Creative thinking techniques for RPGs

Once you have got some time & space to be creative, now it is time to use some tools to make the process easier. Even though there are many online tools (and explanations) to help you, they can also lead to distraction. So I’ve found the quickest way is pencil & paper as it does not interrupt my flow. Digital tools are great when creating the finished form and should be saved for later in the process.

Random (Encounter) tables

This is something that seems to have disappeared from most game systems over the years, and I can see why with the shift in focus towards narrative storytelling in RPGs. However, they can act as a prompt to help build the encounter or session.

For example, in one session of AD&D (I’m showing my age here). One of the encounters our party had was during the night once the campsite was set up and the watches allocated. A terrified hedgehog races through followed a few seconds later by a giant bear limping after it. We’d grabbed our weapons expecting violence but took a step back to let the bear go on its way, as it was too worked up to help. After the session, the GM said she rolled up the two creatures and mashed them together into a single non-combat encounter.

This shows how random encounter tables and for that matter, any table can be used to spawn ideas. It also demonstrates that not all encounters need to end in violence.

Flowcharts

Flowcharts are closely related to Mindmaps in look and simply add a direction of flow from concept to concept. The ones used in programming have a set of symbols to describe the flow of control in a program but in the case of RPGs it could show the direction of flow for a plot. The main difference is the arrows that are used to visually show the connection.

Brainstorming

Usually built around a single question, phrase, or idea brainstorming is just throwing as many variations down as possible.

Word Salad

Is a free association technique where you throw random words together to see what happens. A great example of this is on the Runehqmmer channel.

Mind mapping

In it’s simplest form a Mindmap links together ideas.  I tend to think of it as labels & links. The labels are the word, concept or idea that represents a thing such as an NPC, room, or event. While the link is how the labels are connected, which could be a relationship between NPCs, connecting corridors between rooms, or possible repercussions from events.

For example, In the review of Oath of the Frozen King, there is this picture.

It shows a collection of dice linked together by lines and when developed it becomes a series of rooms or dungeon.

…Onward…

Each of these techniques is a starting point for the GM to develop their ideas from and requires a little time to polish them up into an encounter, plot point, or some other part of the game.

Selling out

One of the choices a Player Character can have in Cyberpunk 2020 is to sell out. Basically, it’s more chrome for young punks at the cost for servitude to the Corporation, Covert Military, or Organised Crime. New players can access these easy packages of cyberware. Providing them with Cyber-Soldier, Netrunner, Tech Support, Faceman, and a Bioware focused pack.

Pages 93 & 94 cover the details of selling out and as a GM it does provide many opportunities to make the character’s lives more difficult. An organization’s coercion technique is hidden in the GM’s notes adds some paranoia to the game.

An example of a corporate’s holdover a character is Case from Necromancer. Having been locked out of the net by his past, Armitage offers a treatment to give him what he wants. As always, life is not that simple as the treatment is temporary, requiring Armitage’s cure.

Having a character selling out leads to some interesting adventure hooks.

  • Forced employment or jobs you can refuse is a starting point to kick off an adventure.
  • What about a list of the ’employees’ gets out…
    • into the hands of the PCs. With them discovering who’s working for who,
    • or into the hands of their enemies,
    • The question can become what information…
    • Names, Locations, Tracking signal, or Kill codes?
  • How could a PC escape their employer?
  • How can you remove a corporation’s hooks in a character,
    while existing under their watchful gaze?

Body Conditioning

Body Conditioning or Body Building is a BODY-based skill represents the character’s knowledge of how to train the body to improve its condition. This idea originally appeared in Interface 1#1, but it was too easy to go from BODY 2 to 10 (or higher) without problems. So this is a rewrite of that idea.

Limitations

  • A character can train themselves or others.
  • The maximum increase of the BODY stat through body conditioning is half the current skill level, up to a maximum of 13.
  • A character starting with Body Conditioning can roll once per skill level to improve their BODY once character creation is complete.
  • If a character is training regularly, then they can roll once per month
  • If a character is not training enough, then they lose one point of BODY per month until their BODY returns to its original value.

Skill Checks

Current BODYTarget
Very Weak (2)5
Weak (3 – 4)10
Average (5 – 7)15
Strong (8 – 9)20
Very Strong (10)25
Super human (11 – 12)30

Fumbles

On a roll of ‘one’, roll again to determine the degree of the Fumble.

RollResult
1 – 4No effect. You just failed.
5 – 6You look like a fool and everyone knows it.
7 – 8 Minor injury. 1 point of damage.
9 Major injury. 1d6 damage.
10Severe injury. 2d6 damage and – 1 BODY.

Training Gear

Like most skills there are pieces of equipment that can make it easier;

  • Basic Gym Equipment: +1
  • Full set Gym Equipment: +3
  • Integrated Cyber-gym: +5

Beyond Body Conditioning

There is REFLEX training used by the US Air-force to improve the responsiveness of their pilots. The same is true for world class athletics training the lower half of their body for movement (ie MA).

MA Training would be limited to skill level / 3, with a maximum of 12.

REF Training should be limited to skill level / 4, with a maximum of 11.

It appears that there are other forms of training the can make people more Emphatic (EMP), deal with pressures (COOL), etc. However, it is difficult to know how these could be set up in game.

Using Isometeric Cameras in Blender

Settings for a Isometric Cameras in Blender, adapted from
Daring Dino’s video Creating Isometric Cameras in Blender.

Setting up the camera this way requires that it is set to Orthographic with the rotation adjusted 54.736, 0, 45 (X, Y, Z). The XYZ coordinates can be anywhere to set up a good shot.

  • True Isometric Camera. X rotation: 54.736, Y: 0, Z: 45
  • Game Isometric Camera: XYZ (60, 0, 45).
  • Game 4to3 Isometric Camera: XYZ (40.5, 0, 45).

I’ve also noticed that if the Z-rotation is shifted +-90 to (45, 135, 225, or 315), it still maintains an isometric view, but from a different side.

Cyberpunk Net Combat – Summary

Back in ’94-’95, I updated the Netrunning rules to make play easier, especially for Net Combat.  What follows is a summary / TLDR of those rules. Each round plays out at the same speed are the real world, just to keep the game flowing.

Initiative: The interface skill on page 46 says, “Other players can enter the Net, but cannot use the Menu.” This means that any action in the net requires Interface (See pages 149 – 150). I doubt this was intentional, so we just dropped this requirement and made Interface improve initiative. Making Netrunners, the Solos of the Net.

INT + Interface + speed – number of LDLs + 1d10
* LDLs in Africa get -2 each, not -1.

Jacking Out: The next change was logging out, the roll of 8 or less on a 1d10, seams at odds with the rest of the system and a character’s Cool should play a part.

COOL + 1d10 vs 12 

Using Software: This section was a little convoluted with Interface use in some places but not others. So the goal here was to simplify the dice rolls for Net Combat. Str vs. Str roll with program types acting against one another. If the roll is tied then favor falls to the defender.

INT + Str + 1D10 vs INT + Str + 1D10

Offensive Program Defending Program
Trace Evasion
Detection Stealth
Decryption Utility
Intrusion Codegate
Anti-System / Anti-Deck Datawall
Anti-Program / Anti-IC The Str of the program it’s attacking.
Anti-Personal Protection
Controller Controller in device
Utility vs 10
Interactive vs 10
Compiler (Demon) See the programs it’s loaded with

Things Mr. Welch can no longer do during an RPG

RPGs have been around for a while and one of the great joys is the stories that emerge from the game. The innocent-sounding ideas that become disasters ending in a TPK, and that epic-level bullshit that players try and get away with, and those stupid jokes that become core to your own game.

TheGlen’s list, Things Mr. Welch Is No Longer Allowed to Do in an RPG,  gives insight to some of those experiences. Read the full list here:

or Mister Welch, a website that spits them out one at a time.

I have been so tempted to build a Gnomish character around, just the references to Gnomes to try some out in the home game.

Creating dungeon tiles rollers

This week I’ve been design and creating dungeon tiles rollers for terrain crafting. The goal is to create a simple pattern that can be replicated around a roller to create a consistent imprint on XPS foam.

The first version was kludged together and mostly work, but the imprint was not square and the design process wasn’t elegant. The second version highlighted errors in the process which could be seen in the distortion when comparing the X & Y directions. 25mm (1 inch ) in X to 29 mm (1 1/8 inch) in the Y direction. Rescaling the size of the cylinder corrected this mistake. Finally, I just need some more patterns…

Research & References

Most research starts with a search (Duck Duck Go in this case) to find suitable images & other resources. It has been very useful having the name of the tile patterns, along with the images to use for inspiration.

The Rollers

1-inch tiles

1-inch roller to cut XPS foam

Windmill Tiles

Roller for Windmill Tile Pattern

Running Bond Tile Pattern

Flagstone Tiles

Pinwheel Tiles

The four levels of success

Taking an idea from improv theatre leads me to four levels of success you can use in your game. To keep the action rolling for the characters.

Improv for Gamers

I’m still waiting for the book, Improve for Gamers from Evil Hat, as it’s released in November. It distills a workshop series also called Improv for Gamers. The basic idea from improv can be summarised as You cannot say No. As this can stop the scene.  You can get away with No but or No and. This leads to the four options listed below and how I mentally relate them to gameplay.

  • Yes, and. This is a critical success with it’s yes you succeed and another good thing happens.
  • Yes, but. This feels just like a regular success, but as a GM you throw something else in there to keep things spicy.
  • No, but. This is the standard, “I did not succeed” or failing, which tends to stop the action cold. However, if you describe how close they are and give a +1 to the next roll, then it keeps the story flowing. In essence, this delays success.
  • No, and. This is a fumble, critical failure, or similar. Here’s where The Alexandrian’s Three Clue Rule becomes critical as it can avoid the impassible roadblock. So still resolve the disaster of action and move on to the new.

Some bad examples of the four levels of success

The idea does not always work, but here are some examples.

Epic level bullshit. The critical success is great on the dice, but how does it translate into the game world. A crit feels less important when knocking out a mook with 1 HP. So as a GM, it’s worth having something flow on to give that advantage to the table. The mook’s weapon bounces into the villain, lower their defense. The ganger’s head flies across the room wedging the villains’ escape path open to enable pursuit.

Business as Usual. This is where the character tends to pass every check and lead to a lackluster session with few highs & lows as there little tension. And this is the point to spice it up with a “yes but” to complicate matters. But a word of warning is that you don’t want to just keep heaping on the complications as the session will need to move towards a resolution.

EG. The PCs are facing a hostile bard in the tavern, and the PCs deal with every social conflict the bard can throw at them. The jilted barmaid, the rowdy patrons, the song of ridicule all make for good conflict in a game session, but it should not go on forever. The bard is forced to leave by the PCs. Maybe to get more help in the form of street thugs, wizardly curses, or the town watch.

One chance only. Character’s do stupid things and while you give opportunities to succeed, or even survive. Sometimes the dice lay on the hate. So jumping from a building to grab the swinging arm of the crane on a nearby building is an example of one chance only. if they miss they are likely to plummet to their death.

If they fail, then having the +1 to another try makes little difference. But +1 to smash through the window below, grab and slide down the side of the building, or even to make the landing. All make for good narrative developments.

Oh my God No! What happens when a character fumbles SO badly that they derail the campaign? The equivalent of a magical supernova.

I’ve had this happen and I was at a complete loss of how to proceed. As Web DM and others have talked about, the only thing you can do is call a break to give you some time to think. Steal from character backstories, brainstorm some possibilities, or work with the players for ideas.

While not completely on point, once playing Crucible at Conquest, I had the privilege of watching a GM masterfully reassemble the climax of the game session into something truly special. (link)

So…

Constantly using the simple Yes/No success idea of early roleplaying can lead to some dead ends for the story. However, by using the four levels of success, you can enhance the flow of your game. This should lead to better sessions for you and your players.