It is always good to think a about your processes. These processes should never be “set in stone”, but serve as guidelines for what you should ideally be doing. I was reviewing what I do at the table, so I could describe it to others. This is no means detailed or comprehensive. I think that would require flow charts (data maps sorry… new term) and filters and conditional statements. Still as a first solid run through, it is not bad.
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Gaming is a cycle of conversation between game players (*1). The GMs presents (being first speaker). The players either respond or initiate their own character’s actions. The GM responds (and sometimes presents). This cycle continues until the story line quiets, goals of some level are met, or time expires and play freezes.
A. Moment of Planning
Ideally most of this is done during prep before game. Still before every scene.
Where are you in your big plan? (Prep)
Where are you in session plan?
What scene is planned for next?
Go with it or improv?
Begin scenes just before the action starts.
Ideally, things should be happening when players characters arrive.
En Media Res is a useful tool. Do not over use it.
End the scene before the dust settles.
Start the next one immediately.
B. Moment of Review
Every scene has a purpose. What is this scene’s Main Purpose? Any other Purposes? (*2)
Every scene has key elements often related to purpose. Need to make the element or pull out pre done work??
Possible exits to new scenes.
Figure your game plan
C. Begin Conversation
Either this is in open time or structured time (turns/ impulses).
Present to Table
Describe big setting broad strokes
Describe the immediate area around. Mention non protagonist in motion.
If needed, Tell them the basics of what they are doing. (Remind them of their personal motivation if early on)
C2. Players Responses
Players tell you specifically what they are doing.
Prompts often in order what are you doing now.
C3. Play Begins
The Conversation back and forth: GM description. Game Actions (NPCs included). Return. (*3)
Include NPCs as appropriate.
Watch The Spotlight: Some times, a scene is designed for one character. keep the attention (the spotlight) on that one person as much as possible. Then spread it around quickly and evenly. Then make it interesting for the spotlight character.
Every few back and forths quickly summarize the action and situation. This Keeps everyone on the same page.
10. Use The Form: Character name *pre-description* *describe action being attempted* (game mechanics to resolve) *GM or Player describe the results of the resolved action* No Pause. Do the Next character NOW!!! no delay.
D. End of Scene Note: end scenes before they get boring.
Players Choose which scene path are the players taking next. If they don’t choose have them choose.
What scene was planned next? (4*) Go with it or improv?
Return to the Moments
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*1) Remember GMs are just players with some extra responsibilities. All Players are creative, builders, and performers as well. The GM is just the editor and coordinator.
*2) Note: make your scenes serve at least two purposes, but ideally three or four. Is your scene furthering the plot? Is it developing the themes of the chronicle? Is it revealing character? Is it upping the stakes? By forcing yourself to explicitly state to yourself the purpose of your scene, a GM can ensure they are getting the maximum game out of your scene.
*3) If they do nothing, do something either to them or make what they want seem to get harder because they delayed. This may require a new scene.
*4) Keep track of time... some times scenes or options expire due to player over-planning or delays.
Setting: Chandler's Row
An Urban Fantasy Core Setting
“At Chandler Row, the consumer culture transcends its dark side.
Why should profit motive generate only idiot television commercials, wasteful packaging, cramped crackerjack condos, or the inevitable obsolescence of your cell phone? At Chandler Row, consumerism’s impulses are channeled into the creation of a living, breathing neighborhood. “
Quote from Raymond Chandler, Real Estate Developer at the dedication.
In the sprawl that has become The City (somewhere in The West, near the Coast), there is an oasis; a little pocket of urban perfection, mixing the living, the urban, and the commercial. It is everything The City council has been trying to achieve in the Downtown. Of course, The Row is smaller, only four city blocks by two.
However, The Chandler Group, directed by Raymond Chandler (no relation), have created yet another triumph like The Chandler Complex some miles away. They did so by throwing out conventional wisdom. The Row is nothing but a high-end shopping center at its core, but it is so much more. They took the roof off the mall so people could hang out in the sunshine (given the mild winters in the area, this is not a problem even during the gift giving holidays). They added housing above the shops (high-end town homes) so it was more than a machine in which to shop. They took space away from retail and gave it to people for parks and broad sidewalks. Instead of segregating cars and pedestrians, they boldly mix the two together, narrowing the streets enough to slow the cars so pedestrians can jaywalk with safety. The broad streets are boulevards, with the wide center divides having cafe seating and small green parks. These all seem like simple things, but it takes a level of design that rarely is seen.
The buildings run the gamut of earth tones and have tile roofs. The upper stories of all the main buildings are housing. Below are shops and services. Residents of the town-homes on the upper levels of The Row’s blocks can look from their windows and balconies and see something pretty much like real life on the streets below: fitness freaks on their way to the health club at dawn, mothers with strollers sitting in the parks (there are narrow boulevard parks on all the streets here), business people taking in caffeine or lunching and talking on their cells, and various residents visiting their patch of the world to shop at their high end shops, dine, drink, buy a book, watch movies, or dance until late at the night.
The stores and services include: Ann Taylor Loft, Anthropologie, BCBG MAXARia, a huge Barnes and Nobles, Brooks Brothers, Burberry, Cornelli Fine Jewelers, Club Fitness (a huge multi story health club), Crate and Barrel, Chico’s, Diesel, Ecco Shoes, Farrah’s Nails and Beauty, Ferragamo, Furla, Gucci, Kate Spade, Oakley, Orvis, Paradise Day Spa, Running World, Starbucks, Urban Outfitters, Z Gallerie. There is a Classic Arts Theatre that shows artistic and foreign films (with the occasional blockbuster).
There are 21 dining establishments, ranging from Asian to Russian, with stops in the Southwest, Italy, France, and Mexico. Most are quite high end, but Noreaster Fishing Stop and The Dinner are family friendly food. Of course, Hotdogs on the Row and Sticky Buns Cafe are the local favorite.
There are six bars and night clubs, one of which is in The Orion - the five-star boutique hotel whos 42 guests enjoy suites and amenities few can find (and afford). Fuji’s Sushi Bar is a high energy dance club after nine. Club Gold is an ultra lounge. The Cobalt Club is an old-school dinner club, with big band/ jazz sounds and dancing. Here the elite drink custom martinis and dance until the wee hours. Q is a quirky club of dark corners and flashing lights. O’Mally’s has the feel of an old Dublin pub (in fact the interior was salvaged from a pub going under.. and it is said a ghost followed it). Savanah Bar is a restaurant and bar with an English African Colonial feel, with palm fans and no air conditioning. All these places are “The places” to be seen these days for the upscale set.
Most of the parking here is underground. Between these lots and the side streets, there seems enough parking (barely).
The Row’s is at the corner of two major streets. The layout of the Row is fairly simple. The main street, Chandler Row, runs four blocks from one of the major streets (east-west). Chandler Row is crossed by four side streets. The development is one block wide. One block ends at the other major street (north-south) The other ends at a side yard, where a large technology company’s campus property begins.
The central road is divided. There are trees and small places to rest there. The side roads (Apple, Baily, Cardinal, and Dade) have lovely planted gardens (with paving stones to support the inevitable jay walkers). The streets are narrow and the inlaid bricks at various crossing points act as minor speed bumps. Thus car traffic is controlled.
At the far end of Chander’s Row, the center divider opens wider. Here a lovely, but small, park exists. The Row’s signature feature, a large clock is at one end.. facing a small personalized chess set patio (the pieces are about as tall as a tall man’s knees). StickyBuns (in is small shack) supplies the people in the park with goodies, coffee, and some of the best Mexican hot chocolate available in the states. Cafe tables are spread around that patio. There are two swings and a see-saw there for the littles.
The five-screen art theatre is in the back block. It does surprisingly well for an artistic theatre. Gino’s Pizza is some of the best elite pizza in the city is next store. With “31 Flavors and Gellato too” next door (the franchise is owned by Gino’s), the back block is called Date Row, instead of Dade Street.
This is the Key Setting for the campaign.
The Summer Court has moved into the Real World and this is where they live.
Living like a real King or Queen or the super rich is too visible. Those that hunt the Fey will find them. Living like the fairly rich, now that is just under the radar. Just enough affluence to avoid most of the “mundane”, but not enough that to raise eyebrows.
Here the Shidhe live in the beauty of the city. Most leave their "domain" to play at working real jobs, building up their power in this world. Some are dilatants who work in the high end shops here. No matter what their cover, they do not stray too far from the ready wards and gossamer shields. They dine nicely here, enjoy the bars and clubs, and the Home Owners association holds special meetings on certain days (corresponding to Old Calender Holidays and Fey Times).
This domain is lovely as they have Humans they interact with. Shoppers, Hotel Guests, and the few Humans (usually talented to some degree) that live here. A few lower fey hide in and around The Court’s Domain (mostly in the shadows).
The campaign is all about the Daily Lives of those that live around Chandler’s Row. They intrigue against each other, having the grand (soap opera) stories that The Courts are famous for. They play in the Human world (occasionally having to hide their nature from the curious or the annoyingly observant). The Domain’s law is to protect The Domain at all costs… the Mortals must never know. Even if that would mean the loss of a Fey/Shidhe, the fiction of the domain must be kept.
Of course, there are wiccas, mages, werewolves, and ghosts, that might come around. This is an attractive environment. They may come for the shopping or food or they may come for the paranormal resources here. They will disturb things and perhaps disrupt the balance of this place. Oh and the occasional vampire who thinks this location is a perfect hunting ground (Slay it quickly and quietly).
Note: Chandler is a Human (or so he appears to all who have checked). He seems to have an old soul and wisdom beyond his kind. He seems to know of The Court, but pretends he does not. This fiction has served both sides. What Chandler gets from building this place is anyone’s guess. The Chandler Complex is not that far away
If you need images, this location was inspired by Santana Row in San Jose.
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This urban fantasy chronicle is not deep into the "adventure" side of the genre. This is more like many UF books and focusing on the social interaction. (oh there will be some adventure... this is not a peaceful chronicle.). This is a very political chronicle, so the mechanics have to support that. This kind of chronicle really needs a high degree of player engagement.
The Character Creation Party is going to be key. There will need to be a relationship map. The GM might have some key NPCs to include for that map. Additional NPCs and Locations might be created when the GM harvests additional bits (step 7). You can encourage it by using the 3x5 cards and maybe even extending it to group world building, with the player generating NPCs, power blocs in the court, plots between important and less important characters, and detailing the Row and the world beyond.
The Protagonist Characters and Non Protagonist Characters need to remember to create the drama. The Roleplay is an emphasis. Some Character Creation Tips that are helpful.
Interest Rule: What is interesting or unique about the character? Just like everything needs to add drama to the game, everything should be interesting (and possibly unique). What sets this apart from just another set of mechanics in the game?
Maximum Game Fun: The character should be developed to provide as much fun as possible for the player and the rest of the troupe in the game. It should make things interesting without making them impossible or frustrating or bothersome.
Best Dramatic Effect: Just like a character's action should results in as much drama in the game as possible, either adding to the tension or resolving existing tension dramatically. Players should choose character elements that provide the best dramatic effect and GM’s work with them.
MacBeth Rule: Perfect characters in an RPG or story can become boring. They can have goals and such, but very little gets in their way. For characters, it is best to bring your own drama and complications with you.
Wants, Needs, Fears: If you know what drives a character, you can easily figure out what to do with them.
One bit of logistics needs to be addressed early on (if not in session 0). The GM and Troupe need to figure out various Stages, Casts, Major and Minor Characters that will be "in play". It is not so much the "standing sets", it is who is running which character (as a first choice or as the understudy should the first choice not be able to play it).
This looks like so much work and effort. Having a party environment during session 0 helps keep it light, fast, and cooperative. It is a really light process that goes pretty quick if the players are engaged. ) The other key to making this work is one of they key things to making GMing work- Organized and Knowing what needs to be done. The GM should make sure that the players do their connections, their drives, needs, fears, and build up complete non-protagonist characters.
This one uses a lot of MoonHunter Techniques. Again, this requires more effort "up front" when most people are excited by the chronicle. Once you have it all set up, it becomes quick and easy to run... to set up sessions... to improvise from there.
A common theme of many board games and party games is "find the spy," where every player but one is aiming to achieve a certain goal and the spy is working to sabotage it without appearing to do so. And when the phrase "Two kobolds in a trenchcoat" popped into my head, I realized it would be a great mod for any tabletop RPG.
Bob and Jill* are two kobolds who are standing on top of each other and disguised as a human adventurer, with a perfectly normal adventurer identity like Korak the Mighty or something. The PCs are going to invade the sacred kobold lands for treasure, and Bob and Jill don't want to see the jewels on their temple's murals stolen -- but they can't give away their identity because of big plans.
At the start of the game, players secretly draw straws to determine who is really Bob and Jill in a trenchcoat. Their goal is to get through the adventure and look like they're helping while actually saying that what they know to be an empty passage must lead to giant treasure. If they succeed in preventing the players from reaching the MacGuffin without giving their identity away, they player doesn't need to chip in for pizza that week.**
* You may pick more koboldy sounding names if desired. ** I am bad at coming up with rewards.
World Building with Friends
Because sometimes a group is better.
There are many ways to build a setting. The run up and down the game building spectrum from Total GM (The GM/ the coordinating player does everything with no input from the group at all) to GM does most with some input from the Troupe to Total Troupe (there is no coordinating player/ GM), with all the possible points in between.
Of course, there are MoonHunter's ways, you have seen it in the chronicle building, the checklist (currently only old), Data Maps and various tools. As written, the articles assume that you are using MoonHunter's Sweet Spot of The GM doing most of the work, with input from the players. These processes can be done in various ways, moving the game building slider up and down the spectrum.
To make a GM's workload lighter, players can be engaged to do more of the work. This was discussed in the soon to be the classic blog post:
If you haven't read it... go do it. The summary is: use 3x5 cards to collect bits about the chronicle that the players want to see. Here the slider is being moved to The Troupe doing most of the work with the GM coordinating it.
There are three concepts that will make doing this process (or any related process) easier.
The Palette: These are the bits and ideas that a player can "dip into" and use when they are coming up with things. They come in four and a half types:
Chronicle Blurb and Direct Copy : This may or may not exist depending on the troupe, but it could be provided by The GM or another player. These are the inspirational ideas that everything should come from. The Direct Copy should minimal at this point.
Genre/ Mood/ Memes: These are play style elements that define how the game will be played and what sort of things would be acceptable. These are usually defined by the direct copy, but can be added to as the process continues. Most of these are "one-word elements" or one line of text that explain an idea.
Genre: By definition, a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, marked by a distinctive style, form, or content. There are many genres available to you Fantasy, Sword and Planet, Modern Horror, Pulp, Espionage, Alternate Historical, Rockets and Rayguns, Noir, et all. The exact divisions of the genre are messy and subject to all sorts of opinions. It will define the types of action and settings possible for you. In short, it helps defines the chronicle's and the setting's conception.
Also, remember there may be memes or key elements that are required for the genre and the kind of setting that will be in play.
Key Points/ Traits: These are ideas, feelings, themes, or images that often come from the chronicle's conception. This list is expanded by use of accepted cards
List of Requirements: These are elements (locations, organizations, NPCs, items) that need to be present in the chronicle. They are listed in the direct copy and are very important to the chronicle. If one is hard pressed for a new card, this gives a place to start.
Accepted Cards/ elements: Most elements for a chronicle places, people, things, organizations, plots, etc, are bits that the players will put on 3x5 cards and add to the game. Most everything that players want to a chronicle "fit it". If anyone challenges "the fit" or doesn't want to see it in a chronicle (No. No Dwarven Empire this time!) they can negotiate with the player for changes or put it up to group vote to see if it is accepted.
Exclusions: The half item. This is a list of things that should not be in the chronicle. It is a list of things that are not accepted by the troupe or rejected by a player (and that rejection accepted by the troupe). Some of the exclusions are provided at the beginning. Most are brought up by a player (I don't want this in the game) and it is accepted by the troupe. Others are based on bits/ elements/ cards that are rejected by the troupe.
Big Strokes: These are the big broad strokes that cover much of the canvas in painting. In gaming, these are the big things in the chronicle, based on the scale of the chronicle. For most, it will be things like countries, cities, organizations, leaders, important locations, regions, etc. If your chronicle is small (a gang in the city), it would be things like streets or neighborhoods, other gangs, other groups, local leaders, places to go, things to see.
Paintbrush tool: The paintbrush tool is a metaphor borrowed from computer uses. Find a time/ place, fictional or real, that is similar to your game environment and most are familiar with. It does not have to be a perfect match, just close. This is your "paint". You can then describe things with the phrase, "It is like X, with these differences Y". Using the paintbrush technique, you can describe things in one line that would have taken a paragraph.
Note: This is mostly for building purposes. If you are going to describe things this way to the players, make sure they know the time/ place/ piece of fiction you are painting from. If they don't you are going to have to give the complete explanation.
You can even have multiple "paints" if your game environment is complex or diverse enough.
Once you have your "paint", you can use it multiple times. If there is an area you have not worked out, dip into this other place and paint it into your own world, copying much of it whole cloth from this other time/ place.
So a player could say, We will use Medieval England as the Paintbrush for the setting. If everyone agrees, it will make filling cards easier.
One specific kind of big stroke that needs to be addressed is the Story Arcs. Story Arcs are "What is going to be the “big story” you are going to tell with the game?" Is it “Defeat the Empire?”, “Find the True Ring”, or “Thwart the invasion of Evils”? There may be even more than one if you want to be more interesting in your play (though you might only start with one). Once the group has determined at least one Big Story to tell with the campaign, i.e. what is going to be important to the players, the GM can make sure certain things are in the chronicle (either by a player card or a GM addition).
Another specific kind of big stroke is Scenario Types: This is related to story arcs, are the types of adventures that you are planning on running. Are there going to be murder mysteries, military action, exploration, retrieving lost artifacts, or what? Once you have an idea of the types of adventures being run, you know what things should be and should not be in the environment. If you want to run murder mysteries, having a corp of mystics who can see the past, present, or future might not be a good idea to add to your setting.
Fine Strokes : Once the big swaths of color are put into a painting, it is time for the blending and detailing. This would be cards that you would put under one of the Big Stroke calls. So if a big stroke is The local Cathedral, smaller strokes would be the bishop and priests inside, unique elements about the cathedral, and something about the congregation.
Remember to do what is important to the chronicle, the plot lines, and the characters. While it can be fun to make things, try to save fine strokes for things the characters will encounter. (Then when you are "all done", then you can go back and do these other things... who knows once they are built, they might come up in the chronicle.
Collect, Compile, and Relationship : With the GM's help, the players will collect all the cards, compile everything together, clarify things (or ask for more clarifications or details), and build up a relationship map (or two).
Now, this is all about the first section of The New Building Blocks: 3x5 cards. This is building the chronicle setting in which everything else will be done. Each Bit/ Card will be in its appropriate palette pile.
Go around the group (clockwise from the GM) and have them put up a card with its element. If everyone is okay with it, go to the next until it has gone around the group and is back to the GM. The GM can opt to put in a card or not. Then continue on around and around until the GM says they have enough for them to compile into a setting/ chronicle and the players don't want to add anything more. The building can continue (and perhaps not in the round at this point) until everyone is done.
Ideally, Cards for Locations (and anything associated with a location) will be spread out as a geographic data map. Some enterprising patients might make relationship maps for nonprotagonists in a location or organization. The same can be done for plot maps/ lines
** Remember to use cards between cards that show the relationship between the cards. **
The GM should record all the data maps and collect the cards. They are then tasked to help "build" what the players designed. (Heck the players can help do that too.)
World Building never ends
Once the setting is "all compiled", the collection of cards slows down. Note: Slows Down. Players can continue to make cards for chronicle to add small strokes that the characters might encounter, including plot lines.
Just something to note: Big and small text: This is an idea borrowed from technical writers. It is a tool for making sure the project gets done. Big text is the important, large, and visible aspects of a subject. Small text is all the details that are not as important, that simply fills out or illustrate a big text idea. Focus on the big text initially for all big stroke/ checklist areas. Only work on the small text of the most important areas AFTER everything else is done. If it is not an area that will impact the character's lives, avoid doing the small text for it.
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The New Building Blocks can help a group go down the road of setting development. No matter when the game is on the game building spectrum, this process can be useful. It is more useful when the troupe is more involved. These three main concepts, Palette, Big Strokes, Small Strokes, will help a group build a setting more efficiently, but giving them tools to choose appropriate scales, needed pieces, and relationships between things. A setting/ chronicle could be built by a group without them, but it makes the process more "even" in responsibilities. Also since no one player builds every aspect of the world, there are still elements of surprise and wonder. If the troupe is even remotely willing to try it, they should. It can be a great process for players to use and learn.
Players helping GMs is often a great thing for all parties involved.
This is about Bits. Now every player has a required number of bits for the chronicle (5 in the front, 5 after character creation).
Player's do not have to stop at the minimum requirements. They can give you more, so they can 1) Help make a more interesting setting, and 2) things they are interested in.
Bits can be major or minor characters, either non-protagonist and maybe a minor protagonist. (see here if that sounds confusing or you haven't read everything), Organizations, Nations, Locations, Items (Write ups), monster/ mooks (write up), bits of history/ world building, and plotlines and key scenes... often associated with a character, location, organizations, nations, and so on.
Every Bit is written up on a 3x5 card. This keeps the write ups brief. (Feel free to expand on to other cards or even sheets). Thus the cards build up the setting.
Players can get very into this setting/ chronicle building process. Especially mind mapping locations, relationships, and so on. Group Setting Creation (after you set up some controlling ideas/ seeds and the GM currates some of it to keep it in line) is great for top knotch settings and chronicles.
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I am using cards for a special kind of bits (in a recent chronicle based on Poul Anderson's Time Patrol.
Part of the problem running a time travel game, especially those set in the past, is the amount of study and research you have to do for each scenario/ location. It can be pretty darn daunting.
Situation Framings is my card (and it seems to be several cards). A requirement to "level up" past a certain point requires a situation framing. Consider it a "paragraph summary" of a cool bit of historical locations/ events/ people. This describes where, when, and who is in this frame... and why they are important/ interesting. You must include a minimum of 1-3 plot lines that could occur within this framing. If you turn in extra ones, you can earn XP or bonus points.
This ensures that there will be events that you as a player are interested in. It lightens the load of the GM, because if you are not a history major or serious buff, running a time travel game can suck up soooo much time just researching locations to land.
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Setting Creation, or more accurately Setting Refinement, is an on going process. Sure, you should be doing the bulk of chronicle creation in the beginning. You may need more details in a given location, more plotlines for a given set of locations, maybe some extra non protagonists (and their plotlines).
Now, you as a GM can do all of these. That is always a lot of fun.
Didn't we just mention, twice, that players can make these cards. They can make things that fascinate them. They can do this for building up their GMing/ building chops. Or they can do it for extra experience points or bonus points.
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There we go, showing several ways to use the 3x5 cards as the building blocks of the chronicle.
I am a firm believer is doing some prep just before the session. Everyone (GM or Player) should take some prep time before playing, even if it is just to make sure they have everything they need and have their game face on. Now, if one is doing things "The MoonHunter Way", a bulk of the prep has been in the early days of the Chronicle - if not before Fundamentally, GM's have roughly the same amount of time to prep before their game session. "The Plan" needs to be adjusted for things that did or did not happen in the last session or so, who is showing up, and future needs for the chronicle. This follows MoonHunter's Session Prep. The more prep in terms of mechanics and story work you do ahead of time, the more time you can spend on fine tuning the session and adding bits of chrome to make the session more memorable.
Here are some bullet point bits of advice that can make your prep time more effective.
Smart Prep: Re-Use - Campaigns continue on the same game worlds. There is a good chance that people and things you encountered previously will be something you run into again. Re-using things not only makes it easier, as you don't have work out everything, it will help give your campaign a set of continuity that the left overs of that band of thugs you took out in session 6, makes a comeback against you in session 24 when you are back in that neighborhood again.
Smart Prep: Recycle - Once you have a set of game mechanics for something in your game, keep re-using them. Modify it slightly if you need to, but you have already done the bulk of the work and you know "about how well" it works in the game. Those fast speeders you used one week for a race scene could be used again and again.
Smart Prep: Reskin - To reduce the monotomy of your campaign, recycle mechanics by reskinning them. Different descriptions for the same set of game mechanics makes something appear brand new to the players. So those bandits that did so well with 55% attack, d8 swords, and all that, just became these new cool bear monsters with 55% attack, d8 claws, and all that.
Smart Prep: Recycle and Reskin NPCs: NPCs can be very different from each other, even if they are mechanically the same. Feel free to use what you have already used (or use it as the foundation), add a new personality trait and a quirk, and "boom" you just created someone new (who is just happens to be mechanically similar. ) Rename some skills or tweak mechanics if you must.
Smart Prep: Recycle and Reskin Maps: There are a lot of buildings out there in your games. This process works well for them. What was once a dining area in a fast food place can be a coffee shop or a section of a library. One bank could be another bank, just change the descriptions.
Smart Prep: Danger Zone: You know the most dangerous things in most chronicles? Player characters. Use their character sheets from a while back (before their last big round of improvements). Reskin them, remove any unique items (add something else to them), and you will have a set of NPCs that will give the PCs a run for their money.
Smart Prep: Build up a library: Lots of work on your chronicle early on will free up more time when setting up each session - so you can concentrate on plots and cool details to add to the session. Instead of building opponents, grab you previously made creations, tweak them mechanically if needed, set up new descriptions for them, and save yourself 20-30 minutes.
Smart Prep: Foundation - When running a chronicle do most of your heavy lifting creatively and mechanically early on. This means you will create a number of sets of game mechanics for opponents, animals, and so on. You will work out their skin, their descriptions and such. At the same time figure out ways you can tweak them and reskin then. So you can build one tough animal for one planned encounter, you can figure a reskinned version for another possible encounter later (or stuff it in a dungeon and add scales and longer reach).
Smart Prep: Foundation II: Figure out some ways you can tweak the sets of game mechanics you make to improve them (or make them less effective). Put those in your GM notes where you keep that character. This way you can use the work you have already done and add to it to keep the opposition fresh and challanging to the characters.
Smart Prep: Foundation III - When running a chronicle, it will save you time and effort later if you make some generic opponents with some flairs or variations. Create a really strong minion, a really fast minion, a really skilled minion, the minion who specializes in ranged weapons, the minion that uses exotic weapons, the stealthy minion and so on. When you have an encounter, you can put two strong, one fast, one exotic from your notes for the Guards. In short, you pull out your mechanics, skin them as appropriate (Guards, Bandits, Goblins, what ever), and use them.
Smart Prep: Character Blocks: When using a point build game, build your generic type characters with some unspent points. Build a couple of blocks that spend those points along given lines. Thus you can create characters of a generic type by slapping on a block to the generic characters. If you need something special, create a block to meet that need.
Smart Prep: Descriptive Bits: Cut and paste the descriptions that work best for you. Just remember not to over do this, as then the players roll their eyes about the "reused footage" or start quoting it with you.
Smart Prep: Prep Starts at the End: As the session is wrapping up (or just after) make (brief) notes as to what you think you need for next session in terms of plot lines, scenes, npcs, mechanics, rule sets, and so on. That list becomes one less thing to worry about getting done before the next session, as it focuses your time when you prep again. (You are also aware from the start if you need extra time to do things/ make things.)
Smart Prep: Chronicle Maintenance: Spending a few minutes "in between" sessions to update the chronicle packet, archive paper notes in the GM's Journal, and so on. Five to ten minutes in the days between session can save your an hour or two of headaches when you have to do all of it at once or are looking for a specific something and can not find it. Chronicle Maintenance is really smart preparations as it makes sure everything is right there and easy to find.
Smart Prep: Time Travel: Go back and review chronicle notes for your current chronicle and any older chronicle. You might find useful things for the future hiding in the past. If nothing else, the review of the current chronicle (usually through the GM's Journal) will help set the chronicle firmly in your mind.
It is a different world down here. Where your average superhero set is all spandex and robots, here it is more about the magic, the monsters, and the hidden (aliens, fairies, mermaids, etc). You are more likely to wear distinctive street clothes than spandex and capes (mixing and matching is the order of the day). After all, when you compare them to mardi gras costumes, most superhero costumes are not distinctive and pretty darn tame.
In and around The Bayou, voodoo, magic, and fangs are more common than mutant superpowers. When the power brokers in an area include a hundred-plus-year-old Voodoo Queen, a several hundred-year-old rockstar vampire, and a swamp monster, you do know things are a bit different. In NOLA, you have all the normal city adventures (crime, smuggling, drugs, a crazy villains), with mystical things going on in the background (voodoo, fairy connections, werewolves/ loup garou, vampires, sorcerers, angels, demons, and aquatic reptilemen), surrounded by swamps (some mystical), ocean (with a portal to an Atlantean city), and a spirit realm that is easier to access. The area around New Orleans broadens the scope of the chronicle without expanding the geographic concerns.
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This setting is your normal superhero kitchen sink. It is suitable for part of a multi-GM chronicle, with each GM running a different city, region, or agency. (The CAPES is a meta-story element, a TV show that covers super activity in a given city. New Orleans was one of four cities to be in the multi-GM setting. )
However, given the local geography and culture, that is part of the chronicle framework, CAPES NOLA changes the whole dynamic of a generic kitchen sink supers games. There is more magic and supernatural associated with this area, so there should be more magic and supernatural in the chronicle.
There is also a depth of history here, different than your normal supers game. (Because magic seemingly goes back to the days of sticks and stones (or at least Atlantis).) You also have a rich local history and local set of traditions here to tie your character into.
Given the chronicle and character framework, the special effect for powers tends to be the magical or mystical, rather than mutant or mutate. Sure The Swift might be a mutant, but his werewolf and siren teammates certainly are not (well, the werewolf might have a secret and be a mutant... but..)
A must for all settings: Do some reading about the city and the surrounding area, including some history. Provide some highlighted information in the chronicle pack for the players. This will help make the chronicle more complex and more engaging just because of the setting and the things you can tie characters too.
Now if the setting/ city is "imaginary", learn as much as you can about cities/ places that are similar (adjusted for time/ history).
Superhero Chronicles - In general
This starts with the Chronicle Blurb, but continues on from there. These are the controlling ideas behind the setting. Everything should fit those ideas - or have a DARN GOOD explanation why.
If the conception has bullet points (or important ideas) that are not obvious from the chronicle blurb, a summary of all of them should be included in the chronicle packet or the player hand outs. Remember, as a GM, to work with the other players to ensure their characters fit the conception.
Captain Star is a true blue Superman pastiche that does not initially fit the chronicle. However, the player wants him to move here from Washington after leaving the national team. The Player wants him "not to fit in". It sounds like a source of a couple of scenes, plot lines, and roleplay bits. The GM has him dial back his power (after all he was asked to leave after his power level was reduced) as to not overshadow others. With changes and good plotlines, The GM accepts the character that initially would not have been acceptable to the conception.
Also feel free to say No to a character concept. If the character does not fit your vision for the chronicle with the players until either a reworked concept or a new concept that fits the chronicle. Just because a player wants to play it, does not make it appropriate for the chronicle.
The phrase to remember is a very polite, "Yes your character makes sense and is perfectly legal by the rules, but it does not fit my vision of the chronicle at this time."
A good follow up: "Do you want to try a new idea or work with me to make this one work? "
You might want to call them genre rules, genre memes, or "the way things should be". These are usually expected things that "seem right" for "this kind of genre/ setting/ chronicle.
Certain superhero genre conventions are: Masks protect Identities, Costumes and Capes, Acceptance of Masked Vigilantes, Super Powers, and so on. Certain areas/ cities might have memes related to them "Let the Good Times Roll" for example. A New Orleans chronicle might have some genre conventions borrowed from Urban Fantasy or Horror novels. So a list of expected genre conventions that are or not being used in the chronicle packet might be handy.
In Capes NOLA, the spandex and capes convention is not being used. "The Secret Supernatural" and "Everyone believes a little about supernatural, but nobody really believes in public", borrowed from the Urban Fantasy Genre are added to the list.
Chronicle Focus Soap opera between characters. The players should be set up to roleplay with (and against in a friendly way) with each other. Conflicting opinions, different approaches, discussions on what makes a hero/ justice/ the legal system/ if the CIA is justified waterboarding, etc, makes the game come alive. It makes it more than just "Move your minis and beat the bad guys"... with powers.
Character's mundane life. The character should be surrounded by a cast of supporting characters. This gives the player a chance to show off their character without rolling damage dice. The other players should be playing the supporting characters. When one player is in the spotlight, the other players will have something to do.
Do not ignore action scenes. There should be action scenes, but also these other bits.
Remember to assign these kinds of plot lines when the character is created. Also, keep in mind that superheroes are bundles of issues wrapped in powers. Consider giving them five plot lines instead of three.
MoonHunter Rules: Power Spiral, Diversity, and Choices.
MoonHunter is always emphasizing roleplaying and social interaction in a superhero game. If a GM makes it all about powers, they have created an arms race. If it is all about the combat and powers, The GM keeps having to throw more powerful and capable foes to keep challenging the characters. The players respond by making their characters more combat powerful and capable (or whining until they get that way). To challenge the characters in terms of power and combat, the GM needs to up the power level of the opposition. The players build up their power. The GM builds more power in. It becomes a death spiral for your campaign.
Both sides should grow slowly in combat power over time, keeping par with each other.
Characters need to be rewarded with diversity of rewards and advancements. Social Knowledge, Contacts, Favors, Money, Land/ Bases, Equipment, NS Social Status, are good rewards. The character can parley these into advantages that sheer powers can not be done. Knowledge skills, Technical skills, Science Skills, and Investigation skills are things to emphasize in scenarios, rather than more dice of damage, more armor, more powers. Breadth, not depth.
Superhero games need to be about the Hero Part. It needs to be about the "tough choices". It needs to be about risk and the innocents. It needs to be about the people, not the powers. Gamers can do the Heroic part all day, with low power or high power characters. It makes the "powers" part secondary to the game. Powers just give you cooler scope: a normal hero might fight off one or two opponents, a superhero might fight off thirty or so.
Suplots, subplots, subplots.
A GM can't concentrate on just main adventures or one-shot plot lines. There needs to be subplots to round out the chronicle, giving it depth and more things to advance than just villain of the issue. Working on making subplots interact with the main adventure or plot lines (the plotline is how the Blue Cowl is taking over the underworld, and the villains of the week ends up being people who used to work for her.) This gives alternate characters a chance to have some spotlight time, breaks up the sameness, and gives the GM a chance to spread out a main adventure.
There we go. Some rivets to build up the structure of your Superhero Chronicle.