How to Moderate a Role-Playing Game, Part 4: More Storytelling

By Jordan Campbell, Director of Game Development, Flying NightBear Games

Follow this series of blog posts on moderating a role-playing game, with specifics about Beyonder. Your own fantastic adventures lie ahead!

StoryTelling: The Keeper of the Stories

It is everyone’s job (and often their distinct pleasure) to remember all of the great stories that have happened to their players over time.  However, the official record-keeping falls to you, the Moderator.  It might sound boring and bureaucratic, but it can be really nice to have a record of your adventures to look back on, especially if your campaign goes for months or years.  

FNB group playingWe have an online system on the “Builder” section of the FNB Games website in Beta to help you with this process, but if you want to go analogue, get a notebook that is reserved just for this task.  At every adventure write down the date, location, players and their characters, a general overview of events, any significant characters that may reappear, and anything else that is likely to have a lasting effect.  The more detail the better — but at least get down the basics.  We still have the original logs of old Beyonder adventures, and we always enjoy looking through them.

Not only is it fun to be able to look back and enjoy your various exploits, but it can come in handy.  You may arrive at a point in longer campaigns when you have gotten through all of your planned adventures.  It’s time to write some new content —  but where does the new path start?  If you look back at what has happened so far in the adventure, you will see little story hooks that came up along the way and were not fully followed through.  Was there an enemy who survived a battle and escaped and has been plotting revenge ever since?  Did your players see something off in the distance that seemed interesting, but they didn’t have time to explore it fully?  Was there an interesting NPC who can become a recurring character with their own story line?  These are all great ways to make the new plot line connect rather than come out of nowhere.

On a related note: it is also fun to have a separate place, either in another part of the same notebook or in a totally different one, to record funny things that people said or did.  Nothing gets gamers laughing more than remembering that time a player thought it would be a good idea to bring his giant pet bear along on the heist and ended up having to fly it out when the plan went south — leaving the image of a giant, winged bear silhouetted against the moon burned into the minds of the enemy.  Who knows?  Maybe that will become significant someday (wink, wink) …

GERC: Materials Development Division (MDD)

Like it or not, the MDD is known best for the flashy minority of what they do: the development of Energetic items, anything from Power-imbued stones to a diving sphere that can transport travelers thousands of feet under the surface of the ocean without being crushed by the pressure. They do create some truly miraculous items, to be sure, but their impact on the day-to-day life of Tamarran citizens has been vastly greater in their development of new materials for weapons, construction of homes, and so on. The MDD is singlehandedly responsible for the buildings in Tarnath that are stable at nine or ten stories, for the ability to produce steel cheaply and quickly – for any number of small things that most people use every day without even noticing.

Perhaps the most notable of the MDD’s everyday improvements is the cross-continental hammool rail system that spans the Tamarran continent. Hammools are animals native to the Plains of Frestehal that have been widely used by both the guilds and some commercial transportation organizations for their use on the rails. They average about 30 feet tall and 20 feet across, with eight sturdy, pole-like legs and skin that looks more or less brownish-grayish until you get up to it and see that it’s actually covered with a layer of fine scales, each a subtly different color. Their stocky heads droop like a necklace between their front legs, only extending slightly beyond the rest of their bodies. Hammools are immensely strong, and rail-runners (as they are called) are shod with particular metal shoes that allow them to float with almost no resistance over the rails, and tack that reduces the weight of whatever they carry. This allows them to port tons of goods cross-continentally in a matter of days. This alone has revolutionized the way commerce works on the Tamarran continent. But hey, y’know, feel free to fixate on the cool fire-shooting wand the MDD made and ignoring the larger structural changes they’ve made, that’s fine.

The current head of the MDD is Kuma-nev-nev-Lanu, an ishiri Evoker from rural villages bordering on the icy wastes to the north. He is unusually short for an ishiri – perhaps 5’5″ – and quite stout. He is widely recognized as one of the best sculptors in Naldrin, where he now lives, and his ability to manipulate materials with Physic is perhaps even more masterful than his sculpting.

How to Moderate a Role-Playing Game, Part 3: Storytelling

By Jordan Campbell, Director of Game Development, Flying NightBear Games

Follow this series of blog posts on moderating a role-playing game, with specifics about Beyonder. Your own fantastic adventures lie ahead!

Storytelling 101: How to Lie Well

Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things, and which can sometimes pay the rent.

– Neil Gaiman

The main job of a Moderator is essentially no different from that of a writer:  You spin the tale of your players’ lives.  Generally there are three paths you can take to achieve this:

  1. You can create your own stories, building them from scratch, and figuring out every detail on your own.  This is quite rewarding, but it can be a lot of work, depending on how deeply you dig into it.  
  2. You can use a pre-made adventure or even a whole campaign.   The FNB Games team has created a number of individual adventures and are in the process of developing a more extensive campaign that will take many sessions to complete.
  3. You can combine the first two options.  Often you can start with a premade adventure and then expand from there.  Or maybe you are running a longer campaign and need some filler after your players achieve a major goal while you prepare the next phase of their journey.

The pre-made adventures and campaigns come with a story and the creatures, Powers, and all the details you need to play it.  You can use pre-generated characters or create your own.

If you want to create your own stories, here are some tips for a compelling adventure:

  • Conflict: Every story needs conflict, and it has to be something that is important to your characters.  If they are do-gooders you can have them saving orphans, but if they are ruthless warlords that probably won’t work as well.  
  • You need a really good antagonist – what is conflict without one?  Adventures can start small, but the really good ones take weeks, months, or years for your players to work their way up the ranks to reach their longtime rival.  When they finally face them it will be worth the wait.  
  • Recurring characters are a really nice way to build a connection to the world.  They’re also a good place to insert some comic relief if that’s needed.  Maybe Bill, the bartender at Bill’s Bar, who talks endlessly while filling your players in on the local gossip that they need to determine the course or scope out the situation before every adventure.  Or maybe it’s a wanderer who appears randomly in the most dangerous of places, who seems totally helpless but is actually a very powerful character.
  • Pacing: keep things moving!  Vary the pace from exciting/dangerous to a chance to calm down and recoup.  Make sure to incorporate some humor (this is key!).
  • Good Encounters: the PCs need to feel that there is something at stake. This includes needing to believe that they could die. There may be times when one or two of them do; in Beyonder, if you get stabbed with a sword, it’s entirely possible that you will die.
  • Exploration: this comes in many flavors…meeting new creatures; finding new places (especially continuations of places where they’ve already been); learning the customs of a previously unknown (to them) group. This adds richness to their shared experiences  and their connection to the world.
  • Mysteries: it’s great when the PCs have to figure out how to get out of a pickle (you should check out the Beyonder Module Down  – coming soon – for a great example)
  • Time Pressure: During some encounters, or possibly at other times, give the PCs some limits as to how long they have to make decisions.  “Counting down” adds drama and excitement to a situation (but don’t overdo this, or it will lose its power).
  • Challenge: PCs feel great when they’ve accomplished something hard. So give them some hard tasks. Maybe they won’t succeed at first, but will come back later when they have become more powerful.
  • Monitor: watch and listen to your PCs. Part of your job is a bit like being Master of Ceremonies — keep the story exciting and fresh.
  • Snacks: Never underestimate the value of a good snack break! Give your players some time to relax, refuel, and talk excitedly about the adventure they’re having – or the newest web comic. Whatever. Have a variety of snacks, from the always-necessary chocolate  to something crunchy, and perhaps even healthy (baby carrots, anyone?).
  • Have Fun: If you’re not having fun, your players are probably not having fun either. This is a game, not a test!  And remember:  the Moderator is always right!

GERC: The Energetic Experimental Group (EEG)

The Energetic Experimental Group is the most pointedly – often abstractly – academic group of the GERC divisions. The EEG comprises Channels from every Guild, as well as a considerable number of non-Channels in clerical positions, and its top researchers are among the best and brightest on the Tamarran Continent.

The breadth of EEG research is wide; some groups cover practical subjects such as the discovery of new Powers and Power Effects, or new Effects to imbue into Energetic items. Other groups cover purely theoretical research; this includes the underpinnings of the Six Energies and how they interact in the world around us (what allows plants to be controlled by Spirit and bodies by Body, and where is the dividing line? Is it possible to control tree-gendered kamaris with either? Is there a theoretical limit to the number of Barriers one can transcend?). There are also groups that cover just… weird stuff:  what happens if you use telepathy on an Unkind Place? If you use Physic/Body to turn part of a tree into meat, could you control that tree with Body?

A good example of “out there” research is the Shadow Gate Network Project (SGNP), which started in the year SP~5,002 and continues today, fourteen years later.  The project examines dimensional gates, which, connect two places in space that are some distance from each other, allowing folk to enter one side of the gate and immediately appear on the other.  But, what exactly is inside  the gate itself?  Is there actually nothing there?  Or, as many on the SGNP team believe, is there an Energy Realm outside of normal space that might itself be visited?  There is anecdotal evidence (actually quite a bit of it) about blink bats that enter a naturally occurring D-Gate, but do not exit from the other side for many minutes, or even hours or days.  It has been said that a number of these blink bats have simply come back out the side they entered, sometimes with a companion blink bat in tow.  Stay tuned as this group makes progress!

The current head of the EEG is Ipchirix Telek-iv-telt, a dwaheely Mentarch/Evoker from the mountains off the coast of the Rimgissel Ocean. While most EEG researchers agree that Ipchirix is a bit… odd, they also agree that she is phenomenally talented as a researcher. She retains vast troves of knowledge and connects information between disparate fields as deftly as a weaver pulls together threads.

How to Moderate a Role-Playing Game, Part 2: Supplies

By Jordan Campbell, Director of Game Development, Flying NightBear Games

Follow this series of blog posts on moderating a role-playing game, with specifics about Beyonder. Your own fantastic adventures lie ahead!

Before you get started, you need to have the right gear.  Here are some of the essentials for moderating a game, as well as a few extras that are nice to have.

  • Lots of extra scrap paper and pencils.  A sharpener wouldn’t hurt either.
  • Your own copy of the rules, either physical or digital.  For Beyonder that is Beyonder: The Science of the Six.  Your players may have their own copies but you should probably have your own on hand.  My copy has frequently used pages marked with sticky tabs for quick reference.
  • Your own copy of the bestiary, either physical or digital.  For Beyonder that is Imbehnhi’s Bestiary: Being a Traveler’s Account of Our Continent and Her Creatures.  Generally your players should not have a copy with them unless their characters have knowledge of the creatures.  Eventually your players will likely come to know most of the creatures in the world, at which point they will have to make a conscious decision to separate their knowledge from their character’s knowledge — but if they don’t have access that will put that issue off for a while at least.
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    An early version of a character sheet

    Character sheets for any other creatures you plan to have appear in your adventure.  They can be non-player characters (NPCs) or creatures, either from the Bestiary or ones you have made up.  Follow the link for a printable Beyonder character sheet.  You can also look at the Play page on our main website which has more information on how to put together a character sheet.

  • Sometimes it is helpful to have a list of some of your players’ key Talents; you might want to make a roll on their behalf without their knowledge.  This might include Perception to see if they notice something, Insight to notice if someone is lying, Scholarship to check if they would recognise the significance of something, and Luck just in case.  If you really want to keep your players on their toes, you can get in the habit of making rolls at random intervals so they don’t know which ones are real.
  • Maps, maps, maps!  It is really helpful to have visual aids, especially in situations such as combat, where spacing matters.  A map can be anything from a quick sketch on the back of a napkin to a series of table-sized charts, drawn in fine detail and to scale, and added to for years (as was the case with the original Beyonder maps).  It is often helpful to make your maps on graph paper and to create a standardized scale that you use throughout your games.  Another fun thing to do if you are having your players repeatedly explore parts of the same place is to have a master copy of the maps for yourself and to have the players create and keep their own maps as they explore.
  • Tracking Wheels are nice for complex situations and when timing matters.  In Beyonder we have a printable Tracking Wheel for keeping track of the play order and the amount of time that passes before an action resolves.  
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    Choose some small objects to keep track of where players are. (These are from the early days of Beyonder!)

    How do you keep track of where people are on the map and tracking wheels?  Tokens of some sort are very helpful.  I like to have two tokens for each player, one for the map and one for the tracking wheel.  Ideally this is small object or figure that the player uses each time.  Some of the markers used by early Beyonder players included small sea shells, cufflinks, pewter figurines, and animals carved out of wood, and even pieces from unused board games.  Start collecting little objects now and you will have enough in no time.  It is also good to have extras to represent NPCs and other creatures.

There is a lot more to this whole Moderator gig than this, but we will take a brief pause for now and let you digest it all.  

 

Coming soon: How to Moderate a Role-Playing Game: Part 3, How to Lie Well