Keeping track of time

One of the more challenging aspects of being a GM is ensuring the game world retains its believability. Mature players (by this I mean anyone who role-plays, rather than someone who plays a one-man-army war-game) demand a world in which things happen much as they do in this world–all actions have consequences (some of which are unforeseen), and much more is happening in the world than what the characters see.

Part of creating this illusion is of course in your world building, but an equal part is time management–keeping track of all the events that you have planned to happen, and making up new ones based on the actions of your players.

One method I’ve used to do this is a simple table of time/characters. With time along the top of the table and characters (including PCs and NPCs) down the left, it is simple to prepare before the start of a session by jotting down what the NPCs will do assuming the PCs do nothing. As the session progresses, you can modify that based on player activity. One thing to be careful of is the linear nature of a table can lead you to linear thinking on the part of the NPCs. This might sound dumb, but having a table like that will literally encourage you to think within the box.

Another method I’ve used is more like a traditional brainstorm–bubbles with text associated with arrows. This means you can keep track of NPCs actions (and even non-action things like desires and intentions) in more of a flow-chart. Drawing new lines of association between bubbles as different events occur to change the landscape means that it’s more likely that things will be less linear. However, little bubbles scattered over a page make it harder to keep track of the times when events are going to occur.

Finally we get to the method I currently use, which is a mash-up of the two. I use bubbles to note down events and ideas, and a table to tell the order in which they will happen and did happen. That way the game flows freely, I can make notes quickly and still tell where everyone is at any given time, and when the players are talking among themselves I can update my table as I go.

I’ve found that having the bubbles makes it much easier for me to think up sub-plots and micro-plots on the fly, and to ensure that the characters that are relevant to that plot are available at the right times to be involved.

Marvel Super Heroes Saga

Both of us at lategaming are fans of Super Hero games. For Matt, it’s because he misspent his youth reading comic books. For me, it’s because they’re the pinnacle of escapism, and one of my favourite campaigns I ever played in was a supers game.

In this supers game, we used the old Marvel system (not the old-old one, the one after that). Matt was the GM at the time, and his reason for choosing Marvel (when not playing in a Marvel universe) is that the system is very simple for resolving things, keeping the game fluid, and reducing the rules-lawyering or number-crunching which can plague other games (*cough*DC Heroes*cough*).

(Incidentally, we were talking the other day (again) about how all role-playing games are essentially super hero games–you have a character who probably has fairly broad strokes of personality (at least initially) and who has some kind of abilities which makes that character stand out from the crowd. Think about it: Vampire, D&D, Ars Magica, SLA Industries and so on ad infinitum. They all give you special powers and let you wreak havoc.)

So, when I first heard about the Saga system, which used cards for resolution in an effort to reduce the rules and numbers and promote role-playing and storytelling, I thought this was going to be excellent.

Enough rambling, let’s discuss some nitty-gritty. The game was actually published in 1998, but often that doesn’t mean much in the RPG world–I hadn’t even heard of it till last week. It was released in a boxed set (as were all the Marvel games) that comes with two books: one for rules and one with Marvel character stats in it. It also comes with a deck of cards that are used for all the resolution in the game.

The books are colour-covered but black and white on the inside. My first gripe with the game is that the font is some kind of Comic Sans-derivative font, which is incredibly hard on the eyes for reading long stretches of text, and of course should be banned. I think it’s acceptable in a comic book because those books are hand-drawn, so why not hand-written? In any other book, it smacks of amateurism. The cards that come with the game resemble those you might find in your average collectible trading card game. Full colour images of comic book heroes, with various semi-cryptic numbers and symbols wrapped around them. Having only black and white on the inside doesn’t bother me – this was after all in the age before the rise of very cheap digital printing.

The system itself is … interesting. You hold a certain number of cards in your hand at any given time (somewhere between 3 and 7, with 4 or 5 being normal for the X-men level characters). These cards are your hit-points (you discard cards when you get wounded), your dice rolls (they have random numbers on them which you use to determine success or failure) and your character/hero/karma points (i.e. using them in a particular way allows you to affect things more than you normally would be able to do). Having a hand of cards is a bit like saying you have five dice rolls to choose from each time you want to resolve something, and when you use one of them you have to roll that dice again to bring the total back up to five.

The cards have five suits. Each one is a different colour, is based on a different stat, and is named after a different Marvel character who exemplifies that stat. Resolution is as you might expect: take an ability/stat/skill/power and add the value of the card to beat some target value. The more experienced your character is, the more cards he/she can play at one time. The different suits also function as trumps for their relevant stat, so playing a “5 of Agility” from your hand for an agility based action allows you to draw a card from the top of the deck and add that to the total (and continue to draw and add for as long as you continue to draw the same trump suit).

One suit (Doom/Dr. Doom) has the added drawback that the GM (or Narrator as he’s known in this game) gets to keep those cards and use the numbers on them against you at inopportune times. This is a nice little thing the players have to keep in mind when they play those cards.

The downside of the cards is that they are completely relied upon for resolution of everything (even things like the weather, if you want). So what happens if you lose some or all of them? It’s not like dice where you can just go buy a new set. Perhaps in 1998 TSR planned to make the available to buy, but eBay is about the only place you might find them now. Also, I found the rules at times difficult to understand, but that could be just because I haven’t yet played it. Reading them didn’t make them become clear, and the examples they gave just served to muddy things even further.

The game is clearly intended to be used to play in the Marvel Universe, and with Marvel characters and a large number of the most popular are included in the Roster Book. The game itself is light on source material–it expects you to read the comics (or possibly some supplements) to fully understand anything about the universe or the characters. There’s no history or timeline as you might find in other game settings. Perhaps it’s naive of me to think that it might be necessary for those of us who haven’t read all the Marvel comics since the 1960s.

Character generation is fairly simple, but relies heavily on GM adjudication. In fact, the system is intended to be used to generate those characters that weren’t quite popular enough to be included in the Roster Book but that still feature in the comic books. It even goes so far as to say “bring the comic book with you to every session, so that everyone knows what your character looks like”.

In summary then:

Good

+ Cards are a neat idea
+ System emphasises roleplaying

Bad

– Cards can get lost/damaged and aren’t easily replaced
– System wasn’t easy to understand, examples even less so
– Lack of background info not so good for people who don’t read a lot of Marvel comics
– Bad font choice

Overall score: 3d6 (out of a possible 6d6)

If I played this game a bit to see how well the system actually worked, this might go up to 4d6.

Welcome to the new LateGaming site

This is more or less what LateGaming was meant to be.

The origin of the name was because we always started a gaming session by turning up between 7 and 7:30 pm. Then we’d settle by 8 pm and finish up gaming at 1 am. That was when I lived within walking distance of the game or when I was driving. Before that gaming would end at 10:50 pm to give me a chance to rush round to the train. When I moved up to Belfast it was a lot easier. I’d spend hours and hours just chatting to one of my housemates about stupid gaming-related topics. This was around the time when petrol stations started staying open all night meaning that we’d often take a walk round there to get milk for my coffee (Jeremy had, by this time, eschewed both milk and water in his coffee, preferring to just chew the grinds…)

So, in essence, it’s about being able to stay up late and play the games we love to play. It’s also about being able to tell stories about past games in order to learn something from them. We won’t bore you with “There was this one time, in AD&D….” stories. We’ll just give you ideas for your games which we found worked well for us.

The Big Change

With the change of LateGaming from an old-style static site, to something a little moe dynamic and, well, content-filled, we have some administrivia to take care of first.


Testament
“and one day, it was the end of the world. who knew? one day you wake up and well…you don’t wake up. it’s over. goodnight gracie. but then, what are you still doing here.”
You can download Testament here.


Creed
“something big is going down and you’ve got a ringside seat. turns out the world is ending and people who summon demons, people like you, people like me, are in deep shit.”
You can download Creed here.


The other LateGaming games might make it out the door…

As for Crucible Design games, you can likely get hold of them from Key20. So I’m told.

About

LateGaming was started in 2001 by Matt, who didn’t have a regular gaming group at the time and needed a fix for his desire to rant about role-playing games. Of course, blogging was in its infancy back then and he didn’t have the code-fu to hack something together himself, so it became something of a static site, serving some games that he’d written in his spare time, as well as information on Crucible Design, a gaming company of which he was a founding member.


Matt Johnston

Matt started gaming at the age of 11 with the help of issue 55 of White Dwarf. When this was spotted by the only other gamer in his school year who also happened to be in his class (John, 1L) then it was the beginning of a long love of interactive fiction, known also as role-playing.

When involved with QUB Dragonslayers as Society President, Matt was instrumental in the research of, funding of and running of Q-CON 1. He also took the role of Convention Director for two years running in two particularly successful years. He was also regularly seen on the Irish conventions scene, visiting Gaelcon and Warpcon for several years.

Matt has played (or bought) most games. In 1996, he published his first RPG, “The 23rd Letter” under the Crucible Design imprint. With Crucible Design, this was followed with “SpaceNinjaCyberCrisis XDO” and a 2nd Edition of “The 23rd Letter” in 1998 and finally with the release of Zombi in 2000.

Outside of Crucible Design under the LateGaming imprint, he self-published two PDF games “Testament” and “Creed”, which were the first two parts of a three part apocalyptic metaplot.

With the dissolution of Crucible Design in 2001, starting of a family in 2002 and the founding of a new business in 2003, he’s simply not had time to play games.

In 2006, that all changed. There are rants and comments, content created for games and interesting links usually containing the fantastic and the macabre.


Aidan Rogers

Aidan first started role-playing at the age of 13. A hand-written sign pointed the way under the school cafeteria to the art department where he first started playing Advanced Heroquest. He then joined the school role-playing society and continued to play all through high-school (he even organised two role-playing marathons, raising almost £1000 for charity–back then a lot of money).

Upon leaving high-school, he found his way into Dragonslayers at QUB, and became something of a cheerleader for Crucible Design, and indie gaming in Northern Ireland in general. For couple of years he worked for Games Workshop, which allowed him to game for a living, albeit more war-gaming than role-playing, but he wasn’t complaining.

Eventually he got a real job in IT, and ended up leaving Northern Ireland. Since then, he’s ran or participated in several gaming groups – in London, Boston, San Francisco and Sydney. His last group dissolved at the end of 2003, mostly due to family commitments.

Many of his gaming books have remained shelved (but never sold!) since then, until recently he and Matt decided it was time for one more roll of the dice.

Other contributors


Melody Wingfield

Melody’s introduction to gaming was simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time. She’d just finished reading Tolkien and the Dragonlance series when a friend of a friend mentioned they were starting up a roleplaying club afterschool. While she loved it, her father wasn’t incredibly impressed with the idea of his daughter taking up Satanic activity [insert requisite eye-rolling here], so the experience was shortlived.

Once free again to pursue her own interests, Rapunzel… er, Melody let down her hair and found a group of likeminded gaming-enthusiasts at UNC-Asheville. AD&D was the venue of choice, with a one-time-only-and-that-was-enough bout of Paladium in there for flavor. Through MUSHing, she discovered online rping, one particular vein of which led her to White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade.

She’s not really sure how she ended up as a GM. There’s a fuzzy memory akin to a shotgun wedding somewhere in her mind involving a stack of WW books and the fateful phrase “Hey, you should try running a game.” And from that point on, she’s probably spent more time in the GM’s chair running NPCs than actually playing a character. She’s also done LARP and wargaming, but nothing really holds her heart like good, old-fashioned paper and dice.

Years passed between the glory days and the present. Cross-country moves. More roleplaying. Boyfriends morphed into husbands morphed into “Was-bands”, and attempts at cloning herself proved highly successful. When someone asked if she was married recently, she was overheard replying “I’m in remission”. It’s amazing how the lack of a mate suddenly leaves all sorts of time for gaming. It was a good trade.

As to how a girl from the States ended up friends with an Irish guy and writing for his blog, now there’s a story for the telling… but not if there’s a game to be played.

DG: 16th May

The worst thing about going undercover is making it airtight. This means learning mannerisms. This means picking up habits. This means changing your diet and cutting your hair. It means holding Johnson with the correct hand and it means spending weeks fighting back against nicotine cravings that took months to shake the first time.

The meeting with Ms Green disturbed him. It sounded like there was a paramilitary organisation trying to take over something. Should he report it? Would he end up dead? Was this part of the plan? Either these Delta Green people were responsible for the disaster at Platte or they were fighting those who were. Either way, he was likely to be dead. Maybe O’Shea resisted these people. Maybe Dunsanay was unwilling to comply. He could guess why Lundy was dead. No loss to the gene pool there.

He decided to go along with it. And reached for the smokes.