UbiquitousRat's Roleplaying Dreams

UbiquitousRat's Roleplaying Dreams

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Two Characterful Decks

This one's about two decks of cards that I have been using to help me generate ideas for interesting characters. Primarily, as GM, I've been using them to inspire GMCs (GameMaster Characters), but you could easily use them to inspire Player Characters too.

Story Forge Cards

I'd not heard of these until recently but, having received a deck a couple of weeks ago, I've been using them to generate major and minor GMC backstories.

Story Forge Cards are a deck of 88 cards, organised into five suits, which represent "dramatic elements" from which stories can be built. Designed originally as a tool for writers, these also come with encouragement for roleplayers to use them to build characters.
You use them by laying cards into Tarot-like "spreads", designed to generate ideas within a story-structure. There are spreads for classical story structures (mostly useful for writers), and also spreads for character generation: an extensive character backstory spread, and a useful "quick pick" spread for lesser characters.

I've been working on a Major GMC Nemesis for my Tikhon fantasy campaign and, using the cards to generate a backstory, came away with a far more interesting character than I anticipated. The cards also suggested an accomplice minor GMC and so, using the "character quick pick" spread, I also conceived a rather nifty "Lieutenant" for the bad guy.

Very quick and easy... maybe 30 mins for both. Also relatively inexpensive for any GM to add to their arsenal of tools. Recommended!

Archetype Cards

Although I consider the writings of Caroline Myss to be somewhat questionable and "hokie", she has published a rather natty deck of Archetype Cards.

The deck contains 80 large and very attractive cards, each depicting a key Jungian archetype. The cards are cool, however, because they contain notes on both the "Light" and "Shadow" aspects of each archetype - in short, how each can have a positive and a negative aspect within our persona.

Designed for self-examination, the cards come with a useful booklet of notes on the archetypes - useful if you're new to Jungian ideas - but I've been experimenting with using them to generate ideas for characters.

As a GM, I can draw (say) three cards and then choose one to inspire a minor GMC. I could combine two or three cards to make a more complex major GMC.

As a player, you might draw a bunch of cards (six might work best) and select 2-4 to build the elements of your character. Because the cards represent Archetypes, you can be sure that your hero will combine both positive and negative aspects of the various classical heroic... erm, archetypes. That makes for cool story-telling that taps into the "collective unconscious" sitting around your gaming table.

Developing Ideas

All in all, these two decks are fast becoming useful tools to inspire and deepen the generation of GMC ideas for my game. They are quick and easy to use, don't require me to reference clunky "idea tables", and tap into my latent but active imagination.

In time, with some practice, I'll try to develop some ideas for using them in a more structured manner... but, to be honest, I don't think there's much more to add other than to shuffle the deck, draw some cards, and see what sparks in your creative firepit.

Hope that's of use to someone.
Game on!

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Sunday, 12 January 2014

Tikhon HERO

The last week or so has been spent converting our existing fantasy campaign from the homebrew UbiquitousRPG to HERO System 6th Edition. Why on Earth have we been doing that? 

Three reasons:
  1. I wanted to try out the HERO System (as I own it and all the main supplements).
  2. There were major bugs in the UbiRPG system.
  3. I wanted to spend less time writing rules, more time writing setting and adventures.
This post, however, is less about WHAT we're up to and more about HOW the fan forum has made this a far less painful experience than I expected.

An innocent question...

It started with a vague itch to stop writing rules, and to focus on setting/adventures. The next step was posting a question on the HERO Games Forums:
"Why run HERO 6th?"
My question: Why should we run Hero 6th? What does Hero give me that makes the benefits outweigh the effort?
Secondary question: If you persuade me, what can I do to make GMing easy?  
That was what started it. I didn't expect quite the awesome responses I got. Wow!

Super-helpful Community

Without a doubt, and with only one real exception, the folk over on the forums have been super-helpful and very enthusiastic. Yes, if you read the thread, there have been a couple of wobbly moments where passionate players (and one Troll) have highjacked the thread... but the moderation has been good. The advice has been very practical and encouraging.

HERO Games have a fabulous (if small) community of gamers who are passionate about their game. And with good reason, I feel very much welcome and supported. This is a credit to the company and to the game.

My worries were genuine, my preconceptions real, and my weariness with learning games tangible. Yet, as of today, I have converted all five existing characters to HERO... and was cackling with glee designing creatures this morning.

Complex? Less than apparent...

HERO 6e is a detailed system. But the core is very simple: 3d6, roll low, for tests; d6 damage dice, roll high.

Complexity is all front-loaded into character creation. Real bummer for new players, much easier when you play. Several GMs commented that you're best off demo'ing HERO with pre-gen characters, and I'd agree. Thankfully, we already have characters to port over.

How was the conversion process? Well... easier than expected. 

Yes, I had to learn and get to grips with some concepts that are different to D&D-style thinking. A good example is the fact that everything is entirely relative in HERO. Thus, a Combat Value of 3 is probably a bit poor... unless your opponent's Combat Value is lower, in which case it's cool. Whereas in most systems the standards are clearly defined, in HERO you have to set the standards for yourself.

Build Your Own?

HERO requires you to build your own... well, everything. Or, at least, that's the theory. That was what I was afraid of. I imagined hours of designing every little detail and essentially doing what I'd had to do for my own system - write every item, every spell, every creature. And, frankly, you could do that.

Or you could do what I did and ask the community.

Using Hero Designer (the very affordable character management software) and some supplements, I got the ball rolling in a few minutes. Over the course of a couple of days, posting iterations of characters to the forum, I got VERY useful feedback from a group of helpful HERO fans. By the end of the weekend, I felt confident that I was "getting" how things work.

This morning, as I sat down to stat some Mountain Goblins, I found that I have come a very long way indeed... as it took less time than it had using OSR resources.


Ok, so I have yet to run the game with my group. That's Friday. I am, however, confident that a "learning session" (where we run a couple of fights and try out the rules) will be fine.

I'm mightily encouraged. I'm a lot less stressed. I'm feeling excited.

There are not many games where, a week of prep later, I am left feeling excited. Actually... this might be a first. Honestly.

HERO asks me to come up with what I want in descriptive terms and then lets me build it for my setting. Oh, you want an invocation that calls down a thunderous bang and hurts everyone in an 8 metre radius? No problem - I built that and called it, "Thunder of Helles"... it's one of Umbar's (the Priest) miracles.

Look... just because I am parking my own system doesn't mean I'm giving up. It's just that, to be honest, I just fancy playing a game for a while. HERO lets me do things my way, in my style... it doesn't say, "No." 

Hopefully the guys will enjoy things too. Fingers crossed for Friday.
Game on!

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