Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Death Traps & Cliffhangers

Today I'd like to discuss two well-used tropes that've been on my mind as late; the Death Trap and the Cliffhanger; and some basic advice how you can incorporate them into a variety of action RPGs.

Death Traps 

Ahh the Death Trap. The much tried and occasionally true method where a villain frequently attempts to use an elaborate (the more elaborate, the better!) means to rid themselves of the protagonist(s)-in-his-side, generally unsuccessfully. No doubt a classic of megalomaniacal masterminds, evil geniuses, and egocentric supervillains; this plot device can be used to inject tension and drama into your games like a metal scorpion injecting acid into a hapless prisoner.

I think one of the tricky things about death traps is to avoid treating them like run-of-mill Dungeons and Dragons-style traps; death traps aren't there as basic encounters to wear down the PC's stats and resources. Sure, there's nothing stopping you from using them that way, but I believe a truly villainous death trap should be more connected and driven by the plot. It can have an assortment of uses: a unique encounter such as puzzle-trap that the PC's must use their wits to solve and escape; an exposition tool for the archvillain to begin his diabolical monologue (do I hear social encounter with dangerous consequences?); or to raise the tension by having the victim of the insidious doom a sympathetic NPC that heroes must save from their fate. (See, the PC's need not be submitted directly to a death trap to raise drama!)

For more examples of Death Traps and their narrative use: [Tvtropes]


Back in the days of matinée film serials the staple plot device was that of the cliffhanger ending, where it was used to entice the viewers into returning to see the conclusion of an unresolved situation. It still exists in media today, but it think the serials of yesteryear handled it great. As each serial would be rather short in length and each finished with a cliffhanger ending, this means that the ongoing plot would be chock-full of cliffhangers: lending itself perfectly to an action-filled RPG of the pulp, spy, or superhero variety.

This classic trope is great for ending a session with some 'omph. That said cliffhangers don't necessarily have to be placed at the end of a session; they can be just as effective in the middle or even beginning of a session. Consider the 1960's Batman TV series (Yes I know, it's more campy than pulpy but it has the right idea for both over-the-top cliffhangers and death traps): The first half of each two-part episode would end with a cliffhanger (usually by death trap). Now, instead of considering each episode a session, placing both parts in one session puts the dramatic and tension in the middle.

Beginning a session with a cliffhanger (possibly supported by a recap sequence) starts the characters in medias res (in the middle of things). No slow build up, just right into the action. Boom. And if you think starting so strong means the remainder of the session is downhill, nothing's stopping you from putting a cliffhanger at the end of the session to keep 'em on the edge of their seats!

All this said, cramming cliffhangers into every point in the plot isn't the way to go either, you'll quickly wear them and your players out. Fast-paced cinematic games should be action filled, but that doesn't always mean that everything the PC's do should be frantic or precarious. Use cliffhangers to add a splash of excitement and suspense to your gaming sessions.

More information on Cliffhangers here: [Tvtropes]

Villains and Death Traps

I believe the most interesting villains in appropriate action-y games should have at least one appropriately themed death trap at their disposal; the more elaborate, the better. Not only does this give the GM a nefarious plot device that the villain can use against the PC's in the story and/or as a cliffhanger, but it also adds a bit more colour to the antagonist. After all, would Goldfinger be as a memorable villain if he hadn't attempted to slice James Bond in-half with that laser?

This idea came to me when I was writing up a couple of  NPC's for Spirit of the Century. The concept I came up with was a pair of circus sideshow performers who specialised in the implement arts; a trick shooter and a hatchet thrower -turned hired goons. Whilst I was working on their skills, stunts, and aspects I thought how cool a scene where one of the PCs or an important NPC was tied to a spinning Wheel of Death or revolving Devil's Door whilst the two ex-performers took turns taking increasingly dangerous shots. It sounded like an awesome idea and with that I developed my design concept for villains:

  • When creating a villain for a pulp, spy, or superhero game, considering adding a little footnote or an aside called Death Traps:. That way any ideas you write down for such devices can be easily recalled later at an appropriate point in the story, or developed further for future use.

Situations and Cliffhangers

I think an important thought to consider whenever you're running scenes or sessions with the characters doing/visiting interesting/exotic/mysterious/dangerous things/locales is what elements and aspects of such situations can you use to pull up a cliffhanger when you need it. As people's play-styles differ and the length of time PC's spent in a single location or situation can vary, nobody can be sure where in the story a session may end. Also, commonly a session ends during a relatively quiet/stable point in play (most people avoid ending a session in the middle of an encounter). This can make planning ending on a cliffhanger tough, but I believe with a little planning ahead a GM can easily and confidently pull this off:

  • Just as I suggested for villains and their death traps, consider attaching a written or mental note to locations and/or situations titled Cliffhangers:. Connecting cliffhangers to these points I think is an easy way to recall an appropriate one for an ending or bit of suspense, by making it fit well with the whereabouts of the PC's. Cliffhangers don't need to be tied specifically to locations either, try creating a few generic cliffhangers that could be applied regardless of the situation or location, such as an earthquake opening a deep crevasse, or it suddenly going dark and a mysterious voice is heard. Death traps can be also cliffhangers, and vice versa!

As I mentioned before, don't overuse cliffhangers. Though you may have several listed for any given location or situation, that doesn't mean you have to use every one; but I'm sure you can easily adapt them to another situation/location if the need arises.

I hope these suggestions help your evil scheming!

Tune In Next Week When... ;{١

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Final Fate!

It's Finally Ready! 

Huzzah! Fate Core!
The FATE Core proof is finished editing and will be off to the printers! They speculate the physical and electronic copies should be available come July, but as a project backer I get the privilege of getting a copy of the PDF now! 

Much to my own shame I didn't assist at all in proofreading and giving feedback on this kickstarter project, partially because I didn't want to spoil it for myself. And I put my trust in entirely in the staff at Evil Hat Productions and all the other gamers who provided input. Now that it's done, I get to fully enjoy it.

Some brief points of interest quickly glancing through the PDF:

  • They added a section called Veteran's Guide, that lists the major changes to the system from Spirit of the Century and Dresden Files. Makes it easy for players' of these systems to see the differences.
  • They dropped the general number of character aspects from 7 or 10 to 5, which sounds like a good idea to me given that I've seen first hand how coming up with 10 aspects in SotC can be a bit of a waste of time considering you might only use half of them. They say you can raise the number of aspects above 5, but suggest not going above 7.
  • Stress boxes work like Dresden Files, which I prefer over how SotC handles stress.
  • Mechanics are no longer based upon a binary succeed/failure. There are now four outcomes. Yay for non-binary results!
  • Actions are simplified into into four groups: Attack, Create An Advantage, Defend, and Overcome.
  • The Cheat Sheet page puts all the rules in one spot, and provides the page numbers for each. Damn good idea, as it's easier than looking up a rule via the index.

Wheee! Fate Accelerated!
I'd be remiss not to mention Fate Accelerated Edition is also hot on Fate Core's heels to the printer, and the PDF's are also available to the backers. As some of you know, and may guess by the name, Fate Accelerated is a super slimmed-down, streamlined version of Fate Core, weighing in around 50 pages (for $5!). Designed for grab-and-go, pick up, and last minute games, FAE is looks great from what I've seen.
Here's a brief overview:
  • Characters are given 3 to 5 aspects
  • Skills/Tasks are streamlined into Approaches: [Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick, and Sneaky] You select one at Good (+3), two at Fair (+2), two at Average (+1), and one at Mediocre (+0).
  • Normally you begin with one Stunt, and most Stunts give you a +2 bonus. You start with three Refresh, and is reduced by one for each Stunt you gain after your three free ones.
  • Doing stuff: Choose one of the four Actions, decide your Approach, roll 4dF, add bonuses, modify with aspects if necessary, and figure out outcome.

That all aside, I recorded a Vlog last night, where I talk about our last session of Dresden Files and what lies ahead for that gaming group (new characters, new stories), a couple neat finds at a local store, and my current thoughts on the upcoming Victoria Steam Expo.

And one final tidbit: the Missus' and I were out gardening and I managed to take a shot of this beautiful Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.

Life is pretty awesome.

Cheers! ;{١

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Mighty Thews (And Sales!)

I mentioned a few days ago I was into a big Pulp kick right now, and I didn't just mean the two-fisted, gun-toting 1920's hero variety, I've also been soaking up various sword-and-sorcery and sword-and-planet works. The other night I finally got around to seeing Disney's John Carter, and I must say I thought it was a pretty good film, and the night before I watched the so-bad-it's-good The Beastmaster. [My, my. actor Rip Torn sported quite the aquiline nose in that feature.]

My current stack of reading contains the collection of Conan novels that I've acquired [Sphere Book's Conan, Conan of Cimmeria, Conan the Conqueror, Conan the Avenger, and Conan the Buccaneer.] I had read a couple of these stories before, but it's nice to work my way through them in somewhat chronological order. I must say they're a blast to read provided you're not expecting any particularly deep. It's stories like these that bring one back to the days when one's PC didn't need a complex backstory and motivations beyond a thirst for adventure and treasure.

My Conan Collection

Conveniently this kick is supported by a spotlight sale that DriveThruRPG has on right now supporting OSR games. There you can find some great deals on Old School game PDFs like the highly spoken of Dungeon Crawl Classics (also recommended to me by a friend), the 1981 edition D&D Basic Set Rulebook, Chaosium's Classic Fantasy for their Basic Roleplaying line, and my personal favourite Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea (A veritable STEAL at $10!).

And before you turn this sale down or spring off and purchase your select OSR game, consider also taking advantage of this coupon code I've been given to share, it's good for an additional 15% off the 12 featured titles. This code is only good till Sunday the 19th, so I wanted to share this with you guys ASAP.

That Coupon Code Is: OSRF711F2
Use it well!

One final thing I wanted to mention; some information has been released on the free Legend of the Flame Princess adventure Better Than Any Man, which is featured this coming Free RPG Day. We get a couple shots of what the physical copy looks like and I must say it looks friggin' awesome! I can't wait to get my hands on a copy one month from now!

Cheers! ;{١

Sunday, 12 May 2013


So I jumped the gun a bit yesterday by celebrating my supposed 100th blog entry; turns out that was my 82nd entry. I had thought it was to be my centennial because blogger informed me that I was sitting at 99 posts; what I failed to see that number included my published posts along with my unpublished drafts.

Oopsie. :p Oh well, only 17 to go after this entry.

100th post or not, I was glad to do a video entry. Response has been favourable, which is encouraging. I think I need to work on the structure if I'm planning to make that a semi/quasi-regular thing.

Till next time!

Cheers! ;{

Saturday, 11 May 2013

100th Post! (with Vlog!)

Howdy everyone!

Jerreth Esq. here with my 100th entry, and also the first post from our new home! The Missus' and I are mostly entirely settled in here, and so happy with everything. Life couldn't be any sweeter. :D Huzzah!

100 entries!

To celebrate both of these momentous occasions, I've decided to give a crack at recording a video entry, which if you're so inclined can view here: My First Vlog!

[Currently I'm doing all my writing, recording, and editing via my iPad, as my computer isn't connected the internet. As such I'm unable to embed the video in this post, nor make any decent layout changes to this entry. Also, I am aware how quiet the video is, which I'm planning on rectifying in the future. Apologies in advance.]

Crudeness aside, I'm considering/hoping/planning to make future videos and post them on my blog.

Other than that, I think I covered anything/everything I wanted to post about in my vlog. I referenced Storm of the Century, which can be found here, Shut Up & Sit Down's new site, and I'll direct you to their review of String Railway here.

Last but not least, I want to thank everyone who checked my corner of the interweb, and I hope I provided you with some bemusement, even just for a second.

Cheers! ;{D