GM Toolbox, RPGs, Video Games

Worldbuilding of Warcraft: Lessons on setting design from WoW’s latest expansion

Like millions of other people, lately I’ve been completely engrossed in World of Warcraft’s latest expansion, Legion. It’s a great addition to a the storied MMO with tons of evocative scenery. While riding around on my enchanted sylvan panther, I’ve been continually impressed by the thought put into each of the different “zones” in the game. Whether a video game, a tabletop game, or work of fiction, solid worldbuilding typically follows the same rules. In worldbuilding discussions, you’ll often hear one of the most basic rules as. “Have a Sense of Place”. In other words, settings need to feel distinct and able to connect with players. I like to break this rule down a bit further. Settings with a strong sense of place need to have atmospheric or sensory qualities that help capture the imagination of our audience. Namely: theme, history, and purpose. We’ll go through each of these ingredients below with examples from Legion that illustrate their effective use.

Distinct Themes:

The various “zones” or levels of Legion have strong themes that offer insight into what kind of stories we can expect to see and evoke a deliberate emotional response in players. The first zone I played in Legion, Aszuna, featured crumbling ruins of an ancient elven civilization latticed with rivers of crystallized magical energy. It’s a majestically decrepit place. A graveyard for a culture built and destroyed by magic. From the visuals alone, we immediately have a sense of grand scale, a bygone age, and of the consequences of power ungoverned by reason. Each of the game’s other zones invoke a distinct feel as well. It’s the old adage of “show, don’t tell” in the most basic sense and precisely why a distinct theme can be such a powerful tool in setting design. This kind of approach works well for an epic fantasy game like Legion but the same tools could be brought to bear in a different genre of game. A hallway in an abandoned hospital, with cracking paint and the buzz of flickering lights, can evoke a sense of intimacy and dread appropriate for Call of Cthulhu or another modern horror game.

A Sense of History:

If themes add depth to the present of a place, then a sense of history provides depth to a setting’s past. It’s important that a place feel lived in for not only the last week, but for years or even millennia depending on what you’re aiming for. So how does one do that? One easy way is to show how populations and geographic features have shifted over time. In Legion, a race of magic infused super-elves called Nightborne once had a sprawling empire. Throughout Legion, you’ll find ruins of their once great civilization punctuating the landscape. In modern times, the Nightborne have regressed to living in one massive city. To protect themselves (and keep others out) of their territory, the Nightborne erected a massive dome of energy around their city. The ruins and the magical dome are both visual cues that immediately convey a message: first, these are a people in decline and secondly, these are a people fearful of the outside world. Both elements contribute to the suggestion of a larger narrative against which the story of the game takes place.

A Clear Purpose:

Another important aspect of setting to consider: is it plausible given the rules of the world/game/story? Does the geography of the place make sense? What impact have people made on the landscape? If it’s a man-made place like a city, where do people eat? Are there parks or other kinds of recreational spaces? If it’s a tomb or some kind of man-made structure, is it built in a logical way? To be clear, you don’t have to make everything make sense, but make sure it’s a conscious choice. A setting can be completely nonsensical if that’s what the setting calls for. In that same vein, a city ruled by a cruel tyrant probably has very few (if any) places for people to have fun.

Have any thoughts about setting or examples of great settings from video games? Share them in the comments!

Advice, Behind the Screen, RPGs

Behind the Screen: Running Games for Young Players

Behind the Screen offers advice and insights on topics specifically for those brave souls who keep the action moving–the Gamemasters. Our focus this time will be tips for running games for younger players.

At some point in your GMing career, you’ll be asked (or maybe decide on your own) to run a game for one or more younger players. Most often these players will be new to tabletop, but not always. In any case, younger players don’t engage RPGs in the same way as older players, and in most cases you’ll need to alter your approach to accommodate that audience. With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you craft a smooth running and fun experience for younger players*.

*By younger players, I mean those between the ages of 8 and 13.

1. Did I Mention They’re Kids?

To play with and run a game for kids, you have to be more patient than you would otherwise be. A 5th grader doesn’t have the same command of small unit tactics that you do. They won’t always think before they act, so offer them a chance to reconsider their choices. If a young Wizard is going to charge a zombie dragon, offer him advice on the wisdom of that choice. This doesn’t mean that you always have to give them a pass. If the young wizard decides to press on and get eaten, that’s OK. Allowing them to make mistakes can (hopefully) let them learn from the experience and make smarter choices the next time around.

If you’re running a mixed party of older people and kids, be sure to gently remind the other people at the table to be patient with the younger player(s).  We all want to have a good time, but sometimes we older players can forget that we weren’t born able to recite the list of 3rd level spells. A younger player has every right to be at the table, just like any adult player. This can cut both ways, however, and if a younger player is being actively disruptive, don’t hesitate to firmly (but politely) tell them to rein it in.

2. Fun first, rules second.

Tabletop RPGs are, in a way, the antithesis of what most kids might consider fun.”RPGs are sort of “make believe with lots of rules.” On its surface that proposition can be a deal-breaker, but the key keeping it fun is to…well, focus on the fun more and the rules less. If a kid wants to play a Paladin that dual wields laser-beam-shooting-katanas, then OK. Let them pretend to be the heroine they want to be. The key here is that they: 1. have fun 2. are allowed to be creative, 3. learn that RPGs are a good way to do 1&2. If a kid wants to be Batman in your D&D game, then for the love of Paladine, let Batman beat the crap out of some Orcs, OK?

3. Pre-Make Everything (as much as you can):

Have you ever noticed how a character sheet looks like an exam form? Yeah, that’s not lost on your players, either. Do them (and yourself) a favor and provide your players with pre-generated characters if its their first time. Or if they’ve played the game before, let them use their character. In case of the latter, they’d probably want to use their own character away. In either case, this will allow you to spend more time actually playing that rolling up character and potentially having to explain how character creation works. And while you could set up a specific time to get together and make characters with these players, the act of character creation can be an onerous process–especially in the case of games like Rolemaster or GURPS.

Pre-creating your adventure materials is even more important in these cases since you can run the risk of bogging the game down or losing the interest of your players even faster than with adults. Try to prepare your “main path” but also be ready with a few random encounters or set pieces statted up to throw into the mix when the players go too far off script or if the adventure you have planned becomes predictable. And while that is pretty standard advice, in the case of kids and their attention spans it’s even more important. Or you can do what I like to do, and use pre-made adventures.Organized play scenarios like those from the Pathfinder Society or the D&D Adventurer’s League are especially useful in these situations.

4. Faster Pacing is Better.

In the same vein as #3, a faster paced scenario will help keep your players engaged. This means often times it could be a combat-heavy affair, but it doesn’t have to be. Following the model of an escape game like this, you could set up a challenging puzzle for your players (a Sphinx’s riddle or a room slowly filling with acid) and impose a time limit to solve the problem. However you decide to do it, by forcing your players to make choices on a fairly regular basis you can create a brisk and suspenseful pacing that will keep them looking less at their phones and more at each other.

5. Shorter Game Sessions are Better.

Given #3 and #4, this should be a no-brainer. Not only will kids start to get antsy if a session lasts for more than a few hours, but they also have far more restricted schedules than adults. Young players are still have to deal with curfews, homework, chores–all things we adult players have long since been (thankfully) liberated from. For very young players, those still in elementary school range, consider only running for no longer than two hours. For older kids, a full “con-length” session of 3-4 hours may be feasible, but always adjust for your table’s attention span and taste.

Most of these tips are just GMing best practice, but in the case of young players, each of these ideas are even more important. Do you have any tips to share for GMing younger players? Leave a comment if you do!


Review: Pathfinder Unchained

This review covers the Pathfinder Role Playing Game supplement Pathfinder Unchained. If you’re new to Pathfinder, this may a bit “inside baseball”Pathfinder Unchained for you. Start with this post instead.

Back in the elder days of…1985…TSR released Unearthed Arcana for Dungeons & Dragons. That book introduced a host of optional rules for game like new races, classes and spells. Unearthed Arcana established a tradition of “alt rules” or “official house rules” books in tabletop RPGs, and Pathfinder Unchained (henceforth called just Unchained) is a book in the same vein as that earlier work.

Class Changes

Unchained doesn’t add any new classes to the game, but it offers significant revisions to four existing classes: the Barbarian, Monk, Rogue, and Summoner.

The Unchained Barbarian: The ironically math-intensive aspects of the Barbarian have been fixed while rage powers have been tweaked for clairity. The new system for Rage replaces the increase to Strength and Consitutuion with a flat bonuses to Hit Points and attack and damage rolls. The effect is exactly the same as the Core Rulebook version of the class, for combat purposes at least, and makes it far easier to add up combat modifiers on the fly. As for rage powers, all of the Core Rulebook’s powers have been revised with an eye towards clarity rather than rebalancing. (If you find something I might have missed, let us know in the comments!)

The Unchained Monk: The Monk receives significant changes. Most notably, the class now swings with the best attack bounus progression and has the same hit die as a Fighter. To balance this out, the monk loses its unique “all good saves” distinction, keeping only Fortitude and Reflex as primary saves. (I think its nuts to saddle monks with low Will saves, but that’s what house rules are for.) The last big change for Monks is around their feature set. Flurry of Blows has been simplified to provide a free attack with no penalty and it scales at higher levels. But the biggest change to the Monk’s powers is they are longer forced to watch other classes choose powers as they level while their features remain static. Monks now have arguable as much flexibility as fighters while retaining their own distinct flavor. Monks come away from this book with a healthy increase in power and flexibility.

The Unchained Rogue: The Rogue gets a lot of love. In fact, I’ll go ahead and say you’ll be seeing a lot more of them at your table or con games. (Heh…con games.) Several things provide a significant boost to melee damage output for this (greatest of all) classes. First, all Rogues get “Finesse Training” (Weapon Finesse) for free at 1st level. (Cue all Rogues dancing in joy) But at 3rd level Finesse Training’s next stage lets Rogues add their Dex to damage with one finesse weapon of their choice. Then at 4th level, when a Rogue deals sneak attack damage they can also inflict a “debilitating injury” in the form of some kind of debuff. Oh yeah, and you can still use poisons. I mean…dang. And since that wasn’t enough, Rogues now have the “Rogues Edge” ability which enables them to use “skill unlocks” to push the limits of what’s normally possible with a certain skill. All of the other abilities of the Rogue like Sneak Attack, Uncanny Dodge, and Talents remain unchanged. These buffs will go a long way toward encouraging people to play a class that many considered “underpowered”. I’ve always loved the class but now it’ll be fun giving the fighters a run for their money in the melee department.

The Unchained Summoner: The Summoner is the only class in the book that is “nerfed”. I say nerfed in quotes because, in this humble GM’s opinion, they were insanely broken. The signature Eidolon feature, was far too easy to optimize for game-breaking melee efficiency and they could summon a hoard of critters with their spell-like Summon Monster ability. Having briefly had one in my game for a moment (who used their powers reasonably) I could easily see how the class could be unbalancing. I even think that the original Summoner was banner from Organized Play events. The Unchained version of the class places some needed limitations on its key features. Eidolons and their abilities have to be based on a monster sub-type rather than being completely up to the player’s discretion. (Never a good idea, right?) Use of the Summon Monster ability and the Eidolon ability is now mutually exclusive. Good bye encounter-breaking monster army. Even with these changes, the Summoner is still a pretty darned good class and an excellent choice for someone looking for a spellcaster that’s a bit off the beaten path.

Gameplay and Optional Rules

I won’t go over all the rules in this book because there are a ton of them. Instead, I’ll mention the ones I find interesting enough to consider adding in to my Skull & Shackles campaign.

Alignment: As I’ve been in gaming longer, I’ve gotten less satisfied with the traditional law/chaos, good/neutral/evil axes. In my personal view, the traditional alignment system can end up being the wrong storytelling tool for the job. Unchained offers several flavors of Alignment rules, including an option to remove it from the game entirely. One I’m interested in is the “Loyalties” system, where players pick three loyalties which guide their moral and ethical decisions. It gives classes like Paladins and Monks the chance to cleave closer to codes of conduct based on sociopolitical structures than abstract “one size fits all” ethical concepts.

Removing Iterative Attacks: The last time I played in a Pathfinder Campaign we played to 16th or 17th level. As a high level Paladin, if I wanted the game to keep moving, I began rolling all four of my attack rolls (five if hasted) and writing them down so I could calculate all of the feats, powers and bonuses by the time my turn came up. Heaven help me if I had to end up doing something different. My current campaign is getting into the mid-levels of the game, but I’m planning on taking a serious look at how to streamline combat as the PCs and their encounters become more complex.

Simpler Monster Creation rules: If you’re a GM, that’s all I really need to tell you, right? I haven’t tried it yet, but from what I’ve read it does look faster.
Should You Buy It: Yes.

The class changes are the big draw for this book from a player perspective, but for GMs the optional gameplay rules will help you customize your rule set to your campaign. At a minimum, it will help you think of new house rule ideas to throw into the mix.

Advice, Behind the Screen, RPGs

Behind the Screen: Know Thy Players, Part Two

Behind the Screen offers advice and insights on topics specifically for those brave souls who keep the action moving–the Gamemasters. This time, we continue our series on different play styles with The Silent One, The Alpha, and The Storyteller.

The Silent One:
Frequency: You’ll know it when you see it.
Terrain: In the background
No. Appearing: Usually one…unless they’re hiding from you….
Special Attacks: Hiding
Special Defenses: Shyness

Somewhere in the vicinity of your table, far from the spotlight, you may have a Silent One. Silent Ones often appear with one or more players. Maybe they’re someone’s friend or significant other and they’ve joined the game as a way to spend time with friends or loved ones. Or perhaps they’re just shy and wouldn’t want to find a game on their own. Silent Ones pose no threat to the sanctity of your table per se. Indeed, their unassuming nature makes them quite easy to get along with. And therein lies the problem.

How to deal with them:

Silent Ones generally fall into two categories: very shy/self-conscious or along for the company. For the latter, the best thing you can do is accept that they’re having the level of engagement with the game that they feel comfortable with. As long as they aren’t disrupting everyone else’s fun, that’s absolutely OK. For the former type, you’ll want to make sure they have opportunities to drive the action or offer input to the party’s decision making. It can be easy for quiet players to go unnoticed and eventually become disengaged from the game if more vocal players dominate the game. With that said, you’ll have to do your best to strike a balance between providing opportunities and putting pressure on a Silent One to participate. Offer chances to do so with a light hand…lest you cause them to withdraw even further.

The Alpha:
Frequency: The Right Time, of course.
Terrain: Leading from the front or behind the scenes
No. Appearing: Pray its only 1
Special Attacks: Rapid Fire Decision Making
Special Defenses: Certainty

Alphas have a need for control that can quickly lead to other players becoming discouraged or leaving the game altogether as the Alpha tries to drag the game in a direction that other members of the party might not be comfortable with. Alphas tend to hog the spotlight even if they don’t mean to, because unlike the Silent One, they have no problem at all speaking their mind. Alphas can be quite good at keeping the game moving when a Rules Lawyer feels compelled to argue the finer points of some esoteric use of a skill, or when a Thespian’s soliloquy begins to drag on. In these ways, an Alpha can be helpful…ish. Many Alphas see themselves as careful tacticians and are fond of developing intricate plans then lobbying the party to go along with it. At their worst, Alphas can be overbearing and a bit too fixated on their own fun at the expense of everyone else.

How to deal with them:

Channeling the energy that an Alpha can bring to the table is the key to smoothly integrating such a player into your group. Alphas tend to have a natural penchant for organization and for providing their fellow players with a sense of direction. This can be very helpful if, like the Rules Lawyer, you delegate some of the bookkeeping to them, like tracking the party’s loot, or having them update a list of NPCs the party has encountered. If it sounds like the strategy is “keep them busy”, then you’ve got the gist of it, but it needs to be something of helpful to everyone at the table. And like all players, be sure to give the Alpha their moment in the sun occasionally, as they place a particular importance on being able to lead the charge.

The Storyteller:
Frequency: In Three Acts
Terrain: In the background
No. Appearing: A dime/copper/cred-stick a dozen
Special Attacks: Incessant Narration
Special Defenses: Meticulously Kept Campaign Notes

A somewhat uncommon denizen of the playerverse, the Storyteller takes pleasure in obsessing over the most intricate details of worldbuilding. A Storyteller’s character will almost always have extraordinarily detailed back story, which they will eagerly provide you. Much like the Thespian, they often immerse themselves deep into the psyches of their characters, but they’re far more concerned with how their character interacts with the world than with hamming it up in the spotlight. Storytellers arrive at your table in search of their character’s narrative and exploring that narrative in the campaign world. They are creatures of wild and fanciful imagination and are mostly harmless…as long as they perceive the story being told as interesting. If not, they’ll do anything to make the story bend to their personal whims.

How to deal with them:

Storytellers are, at the end of the day, at the table to have a good time just like everyone else, but in some ways, it can feel like they’re gunning for your role in running the game. Be prepared to answer questions about the cultures/languages/economies/religions and other extreme minutia of your campaign setting with a Storyteller around. Feel free to tell them “Eh, I don’t know”. Then feel free to listen to their ideas about it. Nod thoughtfully often. Eventually they’ll move on to ponder something else. The key to dealing with a Storyteller is striking a balance between letting them explore the deepest aspects of their character’s inner nature while also reminding them to engage with the other party members and the overall story. Asking a Storyteller to help contribute to the party’s campaign notebook is a good way to keep them engaged in events transpiring at the table that don’t involve them. Storytellers can often fall in and out of love with their creations, and don’t be surprised if they switch characters (all with pages of background info) several times throughout a campaign. As long as its not going to adversely disrupt the game or the other player’s enjoyment, there’s usually no harm in letting them do so.

Parting Thoughts:

While the six player styles we’ve covered in the series covers most of what you’ll encounter as a GM, in reality most players will have elements of all of these styles in varying degrees. Be sure to match your tactics to the players you’re working with! Everyone, myself included, has player habits that can sometimes cause GMs and fellow players headaches. Hopefully you’ll be able to use this as a basis for being aware of the blind spots in your own play style the next time you sit down on either side of the GM’s screen.

RPGs, You Should Play

You Should Play: Pathfinder RPG

System: Pathfinder (D20)
Vintage: 2000s
Genre: High Fantasy, with dashes of steampunk, horror, and sci-fi
Latest Edition: 1st, 2009
Complexity: Medium
Lethality: Medium. PCs in this game are capable of epic and cinematic feats of heroism
Rolls with: All the dice, especially the D20


Why You Should Play It:

The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game could arguably be described as the most popular RPG currently published. Ironically, Pathfinder describes itself as being based on the world’s oldest fantasy roleplaying game, specifically the 3.5 edition of Dungeons & Dragons. When the 4th edition of D&D was announced, it became clear that Wizards of the Coast was less inclined to allow third-party content creators the same level of freedom they enjoyed during the original D20 era. Paizo, a longtime developer of third-party materials for D&D 3.0 and 3.5 decided to create their own D20 compatible RPG in response. D&D 4th Edition went on to be a radical (and divisive) departure from previous editions while Pathfinder inherited the mantle of D&D’s “true successor” in the eyes of many. Today, D&D has moved on from 4th Edition to better things and Pathfinder continues to be widely played.

In many ways, Pathfinder feels like a very highly polished and balanced set of house rules for D&D 3.5. All the mechanics of 3.5 remain intact, though with some significant tweaks in certain cases. Skills have been consolidated where it made sense to do so. Several classes, like the Wizard and Rogue, received increased hit dice to make them less squishy early on. Overall all of the core character classes received significant additions to their core abilities. As a result, Pathfinder tends to reward players for sticking with a single class much more than 3.0 or 3.5. Prestige Classes are available options for character advancement, but with the addition of templates (sort of like character kits from AD&D 2nd Edition) you can tailor a class to fit just about any character concept. Pathfinder also has more base character classes than 3.5, like the Gunslinger or Magus, that serve to at once expand character options and make Pathfinder even more distinct from predecessor. For Game Masters (GMs), I find that building balanced encounters in Pathfinder is much faster than the 3.5 days. The revised rules for determining the challenge rating of an encounter allow for on the fly encounter building when you want to keep those pesky players on their toes.

My favorite thing about Pathfinder is its accessibility in legal electronic form. Almost every Pathfinder product can be purchased as a PDF, often at a significant discount compared to the physical releases. Being able to carry around your whole game library in a laptop or tablet is nothing short of a modern miracle.

Getting started with Pathfinder is as simple as picking up the Beginner Box or for the full rules, the Core Rulebook. The Core Rulebook is $9 as a PDF and contains everything needed to build characters and most of what a GM needs to plan encounters and design adventures (no monsters though). But 9 more bucks gets you the first Bestiary, so you’re good to go for less than $20, which is crazy compared to the entry price point of most RPGs or board games.

Pathfinder, like many of the larger RPG franchises out there, has an organized play association that meets weekly at game stores and libraries all over the place. If you want to try before you buy, Pathfinder Society might be an option to consider.

You can read a review of Pathfinder here. Or you can take my word for it and check it out if you haven’t already. It’s easily the best take on the 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

Advice, Behind the Screen, RPGs

Behind the Screen: Know Thy Players, Part One

Behind the Screen offers advice and insights on topics specifically for those brave souls who keep the action moving–the Gamemasters. This time, we begin the first in a series covering different play styles GMs can encounter in the field and how to handle them. This month we take a look at The Rules Lawyer, The Power Player, and The Thespian.

Players, like the characters they bring to the table, have their own personality quirks and idiosyncrasies. But believe it or not, they also have their own classes. While not as grand as The Spellfinger, The Murderbeard, or The Sneakypants, these secret (usually to them) classes are just as powerful when determining the actions their PCs will take and the shape of the campaigns you’ll run. When brought together at a table, their fel powers combine to form a multi-headed, headache inducing Hydra of Heartburn. That is at least, if you don’t know what you’re dealing with. Last month we talked about what to do when players do the unexpected. This month, we’re going to begin to explore the why. Each of the examples below are the extremes of their ilk and not all Players will be as terrifying as the horrors below. (Also, I still love you Players. After all, I’m one of you as well.)

The Rules Lawyer:
Frequency: Too Often
Terrain: Any (Most often their favorite game’s message boards)
No. Appearing: 1 Too Many
Special Attacks: Mind Palace of Obscure Rules
Special Defenses: Endless Reference Material

The Rules Lawyer is perhaps the most well-known and dreaded of all the foul denizens of the Playerverse, for they know all and will take extreme joy in sharing their knowledge with you and the rest of the party. During a game. Outside of a game. Via text message. At 4:30 in the morning. (Please send help.)

Rules Lawyers are usually the kind of people who go straight from beginner to expert in record time. They will spend hours pouring over the books, extracting every nugget of mechanical knowledge about the game they can. Most often they genuinely know the rules quite well. In fact, you can count on them knowing the rules at least as well as you, if not better. This would all be fine if they wouldn’t spend every possible opportunity contesting a ruling that doesn’t go their way. It’s a little known fact, but Rules Lawyers are the best pro-bono legal counsel in the world. They never lose a case (at least in their own mind.) If they’re decent humans, they’ll faithfully and accurately tell you what the rule is. If not, well…you should probably ban them from play until the can be above-board.

How to deal with them:

The dread Rules Lawyer has but one weakness: they aren’t running the game. A GM’s chief job is to help keep the game fun for everyone at the table, and its the GM who ultimately referees the game. Don’t be afraid to overrule or even ignore a Rules Lawyer if their insistence on a particular interpretation of the rules threatens to derail the game. If they have a problem with that, then maybe they need to take a break, or maybe your game isn’t for them. On a bright note, the power of the Rules Lawyer can be used to benefit everyone. When rules conflicts emerge, ask the Rules Lawyer to pitch in and be a point of reference. Most of the time they takes to this duty with gusto and it can go a long way to integrating a fearsome but lovable Rules Lawyer into the party.

The Power Player:
Frequency: Every. Damned. Time.
Terrain: Among the Scattered Remains of Their Enemies
Special Attacks: Absurd Damage Rolls
Special Defenses: Absurd Damage Rolls

The Power Player is the best they are at what they do. These avatars of carnage seek the power of the gods and let nothing stand in their way. They may not know all the rules, but they know how to optimize their damage with a Gurgleburgle’s Ceremonial Decapitator.

Power Players (also known as Munchkins…yes like the game) are easy to spot. They will gladly tell people how awesome their character (and they) are. They may not always be Murderbeards, but they will be ridiculously good at being strong/pretty/magicky/fast/skillful or anything else they can take to 11. They can sometimes be competitive with other players and may get upset if they’re character doesn’t get the magic Wookydoodle of Slaying that another Player happened to find.

How to deal with them:

Power Players can unbalance things for a GM if left to their own devices. GMs will need to plan with the strengths of the Power Player’s character in mind–either by compensating for them or by making encounters that other members of the party will be instrumental in defeating. The Murderbeard’s Death Tomato is of little use when an encounter requires magic, stealth, or diplomacy, for example. Good-natured Power Players (or benevolent paragons in their own minds) might also be encouraged to help other members of the party optimize their characters to increase overall Party Badassery. Most Power Players love a challenge to test their character’s awesome power. Don’t be afraid to give it to them (and hopefully the rest of the party survives).

The Thespian:
Frequency: The Perfect Scene
Terrain: The Center of Attention
No. Appearing: What do you MEAN there are others!?
Special Attacks: Overly Dramatic Monologue
Special Defenses: Impassioned Acting

A lesser-known, but no less dangerous creature of the great dark beyond the GM Screen is the Thespian. Capable of accurately portraying literally everyone, the Thespian glories in acting out their adventures. The rest of the party? Eh, whatever. The Thespian helps keep the game moving…as long as moving means revolving around themselves.

There are role players and then there are character actors who happen to be at a table rolling dice with the rest of the party. Thespians crave attention and want to be at the center of the action every time. They often mistake their need to constantly drive the action as enthusiastic role-playing. Thespians are often the least introverted of people at the table. They make wonderful GMs if they can spare the time away from their pet character or NPC.

How to deal with them:

One way to deal with Thespians is to interrupt their monologues. No self-respecting Killmonster is going to let Sir Shinypants word it to death. You can also use this technique to move on to the other beleaguered party members so they can have a chance to act (literally and figuratively). In groups where there’s a greater emphasis on role-playing the Thespian can actually fit in quite well (chances are you’ve got multiple Thespians) and it can even be fun at times to let them improv. If you have a more tactical boardgame style campaign, chances are the focus on combat mechanics will bore Thespians, which could cause them to leave the game, to the sadness (or relief) of everyone else. A great way to keep a Thespian engaged in a game is to occasionally let them do their thing. They’ll feel important and it’ll help keep them satiated until “drama fever” overtakes them again.

All Players have a style of play uniquely their own, and just like in many games, most Players multi-class into multiple play styles. Hopefully the extreme examples we’ve talked about here can help you and your Players get the most the game and each other. Next month, we’ll have a look at The Silent One, The Alpha, and The Storyteller.

Game Reviews, RPGs

You Should Play: RuneQuest

System: RuneQuest
Vintage: Late 1970s
Genre: Fantasy
Latest Edition: 6th, 2012
Complexity: Medium High. Character Creation especially so.
Lethality: High. PCs can die easily if they aren’t careful.
Rolls with: Two 10-sided percentile dice

Note: Most of my experience with RQ has been with a slightly homebrewed version of its 3rd edition.

Why You Should Play It:

If you’ve ever played an Elder Scrolls game and made 87 leather bracers to level up your leatherworking skill, then you might just owe a debt of gratitude to RuneQuest. RuneQuest, a venerable game system often set in the world of Glorantha, is the ancestor of many other games, most notably Call of Cthulhu. Unlike other games of its time, RuneQuest eschewed classes and levels for a heavily skill focused approach. In fact, there can be a skill for almost everything in RuneQuest, from Demonic Horticulture to Shoemaking for Gnomes of Discerning Taste. You “level up” by successfully rolling under or equal to your percentage chance to perform the skill. The more you succeed in a skill, the more chances you have to become better at it. This organic approach to character growth is really fun to see over the course of a campaign and just isn’t possible in a class/level based system. The combat system is fairly sophisticated, with fatigue as a trackable resource, attack and defense skills for individual weapons, rules for martial arts, and situational skills like “called shot”, “positioning”, and “off-hand fighting”. The magic rules vary from edition to edition but generally there are rules for Divine Magic, Spirit Magic, Sorcery, and of course, Rune Magic. Spells work in a manner similar to skills, but require magic points to work, as well as a mastery of several magic skills that effect the range, power, and duration of the caster’s spell.

There have been several editions of the game, each with its own twist on the core mechanics of the original, so I won’t go into deep detail. RuneQuest would be a great game for you if you’re looking for something with technical depth and you don’t mind a little bit of complexity. As a player, it can feel very much like a pen and paper version of Skyrim, and if that doesn’t sell you on it I don’t know what will.

Learn more about RuneQuest in general here, and you can buy its latest edition here.

Update: Here’s an in depth review of the latest edition from