Sunday, December 31, 2017

John Musings 1: Stress Test

Throughout my years of GMing (coming up on 25 years!), I've always been accused of spending too much time working on any given game I run.

And it's true! When I'm running a game, I spend way too much time each week on the game - writing new NPCcs, coming up with mini-games, writing sidequests the PCs might never encounter, etc.

Imagine I've littered this with YOU ARE HERE and YOU LAST KILLED A WURM HERE and ON MAY 2014 YOU TALKED TO ADVAR HERE,
and then drew snakes and ladders all over it

So I'm giving myself a test:

I've overloaded myself with work and games to run. There are currently three playtest games each week. There's no way I can work all week, design HJ, do other normal human stuff, run three games, sleep, AND spend as much time as I normally do writing the games.

So each week, I'm giving myself one hour PER game to write it. That includes encounters, NPCs, storylines, communication with players, everything. This is about 1/4 the amount of time I'm used to spending and it already makes me look for ways to cheat.

I'm doing this for more reasons than just because I don't have time, though - it's also to make sure that HJ isnt just a game for GMs who have a lot of time, but can also be run by GMs who have a WIDE spectrum of time available to them, OR GMs who just don't enjoy spending a ton of time working on the game. Games can have any amount of prep time baked in and be good, but we want this to be one that people can play without a ton of investment.

A man who is winging it

My expectations:

Things that I take for granted as things someone would want to create for themselves should probably be included. For example, Odyssey Event tables - right now we give a couple of tables and expect GMs to mostly create their own, but I expect I'll wish there were a bunch pre-generated in the book. Which will let us know to go add some. Encounters will also be an issue. We don't have the page space to put a LOT of creatures or encounters in the book, but I suspect that I'll be wanting more and will probably try to at least get them in a free-to-download PDF at or a little after release.

(Note: We definitely do have creatures and encounters in the main book. I just think we'll need more.)

We're a couple weeks in and everything is going fine so far. It's a bit overwhelming, but I haven't hit any major snags. I have had to do a lot more references on the fly than usual (pictures of NPCs, places, things), but other than that its been smooth.

What things do you all need when you're winging it or don't want to spend a lot of time on setup?


  1. Funny you should post this just as I am hitting a similar wall in the game I am currently running. It’s a Pathfinder campaign, and I am finding that I spend at least 50% of my time writing up encounters and treasures that the players never see, NPCs they don’t interact with, and mysteries they don’t investigate. Between work, family, and personal time [I have other hobbies besides gaming - gasp!], it’s forced me to think about how to streamline my GM work without railroading the party. I have found that I need to have streamlined stat blocks for pretty much everything they deal with [I can always add more detail if the creature/NPC stays around afterward], and I don’t have time for “random encounters”.

  2. So I guess the question is: how detailed do NPCs need to be in HJ? Do I have to have a full character sheet for them, or will you have an abbreviated form? How detailed are the creature write-ups? Again, is there a “quick” form that I can use, or do I have to do a full sheet for every Minotaur and Nymph out that turns up?
    Encounter lists aren’t really of much use to me [after {counts years}…holy shit, 38 years!] of GMing, because I tend to plan things out in advance, instead of having a wandering band of Elf Knights or Men in Black turn up, but I allow that I might be in the minority.
    What I would use are example creatures from Myth and folklore; descriptions of the various Godrealms; Figures from Myth such as Perseus, otherworld races such as Alfar, Kitsune, or Giants, and other Gods as well [even just an example to show what the various power levels look like when applied to a character]; Magical items; Spells; and real-world items such as vehicles, electronics, weapons, and medicine [does medicine work the same on the Chosen as it does on mortals?].

    1. 1. This is partly why Im doing this experiment. To see how things work for someone with no time.
      2. Right now NPCS come with an abbreviated form that should be pretty quick to throw together even on the fly. You can have a general "idea" of their stats and then just use em as needed.
      3. Im in the same place re: encounter lists. But Ive found a lot of people do need them. So Im trying to find a balance for those people.
      4. 38 is sooo many yearrrsssssssss
      5. Added your list to my notes.

  3. I need the information for the things that they will encounter, so I don't have to try to come up with a list of vehicles stats, or Dragon stats, or what Olympus looks like, before I even start the campaign.
    If I have time to expand, or strike out on my own, that's great, I can do that. But the more the game contains, the better. I know there are page limits, and time constraints for you as well - this is just my "wish list", not necessarily my expectation.
    Suggestion for s future time [if you haven't already done it] - outlines on how to design your own pantheons/Gods, for those of us who may not want to wait for you guys to get around to the Inue, the Guarani, the Koreans, the Australians, and every other group out there. Because, you know, Life. :-)

  4. I reuse the same mechanics with twists: if one week my bad guys do 'light damage that blinds them for 4d2 rounds' [or whatever], a few weeks later there will be a badguy who does 'dark damage that blinds them for 4d2 rounds'. I also occasionally do some slice of life things for my games, like a party for example, where the point isn't a challenge against them rather that they need to do something to advance their story [challenge a NPC to a duel, spread gossip, make new friends, etc] where the rewards are less mechanical and more 'if you succeed then awesome, if you don't succeed it's fine, if you fail miserably there are consequences down the road'. Finally, I make dedicated NPC sheets that mirror the PC sheets, now the start up on this can be a pain, but the rewards are pretty awesome and then I look at them and when things get slow, I look at one of them and throw them in, or, more often, their influence into a scene. The problem is that eventually these tricks don't work for a game, so the backload does come up to me, but I can delay it for months a bit then do a lot of work where I don't get enough sleep and then can do it again.

    1. Hehe. Thats often how I work on games too. I do a ton of frontloaded work, ride that for a couple months, and then one day in the future do a couple no sleep nights to do a TON of work again.

      Then each week I just get to do a little update work.

      But Im trying to see how the otherside lives. I hear of these people who write week to week, and I wanna get a sense of how HJ works for them.

    2. I think this is the only way. The other way is a lie, a mirage upon the horizon; embrace the stress.

  5. Wait, there are people that don't just wing it every game?

    1. Hehe. My prefered method is more time spent working on game before game each week than the game session is.

  6. So, that looks like a really weird map of the Nine Worlds... what's going on in that pic? Also, are you planning on having encounter stats from a selection of world mythology, or do you intend to focus on creatures from the stories of the four core Pantheons?

  7. Also, I look forward to more John musings. I'm actually planning to run HJ for a few friends once it comes out, and none of them have played RPGs before (and I've never STd before, so I have zero conception of the issues that one might face) so I'm hoping to see more of these interspersed with the usual Anne stuff and the progress updates :)