Nightmares of Mine is a book about the horror genre, but serves as one of the most complete advanced GM guides that I have ever read.
In my neverending search to become a better GM, I have been working on expanding my horizons. Reading source books from many RPGs, delving into the depths of reddit.com/RPG., listening to podcasts of actual plays (notable One Shot and Campaign), have all aided in my evolution as a game master. One of the latest works that I have stumbled upon is Nightmares of Mine, a book written on running a game set in the horror genre that includes a versatile arsenal of tips that can be applied to any genre. Many of these tips can be applied outside of the horror genre, since horror applies to a mood and atmosphere that is present inside of the work.
The text opens with a genre explanation giving an overview of horror, types of horror, and other campaign styles. Horror can be defined by the content within the adventure, and what form the ultimate “Big Bad” (if any) takes in the final scenes of the adventure. An overview of these scenes can be found with a description of both. They may not encompass every horror scenario, but will cover a majority of the tropes that are common within western media.
Character hooks and a guide are included with motivations and backgrounds for easy inspiration. This can help create both player characters and non player characters alike. Using these with world building tips can allow the GM to create a world full of life and suspense. Shortly after is a guide on using NPCs for multiple ends such as information, mood, scenery, etc.
Scenario Formats is a section that gives an overview of the layouts of adventures that can occur with descriptors to each. Chase scenes, mysteries, fetch quests, and more are explained in this section of the guide. There is also information on pacing of the story to denote the best time for the GM to commit to an action, how to realize when this time is, and what to do if you mess up. Other campaign horror guides for the atmosphere are also included. What type of horror best fits in the situation? How realistic should my campaign be? How much magic should be included? What is appropriate/inappropriate content to expose the players to?
Campaign Pitfalls is an extremely important section in the book. This section gives an overview of the many ways a campaign can go awry with solutions to fix them. I’ve seen at least three of these happen to my campaigns, which adds to the relevancy of the situations included.
Bilbiography and Filmography references many classical works of horror of all forms of media. I have experienced many of these works, which the author uses to draw upon as examples to use in explanations.
Overall the work is excellent and I have learned a lot about pacing of the campaign and alternative methods to deal with PCs, NPCs, story structures and more. Many of the works for GM guides are rooted in the fantasy genre, and it was refreshing to experience a different genre and see how present these theories are in the horror games I have participated in.
Update: Due to the complex nature of the Apocalypse World campaign, we are moving all content to Obsidian Portal to better manage information on a more specific platform. But don’t worry, I’ll still be adding links to posts on the wordpress site so you can subscribe via your RSS reader or email address to get updates.
Apocalypse world is an extremely interesting system to play. Overall, the rules really assist with character development and the playbooks make character creation easy. The system really gets out of the way to allow narrative development. Vincent Baker is a master of words and gives tons of creation tools and allows player agency to shine through. The world and possessions that players create are never perfect, which comes to hurt them later on. Characters must struggle to protect the things they care about, and risk these same things be used against them. I’m very excited to continue to play this system as an introduction to long form narrative games. My goal is to use the lessons taken from Apocalypse world to be used to play a Star Wars: Edge of the Empire game with a revolving cast traversing the Galaxy.
The Quiet Year is a collaborative map building game where everyone rebuilds a society over the course of a year after a catastrophe. Every player turn represents one week, where a playing card is drawn to help escalate any plot, projects that were started advance to completion, and players can choose a variety of actions to raise or lower the stakes. You can purchase a copy of The Quiet Year from its website located here.
Below is a picture of the map that we drew. As players, we all agreed on symbols and collaborated on many objects present on the map, with each person drawing their respective findings upon the map. Resource scarcities and abundances were determined and changed, with the number of resources constantly expanding as more exploration was completed. Roll20.net was used to collaborate with a remote player to construct this map.
There is a river that bisects the map with our town on the left. Another town with a cursed tower in the center is on the right. To the north are trees and magical beasts, while clay sits to the northeast. A magical statue sits in the southwest. Many other events took place within our town. People were created, while most were killed. Buildings were constructed, then destroyed. Clans were introduced, and most were driven out. There is a certain ebb and flow to this style of game that keeps everything in check.
The core mechanic of the game revolved around drawing a card to play its effect, finishing projects that were set up, then committing to one of thee actions. A player could Discover Something New (a problem or event that impacts the town), Hold a Discussion (talk about any issue in brevity), or Start a Project (work to mitigate any threats that the town could undergo).
One of the most interesting parts of the game is the limited communication between players. Each player gets to speak at most, one or two sentences per week. The ruleset dictates that this approximation represents the limited discussion that takes place at town discussions. Not everyone gets to have their say.
We introduced a lot of problems in the game that we did not have time to address, positively or negatively. Many issues started with no real negative attribute unless someone escalated the issue. The card prompts do an excellent job at advancing what will happen next in the game, with the three-possible-actions-per-turn dynamic adds a small strategy element to the game.
The game ends immediately when the King of Spades is drawn, so one of our players was disappointed by the fact that our preparations ultimately mean nothing since anything we have built up gets destroyed. I think this adds to the solemn and reserved tone of the game. Many disasters came to strike our town during the time we had to rebuild, but ultimately, they too do not matter.
Overall, I really enjoyed playing The Quiet Year, though I wish we could have played around with the contempt tokens a bit more. We took the cooperative descriptor too seriously and didn’t often disagree on options to improve the town. More radical decisions will be taken during the next play session to help spice up the narrative.
Lasers and Feelings is a very simple, quick, indie game by One Seven Design. There is PDF of the ruleset available here. You only need several d6, and one value (that creates two stats) to play the game. It’s extremely rules lite, and includes some basic plots to get things moving. A great introduction for those who are either new to role playing, or do not like to have lots of rules.
The ruleset provides a quick and dirty path to having a great story that can easily be run as a one shot. The core mechanic is simple enough and encourages story driven gameplay that drives that players to role playing any outcome to great effect. I really enjoyed this system and hope to play this again.
This session was run by a new friend, Nemmie, who has never played an RPG before. She did an excellent job DMing, especially given that it was her first time. We hope to play with you again sometime in the future!
- Dr. Daynger – Charlie
- Feelbot 6.0
- Princess Whip Motherfucker – Mai
- Isla Moreau/Ronan Sparkplugger Johnson
Summary (Very short since my notes were terrible for this session):
Ship: Cloaking system and is well armed, but Captain D did bad things in the past.
Plot: Space pirates want to steal void crystals to fix everything.
Aboard the Enterprise (we forgot the name of the model of the ship, so we just call it by the name of the space ship rental company), Captain “D” Darcy was incapacitated and inside of the medical bay. We were in Gorblock, sector 6, during this unfortunate event when we were contacted by pirates. Isla navagates to weave in an out of the pirate gunfire who inform us that we are trespassing into an off-limits sector of space.
After making lots of fish jokes, Feelbot 6.0 goes into a panic attack, Isla tries to land the ship on a planet, while Dr. Daynger and Princess Whip Motherfucker try to get Captain D to the medical pod. The group makes it successfully through the atmosphere and crash lands on a planet with ancient ruins. The ship is mostly intact, with rapidly leaking oxygen supplies.
Dr. Daynger, Feelbot 6.0, and Princess Whip Motherfucker all venture out to inspect the door. Feelbots sensors act up and he panics, thinking the atmosphere is made of cotton candy during testing the air to see if it was breathable. Isla is hiding in a closet because the player was in a bad mood.
(Everyone was getting ready to leave at the moment so we had to cut the session short).
Dr. Daynger and Princess Whip Motherfucker attempt to open the door, but it is too large. Space pirates land on the planet and rescue everyone in exchange for the crystals and Captain D, who will be taken in as a prisoner of war.
One Last Job is an indie tabletop RPG that is based upon the premise that the party is getting back together for “One Last Job”
Stories and abilities are created through anecdotes and flashbacks told by other players in the group.
“Hey, remember the time when you used to be good at…”
This lets everyone have a say in creating each and every character, increasing player involvement. With lots of minds creating the same story, you can get some pretty hilarious outcomes.
Party/Catastrophe (What happened last time):
The House of M is headed by Captain Jake Morlander and was formed to assist Rob Zombie with claiming insurance and patent money on his new “Device” design. During this escapade, Cyrus Montana accidentally killed his crewmate Joseph Gloplen, and nothing was ever the same again.
Rob Zombies “The Device” was engineered to begin the zombie outbreak and control a mass army of the undead. The House of M only discovered this crucial information after it was too late.
On that fateful night inside the Zombie Estate, it was dark and foggy. Everyone in the House of M was wearing disguises as to not be seen by the security cameras, when Cyrus Montana lost track of Joseph Gloplen in the midst of the heist. The plan was to steal the device, file for an insurance claim, then use the device to start a zombie outbreak. White Snake, the arch enemy of Rob Zombie would be blamed for the theft of this device and would be successfully taken out of the R&D Industry, allowing Rob Zombie to run a puppet government over the town.
- Rob Zombie – NPC – Inventor and head of Z Industries, this client of the House of M was secretly responsible for the recent zombie outbreak.
- White Snake – NPC – Hired the House of M to destroy Rob Zombie’s “The D” to put a stop to the zombie outbreak.
- Joseph Gloplen – NPC – Though an accountant by trade, this freelance hacker was into horse racing. Joseph Gloplen often hacked the bidding odds to be in his favor. His untimely death was brought upon by Cyrus Montana during the last job. There is a conspiracy that Joseph Gloplen was killed because his last name doesn’t start with M.
- Cyrus Montana – Peter – Lawyer by day, assassin by night. Cyrus killed his best friend Joseph Gloplen during the catastrophe, causing friction within the House of M.
- Celia Montgomery – Mai – A hired nurse and widowed fiance of Joseph Gloplen. After his death, the coincidental timing of the zombie outbreak kept Celia occupied through her work. She still resents Cyrus Montana to this day.
- Jacob Mortdunder – Charlie – Convenience store worker. Jabob Mortdunder was best friends with Cyrus Montana and brothers with Joseph Gloplen. Jacob has trouble holding a job, but never has difficulty holding a grudge.
- Calvin Morgendorfer – Ashton – Actor. Master of Disguise. Ex-lover. Calvin Morgendorfer always shows up at the right time dressed as someone else. His accent is forever changing, and no one knows what he really looks or sounds like. Calvin frequently disguised himself as everyone’s lover to get closer to each of the member of the House of M. Everyone has discovered his secret.
- Captain Jake Morlander – Nathan (DM) – Head of the House of M. Sea captain Jake Morlander organized the last job. After the catastrophe happened, he took to the seas and was never heard from again, until now, where he used his successful crab fishing reality TV show to help fund the destruction of “the D”.
Plot (Everything is different this time):
Getting the team back together was quite the hassle. Jacob Mortdunder was in charge of this reunion since the House of M was the only group with the inside knowledge of Rob Zombie’s mansion. They would only get one shot, and after all, they were the ones that inserted “the D” in the first place. Begrudgingly, everyone except for Calvin showed up at Jacob Mortdunder’s apartment for a heist planning session. Celia and Cyrus were forced to put aside their differences to stop the larger matter at hand.
“The plan will work something like this,” Jacob Mortdunder said in the dimly lit foyer of his rundown apartment, “we have to infiltrate the gates with demo charges, then plant one in each of the hands as a distraction so we can make out getaway.”
After quick observation of the hologram placed on the dining room table in Jacob Mortdunder’s apartment, they find an entry point into Rob Zombie’s Estate. His living quarters is shaped like a person, with a head, midsection, arms, and legs. The House of M figures they have to infiltrate the gates, enter through a skylight that makes up the eyes of the mansion, then exit with “the D” after extraction from the groin. Celia, Cyrus, and Jabob will infiltrate. Calvin will be ready with the Van of M by the buttox for a quick getaway.
Upon arrival at the eastern gate to the Zombie Estate, Celia spots a guard shack along with several guards. She figures if she can infiltrate the guard shack, she can deactivate the security cameras, a very obvious electric fence, and the gate lock. She climbs up onto the roof to get a better vantage point, but slips and gets her foot cut by the gutter on the guard shack. Celia makes it into the guard shack, and does everything she had hoped. Jacob and Cyrus come to support her. It’s time for them to enter the gate, climb the wall and enter the atrium.
Cyrus jumps down nimbly, like a ninja, into the atrium, while Celia and Jacob get caught in their suspension lines. After Celia cuts her rope and hands the end to Cyrus, they all make it down, only leaving the ropes at the top of the ceiling suspended. No one will notice those anyway.
The group enters the torso of the body where they decide to split up. Cyrus goes to “the D” to scout ahead and signal any threats back. Jacob and Celia go down opposite arms to plant the distraction charges.
Celia encounters lasers that nimbly moves through given her history as a gymnist. Jacob and Joseph actually attended some of her shows, which led to their initial meeting. Jacob encounters a construction site, which he carefully walks through, avoiding falling paint cans and poorly placed ladders. Both charges get placed.
Cyrus sneaks through a library, but his reckless patterns allow him to be spotted. He immediately starts running, to which his history as an injured track runner inspires him to make it out, but he can’t run for much longer. Cyrus makes it to the front door of the groin region of the Zombie Estate. Celia makes it through an air duct. Jacob makes it to an alternate entrance.
Cyrus sounded an alarm back in the library, which led to all kinds of zombie guards surrounding “the D” to protect the most valuable object in the vicinity. Luckily, the House of M still has some trip mines and Jacob can use dark magic. The group recalls a time where Jacob and Joseph stumbled into a back alley to get involved in some shady dark alley magic.
Jacob throws an explosive charge into the room with “the D” which explodes, sending waves of heat into the air duct where Celia is, and knocks open both sets of doors where Jacob and Cyrus are standing. (Unfortunately when writing this, I don’t exactly remember how everything went down but…) through a combination of explosives, guns, and dark magic, all of the zombie soldiers have been defeated, and the House of M makes it out with “the D”. Rob Zombie seems to have fled the scene. It takes a smart man to know when he will be defeated.
All Out of Bubblegum is a simple RPG from the creators of Everyone is John. The ruleset can be found in a reddit post here. The system is incredibly simple and facilitates doing “Kick-ass” actions as the time goes on by limiting mundane actions. AOoB was extremely fun and quick to run, while giving the players a quick character creation and lots of player involvement.
- Ashe – Mai
- Fey Leno – Charlie
- Generic Nord Character “GNC” – Brad
- Jesus – Tyler
The group began in Leatherland, with a disease outbreak that causes everyone to shit diarrhea candy canes. David Leatherman himself became infected and needs the Galapagos Candy Cane as a cure. The party discovered the Galapagos Candy Cane on a previous adventure, and brought the wealth of its treasure, and unknowningly, its disease, back to Leatherland. Now the Galapagos Candy Cane has gone missing, and the party needs to get it back to save David Leatherman.
David Leatherlibrary was the first place to investigate, since they were looking for Conan the Librarian who was last seen with the Galapagos Candy Cane. They were greeted by Dewey, who GNC yelled at until he directed them to Conan the Librarian’s poker night in the basement of David LeatherTavern to to give Conan a visit.
GNC entered the tavern by kicking in the door, generating a cloud of thematic candy cane dust. Ned the bartender added the door to GNCs bar tab. The party slips and slides down the candy cane laden stairs to enter the basement. In the basement they find Ned, a middle aged, balding halfling sitting atop a pile of books to be able to peek over the table.
GNC smashes his head into the table and Conan’s tongue is grabbed until he gives answers to where the Galapagos Candy Cane location is revealed. The tongue is ripped out, so he can’t talk. He writes on a piece of paper, “By the time you find it, it will already be too late.”
The entire room is combusted where it falls out below leaving a sub-basement. A group appears to be worshiping a glowing Galapagos Candy Cane. Jesus eats some of the Candy Cane and immediately shits diarrhea. Fey Leno takes some of the candy and teleports back to David Leatherman. Ashe kills some of the worshipers. GNC stuffs Jesus so he doesn’t fill the room with Candy Canes. Soon, Jesus explodes and so does David Leathertavern.
Looks like GNC’s bar tab is getting pretty big.
Everyone is John is a humorous, competitive roleplaying game about playing the various personalities of John, an insane man from Minneapolis. One participant is the GM, or, in Everyone is John lingo, “Everyone Else.” All of the other players are Voices in John’s head.
I ran a session of this game a while ago and was very impressed. A ruleset can be found here as it is a free to play game. All of the non-player characters have goals and personality traits that the voices in John’s head use to convince John to do various actions.
Each player will have something different they want John to do and together that sets up for a battle of interest where they battle it out and witness as John goes more and more insane.
The battle of control mechanic is interesting since it lets each player have the spotlight at different points in time and it lets the conflicts escalate both mechanically and in the narrative. The rules are so light that they get out of the way and act as a transition period (almost like a speaker’s staff) letting everyone know when they can and can’t speak. During the last session that was run, the players that were not in control of John played some of the NPCs which kept everyone engaged.
I applaud the developers of Everyone is John for fitting these rules into three short pages. It’s a system that will probably be a token one shot for when we can’t get a whole group together.