Category Archives: Advice

Fudge Solo Engine

In my recent post on Ghost Ops I made a reference to another project. That project was an automation of the One Page Solo Engine by Karl Hendricks.

This single page PDF does everything you really need from a solo engine. One the plus side it also has a complex question mechanism but on the down side it is more dice intensive than I personally like (but no where near as many rolls mythic or CRGE).

Hopefully, you should all know now that solo engines work on a weighted Yes/No question and answer mechanism. Questions you would ask your GM you pose to the solo engine such as “Are there any obvious guards?” If you were looking at the front entrance of an airport the answer is very likely a yes but you roll the dice and modify the roll for that likelihood. The engine comes back with one of four common responses No but…, No, Yes, Yes and… . You then use common sense, the game setting and the story so far to decide what that answer means. So a No but… could mean that there are no obvious guards but the area is covered by multiple cameras. A Yes and… could mean there are guards and they seem to be on heightened alert, armed and checking every vehicle.

The One Page Solo Engine has a complex question mechanic. Not every question is a Yes/No. The complex question mechanic uses a pack of playing cards to produce a verb/adverb pair. These can sometimes seem pretty strange. So lets say you see the criminal mastermind in a downtown LA bar with his henchmen. You ask what is he up to or how does he seem? Yes/No is not going to work here but the complex answer comes out with some thing like Creating + Social. You could interpret that as the villain is celebrating something with is henchmen is maybe is courting a gangland rival? Again it is down to the setting, the game and what would make the most sense and advance the story.

Anyway, I wanted to create an automated version of the One Page Solo Engine to do away with all the dice rolling and card drawing. So I bashed together a single webpage with just some plain text, a bit of javascript and some CSS. When I chose to test this with Ghost Ops I then bolted on a Fudge dice roller.

The only part I did not include was the dungeon crawler as Ghost Ops is modern day so I didn’t need a random dungeon.

I have zipped the file up and shared it if you would like to have a play and you can down load it from here. If you save the html file to any device you can use it off line, it does not need to connect to anything, no databases or servers needed to make it work.

Setting Yourself Up For Failure

Over the 20+ years of my gaming career I noticed something which has led to the premature demise of many campaigns. It usually starts with me getting the impression that my players are not fully invested in the game anymore. They show up, they play their characters, but the enthusiasm for the game seems to be gone. This should encourage me to get them more excited about the game again, BUT it more often than not led to frustration. So I became more sloppy in the preparation of the following sessions which of course leads to less interest from the players. It’s a vicious circle.

Back in the day, I thought getting more feedback from the players would solve this problem. If I knew better what they were interested in, I could make the game more exciting again. But unfortunately players often don’t know what they want, and they have a hard time communicating their wishes in a way that it’s helpful to the GM.

One of the bigger issues I had over the years was that there often was a disconnect between my understanding of the game’s setting and how the players perceived it. I thought I explained everything in detail, but more often than not, there were major misunderstandings. This of course can be pretty frustrating for players and the GM alike. This often happened in cases where I was very familiar with a setting while it was pretty new to the players.

Didn’t I communicate everything correctly?  Were my players not listening, or not reading the notes I prepared for them? Were they even really interested in the game in the first place? As you can imagine being on the verge of depression for a long time didn’t really help things. In the end I took an extended break in the hopes I could return to GMing which my mental batteries recharged and my players thirsting for new adventures.

Unfortunately I am now hesitant to start a new game because I fear I might be setting myself up for failure. I also fear that any new game might fall into the same trap so many games have fallen into. My excitement gets the better of me, while my players are less than enthusiastic and confused about what the game is actually about. The feeling of having let down my players is often so strong that I feel totally paralyzed. In combination with the regular option paralysis common to GMs with too many games in their library this is deadly to any game plans – and it frankly sucks.

So I am looking for some help from my dear readers. I am sure I am not the only one with this issue. How can I get out of this vicious cycle? How can I get my players excited again without setting myself up for failure at the same time. Any advice is highly appreciated!

The Sound of Music

Don’t worry, I don’t want to talk about the movie from 1965 , I just thought it made for a witty title. Instead I want to have another look on how you can use music as an effective tool in your GM’s toolbox. I am convinced that music can be a very powerful and effective tool when it comes to setting the mood. There’s definitely a limit to what mere words can accomplish. Music reaches us in a more subconscious, emotional way. A good GM can use detailed and poignant descriptions to make a scene come alive, but a great GM adds an additional layer by using music.

Of course not every music works in any situation. Personally I avoid any contemporary popular music, especially when there are lyrics involved. In my opinion lyrics often tend to distract people (especially me). In most cases you want the music to remain in the background. I still remember one adventure set into an underground facility shortly after Christmas. Dead bodies and destruction where accompanied by the same Christmas song repeating itself continuously. Christmas music has never been so creepy.

When running games based on popular movie, video game, or TV series licenses it makes a lot of sense to get your hands onto the respective soundtracks. Nothing helps to set the mood for a Star Wars game quicker and easier than John Williams’ score. But especially less iconic soundtracks can be used in all kinds of games. One of my favorites is the soundtrack to the original Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s my go-to music for horror games and it never disappointed. Even though the players know the music by heart already, it still helps everyone to get into the right mindset.

For one Star Trek game I made the effort to setup and use a software called Ares (Aural RPG Experience System). In Ares you can play music, sound effects etc. at the touch of a button. You can also create elaborate sound environments. Of course using sound of a Star Trek door opening and closing whenever the players leave a scene gets old pretty fast, but using the Enterprise background loop, or the occasional phaser sound during combat can be very effective.

But you have to make sure that using music and sounds doesn’t become a distraction. If the flow of your game gets interrupted because of you searching for a certain track on a CD, or if you are struggling with a software like Ares more than focusing on what your players are saying, then its time to tone it down a bit. Often playing some music in the background from a CD or MP3 playlist is all that it needed.

So what does one need to use music in their roleplaying game sessions? If you play always at the same place and if there’s dedicated hi-fi equipment available that’s almost perfect – especially if it’s the GM’s place where they can prepare everything beforehand. Personally I prefer a more mobile solution. Most of the music I use for gaming is saved on my smartphone. I also own a couple of Bluetooth speakers, which I can take with me. Nowadays I also make sure that I pack some audio cables as well. I remember more than one session that got interrupted because the speaker decided it doesn’t want to connect to my phone anymore.

I’ve experimented with the idea to use an intro theme music to my campaigns. But this actually didn’t really work that well with the only exception being Star Wars. My current Star Wars GM even uses a custom Star Wars opening crawl which includes a recap of the last sessions. That’s a very efficient and fun way to get everyone back into the game even after a longer hiatus.

What are your thoughts on using music during roleplaying game sessions? Have you embraced the use of music as I have or do you avoid it? Please share your thoughts below!