Category Archives: Tips and Tricks

Rolling Dice is for Nerds!

Rolling dice is for nerds! Drop your dice down the hungry maw of a gargoyle-guarded Lego dice tower instead — that’s geek chic!Lego Dice Tower and GM Screen

My Lego dice tower and GM screen combo took an afternoon to build, which is pretty fast considering the number of tiny, grasping hands in my household.

Plop the dice into the top of the tower and it tumbles down, smacking hidden “randomizers” — commonly referred to as Lego Technic poles — before rolling down a ramp, through the double doors, and onto the “Patio of Fate”.

Lego Dice Tower and GM Screen

A “GMs-eye-view” of the tower and shelves. Nothing says “your character is mine” like a stern-faced GM peering over the top of this bad boy!

Lego Dice Tower and GM Screen

It even comes with a lightsabre and polearm, in case the players decide to mount their own Lego-based siege on your fortifications.

Lego Dice Tower and GM Screen

The walls are detachable, so you don’t need to break them down to cram them into a bag when traveling. It also makes it easier to extend the screen — all thanks to a well-placed Lego Technics pin.

Lego Dice Tower and GM Screen

Assemble the horde! Here’s what the setup might look like in-game. A medium-sized mini fits on the shelves perfectly, and dice won’t move around too much because of the Lego studs.

Build Your Own Lego Dice Tower

The core of the tower contains a number of Lego Technic bars, which are enough to make dice tumble randomly down. Making sure there is enough space between the walls and the bars so that dice don’t get caught is the only major thing to consider, otherwise building the tower is simple enough. A ramp at the bottom and a space to catch the dice are the only other structural components. I tiled the “patio” with smooth Lego tiles so that the dice would land perfectly flat, and not tip on top of Lego studs.

Future Mods

There are three things I want to add to the GM screen to make it more useful. L-bend sections would hide more from the player’s view, and dice cages would make it easier to store dice. There are some small Lego rope ladders from a pirate set I have that would work perfectly for this. For keeping notes handy, I’ll add some 2-stud flat Lego pieces with L-shaped hooks, which can then hold punched Post-it notes.

A Lego Love Affair

This was my second Lego GMing tool, and I hope it will inspire you to create your own. Please share your creations with us on Facebook, here, or through our other social media channels. I’d love to see what you come up with.

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

Check out our store, subscribe to our newsletter for monthly updates, and visit us on our blog, our Facebook page and on Twitter.

 

Flex Your Game Design Muscle

An excellent way to flex your game design muscle is to take on a mini design challenge, like a game jam, the One Page Dungeon Contest, the 1KM1KT 24 Hour RPG Contest (if it ever gets going again), or the 200 Word RPG Challenge (due May 28!). Even if you’re not into table-top RPGs, you can learn a lot from mini challenges like these. It’s often said that limitations encourage innovation, and that’s exactly the point of these challenges.

Claustrophobia Cover
Claustrophobia was born out of the 24 Hour RPG Challenge.

A bunch of our products built on work I did for various challenges. Claustrophobia was born out of the 24 Hour RPG Challenge and Lunatic Labyrinth built on the shifting dungeon I created for the One Page Dungeon Contest. Those mechanics also influenced David N. Ross’s design for Forests of Secrets, making the adventure infinitely replayable. You can find the Secret Forest map here.

Lunatic Labyrinth Updated
Our cover designs have come far, from this…
Forest Of Secrets
…to this!

But enough product placement. How about some real tips?

How to Hack Contests

There are some (legal) things you can do to improve your chances of winning a contest. These steps will also help you be a better designer, and are based off lessons I’ve learned through various contests and as a freelance writer for other RPG publishers.

  1. Read the Brief. Then read it again. When you’re done, read that bad boy one more time. Make sure you’re presenting something the judges want to see.
  2. Be Innovative. Create something new and interesting that makes the judges go “hey look, this is cool.” A sense of wonder can be hard to achieve, but look to explore new ground.
  3. Be Grounded. While innovation is important, don’t make something too weird or wacky that people won’t get it. Find ways to ground your design in current conventions that people can easily “read.”
  4. Make Fun. Look at your games collection. There probably isn’t anything boring there, but there are bound to be games that stand out as more fun than the rest. Deciding if a game is fun or not is subjective, but a good place to start is by asking “What’s fun for me.” Build that.

Go out, flex your game design muscle, and have fun. Good luck out there.

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

Subscribe to our newsletter for monthly updates and visit us on our blog, our Facebook page and on Twitter.

Write – Design – Program is a series of game design, writing, and programming articles that includes interviews, insights, and tips. If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it.

Children of the Fall — Design Insights

In this edition of Write – Design – Program we’re chatting to Gareth Graham of Frenzy Kitty Games about his latest Indiegogo campaign for Children of the Fall.

The cover of Children of the Fall.
The cover of Children of the Fall.

Rising Phoenix Games: Hi Gareth. First up, can you tell us a little more about Children of the Fall?

Gareth Graham: Hi Rodney. Thank you for inviting me to feature on the blog. Children of the Fall is an apocalyptic story game for 3–5 players. In the game, the players play as the sole survivors of a terrible apocalypse that has turned all the adults on the planet into evil, bloodthirsty savages. In addition to portraying their characters, the players will also need to manage their tribe and haven — fighting off the terrible atrocities that exist in this broken new world. It is a GMless game and has an improved system that is built on the mechanical skeleton of my previous big design, KARMA. Each session is framed around a mission and the world is built collaboratively by all the players through an extensive session zero. Children of the Fall also offers support for campaign play as well as one-shots. There is a huge variety of different missions and characters which are all customised every time they are used, meaning the game has a lot of replay potential.

RPG: You’ve already achieved some of your stretch goals. Where is the campaign currently sitting and what can fans expect once the next stretch goal is met?

Gareth: The campaign got off to a bit of a slow start, but we have successfully funded and unlocked our first stretch goal. Future stretch goals include new character playbooks, missions, and improved quality of the printed materials.

RPG: Frenzy Kitty Games has several apocalyptic survival horror titles, including Dusk, Downfall, Unchained, and a few of the modules in KARMA: A Roleplaying Game About Consequences. What is it about the genre that inspires you?

GG: There is something about this particular genre that excites me from a gamification perspective. What’s great is that it is rich with opportunities to create narratives that are dripping with tension, drama, and high stakes. It also allows the players to get into the action straight away, starting scenes or sessions in-media-res. In my opinion, the best stories are those of characters overcoming truly terrifying and seemingly insurmountable challenges (or seeing them die trying).

RPG: As a designer, how has Children of the Fall allowed you to dig deeper into apocalyptic survival horror? What can fans of the genre expect from the game?

GG: One of the design goals I had with COTF was to really emphasize the struggles that these characters face as children in a deadly and dangerous new world, and the scarcity of resources that are slipping through the character’s fingers as they and other tribes fight over supplies. The engine was mechanically designed from the ground up to tell these kinds of stories — stories of desperate measures in desperate times. The complication system has been weighted to make characters succeeding in difficult complications something rare and truly worth celebrating. The players also have story points which serve as a metagame currency to allow the players to possibly affect other player’s scenes — and this resource is limited and invaluable — emphasising the scarcity and helplessness that these characters must be feeling as children in a world hell-bent on wiping them out. It’s not all hopeless though — players also each get one Determination and Helix point which allow them to flip a result on its head and add great twists in the tale.

RPG: The art from Vincent Sammy really fits the theme and the mood of the game. Can you tell us a little more about their involvement with the project?

GG: I’ve known Vincent for years — we worked together on DUSK and in my opinion, nobody does dystopian art like him, so when it came time to make Children of the Fall he was my first choice. One of the things I love about Vincent is that we are both on the same wavelength — something I’m not extremely good at is writing up briefs for art commissions, so I explained the setting to him and told him to let his imagination run wild — and the images he has created for COTF are better than I could ever have hoped for. He’s also from Cape Town, so it’s great to have a product that is proudly South African.

Click here to see the image in full screen.

RPG: This isn’t your first Indiegogo campaign, following the fully funded KARMA: A Roleplaying Game About Consequences. What, if anything, did the past campaign teach you and how has it influenced the Children of the Fall campaign?

GG: The two main lessons I learned from KARMA was to set a more achievable goal and to make the campaign only 30 days (as opposed to KARMA’s 60-day campaign). Setting a lower target allows you to fund quicker and to get into that delicious stretch goal territory which is why people really decide to back crowdfunding campaigns in the first place.

RPG: You’re from the “Mother City” of Cape Town, South Africa. What’s the gaming scene like there?

GG: The gaming scene in Cape Town is great. It’s grown exponentially over the last 5 years, with gaming stores, cafes and conventions becoming more and more commonplace. One thing about Cape Town’s scene is that it is still a little more fragmented than I would like. Hopefully, as the conventions become bigger and more popular they will help to solidify connections between different gamers and game groups.

RPG: And yourself? What are you playing, what’s inspiring you as a designer, and where can folks find you and Frenzy Kitty Games?

GG: I’m diving into John Harper’s stuff a lot at the moment — Blades in the Dark and Lady Blackbird are absolute masterworks. There are lots of indie RPGs that just get me excited — I love the whole DIY mentality of indie game design. I’m also very interested in a lot of the OSR stuff that’s been coming out over the last few years — that feeling of nostalgia with modern design sensibilities is hard to beat.

Thanks Gareth and good luck with the campaign.

If you’ve got questions for Gareth then put them in the comments below. Be sure to check out Children of the Fall on Indiegogo and Frenzy Kitty Games on Drive Thru RPG.

 

 

Simplify Your Design

A big part of good design is simplification.

Simplify Your Design with Icons - Classic Simplification in Design
Photo by Harpal Singh.

I often rewrite rules text, fiction, or code, and the rewrite almost always ends up a lot simpler than the first draft. Version two is often more intuitive, which is a big part of why simplification is important. If something’s too complicated, it’s hard to wrap your head around and more likely to break down.

Write - Design - Program: Simplify Your Design
Write – Design – Program

Here’s an example from my recently released Manual of Masks. The first piece was my initial stab at a magical puma mask that gives the wearer a speed bonus when they’re running:

Totem Spirit Mask – PumaWondrous item, uncommon (requires attunement)
While wearing this mask you gain a +20 ft. bonus to your speed while taking the Dash action. This bonus is doubled along with your speed as part of the Dash action, effectively giving you a +40 ft. bonus to your speed while using the Dash action only.

The rules weren’t clear enough, and another designer questioned the mechanics as well. The second piece is much clearer and takes far less space:

Totem Spirit Mask – Puma
Wondrous item, uncommon (requires attunement)
When you take the Dash action while wearing this mask your speed is 50 feet.

Less is More — Refactoring

In game writing, writing in general, and in coding, the simplest solution is always the best. In practice, it might take several attempts to find the most elegant option, which is why rewriting or refactoring is so important — it’s what makes “good enough” better. The more time you put into simplifying your work, the more it will shine.

In On Writing, author Stephen King gives the following formula:

2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%

King writes that this simple formula had a big impact on his writing and was at least partly responsible for his success. It’s not only that the formula reduces word count, but that it forces you to chuck the unnecessary baggage your story is lugging around.

Design Question: How can I simplify.

A Pathfinder Example

A lot of you may be following the Pathfinder 2 Playtest. If you have you’ll likely have noticed how Paizo has gone out of their way to make Pathfinder 2 simpler yet still as deep as its predecessor. Pathfinder 2 is essentially the same game refined through a process of simplification. The end result can be seen in mechanics like the streamlined action system and their more intuitive encumbrance system.

Some Homework

If you’re a game designer, you probably do this anyway, but next time you play a digital game, take a hard look at the menu system and the graphic user interface (GUI). Great pains are taken to keep the GUI intuitive. Explore the GUI of your favorite games and find what works, what doesn’t, and how the designers have attempted to simplify things.

Till next time, simplify your design and Make Good Games!

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

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LEGO Makes GMing Better

You have to love LEGO. The toy is infinitely reusable and loads of fun. Besides that, LEGO makes GMing better. Here’s a rotating stand I built for my Kindle out of LEGO I got when I was a kid.

LEGO makes GMing better with this Kindle swivel stand.
It’s IMAX for Minifigs!

It even comes with its own grumpy tech support.

LEGO makes GMing better with a grumpy tech support.
“Have you tried turning it off and on again, block-head!”
LEGO makes GMing better, except when grumpy is playing solitaire on his consol.
Every now and then I catch him playing solitaire.

The stand works without the rotating base too, and at it’s simplest — without the base and tech support — is only 12 LEGO pieces.

Lego GMing Tools

I use my Kindle when I GM, so the swivel base is great for showing my players the screen and keeping things at the right eye-height for quick rules checks. Maybe I should build a dice tower next.

Do you have any interesting GMing tools built out of LEGO? Share them in the comments below or tell us your story of how LEGO makes GMing better.

Till next time, Tell Thrilling Tales

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

Subscribe to our newsletter for monthly updates and visit us on our blog, our Facebook page and on Twitter.

Resurrecting Your MtG Collection

I’m a big collectible card game fan, but I have piles of Magic the Gathering decks and swaps lying around that I’d love to get more life out of. I also have a bunch of friends who don’t collect Magic cards, but who might still be interested in playing if I can kit them out with a deck or two. Here’s my simple solution for resurrecting your MtG collection.

Resurrecting Your MtG Collection
Art Credit: Tan Ho Sim

First up, gather all your decks, ideally in deck boxes. Build more decks with the rest of your cards — it’s okay if they’re not tournament winning decks. The point is to have a bunch of different decks, so play around with as many variations as you can think of.

Now, line the decks up on a shelf, in order of what you figure is worst to best.

Invite friends over to play. Each player gets one deck from a group of decks sitting next to each other on that shelf. When you’re done playing, put the decks back in order from worst to best.

In this way, your decks get sorted as you play, making it easy to grab a bunch of comparable decks for a level playing field.

More Ideas

That’s my idea, but there are tons of ideas out there:

  1. Play solo games, which are a great way to test out a new deck concept.
  2. Build your own booster packs and play booster draft.
  3. Make a collage. Seriously! My bro cut out all the art from his commons and covered his door with them. It was awesome.
  4. Gift extra cards to friends who don’t play. It’s a great way to get new players into the hobby, but be warned — making a crappy deck for your friend is a good way to get them frustrated. Build something that can win amongst your group of friends.
  5. Pass your extra cards on to your local gaming store. If they sell commons then it’s one way to say thanks to them and keep your favorite store going.

Have any other ideas for resurrecting your MtG collection? Share them in the comments below.

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

Subscribe to our newsletter for monthly updates and visit us on our blog, our Facebook page and on Twitter.

Stranger Things Season 3 – Episode 4

Stranger Things Season 3 – Episode 4: Hawkins’ Horde was our fourth session playing vs. Stranger Stuff, a game published by our friends at Fat Goblin Games.

Episodes: Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4Episode 5 – Episode 6 – Episode 7 – Episode 8

Stranger Things Season 3 - Episode 4: Hawkins' Horde
Stranger Things Season 3 – Episode 4: Hawkins’ Horde

Disclaimer: Because Stranger Things Season 3 isn’t out at the time of writing, you don’t need to worry about spoilers, but I’m going to assume you’ve watched Season 1 and 2 already.

Our Stranger Things Season 3 – Episode 4 session saw the boys bringing the fight to the mindless hordes of Hawkins. Here’s a summary of episode 4, with tips for running your own Stranger Things campaign at the end of the post.

rpg blog carnival logo Stranger Things Season 3 – Episode 4 is brought to you by the RPG Blog Carnival. This month is hosted by Codex Anathema, and the topic is Gamemaster’s Cut, in which we look to the movies (and Netflix) for inspiration.

Stranger Things Season 3 – Episode 4 – Hawkins’ Horde

Scene 1

Player Characters: Lucas, Mike, and Dustin. Will was played by the GM.

Things kicked off from where we’d left off, with the boys watching as Eleven supercharged a truck with lightning.

Making quick plans, the boys cycled across town to the general store. Enroute, they encountered the four-legged brain creatures — which are roughly the size of footballs — for the first time. They managed to dodge them and recall some important Dungeons & Dragons law — they were dealing with intellect devourers, the spawn of mind flayers that have the ability to turn people into mindless thralls. Yup, everything’s starting to make sense now: mindless people in the streets, brain creatures trying to capture Nancy, people acting weird.  Now they just needed to find a way to rescue Eleven and the rest of Hawkins.

At the general store, they managed to find the makings of smoke bombs, some rubber gloves, lighter fluid, and even a katana (in the manager’s office). Anyone remember the Anarchist’s Cookbook? I’m pretty sure the boys have a copy.

With Dustin on lookout, the rest of the boys made a dash for the town hall, where things were going totally bizarre. Eleven was still pulling down lightning bolts, and the truck, which was outfitted with some custom-built tech, was bathed in a blue field of energy. Suddenly the truck disappeared, leaving in its place a red portal into the Upside Down, rotating above the fountain in the town square.

Will, Lucus, and Mike had a hard time with the thralls in the streets but managed to put one or two down with a katana blow to the stomach and some Wrist Rocket shots. It turned out that whacking a thrall hard enough would free them of the intellect devourer’s hold. Good thing they only had 2 Toughness each.

Thrall
Brains 1
Muscles 2
Toughness 2
Enthralled: A thrall that takes 2 damage is freed from the intellect devourer’s enthrallment.

The boys managed to get across town, fighting as they went. Mike made a Brains check to reverse a car into the fountain, jumping out just before it crashed. In moments the car was sucked through the portal, as it continued to grow.

Mike, Will, and Lucas were now surrounded by thralls and having a hard time of it.

Cut to Scene 2!

GM’s Notes: It was a long scene, but it was great giving the boys a chance to shine. I love Hopper and many of the older characters, but really it should all be about the boys (including Max an El). Scene 1 took up most of our session, but it was great pitting the boys against a town filled with zombies and watching the players figure out how to win through.

Scene 2

Player Characters: Hopper, Steve, and Billy.

Hopper and Steve showed up as the battle raged on. Behind them, blasting Rock you Like a Hurricane, was Billy. The three quickly grabbed the boys, pulling them into their cars, as El swung the portal at them. Everyone dodged, succeeding on a massive Muscles 11 check.

Then El swung again, pulling the portal across all the cars. Every one of them was sucked into the Upside Down.

Roll credits!

GMs Notes: Oops. I did something no GM should ever do. I made all the players suffer by forcing a failure on them after they had just made a massive save. This is the worst kind of railroading, and I’m sorry I did it. Not only do I now need to separate two groups of characters, but I also need to somehow get them back out of the Upside Down. Worst of all, the players might feel that their checks mean little in the greater scheme of the game.

GMing Stranger Things

Dealing with GM Error

We’re all less than divine. We mess up. GMs are under a more powerful lens than other players, and we owe it to ourselves and our players to learn from our mistakes and make a better go of things the next time around.

It’s worth looking back at why things went the way they did. I was set on getting Hopper, Steve, and Billy into the Upside Down. When the players dodged the portal that should have been it. They should have made a clean getaway. Because I was focused on them being sucked through the portal as the cliffhanger ending to the session, I didn’t consider other options. So, everyone got sucked through, without a check. If I’d been sharper I could have had something come through the portal, like a Demogorgon. Or have the portal continue to grow as the characters drove off. Both of those options would have been way more fun.

So, don’t hold onto your ideas too tightly, because that’s when you lose sight of what’s important: the players having fun. That was my mistake.

Till Next Time

Our next session is two weeks away, so check back in three weeks for more from Stranger Things Season 3.

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

Subscribe to our newsletter for monthly updates and visit us on our blog, our Facebook page and on Twitter.

Running a Con Stall, an RPG Publisher’s Contemplation

Running a con stall makes sense if it’s right for your business. In this Write – Design – Program post we look at the business of RPG Publishing and how to best sell your books and games at a geek or gaming convention.

Write - Design - Program
Write – Design – Program

2018 is in full swing, and the big geek and gaming cons draw rapidly closer. It’s decision time; do I run a stall this year, or let some great opportunities sail by? Being visible at some of the major local conventions could be a big game changer for my fledgeling business. But it could also be disastrous?

Prepare yourself for some doom and gloom.

Some Facts About RPG Publishers

Intelligent publishers plan their con involvement wisely.

I do a fair bit of freelancing in the gaming industry, and, although most of it is in table-top roleplaying, I’ve also worked with digital game publishers. No matter what type of games the publisher is involved with, they choose which cons will give them the best bang for their buck. Sometimes, this means they don’t have a convention presence at all.

The thing is, if a 3 x 3-meter stall at a con costs $215 for the weekend, then you have to ensure you fill it with enough merchandise to cover the vendor free, plus all the other expenses you’ll incur.

Let’s look at my situation, as a small operation:

  • Although I work closely with several people, I’m practically the only staff member I have available. I would need to hire someone for the weekend or beg a friend to help.
  • I sell digital books, so I’d need to either fork out cash to print up stock or devise some clever way of selling digital products at a convention that may or may not supply WiFi to its vendors. Either way, I’d need plenty of products to ensure I end up in the black.
  • I have no buffer if things don’t work out. Anything I put into the stall needs to work, repeatedly, for any other con I attend.

 

Some Facts About South African RPG Customers

I make very little money from local sales, and I don’t suspect that a con would change that.

Here are my observations:

  1. Most role-players don’t attend cons. Of the three groups I play in, only four other people attended the biggest local con last year. That’s about one-quarter of the players.
  2. A very small fraction of role-players play at cons. Over two days I played one small demo game, with players who now play in my Monday night Stranger Things campaign. The Pathfinder Society game I prepped never had any players sign up and general morning game attendance was poor. But, okay, that was one convention.
  3. Con players are a staunch group of die-hards. After five years in Japan, I was surprised to see the same faces, without much new blood at the tables. Don’t get me wrong, many of those die-hards are my friends, but maybe we need to do more to encourage new players.
  4. South Africans don’t have money. Okay, I’ll admit, a big generalization. But the Rand/Dollar exchange rate is only just improving, and high shipping rates mean that POD from sites like Drive Thru RPG is unfeasibly costly.

 

The Other Options

I am new to this game, so only just learning what it takes to succeed at RPG publishing. But it seems that there are two tried and tested options worth considering:

Demo Games

Running a demo at a con seems like a great way to sell to the people who matter; those players who’ll go back to their group and evangelize your offering. Besides the networking opportunities, it’s a great chance to improve your pitch and get some game testing in. GMs are always needed, so it’s likely that you can run your game without having to pay for a table.

Shelf Space

It struck me, while writing this post, that the best option is the one most publishers use: shelf space. There’s probably an industry term for it, but having other vendors sell your books is ideal. If I can put 2–3 copies of my best books in the hands of vendors, and have them sell them, I can limit my risk, reach customers, and test the market.

And the best part? I can action both options at the same time, and each option has the potential to benefit the other. Win-win.

 

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

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Stranger Things Season 3 – Episode 3

Stranger Things Season 3 – Episode 3: Night Rhythm was our third session playing vs. Stranger Stuff, a game published by our friends at Fat Goblin Games.

Episodes: Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4Episode 5 – Episode 6 – Episode 7 – Episode 8

Stranger Things Season 3 - Episode 3: Night Rhythm
Stranger Things Season 3 – Episode 3: Night Rhythm

Disclaimer: Because Stranger Things Season 3 isn’t out at the time of writing, you don’t need to worry about spoilers, but I’m going to assume you’ve watched Season 1 and 2 already.

Our third session of Stranger Things — Season 3 ended on a real cliffhanger. Here’s a summary of episode 3, with tips for running your own Stranger Things campaign at the end of the post.

Stranger Things Season 3 – Episode 3: Night Rhythm

Scene 1

Player Characters: Joyce, Jonathan, and Hopper.

Following Nancy’s abduction by Mr. Clarke and Barb, in the last session, Jonathan and Joyce called Hopper over to investigate. They didn’t discover much, just Nancy’s right shoe and some tire tracks.

Hopper did all his police things, then the characters headed over to the Wheeler’s house.

Scene 2

The audience sees Billy’s car, then we cut to see him kissing someone. The camera cuts again and we see Mrs. Wheeler pull back. She tells Billy that they need to stop meeting like this, but he reassures her that they won’t get caught.

On the radio, Rhythm of the Night, by DeBarge, is playing.

GM’s Notes: Yuck! I’m starting to hate Billy all over again.

Scene 3

Player Characters: Mike, Hopper, Joyce.

Joyce and Hopper arrive at the Wheelers. They discover that Mrs. Wheeler is out, with Mr. Wheeler asleep on the couch. Mike answers the door. The rest of the kids are down in the basement, playing D&D.

Hopper and Joyce break the news to Mr. Wheeler, who seems overly confident that Hopper will sort things out.

Hopper discovers that El is not there, and he’s unable to get her on the radio. The boys say they haven’t seen her all day.

GM’s Notes: The players had some time to try to coordinate, and figure out what was going on. I wanted to give them as much freedom as they needed to start getting a grip on the situation before I hit them with the next few bombshells.

Scene 4

Player Characters: Nancy. Later Billy and Steve.

Nancy wakes up in the dark. Slowly her eyes adjust and she sees small, pink creatures crawling over her. They’re gooping her with slime, while one climbs over her face. It has four legs, and its body looks like a brain, with a small underslung jaw. The jaw darts out, Aliens style, into her ear. She struggles, but the creature begins to deform, as if it’s moving through the mouth-tube, into her ear.

Nancy thrashes again, and this time breaks free. She rips the thing off her face and runs!

Bursting through a door, she finds herself in an abandoned bowling alley. As she runs, she throws stuff behind her, as she’s pursued by the creatures.

In the street, Steve is heading into a convenience store when Billy comes out, and shoulder bumps him. Before things can escalate between them, they notice that it’s unnaturally quiet in town. In the distance, some people are shambling towards them.

There’s a crash, as Nancy smashes a window with a bowling ball and leaps out into the street, followed by the brain creatures.

Steve runs into the convenience store and picks up a snow shovel, while Billy grabs a tire-iron (aka a wheel spanner). Billy pulls Steve into his car as Nancy jumps in, and Billy hits the gas, expertly driving around the mob of brain-dead people headed their way.

Billy and Steve vs the Horde
Billy and Steve vs the Horde.

As they drive off, they see a horde of more people around a truck in front of the town hall. Mr. Clarke is standing on top of the truck.

Lightning Powered Truck
Mr. Clarke and the Horde around a truck (left of image). The streets are swarming with brainless shamblers and brain-creatures (red & blue).

Lightning strikes somewhere in the distance. A storm is rolling in.

GMs Notes: The brain-creatures are the same creatures who left tracks around Steve’s car, and were waiting for the PCs in the woods. Here are their stats:

Brain-Creatures
Brains 1
Muscles 3
Toughness 3
Swarm: 3+ creatures. Make 2 attacks and draw +1 card per additional creature.
Natural Weapon: 2 Toughness damage.
Entangling Attack: opposed Muscles to entangle. Unentangle is -1 card and vs Muscles again.

Scene 5

Hopper gets a call from Dr. Owens, who’s in town, and describes that he’s seeing people mindlessly walking the streets. Hopper, who was on his way to Mr. Clarke’s house, hits the lights and speeds into town, passing a speeding Billy on the way. The lot of them hook up and head back to the Wheeler’s house. The kids were all sent home to bed… but they have other plans.

Scene 6

Player Characters: None, the GM took control of the boys to put them in deep deep trouble.

Mike, Will, Lucas, and Dustin arrange to meet on the edge of town at midnight. They’re worried about El, and, they figure, it’s usually them who figure out what’s going on before the grownups do.

They climb a water tower, while lightning flashes overhead. From the top they can see the town hall. A truck has been wired up to the clock tower, with wires attached to the lightning rod at the top of the building.

El walks out along the top of the building, throws her hands in the air and is hit by a bolt of lightning.

Shooting Sparks from fingers 1938
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Roll Credits. Watch player’s jaws drop.

GMing Stranger Things

Cliffhangers

I think about what makes an interesting game a lot. It’s my job and my passion. A good cliffhanger ending gives the story power that lasts between sessions and makes your players want to come back for more.

I didn’t think this session was particularly good, at least from my side as the GM. I didn’t throw a lot of stuff at the players, and I felt I didn’t manage to keep everyone as engaged as I hoped. But the ending got great feedback from the players and really got them excited.

Planning a good cliffhanger and making sure you have time to play it out at the end of the session is worth it. Give your players something to think about until they’re at the table again.

Fan Theories and Table Talk

We talked a lot about fan theories during the game, and some real gems came up. I love table talk when it revolves around the game because players are full of ideas worth stealing. Listen to what your players are excited about, and work that into the game, with a twist or two, for even greater effect.

Flip-Mats and Minis

For this session, I used Paizo’s basic flip-mat and miniatures from Zombies!!! (Director’s Cut) and Doom: The Boardgame, with a few Micro Machines for cars. Anything will do really, I just thought these minis added a nice touch to the feel I was going for.

The flip mat is very handy, and gets used in most of my sessions — most highly recommended GM tool, besides a set of dice!

Till Next Time

Our next session is two weeks away, so check back in three weeks for more from Stranger Things Season 3.

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

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Stranger Things Season 3 – Episode 2

Stranger Things Season 3 – Episode 2: Car Trouble was our second session playing vs. Stranger Stuff, a game published by our friends at Fat Goblin Games.

Episodes: Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4Episode 5 – Episode 6 – Episode 7 – Episode 8

A big thanks to Margot for sharing her session notes with me.

Stranger Things Season 3 — Episode 2
Stranger Things Season 3 — Episode 2: Car Trouble

Disclaimer: Because Stranger Things Season 3 isn’t out at the time of writing, you don’t need to worry about spoilers, but I’m going to assume you’ve watched Season 1 and 2 already.

Our second session of Stranger Things — Season 3 was an even bigger success, as plots thickened, twists were turned, and an important character went missing. If you haven’t already, read the summary of episode 1 so that you’re up to speed.

Next up is a summary of episode 2, with tips for running your own Stranger Things campaign at the end of the post.

Stranger Things Season 3 – Episode 2: Car Trouble

Scene 1

Player Characters: Dustin, Mike, and Will.

The boys are back from school, watching TV at Mike’s house while it’s pouring with rain outside.

ThunderCats is playing on TV. In this episode, Mumm-Ra is planning to infiltrate the ThunderCat’s lair by assuming the identity of a common housefly.

The players then recapped the previous session and made some plans. It was a Wednesday, with Halloween coming up. They talked about dressing up as the ThunderCats, and maybe going to see Back To The Future.

GM’s Notes: Yeah, you all know the fan theories about Stranger Things Season 3 and Back To The Future.

Scene 2

Player Characters: Lucas, Hopper, and Steve.

Lucas comes into the station just as Hopper and Steve are heading out to fetch Steve’s car. Because of the rain, Hopper offers Lucas a ride.

They talk about El and Mr. Clarke, who are both acting strange(er).

Steve’s car is still parked along the side of the road, but a Brains 7 check reveals that the car has been tampered with, and a Brains 5 check lets the PCs spot tracks under the car: something with four legs and two-toed feet has ripped out the car’s innards!

GM’s Notes: I’ll share stats once my players have encountered the critters, in a later post.

Scene 3

Player Characters: Hopper, Lucas, and Jonathan.

Hopper tows Steve home, then, with  Lucas, heads to the school. They bump into Jonathan there.

Looking for El, they find the AV room locked. Once inside, they find that the equipment has been shifted (Brains 7 to spot this). On investigating, they find that the radios have been hollowed out and all their components removed.

They find Mr. Clarke and question him, but he only says that El went home. Hopper later gives Lucas an important assignment: “Watch him.” They figure out a plan to keep in radio contact, even though the radios are still full of static, which comes and goes in waves.

Scene 4

Player Characters:  The Byers Family.

The family is making dinner and talking about recent events.

It turns out that Will is still seeing visions of the mind flayer. He gets the feeling that it’s frustrated about something, is watching something he can’t see, and waiting for something.

Joyce calls Hopper, so by now, all the playable characters are pretty much in the loop, except maybe for Max and her step-brother.

GM’s Notes: If you think you know what D&D monster is the big bad in our campaign, leave a reply in the comments. Hint: there are two monsters running amok in Hawkins, both of which feature in most versions of D&D (if not all).

Scene 5

Player Characters: Hopper, Jonathan, and Nancy.

Hopper heads home, but on the way gets a radio call from Flo. She doesn’t realize she’s passing on a coded message from Dr. Sam Owens, asking Hopper to meet him at a predetermined location — the bar.

Hopper calls El, who is uncharacteristically fine with Hopper being late.

Hopper meets Sam at the Gas Station Bar. Jonathan and Nancy are seated at the back (okay, they’re underage, oops). Hopper doesn’t see them, but they catch enough of his conversation with Dr. Owens.

Dr. Owens mentions that equipment — with big names Hopper doesn’t understand — has been going missing from Hawkin’s Laboratory. He also discovered a department that is using radio signals and running tests on subjects, similar to what was going on with Eleven.

Dr. Owens slips a key card to Hopper, then leaves. He’s obviously worried that talking to Hopper is going to get him into trouble.

GM’s Notes: Nancy should be 18 in 1985, according to strangerthings.wikia.com. Jonathan should also be 18. That’s the legal drinking age where I live,  which is probably why it didn’t even occur to me to check before. Good thing Hopper didn’t spot them.

Scene 6

Player Characters: Nancy, Jonathan, and Joyce.

At the store where Joyce works. Jonathan now works here part-time.

Nancy is picking up some things when two men walk in from the local Radio Shack. They’re complaining about thefts and that they just had to let one of their employees go. The also mention the radio interference. Joyce confronts them about it, but they don’t have any answers.

After the men left, Nancy thought she saw Barb walk past the isles. Nancy called out, following quickly after, as Barb left the store. Jonathan joined the chase, which ended in a fight in an alley with Mr. Clarke (see the previous episode) and “Barb” turning on Nancy and Jonathan. I drew the Ace of Hearts and Mr. Clarke and Barb escaped, carrying off Nancy!

The credits rolled, and everyone was left eager to play episode 3.

GM’s Notes: If you’ve been keeping score, Mr. Clarke, El, and now Nancy have all fallen into the clutches of evil! Mwahaha!

 

GMing Stranger Things

Session Planning

My planning fills three-fourths of an A4 sheet, in two columns, 12 point font. I’ll only plot out four or so scenes, with a sentence or three about which characters are involved, what’s going on, and some stats and tests. Other scenes happen organically, based off what the players want to do. I usually plan a cliffhanger ending.

It’s a lot less prep than I do for a D&D game, which usually involves a few pages of notes, hand-drawn battle maps, miniature selection, and maybe even a spreadsheet to speed up combat.

The key to prepping a Stranger Things game is to define the major characters, their relationships, and the plots they’re involved in. Then you can set your players free to discover the story for themselves.

To keep track of everything, I use Twine.

Twine

Twine is usually used for building “Choose Your Own Adventure” style games, like our own line of solo role-playing adventures (now offered through our Patreon). It’s very easy to build a simple wiki with it too.

I’m assuming you know the basics of Twine.

My first node is a menu page, with an alphabetical list of PCs and NPCs, locations, and other subjects. Every other page looks something like this:

** Subject 011 / El / Jane**

1. Notes about Jane...

Back to [[Main Menu]]

Breaking that down, it’s a heading, a numbered list of facts about the character, and then a button back to the main menu.

It doesn’t take much to expand the wiki, which I do as part of my session planning. It gives me a good idea of what’s going on so that I can roll with whatever my players want to do.

Playing and Spoilers

It happens that some of your players might not have finished watching previous seasons of the show. Life happens — I’ve been trying to get through Ant-Man since Christmas* — I know how it is. If that’s the case in your group, you have two unappealing options: spoil those episodes or play around them.

We’ve tried our best to avoid mentioning special moments near the end of Season 2, and a player asked to cut a conversation between two characters that would have revolved around the final episode. We still had fun, and our game makes perfect sense. So, personally, I don’t think it hampers the game too much to tread carefully around some of the plot endings.

Till Next Time

Our next session is a week away, so check back next month for more from Stranger Things Season 3.

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

Subscribe to our newsletter for monthly updates and visit us on our blog, our Facebook page and on Twitter.

* Finished watching Ant-Man last night, almost 2 months after I got it. Loved it.