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Meta Thursday (Macabre Manses): Tabletop Terror

tabletop terror 4Horror can be a tricky thing—anybody can be gorey, but to really have an impact there are a number of factors to consider. Who are you trying to scare? Why are you trying to scare them, and most importantly, how?

Who You’re Scaring

  • What kind of group do you have before you?
  • Do they work well as a team?
  • Have they experienced a PC death before and if so, how recently?
  • Powergamers? Spotlighters? Meticulous planners?

This needs to be your initial concern because it colors everything that comes next. If you’re playing against power gamers, do not give them mechanical foreshadowing (see “How” below); conversely, if the group isn’t very team oriented (less the “X-Men” and more the “Defenders”), splitting them up won’t do you a huge amount of good. Carefully weigh out your options and do your best to anticipate what the PCs are likely to do when things get dark—no matter how you do it, surprise is going to be a part of the equation.

 

Why You’re Scaring

  • Building to a crescendo?
  • An essential element to a creature or particular encounter?
  • To increase the general suspense of the game?

tabletop terror 3If you’re running a game in Ravenloft, the word of the day is always going to be horror! The things to keep in mind in this case is that ultimately you do want the players to win, only that their struggle be a true test against an ever present darkness. I’ve found that warm reprieves can get the trick done, but there’s a lot to be said for a long, arduous trial with truly shining moments of glory.

Maybe this is just a brief foray into horror—in this case, definitely avoid pulling punches and keep extra material around in the event the PCs are on a lucky streak with the dice! On the whole, most games are encouraging the party’s victory (Paranoia being my favorite exception) so a good way to inflict terror is to really give them the feeling that the odds have definitely gone up. You don’t have to necessarily change the numbers to do it, either (more on that below under “How”).

Of course you might just want to increase the general level of suspense in the game because you’re starting to introduce some darker themes and elements in your world and story. This is where you’re looking for a sense of balance between what was and what is; don’t go and start throwing Cthulhu nightmare at the PCs right away, build up to it! An unsettling dream every other game session probably doesn’t register as too strange (stress, right?) but if you let it grow into a greater concern over time, the average player is going to concoct something far more terrifying than what you’re cooking up!

 

tabletop terror 1How You’re Scaring

  • Via the gaming atmosphere?
  • Using mechanics to get it done?
  • The old fashioned way: with a right proper scary story!

Making a gaming atmosphere that encourages fear is simple enough: get some soft lighting (but not too soft—everyone needs to be able to read!), be (more) secretive with your notes, throw in plenty of rolls that serve no real purpose other than to throw players off kilter, and play some music in the background. Not the epic stuff either, but something dark and foreboding (I recommend Midnight Syndicate; D&D music is their thing and there are lots of spooky tracks!)

As mentioned above, the second option is not for groups with power gamers unless you are a very experienced GM. If you can handle it (and aren’t afraid of a TPK), a surefire way to give your players the willies is to start giving them really good, very specific magic items. Nobody will be suspicious about the first one or two powerful weapons or protectives, but once they get the third or fourth, concerns begin to arise. This is a tough road to hoe though—you’re literally raising the stakes. By giving PCs specialized equipment of considerable potency, you’re able to throw something extremely dangerous at the party. If things go as you’ve planned, they should be of two minds when the final battle comes: oh-my-god-we’re-going-to-die and holy-crap-we-might-win.
If you can hack it, I’ve found this to be the most rewarding.

tabletop terror 2Finally, there’s just a well-told horror story. There’s a Kickstarter going on from Louis Porter Jr. Design for the Cross of Fire saga, and all the talent wrapped up in that is in good standing to deliver a terrifying tale, but I wouldn’t count out the logically consistent river of blood in The Mysterious Peaks of Baranthar. 😀

If this is your bag, tips for telling a scary story abound on the internet, but remember: people fear the unknown more than anything else, so make use of that suspense and stretch it out to good effect!

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The Iron Atlas Kickstarter – Revolutionizing Tabletop RPGs!

IRON ATLAS: A Digital Forge for Your Roleplaying Games

Lifeform Entertainment has launched a Kickstarter for new a mobile app called IRON ATLAS. It’s a “Digital Miniatures System” designed for the iPad to serve as an alternative to physical maps and miniatures for roleplaying games.

IRON ATLAS takes many of the elements seen in traditional, PC-based Virtual Tabletop systems (VTTs) and optimizes them for use on mobile devices. The app’s streamlined UI keeps it simple, elegant, and focused on the basics for combat, plus providing tons of content for you to pick and choose for YOUR game.

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PUBLISHERS YOU LOVE

IRON ATLAS lets you browse and download the maps and fantastic character and monster art, from the publishers you love, to use as virtual miniatures. The in-app store comes with content from tons of well-known publishers, cartographers, and illustrators within the RPG industry, letting you cherry-pick the monsters, maps, and other elements you want for your particular game.

Check out the publishers already signed up to be in IRON ATLAS: Green Ronin PublishingAdventure-A-WeekRogue Genius GamesKobold PressLegendary GamesMaps of MasteryThe Game Mechanics, and fantasy illustrators Raven MimuraPete Venters, and Mark Poole.Publishers

WORKS FOR ANY ROLEPLAYING GAME

IRON ATLAS is GAME AGNOSTIC. This means that it works for any RPG, and genre, that uses maps and miniatures. It focuses on traditional fantasy for starters, but will soon include maps and tokens for sci-fi, superhero, horror, modern, post-apocalyptic, and even historical.

 

FEATURES

IRON ATLAS is more than a mere app: it’s an entire “Digital Miniatures System.” It lets you create adventures and encounters, play them on the app’s Mobile Tabletop, and provide the content you want through the robust in-app store.

  • The Mobile Tabletop: is where the action takes place, combining an encounter map with tokens for combat. Move tokens around just like you would physical miniatures on a battle mat. Zoom in and out or pan around the map using intuitive touch gestures. Touch a token to bring up its info—name, class, and vital combat statistics—without having to leave the screen. Encounter Tokens let you group individual creatures and place them on the map. Easily populate a huge dungeon map with these Encounter Tokens to reduce clutter. Things going too easy for the players? Drag out duplicate monster tokens right from the Token Pane onto the map. The GM can hide or reveal tokens and easily switch between GM View (see everything, including menus) to Player View (only what the GM wants the players to see). We have additional features planned for the Mobile Tabletop, which will get unlocked as stretch goals!Tabletop
  • HDTV Output and Fog of War: You can easily output IRON ATLAS to an HDTV, meaning your TV becomes “the battle mat” for everyone to see! Fog of War and the GM/Player View switching allows the GM to show only what players need to see, while keeping unrevealed monsters, traps, and the UI Panes hidden from view. Connect with an HDMI cable or wirelessly via AppleTV, Chromecast, Reflector or other third-party app.Fog_of_War
  • Encounter Builder: Use simple, intuitive touch-based gestures to easily drag-and-drop monsters and characters into the Encounter Builder. Browse the Token Codex, find the characters or monsters you like, and drag them out to rapidly build individual encounters. Your system doesn’t use “Hit Points?” No problem! Edit individual tokens with stats and notes for your specific game or system, so you can turn that stat into something else. Pre-plan an entire adventure full of encounters and group multiple adventures into campaigns. IRON ATLASauto-saves as you build to prevent loss of work.Encounter_Builder
  • MAPS: Get maps for your encounters, adventures, and campaigns through the  IRON ATLAS in-app store, pulled directly from your favorite publishers’ adventures or source books. Created your own map? You can upload your maps into the app and use them when building encounters. This includes huge world maps, regional maps, or “tactical” level maps that mimic drawing out a battlemat for your adventurers to go beat the crap out of Orcus. The app comes with several pre-loaded maps for you to use, for FREE. Plus, the base app will include ALL the maps from a NEW adventure from the Ennie-Award Winning Freeport: City of Adventure setting (using the Pathfinder rules) by Green Ronin Publishing that is part of our Backer Levels!
  • TOKENS: A “token” is our term for a digital miniature, consisting of an amazing piece of artwork, name, description, and info that you’ll need when that creature is in combat, such as Initiative, Armor Class/Defense Score, and Hit Points. IRON ATLAS comes ready-to-go with tokens for typical d20 system primary character classes, creature type, and a variety of environmental effects, traps, and obstacles. Customize token info to suit your particular RPG system. Browse the in-app store and purchase IRON ATLAS-ready Token Packs pulled directly from publishers’ products and illustrators.Tokens
  • COMPANION MODULES: In addition to being able to purchase individual tokens and maps, the in-app store features publisher-specific, IRON ATLAS-ready ADVENTURE COMPANION MODULES. A Companion Module works in concert with a PDF or print version of an adventure, taking the maps, tokens, and encounters of a specific adventure and assembling them for instant use. Each encounter has its monsters and traps already in place on maps, with pre-built names and stats. Plus, all the maps and tokens get added to your Token Codex for you to use in creating your own encounters! Companion Modules are a great way to bulk up your collection, make running specific adventures super easy, and helps support your favorite publishers.

 

ABOUT LIFEFORM ENTERTAINMENT

Lifeform Entertainment has an amazing team of programmers, designers, and artists, with an incredible amount of hand-on experience and attention to detail. All of us are veteran game developers (some for over 20 years), with heavy-hitting backgrounds at companies like BioWare, EA, Activision, and Wizards of the Coast. The team’s ultra-high creative standards, design expertise, and “on-time, on-budget” approach to development have gained us the respect of clients and colleagues alike. Lifeform Entertainment was founded in 2009 and located in sunny Seattle, WA.lifeform logo

 

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4 Ways to Merge Players and Play Styles

Image_Portfolio_104_Fantasy Jason Walton 57As a game designer most of my time is spent editing, reading, and writing; what little remains is for playtesting. One of the things that comes up often with gaming sessions that see so many different players is a matter of expectations—some players are prepared for a world to be opened up in front of them, and others are scions of modules, or entirely new to the concept of tabletop gaming.

Roleplaying is an amazing experience, but some folks have a rockier entry into it than others—be that to the whole concept of assuming the role of a fictional persona, adjusting to a new gaming system or a joining a new group of players.

There are a few tricks to make this easier on the beleaguered GM (not all of which are here; you are the GM, you can bring down the iron hand and send down royal decrees and what have you), but the best thing to do is just be smart, respectful and logical about it: talk directly (separately) to the frustrated player and get an idea of where they are at.

1) Notes
If you’re keen to the divide in player styles before the session starts, this is an easier plan to implement. Even on the fly, it’s not hard to do and if you’re up for a bit of spy games, go for it. Either way, use the plot or NPCs to inform the party member in question about whatever it is they’re looking for, be it the adventure route they expect or the means to break into the world with some freedom to roam.

fashion-middle-ages-72) Extra Checks
Struggling in the sea of freedom can be a real challenge sometimes, especially for folks new to the game—juggling different player styles isn’t easy if you’ve got a mixed group. If a seasoned veteran is having trouble giving enough of the spotlight to the newbie, give the latter a chance to wander around and sprinkle them with checks (preferably skills, but perhaps attributes if you need to) to get them to somewhere the rest of the group can enjoy as well.

3) Maps
This is the primary means I go about handling this in my games; I let the PCs know the lay of the land and subtly push them into this or that direction via geography that fits into the plot. The closer they move towards a locale, the more I reveal about it and the environs. Getting down into the valley, for instance, the party sees the ruins of an old fortress down by the beach—something previously unknown about and definitely drawing attention.

4) The “Subconscious” GM Slip
If you can’t keep a straight face or always lose at poker, skip this one entirely—you have to be able to bluff in real life for this to work out.

Academic Town-Color-FLet it seem like you accidentally let slip a secret about the game as you go through a routine description. Last week (and my Thursday group won’t be looking at this before game tonight, so I’m not overly concerned of them knowing) when investigating a damaged farmhouse, I mistakenly”said that it might have been a dinosaur that did the damage, after dropping several mentions of a dragon being complicit (as far as the villagers knew). 

Of course there was jeering but I saw the change in body language as soon as the table settled—the players sat down as a united group, ready to delve into the game full bore regardless of their preference in approaching it.

Remember, the goal of the game is always to have fun! If a player keeps having a truly tough time with getting dropped into a sandbox or stuck on a railroad, be adaptive, fair, and accommodating (to a point, anyway). The tips above are a good way to go about dealing with the problems that arise from conflicting player styles, but being direct and understanding is the best thing to do!

 

 

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