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Normal weapons can’t kill the zombies. MicroMan doesn’t trust Captain Fury. The lake monster is really Old Man Wiggins in a rubber mask. These are Revelations. They are things you want the players to find out so that they can make good choices or just understand what is going on in the game. Revelations advance […]

Ben Robbins | October 25th, 2006 | , , | 3 comments

Run Club

GMs run games and players play. Some people do both, but more often than not everyone stays on their side of the screen. There are a myriad of subtle social forces that encourage things to stay this way (comfortable players, GMs threatened by others usurping their position, etc.) but we’re not going to worry about […]

Ben Robbins | October 17th, 2006 | , , | 4 comments

Dungeons & Doomsday Devices: Superhero Base Raids

A dungeon crawl does not fit the superhero genre. Superheroes zip though villain bases, smashing walls or wafting through them with arcane powers. They do not decide on a marching order and do a room-by-room search (or if they do a search, it is glossed over off-screen). Dr Null's base is a complex maze of […]

Ben Robbins | August 29th, 2006 | ,

Four Types of Supervillains

Forget the ice claws, the glowing brains, and the hooks-for-feet for a minute. Despite their surface differences, all your supervillains fall into four categories: soldiers, menaces, masterminds and thieves. The distinction is not about powers or how much of a threat they pose, it’s about how the supervillain behaves. As a GM if you know […]

Ben Robbins | August 24th, 2006 | , | 8 comments

What is an Action Shtick? (part 2)

Leaping from rooftop to rooftop on a racing train. Streaking to catch a falling civilian before he goes splat. Racing past the sign that says the bridge ahead is out. These are Action Shticks, classic challenges that go with a particular situation or environment. By definition they are not original. They are the things you […]

Ben Robbins | August 2nd, 2006 | , | 3 comments

Give Them Details (part 2), Gratuitous Details

Details are good, and can make the game feel more real to the players. But there's a flip side, which is that gratuitous details can alienate your players. It's about suspension of disbelief: if the players perceive the details as a natural part of the game world, the details will improve their game experience. If […]

Ben Robbins | August 1st, 2006 |

Give Them Details

A good action scene paints with a broad brush, but then zooms in and focuses on select specifics. Details make the scene feel real to the players. Landmarks, place names, and even military unit designations lend reality to the situation, not to mention keeping one fight from being just the same as the next. Saying […]

Ben Robbins | July 29th, 2006 | ,

Ask Questions

A good GM asks questions. A good GM doesn't say “this is what happens” unless they follow it up with “what do you do?” A good player asks questions. A good player asks how high is the wall, how far is it to the shore, does the innkeeper seem irritated or just busy? A GM […]

Ben Robbins | June 18th, 2006 | , , | 1 comment

Same Description, Same Rule

Rules should not surprise players. More specifically, if you describe a situation to the players and then describe the rules or modifiers that will apply because of the situation, the players should not go “whaaaa?” If they are surprised it’s either because you specified an odd mechanic (a will save to resist poison) or a […]

Ben Robbins | June 15th, 2006 | | 6 comments

Scaring Players: Creating the "oh sheet!" moment

There is one emotion that GMs down through the ages have struggled to elicit: fear. You've been there. The GM describes the terrible monster or ominous NPC, and the players know the GM _wants_ them to be afraid, but they just aren't gonna do it. They should be afraid, the thing is logically terrible, but […]

Ben Robbins | April 28th, 2006 | | 11 comments

Naming Games (part 2), Episode Titles

In my superhero campaign, I name each episode. I tell the players the name at the start of the game session, sometimes even days in advance. I write it on the white board in big letters so everyone can see it throughout the game. There are pros and cons to doing this. The primary advantage […]

Ben Robbins | April 26th, 2006 | , | 3 comments

Naming Games

I always name games I run. Whether it's going to be a campaign or only one or two sessions, a distinct name gives the players a point of reference, both immediately and long after the game is over. What's more memorable, saying you played in West Marches or “that low level game, the one with […]

Ben Robbins | April 20th, 2006 | , | 2 comments

Screening Player Characters

Player character creation is the most important step of your game. It is more important than any NPC you have prepared or any plot you have in mind. Decisions made during PC creation will determine the entire outcome of the game. I really can't stress how important it is. Good character creation stacks the deck […]

Ben Robbins | April 13th, 2006 |

NormalVision (part 4), Taking it Farther

First, NormalVision thus far: NormalVision (part 1) NormalVision (part 2), When Should I Use It? NormalVision (part 3), Preparing a Scene Now let’s look at a few ways to take it even farther. Making a Difference NormalVision characters are usually more witnesses than prime movers. They stare out across the deck of the ship in […]

Ben Robbins | January 19th, 2006 | | 7 comments

Character Creation: Second Line of Defense

The first line of defense for good character creation is the player's good taste, the second is the rules, and the last is the GM.

Ben Robbins | January 11th, 2006 | | 6 comments

NormalVision (part 3), Preparing a Scene

So you've decided to include a NormalVision scene in your game. What do you need to know before you run it? First and foremost make sure you need to use NormalVision at all. Then decide what you intend the scene to reveal. All that was covered in part 2, so go read it! Players should […]

Ben Robbins | December 31st, 2005 |

NormalVision (part 2), When Should I Use It?

Once the genie is out of the bottle, it may seem like almost any situation is an opportunity for a NormalVision scene. After all, they're fun, right? Take a deep breath. Now stop and consider that for the NormalVision scene (and, er, any scene) to have a point, it has to have a point. Here […]

Ben Robbins | December 30th, 2005 |

NormalVision (part 1)

What's the difference between role-playing games and other mediums? The audience is the same as the actors. The players fill both roles. But for the players to face interesting challenges they are usually kept in the dark about more things than a passive audience needs to be. An audience at a movie can know who […]

Ben Robbins | December 25th, 2005 | , | 14 comments

What is an Action Shtick?

Zodiac Ring includes Action Shticks in each scene. Much like the hero strapped beneath the death ray by his evil nemesis, you ask me: what the hell are Action Shticks, exactly, in detail? We're primarily talking about gaming in the superhero genre, but the concepts can be applied much more broadly. Without the death ray, […]

Ben Robbins | December 17th, 2005 | , | 1 comment

Making the Party: Instant Consensus

Having players like their own characters is critical to enjoying the game. But if the party is going to click, it is just as important for the players to like each others’ characters as well. So as a GM, we want that good party, because it leads to a good game. How do we accomplish […]

Ben Robbins | December 9th, 2005 | | 1 comment

Question Your Assumptions

When you’re writing your game, there’s a tendency toward tunnel vision, to assume players will do what you expect. Take a step back and think about what assumptions you’re making: gentleman’s agreement – You expect the players will do something based on the type of game you are playing. If you all agree to play […]

Ben Robbins | December 6th, 2005 | | 4 comments

Making the Party

You’re about to run a game with a new group of characters. You’ve put a lot of work into preparing your game, which is good, but if the party isn’t good, the players aren’t going to enjoy themselves and all your preparation will be worth about the same as none — which is none. It […]

Ben Robbins | November 29th, 2005 | | 1 comment