Category Archives: Blog Post

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.


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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TPK Primer: The City of Egress

City of Egress Map

This TPK is named for Bruciare, the crowning jewel of the nation of Contarini, it provides a gateway to the sunless sea.  It is a city of art and innovation, where inventors and creators toil away in great contests to win renown for their patron nobles. Those nobles are equally tied up in a constant power struggle to be The First House and create policy for the city, and embroiled in the far reaching conspiracies that keep Bruciare entrenched in the supernatural currents that bubble and churn in the depths of the city.  

It is an important era for Bruciare, as a safe and navigable path has been charted across the Sunless Sea that was once thought endless.  On the other side lies a mysterious land, and now the nobles have a new contest to be embroiled in: exploring and claiming this new land, which for now remains unnamed.  The second house, house Toritzi sees this as a way to claim the coveted first spot, and house Embroli now races to defend its hold.  Each house has began to prep a powerful fleet for their expedition.  House Ytroo, recently descended from second to third seat, finds itself with no ships following a cunning economic maneuver from house Toritizi.  Even lesser houses nip on their coveted position.

This has drawn away attention from the budding supernatural powers that lie hidden beneath the shining facade of the city, which has long considered the dark arts as forbidden and supernatural, something that the savages of other nations partake in.  Even now there are stories of golems and clockwork men roaming the streets of the city at night, wandering the maze of canals seeking something…

But Contarini is not the only nation seeking something from the lands across The Sunless Sea.  Her neighbor to the north Prahovia, has begun to prepare a journey with its own Ghost Fleet, a dozen galleons painted white that seem to drift across the ocean at supernatural speed.  Prahovia’s King, Rurick Vost, rumored to be immortal, even helms a ship in the fleet himself.

Meanwhile Arthfeal, the mysterious lands on the other side of The Shadewood, have decided to use this opportunity to assess Contarini’s strength.  Spies of all sorts have journeyed south through the wood, using their magicks of illusion and charm to worm their way into Bruciarian High Society.  Even former exiles hope to earn redemption by spying for The Emerald Nation.


Muka Xofed – An exiled soldier of Arthfeal, who always puts his own survival at first priority, he schemes to find a way to infiltrate Contarini’s expeditions and return the intelligence gained as leverage to end his exile.

Mighug Ytroo – The second son of House Ytroo, Mighug is desperately searching for a ship to get across the Sunless Sea. Given his house’s reputation as a house of outsiders and foreigners has bubbled up again with their loss of status, Mighug seeks revenge on house Toritzi.  At the same time he must keep his dark arts hidden, or else further expose his family to ridicule.

Set Igew – Even Set himself doesn’t understand his background.  He remembers nothing from before his 18th year.  He practices a magical art that allows him to infuse the inanimate with life, but at the cost of a memory or two.  It stands to reason that at some point he merely gave too much, but the consequences of that are unknown.  Now he gets by on his wits and connections, which have told him of a ship left practically unguarded.

Stausk Wioslea – Stausk hails from Prahovia originally, where a ghost’s curse has given his life purpose. While the curse provides him some benefits, he searches for ways to undo what has befallen him, though his curiosity often distracts him.  Now he finds himself entangled in the supernatural underbelly of Bruciare, where the abilities of a particular nobleman have drawn his attention.

The first episode of The City of Egress will be streamed this coming Friday, September 11th at 7:30PM PST.  You will be able to find episodes on Youtube and in audio form on our Podcast feed shortly after.

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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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5 Of Our Favorite RPG Episodes!


We’re incredibly honored to be nominated for a 2015 Ennie Award! (click here to go straight to the ballot) We definitely have our listeners to thank for keeping us going, we couldn’t have done it without you. Trust us, putting an episode out each week for the past 131 weeks hasn’t always been easy, but you all have made it totally worth it! With that said, we wanted to give the influx of new listeners some places to start and so we thought we’d list a few of our favorite RPG-centric episodes from the last year or so. Here you go:

Episode 78 – Luchicago

Download NPC Cast Episode 78 – Luchicago!

Okay, this one is there for a couple reasons. First and foremost it is on there because it is an example of one of our “Campaign Crucible” episodes. Secondly, it features Kenneth Hite, who through no coincidence whatsoever, is also nominated in the Best Podcast category! In this episode, we combine some crazy elements to come up with a totally fresh campaign setting on the fly, and it was awesome having Ken on the show!

Episode 93 – Balance in RPGs

Download NPC Cast Episode 93 – Balance in RPGs!

In this episode we discussed an article by John Wick and whether or not Balance in RPGs was something that designers should shoot for in their games. We all come at it from slightly different angles, and feel like the discussion was a lot of fun and had us thinking more about the effects of design on the games we love!

Episode 97 – Winging It

Download NPC Cast Episode 97 – Winging It.

In Episode 97, we broke down how we improvise during our game sessions. This came about because NPC Aaron had recently went through almost 24 straight with next to no prep. We give a bunch of tips that anyone can adapt to their groups, whether they want to improvise a lot or a little!

Episode 109 – RPG Preludes

Download NPC Cast Episode 109 – RPG Preludes.

In this episode, we talk about why you should consider a prelude adventure for your RPG Campaign, and walk you through a variety of different types of prelude adventures you could run for your group on the first session.  We cover Origin Stories, Disposable PCs, and more!

Episode 110 – RPG Foreshadowing

Download NPC Cast Episode 110 – RPG Foreshadowing.

In Episode 110 we talk about a few ways that you can use foreshadowing in your sessions! We go over using foreshadowing as a way to hint at what is to come in the form of an omen or portent, and we cover how you can use foreshadowing to set up realizations later on!

Thanks again for checking out our podcast, we really hope you enjoy it!

NPC Cast NPC Cast patreonbutton NPC Cast SMASN

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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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Signals Media All Star Network.

Back in Fall of 2012, I was working in a shipping department. After exhausting every possible internet radio station I decided, “Hey, why not try one of those podcast things people are going on about?” I was still pretty heavy into World of Warcraft at the time and so I downloaded the Stitcher Radio App and just started listening to different casts, hoping to find one I enjoyed.

There were some not-so-good ones, and some good ones, but for me, one stood out among all the rest. It was a podcast called “Convert to Raid” and it was awesome. To be honest, after it everything seemed pretty lackluster. Convert to Raid had skits, a tremendous production value, a tight-nit group of hosts with varied personalities, and overall a cool feeling of POSITIVITY that many other WoW podcasts were lacking. It felt right. It is 100% because of Convert to Raid that I approached Aaron and Del about recording a tabletop gaming podcast. They truly inspired this whole thing.

On Episode 12, I relayed much of this story and through the medium of Twitter that episode found it’s way to the ears of Pat Krane, the host of Convert to Raid. He emailed us with some kind words, thanked us for mention, and encouraged us to keep at it. I geeked out a bit.

Cut to a full year later, and I receive another email, this one out of the blue, from Pat. He tells me he has kept up with our show and has been impressed with the quality of our product. He asks us if we would be interested in joining the podcast network he has put together, and of course we were intrigued. A few emails exchanged and a meeting over Skype later and we are proud to announce that we will be joining the lineup on the Signals Media All-Star Network this month.

We’re excited about the chance to be another representative for Face to Face games on the network, and encourage you to check out the other offerings there. Naturally, they have a collection of the best World of Warcraft podcasts on the net, but there also shows about podcasting, television, and popular culture. Make sure to check out Death D4 Dishonor, which is a D&D Actual Play podcast. The thing that binds us all is that we love what we’re in to, and want to share it with as many folks as possible.

What does this mean specifically for the NPC Cast? Well, not much really. You’ll hear a bumper from time to time but other than that you’ll get the same exact show we’ve done for the last year and a half. There will be other perks though. Forums will be up and running soon, we may be able to do some cross promotional stuff, and there is even talks about other avenues for more content. Most importantly for me, is I now have Pat Krane’s skype info and can call him if I ever have an audio question…and I have a ton.

Thanks again for supporting us like you do, time and time again. It really means the world to us. We promise that we are going to keep doing what we set out to do back on January 4th, 2013: Share our LOVE for tabletop games with everyone we possibly can.

– NPC Chris

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:


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.


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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Help choose NPC Chris’ next campaign!

Hey everybody! If you listened to Episode 42…wait…whoa…

[EPISODE 42 SPOILER ALERT] Continue reading

Campaign Diary: Ark, the Eternal Refuge – Conversion.

by NPC Aaron

Hello again and welcome to my campaign diary that I post every week here on  Last week we talked about making your campaigns epic from the ground up and this week I would have loved to talk about my campaign further but last week real life got in the way and we had to go a week without playing.  During that time though, something amazing happened: I got my copy of 13th Age.


Now I am not here to say that 13th Age is a better game than Pathfinder.  Some people like things about game systems that I think are flaws and vice versa, but I have been excited to get my physical copy of 13th Age for some time and I like the game system better.  Unfortunately I also REALLY like the plot of our Pathfinder game so far.  This left me with a dilemma, but I quickly realized that both were medieval Fantasy games and that I could just port over the characters and we could play the same campaign in a new system.

Continue reading

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Campaign Diary: Ark, The Eternal Refuge – Epicness

by NPC Aaron

Last week we talked about building interesting encounters.  This week we’re going to increase the scope and talk about building a campaign that feels truly epic.  But first we need to talk about the general goal of that type of campaign.


What Makes A Campaign Epic?


When building a campaign about heroes we often want to capture a certain feel.  We look to movies and video games and we want the climax of our campaign to feel like they do.  We want all the characters to be truly invested in defeating the big villain and we want the encounter to have unprecedented gravitas.  There are some campaigns where this type of end is not appropriate, but a lot of heroic fantasy and sci-fi campaigns are going to strive for this.  We want the feeling of a summer blockbuster or a Final Fantasy style game at the end.


The key to this is that the scope of the game needs to be big.  The journey to the epic climax needs to be long and full of twists and smaller conflicts that cause the player characters to be invested in that final showdown.  Creating that through traditional storytelling is difficult, but doing it with a shared narrative like a roleplaying game is nearly impossible.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying though and I thought I should share the experience I’ve learned from my own efforts.

Continue reading

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Campaign Diary: Ark, The Eternal Refuge – Bad Guy Goals

By NPC Aaron

Today will be a quick one due to time constraints but I really wanted to talk about something simple that will help any sort of action-heavy game.  In our last session Del’s character Jon convinced the party to head into Blackgate, the domain of his former vampire master, to save his parents.  After sneaking over the wall, the session was devoted almost entirely to that single encounter, but it didn’t seem to drag horribly so I thought I’d go over how to make that work.

Continue reading

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Campaign Diary: Ark, the Eternal Refuge – Upside

by NPC Aaron

I apologize for my absence the last couple of weeks.  I was sick and then had a lot to deal with. Regardless, we are pressing on and I am going to do my best to have something written up every Monday.

Last time we left the campaign with our heroes having endured some pretty heavy losses.  One character’s home was burned to the ground, and another’s ex-wife was murdered.  The characters had decided to hole up in a church basement along with the two elven children they had rescued.  At the end of the last session they had decided to stop letting things happen to them and planned to take on boss Qarl and the Qarl Syndicate. Continue reading

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Campaign Diary: Ark, the Eternal Refuge – Causality

By NPC Aaron

Last time we talked about my failure at GMing by email, and also about how to handle hidden information in a campaign.  This week I will go over what happened in our latest session, and the planning I did for it.

The Goal

One thing I wanted for this game, was to create the feeling of the players that they are at the center of the action in the city.  I wanted them to be able to see the gears of the campaign world churning around them, while knowing that no one specific machine was entirely on their side, or entirely against them.  My idea of how to accomplish this goal was to introduce factions.  Previously I had introduced the Qarl gang, as well as hinted at The Harvesters who work for Shindrogon, the master of Del’s character Jon Farrier.  This game I wanted to add one more organization to the mix, as well as hint at others.  I also wanted to start weaving in the prophecies we came up with from the character creation session. Continue reading

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Campaign Diary: Ark, The Eternal Refuge – Hidden Info

By NPC Aaron

I apologize for the lack of an article last week.  I will try to prevent that from happening in the future. The email portion of my campaign did not go as well as I had hoped, and I was left with very little to write about.  This was nobody’s fault but my own, but it did serve to remind me of a valuable GM lesson, and I’ll start today’s article with that. Afterwards, I’ll explain some ways you can best utilize hidden information in your games.

Continue reading

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Campaign Diary: Ark, The Eternal Refuge – The Hook

by NPC Aaron

Last week we talked about character creation and world-building.  We fleshed out character concepts and the parts of the cities they came from.  That was the easy part.  Now we move on to the first session, which is honestly the hardest part.  The first session is like a first impression, you only get to make it once.  If your players don’t buy in for the first session then its going to be hard to get them to buy in at all.

Getting Your Players To Care

Your players need to have something in common.  They can already be part of a formed organization, they can have a mutual ally bring them together for a task, or they can be forced to go through some ordeal together.  I usually go with the third option for my games because then I can give the players as much freedom in character creation as possible since my games are more open world sandboxes than predestined stories.

Looking over last week, our character’s only common thread is that they all hang out at Eaton’s Alehouse.  This was by design so that I could bring them together by threatening it.  I came up with a small adventure hook to capitalize on this.  I decided that a crime lord in a neighboring district was having trouble with his competition and had decided to try to move his protection racquet to the peaceful neighborhood of Greenstreets.

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Campaign Diary: Ark, The Eternal Refuge – The Beginning

by NPC Aaron.

Welcome readers! This is the first edition of a new article here on detailing the campaign that we play with our group.  My hope is to both provide you with some insight on how I approach running a game and also allow you to see a story unfold and characters evolve.  This week I am going to detail the process I went through devising the premise and setting of the game, the world-building that we did in the first session, and the type of characters that the players have made for the setting. Continue reading

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by NPC Chris.

In the post last week, I covered the two main questions a GM must ask when approaching generating backstory in a game. Once these questions have been asked and answered, what is left is the first session and how you plan to extract this information from your players. Yes, extract. Like problem teeth. Tooth often…pardon me. TOO often, a backstory session is like taking a test, and even the most prepared player typically doesn’t enjoy the act of taking a test. In this week’s blog we will discuss some novel ways in which we can incorporate backstory into a campaign. The only test that will be discussed is the testimony from your players attesting to your campaign being the best! (Sorry)

I am a busy guy. Extremely busy. Even busier than I was when I foolhardily agreed to run two simultaneous campaigns. I work (often overtime), record and edit a podcast, conduct meetings regarding future projects, and even write the occasional blog post. As my time is a valuable thing, and I love to enjoy my RPG sessions as a means of social interaction and escape, I find myself incredibly hesitant to waste a session. This means that 90% of the time I would rather not spend an entire session with backstory. In the first half of this article I spoke briefly about how your character doesn’t tend to become fully realized until you have the chance to play it; and what better time to start playing it than the first session! Something that I picked up from my friend and co-host NPC Del, is the concept of performing a backstory generation session in character. I will give you a couple of examples:

In my most recent D&D 4E campaign, Del determined that all of our characters would begin the campaign while locked up in a mental institution. This allowed him to ask us questions about our character backstories from the perspective of our therapist during our group counseling sessions. This novel approach led to some genuinely interesting interactions and play between the player characters, and offered a bit more insight into our characters than a standard questionnaire approach would have. This is in part because we were encouraged to answer the questions in character. Mine was a rogue named Spane Tribald, and he spoke of his time in the military and of his days as a field surgeon with an affinity for anatomy. As it turns out, he in fact was just incredibly handy with sharp blades and really had an affinity for slicing people’s throats. Medical experience? Well, not so much. This led to a more layered backstory that was able to be revealed bit by bit over the course of the first few sessions. It can be argued that an assassin backstory is a bit overused and a field surgeon may be a bit bland, but an assassin who convinces others (and possibly even himself) that he is a surgeon when he in fact isn’t, can be pretty fun to play. This backstory session led directly into the beginning of the campaign, as the mental institution we were in began to be attacked by demonic forces. In a moment of ultimate redemption, we were able to slay our crooked therapist and escape. It was seamless, it was glorious, and I commend Del for giving us the chance to experience it.

Alternatively, my most recent Iron Kingdoms campaigns began with both parties applying for a Mercenary Charter. In doing this, the deputy was asking them questions in order to file all the necessary paperwork (in triplicate, naturally). Most of the questions they were being asked pertained to their work together as a group.*

*I chose to focus on the group more than the individual during the initial backstory generation. I did this because the campaign was initially conceived as an episodic one that would be played occasionally as a reprieve from our D&D sessions. Because of this, I didn’t want to spend much time trying to shoehorn the group together and instead wanted them to establish a camaraderie from the very beginning.

The questions I focused on were straightforward: “How long have you been working with these other men?” “What are your responsibilities within the team?” “What sort of talents do your team possess that would make it in our best interest to charter you instead of somebody else?” In this way, the structure was quite simple but allowed for more depth of information as everybody was answering in first person, and in character. In order to hammer home the unity of the team even further, I then asked for their group to describe the first mission they went on as a team. They immediately answered with a story of being sent to capture a renegade sorcerer, which led to my spin on mid-session backstory generation: The Flashback Encounter. Once the players had described a bit of their first mission, I put the terrain on the table along with some miniatures and we proceed to play it out as though their characters were remembering it. Because the encounter represented a time when the characters were still learning to work together, and because this was the first game session, the players also had to learn their individual strengths and weaknesses. It felt pretty cool, especially with little things like our Alchemist proclaiming to be very good with “controlled explosions” during the interview portion, and then proving it with some pinpoint grenade placement during the flashback.

Ideas like these are what make GM a rewarding experience for me, and hopefully some of this will inspire you to incorporate backstory generation into your game session in unique and awesome ways. As a recap, this is done by asking yourself the questions:

“What do I want out of this backstory session?”

“What information is necessary now, and what can be discovered later?”

and then using some creative and outside-of-the-box thinking that encourages your players to give you the information you desire while in character. Doing this will establish a tone to the campaign while giving most of your players a cool experience that they have most likely never had before!

That is it for this installment, if you have any questions, concerns, or critiques I would love to hear them. You can contact me at or on Twitter as @NPCChris.

Thanks so much for reading, and support your local game store!

NPC Chris is a player and a GM. He has been as far back as he remembers, and will most likely be forever. And ever.

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Background Check – Pt. 1

by NPC Chris.

Ahh, the joys of a new campaign’s first session. The heroes were heroes back then: bright-eyed, wide-eyed, other eye-related cliches. They had in front of them the promise of a road less traveled  a world that would be forever changed by their actions, and one that needed their help. In order to get where they would eventually go however, they had to come from somewhere. The first session is always important because it is the chance to set the stage for the events to come, based on the events that have already come to pass.

I began Iron Kingdom campaigns this week. Yes, emphasis on plurality. You see, as I mentioned on the podcast previously, I was very excited to begin running games utilizing this new RPG system by Privateer Press. So excited in fact, that I agreed to run not one, but two separate campaigns. One for the usual suspects of my tabletop gaming group and one for a rag-tag group of coworkers with varying levels of tabletop RPG experience. (“varying” indicating a state of “thoroughly experienced” to “never played one before” and of course the in-betweens) Both of these campaigns would begin with the same first session, which for me, is always used to build a bit of character backstory. The concept of generating a character backstory is not a new one, like, at all. Character backstories have been around since the inception of RPG’s and will always be considered by me to be an incredibly integral part of the experience. In many ways, character backstories and motivations are what set an RPG apart from any other game genre. They allow the “role-playing” part to exist. The way that these backstories are generated and how detailed they can be has fluctuated over the years, but in today’s post I will offer up my thought process in how I tackled them this time around.

Before asking the players about precisely which type of goblinoid murdered their family and left them orphaned, a GM should first ask themselves a couple questions:

“What do I want out of this backstory session?”

I decided that for these campaigns, I wanted something a bit quick, a bit light, and a bit different. I knew going into it that I would be running the session for two groups, and I would be dealing with a wide-range of experience, so those first two are for the new players and the last one would be for the experienced players. I also wanted there to be an established camaraderie between the PC’s from the onset. As this was a new system for all of us, I kept these inaugural campaigns a bit simple, and had already provided both groups with a similar prompt: “You were all members of a very large, recently disbanded, mercenary organization. When it dissolved, you all decided to group together based on your previous experience and apply for your own mercenary charter.” This prompt allowed me to have some semblance of narrative control with which to establish my campaign, but offered enough freedom for the players to make the characters they wanted.*

*To a point. A player may have wanted to make a Ranger/Mage Hunter who always works alone, which is fine concept. By establishing the type of campaign I was running, and where the story started, I was able to make it clear that this particular campaign would not be suited for such a character. It is ok for a GM to do this. Your job is to create the framework for an awesome collaborative story, and sometimes that means telling people no. If you have to say no, do it at the beginning though because nobody wants to be halfway through session 7 before they realize that their character concept doesn’t work with the campaign and they are getting punished for it.

“What information is necessary now, and what can be discovered later?”

I used to ask everything, and used to want to tell everything. I have been in campaigns that began with hour long one-on-one character story sessions and they have been some of the most fun I have ever had role-playing. I have also rolled characters randomly, and then made up that PC’s personality as I went along and those were ALSO some of the characters I was most fond of. As a GM, you need to determine what serves your purpose, per the first question you asked yourself, and act accordingly. Hour long individual character interrogations can be great for experienced players, but can be incredibly daunting for players who are new to the hobby. I am also of the mindset that you don’t really know your character until you play your character, and no amount of backstory you come up beforehand will ever be sufficient to fill in all those holes. Invariably, you will be confronted by something your character has never dealt with, and will have to make a decision in game. Like real life, the character you are portraying will begin to develop quirks as they are faced with challenges, and this is what supplies actual depth.

An example I like to use is “Fear of Spiders.”

You have a character named Philip, and you decide that Philip is afraid of spiders. Not arbitrarily mind you, Philip is afraid of spiders because his father was a scientist who was killed by a spider he genetically modified using advanced fell magics. His father was modifying these spiders because he was trying to extract an anti-venom in order to save Philip’s dying mother, also a victim of a nasty spider bite. Philip’s mother was bitten by this spider while she was en route to a remote island for botanical research, or so she said. Philip’s mother was actually having an affair with a ship captain. Suffice it to say, Philip is afraid of spiders. No matter how much story goes into Philip’s fear of spiders, it will never be more compelling than arachnophobia, and I would also make the argument that arachnophobia isn’t even inherently compelling. Arachnophobia is a relatively boring character trait until the moment Philip overcomes his fear of spiders and leaps onto the web of a giant mutant spider in order to save a fellow party member. Suddenly, Philip’s arachnophobia becomes VERY compelling, because it offers context for his selfless heroism and gives a benchmark for his personal growth.

While backstory provides you with guidelines for what your character does, it is the actions at the table that truly determine who your character is.

TO BE CONTINUED! In Part 2 I will discuss backstory generation a bit further, and also talk about what I did, specifically, in my most recent campaigns.

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