Thursday, December 4, 2014

Game Mastering in 30 minutes or Less.

Game Mastering in 30 minutes or Less.
You worked 80 hours this week, you got sick, or you were just plain lazy, whatever the reason is, you have people who want to game, and they will be here in 30 minutes.  What do you do?

1.      Map It: You could do it with an overland map, a dungeon map, you are a GM I am sure you have some lying around. If not, I have some for sale. But for now let us keep it simple you can find one by browsing the Cartographer’s Guild, something you made while messing around with Campaign Cartographer, or maybe you loot it from Jonathan Roberts’ website. In my case, I am publisher so I get to use a map I commissioned and use it for something else so let us take the level 3 map of the Ruins Perilous.  

Now we are not going to have time to write a bunch of description for each room so we need to pick a theme that we can constantly build off, something that is constantly challenging your players, creating an environment tension. It could be that every surface is covered with some unique ooze, it could be an influx of chaos or wild magic permeates the area, perhaps it is just underwater and subject to strange currents and shifting tides. So for this case we will change the appearance of the dungeon, it will be underwater, in the arctic,  parts of the dungeon will be iced over, and there will be unpredictable currents and tides.

2.      Iconic Monsters: Don’t get crazy and hunt down the latest bestiary, these need to be monsters you know how to run already. Use good old standby monsters and adapt them to your environment.  You want your players to have a emotional reaction and you need to get the monsters together in less than 4 minutes. So we have a cold and underwater enviorment. Any Undead and/or Constructs, they don’t have a problem with underwater. Sharks of all sizes. Shapechanges, they can adapt to the environment. Gargoyles they are stone, don’t care about cold or water, Orca will scare them, they are worse than sharks. Trolls and Deep Ones because who does not love Cthulhu.  You can even bring back an old foe (see Don’t Explain It below).

3.      Make it Unique: You have a list of encounter locations, and a list of creatures to encounter, now take that list and make a short phrase about each encounter that makes it unique.  You don’t want it to just be a 10’x 10” room with a monster in it.  For example the Orca will be, awakened by a druid, uplifted by technology, or is from a world with intelligent killer whales, regardless it will be extremely intelligent and use extremely intelligent tactics. The big circular room in the center, its “floor” is covered in broken up ice sheets and there is a hole in the center. The currents cause it to spin. The Orca baits the area around the hole with bits of treasure frozen to the think ice pack (its an orca what use does it have for gold, it wants fresh meat), when it is time to fight it simply rams the thin ice and makes it very hard to get back to the doors.   Therefore, the note would be: Intelligent Orca, Broken up rotating ice floor with water underneath, hole in center, frozen treasure.

4.     Fudge It: Don’t be a slave to stats or dice, they are just a guideline, what you are looking for is a dramatic encounter something that is not long and not to short, when it is time for the villain to die have him die. Add hit points if you have to or increase/decrees the challenge as needed. The magic holding the undead creature together fails or is renewed. The contruct is malfunctioning but could get a surge of nananites to repair it. There are more sharks where that came from but they could feed on each other. The shapechanger has a one-winged angel form but its form couldbe unstable. Did you not see all the other stone statues they are gargoyles too, but perhaps they have grown brittle from too much time in salt water. The trolls and deep ones just keep coming, most of them panic at the very sight of fire. Therefore, the note for the orca could be: The Orca has a mate or has weak lungs and could easily suffocate underwater.

5.      Don’t Explain It: If someone asks you as the GM how did this place end up underwater, way-out in the middle of the arctic, say “Your character doesn’t know”. If they ask an NPC have that NPC give his opinion, state various theories, and let that NPC be completely wrong. Let the player characters put forth there theories.  If you hear the beginning of a theory you like, drop a clue to that effect to encourage it but never give them Word of God confirmation. The same can go for the old adversary you recycled for this adventure he is here looking for the McGuffin that will let him get revenge on the PCs, but when asked how did he survive being disintegrated and his ashes cast to the four winds, say “Your character doesn’t know.”  He might be his ghost simply animating his armor, or a shapeshifter mode locked and implanted with the memories of the PC’s adversary but the players don’t need to know that, and right now neither do you. Again let the PCs and NPCs put forth their own opinions and be wrong or write as the whim strikes you.  You can do the same thing with a the mysterious McGuffin, let the players lead you to what it is, the ultimate mystery magic item, or piece of indecipherable future tech. It’s a Rorschach blot, it only has the meaning the GM and PCs apply to it.

6.     Roleplay It: Have the NPCs ask the PCs questions, keep asking questions, get them talking. Before the PCs can leave on the adventure they get invited to a dinner party where all the major NPCs of the region will be attending because everyone loves the inn keeper so much, they will even put aside hated feuds. If the PCs attack someone the whole dinner party defeats them, and they have offended everyone.  Do you have a questionnaire for PCs? Let different NPCs ask questions from it. Are the PCs famous perhaps a Bard or a Report tries to ask them questions as they travel?

7.      Impersonate Someone: So you need an Npc for the PCs to interact with, and you can’t come up with one. Do an impersonation of someone your players don’t know. Players might recognize you impersonating your best friend (who is sitting there at the table) but do they know your grandmother, your boss at work, or even that special someone you had a crush on in school?  I love impersonating my mother to folks who never got to know her.  Imagine a hunchbacked bespectacled woman with curly brown hair at an Inn who takes care of your every need, treats you like her own children, never asks you for anything, but is constantly talking about her friend’s spouse who was checking out the report of a suspicious occurrence that sounds like your PCs nemesis. Moreover, when the PCs go to find out more, she does not want them to be bothered, and will not discuss it anymore until after dinner as she has work to do. She then invites the aforementioned friend, whose spouse is missing, to dinner.

8.     Puzzle It: I have a big book of riddles sitting on my shelf right next to big book of puzzles, you can also use an internet search engine to find a near infinite number of riddles.  Or pull out a puzzle game like Jenga (find the specially marked piece), Mastermind (for every wrong answer X happens), or Chess (sacrifice pieces sacrifice PCs).  Perhaps the Ghoul did it, the pleasures of the flesh don’t matter anymore, but pleasures of the mind do; or maybe one of the monsters hoards riddles and puzzles like a dragon hoards treasure, or perhaps it is just a riddle that is the clue to the password or magic word like “Open Sesame” or “1234”. Modern and future games make this fun if the riddle is two personal pieces of information you need to know about the original inhabitant. “What is the name of your first pet? What is your mother’s maiden name? The PCs then have to do research or talk to Npcs; the undead creature might know stuff about the places creator, and that painting we saw might have his pet's name. 

If all else fails have someone come to the dungeon to hunt the PCs down. Hey it's that Nemisis again. 

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