Gnotes from Gnome Stew HQ

GMing Roundup

Play a New RPG Month is just what it sounds like: damned good advice for any GM (or player). If you’ve only run, or played, one RPG — or even mainly one RPG — you owe it to yourself and your group to try another one. It can be a fling, a temporary thing, but if you choose wisely it will open new doors.

Ever wish D&D 3.x ended at 6th level? Well, it can. E6 is a nifty little 3.x hack that I found out about via RPGGeek, and it’s a great example of how you can make a profound but relatively simply change to a game and wind up with a completely new experience.

Gamemastering is a book about…wait for it…game mastering! It’s a free 300-page PDF, and there’s a reasonably priced print edition available on Amazon, as well.

The author, Brian Jamison, approached me for some feedback back in 2007, and I didn’t realize that the book had come out. It’s a pretty particular approach to GMing, but one that will (and does) appeal to a lot of folks — definitely worth a look.

Also on the book front, I’m reading HeroQuest right now (based on a recommendation from RPGnet), and it’s fantastic. It takes a narrative approach to everything in a way that’s new to me. For example, in HQ the question wouldn’t be “How hard would it be to leap across that chasm” but “Would the PC make that leap if this were a Jackie Chan movie?”

There are lots of pages in HQ that I’d say are worth the price of admission — single pages that have the potential to change how you GM, any one of which is worth $30 — but the cake is taken by the pass/fail flow chart for adventure pacing. Gold.

The Jack Vasel Memorial Fund

When Tom Vasel, best known for his Dice Tower reviews, posted a video tribute to his son, Jack, who lived for just over two months, I was moved to tears. It’s not just that it’s sad (which it is, and heart-breakingly so), it’s that it’s so positive despite the circumstances.

That Tom was able to take such a terrible loss and make something positive out of it says a lot about him, but a few months later he took it a step further: He created the Jack Vasel Memorial Fund, “a not-for-profit with a simple goal: raising and distributing funds to help gamers in their hour of need.”

It’s a hell of a good cause. They accept donations.

The Reference Adventure

This is a long walk, but bear with me — I think you’ll like the idea at the end. First, let me tell you about my character… Just kidding. Back when I did NaNoWriMo, I picked up No Plot? No Problem! to help me along the way. It’s a book on writing a novel in 30 days, and it’s quite good. The idea from it that’s stuck with me for several years, though, is this one: When you’re writing and you’re not sure how to handle something grammatically or structurally or what have you — like whether or not punctuation goes inside quotation marks, for example — you should have a reference book at hand to check.

But not an actual reference book: A book of the same type you’re trying to write, IE a novel, that you love. I use Terry Pratchett’s Interesting Times, my favorite book by my favorite author. Whenever I’m uncertain about grammatical tidbit or style convention while writing, I flip open Interesting Times and see how Pterry and his editor handled it; then I do that.

And it occurred to me that this should also work when writing adventures: Pick your favorite published adventure, or scenario of your own devising, and keep it on hand for inspiration when you’re not sure how to handle an encounter, an important decision, a branching point, or some other structural element of the adventure you’re trying to write. This is your reference adventure. You could even keep a few adventures handy, one for each broad type — like your favorite dungeon crawl, your favorite sandbox mini-setting, etc.

I haven’t tried this, but it sounds pretty reasonable. If you try it, or already do this, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Inspiration for GMs

For my wife’s birthday, we went to the theater for a double feature. Fright Night was first, and quite enjoyable, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes was even better — doubly so because it has an awesome soundtrack. Full of pounding drums, this is great RPG background music as well as great writing music. It slants to action, but there’s a nice mix of other types of track, too.

When I read about Musica Cthulhiana in Knights of the Dinner Table, I went and checked them out immediately. Their music is explicitly designed as background music, so it’s ideal gaming fodder.

If your gaming BGM collection is light on creepy stuff, check out their three albums: Fragment, Feeder, and The Fourth. Good stuff.

In a horror vein, though of a very different stripe, I also recently devoured the first eight books of the Death Note manga series. (I picked up the Black Editions because they’re larger and have cool black-edged pages.)

The premise is dead sexy: A god of death leaves his notebook on Earth, and a mortal finds it; anyone whose name is written in the book will die. It goes to some very unexpected places, and from the concept to the characters to the notebook it’s full of inspiration for a different kind of horror or dark modern game.

To close us out, one more horror item: Marble Hornets on DVD. MH is a YouTube video series of “found footage” centered on a mysterious entity that seems to be stalking the poster’s college friend, but it’s so much more than that — I just don’t want to give it away.

It’s an amazing example of subtle horror, the kind where the criticism “But nothing happens!” can fairly be leveled at it — but it you like horror that creeps you out without telling you much, makes you think, and rewards close viewing, it’s pretty amazing. You can also watch the whole thing for free on YouTube; I recommend using headphones and watching it alone.

That’s it for this installment — I hope you found something here that inspired you!