Category Archives: Gaming

This area examines individual Game Systems, along with the concepts of World Building, and skills that players or game masters can bring to the table.

Review: So you want to be a Game Master by Justin Alexander

The Alexandrian’s blog is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to run a game regardless of genre or system. The sections on Gamemastery 101, RPG Scenarios, or RPG Cheat Sheets are worth the deep dive. And Justin Alexander has collected this wisdom into a single tome, So you want to be a Game Master.

Chapter Summary

The first chapter on Dungeons covers the core concepts of running any game. Building from the smallest encounter in running a room to a full dungeon with a sample adventure. All the while supporting this with underlying philosophical ideas. Along with concrete tools and procedures for creating random encounters, running traps, or the like.

Exploring scenario design with an adaptable recipe of the 5+5 dungeon, which provides various room types to create interesting dungeons and combat encounters. Expanding on these ideas into large dungeons with simple yet interesting complications of loops, layers, and labyrinths to deliver a dynamic dungeon full of life.

The first chapter ends with multiple paths to explore in terms of well-organised chapters that will cater to many styles of play regardless of genre or game system.

Peppered through the Mysteries chapter are actionable insights, like removing empty time (or as Prof DM says the Shoe Leather), and observations for creating a mystery with his 3 clue rule and the node-based structure to support non-linear adventure design.

This chapter approaches location-based adventures for more proactive players, where the PCs will want to conduct a raid, where they will want to stack the odds in their favour. So, it covers the GM prep needed in terms of floorplans, defences, and running the raid. Heists are a more complex raid, with more steps the players will want to move through, and as a GM, you can focus your prep on the important parts. And finally, it covers which is better to run, based on your group.

The Urban Adventures chapter discusses when you should use a city. Providing tools to create, populate, and run it without overloading you as a GM. It also explores different ways of looking at dealing with downtime for individuals & factions, running urban crawls, and structuring social events. It also explores downtime, ubrancrawls (aka urban adventures), and structuring social events.

The penultimate chapter, Into the Wild, gives a counterpoint to the urban world with the wild unknown. Organising the PCs around watches and the routes they travel. This gets expanded into Hex crawls and Point crawls.

The final chapter is all the other stuff to support your games from campaigns, introducing new RPGs, running open tables, and quick worldbuilding.


Suitable for beginner Game Masters, by showing them the simplicity of running a game. Supporting the Novice GMs by expanding their repertoire of techniques with a raft of new ideas to progress towards mastery. And for the Gaming Grand Master who knows it all. It’s a handy reminder of forgotten things, a refresher to classic ideas and a reference for a fuller game. Wholeheartedly recommended for any game master’s bookshelf.

Ubiquitous micro-computers

The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card-sized computer with the same capacities as a laptop or desktop, but with less power. These microsystems are used to embed web technology and help create the Internet of Things (IoT). I have used them to create a micro-webserver and a cloud-based file sharing. So let’s have a look at how these cheap little bad boys can be used in a cyberpunk setting.

Updating the tech to Red, we have an object the size of a credit card that can connect to a local Net or any store you walk into. They’d be dirt cheap and embedded into every credit stick, electronic device, urban flash clothing, or just a common piece of junk.

Ubiquitous micro-computers provide a way to control a piece of technology (For example; Clothing with built-in LEDs, a radio scanner, or a wifi detector). The places they get embedded does make sense most of the time. Wifi-enabled toaster, anyone? That is until, you realize that a single mass-produced chip can be run out in the millions for pennies and have a simple program installed  They usually have no security, because that would cost extra and who’d want to hack your car headlight anyway?

But just think of the fun you could have, with net-kids sending abuse at each other, or a Corporate assassin using the headlights to trigger another device or programming the vehicle to shut down when it passes a certain street.

All mobile phones have GPS tracking, but what if your CredChip passes on your movements every time you enter a store affiliated with Chipmakers? Or any piece of electronics a PC is carrying. For some examples look at these GPS Trackers from the Spy Store. Cyberpunk2020 has the equivalent device with the Tracer Button and Tracking Device.

Want to know your enemy’s movements, hack their phone, or their sneakers?

So, these systems are small without the ability to run most programs, but you can be certain that some enterprising young hacker has rewritten a program to work on a particular device. And maybe the team needs to collect the software so they can then trigger the vid jacket to hack the garage automatic door opener to provide access to Solo’s favourite ride.

Just remember, In a world where everything is connected nothing is safe

DM’s Encounter Sheet

A friend asked me to create an Encounter sheet for his D&D game. So I had a quick hunt around for appropriate resources and assembled the following sheet. There are 3 versions up on DriveThruRPG.

During the process I found some useful D&D fonts;

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 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.


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.


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.

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.

I’m still waiting for the book, Improve for Gamers from Evil Hat, as it’s released in November. It distils 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, lowering their defence. 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 leads to a lacklustre session with few highs & lows as there is 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, and 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. Characters do stupid things. While you provide 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 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 take a break to give yourself 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.


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.

Cyberpunk 2020 Initiative – Version 1

Cyberpunk 2020 initiative system favors solos with the idea of “move first kill first“. So to help balance out the turn order, to limit the number of multiple actions, and provide a chance to the others to act before the solo team laying waste to everyone.

Version 1 (the ’95 draft)

The first draft of these is from ’95 when we had a large group to test them on.

  1. The turn is in order of initiative with the highest going first. Ties favor Combat Sense, then Reflexes.
  2. Every character can have 1 multiple action per 10 points of initiative or part thereof.  So an initiative of less than 10 will still get an action. 10+ 2 actions, 20+ 3 actions.
  3. Characters still suffer a -3 per each additional action to every skill roll, but each an action will be resolved at the appropriate initiative count.
  4. Once a character action is complete, their next action is 10 points down the initiative order.

For example

A Solo & Fixer face off against 3 gangers. Their initiatives are 22 (Solo), 15 (Fixer), 16, 13, & 9 (for the Gangers).

Round 1: Everyone will take their maximum amount of actions. Solo (3), Fixer (2), Gangers #1 & #2 (2 each), Ganger #3 (1 action).

The Solo will take 3 actions, the fixer 2, and the Gangers 1 each as they aren’t that skilled.

  • At 22 the Solo acts, shooting a Ganger #1, in the head, but misses as all actions are at -6.
  • At 16, Ganger #1, shoots the Fixer, doing 1 point to the Left Arm.
  • At 15, the Fixer shoots Ganger #2, who takes 10 points to the Torso.
  • At 13, Ganger #2, shoots the Solo, for 3 points to the Torso.
  • At 12, the Solo acts for the second time, shooting Ganger #1 again, for 10 points to the Head. <Pop>
  • At 9, Ganger #3 shoots the Fixer in the Right Leg for 3 points
  • At 5, the Fixer acts again (with the penalties), shooting Ganger #2, finishing them off.
  • At 2, the Solo has their final action, popping Ganger #3.


All in all our groups found the rules easy to follow and it makes for an interesting combat as the situation evolves around the characters. It  works, however, it limits the style of game play to back and forth gun-play.

A cyberpunk life

One of the things that I had not considered when playing Cyberpunk 2020 & Shadowrun back in the ’90s was how people live, day to day. The cyberpunk life consisted of doing jobs until you die. They may be a little lip service to the background world, but it was rare to inhabit that world in your game.

This profile of Serge Faguet provides some insight into the life of a Corporate character. The article goes into the mix of lifestyle, drugs, and technology all focused to give himself an edge. It may be a set of extreme steps to take, but it may become to the norm.

A story from Mirrorshades (or I think it was) about a medical student regularly using a drug to enhance her mental state to be able to absorb the huge quantity of information needed for med school. So taking this to its logical extreme. If drugs, cyber-technology, and any form of enhancement you can make could give you an edge. Then those technologies become required to run with the pack, or even to be in the race.

A few questions emerge from this.

  1. So what do characters need to compete?
  2. What enhancements are needed and the consequences that could involve?
  3. How can you create this in a game?

22 by Akira Miyagawa
22 by Akira Miyagawa

Character Roles

Cyberpunk, Shadowrun, & Cyberspace provide useful definitions of character types, the gear they will need, and the tech they are likely to use. So while the game-systems are different, the intent behind them is the same.

Soldiers, Fighters, Gangers, Punks, Killers, Street-samurai are all examples of the Warrior Archetype. In the cyberpunk genre, it all about who shoots first kills first and enhancing those critical combat skills.  Cyber-optics, neural links, and reflect boosting become the order of the day.

Facemen include Fixers, Corporates, Mr. Johnson, and Tricksters in general. The goal is to win social conflicts to get the best deal, persuade the right person, or intimidate the gangers. To this end, they will need cyberware that enhances the social encounters.

Knowledge brokers (aka Wizards) include Netrunners, Deckers, Jockeys who access the digital web to find stuff that others can not. It can also include a character with specialist knowledge, like a Tech or Ripper Doc. The cyberware will be focused on enhancing the mind and allowing access to new data sources.

Arm Fix by EJ Dela Cruz
Arm Fix by EJ Dela Cruz

While not exhaustive, this really just provides a gateway into the character’s world and the lives they could live.

The exploring the Lows

As a GM the challenge here is to balance the good with the bad. So how do you set up the consequences of cyber-enhancement? What enhancements are needed and the consequences that could involve?

The use of cyberware tends to lead to a loss of Humanity (in Cyberpunk 2020) or Essence (in Shadowrun). These are common ways of regulating a character’s actions. However, there are other GM techniques to manipulate the character’s behavior.

Peer pressure plays a part in any sort of social game. As a GM you can use NPCs reactions to your advantage.

  • A street punk would look for obvious enhancements, like cyberware and skin tattoos.
  • A sleek corporate looks for high-quality cyberware, as examples of wealth and sophistication.
  • A Neo-Luddite would look on any cyberware as abhorrent.

Regardless, of why NPCs react they way they do, the effect is still the same in flavoring the cyberpunk life.

Excessive drug use can lead to addition. Cyberpunk 2020 has rules for that. Not too sure if Shadowrun or Cyberspace does.  Regardless of the game-system media like, there is media other there that provides some examples of the consequences. So the question now becomes how could you model the pitfalls of addiction for a character?

Starting the Cyberpunk life with Session Zero

Inkpunk 80: Datahunter by Marthe Jonkers
Inkpunk 80: Datahunter by Marthe Jonkers

One way to create the feeling of the world is to explore a character’s daily life during session zero.  During it, you can bring in all the cyberpunk elements that you want in your game. Focusing on the particular things that are important, with the others becoming faded into the background.

To help set the foundation of the cyberpunk life, you can explore a day in the life or common experiences. Some examples that you could explore are;

  • Use the character’s Lifepath as a starting point for session zero.
  • What was a character’s first piece of cyberware?
  • What crime has the character committed?
  • Has the character ever been caught for something?

The whole goal of this for the GM is to tease out more details about the character.


Creativity in Role Playing Games

When trying to build a new dungeon, a big bad, or an encounter in a role-playing game there are times when you need a little creative help to come up with ideas. The good news is that creativity is a process, a skill and most importantly something you can develop.

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John Cleese talks about it in Creativity In Management. He covers two modes of thinking (ie Analytical & creative) and how they are separated. And then how to access the open mode for better creativity. In essence, to access the open creative mode of thinking he talks about having the mental Space free from distraction; a definite start & stop Time with a duration of about an hour & a half; Time to explore the topic or play with the problem so that you can find the best solution; Confidence to explore the what ifs and take risks; And Humour which is an essential part of playfulness and creativity. Also working with others in a positive environment, because quashing ideas blocks creativity.

A creative design process

The steps, below are adapted from the Visual Communication Design process with a few changes to focus it on to the subject of RPGs. The aim of this is

  1. Goal. Is it a dungeon, NPC, encounter, magic item, or something else? Set out what you want to achieve. It may seem obvious now, but after an hour wandering the Internet, you will have forgotten why you started.
  2. Research. Get some background information on the thing you are planning on creating. Most of the time it may be refreshing yourself with the rules around the goal or topic you are exploring. Make notes, even if it’s just some random scratching on a spare sheet of paper, it will help sort out your thinking.
  3. Idea generation. This is where you pull out some creative thinking tools to produce a list of possibilities. This is a whole subject on its own. Just jot down the ideas, if they come. If they don’t have a break and distract yourself with something else, and you may find ideas start to flow. Do not worry if they are bad, just keep producing some and you may find a good one.
  4. Developing the concept. At this stage, you go through what you have generated and pick one or two for further development. I tend to cluster the ideas around themes (EG. NPCs, Locations, Events, Story threads, etc.). Then pick one idea and start adding stuff to flesh out the bones of the concept.
  5. Refinement. Once you have a single idea developed, you can now start refining it with more detail with the aim of creating the finished thing (NPC, Location, Events, etc). This usually happens by getting some feedback from other people to help pick out things you may have missed. Now you can’t show it to your players, but other GMs or online groups are great for this stuff and will help lift it to the next level.
  6. Presentation. Finally, once you’ve met your goal, it’s on to creating the final form. Taking what you want of the feedback, add it to the bowl and mix thoroughly to blend it all together.

Now, this is not always a linear process where you go from one step to the next. And for a small project, like rolling up an NPC, many of the steps can merge together. However, when developing large stuff, like a campaign world, a city,  or organization, it does become useful to follow.

Finally, Bobby McFerrin on creativity, where he talks about how creativity is the mix of improvisation and technique. Although it’s about music the same is true for role-playing games. To do enough preparation to enable the mixing of pre-created content with the improvisation of the game session.



A new monster!

An article from IFLScience details, Galloping Crocodiles Ate Dinosaurs In North Africa. The documentary on National Geographic has since been moved, but it does give some great ideas to mix it up with creatures that players are unlikely to have encountered.

The BoarCrocodile (Kaprosuchus saharicus) is from the Cretaceous period and would have been 6.5-meters-long (21 feet). Armed with three sets of sharp tusks and a snout that could probably have been used as a sort of battering ram, this must have been the stuff of nightmares for the beasts of the time. While it is thought that K. saharicus fed mainly on dinosaurs, our ancestral mammals probably had plenty of reason to be afraid.

Mike Hettwer/National Geographic. Kaprosuchus saharicus model and original skull.

Laganosuchus thaumastos grew to a similar size, but its flat head appears to have been more suited to ambush attacks on passing fish.

Mike Hettwer/National Geographic. NIcknamed PancakeCroc, Laganosuchus thaumastos probably had a diet of mostly fish.

Both species were closely related to crocodiles, and lived a similar semi-aquatic lifestyle, but had legs beneath their bodies, rather than sprawling sideways as modern crocodillians do. “My African crocs appeared to have had both upright, agile legs for bounding overland and a versatile tail for paddling in water,” Sereno wrote in National Geographic Magazine at the time of the discoveries. “These species open a window on a croc world completely foreign to what was living on northern continents.”

Todd Marshall/National Geographic. This cretaceous crocodile nicknamed DogCroc was probably a fast and agile runner.

The third species identified for the first time on the same expedition, Araripesuchus rattoides, was only a meter long and probably lived on roots and insects.

None of the three compare to Sereno’s best known discovery, the 12-meter-long (39 feet) Sarchosuchus imperatordubbed “SuperCroc,” that roamed (and shook) the Earth 112 million years ago.

Mike Hettwer/National Geographic. Paul Sereno with models of six of the crocodile species he helped discover and describe.

“We were surprised to find so many species from the same time in the same place,” University of Montreal palaeontologist Hans Larsson told The Guardian when the discoveries were announced. “Each of the crocs apparently had different diets, different behaviours. It appears they had divided up the ecosystem, each species taking advantage of it in its own way.”

Fun for the thieves of the party

When the thief of the party steps up to do their thing, the rest of the party sits back and waits for it to be over. This has a tendency to disrupt the flow of play and the energy in the session.

However, with a puzzle box or furniture with hidden compartments (see the videos below), the challenge can incorporate more of the party.  Wizards, Clerics, and other loremasters can contribute their knowledge about the glyphs, runes, or mechanics to aid the thief in opening it. While the burly fighter holds the door (sorry, too soon), or operates the stiff mechanisms.

This springs from Matthew Colville‘s talk about Skill challenges and how to use them in D&D. Other game systems have been using skill challenges for a while, Matt’s expression of the idea has a lot of merits and you should check out the video.

What really makes these sort of things play out very well is to be very clear about the nature of the challenge, to make the PCs time poor, and to set up the consequences for both success and failure. Pathfinder is riddled with Save or Die options in the high levels and this is something best avoided. The FATE game system clear explains that the idea of failure equals death (ie Rocks fall, everyone dies) is narratively boring.

So what happens next is the important thing! Injuries, delays, distractions, curses, capture, etc. The movie Rising Sun has a scene when some bad guys delay the heroes while others dispose of a suspect, showing that the bad stuff doesn’t have to happen to the good guys.

Getting back to the point, one of the goals of the Game Master is to keep everyone engaged with the story in meaningful ways.