). The result is subtracted from the value of the resource. 

The opposite goes for gathering supplies. The character makes a Survival roll, and for each success and rise, they can roll a die (or dice depending on the "lushness" of the terrain) and add the result to their supply.

This way, players and the GM can anticipate roughly how much "stuff" will they need or have, but will never be 100% sure how long it will last.

So what will happen when the characters will run out of certain resource? This depends on the narrative. Not eating food can make them weak (Rolling for Vigor in Savage Worlds to avoid being exhausted), having no fuel for the car will make them stuck in the middle of nowhere etc. 

You don't want to bog down the game that much tracking food, water and other supplies all the time. But when used at the right time, this little trick can really make your players worry.

I have used this trick many times, in many different scenarios. It was used for remaining energy in a mech (roll d6 each turn) during a battle, for fuel in post apocalyptic scenario (leaking fuel tank, roll d6 every hour of driving and d4 every day), even first-aid supplies in grim and gritty fantasy game for the whole game. It was a blast each time, sometimes leading to intersting improvised adventures.

If you will ever use this little trick, let me know, in the comments, what you used it for. Even if it is years from this post - necromancy (as in reviving old posts and entries) is encouraged here.

Kudos to EnWorld for including this post in their community news

Savage Worlds and Lego

Surprisingly, this entry is not about using Lego bricks in tabletop roleplaying. Nor, it's about roleplaying in the Lego universe using Savage Worlds rules. It's about the way I use Savage Worlds for my gaming needs and it's similarities to how I used to use Lego bricks.
Savage Worlds has been my go-to RPG system since it's first print run. I fell in love with it's Fast, Furious & Fun approach to gaming and the fact, that it was an easily adaptable, generic rules system. I could write a whole article (and probably, will) about why I enjoy Savage Worlds so much, but this time I want to look at only one aspect of this system. An aspect that Savage Worlds shares with the famous Lego bricks. 

As far as I know, there aren't many "mainstream" generic RPGs on the market. Off the top of my head I can only name a few: GURPS, Fudge and to some extent, D20 and BRP (while they have capabilities of being generic systems, the main focus is on a certain game like D&D or Call of Cthulhu). The majority of RPGs available, and this is especially true in brick and mortar gaming stores, are complete games: rules + setting. 
What I am aiming at is, that the average or a new roleplayer is only familiar with the "ready made product" approach. And by this extent, when they are using Savage Worlds, they only use it to play certain games (Deadlands, Beasts & Barbarians and what-not). While there is nothing wrong with this approach, Savage Worlds has an extra wild card in it's sleeve: You can use this game the same way you would use Lego bricks.

Let me explain...
Remember when you used to play with Lego? I do. I had a box with all the components needed to build a plane, pirate ship or a moon buggy. I dumped all this stuff on the floor, and with the instructions in my hand, started building the toy shown on the box. Once I played with it enough, I built something else from those bricks. The plane was turned into a helicopter and pirate ship into an scurvy island fortress. The next step was to mix the sets. Making a pirate plane, or space pirates!
I have a very similar approach to Savage Worlds. The Wild Card I was talking about before is "compatibility". Just like all Lego bricks can connect to one another, so can Savage Worlds setting books. Each book is like a box of Lego bricks. And there is a ton of those boxes out there! On the Savage Insider website you can find a list of all the official and licensed settings. This does not include all the fan projects that you can find. That's a lot of "boxes", each with a set of interesting "bricks". No matter what type of game you fancy playing - cowboy vs aliens, xcom rpg, urban fantasy - you can find boxes or just the bricks that will fit your needs.
There is a lot more to it, than just genre-mashing. Sometimes you can add a single "brick" to change the entire feel of the game (like adding Gritty Damage to a High Fantasy game). Want more variety? An Edge or a Hindrance from a different setting, maybe particular equipment or magic variant strikes your fancy? Why not add it to your game? As long as the rest of the group is fine with it, it can lead only to more fun.

Go and check places like Savagepedia or Savage Heros. Don't be afraid to experiment. Find what you like and play something you will enjoy.

I know that this approach is nothing new for many gamers, but I hope that some of you might find it interesting and worth trying.

Hello World...

Welcome to Level 27 Human Geek, a blog about tabletop gaming with some indie/small publisher video gaming mixed in.

Recently, I moved from UK to a small-town US, where gaming is virtually unheard of. Instead of moping about the fact that I can't indulge in tabletop gaming as much as I want, I decided to use this time to finally write down my musings and, hopefully, finish some of my tabletop projects.