Monday, 14 April 2014

The Art Of The Tease

Tinkering with a LCARS Template
Roleplaying games are a group endeavour, but it's fair to say that in most groups the Games Master is the one doing the most work.  Whether they are called Dungeon Master, Storyteller, Director, Mayor, HōLmeister or what have you, the GM is inevitably required to put a little more (if not a lot more into a game.)  Adventure preparation, book purchasing, prop assembly, miniature painting and even dull stuff like "getting everyone to turn up at the same time" tends to lump on the GM.  Some games are better for this than others, but it's usually true.

This also has the consequence that players aren't always as excited about the game as you are.  Oh, sure, they enjoy it - they turn up, they roll dice, they smile and come back.  But they don't care in the same way a GM does.  They forget rules they've used for months, they give all your NPCs derogatory nicknames, they spend twenty minutes arguing over their favourite episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, they take an hour arguing over which of two paths to take to the dungeon when they know nothing about either path apart from that each goes through the sort of place you get random encounters and ARGH GODDAMNIT JUST PICK ONE ALREADY.

<cough>  I'm not bitter, honest.

The point is, sometimes you have to throw players a bone to keep their attention in the long run.  This is especially true when you have pauses in your play, such as unexpected missed sessions, a pre-planned shutdown for a few weeks while you go on holiday or a rebooted game they haven't played in a year.

It is then I take a leaf out of TV's book and do teaser trailers.

The teaser for the fifth anniversary adventure of my D&D game
My D&D game ran between 2004 and 2010.  At first I just dabbled in some text teasers on my old blog.  I used to upload weekly session summaries there anyway, which were in prose style so when we had our annual break for a month or two I would write up new prose for a few weeks to lay the groundwork for the new sessions.  You can still find some of these on my old blog: five posts of Here Comes The Future, in advance of X-Men Days of Futures Past themed Here Comes Tomorrow, and the mixed Hints of Things To Come before we restarted the year after that.

However, I wanted to dabble in something slightly more exciting so I started doing rough Photoshopped adverts.  Above you'll see the poster for our bonkers alternate reality-filled fifth anniversary adventure Crisis on Infinite Phratils.  In the vein of DC Comics, the group visited alternate universes that included other D&D editions - that is, they were playing D&D 3rd Edition but they visited worlds whose laws of physics and availability of magic, races etc was closer to AD&D 1E or D&D 4E.  So I used the covers of various D&D books from different editions on a starry background to convey the idea of "universe hopping escapades ahoy!"

Yeah, now I'm doing teasers of teasers
I continued this for the very last adventure we ever did, The Dying Days.  I specifically didn't want our game to peter out but to have a huge big epic ending, and the teaders were part of that.  Hunting about online I found various nickable bits of clip art and ran "adverts" on my blog, including a two part one telling them about the horrible stuff they'd fought off before...

The font is the old Dragon/Dungeon magazine cover logo font.
...and what was to come.  From a world with Egyptian gods and a Pharaoh with a blue ankh as his symbol, it goes without saying a broken ankh did not bode well.

With apologies to Grant Morrison
I haven't just done this with D&D, though, and when I get the chance I like to use my limited artistic skills.  Here, I marked the start of our Justice League Beyond campaign with a Che Guevara Guerrillero Heroico-esque flag of Lex Luthor as a badge for the anti-metahuman movement.  It's just a simple photoshop of a picture from the DC Adventures rulebook, slapping on a filter to make blocky and grafitti-esque..... but I like it so much I've used it as a wallpaper in the past.

With apologies to overuse of Impact.
For our second block of the game I went a little bit mental and did a weird webpage advert. We were doing a "Battle for the Tiara" story in which multiple superheroes came forward to claim the mantle of Wonder Woman.  On the page, one of the above random Wonder Woman pictures would come up every time you loaded it up claiming to be Wonder Woman.

Apologies to.... actually, I'm not apologising for this, it's awesome.

The above comes from a crossover between our old D&D game and the Justice League one.  The villains have Prime in their name, you see...... so it's a pune, or play on words!  A-ha!  For maximum comedy, this one was actually printed out and hidden in the room we were playing in.  When the group got to the end of the adventure and the cliffhanger leading into this, I was able to direct one of them to the relevant location to reveal it to them all. 

Odds are high I will continue tinkering with teaser images.  In fact, I might even be working on right now for a game I want to run this year.  Not that its the 10 year anniversary of anything roleplaying related for me and my chums....


  1. I'll give you this, Young Quail, you're good at the ol' bait and switch! There was me, quite happily reading a nostalgic post about the teaser trailers of old, remembering the good old days, and then wham!

    I must confess that I'd forgotten about your previous hints about August but you've got me hooked now (and that's a nice little bit of photoshopping, by the way). I do seem to recall discussions of 'Dragon Pharaoh of Phratil' some time ago but my memories are somewhat hazy.

    What's the plan for Dragon Pharaoh -- would you run it as a one off, or a (short?) campaign? And would you stick with the current group, or try to get as much of the band back together as possible?

    "they give all your NPCs derogatory nicknames" -- not just NPCs. Remember poor Stirling Moss ;-)?

    1. the ol' bait and switch

      I am a cruel, cruel person. But then, you should have learned this from playing RPGs with me for about a decade. :-D

      If I'd been as cruel as I'd originally intended to be, I was going to wait until I was on holiday and then remotely approve this post, leaving you stuck for a week. :-)

      What's the plan for Dragon Pharaoh -- would you run it as a one off, or a (short?) campaign?

      I think a short campaign of some variety is most likely. Player appetite very much dependant. If nothing else, we have several other games on the go right now which are all fighting for attention as well.

      And would you stick with the current group, or try to get as much of the band back together as possible?

      I might invite along some of the old timers, but at the same time I feel our group has included Matthew, Charles & Molly for long enough that they're squarely "part of the gang" now and need to be accounted for in whatever we do. That and I know they'll definitely turn up most weeks, which is never to be knocked when assembling an RPG group. :-)

      The premise being what it is, it should be relatively workable for players without experience in our old game. It's less an Empire Strikes back sequel, or even a Star Trek: The Next Generation sequel, and more a God Emperor of Dune sequel or Warhammer 40,000 sequel.

      I would write more about ideas I've had for the Year Of The Pharaohs 2082, like the Draco Dei strangehold on religion or the Astramancers Guild or how one physically changes when you join the elite Sa'ka army.... but I don't think anyone is really that interested, are they?