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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Throw back Thursday: Immersion, living the dream, and getting Old

Here's a post from "Storyteller for Hire", a blog I was writing about 4 years ago. I look back this an think, "This is good, but oh, young Drew, you still have so much to learn...about spelling, yikes.". For the record, I spent this year's Birthday week writing a Cyberpunk system into Monte Cook's Cypher System.  So I guess things don't change too much.  Enjoy.

April 6th I turned a year older.  I'm now 29 and a year a way from three decades of life provides a great opportunity to look back on one's life and accomplishments and say "Who am I now, and how did I get here?"

Instead of doing that I took a week off work to play Assassin's Creed 2, buy a Dremel Tool to modify Nerf guns with my girlfriend, and purchased small bits or wood, fake plastic trees, and modeling clay from hobby shops to construct sets for my table top gaming sessions.  Do I need fantastic hand sculpted statues and personalized game pieces to get my players involved in the game? Of course not! And it's a good thing too, because my hand has never been the steadiest, my brother's the artist, I am the...well...something else equally creative and amazing I'm sure.  But it did make me think, though I was making these pieces mostly because they were great opportunity to do something with my hands other then typing on a keyboard or clicking a mouse, what was so important about small custom made corridors and wooden hand-painted figures?  The answer is simple.  Immersion.

If your character is here, your mind should be too.
Immersion in a table top role playing game comes in many different forms.  In a previous blog I'd mentioned the root of said games being fireside tales of high adventure, providing a great atmosphere with crackling fire wood smoke smells, and (usually) tasty food, players may get the sense that they aren't too much unlike their character counterparts, sitting around a cozy fire between perilous dungeons, regaling each other with stories of adventure and excitement.  Sadly, fireside adventuring games are hard to come by, given the space needed to both play the game combined to with space needed to safely manage an open flame.  It can be done, in fact there's a hundred things that can be done to make a game more special when you're committed to it, but it gets expensive.  And after so much time your relationship with your players is like your relationship with a significant other, you want to find exciting locals and neat experiences to share together, but as time passes and you're more comfortable with each other, just doing it on the kitchen table is fine...

When your player's characters look
like this, your players should feel
like this.
...Aside from the the obvious memorable experience, immersion serves a very utilitarian purpose.  If your group is at all like mine, they have been friends for years, and their Saturday night game is their night to catch up with said friends, talking about news and goings on throughout the week.  "Non-game related" talk can be disruptive and distracting, and when you only have so much time in an evening to weave a tale of high adventure, all involved can shoot themselves in the feet by taking the time to sing Guy on a Buffalo in four part accapella (Though a resourceful storyteller would capitalize on such events by forcing encounters on players where they have to sing or recite epic tales).  This can be mitigated through time management, and immersion.  An immersed player is focused, in character, and ready to play.  So let's look at some immersion techniques.

Description is the easiest and most basic form of immersion because it's going to happen some way or another.  If you tell your players "The man you are speaking to is middle-aged, just under 6 feet tall,  completely bald and below sparkling dark eyes and a large nose is a thick handlebar mustache and a crooked grin. Broad shoulders and a barrel chest fill his fine silk clothing, which is a deep green simple and elegant in design.  He greets you warmly, introducing himself as Edgar Belmont, the man soon to become Baron of the city of Saxon and it's surrounding lands." you give them a pretty clear picture of what their looking at.

The alternative is to say, "A middle aged man approaches you, you note he is bald and has a large handlebar mustache. "I am Edgar Belmont" he says, the name familiar to you as you know he is soon to be baron of Saxon, a community known for it's export of fine silk. "Allow me to welcome you to Saxon and thank you for attending my coronation.  I understand you're from York?"

Where the second gives less detail of the man, it does hint at enough to let the players for their own picture in their heads, they know he's probably wealthy given his position and are able to come up with their own "look" with limited features and indication of lifestyle, the important part of this description though is the way he speaks.  Folks have a bias when hear about someone, which is different from when they see them, which is different from when they speak to them.  The moment you open your mouth in character to your players, they will make their measure of the "person speaking"  and decide whether they are a threat or an asset.  Aside from interaction, very little description is needed for your players to fill in the blanks, and so immerse themselves.

Though this is the easiest way to immerse your players, long bouts of description turn into lecture (and soon to interruption).  Describe away, but be prepared for your players to interrupt and interact.  Don't get angry when they interrupt you to say "I'll take a closer look at that!" either ask them to let you finish or indulge them.  If their interruption relevant to what you're describing you have them hooked! If not, ask them to save it for later.

If your house looks like this, a little
atmosphere shouldn't be hard to create.
Ambiance is a tricky thing, since most times you're looking at playing at a kitchen table, in a living room, or in a basement.  Depending on what you're trying to convey with the feel of your adventure, you can stick with clever lighting tricks.  A Dungeon crawl of an adventure could take place in a basement with no windows, and candle light.  Stories of court intrigue could be hosted in well lit rooms with plenty of food and drink.  A Kitchen lit (and stocked) properly could have a Taverny feel.  I personally prefer a patio in fair weather.  Fresh air does wonders for a party's ability to think, sounds of bugs and birds does well to lend to a frontier or wilderness motifs.  The few times I've been able to host on a patio, It's been very well received!

A word about lighting, dice and sheets are hard to read in dim light, make sure your playing space is well lit for players.  Losing pencils, dice, and not reading abilities on a sheet is a problem.  Your ambiance should not get in the way of your game.

When it comes to tabletop gaming, your experienced players have obviously taken their love of the game to the next level.  First they did this by purchasing all the supplement books that their game's publisher released to make money, then they started buying tools.  Gaming tools can actually be split into two categories, Playing Tools and Props.

The Sultan, Lords and Ladies is it pricey, but if you're serious
about tabletop gaming, there is no finer table, until you go
with a touch screen.
Playing Tools are hardware you may associate more with the storyteller, these are things that help the game at it's most basic levels.  Truthfully, a group of gamers with the proper mental capabilities can run a game without paper, but it makes it easier when you have your character sheet, and some graph paper with a map drawn out, or instead a Vinyl Mat with one inch squaresWet Erase Markers, and Miniatures of your specific player's characters.  That second part probably sounds pricey. It is.  But when you start to seriously consider these games as a hobby, spending a money on objects that define your character (as a player) is a personal touch that is worth it.  As a storyteller, being able to use tools to shape a large map is quick, fun, and gives your players a very real image of dangers their facing and the situation their in.  Sure your player's O's can be surround by X's on grid paper, or they could be hand painted figurines, with the likeness of each specific character standing in a molded plastic dungeon, surrounded by wicked looking, die-cast lizard people with barbed spears. If you can afford it and you're commuted, designing sets can be very rewarding for players and storytellers.   There's also a large amount of free software available to allow you to run a digital game board, most of these are oriented to playing over the internet though, and few port well to a "T.V. based table top map".

Outside and in costume, sure.
But crowded around a table in a kitchen,
foam swords quickly become
why we can't have nice things.
Props are...tricky. Like a personalized figurine, perhaps your player arrives holding something relevant to his character.  This sort of tool is neat because it begins breaching the realms between "gaming experience" and "performance art", unfortunately it is also very dangerous.  At best case scenario you have people sitting in cloaks with elf ears spirit glued on, worst case scenario one of your players shows up with a freshly sharpened German Bastard Sword. Props to get your players into character are very cool, until your players get bored with sitting and decide to start swinging them at one another.  You can try to tell them "act like adults!", but they did just show up for a glorified play-date.  If you invite props to your game, keep them non-weapon oriented, or have your players sign a waiver.

Again, KEEP IT SIMPLE.  Having extravagant game sets or costumes can be very awesome, but remember that your players are here to play a game.  If set pieces and costumes gets in the way of playing, either throw the idea out...or instead of running the game have a costume party!

At it's simplest incarnation, media enters your game as the player character's pictures, but using visuals and sounds can add more ambiance to an adventure.  Visual queues such as pictures of exotic locations might do well to put your characters in the mind set of the area their exploring.  Having a slide show running on a near by Television might be a nice touch.

Amazing Landscapes like this one can not only give you
Players a great image of the lands they roam, but can also
give you inspiration on what sorts of lands to
base your game around (Link to Original Piece)
Sound can also be a huge boon.  Having background music playing can be a nice touch.  Though you want to tailor the music towards the game your playing, don't work too hard to match it.  Background music in my experience has been as much a distraction as anything, prompting players to pull out their smart phones and decide which music they believe is better for the scene.  Sound effects, though they seem like a good idea are just another thing to keep track of and somewhat cheapen the mood.  When a player fails at something really important in game, having the Price is Right buzzer to punctuate it is funny only once. 

Music proves for great inspiration outside the game though, I usually put together an unofficial soundtrack when I'm piecing games together, just something to inspire me while I'm creating encounters and story work.  And for players, there's no reason why a character shouldn't have their own theme song!

Again, media like images and sound can be a one of your greatest tools for immersion, but just as easily become your greatest distraction.  External media is also just another thing to keep track of outside the normal details you have to remember for your game (especially if you're the host!)

Ultimately, immersion comes down to your players.  You can enforce rules and add tools to help get folks into character, but if they feel like chatting about work and topics other then goblin slaying to blow off steam, there's not a lot you can do to stop them. Again, the best thing to do is to let them get it out of their system, don't fight them to lead them back to the game.  After a few minutes, everyone will remember what they're there for and want to get rolling.  Frequent breaks and giving your players time to chat before getting started also helps to alleviate non-game related banter.  Listeners recognize a great tale when they are free to, not when it's forced upon them, then it becomes a lecture.

In closing, truly authentic immersion is the greatest gift a storyteller can give to one of their listeners and vice  versa.  Imagine someone telling you the tale of Henry of York, a young Sword for Hire with a shadowy past, or Mika the Bard searching the world for ancient tales and lessons past, or Wren the Sorcerer, seeking fame, fortune, and most of all, a good time.  Imagine being told their tales and when the tale is done you remember them like you were there, "like it was a dream, but it seemed so real".  These memories and the lessons contained within are the gifts we storytellers share with the world.  Humanity's most potent legacy is The Story, and every last man, woman, and child has a tale to tell.

Share your stories, but remember that when others are sharing to listen and let yourself be swept up in it, if you aren't letting yourself enjoy the story, what's the point in listening to it anyway?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Review: Star Wars: Edge of Empire

Hey Crawlers. I've kind of been wondering what I should be posting here, if I should keep it strictly business (for the sake of drumming up...well, business) or if I should use it for a bit more, like system reviews and the like. I've decided to do the latter, I paid for the awesome URL after all, why not squeeze as much as I can out of it?  Some of you might remember my previous blog of waxing game-philosophical, "Storyteller For Hire", and if you don't, don't worry!  I'll probably recycle some of it here when I'm feeling lazy. 

"Star Wars: Edge of Empire", released 2013, is the first in a line of Star Wars core rule books. That line includes "Star Wars: Age of Rebellion"(2014) and "Star Wars: Force and Destiny"(2015).  I know that many of us are all to familiar with the "Core Book Trinity" concept, but Fantasy Flight has gone a slightly different direction, instead of each core book just being contributing pieces of a whole, each Star Wars core book focuses on a different aspect of Star Wars, still contributing to a whole to be sure, but easily allowing each book to contribute individually.  As I'm sure you can determine from the titles, "Force and Destiny" focuses on the Jedi and other force users, "Age of Rebellion" focuses on the work of the Rebel Alliance during the Galactic Civil War, and "Edge of Empire" focuses on just the, Society's Fringe.

One could argue that the three books focus on the exploits you would associate with the three main characters of the original trilogy.  I could be a LOT more comprehensive in my comparisons, but I've only played Edge of Empire, so let's talk about the theme, then a bit about the systems in play, and finally my review of the system.
Welcome to the Outer Rim. What Ben Kenobi
describes as a "Hive of scum and villainy"
is your "Ruby Tuesday".

Edge of Empire focuses on the "Grittier" aspects of life in a galaxy far, far away.  On the fringe, on the rim, where "Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side...", obligatory quotes aside, this is reflected heavily in character classes, Bounty Hunters, Colonists, Technicians, etc. (Just the sorts of skill sets you'd need to fly away from the galactic core and stay away).  As such, actual content in the rest of the book focuses on dealing with just the sorts of things you'd come up against in the outer rim, pirates, scoundrels, cartels, the occasional Imperial interference, and very, VERY rarely, a rogue Jedi. 

Playable Species are pretty diverse...
Star Wars has four (or three and a half, depending on how you look at it) tabletop roleplaying games under its belt, from West End Games' 1987 D6 rules set, to Wizards of the Coast's D20 and "Saga Edition", and finally Fantasy Flight's latest work.  What sets this system apart from the others is the dice.  For those of you who have looked into the system, you know exactly what I'm talking about. They are different...REALLY different.  Though it was a bit of a squeeze to wrap our brains around it, the dice actually ended up working out pretty well. Here's a rundown of how they work.

...Hell yeah you can be a Wookiee.
When you assemble a dice pool when taking an action, made up of Ability Dice (Green D8's) and Proficiency Dice (Yellow D12's) based on your skill set.  Then instead of hitting a difficulty number, the GM gives you a number of Difficulty Dice (Purple D8's) and possible Challenge Dice (Red D12's) to roll.  For situational modifiers throw in a use the D6's (Blue=Good, Black=Bad).  There's two things going on in every roll, Success/Failure and Advantage/Threat. 

Success/Failure is a classic dice mechanic, you succeed or you don't. The symbols cancel each other out, so more success symbols than failure means success and visa versa, and in combat your net successes mean more damage.

Advantage/Threat is the new kid in school, and this mechanic can be complex.  Like Success and Failure the symbols cancel each other out but what you DO with net Advantage and Threat is the tricky part.  Though the results have very real rules mechanics associated with them, like taking/doing additional damage, giving friends "Good Dice" to their next pool or giving enemies "Bad Dice" to their next pool, etc.  There's lots of options tied to what your character is capable of, what their weapons are capable of, what the ship is capable of, and so on and so on.  So why so complex?  You've got a pass fail system and a few other really good systems working in here, why add something so damned complicated?

Simply put, Narrative.

Damn, Han. Take 5 more xp.
Split second happenstances that have the potential to change the game. Obviously, actions in a game are much more integrated to the narrative than "I shoot the Storm Trooper, :Wilhelm Scream:", but this system really hammers "cause and effect" home.  Your shot could create an opening to give an ally a better shot, or inspire them.  That Storm Trooper could fall into a power coupling, creating an explosion and filling the room with smoke, or the shot could make his friends dive for cover.  There's a thousand ways to interpret what happened do to the Advantage/Threat outcome, but there IS always an outcome (unless of course Advantages and Threats cancel down to zero).

This also changes the outcome of a Success/Fail result.  A failed roll with lots of advantages could turn out to help your friends in a major way or set yourself up for something great or though it didn't do what you intended, turn into a big setback for your enemies.  And a success with lots of threats could give you exactly what you want, but at a serious cost. 

Well...someone started with way too much Obligation.
Add to this the "Obligation" system, which allows players to start with more experience or currency, but at the cost of potentially reducing "hit points" (or their equivalent) of the party during the course of a game, reflecting the the strain of your character's obligations.  This adds a layer of motivation
for the players, story inspiration for the game master, and an interesting mechanic to give the players a leg up at the start of the game (as well as an excuse for them to start with their own ship!).

Finally, the "Destiny Pool" give the players and the game master a way to augment dice pools.  Two pools are created at the outset of the game, one for the players and another for the game master, when a point is spent from one pool, it's then transferred to the other, reflecting the ebb and flow of the Force.

Starting out, the system seemed intimidating to be certain, wrapping my brain around a dice system that was such a large departure from what I'd worked with in the past seemed insurmountable.  My players were not new to gaming, but two of the three had little experience playing anything beyond D20 or Cypher System.  I urged them, about a week before the game, to read up on the system and make sure they were familiar with how the dice system shook out, but was prepared to teach the system in case they weren't able to make time.  I also took as much time as I could reading over the chapters detailing dice rules, rolls, combats, vehicular combat, etc., to make sure I was ready to keep things moving.  Rolling dice is always fun for players, deciphering those rolls can be a pain though and can bog down the game.  I knew when it came down to it I wouldn't have mastered the system without practical experience, but I was confident that I'd spent enough time studying the system to be able to fake it.
No, you can't fly "The" Millennium Falcon...
...but you can fly "Your" Millennium Falcon.

As expected, the players and I struggled a bit with not only keeping track of what the symbols meant, but also what could be done with the excess Advantage and Threat.  It didn't take long to get the hang of things though.  One of the players put it best after the game, "As soon as I stopped associating my rolls with numbers and instead started thinking of it in pictures, I was good".  No easy feat to change what your used to, but sometimes it's refreshing to (sorry I have to do this again), "Unlearn what you have learned".

It falls to the players and the game master to make sure they know what they can do with their excess Advantage/Threat and resolve the effects quickly to keep the game moving.  I want to say that that's what makes the system appear "unwieldy", but in reality it's no more calculation than character based "special abilities" in other systems, only your abilities take place in reaction to your roll.  This creates an interesting dynamic, the dice forcing players and GM to develop the classic improvisational "yes, and..." mechanic.  Conceptually this slows down play, but in practice players and GM think on their feet, engaging them to resolve rolls and work together to make them benefit the players the most, i.e. "Guys, I've got two advantage left over does someone want a boost die, or do we give the enemy a threat die?" and from there developing narrative to justify the result.

Obligation helps set the tone for the game, while the Destiny Pool gives players a way to get a leg up when they want to make a roll count, or allow the GM to up the stakes.

All said there is definitely a larger learning curve associated with the system then most I've played, but the the complexity of it is much more threatening on paper than it is in play.  While I wouldn't recommend the game for casual one shots, in a continued campaign, its experience system and Obligation system really shine, and if you've got dedicated players enthusiastic for the chance to play good Star Wars game, Star Wars: Edge of Empire won't disappoint.

Monday, April 11, 2016

New Business Cards!?

Hey Folks!  New Business Cards a-comin'. This time we won't make the mistake of leaving the Crawler Email off the card, also we'll be getting a Crawler Hotline so you can call and set up a game, so maybe the new run of cards will come after that?

TL:DR New Business Cards, lots more info, more to come!

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Crawler, and your Epic Tale!

Hey Folks, I know this is a bit bare bones. I've been trying to figure out what to post here, especially since I've been handing out business cards. So here's the skinny.

My name is Drew Brigner, I'm Crawler's head Game Master, and I've been playing tabletop games for near fifteen years.  The majority of that time has been spent running games, (Dungeon Mastering, Game Mastering, Storytelling, what ever term you prefer to use).  I know that many would say "Well fifteen years is nothin', I've been playing since the days of Chain Mail! I'm fluent in THAC0!".  Some of you may be new to tabletop gaming.  Some of you may even be storytellers yourselves.  Regardless, I welcome you all.

"So what is 'Crawler'?"

You could say Crawler is my business.  I'm a Storyteller for hire, fluent in multiple gaming systems, From D20 to D10 Storyteller, from Cypher System to Shadowrun, and many others.  I love telling collaborative storytelling and role playing.  From the grim tales to sagas of epic heroics, cyberpunk to fantasy.

"Does that mean you're paid to run games?"

Bottom-line, yes it does. Any Game Master will tell you about the work that goes into crafting a custom tale is more then time spent at the table. It's preparation, research, and homework.  I know those terms sound exhausting, but it's that labor that lays the framework for not a story recited to you, but one that you tell, one that grows and breathes on your whims and your decisions.

"So what do you offer?"

Professionalism and service. I'm not going to bring you a game from a book or a box. I'm going to bring you a game custom tailored to your play style and taste.  Have new players? I'll teach them what they need to know to play.  Pregenerated characters that you can place your own unique spin on and dice so that we're ready to roll from go.  Everything you need to sit down at your table, and you and your friends tell a story that will be remembered for nights to come!

So grab some friends and get ready to weave a tale of adventure, or horror, or intrigue! Out-wit ancient vampires, pilot a starship through the most dangerous parts of the cosmos, slay the dragon or even cut a deal with it. The possibilities are endless!

Contact us at to plan your evening! 
Want to know what your getting into? Check out some of our podcasts!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Hello World...again?

Hey Everyone! If you're here then you might have come over from the Crawler Facebook group or Storyteller for Hire.  We've built the Crawler gaming site for table top gaming information, tips, articles, and a way to contact us to bring great stories to your home table, whether it be to hiring our professional game master, or consulting on game you're preparing so that you can give your players a gaming experience that's going to blow them away.

The site is a bit bare for certain, but we're only getting started.  If you have questions or need advice on tabletop games, want to share information on said games, or in the Central Ohio area and looking for someone run a game or help you get your story built, contact us at!

We look forward to hearing from you!