Author Archives: npcdel

On Table-Top Roleplaying Games

The best success I’ve ever had in describing RPGs to non-gamers isn’t saying its like fantasy or Star Wars or anything like that. This spiel has actually gotten the light to go on, where they get what it is to play a tabletop RPG. Usually something like this.

So in this game, let’s say you’re a character in a horror movie. You get to make him up, maybe you’re the Blue Collar Plumber who is trying to keep his kid safe. Or the cop that has seen too much. Or the college kid home for the summer to see his folks. But you’re out at the old farmhouse, and there’s a crazed killer with a big machete that’s been stalking you.

I’m running the game, which means I sort of set the scene. You’re at the top of the stairs, and the crazy guy is at the bottom, looking for you. What do you do? You could go and hide, maybe he won’t find you. Or you could make a run for it. Or you could grab a lamp and hit him over the head. Up to you, its your character.

So say you decide you want to make a run for it. You’ll have some scores on your sheet that say how good you are at running, and we roll some dice. If you roll well, you zip past him into the yard. If not, well he gets in your way and now he’s gonna try to cut you in half. If you try something else, we’ll figure out what to roll to see if it works, and then make up what happens next.

The first time I used this approach, the guy who had never played an RPG before had that light go on in his eyes and said “Oh, so the rules determine what happens next in the story! That sounds awesome!”

I find the horror movie approach much more accessible than a specific genre. If you can get them to get it from that approach, then explaining that there are other games that are like that but Lord of the Rings or Star Wars or whatever.

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Star Wars Wrap-Up

My Star Wars game, which I’ve written about many times, finally wrapped up, with my heroes having freed a dangerous Moff as the general they needed to lead the war effort against an unfrozen Sith-out-of-time who was conquering the galaxy and proclaiming himself “The Returned God”

Since my players are the best players, I created a little video for them to check out of their adventures afterwards. I asked each of them for narration; some got back to me, and I used their text, others I filled in the blanks based on their characters.

I hope you enjoy it and it gives you a few ideas for how to wrap-up your games at home.

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Edge of the Empire Trading Sub-Game

My players in my Edge of the Empire game are leaning into their role as traders and traffickers. To facilitate their dreams of hauling space cargo, I created a very, very simple trading sub-game to let them make money outside of literal quest rewards. The set-up is pretty simple: Each time they touch down on a new, populated world, I roll a d8 six times, and record the result on a form I created and then laminated (so I can re-use it):

trading2Players can then buy any amount of any good they want, at a standard (0) rate of 100 credits per unit. Goods that roll a (-) cost just 50 credits per unit; Goods that roll (+)’s add 50 credits per plus (so if Contraband rolled ++, it would buy and sell at 200 credits per unit). Each unit also takes up a set amount of Storage on their ship, so contraband (such as glitterstim or spice) takes up almost none, while heavy ores and fabrication materials take up a *ton* of space. To offset this disparity, I have made it easier to make money on essential items like food and ore, since those are always relatively in demand. The chart for what items will be in demand at each starport is available here:

goodsNote that Contraband and Weapons are black and red, respectively. These items are either illegal or restricted, and carrying and selling them could come with additional risks, requiring a Streetwise or Negotiation roll to find the right buyer.

Luxuries (like the dwindling supply of Alderaanian Pinot Noir that survived by being in off-world cellars) are rarely found cheap, and most of the time command a fair price – but once in a while, you find a whale that is desperate for that Rancor-foot desk wastebin you’ve been hauling around.

You could even use these randomized, simplified rolls to generate story – did you roll an 8 on Medicine? Perhaps there’s an outbreak on the planet. If the players think to run to Thyferra to pick up Bacta cheap, have them keep in mind that everyone will have this info, so they’ll need to be cunning astrogators to get to Thyferra and back in time to cash in on their plan.

This isn’t a super-deep system, by design, but it’s a little something to make your home game a little more interesting and hopefully give your players something to do with all their ship’s cargo space.

Happy Gaming!

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ENnie Awards and NPC Del’s Voting Slate

We love games here at the NPCCast, and we’re honored to be nominated for the 2015 ENnies. While you’re free to vote for anyone you think deserves the accolades, I’ve got a few suggestions if you find yourself voting. We don’t offer a consensus opinion on every category, and do be aware that it is instant-runoff voting, so even if you prefer another product more, consider giving down-ballot votes to some of our favorites.

Best Monster/Adversary: 13th Age Bestiary. In no other monstrous folio would there be such care and attention – not to detail and Gygaxian Naturalism as in other books – but attention to fun as the 13th Age Bestiary be given to the lowly Bat. The creators of this Monster Book give so much love, and so many great, evocative adventure hooks to even the most pedestrian of opponents that we have to strongly endorse it.

Best Adventure, Best Cartography, Best Production Values: Horror on the Orient Express. It’s a bona-fide classic, and this upgrade/re-release gives it all the love it deserves. Featuring gorgeous, well, everything – from train tickets to usable telegrams. Absolute perfection.

Best Art – Interior, Best Miniatures Product, Product of the Year: IRON KINGDOMS UNLEASHED. The Adventurer’s Kit is the most value we’ve ever seen at its price point, from intricate pre-assembled minis to amazing modular terrain. The full core book’s art is just as full-metal-mayhem-filled as anything put out by Privateer Press.

Best e-Book, Best Writing: Ken Writes About Stuff. Show guest and FriendPC Kenneth Hite is probably the most correct person working in RPGs today.

Best Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games. In addition to all the tabletop offerings with their attention to detail and high-quality components, FFG has been killing it on the RPG front by releasing 3 compatible RPGs in the various eras of the Star Wars mythos, each with production values and writing and especially art to top the last.

and of course, Best Podcast: NPC Cast! Thanks for voting!

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Edge of the Empire: Don’t Cross a Trandoshan

After the adventures last week that took my players to a lost Sith battleship in Bothan space, they escaped with no loot but at least mostly intact, so they wanted to take a breather. No set plans, so they headed to Tatooine to get some time off.

Mos Eisley  After touching down in Mos Eisley, their first goal was to get some bacta for the Wookiee who has 4 critical hits on him (don’t go into lightsaber range with a Sith General, kids!). Tatooine, however, isn’t some bacta-rich inner rim world. The players secured a bacta tank, but they weren’t able to find enough sources to fill it. A trip to the mid-rim or further core-ward should get them in touch with the bacta cartel dealer needed to fill it. I could have hand-waved “yes, give me 4000 credits and you can have a bacta tank like it says it costs in the book,” but instead I made them go to the Imperial garrison (tricky, since two of them are wanted by the Empire), and work with the bored Imp functionary to “liberate” their bacta tank from the base.

Second, they wanted guns.

A trip to Wuher’s famous cantina, with Figrin D’an and Modal Nodes tootling along on their Omni Boxes led to the players finding a gun runner lounging in the corner. I didn’t intend to have a gun-buying experience in this game, but the players were looking for guns, and finding a gun runner was more interesting than the players not finding one, so they befriended the Trandoshan gun runner Jem Mavr.Jem Mavr

After spending a LOT of money on his increased rates (though less than his original, quoted prices when he considered them rubes), Jem invited the players out to his lodge in the Jundland Wastes (because I was having fun saying sibilant s’s since Jem was a Trandoshan so of courssssse all his sssss’s were sssssstretched out) to shoot targets. When they arrived, he showed off his wall of the really cool guns, including a Bowcaster. Our Duros pilot (with 1 strength)’s lidless solid-red eyes went wide when he saw it and demanded the chance to fire it. Jem agreed, and when the Duros rolled a despair when shooting at a target, he got blown backwards off his feet and bent the arm of the bowcaster. Jem was Not Happy.

The Wookiee, who had been convalescing in the medical bay of the Elegant Knave, the party’s Ghtroc 720 light freighter, was roused from his rest by the sound of the party, along with Jem and his crew, arriving on board in the docking bay, demanding the Wookiee fix the weapon.

Since the Wookiee’s obligation (his dedication to his mother) had been rolled that session, I declared as the bowcaster was set down on his work bench, he notices that the hilt is covered in his family’s runes. When he mentions them, Jem explains that he had to enslave a lot of Wookiees to get that weapon from them (Trandoshans are noted Wookiee slavers, having evolved in the same star system). The Wookiee of course swings the bowcaster cracking Jem across the mouth, and combat begins!

It’s then that the Duros reveals the Sith Lightsaber he took off the Sith General they took out last game, and when the Captain sees Jem’s reaction, he realizes that none of Jem’s crew can leave the Elegant Knave alive. After a frenzied firefight, the crew takes the bodies of Jem and his gang, along with their Ubrikkan landspeeder and their swoop bikes back to his ranch in the Jundland Wastes, and dumped them off then tossed the Sith lightsaber and a Thermal Detonator (that they had just purchased) into the lodge and took off, ensuring that nobody knows that they had interacted with Sith as they took off from Tatooine with some fancy new toys, while also leaving them lighter in the wallets and still on the hunt for much-needed bacta.

Jundland Wastes

Originally, I had no plans for the evening other than “shopping session,” but between a timely Despair coming up and lucking into picking ‘Tradoshan’ as the race for the gun runner from the æther, it turned into a great session with lots of character growth, new toys for the players and laughs and smiles all night. Share your best “things turned out better than expected” stories from when you had to wing it with zero prep on our Facebook page.

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Star Wars Props

[This post is a companion to episode 113 of NPC Cast, titled “Edge of the Empire”]

Download NPC Cast Episode 113 – Edge of the Empire

In acting (particularly stage acting) there’s something called ‘business.’ Business is a little thing or action an actor has to fill space when they aren’t currently speaking or doing something. Rolling a half-dollar over their knuckles, smoking a cigarette or cleaning their glasses are great examples. I love having that in my games as well, giving the players something to interact with even when they aren’t currently rolling dice or interacting with an NPC. The easiest way to get that is props.

Very early on in my Edge of the Empire campaign I decided I wanted money to matter, down to about the 25 credit mark. But rather than have pencil erasers wear their way through the corner of a character sheet, I decided to do something a little different – actually make galactic credits! I started by photoshopping up the credit symbols, using the SF Distant Galaxys font. Then I reversed the image in GIMP and had it printed on plastic transparency sheets.

How to Counterfeit Credsticks

Imperial Credits spend better than gold pieces

I then went to a craft store and got some spray glue and some reflective scrapbooking cardstock. A quick trip outside (safety first when dealing with aerosols, kids!) and glued the transparencies to the cardstock, with the glue and ink both on the “inside,” so the cover is clear. Scissors get everything sliced into tiny sticks and now when they dock, they actually have to hand over 50-100 credits (or use Negotiate to haggle that down to 25). Total cost to make these was about $8 (plus the cost of spray glue, but that stuff is useful so you should have it anyway)

I also used a similar process along with manipulating an image of a Star Wars datapad to create the infochant pipeline. Before each session, I can use a wet-erase marker to fill in juicy information (or worthless information) as a world-building exercise, and give them a heads-up on what’s happening in the Star Wars galaxy at large. If I want there to be a story or want to not immediately give up valuable info, I can attach a roll to getting it. These sorts of throwaway bits can go a long way to making players feel like they’re actually smugglers hustling to fill up their hold with supplies, and going to the location that they feel they have the best chance of unloading them at a profit.

I didn't have anything planned in Parsec 5, just making stuff up

Click for very large version of the Padd

Speaking of supplies, I grabbed a fillable-form PDF of a Ship sheet from the Fantasy Flight Games community and completed the parts that were unlikely to change, then had it laminated. The crew has their own wet-erase marker to track things like crits, damage, cargo and upgrades. For 60¢ I have something that will stand up to the abuse of the DM’s bag, and is easily findable in the pile of papers every DM has with them all the time to hand out to the players.

They still haven't fixed their busted landing gear.

Laminated for your protection

I hope these ideas will inspire you to create your own props to give your world just a little more verisimilitude, and to give your players a little more business to interact with at the table. Happy gaming!

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Lich, Lich and Karloff

Tony Connor Zombie Officestepped into the office and pulled his coat closer around him. It was cold in the entrance, colder than he was expecting.

“Lich, Lich and Karloff, just a moment!” the secretary chirped from her spot seated behind the desk. Tony tried not to recoil when he looked at her; her skin was missing and her exposed facial muscles shined around her green eyes. She was in a smart turtleneck that showed off her slim figure, the metal headset of the phone wrapping over her naked pate with just a bit of skull showing.

“How can I help you today, sir?” she said, beaming at him with a full set of perfect white teeth.

“Uh… I’m Tony Connor, I’m here for my first day. They said I had to get a badge first.”

“Oh, of course – the air-breather. Well, let me see if I can pull your file.” She scooted back in her chair and dove into a filing cabinet, pulling up a file in a green folder and held it up. “Here we go. Let me get Ravendark on the line.”

She pressed a page button on the phone and waited a moment. “Herb, I have that new hire here. You want to come pick him up? Wonderful, thannnnnks.” She pressed another phone button. “Sorry about that, who are you holding for? Oh, Hazimer the Mad, I’ll transfer you. Thanks again for calling Lich, Lich and Karloff.”

vampireofficechat-300x225Tony looked past the receptionist and into the endless sea of cubicles behind her. The phones rang in a staccato throughout the rat maze, and a few plants poked up here and there, but nobody was walking around. The murmuring susurrations of dozens of adjusters each working with a client become a dull background noise Tony worked to compartmentalize and ignore.

“There he is!” came a voice, cheerful and full, and Tony turned to see a pale man in a white dress shirt and maroon suspenders, sleeves rolled up, smile at him. His canines were elongated and his hair was slicked back forming a perfect widow’s peak. He had a coffee mug in one hand, and he took a sip, then licked the viscous red liquid off his lip and reached in for a strong handshake.

“Herb Ravendark, New Accounts, great to meet you Tony. Heard a lot of awesome things about your work over at Gojira Building Insurance, you come highly recommended. And so full of blood! Oh, but where are my manners. Let me show you around, get you your badge.”

“Thank you, Mr. Ravendark. It’s been a dream of mine to work in deep-space accounts instead of just colony worlds.”

“Tony, please! My father is Count Ravendark – call me Herb. We’re a family here. Come on, let’s get you set up.”

Herb took Tony on a winding path through the cubicle maze to a side room with a small machine attached to a camera set up across from a blue banner hanging by unfolded paper-clips from the ceiling.

“Now let me just get your photo here and the machine’ll spit out a badge for you, should get you to anywhere in the building except the floors staffed by the nightwalkers. We don’t have any lights on those floors, due to their condition, so it’s not gonna be much use to you anyway. Hold on a second, smile big, aaaaand… there we go. Should be just a few minutes. Tell me a little about yourself, Tony.”

“Well, uh… Herb,” Tony started. “My family is from a near-colony on Titan, we’ve been there since just after the Necrowarp opened up on Earth. I always had an eye for numbers, so actuarial work seemed like a good fit. I worked for local interests for a bit until I got my first chance at GBI, but I always wanted to work deep-space and colony insurance. It’s where the big boys play, right?”

“Oh, you have no idea, Tony. You ever write a policy for a colony ship? You wouldn’t believe some of the riders they tack on. Especially the Missionaries. They expect all sorts of exemptions because they’re bringing the holy word to a new system. Between you and me, I think they’re just trying to get out of paying.”

“And the pirates?”

“The pirates are very real, and a real problem. Any time you have established space lanes you’re going to have piracy. But you don’t need to worry about that. They know better than to try and come into to established space. And most travellers know enough to bring extra security. Usually the threat of resistance is enough to keep them at bay. They got complacent from years of feasting on unattended sleepships, now that the Necrowarp lets humans staff their ships with, pardon the pun, a skeleton crew of the undead to keep an eye on things, the pirates are really just more bluster than threat. Still, they can be a problem if the colony ship is on a less-used spacelane. Oh, your badge is done. Let’s get that on your pocket, here… oh that’s a good picture. Really brings out the blood in your neck. Come on, I’ll introduce you to your underwriting team!”

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Making Time

L-R: Bok Lesta, Vic Vakarian, Ko Digga and Icantnam Donar

L-R: Bok Lesta, Vic Vakarian, Ko Digga and Icantnam Donar

I run an Edge of the Empire game for our group. It’s a fantastic system.

We have Vic Vakarian, the human captain from Thyferra, Icantnam Donar, a human slicer spacer, Ko Digga, a Rodian Bounty Hunter from Rodia, and Bok Lesta, a glit-biting Twi’lek pilot from Ryloth. Impossibly, this image actually sums up our group almost perfectly:

Most of the time, our games are action-packed and fit the Star Wars adventure mold – lots of blasters, running from things, derring-do and just general adventure. It goes something like this:

Action Packed

Recently, though, I had a session I was personally really displeased with how it went down. The crew was investigating what may or may not be a hidden Rebel base in the Vad system. They managed to find a Golan Space Platform that was in a stationary orbit between the gas giant Vad V and the sun, blocking it from outside detection.

They managed to cajole their way onto the platform, docked and began exploring/accomplishing their goals on the site, conducting an investigation into who might be selling glitterstim from under the Rebel’s noses.

This played directly into the strengths of Vic Vakarian, the team’s fast-talking and charismatic pilot, as well as Bok Lesta, whose obligation is to the Black Sun and has a background in the underworld. Even Icantnam got in on the action, slicing additional privileges onto their guests badges.

But then there was Ko Digga, the Bounty Hunter:

7N4Agen

While previous sessions had a lot to do with his Obligation (Duty to his Bounty Hunting code, which is nearly the official religion on Rodia, a planet with a strong hunting culture), this session he didn’t have very much to offer. Because it was an investigation and infiltration adventure, he had nothing to shoot at (yet) and he didn’t have the particular set of non-combat skills that would be applicable in this situation.

During the game, I was caught up in the storytelling and getting everyone involved, answering their questions and digging deeper into the mysteries of the Vad V Space Station, and I didn’t realize until after the session that I had basically abandoned Ko.

THE TAKEAWAY

While you may be having fun, one of the responsibilities of the GM is to make sure that fun is spread evenly around. Nobody wants to play in the “Superman and his friends the dumb idiot background characters” game; they want to play as the Justice League, each one contributing. Take a moment every now and then to think about the last time you made an effort to involve each player. Make sure that the spotlight doesn’t fall on the player whose character is the most important right now, but make time for each character to shine. If you do, you’ll find that your players are more invested, and there’ll be less people with their eyes glazing over, not invested in the game and checking their phone.

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