Smash open with the characters — Dr. Gould, Hunter, and Olga — facing a tyrannosaurus rex just as they were hoping for a rescue from the flying saucer Aruna. With it’s guns damaged from the crash a few sessions ago, the saucer still aids them by presenting a shiny distraction for the beast, giving them time to find cover. From there, Hunter lives up to his name, using the .452 Wesley-Richards they’d nabbed after Gus Hassenfeldt was lost in the last session.

Finally picked up by the saucer, they fly back to the damaged flying wing the curmudgeonly “Uncle” Zek and his young daughter Erha used to help everyone escape the pirate attack on the Sanctuary. They land and proceed to try and find the body of Lady Zara, who had been thrown from Ivora the Magnificent’s airship Sela…but it’s nowhere to be found: no drag marks, no blood, nothing. While reconnoitering Hunter nearly gets eaten by a massive Venus mantrap, but cuts his way out with his sword. Lord Amon posits that she was taken by a pterosaur, but they just can’t be sure. (This is my back door for having the character return, if and when her player can/does come back.)

They manage to fix the cannons on Aruna and after some debate, head for Amon’s home city, Ultima Thule! Four hours of flying over ocean get them to the city on a large island. The city is Atlantis-like, with radial and circular canals, high walls and buildings, and it is surrounded by massive farms with animals that are more modern and recognizable. Landing at the royal palace, they can see a massive war saucer with the Hindu-style swastika — it’s Durga, the war saucer of General Inanna, Emperor Mot’s most trusted tactician! Amon and Shria are worried, and they have cause to be: his men arrest them immediately, and they are taken to face Captain Thoth — the head of the emperor’s secret police (all attired in basic black with gold swastikas.)

Thoth is here because the emperor knew about his mission to collect Gould, the Atlantean, and that he encountered some “issues.” He informs Shria she is to be returned to her father for “discipline” for her art in his efforts to subvert the emperor with the aid of this man (whom he thought would be taller…) He also discovers that Olga is something special — not Atlantean, but something much, much more valuable. He takes from Zek his “mind machine” — the remains of an Atlantean robot, which has been acting as interpreter and technology expert. (One of the reasons Zek is so good with machines…)

Gould, Olga, Shria, and Hunter (whom Gould rescued from a dungeon stay like the rest) are cleaned, dressed in appropriately Greco-Flash Gordon clothing, then given medical attention. For the first time in four days, they get a good meal and don’t smell like animals! Thoth questions them about the surface world, their adventures, all seeming like polite table conversation, but he is gathering intelligence.

Afterward, once they’ve had sleep and a storm has passed, they are preparing to go aboard Durga when a report that Amon and the others have escape is delivered. Assuming that they will use the secret tunnels, Thoth is about to dispatch troops when they hear the flying wing roar to life. Moments later, the plane strafes the guards and the audience room, and the characters take the chance to beat feet.

Chased by dozens of guardsmen, they manage to get to one of the Thule saucers, and take off, strafing the others and destroying them. Only the massive Durga remains, but they quickly effect their escape, catching up to the flying wing and having them follow to an island far out to sea, Avarda — Shria’s secret pleasure island.

Here they find a tropical paradise with jutting mountains, white sandy beaches, and a massive treehouse complex in the jungles. Shria’s attendants include nymph-like “greenmen” who assure them that they will know if Thoth and his forces approach. Rested, healed, and fed, the group has to make a tough choice — head for Argatha and abandon the Inner World, or take up arms against the emperor…but where to start?

As we’ve played in the Hollow Earth, I’ve more and more moved away from the Land of the Lost quality toward a Flash Gordon-esque one. We needed a good bad guy, so “the emperor.” Is it Ming the Merciless? Due to international copyright laws, no. But it sounds like Max von Sydow’s Ming! But its not… This gives the characters a purpose beyond adventuring from one sandbox to the next, and provides a force of bad guys whenever needed. The Hollow Earth’s Nazis, if you will.

A few things we know — the Inner World, based off the curvature, is far too small to be just under the surface of the Earth. In fact, the circumference would only be about half that Earth… The creatures they’ve seen include things of myth, ancient dinosaurs, modern animals and people, and access to and from the surface was, at one time, more easy. One person has described the Inner World as “a prison”, a place created by ancient gods to protect people from the things here. Could the Atlanteans have been their servants? And what is the relationship to the Vril, who are Atlantean, but cannot work some of their technology as Gould can? Olga, they seem to think, is related to something even older than the Atlanteans, and dangerous; she has an effect of orichalcum (finally worked it in),  an element that is part of the crystals that power so much of the Atlantean technology.

That’s something we hear a lot when people give player advice. Don’t be a dick. Don’t be a jerk.

But what does that mean?

Here’s a few tips for players (and GMs) on how not to be a dick with your group.

Firstly, don’t engage in ad hominen attacks or bullying. We all have different standards for what that means, but here’s the best rule of thumb: until you know a person, steer clear of jokes about their…well, anything…until you know they’re cool with it.

This is especially hard for me, and others who grew up with “Celtic Love”, where busting someone’s balls means you like them; you’re polite to those you don’t know or like. Don’t insult them. Don’t comment on something they might find touchy — like if they’re homosexual or a ginger. (See..?)

Extend that to, don’t insult their character and/or play style. Not everyone gaming is an aspiring actor, and they don’t have to be. Not everyone is annoyed by the attention-seeker who has to dress their part and play like they’re getting paid for it. A lot of people see their characters as an idealized version of themselves, so attacking that character leads to the above issues…

Second, recognize that some of these people have lives outside of the game. Conversely, recognize that the game might be the only social or creative outlet for some of the players and is important to them. Some people are going to miss game because or work or family pressures. that really can’t be avoided. Some folks figure they can traipse in and out whenever they please ’cause “it’s just a game” and don’t note that this makes it hard for the GM to plot for you (I’ve had whole sessions have to be scrubbed, last minute. It’s fucking rude.) and makes it hard for the other players to care about your character and involvement. There also might be other issues — I have a kid. Her bedtime is usually during game. Having to switch nights on a regular basis isn’t just a hassle for me and other gamers, it screws with the kid and wife’s schedules.

This is specifically for players: Just note that some GMs actually put a tremendous amount of effort into have a good, enjoyable game really. You kind of screw them when you decide not to show up for a few weeks or a month. If you can’t be consistent, tell them and either drop out, or agree to play a bit character. You’re not getting married to the group, so no one expects total commitment, but they don’t also expect to wait an hour for you not to show up, then they get under way.

So third: CALL OUT. Don’t not show up without warning. Don’t be two hours late without letting them know. Half the people on this planet can’t have lunch without a tweet, text, or Instagram — keep people apprised. Conversely, if you never show up, but think you will for a few weeks, let them know (if you can.)

Lastly, don’t leave the place a mess when you leave. Pick up your glasses, your plates, your mess. Offer to help out with the clean up or pitch in a few bucks for meals. If you get a ride from one of the other players, pitch in for gas.

These are just the few ways you can not be a jerk when you are part of an RPG game.

This question applies to any storytelling endeavor, I suppose… What makes a good character? For me, there’s a few elements:

1. A good hook or schtick. Sometimes it’s unique, sometimes it’s archetypical (or stereotypical) — the gung-ho pilot, the tomb raider, the cool professional… The schtick should be appropriate to the genre — so the alcoholic spy who is trying to keep it together while undercover is a good one for an espionage game; the fearless archeologist or pilot adventurer is good for a pulp game, the plucky fighter pilot almost always works in space opera.

A good hook is that cool thing your character does. Maybe they’re the bad ass fighter, the nigh invincible fighter jock, the smooth-talking face, the dogged detective…this is the thing that you want to be, or people want to see.

2. The schtick is made better when the character has a weakness that helps drive the story. Walter White had his cancer, but more telling was his arrogance and pride — the real motivation for creating Heisenberg. James Bond is a sucker for a dame and booze. Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes, but he also has daddy issues. Captain America is an honest, good man, but also doesn’t know when to quit and is inflexible in his code of morality and honor. Jessica Jones is a drunk, impulsive, guilt-ridden, and has lost faith in herself thanks to the mental machinations of Killgrave, and they cause her to second guess herself and make truly awful decisions.

Weaknesses, ultimately, are more likely to make the character interesting and memorable, rather than the “cool stuff” they can do. Sure, Superman can do all these incredible things, but it’s his small town morality, his hope and belief in the goodness of people, that is both his strength and weakness. (You can count me firmly in the screw Zack Snyder camp…)

Have a good hook. Have a good weakness or two.

3. Lastly, a good performance. Sure, you can third person it and still have a good character: “…my guy is a sucker for a dame, so even though I know she’s playing him, he wouldn’t…or wouldn’t acknowledge it.” You don’t have to put on your amateur theater hat every night at the table. Putting your thought processes or knowledge aside to do what the character would with what they know or think is key.

Odd question, although it shouldn’t be, considering I game with a set group of folks. You would think we would give gifts — birthday or otherwise. The answer is: whatever we are playing at the moment.

I’ve given copies of SerenityBattlestar GalacticaAtomic Robo,, and others to folks. Most likely, I would give Hollow Earth Expedition to folks if I were gifting this year, as that’s what we’ve been playing, but who knows what the future will hold?

The question for today’s RPGaDay was “share one of you best ‘worst luck’ stories.” that one is easy: During a Stargate SG-1 campaign (we were using the James Bond: 007 RPG rules set with some tweaks for aliens, etc…) — it had to be 2005 — we were playing parts in the big Antarctic battle at the end of Season 7. One of the players had a fighter pilot who had been flying the F-302s from the show. During the big fight, he rolled a 00 (always a fail in JB:007) to dodge a shot from a goa’uld fighter.

The pilot struggled to get control of the fighter, which was now plummeting toward the ice below…but he’s got plenty of time; he’s six miles up! First roll to get control: 00. Safety roll: 00. The craft is now so badly damaged he’s got no choice to put it down. Control roll…

00! Safety roll: 00

He’s got to punch out as the F-302 starts to come apart in a flat spin. Tries to punch out…

Double. Zero.

This is his sixth indisputable failure. I have a choice: GM fiat and say “no, you’re getting out of this one” or accept that the universe wants this character deader than dead. (The player agree — dead. Super dead.) Never seen anything like it before or since.

Honorable mention goes to the husband of one of my gamers that used to play with us for a while. He was a bit of a duffer — he could never remember the die mechanic, even though we’d played for a year. He also was one of those guys that no matter what dice he used, they betrayed him at the most inopportune moment. This lead, one night, to him throwing himself to his knees, crying, “My dice at fucking me!!

 

Simple: play it. Better: Run it.

Managing a game will require you to engage with the rules at a deeper level than the players — for the most part. There are games like Fate and some of the indie stuff that try to spread the storytelling and rules management across the entire group, and there are people that love that, and in those rules sets, playing is probably just as good.

When learning a new game, keep the adventure short and to the point. Make sure the events play to the strengths of the setting or rules. If you’re in a game where court intrigue is the point (say, Blue Rose) you focus on a few scenes involving court intrigue. If you’re learning the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons, you need fights that involve magic, swordplay, and monsters.

A normal adventure, for me, plays to several points in the rules: have a social scene that involves the characters talking their way through a problem, have an action sequence that plays to the strength of the game — guns, fists, swords…what’s the schtick? — and have some kind of investigation scene to figure out a problem or mystery, and an athletics-based scene. If you were doing a Chthulu-type game, there should be something that tests the wits and courage of the characters; if you’re playing fighter pilots in a space opera game — have a vehicle combat scene…or save that for the next session.

Like a new car, use only the features you need to get from the car lot to your home: the steering wheel, the pedals, and gears. Leave figuring out Bluetooth and the overly complex entertainment system fro when you can’t accidentally mow down pedestrians.

…or very rightly…

Last week’s game ended with a raid by the pirate forces of Chua Te, Captain Trihn, who was looking for a place to land after the destruction of his pirate haven, San Antonio. the Captain of Sanctuary, Hollander, put him off for a bit, but the baddies were scaling the sides of the old passenger liner in search of our travelers and their Vril companions. We ended on a good cliffhanger, outnumbered and with the monstrous henchman, Tongo, just having grabbed a hold of Gus Hassenfeldt….

The night started with Tongo hurling Gus over the rail, not to be seen again for the night. The reason for this is the player is at a Transformers convention. His character failed to transform into a flying machine (that we know of…)

During the fight, it was obvious they were trying to capture Gould. Hunter wound up taking down quite a few pirates with the katana he picked up while in India. (It will eventually become a plot device.) In the fight, he tok on and slew Tongo with one hell of a good strike with the weapon. Between this act and the Vril lighting pirates up with their ray guns, the pirates fled.

However, another faction was in play, as the strange dwarf-like critters that carry around Ivora the Magnificent, the mistress of the airship Sela, stole in during the fight and made off with Zara, Olga, and Shria — the Vril pilot and daughter of Emperor Mot of Atlantis. Hunter noted the abduction and gave chase, with Gould following, leading up to the boat deck, where a basket was waiting to be winched up to the waiting Sela, as the airship was casting off. Hunter went for broke and jumped onto the basket using the katana to try and stabilize himself (and nearly killing one of the women inside.) This lead to a tussle with one of the dwarves, which threw him from the basket into the jungle below. Gould shot up the engine car of the airship and damaged it a bit.

About this time, Trihn’s fleet opened up on the Sanctuary, blasting the old ship repeatedly. Old steel eventually started to give way, and the scaffolding that held the Sanctuary upright began to fail. Gould and Amon, the Vril leader, gathered up their gear and people and were attempting to escape the place when they ran into Hunter, who with a great acrobatics roll survived the fall through the trees. They decided to go after the women as they had little time before the airship was too far to follow. They worked their way forward through the damage and fires to the forward cargo hold cum laboratory for Uncle Zek, and after rescuing his daughter, make good their escape in his flying wing. (Tossing a bunch of machinegun rounds at the fleet for good measure.

In quick order they catch Sela, which is following the crash track for the war saucer, Aruna. She’s going for the salvage? They get close, looking to down the airship, but they are hanging Lady Zara and Shria out of the sides of the ship — hostages. The characters race ahead and make a dangerous landing in the clearing the saucer is downed in. They have about 90 minutes to figure out how to repair the ship, and Uncle Zek — with Hunter’s mechanical aid, and Gould’s science knowledge, manage to rewire the systems to use fewer “heat crystals” that it usually can.

And just in the nick of time, too: Sela has arrived and Ivora is threatening to drop the hostages if they don’t give her the crystals. Hunter opens up with the guns on the airship and Ivora makes good her threat — giving us our first party kill of the campaign. Gould goes to aid the woman dropped out of the airship, only to have the dwarves rappel into his path. In the ensuing fray, Hunter fatally damages Sela with the flying wing’s guns; and Amon and Zek drive off or kill the dwarves. Shria is able to escape the crashing airship with minor injuries.

They use the saucer to track the wreck of Sela, and jump onto the collapsed balloon that is holding the keel and control car up in the trees. This led to a chase, in which they discover Ivora has held onto Olga — she has figured out that the woman is a psychic battery and has use of her…because Ivora is some kind of mentalist of sorceress. She is able to use some kind of telekenesis, able to shroud herself from view by “clouding men’s minds”, and the fight between her amplified powers (thanks to Olga) and the two men was tense but ultimately they rescued Olga while losing Ivora in the trees.

They returned to the clearing, where Aruna was coming to collect them, in the hopes of finding Hassenfeldt back at Sanctuary when they hear a strange snuffling sound, and turn to find themselves face to face with a tyranosaur!

And thus, I’ve managed to keep every session, so far, ending on some kind of cliffhanger, with a character missing, another dead, and the rest facing a mega-predator.

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