Gathering Your Gear

It’s the final week of New Gamemaster Month. Just a few more things to cover before you’re ready to run your game!

In New Gamemaster Month we’re helping players who feel the urge to run an RPG—to become a GM for the first time—take the plunge. If you’re just joining us, start with the first installment. Then join us every Tuesday and Thursday throughout January, and by the end of the month you’ll be a GM too!

You’re almost a full-fledged GM. Basic training is about over, so this time we’re going to focus on honing the skills we’ve already discussed. Before we do, though:

What Do You Need?

Let’s talk about what you’ll need on the fateful evening (or afternoon, or even, perhaps, morning) of your game. So far we’ve been talking mostly about skills and confidence, but this is about the actual physical stuff.

The short answer is: You don’t need much. You’ll want the corebook for your chosen game, of course, and you need a copy of your adventure if it’s not in the book. If you’ve jotted down any notes over the course of this program and you’d like to have them along, well, bring those. Here are a few other things you’ll need around the table:

  • Dice appropriate to your game system.
  • Some paper and a pencil, so you can jot down notes or maybe whip up a quick map to lay the scene out for the players.
  • Blank character sheets for the players (generally only necessary for your first session, when the players are making their characters).
  • Drinks and snacks. Not strictly necessary for play, but almost always welcome.

Additional copies of the corebook (or player’s guide, if your game uses one) are handy, so you don’t have to keep passing your only copy back and forth. Hopefully one or more of your players will bring these.

Here are some other things that some folk like to have, but are not by any means necessary. In fact, you may want to wait until you’ve run a couple of sessions to decide which, if any of these things, fit your GMing style:

  • Handouts, show ‘em illos, or other tangible details you’ve prepared, if you’re the sort of GM who likes to prepare such things.
  • A GM screen, which compiles a lot of the game rules’ most useful data into one handy place while simultaneously keeping your notes away from prying eyes.
  • A vinyl mat and some wet-erase markers. Many GMs like to use these to draw maps out for their players, particularly if they use miniatures. Which brings us to:
  • Miniatures. Some games embrace them more than others, but even when they aren’t closely tied to game mechanics many GMs like to use them to visually illustrate where characters and creatures are in relation to one another.
  • Tokens, if your game benefits from tokens to track certain resources (such as XP for Numenera).
  • Other game accessories and texts. Creature books, setting expansions, and play aids.

That may seem like a lot, but it’s a fairly exhaustive list, and nothing on that second part is at all necessary. (Really, nothing—do not sweat it if you don’t have that sort of stuff. It’s probably best not to even decide whether you want it until you’ve run a few sessions and have a good idea which of these will work for you.)

Running Your First Game Virtually

One question you’ll want to consider in a virtual game is how players roll dice and maintain their character sheets. VTTs generally allow you to do both through their platform. But whether you’re using a VTT or just Zoom, some players may prefer the old fashioned way. Nothing says that you can’t keep a paper character sheet, or roll dice on the table, just because you’re gathering online instead of in-person.

The advantage of rolling virtually is that everyone can see the result. If that’s important to you, feel free to ask you players to do so. If not, why not let each player choose for themselves. It’s ultimately up to you.

Even if you’re not using a VTT, many chat platforms such as Discord and Slack have dice-rolling utilities. Character sheets are another matter: Most VTTs offer custom character sheets for many games, but other platforms generally do not. Since characters are, generally, the purview of their individual players, this may or may not matter much to you. 

Two activities this time. First, collect the items discussed just above. For character sheets, you can download a PDF for free, or buy really nice full-color Numenera sheets.

Second, here’s a bit more reading for you. This stuff is general GMing advice from Monte, who, in addition to having written Numenera, is an incredibly good GM with many, many years of experience.

Read these sections of Numenera Discovery:

  • Chapter 20: Pages 310-333 (That’s the whole chapter.)
  • Chapter 21: Pages 334-339 (Stop when you get to the Preparing for the Game Session header, since what follows focuses on homemade adventures.)

That’s it! Thursday is our last post, and then you’ll be ready to go!

For Unknown Armies, you should have at least two 10-sided dice. More are helpful so players don’t have to keep borrowing each others’ dice when they have to roll. (If you are playing online, the app you use may have percentile dice built into the software. There are many free dice rolling apps if it does not.) You will also need:

  • Some of these free character sheets, one per player. Print out an extra one for yourself; you’d be surprised how many times players assume you know the entire character sheet like the back of your hand.
  • This helpful (and also free) GM screen that lists a bunch of information a GM often needs when running Unknown Armies.
  • Some paper, index cards, pencils, and the like for creating objectives, paths, locations, GMCs, and other ideas.
  • A corkboard, whiteboard, or giant piece of paper to help with character creation. (More on that in Step 8 next Thursday.)

If you have the time, now is a great chance to read How To Run Roleplaying Games by Greg Stolze, one of the creators of Unknown Armies. It covers the finer points of being a GM and can help improve your game, literally and figuratively.

That about does it for this week. Next Thursday is our last post. After that, you’ll be ready to run Unknown Armies for the first time!

First, collect the items discussed just above—you’ll need the Trail of Cthulhu core rulebook, and the Midnight Sub Rosa adventure. Print out copies of the three player handouts in the adventure. For characters, you can either print out blank character sheets and have the players create their own, or you can print out copies of the pre-generated characters found at the end of the adventure.

Second, here’s a bit more reading for you:

That’s it! Thursday is our last post, and then you’ll be ready to go!

Two activities this time. First, collect the items discussed just above. 

Second, it’s time to go through the rest of the adventure and see how you imagine it playing out. Pay close attention to the the description of the ruins, the initial encounter with Danakos and the final encounter with Varanik. Read up on Idrima and make sure you know what she’s capable of. She’s no slouch! Figure out how to get the most out of each encounter, asking yourself “What’s the most interesting and dramatic way to begin this encounter? What’s at stake?” 

At the hilltop ruins, the mad Greydog Varanik might be used as an ambusher, striking rapidly and drawing the adventurers into conflict with the Stone Woman’s elemental servitors, the sprul-pa. He should use his spirit magic wisely, casting Bladesharp, Protection, and Strength on himself, and Heal if he’s wounded. Showing tactical use of spell use like this will demonstrate to players that they should do the same. 

The sprul-pa can also be used in relatively large numbers. They’re weak and easily disabled, but the Stone Woman can command as many of them as the gamemaster wishes, without even needing to spend magic points. Rather than being a menace individually, they can be used to great effect as distractions, or even to herd the adventurers to (or away from) the Stone Woman herself!

Danakos is a smart and capable opponent. Before leaping into combat, he’ll cast spells such as Bladesharp, Fanaticism, and Protection on himself, and might lead with a Demoralize attack on one of his hated Colymar rivals. He’s also not above fleeing to Heal himself later, to attack on another day. 

Idrima also has a wide range of abilities, and you might find it easier to write a script for her in combat, should it come to that (hopefully, not!). While the adventurers are dithering with Danakos (who becomes less useful to her every moment) she may be quietly summoning more sprul-pa and dream-wefts, reading an Enthrall or the Faceless Gaze, or and leading into combat with an Earthquake Stomp to throw her foes into disarray. Yanioth or Vishi’s summoned earth elemental may prove more a liability than a help, as Idrima is a chthonic earth goddess and may wrestle control over the elemental with a command in Earthtongue or even a POW vs. POW roll against the elemental.

Ultimately, the real enemy of the piece is Danakos, the hate-filled Greydog whose bloodthirsty act spiraled out of control and led to the current conflict. Remember that Danakos’ actions are not normal in this region and will come at a price. 

Idrima, the Stone Woman, is mostly a menace, but can also become a valuable ally. As with many situations in Glorantha, the quickest and most direct solution is not always the best, or the wisest!  

That’s it! Thursday is our last post, and then you’ll be ready to go!

To run Monster of the Week, you’ll need: 

  • Copies of the hunter playbooks (each of these is a rules reference and record sheet for the hunters). 
  • Enough hunter reference sheets to go round.
  • A Keeper reference sheet. 
  • Your copy of Monster of the Week, with the introductory mystery Dream Away the Time bookmarked.
  • A copy of the countdown, so you can mark off the events as they unfold. (This is just for your reference, not for the hunters—they get to experience the surprises on their own.)
  • Pencils and note paper for everyone. 
  • A pair of normal six-sided dice for each hunter.
  • Some tokens, beads, or chips you can use to track modifiers earned in play (certain moves grant +1 forward, or hold, for instance.)
  • Blank clocks you can use to build suspense.
  • Any other props you might wish to include.

Clocks: When a new danger looms, draw a circle and divide it into segments (4 or 6 “pie slices” is usually enough) to track its approach. For instance, you might start a clock to represent the risk of a vampire returning to its lair while the hunters have snuck in to investigate. When a hunter makes a move that results in a failed roll (6 or less), advance the clock by marking off one or more segments. Note that this isn’t limited to just when hunters roll the dice. You as the Keeper have the authority to advance the clock whenever the story warrants it. Iif the hunters in the vampire lair dither over what to do with the strange idol they’ve found or make a lot of noise breaking down the boarded-up entrance to the laboratory, tick the clock. Mark segments as appropriate to both the dice rolls and the fiction of the game. When the clock is full, the danger comes to pass, e.g., the vampire returns. The gradual (or sudden) filling of segments on a clock is a terrific way to heighten your players’ sense of drama and suspense.

Props: If you want to use newspaper clippings as handouts, you can find handy generators here, here, and here (this last one downloads the result as a PDF file.) In addition, the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society offers a collection of resources, many of them free, to create vintage-looking handouts.

Finally, as part of your preparation you may want to scan ahead in the Monster of the Week rulebook to read about what to expect after the first episode and throughout subsequent mysteries. Hopefully your players will have fun and want to play these hunters again!

Sections to Read: On With The Mystery! (pages 201-225); Between Game Sessions: Arcs (pages 227-237); Between Game Sessions: Subsequent Mysteries (pages 239-271). 

If You’re Using Roll20

As we saw earlier, the hunter character sheets and Keeper’s mystery sheet include all the reference sheets you’ll need.

Roll20 has a neat tool to track various events and conditions affecting a character: token markers. We have a blog post to walk you through using the token markers included with our Monster of the Week modules, but you can also make your own.To create clocks, we like to use Roll20’s rollable tables feature, also called multi-sided tokens. Each image of a “tick” or “pie slice” of the clock constitutes one table item. Our Marketplace modules include rollable tables for 4- and 6-part clocks, as well as mystery countdown clocks.

We go operational in a week. We’re done prepping intel for the moment. It’s time to check our equipment. 

First, make sure you’ve completed last week’s actionables.

Actionables

  • Primary Objective A: Decide, once and for all, whether the group is using pregenerated Agents or creating their own
  • Primary Objective B: Walk players through selection of pregens or character creation.   
  • Primary Objective C: Take notes on their personal secrets, Bonds and other relationships, and traumas in their history
  • Secondary Objective: Imagine the voice and appearance of the three characters mentioned in “Last Things Last.” Especially Marlene.

What inventory do you need? That depends on what type of game you decided to run. Review the discussion in Week One (LINK).

If the game is in person, you need the following:

  • At least one standard set of dice (d4, d6, d10, d12, d20, d100). Multiple sets of percentile dice (d100) would be best.
  • Pencils and pens
  • A copy of Delta Green: Need to Know in paperback or easily accessible PDF
  • Characters ready to play, either pregens (pages 20–33) or player-created on blank character sheets (pages 13–14)
  • Printed or copied handouts (page 48)
  • Any notes taken thus far for New GM Month
  • Snacks and drinks to keep the players going

If the game is online, you need the following:

  • Access to computers, wifi, and chat programs for all participants (we tested this in Week One (LINK) but review it now)
  • Digital copies of Delta Green: Need to Know distributed to all participants (but tell them not to read past page 34)
  • A digital character sheet for each character, either pregens (pages 19–33) or player-created on form-fillable character sheets
  • PDF handouts (page 48)
  • Dice or an online dice roller
  • Any notes taken thus far for new GM month

That’s it. Since this week is just a fetch quest for logistical needs, take any extra time to review what we’ve covered and get your notes ready for the game. We’re almost there, Handler. 

Actionables

  • Primary Objective: Assemble the materials required to run your game
  • Secondary Objective: Review previous weeks’ entries, the scenario, and your notes

You can roll virtual dice in Roll20 from your character sheet or in the chat box at any time. As the GM, you can also control who sees certain dice rolls. If you want to get really fancy, you can set up macros for custom roll commands that your players can use.

Follow along with our team member Kristin as she shows off some dice rolls and sets up an Initiative roll macro. Click here for tutorial video!

Related Resources:

Throughout this program, we have expert GMs on hand to answer questions and provide general support at the New Gamemaster Month Discord Server or the New Gamemaster Month Facebook group. Please drop in, join the group, introduce yourself, and ask any questions you might have. Other new GMs will also be there—it’s a great place to share your experiences and support one another. Hope to see you there!

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PARTICIPATING TEAMS

EVIL HAT

Turning passion into great games for more than 10 years, Evil Hat Productions publishes critically-acclaimed titles including Fate, Blades In The Dark, Monster of the Week, the Dresden Files RPG, and forthcoming Thirsty Sword Lesbians. We’re committed to transparency, inclusivity, and top-notch customer service. From the feel of the book in your hands to the thrills and suspense that arise when the dice hit the table, we’re here to deliver a great gaming experience.

ARC Dream

Blame Arc Dream Publishing for Delta Green, a roleplaying game about a conspiracy of modern investigators desperately struggling to save people from unspeakable cosmic horrors. Delta Green has been winning industry awards for nearly 30 years and is more successful now than ever. Arc Dream publishes many other games about deadly suspense and the terrible risks of courage: the World War II superhero RPG Godlike, Wild Talents, Better Angels, Monsters and Other Childish Things, and more.

Chaosium

The Chaosium was founded by visionary game designer Greg Stafford in 1975. For more than forty years, Chaosium has captivated gamers, readers and mythic adventurers worldwide. Its award-winning roleplaying games, board games and fiction have been acclaimed as some of the most engaging and innovative of all time. Our RPG lines use the d100 Basic Role Playing system (BRP). Once you’ve learned to play one of these games, you’ve learned to play the others.

Pelgrane Press

Pelgrane Press publishes character-focused, story-driven RPGs. Our GUMSHOE system enables collaborative mystery-solving RPGs, as seen in the 1930s mythos Trail of Cthulhu, the spies-vs-vampires thriller Night’s Black Agents, and the sword & sorcery Swords of the Serpentine. Our DramaSystem facilitates affecting dramatic interactions between characters, as do our RPG anthologies, #Feminism, Seven Wonders, and Honey & Hot Wax. 13th Age is our epic d20 fantasy RPG, which weaves characters’ backgrounds and unique traits together for engaging, heroic adventures.

Atlas Games

Atlas Games is a publisher of award-winning card, board, and roleplaying games like Ars Magica, Feng Shui, Unknown Armies, Gloom, and Once Upon a Time. Since 1990, we’ve delivered some of the most fun and widely respected games in the tabletop hobby.

Monte Cook Games

At Monte Cook Games, we love the power of imagination. We love to build stirring vistas, craft great stories, and inspire dreams of other worlds. Our all-star team combines sweeping visions with premium art, storytelling, and design to bring you high-quality, innovative tabletop RPGs such as Numenera, Invisible Sun, the Cypher System, and our family RPG No Thank You, Evil!.

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