Tuesday, 22 August 2017

On the Edge of Exile: GM Tools

Now it's time to discuss the tools I'll be using to run this campaign. I'm a huge fan of tools, and I find their inclusion in a game drastically changes the flavour of its play. That's what I'm hoping from each and every one of these tools!

There are three categories of GM Tools that I'm using for On the Edge of Exile: Org Tools, Prep Tools, and Play Tools. There aren't many of them, so I'll be talking about all of them here. This discussion will be about what I'm using, and why I'm not using alternatives.

Let's begin at the top:


Org Tools

Org Tools are those that help me organise the campaign, both internally and externally. They help me frame my notes, and communicate to my players.

Game Bible

Previously, I have recorded my notes in so many different formats, that I've pretty much seen every format of this (at least, every format that I'm aware of). Put simply, a Game Bible is a document that contains all the information that it's pertinent not to forget. That doesn't mean it contains literally everything, but that it contains the main stuff. Little details are lost at the table, and to memory, and that's fine. Big stuff goes in here.

So what does it look like? At the moment it has three sections: The Valley which discusses any important locations, and the regions in terms of their tags, Threats which holds all of my Apocalypse World style complications and story threads (discussed more in Prep Tools), and Dramatis Personae which holds records of all the major NPCs and custom monsters or groups.

Now, why did I go this route? Previously I've used wikis or a curious program called MyInfo to plan campaigns and host their notes, but I find with that structure it leads to waffling - it becomes difficult to use the information at the table. With a single document, I am forced into brevity, otherwise it becomes impossible to use during play. No more than a page per Threat. No more than a stat-block and tags for NPCs.

Facebook & Messenger Groups

Whilst in the past I have used Trello, a wiki, and Obsidian Portal to host the player's hang-out area, I have found each has its problems. Trello isn't well suited to interactions in the way I'm looking for - discussions and banter, planning for future sessions, etc. and Obsidian Portal is, well... Let's just say it took them 2 years to respond to a support ticket, and then after I cancelled my subscription charged me for the following 2 years anyway. There's some history there! Wikis are also a little too dispersed, and they only really work if everyone is keen on filling them out. I no longer believe in giving my players homework, so I'll be avoiding that.

That leaves me with Facebook and Messenger. All my players are already on the platform, and we can now customise them pretty extensively. The Messenger thread is being used for short form discussions, and the group is used more like a forum. Simple!


Prep Tools

Prep Tool are those that help me prepare for the next session, naturally.

Threats

I have made a list of Threats, ala Apocalypse World which will be the main impetus behind the campaign. The idea is that each area or potential story in the game has a Threat, made up of a name, a type, a drive, several moves with some preferred moves, a description, and progress markers. The moves are ways for me to have the Threat act, and the progress markers are what will happen if the PCs don't intervene. I can't give you an example of one without fear of my players seeing it, so I'll make a fake one here:

The Evil Child
Craves mastery.
Will the Evil Child corrupt the town?
Moves:
  • Do something evil.
  • Kill someone.
  • Make someone take the fall for badness.
Progress:
  • The Evil Child tricks someone in town into adopting them.
  • That person's business - a tavern - starts to boom with the greatest beer on tap.
  • A few people have gone missing, but most people in town are in such a drunken stupor for most of the time that they don't notice.
  • The Evil Child uses the missing towns folk as a sacrifice to become even eviler!
The idea is that, when I need to know the next thing to have happen, I just look at whatever Threat seems to be interesting the players the most, and I tick it forward until they intervene.

Goals

I will be requiring my players to tell me what they intend to do before the following session. This won't be a blow-by-blow, but a general "We're heading to Seidenstopp to find out what the go is with this residue" vibe. I want them to form something like goals ala Burning Wheel but not as strictly. I will be awarding XP based on if they meaningfully work towards their goals, rather than for any other reason, so it's in their best interests to have a think about them!


Play Tools

Play Tools are those which will be used in situ in play - the ones which I will have printed either behind the screen, or in front of the players.

In-Game Calendar

I'm far from a Gygaxian GM, and I believe almost the opposite of this little nugget:
YOU CANNOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.
But for this campaign, I am using an in-game calendar. This is part Org, part Prep, but mostly Play. I want the players to be the ones writing in this thing, noting when events will occur, and planning their travel around that. I'm not going to be too cruel on the GM side of things, and (as mentioned with Threats) I won't have things scripted purely by a clock. I will reveal dates when it is interesting to reveal them, and it's then up to the players to record and follow them.

Speaking of which, I intend to jump forward the calendar by 2-month chunks every milestone of play (the players will be in control of when this is, but it will be guided by me on the basis of something significant happened). Sometimes these will be longer jumps, depending on how many sessions it has been since the last jump. Each jump will constitute a settlement phase.

This Fantastic Character Sheet

I love character sheets, and often hate the standard sheets that come with most games. I don't know what it is, but almost universally, official character sheets suck. Indie games are usually the exception to this. *shrug*

So, for WFRP, many years ago I discovered this sheet! This is the one the players will be using.

A Bunch of PDFs

I also have a bunch of old PDFs from my hey-day of WFRP play, most of which I don't know where they came from, and some whose origins are now lost to the void of the Internet. Strike to Stun, Winds of Chaos, and Liber Fanatica were definitely the sources of many...

Empire Weather for determining weather during travel phases - bad results will incur penalties to condition when they are travelled.

The Book of Imperial Names for many of my naming and settlement shop needs.

The Appearance of Morrslieb which I will roll in advance, which will count as an out-of-the-players-hands encounter generator - bad moon = bad luck!

And Total War a fan made supplement for mass combat which is (sadly) pretty poorly edited, but the core is great. It's inspired by Legend of the Five Rings's mass combat system, which was one of the greater parts of that system.

And that's it! It's a lot of tools, but together, they'll largely automate the running of this campaign. Next time, well, I guess the game will have started!