Kingbeast's Lair

Growling about the RPG industry and my gaming life. RPG and anime reviews from a passionate fan. (Formerly John's Hero HQ.)
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Running Blades For 6 Players

December 28, 2018 By: John Taber Category: Blades In The Dark, Games

—there are just too blasted many of you! The National Security Council can’t even keep track of who’s coming and going!

Hi Gang!

This is the first of a group of posts that I will make between Sessions 1 and 2. In this post I wanted to relay the salient points of a thread that I started on one of the Blades In The Dark social media sites. I think it was MeWe. 🙂 On MeWe I asked the following question.

I will be running Blades for 6 players. I have run it for 4 players and it went fine. I have run it for 2 players and it was fantastic. I am worried about running it for 6 players. I feel based on the way actions push the fiction that adding players will make the system considerably harder to run. Does anyone have any advice for running Blades with 6 players?

The entire first replay stream starts with this simple response, “Don’t.” This very articulate author then follows this up with solid arguments why running Blades for 6 players is not a good idea. He also points to the rule-book which actually says Blades should be run for a max of 4 players. I had not noticed that point on my first reading.

One of his points reflects the concerns I raise in my question above. In PBTA actions from the players (aka rolls) drive the fiction forward. After the player takes action the GM responds with complications from the setting. This could be in the form of damage, new threats, etc. With 6 players this means between each player action the plot will push forward. This can make it difficult for the GM to share the spotlight in critical scenes. The players need to wait their turn as the world pushes forward sometimes at a rapid pace. This started to happen in our first session when one of your noted, “How come the bad guy did all that and some character did not get a chance to act?” Actually in Score 1 the fact that the PC were in two groups actually helped. It made it easier for me to apply complications to each group instead of having to throw it all at a single entity.

Another argument against running for a large groups of players is doling out damage and stress. This is one I have spoken to Chris about at work on and off again. Since it happens in all PBTA games Chris and I have some experience with it through other systems. The idea is simple, in Blades terminology after every mission if the GM is doing their job there should be some wounds on characters and/or at least some stress use from everyone. If more players are present that means there are more characters present to absorb ill effects. It follows that the GM then has to add more threats to handle more characters.

Feat not…all is not doom and gloom! After this discussion he then also went on to give some pointers. One really good one he said is found in a Dungeon World podcast called Discerning Realities. (Since getting this advice I started listening to Discerning Realities and a series of podcasts they have on learning Dungeon World.) In this podcast they recommend checking the location of each PC when the action is starting to get heavy with rolls. In their example the group of plucky adventures enter a hiddle temple of some ancient god then a giant snake and several goblin worshippers appear. They carefully ask the PC the position of their characters after describing the scene. This allows the GM to start considering the flow and how complications might happen. It also naturally helps point out the character that should start the action. For example, maybe the thief who is leveling his crossbow or the mage who is readying a spell.

Others also mentioned dragging characters into danger so that other characters can spend their actions pulling them out of danger. Again this makes it easier to drive the fiction forward based on the consequences of the actions. They used examples of a PC felling a goblin only to be in the path of the snakes massive maw.

So as you can tell I did not let the advice of “Don’t” win the argument. 😉 I think we can get this to work given some practice and patience from the group.

How about a question o’ the post…

Question #1 – The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword! – Did folks enjoy the newspaper?
Doing the newspaper will obviously take some of my time and I do not want to do it if folks do not think it is fun. I think it will be a great way to show the effects of the Crew on Doskvol in an amusing way. I also think it can promote more player buy in on the setting which is an important aspect of Blades.

I have a few topics that I could do next…no hints yet…I’m not sure all of them will turn out…watch this space for more Blades goodness.

( FYI. Brownie points of someone can tell me origin of the quote at the top. 🙂 )

My 2018 Gaming Recap

December 08, 2018 By: John Taber Category: Games, Growlings

Dice 2018 T0 2019In the past I have done blog posts with a geeky Christmas list or a review of some of my favorite geeky products from the year but this time I decided to try something a bit different.  Instead of lists I am going to do a blog post on some of the fun I had in 2018 with tabletop gaming.

SPS Has Been A Resounding Success

Starting the Sipping Primordial Soup (SPS) group was a lot of work but I am having so much fun with it!  I have met a ton of great local gamers and had the chance to run some wonderful small-press tabletop games.  I can’t wait to play more!  😀

Running all of these games has really stretched me as a GM.  I am having to come up with adventures for games that are not in my wheelhouse then run them for strangers.  The result has been a wonderful learning experience.  SPS has really allowed me to fine tune my GM skills, get better in areas where I am weak, and give me a lot more items in my proverbial bag of GM tricks.  I guess you can teach this old dog some new tricks.  Many of these sessions have been the highlight of my tabletop gaming life in 2018.

Big Bad Con 2018 Excels At All Levels

Big Bad Con just nailed it again in 2018.  This little con that is rapidly growing just does everything with thought, acceptance, and skill.  From the massive amount of indie game designers, small-press RPG game sessions, and overall acceptance and love of their guests the con was a joy to attend.  Here is a Big Bad Con 2018 recap blog post with all the details.

Tabletop Highlights

I have played a ton of different games in 2018.  Here is a rough list of ones that spring to mind.  This lists includes RPGs and tabletop games that I had not tried in the past.  These are not in any type of order just how they come to mind.  (FYI.  This list is roughly twice as long as my 2017 list!  My guess is that my 2019 list will be really massive as SPS started in August.  😉  )

  • Monster Hunter Danger International – Finished the second campaign arc!
  • Evernight Then Hellfrost Using Savage Worlds – The boys and their friend Spencer has an absolute blast gaming in 2018.  It so refreshing playing with inexperienced gamers!  All of those old tricks are new again.  😉
  • Champions Complete Reliance Revisited – Playing in the Reliance universe was a blast from the past.  I think this might be the first game I played with Chris as well.
  • Colonial Gothic – Ran this twice.  Both times were complete homeruns!
  • Sentinels Comics RPG
  • Dungeon World in the Plague Of Storms campaign setting
  • Masks
  • The Watch With Anna Kreider – Played with the author once and ran it once.  Both total homeruns!
  • Blades In The Dark – I ran two different groups.  My old group is starting a Blades campaign!
  • Bliss Stage And Mountain Witch by Carl Rigney – Wow…Carl…wow…if you can play with Carl do so.  End of story.
  • The Pip System And Mermaid Adventures With Eloy Lasanta – Just a blast!  Want to try Infestation with my boys.
  • Spirit Island And Thornwatch – Two board games that I really enjoyed.
  • Adult Board Game Night With The Connelly’s – Really great!  We need to schedule more sessions!
  • Nefertiti Overdrive is on the slate for next weekend!

Gosh so many RPG sessions stick out to me but I will mention a couple that really rocked.  These are roughly in the order in which the occurred.

  • Evernight Session 10 – The Battle For Kingsport – This was the last session of my Evernight campaign with the boys.  It was so heroic and so cool!  I loved how well they played during this session.
  • Dark Waters Rising Session 28 – “Guten Tag!” – This session was run with just three players but it stands out in my memory.  Loved how the adventure unfolded, the interaction with the NPCs, and how wrapped up.  Fun stuff!
  • Mountain Witch With Carl Rigney – A large game but expertly executed.  Really showed me the beauty of what can be done with a game on such a focused theme.  Highlight of my Big Bad Con 2018 experience.
  • Blades In The Dark Session 2 – “Cassandra Rivaldi” – The second Blades session with the SPS group.  In this session only Wade and Chris showed up but the result was an adventurous romp with a large wrench thrown into the works for good measure.  Really adored the role-playing scenes with Cassandra and the two Shadows.  My dream would be to have all Blades sessions run as awesome as this one!

See ya on the other side!

What SPS Is Teaching Me

November 04, 2018 By: John Taber Category: Games, Growlings

Sipping Primordial Soup LogoIntroduction

Roughly 4 months ago I started a group of gamers called Sipping Primordial Soup (SPS).  The focus of this group is small-press role-playing games.  As part of this effort I have been running a lot of one-shot sessions.  I have learned quite a bit from running these various indie games.  I think they are really improving my game mastering skills.  This post contains some things I have learned so far.

I am not going to expand on the background mechanics that I am mentioning below.  Instead I want to jump right to the point.  If you need more exposition on my thoughts please let me know and I will try my best to elaborate.

It Is Ok Not To Like Every RPG System But Most Have Something To Offer

One of the things I learned quickly is that some systems are not for me while others are intuitive and easy for me to pickup.  Masks, which is a genre that I feel is squarely in my wheelhouse (aka teenage superheroes), was actually tricky for me to run.  It took a while to get my head around the superhero who took down my villain by using one of his abilities to convince the villain that what he is doing won’t work.  It made sense in the fiction but took a while to grasp in the mechanics.  Colonial Gothic was the complete opposite.  It has old school mechanics that were intuitive and easy for me to pickup and run.  I have run Colonial Gothic twice now to great success.

My takeaway is that even though systems vary greatly in mechanics it is important for my advancement in the hobby to understand and appreciate what these small-press RPG are trying to bring to the table.  Masks pulls back from the powers to focus on the emotional states of the characters.  That is one killer mechanic that really worked during my play.  I found it really enlightening.

In general Powered By The Apocalypse (PBTA) games with their up front GM actions that push player response and foreshadow the impact of their responses falls squarely in this category.  I have learned about hard vs soft questioning by running PBTA games.  Also simple things like asking how the characters look during a climactic moment have been fun and I think give the players more agency and narrative control.  Failing as a mechanism to advance the plot is another important thing I have learned from PBTA.

There are always more tricks to add to the GM toolkit!

I Need More Practice Running Some Genres

The same conclusions that I made with RPG systems apply to genres as well.  Some genres come super easy to me while others are tougher.  Anything gritty, deadly, and political is tougher for me where systems with grandiose heroes and clear cut villains are easier.  Masks and Colonial Gothic are both genres that are in me wheelhouses.  Masks is teenage superheroes and Colonial Gothic is monster hunting.  Both have clear protagonists and clear cut heroes.  Blades In The Dark is not as easy for me to run.  Every NPC in Blades In The Dark has their own motivations and nearly all of them are dishonest.

This is one area where I think I have the potential for a lot of growth.  Running genres that are harder for me has really opened up my play style and shown me how I can present things in different lights.  After running Blades In The Dark for the first time I realized how much I have grown in this area.  Also PBTA games really push the GM to think on their feet.  I like the challenge it brings!

I still have a lot to learn about gamemastering and I have been doing it since 1978.  :]

Systems Should Promote The Style Of Play They Are Trying To Achieve

Often the small-press games that are being played by the SPS group are hyper focused on a feeling that the author wants the gamers to experience as they play out a session.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but the key is the focus.  I have played and run some amazingly impactful games that are really enhanced by the laser like concentration in play.

System that enforce the play style of the genre and setting are important.

Character Ties Out Of The Gate Are Great

PBTA where have you been all my life!  Many of the PBTA games used Bonds or similar mechanics to tie characters to other characters and the setting up front during the character creation phase.  The result is an immersive experience that happens organically during session 0.  Immediately there is something for the players and GM to utilize drive the fiction.

The way Bonds enrich and direct play for a playbook is powerful.  Bonds act as reinforcement to the player in how that playbook should function and ties the character to the fiction.  The Watch does a good job of this with their Bond questions.

Bonds, and similar mechanics that tie starting characters to each other and enforce the setting, are a powerful technique to drive the fiction early.

The Goal Is For Everyone At The Table To Have Fun

This is sort of an obvious statement but I think playing these type of small-press games has really led me to change my play style.  As a GM this means making sure each player gets spotlight time and player agency.  Focusing on what each player and character brings to the table is critical.

As a player this means promoting the other players so that they can be “cool”.  One of my favorite things to do is start dialogs with other players to push along the fiction or compliment them on some really fun action that they just pulled off.  I think everyone wins when players and GMs foster this back-and-forth narrative trust.

Trust and kindness for the win!

Want To Join?

If you want to join Sipping Primordial Soup, my small-press RPG group in the Santa Clara area, then email or tweet using @Kingbeasst.