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West Marches: Finding the Dungeons

There was a question in the comments about whether a West Marches GM should tell the players where the dungeons are or make them go out and search. Players having the free will to make decisions–and get themselves into trouble doing “a little light exploring”–is at the very heart of the West Marches charter. But […]

Ben Robbins | April 24th, 2024 | , | 2 comments

Cathy Grant is Captain Danger’s Sister (part 2)

During our long-running superhero campaign I introduced a new character, Cathy Grant. But I didn’t tell the players she wasn’t really a new character at all, she was an existing character, Captain Danger’s sister Felicity, using a fake name to get a job and get out on her own in the big city. Did you […]

Ben Robbins | February 25th, 2024 | , , , | 5 comments

Cathy Grant is Captain Danger’s Sister

“Your female characters all sound alike” -the irony, oh the irony I’ve mentioned before how, when I used to GM a lot, I had a tendency to keep secrets. Deep secrets. Long secrets. Sometimes for years. Longer than most people would consider sensible. Like back in the old Doven campaigns, it was almost ten years […]

Ben Robbins | February 19th, 2024 | , , , | 1 comment

My Mom’s a Mech Merc on Mars

I’ve been GMing a very hacked version of Lancer. Our setting has kind of a Cowboy Bebop meets Hammers Slammers meets professional sports vibe: pilots are professionals but it’s just a job. It’s not personal. And because they’re in mighty mighty mecha, even if they get wrecked in combat they are likely to walk away […]

Ben Robbins | August 16th, 2023 | ,

You got Kingdom in my D&D!

How do you introduce a big mysterious enclave of druids to your D&D players without a boring info dump? Well if you’re a bold experimenter, you have the whole group play a game of Kingdom to create the enclave, so the players already know all about it. Oh and maybe you have to do that […]

Ben Robbins | July 12th, 2023 | , , ,

Building Better Gods

“I’m the god of fire. I have fire powers” “Fire powers? What are you, a superhero?” We’re in the middle of a game and you need to make up a god. Because you know, we’re gamers, we have to create whole worlds, gods, civilizations on the fly. What do you do? The number one approach […]

Ben Robbins | November 17th, 2021 | , , , | 2 comments

Eliciting Reactions: Cart Meet Horse

So we’re having dinner and she says “When I GM, how do I inspire awe in the players? I want them to look at something and just go ‘wow!’” GMs ask many subspecies of this question. How do I make them love some character I made? How do I scare them? How do I make […]

Ben Robbins | January 12th, 2012 | | 6 comments

Instant Names: Mythic Flavor

Another instant name trick, this one for making up mythic titles on the fly while maintaining a strong cultural flavor. We just played a pre-Conquistador Aztec game (and by “pre” I mean, “hey, what’s that white sail on the horizon?”) so we got to whip it out. And now I share it with you. First, […]

Ben Robbins | April 4th, 2011 | | 5 comments

Bears Are Not (That) Scary

It’s the Halloween season, so we return to that old chestnut: fear. I’ve talked a little about scaring players before, or more accurately, getting players to be willing to let themselves be scared, but let’s talk about fear itself. Rumor has it there is nothing else to fear. There’s pretty much two breeds of fear: […]

Ben Robbins | October 21st, 2010 | | 5 comments

Crisscrossing Players and Plots and Not Losing Your Mind

After West Marches I ran a long-term superhero game, New Century City. Unlike West Marches it followed the more traditional “the GM creates a situation and the players have fun with it” model, which was fitting because superhero games are one of the most reactive genres you can play: villains hatch schemes, heroes react to […]

Ben Robbins | March 22nd, 2010 | , , | 19 comments

Character Monologue: Tell Us What It’s Like To Be You

Our heroes have just come back to town after exploring the wastelands, and the GM asks Fred what his character, Skark the scavenger, is doing. “He’s looking around to see if he can buy some more shotgun shells, then he’ll check in at the weather tower to see if they picked up any new radio […]

Ben Robbins | October 13th, 2009 | , | 20 comments

Instant Names: the One-Letter Trick

This trick is really too simple to even mention, but when I bring it up at games I’m always surprised that people don’t know it, so I’ll record it for posterity. Say you’re stumped coming up with a name for a character in your average fantasy / sci-fi / not-modern-day-Earth setting. Here’s what you do: […]

Ben Robbins | March 1st, 2009 | | 6 comments

Making the Party: Wedge Issues

“You’re playing a grizzled veteran detective? But I’m playing a grizzled veteran detective!?!” Simple stereotypes are great starting points for character creation, but it also means it’s super-easy for two players to wind up with character concepts that look identical. Increase those odds by an order of magnitude in class-based rule systems (“but I’m playing […]

Ben Robbins | October 6th, 2008 | , | 5 comments

Treasure Tells A Story

If you’ve played in any of the basic dungeon crawling analogs, you’ve experienced that magical post-combat moment: treasure anticipation. There’s loot — you know there’s loot — but you don’t know what it is yet. Your brain is awash with the endless possibilities, visions of the shiny wonders that could be stashed in the ogre’s […]

Ben Robbins | June 26th, 2008 | , | 23 comments