Category Archives: Advice

Don’t Think Too Big!

For a while I have been struggling with a long-time dream of mine: a homebrew cyberpunk setting. I always loved the genre but I am not 100% happy with the cyberpunk games commercially available. Either I don’t like the rules attached to the setting or the setting itself has some elements I dislike. But creating a whole near-future scifi setting from scratch is not an easy task.

As usual I made the mistake of starting with a big picture. Don’t get me wrong, the outside-in approach of campaign design works great, but it takes a lot of work. For some reason when designing campaigns I follow this approach, even though I know deep down that it’s the main reason most of my campaign projects failed.

Instead of focusing on the big picture I should think smaller, focus on the place where I want the players to have their first adventures. In cyberpunk the action usually takes places in a bustling metroplex, a huge city housing millions of people. Having an elaborate background for other places in the world is nice, but how much impact will it have on your game anyway? If the players are freelance operatives working for the highest bidder, is it really important what happened in the Eurowars 25 years ago?

Instead of trying to come up with every little detail I want to use a different approach in the future. For the cyberpunk campaign setting I have been struggling with I want to focus on a single city first and just create some broad-strokes background for the rest of the world. If these places become more important in the campaign I can still flesh them out. But with focusing on just one city things get much easier. For starters I can use the same approach for the city itself. Perhaps the action will focus on a certain city district first. So why bother to write up many pages of background information on the rest of the city if you don’t use it?

This approach is pretty common in fantasy settings. You start out with a small place and then the world slowly opens up. But for some reason doing it this way feels wrong in a scifi game. In a fantasy game travel is slow and dangerous and information about faraway lands is hard to come by and often inaccurate. So it’s easy to focus on the “starting area” first and then add details to the rest of the world when needed. But in a near-future cyberpunk setting you can easily charter a flight to any place in the world (perhaps even the solar system) and getting information about the most obscure places is just a click, a touch, or a thought away. But in most cases you don’t need to know everything – not even as the GM. A broad-strokes setting is often even easier to work anyway. Too much information often feels like a burden to the creative GM who likes to wing things during the game.

Long story short, I think sometimes it’s better to think smaller not bigger when it comes to campaign design. In the end nobody is having fun if the campaign never sees the light of day because the GM is still working on some obscure details just to appease his or her inner completionist.

RPG a Day 2015 Challenge – Day 22

As #RPGaDay2015 continues we venture today into a topic I thought I could write about endlessly, and then I couldn’t. If I just allowed my imagination flow I could come up with all sorts of details, but deep down, most of what I thought about were bells and whistles. When you get to the very basics, this topic just requires the bare minimum.

Day 22 – Perfect gaming environment

Ideally a place with a large table, since I usually run large groups, one that can sit 8 to 10 people comfortably, with space for maps, books dice and snacks, nice comfortable chairs, and kitchen nearby with a microwave, stove-top and refrigerator. I don’t encourage drinking during games, apart from the occasional beer with moderation, so decidedly NO bar, but definitely a large erasable board on the wall for note taking, tracking initiative, etc.

I run my games from a computer so I got some tech requirements. A projector with which to, either project maps into a surface for combat and/or show images to the players projecting on a screen or wall. A comfortable space to set up my laptop, high speed internet connection, and a sound system I can hook up to the computer or an MP3 player to play music sound effects. And of course, since we play in Puerto Rico, a good air conditioning is a must here in the tropics!

But ultimately, the perfect gaming environment is a place where I can sit together with my friends and tell a story.

What is your perfect gaming environment? I want to know! Have a great Saturday and see you tomorrow.

PS – I once played at a friend’s house where they had taken a large erasable board with a grid and turned it into a tabletop. It was huge, and really allowed for large combats. That was a great set up, but it did require a lot of space. Here is a picture of a combat, back in 2007!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I suck at running campaigns

Recently I looked back at my gaming career and I realized that my campaigns usually end up being a mess. More often then not, there’s no real ending to the campaign and the last few sessions are just not as great as the first ones.  Something happens after a couple of sessions which makes me – the GM – lose interest in my own campaign.

One reason is probably that I love to collect roleplaying games. On average I get a new game every month and while I am still running game A I already read game B, while I am leafing through game C I just got. I should focus on a fantasy campaign, but instead my mind is already somewhere else. I always have the urge to try something new which is not really compatible with the idea of running a campaign.

Another problem is probably that most of my groups don’t meet that regularly. If we’re lucky we can play once per month, but even that is not always the case. I guess it’s easier to stay invested in a game if you meet regularly. Alas this is not something I can easily fix.

When I start a new campaign I am usually very excited and I guess part of that excitement may be a problem. I hype myself so much, that the real game can only be a disappointment. Sometimes I realize that the rules I was going to use just don’t fit the theme I had in mind, or I escalated things too quickly, so that after a few sessions the player characters could easily take on gods without breaking a sweat. Ok, the first half of the campaign was extremely epic, but then I don’t know on how to keep things interesting.

Sometimes I fear I am too hard on myself. In most cases my players are perfectly fine with the game, but I am just not happy. I guess this may one of the symptoms of my depression, but that doesn’t mean I have to simply give up. I want everyone on the table have fun and this should include the GM as well. I always wanted to run an epic campaign, but – at least in my opinion – things ended with either me abandoning the campaign at some point or because the game ended in scheduling hell.

I hope that some of you have had this issue before and can give me a few tips on how to change things around. Please share your thoughts below!