Constellations: The Game of Stargazing and the Night Sky

Constellations boxWe are joined by Dr Dante Lauretta whose debut game, Xtronaut: The Game of Solar System Exploration, was launched on Kickstarter in October 2015. The game met with huge success, being named a Best Family Board Game for 2016 by Good Housekeeping magazine, a Top-5 STEM Toy by City Kids magazine, an Awesome Math Game by MathsInsider, the Top Solar System For Kids Science Toy from Fractus Learning, and more! Xtronaut has received positive reviews from players and parents. Based on this success, Dante and his team have launched Constellations: The Game of Stargazing and the Night Sky

Humans have gazed into the night sky since the dawn of time. Dreaming, wondering, and developing stories around patterns of stars. These star patterns are now associated with some of the most intriguing and well-known creatures from mythology and nature.

With the introduction of telescopes, we have learned so much more about stars. They have different sizes, colors, locations, and characteristics. This knowledge has made looking at constellations all the more fun. We developed the Constellations game to bring our amazing sky, with its rich history, mythology, and science to your game-playing experience!

In this game, players are stargazers, exploring the night sky and collecting stars to define constellations. They compete to find the right stars to fit the needed pattern — are B-type stars or F-types required to complete the constellation? Players compete with each other to strategically collect the right stars, reserve patches of the sky for observation, and explore the universe. Once you have your constellation, add it to the map of the night sky being assembled right in front of you. The closer you get to putting together the actual map of the heavens, the more points you score!

Here’s the Kickstarter Link:

Constellations listsOverview of Constellations

The game involves drawing Star Cards, which represent the seven types of stars classified by astronomers. Each constellation requires a unique combination of star types to place in the sky. As the game progresses and more constellations fill up the night, players must use their puzzle skills to fit the hexes on the board to score the most points. The player with the most constellation points at the end of the game wins!

The game also includes an educational workbook about stellar evolution, star classification information, and the history and mythology of the real constellations.

Each Constellation Hex has two sides: the Illustration Side and the Information Side.


Setup is easy. Players tailor the length of the game to time available and age groups — shorter and simpler versions are available — or you may choose longer and more advanced gameplay.

Based on the desired length of the game, players randomly select a subset of the Constellation hexes for that round. Players start the game by placing a Zodiac or Milky Way hex in the middle of the table, illustration side up. This hex is the starting point for future placements.

Players shuffle and deal five Star Cards to each player. Then, they place five cards face up in a row. These are the available stars. The remaining cards are placed face down and become the draw pile.


The full rules are here:

On a player’s turn, they may take two of the following actions. The player can do the same action twice.

  • Draw a Star Card
  • Reserve a Constellation
  • Play a Constellation

Player’s may draw Star Cards from either the face-up set or from the draw pile.

To reserve a Constellation, the player takes one of the available Constellation cards and places it in front of them. Only that player may complete that Constellation.

To play a Constellation, the player plays the required set of Star Cards for the desired Constellation. The player then places the hex adjacent to another Constellation on the board, illustration side up. The player scores points equal to the Constellation’s point value plus bonuses for matching gems and desired adjacent hexes.

Points are tracked using star tokens, which remain hidden from other players until the game is over.

Game End

The game ends when a player adds the last hex to the available constellations. Each player takes a final turn, and the game ends. The player with the highest score wins! As a bonus, a beautiful sky map has been created before your eyes!

Backer Exclusive Items

Constellations patchBackers that support us at the $22 level and higher will receive the Kickstarter-exclusive Constellations Mission Patch!

Backers that select a reward level that includes Xtronaut: The Game of Solar System Exploration will also receive an exclusive mission hex. In addition, backers of our original Xtronaut campaign will receive this mission when they back Constellations at the $22 level and higher. Players will be able to plan a mission to the Rosetta target Comet 67/P Churymov-Gerasimenko!

Sponsored by Meade!

Xtronaut is proud to have Constellations sponsored by Meade Instruments. Meade is acknowledged as one of the most innovative and dynamic companies in the telescope market. Known for its groundbreaking telescopic designs, Meade has introduced dozens of improvements over the years that have made amateur astronomy easier and more enjoyable than ever.

For the first time in 26 years, a total solar eclipse will occur in the United States. This is an opportunity of a lifetime – to see an amazing astronomical event, maybe even from your own backyard!

The Meade EclipseView™ 76mm Telescope comes complete with everything you need to view the wonders of the sky, DAY and NIGHT! This portable reflecting telescope comes with a removable white-light solar filter and is a SAFE and FUN way to view the upcoming Total Solar Eclipse! Even better, you can use this scope to view the wonders of the night sky including the Moon, Planets and more, by simply removing the solar filter and changing the viewfinder. Get your EclipseView™ Telescope through our campaign and receive a free copy of Constellations by selecting the $129 reward level.

Xtronaut:: The Game of Solar System Exploration

Welcome back to the quest. I don’t sound like I have a ton of energy in this episode (was fighting the plague), but I got to sit down and talk with Dante Lauretta, the creator of a new board game, Xtronaut, that is really taking off (pun intended). The audio gets a little cattywampus in a couple of spots, but it was a good time none the less!

So, what is Xtronaut?

Capturing the real-world thrill and challenges of planetary exploration, XTRONAUT™: The Game of Solar System Exploration gives 2 – 4 players ages 7 and up the chance to develop space missions and explore the solar system. The game is based on real planetary missions and rocket science. It also contains elements of politics and strategy that are inspired by the real-life situations that space missions face.


How do you complete your space mission?

Each player selects a Mission Card from the deck. This card determines the player’s mission – the mission destination, type of spacecraft needed, the amount of Delta-V needed to achieve the mission, the potential to obtain gravity assists, and the points earned for completing the mission. Delta-V stands for change in velocity, and as applied to space missions and this game, it means the change in velocity necessary for a spacecraft to complete a selected mission.

Game play is straightforward. On their turn each player draws a playing card, plays up to three Action Cards, trades with other players, and places components on their game board. The Action Cards add real-life issues to the game that space missions often encounter – project cancellations, audits, government shutdowns, and other exciting twists and turns.

To complete a mission you must populate your game board with the right combination of cards for mission success. Each player needs to collect the Playing Cards that give them the right spacecraft, first and second stage rockets, and matching fairings. Gravity assist and solid rocket booster cards are available to provide additional Delta-V if needed to complete the assigned mission. Once the mission is complete, the player earns the points for the mission, which varies based on the size of the spacecraft and the target, and starts work on their next mission. The first player to score 10 points wins.xtronaut-game-toy-fair

Xtronaut Home Page:

Xtronaut on

Buy Xtronaut on!

Good Housekeeping Award Winning game that captures the real-world science, technology, and challenges of planetary exploration. XTRONAUT: The Game of Solar System Exploration is a board game that is easy to learn, and gives 2 – 4 players ages 7 and up the chance to develop space missions, build authentic rocket systems, and explore the solar system. Designed by Professor leading major NASA OSIRIS-REx space mission, the game is fun and engaging, but also exposes players to space science concepts related to planning and undertaking a real space mission — complete with full color education workbook that explains game scientific concepts.

Click HERE, or the image below to get Xtronaut on!



More about Dante Lauretta:

maxresdefaultDante Lauretta is a Professor of planetary science and cosmochemistry at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. He is currently serving as the Principal investigator on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission.

He received a B.S. in physics and mathematics from the University of Arizona in 1993 and a Ph.D. in Earth and planetary sciences from Washington University in St. Louis in 1997. He was a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Geological Sciences at Arizona State University from 1997 through 1999. Dante was an Associate Research Scientist in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Arizona State University from 1999 through 2001. He was hired on to the faculty at the University of Arizona in 2001.


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Folklore: The Affliction (Interview with Will Donovan)

I talk with Will Donovan of Twinfire games about their new game, Folklore: The Affliction, a new project they are working on with Greenbrier games! We have a few technical difficulties, but this sounds like a great game.

Embark on a cooperative epic adventure that is Folklore the Affliction. Find and destroy the source of the evil spreading its claws into the heart of the land, decimating its people and resources. Free the denizens from the scourge of vampirism and lycanthropy and expand your power and abilities. Are you a survivor, or will you play as your ghost? Will you fall to the bloodlust or the taint of lycanthropy yourself?

Folklore: The Affliction is an expandable ongoing horror RPG board game for 1-4 players that focuses on immersive storyline, strategic combat, character development and intense character customization elements. Your successes and failures, encounters and challenges can affect the entire group raising the ante and fueling interaction. Play one of six customizable and unique characters in a quest to gain Lore by conquering the supernatural Afflictions. Travel the land and enter dark locations where the action becomes a miniature based dungeon crawl. Uncover deeper and more intriguing storylines as you go further into darkness in your quest to drive the evil back into the hell it came from.

Dying in Folklore is not the end for your character… dead characters play on as their ghost with ethereal powers to strike down your foes from beyond the grave. You are never truly out of the action. Customizable abilities even include those that can strengthen your character in the afterlife!

If you want to learn more, go to the Folklore: the Affliction Kickstarter page!

Folklore on Facebook:

Greenbrier Games:

Boardgame Geek

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Revisiting Realm Works (With Liz Theis)

I am joined, once again by Liz Theis, the Community Development Manager over at Lone Wolf Development.

Liz was on the show WAY back in April 2014 to talk about Realm Works, a tool designed to help managing your campaigns. You can find our original interview at (and I’ll have a link in the show notes to that)

Let’s talk about the Player edition:

Why would someone want the player edition?

Can a players notes be seen by the GM?

My group of players is fairly easily distracted. I mean, it’s a great GM resource, but having 4 or 5 people sitting around the table looking at their electronics can really derail a game.  How does Lone Wolf see players using this software?

Web Version:

I know online gaming is a big growth area right now, and a lot of people could use Realm Works to great advantage. You have been working hard on the Web Version of the software. Tell us a little about what the Web Version is.

So, what’s different between the player and the web version? Why would someone get the Player version instead of just waiting for the Web Version?

General Questions:

Realm Works can really seem big and intimidating. There is a lot of open potential on it can be a bit overwhelming. I know several people that have purchased the software but who don’t use it. What advice would you give to people that are just starting out, or have grown frustrated with the software?

On your KickStater page you announced that the Cloud Service has been expanded. Can you talk about that, explain why it was extended and who it effects? (READ MORE:

Do you have an estimate on when the Content Market will be made available?

So, what’s next for Realm Works?


GenCon is right around the corner, and while I, unfortunate, cannot make it down there this year, Lone Wolf is defiantly going to be there. What, if anything, special do you guys have planned for GenCon 2015?

You can find Lone Wolf Development on Facebook at & their on Twitter @lonewolfdevel. You can also catch them on the web at! You can also get more about RealmWorks at

See more about the RealmWorks/Syrinscape team-up here:

Syrinscpare can be found here:

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Revelations of Jeff Combos

We are back! And we are kicking off our new series with a interview of the creator of Hollow Earth Expedition RPG. We talk about everything from his formative years through his newest release, Revelations of Mars.

Learn more here:

Purchase Hollow Earth Expeditions

Exile Games Studio

A dying world plagued by ceaseless conflict

smolders in the night sky,

home to the revelations of Mars.

This sourcebook expands Hollow Earth Expedition to include Mars, a dying and dangerous planet filled with strange aliens, bizarre creatures, and vast, inhospitable wastelands. Fight for survival or vie for supremacy as a marauding sky pirate, powerful robot bodyguard, or conniving Martian noble. Experience Hollow Earth Expedition from an outside perspective—one that wields powerful weapons and hungers for earthly treasures as much as any terrestrial power.

Inside you will find everything you need to run out-of-this-world adventures or give your existing Hollow Earth games a bizarre twist: guidelines for creating robot and alien player characters; new and expanded psychic powers; an unearthly bestiary and equipment list; and details on strange Martian inhabitants and extraterrestrial  locations.

Hollow Earth Expedition: Discover a whole new world of adventure!”

Best Selling RPGs - Available Now @

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Tips for GMing

The Quest is back (Sorta)! I know it has been a long time since we had an episode up, but today I am here to give a few tips about GMing.

Before we talk a lot about that though, lets talk about the future of the Quest. This show has a lot of potential content we can talk about in the future, but I think for the most part, my general coterie of companions have talked themselves out about RPG. We have left a lot of subjects open though…there is lots more we can talk about in regards to storytelling and GMing, LARPing, Cosplays, video game RPGs and more. I would like to do some shows that really delve into specific game systems and settings as well as review various RPG books, indie games and talk game theory.

I would like to get industry guests on the show to talk about their games, what got them into gaming, and all the sorts of things that can help you understand the wonderful word of Role-Playing.

If you, or someone you know, wants to be a part of the discussion, or there is something you want us to talk about, a rule you want advise on, or anything like that, email me at podcast [at] irnerdivore [dot] com!

We have also started doing panels at conventions, so if you would like us to be at a convention near you, let us know! If you are part of a programming team for a convention, we would be more than happy to come out to your show and do a live show for you. We can record shows for the Quest, IRNerdivore, or The Dark Match Podcast, and we can cover just about any topic! We love doing conventions and we look forward to each and every show!

  1. Names are important.
  2. Players love familiar faces and places.
  3. Dice rolling is boring.
  4. Offer distinct options from which the players can choose.
  5. Reward player cleverness, don’t punish it.
  6. Don’t add crazy just for the sake of crazy.
  7. Plan one significant character moment for every two hours of play.
  8. Make each character a hero in every adventure.
  9. Let the mundane events take place ‘off stage’.
  10. Take the game as serious as you want the Players to take it.
  11. Let the Characters’ strengths override the Players’ weaknesses.
  12. Always keep a current copy of the Players’ characters.
  13. Manage time like it were a precious element.
  14. If you aren’t having fun, no one will have fun.
  15. You can’t make all the Players happy all the time.
  16. Immediate reward and player complicity
  17. Side boarding when conflict arises (with follow up)
  18. Player participation in rules interpretation
  19. Be consistent.
  20. Admit mistakes as soon as you can. GMs all do it.

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New GM Tashi

I am your host, Dr RPG Jeff Harvey and you can follow me, and the show, on Facebook and Twitter @IRNerdivore.

We didn’t have much of a plan for this one…so the notes are lame. Just listen up and I hope you enjoy the show.

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Interview with Liz Theis about RealmWorks

I am your host, Dr RPG Jeff Harvey and you can follow me, and the show, on Facebook and Twitter @IRNerdivore.

Today I have got a great guest for y’all! I am joined today by Liz Theis, the Community Development Manager over at Lone Wolf Development, and she is here to talk a little bit about a great new tool for all you GM’s out there, call RealmWorks.

Realm Works is the tool for managing your campaigns. It allows you to spend less time preparing, more time creating, and focus on sharing the story with your players! It’s built by a team of experienced GMs, so they know what a GM wants and what a GM needs. RealmWorks allows you to really get in there and create and manipulate your world so that you can keep all your super-awesome stories straight, and so your players can keep it straight too….it looks like a great tool to help you tell a really collaborative story…and as you guys know, thats kinda my gimmick…kinda what this show is all about!

You can find Lone Wolf Development on Facebook at & their on Twitter @lonewolfdevel. You can also catch them on the web at! You can also get more about RealmWorks at

The digital download version of Realm Works is only $49.99 and includes 6 months of free standard tier cloud service (a $24.99 value).


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Being the GM

This episode is brought to you in part by, With more than 150,000 titles to choose from, there is something for everyone! You can listen to all your favorite audiobooks on your iPhone, Android, Kindle or other mp3 device, and now, Audible is going to give you a 30 days free trial AND you get a FREE audiobook download, just for listening to this show. just go to and sign up today.

Additional funding provided by, Geek Fan Expo. Uniting Geeks in 2014. Learn more at

And by the support of listeners like you!

Welcome to the Show

Hello and welcome to The Quest! I am your host, “Dr. RPG” Jeff Harvey, and you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @IRNerdivore, or visit us on the web at Thank you for hitting the download button and listening to the show. If you just happened to stumble upon us, you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, just search of IRNerdivore, and if you like what you hear, we would sure appreciate it you’d give us a good rating and check out our other shows.

This week, we are gonna talk a little bit about GMing your game. I have some tips, tricks, and suggestions for both the lazy GM and the overpreper. With any luck, you will be able to learn a little something…but since it’s me talking…don’t count on it.

I don’t have anyone joining me this week as peoples schedules just didn’t align. So the next…however long, you get to just hear me blabbing into the microphone. With any luck I won’t bore you.

Before we get to deep into the conversation today though, I wanna give you a heads up about a bit of a format change. The Quest is the second podcast I created…the first was a weekly show about a play-by-post Wrestling RPG called the Virtual Championship Wrestling Federation. Well…the efed has since ended, and I only did 10 episodes of that show.

Well, then I came up with this show, and I learned a ton about podcasting in the fairly short time I have been doing this one. And of course, now we are doing a total of 3 regular shows…the Quest, IRNerdivore, and the all new DarkMatch Podcast for wrestling fans.

I have learned some of what works, and what doesn’t…and one of the segments that works good ok for some shows, but not this one, is the News. Doing the RPG news can be fun…but it is rarely anything worth listening too, and we often struggle to get anything worth reading…so…I am gonna go ahead and cut that from the shows.

We will still talk about important releases and big news, but nobody really wants to know about somebodies kickstarter. Maybe I’m wrong…if you guys like the news, and want us to keep it in…I’ll do that, but y’all are gonna need to let me know!

Hopefully, by cutting out the news, we can have a little more time to get a little deeper into our topics, get you a little more insight into the wonder that is role-playing!

Also…I have a couple of interviews coming up…so hopefully I can give you guys more time with our guests…help you to get to know them and what they come on the show to talk about!

Anyway…let’s get this show underway!

What is a GM

So…what exactly is a Gamemaster?

The gamemaster is the author of the novel, director of the movie, teller of the tale! He (or she) guides the story and controls the game session, describes the events taking place and decides on the outcomes of players’ decisions. The gamemaster also provides the setting through the cunning use of non-player characters (NPCs, random encounters, and through the  general state of the game world.

Basically…a GM is engine on which your game is built and runs.

GMs run a game based on a published game world, with the maps and history already in place; like World of Darkness of D&D, or they build their own world and let their players live out their own original stories.

A good gamemaster draws the players into the adventure, allowing them to enjoy it .Providing an opportunity for everyone to have a good time. To be a good GM you need to have a quick mind, sharp wits, and rich imagination.

You also need to be able to maintain game balance: hideously overpowered monsters or players are no fun.

Generally speaking, there are four major “hats” a GM needs to be able to wear:

Author: The GM plans out (in the loosest sense) the plot of the story of which the Player Characters will become protagonists; puts together the setting, populates the world with antagonists and other NPCs, and creates any necessary backgrounds, motivations, plans and resources the story needs.

Director: During the game, while each of the other players typically controls the actions of one of the Player Characters, the GM decides the actions of everything else everywhere…entire towns, herds of animals, weather…literally everything that the PC’s do not directly do, is the responsibility of the GM.

The GM may also choose to play an “NPC” that travels with the party, but this may occasionally be open to abuse since the Game Master having a “pet” NPC may compromise his neutrality. You also risk getting into a “Mary Sue” mindset…and that is no go. I do not recommend a GM-PC for anything more than very short periods, or if the story really calls for it.

Referee: In most Tabletop RPGs, the rules are there to help resolve conflicting situations (avoiding the classic “Bang! you’re dead!”/”No, you missed!” quandary). As the GM, you need to provide to know the rules of the game you are running, and make any necessary interpretation of those rules in fuzzier situations. A lot of GMs also add House Rules in order to cover recurring issues orjust to provide a different gaming experience.

I do this a lot on D&D type games…I have an entire set of house rules to make my D20 games more fun for me as a GM. Most of them are out of books like Unearthed Arcana, but with a few adjustments. But, either way, if makes the rules fit the type of story I like to tell and ads those little elements I find really fun.

Manager: The least officially prescribed portion of GMing, and thus the part that takes people the most by surprise. The GM is typically the one to organize the game in the first place, find players, schedule sessions, and figure out a place to play.

You also sometimes need act as a mediator, balancing the needs and desires of all group; and sometimes you may even feel like you have to divine the real desires of indecisive or self-deluded players.

All too often, especially among younger players just getting into gaming, you end up with a power trip player, or someone that just cannot make up their mind about what they want out of the game. It can be really tough, again, especially on younger GM’s just getting into it, to deal with “problem players”.

Every player needs different things and not all players are going to fit in every game. There is a lot of work that goes into just working a game to fit the group you have. A lot of time, I set out to run a new game with 4 super-heroes, and by the end, I have one hero and four sidekicks…don’t be afraid to focus on great players, and let the others find their place. Don’t ignore them…but sometimes you run a game that just doesn’t appeal to everyone, or maybe their character takes a different direction than you would have expected.

And that brings me to my next topic…but before I get to that, I need to pay a couple bills real quick so bear with me!

If you’re a geek, and I know you are if you’re listening to this show, then you need to check out Geek Fan Expo!

Geek Fan Expo is an all-inclusive omni-Geek-Fan Experience. Including programming from all walks of Geekdom, we’ve designed the experience around you. And together with you, we are building the next generation of hotel convention by bringing geeks of every type together to share a truly inclusive, social fan experience.

Our interactive program tracks focus on quality entertainment and high production value. GFX  features destination event like the 24 hour video gaming room provided by Dead State Pavilion, and the GenCon Games Library, one of the largest table-top gaming library’s in the world. We will have topical discussion panels and workshops featuring local makers, top shelf voice actors, and authors. And of course we have some of the best vendors and artist exhibitions, contests, the GFX bubble-gum Girls, Cosplayers, and oh so much more!

GFX  will be at the doubletree hotel in Dearborn Michigan September 5th 6th and 7th, 2014 and tickets are on sale now at; use promo code IRNerdivore and get 20% the ticket price just for listening to our show!

Follow GFX on Facebook and twitter @geekfanexpo.

Tell all your friends, tell random folks on the street, climb tall buildings and shout it to the world…spread the word and let’s make GFX 2014  a huge success!

Ok…back to the show!

The “Prep” GM

There are really two kinds of GM’s when you boil it all down; there is the “Preper” and the “Winger” Both types have their ups and downs, and sometimes you may change what type you are depending on the story, players, or even your commitment to the story you are telling.

Now, I’m not saying one is better than the other, and I have been both kinds…but generally I am a “Winger”. Some people call it the “lazy GM method”, but I prefer to think of it as the “on the fly” style of storytelling.

But, let’s talk about the “Preper” GM a little before we get to deep into intricacies of “Wingers”.

As a preper, there are 4 major things you need to be able to handle. It can be a lot more work than a “Winger”, but you can also often tell a much more compelling and direct story.

So…step 1.  Have a plan.

This can be difficult at first but it is usually the most important step to take in making a game good. A lot of new GMs will try to come up with a story on the fly, and maybe some of them can do it well, but for most it just doesn’t work.

It quickly leads to inconsistencies and lose of direction. You story suffers, your players get listless, and you end up never finishing your story. Trust me on this one. I have been there many times.

Instead you should come up with a fairly basic plotline, something that your group can easily get behind, like having party investigate cave for ancient treasure. Something you can easily build on. Come up with few different scenarios and tie them together. Its a good idea to plan the forest not the trees; Meaning that you should plan the overall story but be less concerned with the individual events that may occur.

Don’t forget that, as a GM, it’s your job to run the ENTIRE world, so try not to get to detail oriented. Write something that makes scenes but don’t write yourself into a corner by having things so spelled out that your players can really muck it up.

And that brings us to step 2: Be prepared to change the plan.

There is an old saying: No plan survives first contact with the enemy. Player Characters are by their very nature unpredictable. No matter how well planned your scenario might be, I guarantee they will do something you hadn’t prepared for.

Sometimes they can screw your whole campaign up with one flip remark, poor decision, witty comeback or crazy die roll. That’s why it’s a good idea to prepare for that in advance.

How do you plan for the unexpected as a storyteller?

Well, for one thing, try to avoid linear plot structures. Rather than writing it so that your party goes to Mordor, defeats Thoth-Amon, and rides back to Waterdeep with the Triforce, you can try having floating objectives.

Floating objectives are possible quests that your party is merely aware of but under no direct compulsion to complete. By giving them several to choose from they can come and go from them as they please. This allows you, the Game Maste,r to not have to work at keeping the player characters from straying too much .It also gives the players a greater illusion of free will.

The more a player feels they are making the choice, the more they feel their character is real. If you railroad the story, players begin to just think of their characters as avatars in a video game…and they can get that feeling from…well…video games.

Using this, “Illusionary Sandbox” approach also has the added benefit of allowing the GM to drop one or more of these objectives on top of the players should the party go off in a tangent.

Step 3. Know your audience.

While in the end, you are telling your story, you need to remember that RPG’s are collaborative storytelling experience, and that means to a certain extent, it is your job to pander a little; to play to the crowd if you like.

Coming up with a complicated and intricate plot is all fine and dandy, but if your players don’t like it then it won’t be fun for you either. If you love intrigue and investigation and keep putting clue finding missions in your game, don’t be surprised if your hack and slash type players get bored.

Maybe you enjoy strategic combat and always put challenging fights in your game, but your players prefer in-depth character role-playing.

Different people get different things out of role-playing, and so you need to spend some time getting a sense of what your player’s want. Experimentation is always a good idea, but once you find something that doesn’t work, don’t keep using it. If you make your players happy you will have a good time as well.

There is a great resource in the World of Darkness books…I think Palladium also has something, and I know L5R and 7th Sea do…but it’s basically a questionnaire that you have your players fill out. It helps you get into the minds of your group and build the type of game they want around the game you want.

And lastly, Step 4. Stay in charge.

No matter how good a relationship you may have with your players, there will probably come a time when y’all disagree. More likely someone will have a problem with the way you handled an in game incident. It can be tough to decide who is right in these instances.

The short answer is always: you are. It’s ultimately your story, and you have final say over any in game dispute, and thus no matter what the rules say, you are the one who has to decide what goes down in your game. Remember that, more often than not you’re the only person that can see the forest through the trees, and are the only one that really knows is best for the overall story. Just remember not too abuse your privilege. Keep in mind that you need to be fair and respectful if you want to keep your players from leaving

Ok…I need to take another little break cause the lights are getting dim, and that means I need to pay them bills!

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You get all the same great stuff, and you’re helping us out at the same time! Win-Win!

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Alright…let’s get back to what we came here to do!

“Off the Cuff”

“Preper” GMs sometimes spend hours and hours crafting a story, and the effect is often a really awesome set of scenarios and story elements that your players will never see. Railroading them is an option, but more often than not, the GM just has to scrap the work they did and start over.

The hardest part about being a prep heavy GM is all of the amazing stories you will never get to tell. It really can be devastating to work ethic of event the best GM’s. I know that in LARPing, this is something that almost always leads to major burnout, and that it really doesn’t take very long.

Now…I am very heavy handed in my prep style stories, but I had to learn how to be that way and to tell storied that everyone enjoyed in that style, despite the lack of real freedom. For me though, the real joy of GMing comes from Winger style games.

It’s really hard on me to write super awesome, intricate stories that the players are gonna miss anyway. I’ve done the carefully crafted story thing…and sometimes I still find myself over writing, but frankly, I generally don’t bother to invest the time anymore, and I have WAY more fun GM.

Players don’t generally need all those deep, intricate plots either. You don’t need to try and impress your players with your storycrafting, you just need a little faith in ability to run a game “off the cuff”. And it really isn’t as hard as people make it out to be sometimes.

I get that coming to the table with nothing more than a handful of NPCs and some vague ideas and staring at 3 or 4 people that are expecting you to entertain them can make you feel a little like you are about to ride a barrel over Niagara Falls, it’s a  completely unjustified fear.

Sure, you may need a little more wit, a dash more cunning and a distinct acumen for BS that you otherwise wouldn’t need if you prepped a little more…but there are tips and trick you can use to master “off the cuff” gaming.

Step One: The Campaign Idea

Just like I talked about before you need to have a basic premise for your campaign. The temptation here is to include loads of history and backstory that will make players’ eyes glaze over. A lot of times the goal is to try to make the world, and the campaign, seem real by making it detailed so that players can really melt into your setting.

The problem is, nothing will make players feel more disconnected from their character, and thus the world, than the feeling that everything is completely alien, they have nothing to hook them into the world, nothing to relate too.

Save yourself some time and effort, rather than explain all the intricate details, steal them from media that the players are familiar with. Instead of explaining the elaborate politics of your nation of bored, decadent nobles, just say “Montainge is basically Alexander Dumas’ Three Musketeers era France” or “This character is more or less Hamlet”.

There’s nothing wrong with explaining the Hyborean nation of Stygia as “basically Egypt, except they worship an evil snake god, commit human sacrifice, and use super evil dark sorcery”. Sure, there’s more to it than that, but the players don’t need to know every little detail right now.  You just need to hook them. They’ll explore more on their own, and you can feed them the information they NEED to know as they need to know it.

These things are all tropes, dense nuggets of information you can convey by engaging in a common frame of reference. Go ahead and straight up give you players a list the TV shows, books, and/or movies they can use to build a frame of mind for you campaign/

You then establish the premise of your game the same way. “This game is going to be kinda like Firefly. You guys are be smugglers just trying to make a living, free from the long arm of Johnny Law.” Instantly your players know what kind of people they’ll be roleplaying.

Step Two: The Plot

You don’t really need one. Actually, you don’t even really want one. Once you have your premise, you’re basically done. If you know the game’s premise is “rebels fighting the Evil Empire”, then that’s all you should write. Don’t get swept up fleshing out the ways the players can thwart the Evil Empire. That’s their job.

It sounds super lazy right…I prefer to call it “Sandboxing”. In Games like MineCraft, you can have thousands of hours of fun just running around doing what you want right…this is the same thing. You are giving the players a black canvas and reacting to them as they try and fulfill their characters goals and motivations.

All you really need to do is figure out who the movers and shakers of your Evil Empire are: a sorcerer-king, his apprentice, the arrogant military commander. Give a little extra thought here. Give them personal goals. What do they want? What kind of things will they be doing in the setting to get what they want? Keep it simple, but make do enough that you can feel their desires. These are your storytellers, and the more real they are to you, the more real they are to your players.

I suggest writing them up like a PC, with a character sheet and a few bullet points to fill out their personalities in quick reference form. Maybe your Darth Vader character has a few motivations like:

  • Wants to destroy kill all the Jedi
  • Wants to recover the plans to the Empire’s secret weapon
  • Wants to finds his long lost son and convince him to join the Empire.

That’s enough for now. There could be subtext, like maybe his loyalty to the Evil Emperor isn’t as secure as it seems, or he isn’t yet aware his son is alive (and is one of the PCs)… but that can be figured out organically in play if you really want.

Muse on what kind of things they’ll do to accomplish those plans. Maybe, he would capture a Princess who is a secret member of the rebels and torture her to find out where the plans are. Maybe the Princess is an NPC whose goal is to hide the plans.

You build your basic plans around things like this. Just like I talked about earlier with the “preper” GM, you get a few quick scenarios in your mind, but now, rather than having your players go from one scenario to another, this way things are always moving and scenarios are always changing based on what the PC’s do or don’t do.

Let me warn you now though, never fall in love any of your NPC’s. Chances are they will die in a painfully anticlimactic way the first chance your PCs get. You can always make another one if you need to. As I used to say when GMing for the LARP: Crunch all you want, I’ll make more.

Remember that the PC’s are the focus of the story, not the NPC’s.

Step Three: Getting the PCs involved.

When it’s game time, you show up with your NPCs and their goals, from which you’ve come up with a few story hooks. The next thing to do is to screw by jabbing them with those hooks.

You need to know your players, and their characters. Take a look at their character sheets. See what kind of skills, talents, hindrances, and backstory the Players have come up with and use them all against them.

This is where your quick creativity needs to come into play…but it’s not as hard as you think.

Let’s say one of your PC’s has a background where he lives on a farm with his family? Maybe your bad guy sends some troops to find the plans. They question, torture, and kill the PC’s family. Oops!

You have a second PC with the disadvantage of “Enemy”. Maybe it’s some gangster that he owes money to. So you have one the gangster’s goons put some pressure on, then you dangle a money making opportunity in front of him. He can choose to take the bait or not…players choice

The point is, the players already did a lot of the work for you. It’s one of the reasons I LOVE games that have disadvantages and flaws, and things like that. It lets the players more or less tell you exactly what they want to be important to their characters story. All you have to do is have your NPCs’ twist, abuse and otherwise stomp all over those things. You get to leave big fat bloody footprints all over your players characters hopes, dreams, loved ones, and possessions. Then sit back and enjoy the show!

I once read in a book by John Wick…at least I think it was John Wick, the guiding light of all my GMing…ever. Players what their characters to be beaten, kicked, stomped on, slashed, torn, burned, battered, bruised and dragged to within an inch of death, and they will love every second of it, so long as they win in the end.

But…what if the players don’t bite at any of your plot hooks? That’s ok. They don’t have to…but just because the PC’s don’t want to do anything, doesn’t mean your NPC’s need to sit around with their thumbs in their bums. Let the consequences of inaction catch up to them. If the PC’s are in sitting around a fire pit in town and hear tell of an wizard nearby building an army of mindless automatons, and they decide not to do anything about it, then they don’t get to bitch when they have to fight their way out of the city through hordes of baddies, or when all their stuff is destroyed when the wizard orders the town to be put to the torch.

Nothing motivates players to get involved like taking their stuff.

All the while, as you are planning your consequences, you can keep presenting the PCs with new hooks. As story ideas come to you, you can give players the choice of what elements they want to follow. Let them be proactive and come up with their own story hooks, if they’re exceptionally creative players.

The key is to keep your world in a constant state of motion. Eventually your players will learn that while they can impact the world, the world is not sitting around waiting for them to interact with it. It’s not an MMO where the contact stands there with a yellow exclamation point over his head until someone clicks on him. It’s a living breathing world with powerful people doing powerful things that might well destroy the things that are important to player characters.

Of course…this does mean that the players actually have to write real characters and not just a conglomeration of faded penciled stats on a piece of Cheetos stained paper. Once again, the character questionnaires are a great big help here. Take an entire gaming session to sit with your players and talk about their characters. Don’t just hand them the questionnaire to fill out, ask them the questions out loud and open a dialogue with the player and get them really thinking about the character they are gonna play.

It’s also a great way to kill a few days while you come up with your first wave of hooks.

And don’t be afraid to steal ideas from everywhere. Adventure modules might be seem too linear given that it really is a lot of work to read the whole thing and know it, and get things rolling, especially when you know the players are going to go off the rails anyway, sometimes it may be just what you need if the PCs decide to sneak into the dungeon of the Evil Overlord.

Step Four: Keeping the ball rolling

The great thing about this whole process is that you never had to write an adventure. You didn’t need to prep a scenario. You don’t need to start up the train engine and get everyone aboard the railroad. You just kick the crap out of the things the PCs care about with your NPCs then let them figure out what to do about it.

More than that, once the PC’s get rolling, all you need to do is react to them!

But…it’s not all cupcakes and peach schnapps at the “prick” GM celebratory party.

What do you do when the PC can’t decide what course of action to take, or disagree on how to proceed?

Easy: Do almost anything! Put the pressure on. It doesn’t matter what really, just do something that stirs the pot. It doesn’t even need to make sense: I guarantee the players will make sense out of it. Just do something to push the players into making a decision, taking an action, anything. Get them moving and the story will follow.

This isn’t the same thing as what the “preper” GM does. The “preper” has a hook or scenario ready to go, ready to drop on the players at a moment’s notice to get them back on track. In the “Winger” model of GMing you’re just pushing them into deciding to do SOMETHING. It doesn’t matter what they do so long as they do something.

If they choose to do nothing, there should be consequences of inaction. You are basically punishing the characters for their impotence. Negative reinforcement really does work. Maybe the Minos Tirth has the forces to drive the Orc horde…maybe not. The PCs can change the tide of the battle either way by the choices they make. If they decide they want to abandon the city to its doom… let them. If they want to go try to negotiate with the Sauron or even join him, let them.

The biggest difference between a “Winger” GM and a “Preper” GM is that, as a “Winger”, it’s not really your story…it’s the PC’s story. You just give the players a sandbox to play in by creating a world and NPCs that demand stories happen. What those stories are about, and how they end, is out of your hands.

You are a reactionary element, the matrix fighting back against Neo.

Step Five: Ending the Campaign

So…obviously this can result in never ending games that fade into obscurity as people’s lives change. You run the risk of unresolved endings and a paralyzing lack of closure. There will come a point when you will start to lose sight of the world, and regardless of size and scope of the sandbox, sooner or later it gets dark and the kiddies get tired.

That’s when you need to put the campaign to bed.

This is a tricky thing to do though. Without a substantive plot driving the story, it’s hard to know exactly how the story is supposed to end.

There are always thing you can do escalate the conflict towards resolution, so long as the players still have goals. The secret to GMing this sort of style is that you kind of have to start at the end. You kinda need to know what you want the end of the game to be, and direct your NPC’s towards that end. The PC’s should follow…and with the right pressure applied at the right times, you can get them to where you want them in the end.

The final showdown should be a do-or-die chance for the characters to attain their most difficult and long term goal, or to stop the NPC’s from obtaining theirs. It needs to be that epic, once in a lifetime moment where the stars align perfectly for them. If they need to recapture their lost throne, give them an army. If they want to find a mythic lost treasure, let them be contacted by a scholar with an ancient map. You should be guiding them through a story that allows them to finally reach out and try to seize their fondest dream.

And then…let the dice fall where they may.

The Safety Net

So…where is the safety net in all of this? Why don’t you need a bunch of elaborate notes, intricate plots, and fantastic story ideas?

Because you have the players…Seriously, this is the very best, most overlooked resource a GM can ever have. Generally you have at least 3 or 4 other creative imaginations sitting around the table with you, and they are brimming with ideas. Use them.

Trust your players to come up with their own plans, plots and resources. Trust them to plug the holes in the plot (of which there will be many). Get them talking around the table about what they think is going on. If they have a better idea of a way to do something than you do…use it.

My single greatest talent as a GM is being able to see a story that someone else created, and twisting it just enough that they don’t really know what’s coming next. If you get stuck, as the players what they think, just to get the ball rolling again. As the GM you want the players to trust you, but that trust should go both ways.

There are a few ways to build trust with your players

Say “Yes”.

There is a saying in gaming, “say yes or roll “. It’s really good advice. Remember that you job as a “Winger GM” is to keep the story moving, so if something the players say sounds good, just say Yes. Yes moves the game forward. When a player asks a question, it’s because they have something in mind. If they ask if the bridge made of wood, chances are have a plan where the bridge being wood is important. Saying “yes” lets the player keep that momentum and do the work of keeping the game moving.

Rolling the dice is what you do when both “yes” and “no” could move the game forward, so the answer is arbitrary: either one is good for the story. At that point, let the player roll for it. This puts the power of the story back in their hands. If a decision is going to be arbitrary, it might as well be arbitrary via the game mechanics. Let the PC make a skill or attribute roll with a success being a “yes” and a failure being a “no”. Let the dice fall where they may, and make the players deal with the consequences of their roll.

Another option, and one I really prefer, is to have a “drama die” or “story point” system where the PC’s have the option to spend flip something, or give-up or spend something that just allows them to change the story in their favor in some small way. It feels less arbitrary and gives the players the sense that you actually want them to take those creative steps.

Players can be NPCs too

As the GM, most of your time is spent playing NPCs, either roleplaying or rolling dice. Give a player that isn’t in a scene a chance to play the NPC for you. It gets someone that otherwise wouldn’t be doing anything in a scene a chance to be involved, and if gives you a chance to get more story without having to think it up. You never know what the other person is going to say.

You can have them roll for their minions too! While you’re at it, let them control those minion NPCs in combat, too. You can always overrule them if you’re afraid they’ll send them to the meat grinder, but you would be surprised at how sadistic a lot of players can get when turned loose on their normal allies.

Putting it all together

In the end, it all comes down to faith. You need to have faith in your own creativity, and in your players desire to be a part of that creativity. You may have an adversarial role to play; you and your players really share a common goal, to have fun.

There will be times when players whine and complain, and you may think that they want to just walk over everything for the easy win…they really don’t. Like I said before…they want to be beaten, kicked, stomped on, slashed, torn, burned, battered, bruised and dragged to within an inch of death, and they will love every second of it, so long as they win in the end. They may not even consciously know that they want to be punished, but players are masochistic, they want to be challenged.

If you take nothing else away from this podcast…take this: beaten, kicked, stomped on, slashed, torn, burned, battered, bruised and dragged to within an inch of death, make a great big show of trying to break them, but know they have immeasurable faith in the end they WILL win.

It’s all about collaborative storytelling. You will get as much, if not more; out of a well-run game than your players ever will. Help the players help you tell a story they want to play. Secretly they want to be almost broken, and secretly you want them to win.

Neither of you will ever let the other see behind the curtain…but you both know the unspoken rule of the dice…RPG’s are a partnership. They know that they must be made to suffer, and they know you will allow them an opportunity to win. Maybe they’ll win…maybe they won’t but so long as feel that they told a good story doing either, they will leave with a smile on their faces and you will know you did your job right.

It’s a hell of a feeling to be a GM when a good story ends…honestly, I would much rather be a GM than a player anyday.

Alight, well…we can start wrapping this thing up!

We want to bring you the best possible show every week, and so we need to hear from you. Give us your thought about any of the things we talked about today, any show ideas you would like to hear us talk about, or rants about what we got wrong, or ways to make the show better.

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And on that note, that should about do it for us here at the wandering-pod-studio. On behalf of myself, my guests, and everyone here at The Quest…”so long and thanks for all the fish”!

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