This week I read:
The Many Deaths of the Black Company by Glen Cook
And that’s it, the series is over. I liked the different style, the focus on what’s more of an underground resistance than a mercenary company.
It’s been interesting reading the books all close together, since the first came out in 1984 and the last in 2000, and you can really see the quality improve as the series progresses. People say the opening of Malazan is rough, but I enjoyed Gardens of the Moon, whereas I’d probably have put down The Black Company if I didn’t know it was the inspiration for that sort of thing. I’m going to have to check out Port of Shadows, which collects some of Glen Cook’s short Black Company stories.
No game this week, in fact the next session isn’t going to be for a while due to player availability1. So I’m taking the time to do lots of prep that I really should have done previously:
- Coming up with rumour lists (the campaign book has these, but they’re incomplete).
- Coming up with job lists for all the major NPCs they’re on friendly terms with.
- Going through past session notes and identifying any knock-on effects that should happen (eg, new inhabitants moving into the now-unguarded burial mound of Sir Chyde).
- Actually reading the bits and pieces of GM advice I’ve found or acquired over the years, and thinking about how I can apply them.
On that last point, I think the advice on random encounters from Electric Bastionland is fantastic. It suggests you come up with 6 encounters, make one of them incredibly dangerous, and then make sure each one meets the following three criteria:
- The players should be motivated to act.
- It should have the potential to permanently change the characters.
- It should be memorable and evocative.
It seems so obvious when put so plainly!
I had previously rolled up 10 random encounters for each region of Dolmenwood. Upon reading that advice, I immediately went and cut those down to the most interesting 6. I then tweaked them to make sure I hit all three notes.
Even something simple, like changing an encounter where the players see a troll dragging away three freshly-killed victims, to making one of those victims still barely alive, gives the players a strong reason to act where previously they may have decided to give it a wide berth.
When we finally get to play again, the game should be a lot more fun.
This week we had a second session 0, since the direction of the campaign has wildly changed from what we talked about at the beginning, and we decided that we’re going to split the party.
Two of the original PCs, their NPC crewmember, and one of the new PCs are going on a crazy year-long adventure to get back home. I guess they just hired the new guy? One of the PCs plans to come back (which makes it a two year journey for them, I don’t think we’ll see the end of it this campaign). The remaining PCs (one original, two new) are staying here in the new place, getting up to their own shenanigans.
I’m not sure if this has doubled or halved my workload… on the one hand, twice the characters; but on the other hand, this is a perfect set-up for the episodic jump-straight-to-the-action sort of campaign I wanted to run! The Going-Home Team are going to have wacky space adventures, the Staying-Here Team don’t have a ship any more so they’re going to have wacky planet adventures. Even better, the Staying-Here Team are a bunch of crooks who work for an NPC fixer (a contact one of the new PCs made in character creation), so I can give them really any job and it’ll fit. And if one group starts to feel a bit stale, or I’m having a hard time coming up with ideas, we just switch to the other group.
Excited to see where this goes. Next session is the Going-Home Team, but after that I think the focus will be on the Staying-Here Team for a while.
This week I’ve been playing around with using Obsidian for note-taking, specifically RPG note-taking.
My current approach to notes isn’t very good: almost everything is in the session notes. So if I want to, say, look through all my notes on an NPC, there isn’t one place for that, it’s just scattered around. Some things get pulled out and centralised, like major setting details, but most don’t.
Now, this is fairly good for running games. I can just have the notes for that session open, and it’s got everything I need. I don’t need to scroll around very much. But it makes preparing for games fairly hard, especially as the number of sessions increases. It’s easy to lose track of things from more than a few sessions ago, and I end up repeating things a lot.
I think this is probably a major factor in why I tend to rely on published campaign material. I can come up with adventures that last a few sessions, but my note-taking approach makes longer-term structure difficult.
So I’ve been giving Obsidian a go.
I started by importing my Cartographic Curiosities session notes, and then began pulling out locations, factions, and NPCs into their own notes which get crosslinked. I tried out having “quest” notes, but ended up deciding that it wasn’t a useful concept: quests are either missions (which really belong to an NPC or faction) or adventures (which belong to locations).
I also set up a couple of notes with an overview of the campaign, some random generators, rumours, random encounters, and exploration progress, to make a GM screen of sorts. It looks like this:
And I’m pretty happy with it!
The thing that’s always turned me off campaign management tools before is that they’re usually both clunky to use and opinionated in how you structure things. Obsidian, however, is neither of those. It’s polished, and super flexible. This let me spend a few evenings playing around with finding something that works for me.
It’s also got an array of impressive community-developed plugins.
For example, that “Find Crookhorn bases in the Nagwood” bullet point on the GM Overview isn’t something I’ve put there myself. No. It’s actually on the Lady Harrowmoor NPC page, and is pulled into this page with the Obsidian Dataview plugin. So when I’m writing up my notes after a session, I just put stuff where it belongs (on the Lady Harrowmoor page in this case), and when I’m running a session, I’ve got all the in-progress missions visible at once.
For another example, that map of Dolmenwood is an interactive map with markers that link to my location pages, created with the Obsidian Leaflet plugin. And on the location pages, I have location-specific rumours. Next session will be starting with the party in Fort Vulgar, so when they go to the tavern I can just open the Fort Vulgar page and pick out some rumours for them to overhear.
Also note that some of the general rumours in the middle tab are crossed out. That’s because I’m experimenting with just not deleting anything. If something is no longer relevant going forwards, I’ll just cross it out. This gives me some history, without needing to go through all my session notes. Will that be useful? Probably not very often, but it’s little effort, so why not?
I was only “trying it out”, but honestly after spending a week fiddling with it, I’m sold. I’m going to import my Sylea Rising notes next week, and expect it to be very useful now that I’m tracking two separate parties which will soon be separated in time.
- Non-Lazy DMs use Obsidian for D&D
- How I use Obsidian for D&D - Player’s Edition
- Monsters and Treasures in the B/X Dungeon
- New B/X Class: The Gothic Villain
I think it’s important for the health of the group that the game runs as often as possible. Cancelling or rearranging because just one or two players can’t make it just creates an expectation that the game is scheduled around the players, and soon creates a situation where the game becomes impossible to schedule, as nobody treats game-time as sacred.
However, two of the five players are unavailable for several sessions in a row. If it was only one or two sessions, it’s unfortunate, but they’d just miss out. But for an extended absence of, nearly, half the party, I think pausing and doing something else (like running Alien) is the better option.↩︎