Sunday, June 25, 2017

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Contest Time!

The players are exploring a strange pyramid that is clearly alien (and they now think is some sort of zoo).  They walk into a room with stars and a solar eclipse depicted planetarium-style far above their heads and in the middle of the room is this god, speaking to them.  Three of the players pass language checks and understand that it is speaking in the language of the Aztecs:

"Do you choose Life or Death?"

"Uh...we choose LIFE!"

"Your wish is granted."

All players must now make saving throws as the god disintegrates into light and flows into the eclipse.  All of the male PCs pass, and the single female PC fails. The result is a pregnancy near the end of the first trimester.

What is the deal with this baby when it's born? What happens?

I will include all of your suggestions on a giant table and roll to see what happens to my poor player's character. The person who I roll will also win their choice of one of these prizes (shipped to wherever you want):

The Undercroft #5
The Undercroft #6
Fire on the Velvet Horizon

I'll start with some of the obvious suggestions:
1) It's the antichrist (The Omen, House of the Devil)
2) A cult wants the baby (Rosemary's Baby)
3) The baby is alien in nature and will burst forth violently (Alien)
4) It's an exact clone of the player character except it will be exactly half their size.
5) It's an exact clone of the player character except it will be double their size.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Lamentations of the Flame Princess Playtest Document 0.1

If you're a fan of LotFP and don't have this yet, you should join the Pembrooktonshire Gardening Society and order something from the webstore.  (Maybe check with James Raggi first to make sure there's more documents left, but you should probably still do all those things in the last sentence even if he's run out!)

The purpose of this post is not to give you a complete rundown of the new playtest rules.  I assume they were printed with a limited run and not released in PDF for a reason, so I'm going to respect this and only call out a few things here and there.  This is also not a review or analysis of the playtest document.

The purpose here is to provide some suggestions and resources for using these rules.

First, I made a "no frills" character sheet.  This uses core LotFP rules + new playtest rules.  I stripped away all my house rules, and left large "notes" sections for things we need to track as we go:

Next, you should buy Wonder and Wickedness.  Perhaps the biggest change in the playtest rules is how magic is used.  The magic system is very similar to what is presented in Wonder and Wickedness, and it will make your life easier if you just pick up this book and use the spells within rather than trying to convert all the LotFP spells over.  I did a mix of both with my group, but more and more am just relying on W&W for the spells.

W&W is pretty awesome, and seems to be designed with LotFP in mind.  On the other hand, there are some peculiarities.  For example, the table of contents lists page numbers where you can find spells, but there are no page numbers in this book!  The spells are organized by Specialities, not alphabetically (or by level, since there are no levels), making it difficult to find any spell quickly.  Then, the spell catastrophes are in their own section rather than with the spell they're associated with, so you have to dig through more numberless pages to find them.  Finally, to determine spells randomly, you have to roll a d56.

I hardly ever write in my books, but here's what I did to fix this:

First, I went through and numbered all the pages, making sure that everything matched up to the table of contents (it did) and then I added the page numbers for the catastrophes to the ToC, as well as the Spell Index, and put stars by the page where players need to go to roll randomly for spells.

Here is the spell selection page.  Rather than roll a d56, players roll two d8s.  The first determines the specialty, the second determines the specific spell.  If the player rolls a 7 on the first d8, they instead roll a d50 for one of the magic items provided in the back of the book.  Only the player who starts with this item can use it, so when they die, its power is lost.

The next change that you have to deal with is that Read Magic no longer exists.  Instead, Magic-Users use an ancient, dead language to write their spells in their books.  The idea here is that it makes it harder for other Magic-Users to decode them.  The playtest document is sparse in terms of how this works mechanically in the game.  

So, assuming the way languages are gained in the base game (roll a d6 plus your language skill +/- any modifiers) most people are going to be getting a -3 to their languages roll, which means it's unlikely you'll know the language already.  So, it takes time to research the language first, and then decode the spell (the playtest rules do note that it takes time to figure out the spell even if you know the language due to the idiosyncrasies of how each M-U records their spells).  I would say a successful "Know Languages" check cuts this research time in half?  Or at least gives the reader some clues about what the spell is...

Anyway, I created a generator that includes actual ancient, dead languages for you to use. The instructions are in the document itself.  The coolest thing is that the original source included subgroups and families, so you can give the player a bonus if their own dead language happens to share a family or subgroup with the language they're trying to decipher.

Finally, I want to call out a specific part of the rules because we found them confusing at first:

"Weapon Damage

All weapons will now do 1d8 damage.  However, Armor will count double against Minor and Small weapons, and half against Great Weapons and Polearms."

The semantics are a bit confusing here because in D&D everyone has an armor class, so the above seems to imply that you double armor class, which would make an unarmored person almost unhittable with a dagger (their AC would be 24).  But LotFP tends to present things in terms of "unarmored" which is 12, and then Armor provides bonuses.  Although, the armor doesn't actually provide bonuses, it provides a flat "AC" (like leather gives one an armor of 14).

We finally decided that the difference between the armor rating and unarmored is what is doubled or halved.  So if the party is fighting a monster with an Armor of 18, the person attacking it with a dagger would hit on a 24 (18-12 = 6, 6*2 = 12, 12+12 =24).  The person attacking it with a Polearm would hit on a 15 (18-12 = 6, 6/2=3, 12+3=15).  I'm not a fan of doing this calculating as a Referee whenever the players are fighting something, although Raggi does indicate these calculations will be on the character sheet if they are used in the final version.

Also, I wasn't sure how to handle monsters attacking players in this regard, but Raggi clarified online that monsters just use the traditional rules (or whatever is indicated in the book the monster is in).  So they would use various damage dice, ignore the halving and doubling rules, etc.

Let me know if you have questions or if there are other resources you'd find useful to run LotFP using the new Playtest Rules.  I love researching and making stuff!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Lamentations of the Flame Princess - Unofficial FAQ

I've been playing LotFP for a few years now and see some of the same questions pop up.  I love helping people out (in fact, the community in general seems pretty supportive), but I thought it might be easier to have a place where some of the most common questions are answered. Questions are arranged in a logical order, so the greener you are, the closer to the beginning you should start.

If you're new and have a question, don't hesitate to ask!

If you're a veteran and disagree with an answer, or have more to add, please let me know!

Your question may be answered by the man himself at the About section of the official LotFP website.

I will update this page as needed.

Where do I get the rules?

Go to the front page of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess website.  You will see some cool art, the most recent news, and (to the right) a list of free downloads:

Free No-Art LotFP Rules & Magic PDF

This is a no-frills PDF of the rules.  You will know exactly how the game is played, but it won't necessarily give you a feel for the flavor of the game, except, let me point you to a few entries:

"Select Alignment" - in most D&D games, I think alignment is virtually meaningless.  In LotFP, it has specific game effects, and the descriptions here give you an idea of what this game is about.

The "Fighter" and "Magic-User" class descriptions point to the sort of people that populate this world.

Finally, check out a few of the spells, namely: CLONE, HOWL OF THE MOON, STRANGE WATERS II, and especially SUMMON.

Free 2011 Edition of the LotFP Referee Book PDF

If you're brand new to role-playing, then you can read this whole book.  If you're interested in James Raggi's unique take on Refereeing, then you should also read the whole book.  If you're just looking specifically for how to run LotFP, but are otherwise an experienced Referee, then I suggest checking out "The Weird" and the sections on "NPCs" and "Monsters."

The most commonly asked question is: "What are the rules for monsters?" because these rules are not in the Rules & Magic book.  They begin on p.49 in this book.

Rules & Magic book (hardcover, full color)

This is a great book.  High quality, beautiful art, and definitely worth owning.  The art conveys more of the world and feel of LotFP than the no-frills PDF version.

There will be a 2nd edition eventually, but this is many years out and this edition was just recently reprinted, so the longer you wait, the less time of your life you've spent owning this book.  The best place to get it is directly from the publisher, but you may also find it at a FLGS,, Noble Knight Games, and PDF downloads are always available from

How is LotFP different from other old school games or D&D?

LotFP is part of the OSR (Old School Renaissance or Old School Roleplaying) and is probably most similar to Labyrinth Lord (ie, "Basic D&D.")  This means that LotFP is compatible with pretty much any product made for D&D or by OSR publishers/authors.

That said, LotFP does have a different feel than most other D&D and OSR games:

-It assumes an Early Modern Era setting.  This is one of the most ugly times in human history: firearms are prevalent, people are exploring the world, killing each other in wars, conquering lands and killing its people. While there's still a sense of  mystery, there's also the beginnings of modern society.

-It amps up the weird, horror, and sci-fi aspects of fantasy role-play, while turning the fantasy way down.  Most interactions are with humans.  There are not elves, dwarves, or halflings living in cities with humans.  There are not dragons terrorizing lands.  Most monsters will be unique (tending toward Lovecraft more than Tolkien) and most modules will feature a fair amount of grimdark, humor, and/or gonzo.

Where do I get monsters?

The free Grindhouse Referee Book mentioned above provides some advice on making up monsters.  I also highly recommend the following books:

Slügs! - This was given out for Free RPG Day and the PDF is available for free. It only contains one monster type, but there are 16 wildly different variations of this monster.

Lusus Naturae - Right now, this is the only monster book made specifically for LotFP.  Each monster is original and unique and most can be used as an adventure seed in and of themselves.

Fire on the Velvet Horizon - This monster book is made for OSR games in general, and features no stats for the creatures!  It is pure fluff and description.  Like Lusus Naturae, each monster is original, unique, and is an adventure seed all by itself.

The Metamorphica - I cannot recommend this book enough.  In addition to allowing you to create interesting monsters and NPCs, it has 1,000 mutations that you can use to give player characters boons or curses.  Insanely useful.

Teratic Tome - by the same author as Lusus Naturae, again, it features an array of original, unique monsters.  It is statted for OSR games in general, and has a slightly more fantasy feel than the above books.

The Random Esoteric Creature Generator For Classic Fantasy Role Playing Games And Their Modern Simulacra - This book was written by the creator of LotFP.  It is basically a system for creating unique monsters.  Since it pre-dates LotFP, the stats are for OSR games in general.

The Monster Alphabet - This book definitely veers in more of a fantasy direction than LotFP, but it's great for making those fantasy monsters more interesting.

If you want generic fantasy monsters, you have many options.  You could pick up any old D&D monster book, or any of the OSR monster books (Labyrinth Lord, for example), or, you could just make up the stats yourself.  Most of the generic monsters would be statted like a human, but differ in appearance and behavior, or have some ability that's heightened.

There will be an official LotFP Monster book coming out with the new Referee book, as well as a new way to generate monsters.

Is there an official campaign setting or order that I should play the modules in?

In short, NO.

Most newer modules (especially the soft covers) are set in the Early Modern Era (in the mid 1600s) and could all easily make up a campaign world (this is what I am currently doing).

The older modules, however, have more of a fantasy feel and take a bit of tweaking to fit with the newer modules.

Then there are some releases that seem to be stand alone, or don't connect with the Early Modern Era, such as: Carcosa, A Red & Pleasant Land, Vornheim, The Seclusium of Orphone, Isle of the Unknown, and Towers Two.

I do have some suggestions for getting started if you plan on using modules to run LotFP, and you can get started right now without spending any money!

First, go to the link above where you can access the free downloads from the LotFP web store. Download: The Grindhouse Rules, Better Than Any Man, and Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children.

Read through Better Than Any Man first, then Doom-Cave, then in the very back of the Grindhouse Rules, the adventure called "A Stranger Storm."  Decide where the Doom-Cave will be on the map in BTAM.  Decide where the players will be entering this area, and start with A Stranger Storm as your first adventure.

A Stranger Storm is a great beginning adventure because it's short, and it teaches both the Referee and the players how to play a true LotFP game!

These three products alone should provide many sessions of gameplay, and once you're ready for more, go to the LotFP webstore, become a Gardening Society Member, and start picking up some great books!

I've created, and update with each new release, a spreadsheet of all official LotFP publications HERE.

What's the best module to run for a Con?

Opinions will vary on this, of course, but my suggestions are below.  These are in order from "Best for a Con" to "Less Best for a Con."  I prioritized in print books over those that are only available as PDFs.

Tower of the Stargazer - this module is self-contained, and does a great job of bridging the gap between LotFP and D&D.  It has just enough D&D that new players can access it easily (and be successful) but it's definitely LotFP and will highlight these differences for new players and GMs. There is virtually no downside to running this at a con other than its popularity and the chance that someone at the table has already played it.  I highly recommend using Jenga in place of chess for the ghost that challenges players.

The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time, The God that Crawls - both of these are excellent, self-contained modules that would fit in a con slot perfectly.  However, they are both a bit more complicated to run.  The Referee would need to be experienced and prepared for odd situations that might come up, and the players will find themselves in situations they wouldn't ever expect from a traditional RPG.

Forgive Us, The Idea From Space,  Qelong - all good fits for a convention.  They are lesser known, so fewer people have played them, but they also all stray a bit in various directions from "pure LotFP" (an arbitrary thing that I just made up).

Death Frost Doom - it would fit well as a con game, but this one feels like it would be better to play with an ongoing group.  If you only ever run con games, go for it,  But I'd probably save this one for a campaign and run something else for cons.

No Salvation For Witches, Death Love Doom, Fuck for Satan, The Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children- all of these are self-contained and a good size for a con, but may be a bit too much for a convention game with strangers.  They all have violent and/or disturbing sexual situations, so you'd want to make sure you were completely comfortable with running them and the players are adults and also comfortable with this.

Scenic Dunnsmouth, Land of the Lost, Carcosa, Vornheim, A Red and Pleasant Land, Isle of the Unknown - could all work as con games, but would require more upfront work from the Referee.  You need to understand how the books work, be prepared for an expansive hex crawl (which for a con could also feel a bit aimless - sometimes it's nice to have something that's more self-contained) or you need to create stuff in advance.

Sometimes you want some back up "filler," like if the players leave the adventure site too early, or complete what they need to do and leave.  The following are short, easy prep adventures that you could have ready to go:

A Single, Small Cut
Tales of the Scarecrow
The Magnificent Joop van Ooms
Better Than Any Man (this is actually a large book, but it has numerous adventure sites, hooks, and encounters that you could pull out and use.)

Of course, you could adapt pretty much anything to a con game.  Although, the one I wouldn't recommend even trying, unless you were able to do a two day event and get the same players on both days, is Thulian Echoes.  It is an excellent module, but you basically have to run it twice and rarely can you pull this off during a con.

Are there any communities dedicated to LotFP?

Why, yes, there are!

There are the official forums.

You'll want to follow James Raggi (the publisher of LotFP) and his official Lamentations of the Flame Princess account on Google+.

There are also multiple unofficial G+ communities:
Lamentations of the Flame Princess - an unofficial fan community
LotFP NSFW Inspirational Art
LotFP Fan Group
OSR - Old School Roleplaying


LotFP (official)
Deliberations of the Punk Duchess (fan group)

There are dozens and dozens of blogs.  I've linked to many of them under "Good Company."

What other products exist for Lamentations of the Flame Princess?

First, here is the official list of third party products made for LotFP ot the official site.

These authors/websites offer numerous products that I think work well with LotFP:

Everything by Zzarchov Kowolski fits great with LotFP.  He occasionally incorporates some fantasy elements (like Gnomes and Halflings) but they're always strange enough to work.  In fact, they work better if these fantasy creatures are not an everyday occurrence in your campaign world.

All of the Psychedelic Fantasies line are great.  Most of these modules are dungeon crawls, but they're all quite odd and fun.

It's also worth checking out the stuff at Lost Pages, especially Wonder and Wickedness.

Everything Rafael Chandler does is awesome.  For LotFP specifically, check out Bad Myrmidon, Narcosa, Obscene Serpent Religion, Slaughtergrid, Teratic Tome, and the Roll XX books.

If you want a distinctly more fantasy feel while using LotFP rules, you could also pick up the stuff from New Big Dragon Games.

Here is a list of books that I recommend for LotFP:

The Dungeon Alphabet
Palace of the Silver Princess (a reimagining of the old module by OSR contributors (including the publisher of LotFP)
Castle Gargantua
Slumbering Ursine Dunes
The Caves of Moreau County
Grandpappy Cromdar's Whizbang Zoo!
Sleeping Place of the Feathered Swine

Coming Soon:

Music, movies, and books that go well with LotFP?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Screen From Beyond Time and Space

Even though I'm looking forward to the new Referee's screen from the LotFP Hardcover Referee Book campaign, I'm a little afraid that I might not use it.

I've been slowly relying on my laptop more and more.  Aside from having quick access to the hundreds of PDFs I own, I've been working on the ULTIMATE REFEREE SCREEN.

I'm using OpenOffice Calc to create a spreadsheet.  It started off as basically a way to keep track of LotFP compatible modules, including hooks, appropriate PC level, and where I've placed it in the campaign world.

I was already using Google Maps as a way to keep track of locations in the campaign world (using the Early Modern Era real world).  Of course, I also have access to links and other generators that I might need.  All players have a link to a player version of this google map that only includes things they know about based on rumors or discovery.  This way they can plan where they want to go next.

I soon added another tab to my spreadsheet that includes 1000 seafaring encounters. (Note: these are all entirely cut and pasted from other blogs.)

Recently, I realized that I wasn't using monsters from all these cool monster books I've gotten (Lusus Naturae and Fire on the Velvet Horizon, for example).  So, as I read through them, I enter notes on the spreadsheet.  What really makes this useful is being able to sort alphabetically, by book, or by "tags."  I can quickly find a monster that would be in a city, in a swamp, or will be wandering almost anywhere.  I can throw out a few clues to the players and while they reflect and discuss, pull out the book and re-read the full entry.

This is when I started to realize that I could get rid of my binder altogether and started putting everything in this spreadsheet.  Next is my NPC screen.  It has various charts for NPC creation, the reaction table, and hyperlinks to PDFs that I can reference for random NPCs or snag a name.

Next up is the combat screen.  It includes weapons, body hit chart for critical hits, actions that can be taken during combat, etc.

I've added the critical/fumble charts from Green Devil Face #5, items, etc., and next will be working on adding my settlement generator.  One of the great things about this system is that as people post cool stuff on G+, I can just look it over quickly, then hyperlink it in my screen for use later on. 

I've also created a document that includes info about each PC, ordered in the way they usually sit around the table, known NPCs, and important things for me to keep track of. (I found I was forgetting this stuff b/c it was scrawled on notes all over the place or scattered throughout my journal.)

Note that we had three PC deaths last week, so some data is missing!

I do still play with my moleskin journal to track what's happening from session to session, and I also always have the print copy of whatever module I'm running.  But, it's much easier to manage things having just those, instead of two other binders packed with shit that I always forget about anyway.

I'm interested in hearing suggestions and great ideas for other ways to better use a laptop while at the table.  

Sunday, August 16, 2015

How's the View at Scenic Dunnsmouth?

[First, there are major spoilers here, so I wouldn't recommend reading this if you're a player.  That said, this is one of the few adventures that changes drastically depending on who's running it, so even if you are a cheater this might  not help you much!]

One of the things I enjoy about Refereeing in general, and Lamentations of the Flame Princess in particular, is not knowing what's going to happen.  One could argue that even the most railroady adventures have an element of surprise once players get involved, but LotFP brings a few things to the table (in addition to avoiding railroads altogether) to amp up the chance of interesting, surprising things happening.

First, there are often random tables that include swingy effects.  I've seen some tables that range from the party finding treasure to the party (and the entire town they're in) being destroyed.  Second, there are usually elements with consequences that are unpredictable.  This includes magic items, spells, NPCs, monsters, etc., that once players start interacting with, can impact the game world in unusual ways.

The third way is providing a book that generates a different setting each time.  Some other books that do this include Vornheim, Red and Pleasant Land, and The Seclusium of Orphone.

I've enjoyed Zzarchov Kowolski's other adventures, so it's a no-brainer to pick up anything he's written.  Scenic Dunnsmouth also features art by Jez Gordon, which fits well with the backwoods look of the village's residents.  It's a bit thicker than the standard softcover LotFP books, clocking in at just over 100 pages.

Using this adventure takes a lot of prepwork.  Not only does it require the village generation (as it states on the cover), it will also require reading through carefully and taking notes for each NPC and locale here.  Unlike many other LotFP adventures where a readthrough and a few notes here and there might suffice, that is impossible here.

Many NPCs have behaviors, statuses and abilities that rely on other things being true or not true.  You can never simply just turn to one and riff off of it.  Is that NPC infected?  Is this building present?  How close is this NPC to that NPC?  What is the infection level of the town?  Etc., etc.  I had to go through item by item and rewrite my version of the adventure so that I would never need to refer to the book during play.

I also created a map of the village:.

My first experience was to run this as a convention game.  The players were there to collect the tithes and taxes from the residents.  I also gave each player a rumor (some true, some false) about the village and the surrounding area.


"All of 'em are vampires!  That's why they live in the fog and don't age."

"The people in that town hate spiders. They won't tolerate one to live."

"Nobody born there ever leaves."

"One of those families has a dark secret."

(I also included some hints about the Time Cube, and the threat in the mountains that was put down by a mob of villagers long ago.)  One critique, I love it when modules include rumor tables, and for this module it would have been great to have a list of rumors that could all potentially be true, but won't necessarily be true for every version of the village.

In my home campaign, a coveted treasure (the Star Crystal) is located in the Deathfrost Mountains, and Scenic Dunnsmouth is located at the base of these mountains.  (I don't think it's a coincidence that the first guy players meet in Death Frost Doom is a Duncaster!)

So, at any rate, the players will find themselves at the dock:

I cut up my map (after scanning it) and can use it to build the village in front of the players as they discover parts of it:

I also had to come up with a special way of talking for each of the family groups.  (I just don't have the skills to do something different for every single NPC!)

Dunlops - southern accent in the style of Frank Underwood (House of Cards).
Duncasters - a bit thicker, more working class southern accent (Foghat Leghorn?)
Samsons - creepy, Deliverance style southern accent.
van Kaus - I have a strange "Dutch" accent that is modeled after Ren's cousin, Sven Hoek, from that one episode of Ren and Stimpy.

And then, of course, Uncle Ivanovik, Magda and Father Iwanopolous all have to have different accents from the original families in the village.

If the players have a map, or get some information about the location of certain places when asking around, the area might look like this:

When running this as a convention game, it was pretty challenging. It was about 4 hours of NPC interaction.  They explored the Time Cube a bit, then decided to not mess with it.  They never found out anything about the Spider Cult.  They subdued Uncle Ivanovik and turned him over to the town (rescuing one of the people tied up in his house), and they got the money from the church.  They were really obsessed with what happened in the mountains and drilled every NPC they came across about it.

I also had them make bushcraft checks when navigating the swamp area, but I wasn't quite sure what would happen if they failed and got lost?  There wasn't any sort of random encounter included with the village, so I would recommend Referees make something up before starting.

I know my  home game would have gone differently.  My players are not so nice, and wouldn't have put up with some of the shit the villagers slung their way.  Uncle Ivanovik wouldn't have been allowed to live, there would have been a lot of thieving, and the Time Cube would be investigated more fully.  On the other hand, my players are already terrified of the village by its name alone, which may overpower their interest in getting to the Deathfrost mountains, but we'll see.

The fully explored area for my Dunnsmouth looks like this:

In the end, I have mixed feelings about this module.  Overall, I like the tone, the presentation, and the stuff within (the NPCs, locales, motif, etc.)  On the other hand, it's a lot of work.  Kabuki Kaiser ran his players through it like Groundhog Day, where they had to play it over and over (but he would generate a new one each time) until they solved the mystery of the Time Cube.  I love that idea and was originally going to copy that, but I don't know if I want to put in the amount of work it takes to make this village over and over again.

But if you don't do that, then what's the point of having this product that generates different versions of the same place?  It's not like Vornheim or R&PL where you can use it to generate cities/locales on the fly, you absolutely must do it in advance.  And, the village won't be different enough that you can create different villages to populate an area - it will always be some version of Dunnsmouth.

I think one thing that would have made this product perfect is the ability to generate it more immediately, and not in advance.  This would require some reformatting (I think Death Frost Doom style would work here - where there are a number of bolded parts that say "If this..."  "If that..." so that a Referee could easily check the current conditions of Dunnsmouth.  (As is, the text is buried within paragraphs, making this next to impossible.)

I would have preferred the village construction to happen at the table.  The referee rolls a bunch of dice, determines which is the boathouse, and players go from there.  As they get to a die, the Referee pulls the card for it, and can turn to that page and easily figure out what to say and do.

Conclusion: I think this is a must-have for LotFP fans.  At the very least, you spend a bit of time and generate a classic Zzarchov Kowolski LotFP adventure.  If you're willing to put in the work, you can do something more with it by creating multiple versions of Dunnsmouth and playing on that in some way.  If you literally have zero prep time and can only run pre-made modules, then unfortunately, you won't be able to use Scenic Dunnsmouth.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

How to Crawl

Summer is usually my time to blog.  As a teacher, I'm barely scraping by during the school year with managing my job, running my weekly LotFP game, and spending time with my wife - only the most important things get prioritized.  During the summer, I suddenly find myself with the opposite problem - with all this time, which of the thousands of things that I want to do am I going to do?

This summer has been different in that I have a number of projects that have kept me busy. A project I can't talk about yet has been the bulk of this, but I've also done some planning for Scenic Dunnsmouth that I'm dying to share (but holding off until I've run it for both my group and Dragonflight), revised my character sheets (recreating them from scratch using GIMP), recreated my LotFP character creation book from scratch (using OpenOffice), and have been working on a LotFP style/fluff guide for my players because I find their understanding (and mine) of the Early Modern Era limited.

But this post doesn't have anything to do with any of that!

This is about: How do we become better Referees?

I recently read How to Run by Alexis D. Smolensk. Overall, it's a good book and I would recommend it.  I like his writing style, and I think everyone can learn something from it.

That said, it didn't exactly give me what I wanted.

A section of the book was on how to manage players, how to be a good host, how to treat people well and fairly.  I have met people that needed to read this section.  As someone who has a psychology degree, worked in social work, teaches kids, and plays RPGs pretty much exclusively with friends, much of this section was reiterating what I already know and do.

Another large section of the book was about world creation.  He talks about world creation as if it's a second job, recommending spending 40-60 hours a week on it.  He does this because he loves doing it.  I'm sure other people love doing this.  I enjoy doing this sometimes, but would burn out after too much.  He incorporates design principles into his work, he thoroughly discusses the process, the steps, and sets up great guidelines.  If you want to spend most of your time creating your world, then this book is almost a necessary starting place.

He makes an analogy between building a brick fence in your yard and world building.  Sure, you could pay someone to build that wall, and maybe do a better job than you, but it's also not yours.  If you built that wall yourself, it might not be perfect, but it would be your creation.  And maybe when you learned some new skills, you might go back and make it better.

This analogy doesn't work for me though.  I see RPG modules as more like novels.  First, I doubt I could write a decent novel without reading a shit ton of other novels.  Second, once I did write a novel, I wouldn't sit around and read it.  I'd love for others to read it, but I'd go find some other novels to read.  This is why I actually prefer to run published modules rather than world-build.  It's because of reading and running these modules that I feel capable enough to write my own.

So, we have two sections, largely useful, but not to me.  What did I hope to get from the book?  I actually want to know how to run RPGs.  I mean, I think I know how.  I've been doing it off and on since I was 16.  But am I doing it right?  And if I am, can't I do it better?  I am pretty much never satisfied with how I've run any game I've ever run.

The parts that were most helpful to me from How to Run were some of the offhand comments he made to elaborate a point, and his section on building player stress and tension.  I hadn't thought about managing player stress in the game as a way to build their investment in the adventure.

One of his suggestions, for example, was when asking a player to make a roll, he might get up and go stand behind the player to watch them roll.  This showed how important the roll was, and built tension...the player is now more invested, "Wait, what, this roll is that important?"  Another thing he mentioned was how when he was getting ready for a GM roll, he might start picking some dice out of his jar...the players immediately knew he was getting ready for some sort of check.  But then, if he dumps the bowl out, they know shit has just gotten real.

It's strategies like these that may seem like a tricks or a gimmicks that I think are important to running good games.

I think being a GM is a lot like being a teacher.

1) A group of people are depending on you to be engaging.  They are also depending on you to be in control. All. The. Time.

2) The amount of prep you put in is directly proportional to how well it's going to go for you.  But, you also have to do the right kind of prep, or that was just a disappointing waste of your time.

3) You are the odd one out in the room.  You are the one upon which all the expectations hang.  You are the one with the responsibility.


People are depending on you to be engaging.  The number one challenge of being a teacher, for me, is being continually engaging to a group of third graders.  I'm lucky in that most of them want to be there.  That still doesn't mean that everything I do is interesting to them.  It's my job to always try though, to get them invested or interested in whatever it is they're doing (and often I don't get to choose the thing they're learning about, which makes it all the harder).

Players presumably want to be playing in your game.  But they are not engaged all the time.  There are times when I'm bored as a player (in particular during long, drawn out combats, or times when another player is pursuing their own agenda with an NPC that I have no interest in).

What are the things we can fuck with when running the game to change it up?

Suddenly raising or lowering your voice draws attention and focus.  Speaking so quietly that everyone has to try really hard to hear you.  Shifting the emotion in your voice, or removing all emotion from your voice and manner.  Applying an accent, or otherwise altering your speech.  Pick an actor or actress and throw them in the role.

Can you change the lighting?  What happens if you just set a monster miniature on the table (especially if you never use minis)?  Do you use sound effects?  Do you create music soundtracks that work with the adventure and do you have a way to change the music up at a moment's notice?  Do you make foods or drinks that fit with the evening's them?  Do you have player handouts?

Your behavior and presentation have a huge impact on the game.  Acting or being calm, angry, sad, gloating...making random dice rolls, jotting down fake or real notes, communicating with players secretly.  Grin like a motherfucker.

I want more of this!  MORE!


One thing I learned early on as a teacher is that amount of time on prep isn't as important as doing the right kind of prep.  This is true of RPGs as well.  You obviously have to know your players - are they constantly going "off the path" and requiring you to improvise?  Are they into following along with the prescribed adventure?  Also, how much time do you actually have for this prep?

My players like a mix of exploring the various LotFP modules, and seeing what comes out of freeplay.  Sometimes I just pick an adventure that I think is suitable and get them there.  Sometimes I feed them rumors and they pick it.  Sometimes the module just happens suddenly because they wandered into the place where I put it.  Sometimes none of this happens and we just have to make shit up.

As time goes on, my style is changing.  When I was new, I ran the LotFP modules as close as possible to how they were written.  Many of them were pretty much perfect as they were, and at the beginning of a campaign, they didn't need to "fit" anything else that had been established.  After two years, there are simply some things that wouldn't make sense as written.  I've learned to both prep appropriately and to improvise when needed.


I'm used to being the odd one out.  I've felt that way for as long as I can remember.  I'm comfortable with it now.  It's best to recognize it and adapt to it; it's my identity, who I am.  I'm the one who thinks about the campaign world all the time, the one who reads the modules, who reads RPG blogs and studies new systems.  My players show up once a week, need some reminders on what's going on, and want to have some fun.

Being the odd one out has some advantages.  You can grow a reputation and you can subvert it.  My smile means something when I'm trying to hide it from the rest of the table. (Or pretending to try and hide it? Or not trying at all?)

It also gives you power.  I don't particularly like having power over other people.  I've never wanted to be a boss, I'm the last person I would think of as authoritative, if I never had to tell anyone what to do, that would be great.  But sometimes we are given power and we must exercise it.  When used responsibly, people appreciate it.  People respect it.  A responsible use of power provides structure and actually helps us all get shit done.

Ultimately, this is a somewhat lonely role.  As a teacher, I am usually alone in my classroom with little direction, occasional observation, and little to no idea what other teachers are doing in their classrooms.  I have to figure this shit out.  Kids can look left and right, they're learning all the time what it means to be a kid. Players are part of a party.  I look across the table at my players, at this party, and I can only think, I'm their foil.  Whatever they are...I am not.

I felt like sharing, and this is as good a springboard as any for my thoughts on how to be better at the thing I love doing most.  I'm also interested in seeing recommendations for other blogs or books.  My next post, ideally, will be a collection of these resources.  What do you do that's awesome?  Who or what helped you do that?