Thursday, November 20, 2014

What's your GM pre-flight checklist?

My guide booklet for Con of the North just came in the mail yesterday! Now the real preparation begins. In addition to picking out the games I want to play, I'm also running a session of Rad Astra X-plorers, (page 65 for those of you planning to make the con).

I purposely left the listing in the book a little vague so I'd have a chance to stew on some ideas for a bit. It's time to start writing up the rest of the adventure in earnest. In the past, I've winged it bigtime and that has had mixed results.* So this year, I want to get serious and be more strategic in my plans. Here's my checklist for Con of the North 2015...

2-3 months before:
  • Sketch out adventure ideas (plot, main NPCs, featured aliens/monsters)
  • Scout for artwork
  • Order any supplies
1 month before:
  • Finish writing the adventure (playtest if possible, but usually isn't) 
  • Re-read rules (hey, it always helps!)
  • Codify house rules into a document for myself at the table
Couple of weeks before
  • Assemble player aids (mini rules booklets, character sheets, extra dice, golf pencils, etc.)
  • Dig up minis and extra dice
  • After (at least) a few weeks of not touching it, I'll re-read my adventure and make any last minute tweaks
  • Re-re-read rules and my house rules
Around this time I also start thinking about important things for the players to know once they sit down. This is really just an introduction of me and my gaming style, since we're usually strangers and most haven't played X-plorers.

I'm big on prefacing expectations. I'm looking for maximum FUN, not to punish them with a lot of rules memorization. We're here to create a shared adventure (me with them, and them with the other players). Likewise, it's good to explain what's expected of them: work with each other, XP is rewarded for roleplay and involving others, be nice/don't be a dick). So really, just some "ground rules" for the table.

Night before:
  • Pack up all game materials for transport, including:
    • Game manuals
    • PC aids (character sheets or booklets)
    • Writing materials and dice
    • Miniatures (characters, ships, scenery)
    • Sketchpad
    • Hand sanitizer (Don't laugh, I get a lot of "Thanks for having this!")
  • Review convention guide book and driving/parking directions
  • Re-re-read the rules
  • Try to get sleep, which is impossible because it's almost TIME TO PLAY! 

What about maps?

One thing you'll see right away---there is no map. I've not been good about using them. Tactical maps might serve a purpose, but honestly X-plorers works well without having to parse out every square inch. I've taken to using line-of-sight and just estimating move spaces. So far all my players have seemed to dig on that approach. Still not sure if I'll use one this year. If I have time, I could whip up something basic.

What do you do to prepare for games you run?

What about you folks? I'm especially interested in hearing about how other GMs get ready to run their games at cons--or any "big" events you might be planning in your campaign.

*This year was a catastrophe. Lack of sleep and having an infant made for a horribly underprepared GMing experience. One I won't again repeat. #GMFAIL!

Thursday, November 6, 2014


I sorta' feel like while The Force Awakens isn't knock-me-over awesome, it's also not giving me the violent, cringing reflex I fist had after hearing The Phantom Menace. My wife says they should have just called it STAR WARS: Fifty Shades of Grey. Heh.

One thing that I do like though is the subhead font. They've really made it look pretty sharp. It's had quite a history already.

The original typeface...

Thoughts on the new title?

News via

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

TRAILER: Robo drama "Chappie" from "District 9" director Neill Blomkamp

Hard science fiction visionary Neill Blomkamp's latest effort looks really impressive (per usual) with equal parts grit and pathos. Even when some of his efforts, such as Elysium, aren't outright successful they're still amazing to watch.

Chappie stars Hugh Jackman (as the heavy), Dev Patel as the robot's creator, Sigourney Weaver, members of the band Die Antwoord, and Sharlto Copley as Chappie himself. Check out the trailer and plot summary...

TRAILER: Cowboy Bebop on Bluray!

I'll admit to not being a huge anime fan. Most of the shows I like in the genre are from the 80s (Robotech! Voltron!) even though the American versions are considered terrible. (Note: I also love Miyazaki films, but those should really be in a totally different category, like not even film--but recorded dreams or something.)

Anyway, there are a few anime shows and films I really do enjoy and Cowboy Bebop is one that I come back to again and again. It's definitely a space opera, but also definitely not in the traditional sense. It's got a distinctively 20th century feel to it--a melding of the 40s/50s noir and 80s fashions. It's fantastically futuristic and yet still grounded in a believable spacescape where all the action takes place in our own solar system. There's a lot here for game or writing inspiration--it's an incredibly well-realized world.

I likewise appreciate the collection of bounty hunter weirdos that crew the Bebop: a cynical cyborg, a femme fatale, a hipster loner, and a weirdo with a corgi--all of whom are often at odds with each other. It makes for some off-the-wall fun that can often times find some not overly-sentimental heart (which can sometimes be the bane of shows in this genre).

Well now it 's FINALLY going to be available in a format that will do it justice. It's coming to blu ray and will also be available as part of a special edition set.

One of these days I'll get around to doing a solar system campaign--maybe around the moons of Saturn. Bebop will be one of the first places I look for some inspiration.

Best of all, it happens to have one of the coolest opening sequences ever! Enjoy:

Friday, October 31, 2014

You really shouldn't have eaten that expired mutagen tablet...

1d20 of Ick:

  1. Eye tendrils, flailing all the time
  2. Back scales (2"-3"), itchy and molting
  3. Constant wheezing from your new, tiny "throat mouth"
  4. Sideburns, running down neck, shoulders, ending at wrists (hopefully)
  5. A slippery ooze between extremities that won't go away, even with washing
  6. Extra teeth! Between your toes...
  7. Shoulders begin to bubble and swell into large sacks of leaky, too-sweet smelling fluid
  8. "Everything is normal!" say the tiny faces that appear where your kneecaps used to be
  9. Iguanna tail sprouts, greens up nicely, turns brown and dies...on an endless cycle
  10. Roll twice on this table, if you get #20 both times, you lucked out--no mutation!
  11. Knees now bend the other direction, walk like a chicken (add +2 to your move if you roleplay a headbob for the rest of the session)
  12. The person on your left gets to pick any two from this list for you
  13. Heel hooves! Which are hooves. On your heels.
  14. Fancy colored fish fins line your cranium and spine; also, constant dry mouth for some reason
  15. Polydactyly protrusions overcome hands, constantly wiggling
  16. Gurgling a pungent slime when attempting to make persuasive arguments
  17. Narwhal tusk! You know that's a tooth that protrudes through your face, right? 
  18. An ankylosaurus tail bursts out the back of your pants---pray you have the abs, back, and calf muscles to counter the added mass
  19. Pheromone firestorm gives you a massive +5 Charisma bonus, any NPCs you encounter follow you around for 1d10 rounds
  20. All of the above (you poor bastard!)
Happy Halloween!