My Recent Foray into Monster of the Week.

I will say this game truly inspired me to go back to my old Hunters Hunted and Call of Cthulhu: Delta Green notes. I’ve always wanted to run a sort of detective agency mystery/horror game.

Monster of the Week from Evil Hat Games.

Monster of the Week by Michael Sands

I kept seeing this game go by in various places and I finally got curious. While I have sort of a love-hate relationship with horror games, this got my attention because it’s more focused on the good guys. I prefer my horror games to be A.) Not completely hopeless for the PCs, and B.) Told from the perspective of regular people fighting the darkness. Monster of the Week gets it done for the most part.

A friend on RPG Twitter mentioned this as their favorite game and I became curious. My first venture into the Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) system was with Henshin:Sentai the RPG and I have to say left a bad taste in my mouth. I still kinda feel like PbtA is a bit restrictive in terms of the PC actions and character creation. It feels to me like we’re constantly using Pre-gen characters. A lot of experienced gamers prefer to customize heavily.

I will say this game truly inspired me to go back to my old Hunters Hunted and Call of Cthulhu: Delta Green notes. I’ve always wanted to run a sort of detective agency mystery/horror game. My wife is a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. I’m big on Evil Dead/Army of Darkness. I also have my own personal freaky experiences to draw from if so desired.

Honestly, I love horror movies. I see so many things that are just laughably stupid. No one in their right mind would do some of the things characters in horror movies do and I find it amazing that some of the simplest solutions to these paranormal terrors are often overlooked.

I have so many scenarios in mind for this game already, I’m having trouble writing them all down fast enough. I’m inspired. Don’t know if I’ll have a group or if this will be an online game just yet, but I’m excited nonetheless.

One thing I really admire about the game is that they seem to have a playbook for just about everyone. Great job! It does take some of the analysis paralysis out of character creation.

Powered by the Apocalypse.

Evil Hat delivers once again!

Tome of Mysteries for MotW. Fantastic Sourcebook!

I’m a big fan of FATE as well. Part of the appeal of Monster of the Week was the quality that comes with all of the games I’ve seen from Evil Hat. (*Minus Thirsty Sword Lesbians because I haven’t read through it yet.) These folks also write a heck of a sourcebook, IMO.

I’m talking about Tome of Mysteries for Monster of the Week. They added more moves, playbooks, and a bunch of GM Advice. I felt some of the moves they added in this book were overdue and excellent additions. The GM support for MotW in general has been awesome. It has made setting up a sandbox easier for this game and dispelled some of my long-held beliefs about writing for horror games. I give it a huge thumbs up.

I can’t wait to get a chance to try this game out. I have a LOT of projects in the works right now. I hope to get some of my series outline posted eventually, as soon as my calendar clears up.

Thank you for stopping by. Happy May Day. I appreciate you!

That Last Episode

I’m always asking things such as what if these two characters fell in love and ran off together? What if the character took on this somewhat annoying NPC as a student? What if this starship crashed on a backwater planet and was never seen again?

I just finished watching the mid season finale of a TV series that I like, and…

It made me think about all of the various rpg campaigns that we never exactly got to finish. I’m sure a lot of players and GMs can relate to this. Entire campaigns come to a screaming halt due to family emergencies, people moving out of town, holiday break, group friction, or some other unexpected, unforeseen conclusion. This has happened countless times in my life, though it saddens me slightly to admit it.

Much like a popular, long running TV series, RPG campaigns tend to bring certain long-running plots to bear over the course of their lifespans. We get attached to certain background characters and subplots. In TV terms, many wrap up by the end of a season, but some keep going for years throughout.

The main difference in an RPG is the players. Nothing is ever scripted. If they want to keep a subplot going, most GMs will do their best to keep the wheels turning as long as it doesn’t become a distraction from the rest of the game. It’s a fun part of any RPG campaign and gives the characters something to do beyond smashing monsters and saving the world every week.

Another major difference is NPCs (those loveable background characters) can die or go missing unexpectedly in game. It’s not the conclusion the players necessarily wants, but it can happen. Maybe the GM had other plans for the character from the get-go. Maybe the NPC has just become too much of a main focus. Maybe the villains seized the moment and capitalized on the characters vulnerabilities.

TV shows and movie sagas suffer their fair share of abrupt character ends.

Main characters go missing in TV and movies. Producers have to adapt to missing actors, which often looks like character death. Sometimes actors don’t renew their contract. Maybe they had something come up in real life and had to leave the show or were unable to film a sequel. Once in a while, an actor ages out of the part or just plain quits the business. It happens.

The same can be said of gamers. A campaign might survive minus one or two players. Most of the time one can recruit more at the local game shop or online. It’s never impossible. But if that’s half or more of the play group? New campaign incoming in all likelihood. Sometimes a different game completely.

Chasing the one that got away.

I’ve run several games that I had plots and session notes planned out for months, maybe even a year in advance. Of course, real life intercedes and the campaign comes to an irreparable screaming end a couple of months in.

Real life happens. Families happen. I sigh a big sigh. I file my notes away in a filing cabinet or a binder for future reference. Never underestimate a filing cabinet full of old ideas. But every so often, I look back on an old campaign and wonder, “How would that have ended?”

One of my absolute favorite TV show endings was Star Trek TNG’s All Good Things Parts 1&2. They wrapped up so many loose ends and left those characters in such a good place. Everything that has happened since could be ignored and it would still stand as a great conclusion to the series.

If a TV show knows its end is nigh, sometimes the writers wrap up the loose ends and do the fans a favor by covering all the bases. Babylon 5 actually did it twice. Star Trek has been pro about it with at least three or four of their series. Xena and Hercules wrapped up, well… they wrapped up. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had one of the most epic endings in TV history that spanned the course of multiple episodes.

Imagine getting to do that with your favorite RPG campaign? I’ve written several of those types of endings even if I’m the only one who ever sees them. I’m always asking things such as what if these two characters fell in love and ran off together? What if the character took on this somewhat annoying NPC as a student? What if this starship crashed on a backwater planet and was never seen again?

Here’s wishing you all happy endings. Hopefully the rest of your week is going well and your weekend is looking bright. Thanks for being here.

Campaign Design: Episodes

Power Rangers RPG mixes two and a half genres that I absolutely love. You’ve got some superhero elements along with some Saturday morning cartoon drama, and a little bit of anime action sprinkled in. I think it’s a perfect storm. I plan to treat every session like one or two episodes of the TV show.

Today I am back to planning campaigns.

I’m excited because I haven’t really sat down to jam on a campaign plan in a while. For many years I used a somewhat closed episodic format to plan my campaigns. It’s sort of like I imagine planning a TV or Anime series would carry out.

It looks a little like railroading the players, but it’s not. A lot of it is genre dependent. In other words, different campaigns have different styles. I tend to not run a fantasy rpg such as D&D the same way I would run a superhero RPG or a space exploration game.

Some adventures are far more open ended than others.

Luckily, the campaigns I’m choosing to focus on in the near future are GI Joe and Power Rangers RPG. I’ve got a FATE space game in the works, too but we’ll save that one for later.

If it were a fantasy game, like the Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign I’m tentatively building, all I have to do is set it up and plan an an adventure or two to get through the first few sessions. After that, I’m listening to the players and planning mostly location based encounters and NPCs. (Places to go and people to meet.) I might slip in a BBEG and a few dungeons for them to encounter down the road, but DCC plus Hexcrawl is pretty low maintenance so far. It’s a sandbox. I literally need 7 hexes figured out to begin with.

Superhero games are a slightly different animal. Since most of the game is going to take place in the same city, I plan major locations and NPCs before the players even create their characters. I also put together a rogue’s gallery for the team and possibly have some villains in mind to potentially plague certain character types. After the first couple of issues, I leave my plans open and insert new villains as we go. Sometimes I’ll plan a specific villain and accompanying adventure. Supers games tend to lend themselves well to NPC interactions with the group.

Then we come to Power Rangers RPG.

(Evil GM grin.) I absolutely adore any RPG based off of a TV series. I had so much fun working on campaigns for a game called Cartoon Action Hour from Spectrum Games. This type of genre emulation format is simply a dream come true to work with. I’ve built entire seasons (Play Sets) in that system and it was fantastic to work with. Is it any wonder I’m stoked for GI Joe?

Power Rangers RPG mixes two and a half genres that I absolutely love. You’ve got some superhero elements along with some Saturday morning cartoon drama, and a little bit of anime action sprinkled in. I think it’s a perfect storm. I plan to treat every session like one or two episodes of the TV show.

My plan is pretty simple on the surface. Episodes 1 and 2 are pretty much pre-planned: The team is formed. Here’s Zordon and Alpha Four (because I can’t do the cheesy Alpha 5.) Here are the Zords. Here’s the BBEGs called the Triumvirate. They have a ship in Earth Orbit. They’re here in search of the crystal buried deep underneath Ranger HQ.

After the first couple of episodes, we’re going to do some random villain/monster of the week stuff. The team gets to play around with new gear, Zords, etc while the Triumvirate tries to mess with the Rangers and locate the crystal. This also gives the players some time to explore their characters and monkey around with some subplot stuff.

Then sometime around Episode Six or Nine, I have specific villains planned. The Triumvirate are going to get slightly more serious. Suddenly random threats start appearing that they didn’t send. My intent here is to bring the players’ focus back to the main plot. It’s time to think about beating the Triumvirate and send them packing.

Around Episode 12, the plot deepens slightly as the Rangers are going to be visited by a mysterious person calling himself “Lokeen.” He’s not a villain, exactly. At least not yet. He is going to let the group know that there’s a little more going on than what Zordon told them. They’re not alone in the multiverse and there are some much larger threats out there.

Then we’ll probably do a little more Monster/Villain of the Week type things to take a bit of the pressure off. At Episode 18, the Triumvirate are going to escalate their attacks considerably. The kid gloves are off. No more goofy, silly villains. It’s going to start looking a bit more grim. The last six episodes are all planned to a certain extent.

We’re only going 24 episodes in Season One. The generals send down their toughest fighters and trusted lieutenants. By this time the characters should be pretty sufficient level to take on anything. Sometime during the last two episodes, we will probably see Ranger HQ get trashed; the military subplot end; some Zords are possibly going to crash and burn; plus anyone wanting to trade out characters before the next season will have a good opportunity to do so.

This brings us to Season 1 Part 2 aka Power Rangers Super Lightning Force.

More to come as I build it. This is just the rough draft. I’ll have some specific adventures up as they are created. Have a good one. I appreciate you!

Sandbox vs Structured

I don’t think this is a matter of better vs worse as much as preference. Please do what works best for you and your group.

Is it “Railroading?”

About a month ago, I had a discussion with someone about using a more open-ended story structure when writing RPG adventures. We came to the consensus, as many have in the past, that it’s probably better to treat one shot adventures (modules) as a closed structure like a play or a novel. Now, that’s okay for published works. But what about other events?

I used to run literally everything as a closed structure, only to hear comments about “getting run over with the plot wagon,” or “being tied to the railroad tracks.” I take it with a grain of salt at conventions because, again, that’s how they’re supposed to look. At home it’s kind of a bitter pill to swallow sometimes.

Yes, I have certain plot points I prefer the party would get to. Looking at my upcoming Power Rangers RPG series, I have a mix of both styles. Some episodes are going to be pre-planned, especially the two and three part season opener and finale along with some episodes scattered throughout. For everything else, there are random tables and asking the players what they want to do.

I think a certain degree of more structured adventures has its place in campaigns. Dungeon crawls are usually laid out A to B to C and so on. It all usually leads to that boss fight on Level 3 of the dungeon. Or at least back in the day that’s what we did. Nowadays players are somehow more sophisticated? Sometimes I’m still down to break down a door with an axe and smash an orc in the face with a mace. Dungeon Crawl Classics and other OSR games are truly grand for this playstyle.

Photo by Pixabay on
Choo Choo! Plot train comin through!

I also think it’s okay for new players and very casual players to experience a more structured playstyle. My family group falls into this category. My kids are new enough to gaming and their characters are new enough to adventuring, that the structure keeps things flowing along. My wife is a very casual player, and will go along with just about anything as long as we’re having fun.

My wife has managed to derail campaigns in the past. Her druid cast Comet Fall on a mill that my BBEG Vampiric Ancient Black Dragon happened to be sleeping under. Um… during the day. <poof!> Days of planning up in smoke. She makes good snacks for the group, though. Lol! I couldn’t exactly deprive the group of the victory. They were smart enough to find it without being discovered.

Ironically, the Dungeon Crawl Classics game that I’m planning is going to be mostly sandbox. Actually, I’m doing it as a Hex Crawl. Yes, there will be some premade dungeons and those are structured.

I wanted to add some good old flavorful exploration to my DCC game. Maybe they’ll run into some dinosaurs and other hazards normally found outside of a dungeon along with way. My main focus was to set a game in unfamiliar environs so the group has to explore. Survival will depend on it . They’re going to be in a completely untamed and unexplored (by them) world. As a GM, I’m not even going to know more than a hex or two at a time what’s going to be there.

Example of explored Hex Crawl area.
As I plan to “wing it.”

I think a lot of us in the community have determined a mix of both is best.

Okay, I could possibly be wrong. A lot of it depends on your group, too. If you’ve got a group that’s been together for ages, there’s a lot more leeway in what you can get away with. For example:
DM: I want to start a new D&D campaign on Thursday night at 5:00. (Let’s pretend there are no schedule conflicts…)
Player 1: Forgotten Realms?
DM: As usual.
Player 2: Standard character gen? 4d6 drop lowest. Reroll 1’s.
DM: You know it.
Player 3: Can I play a Warforged Druid Circle of Cenarius WoW homebrew?
Rest of the Group: Groan!
DM: Do we ever say yes to this?
Player 3: Regular Elf Druid, then?
DM: Yup.
Player 4: Got anything planned for adventures yet?
DM: Nope. Don’t need to. Lemme see all your backstories first.
Player 5: We doing a Session Zero for this one?
DM: Anything change since the last Session Zero?
(Everyone looks at one another.)
Player 5: Don’t think so?
DM: Awesome saucesome. Please have your characters and backgrounds ready next Thursday. See you at 4:30. Please bring chili fixins.

DMs with a steady group have an easier time running on the fly than pugs or one shots at conventions for example. They can build off of player character backgrounds. They can improvise. They can even pull out old material and rearrange a few things. A DM with a steady group can even do something off-the-wall occasionally like dropping the group into Ravenloft, and not get too much static for it.

If the group doesn’t know one another, Session Zero is pretty much needed if the group is going to go awhile. My sense of humor is pretty raw and a couple of my children might not have a language filter for example. My DM shenanigans might not run as well with some new players, so I try to stick to published mods early on with new players until we get used to each other.

Otherwise, my group who knows me will be on the lookout for crazy good homebrew artifacts, one PC being the designated harbinger of doom, and at least one person in the party becoming my pet weird luck magnet. That’s only a small part of it. Wait until I say, “Roll a d12…”

Established groups know they can mess with major global events in a campaign world and there will be ramifications down the line. Entire storylines might change. Certain well-known canonical characters might disappear entirely. It’s easier to flex and bend when people in the group aren’t likely to correct the DM on canon, too. Plus, my group knows me and my disregard for Spellhintster and Fritz the Drow.

My default advice is always do what works best for you and your players. If practically running off of a script is your jam, then by all means. There is no wrong way to RPG, and anyone who says otherwise obviously needs to examine their own choices. Some styles and techniques just work a lot better than others. Find your flow with your group and have lots of fun even if it’s a one-shot at a convention!

Please, stay healthy. Stay hydrated. Have fun this weekend. See ya soon.

Power Rangers RPG Update: Episodes

Because Power Rangers RPG is based on the popular TV series, I think the RPG episodes/sessions should lay out in a somewhat similar fashion. Not that I think Renegade will take notes, but if they ever get around to making a GM’s guide, I hope it goes something like this.

I’m working out what an episode will typically look like using a formula similar to the TV series.

Because Power Rangers RPG is based on the popular TV series, I think the RPG episodes/sessions should lay out in a somewhat similar fashion. Not that I think Renegade will take notes, but if they ever get around to making a GM’s guide, I hope it goes something like this.

Intro/Encounter 1:
It’s another typical sunny day in Bennett’s Cove. Class is over for the day and the kids are relaxing at their favorite hangout, The Commons, a strip mall sandwich/smoothie shop and place for people to gather/study. There might be a brief skit with the comedy relief duo. Then, Alpha breaks in with news of a putty attack/monster sighting in ____ (location.)

Encounter 2:
Rangers, still in street clothes, battle putties for a few rounds, long enough for the civilians to finish fleeing in terror. It’s Morphin time. More punching and kicking of putties and maybe a few shots at the monster itself. The monster of the week (in small humanoid form) does whatever they’re going to do. (Zap a a bunch of civilians or a random Ranger with the weird ray of the week, casts a love spell, or whatever.) The monster then usually drops a threat of “when we meet again, you won’t be so fortunate,” and teleports away.

Encounter 3:
The Rangers are then left to deal with whatever weird effect they’ve been hit with or regroup at HQ to figure out how to help the zapped civilians. There could also be a next day sequence at school where Blue tries to stop the computer virus or Yellow tries to help a homeless kid. Basically a roleplaying encounter to showcase the non-power talents of one or more of the team.

Encounter 4:
The Episode baddie is back, causing whatever chaos happened in Encounter 2 on a more grand scale. The Rangers show up and morph to slug it out with the baddies. Along the way, they discover a cure or reverse the effects of whatever the monster did in Encounter 2. The Rangers call for their combined weapon to blast the small version of the monster to tiny bits.

Encounter 5:
“Gigantify!” A beam comes down from the ship in orbit, zombats, some kind of spell, etc to turn the defeated monster into a giant monster. Zords are called up. Megazord is formed. Rangers use their Mega sword, beam cannon, Shark fist attack, etc to vanquish giant monster. Hopefully no civilians are crushed under the falling monster or injured with all the beams and booms everywhere. (Hint hint. I’m going to make the group take the fight away from town or else.)

Encounter 6:
With everything back to normal, the Rangers can celebrate over pizza. We have another short vignette with the comedy relief duo. Everyone laughs. Roll credits.

What I forgot to mention:

Somewhere in most TV episodes, one of the Rangers usually receives some sort of power up unique to their color. It usually starts with Red getting some sort of overpowered sword, gun, or motorcycle. Then the rest of the group gets their benefits either as a share with Red or sometimes their own. Unless it’s some of the later seasons of the show in which case one wonders why the rest of the team even shows up. “Ah. No worries. You got this Red. I mean, yay teamwork…”

At some point new add-on Zords will be created to attach or swap out with parts of the Megazord. We might even introduce all new Zords halfway into the season. Of course, I’m again basing a lot of my plans on later series such as Ninja Steel, Megaforce and Super Samurai.

Upgrades are all the rage in the show and with gamers (especially my kids.) I’m still saving the Super armor upgrade for the second part of the season. The TV series usually do this with the second season of whatever team they’re running.

I’m also going to encourage my players to earn extra experience by challenging some of their character quirks in the first, third and last encounters. Maybe someone has an after school job or is tutoring Spanish students. Possibly have the message of the week like “Stay away from drugs,” or “Always be nice to others.” I mean, after all, it can’t always be punching, kicking and blasting our way out of things, right? Hint hint- Ranger Code.

We’re probably going to do some things to make it more “gamey” for the RPG.

We already know I’m not huge on the comedy relief portions of the show. That may go away completely. For example, Bulk and Skull may eliminate themselves in some horrible way early on and never be heard from again… ever. Instead, we may build more on one of the character’s backgrounds. Maybe Red chose impoverished. We’ll do a visit to his parents’ house over in the rough part of town.

Also, I’ve only described a formula for about half of the episodes. Without railroading the players completely, there will be some very specific plots with monsters, lieutenants, and other special characters that are not monsters of the week and may actually be featured in recurring episodes. I even have a specific subplot involving our campaign world’s Zordon that is going to come up. Unlike the TV series, we’re going to be seeing some different things happen across the Multiverse timelines that affect the Rangers of Earth 129. While Rita and Zed haven’t and won’t be making an appearance, I’m not ruling out having the Triumvirate calling upon some other classic baddies.

It’s also no coincidence that the Triumvirate’s battle cruiser is somewhat modeled after Galvanax’s ship from Ninja Steel. I mean, the thing was bristling with firepower and they used it to film a TV series in space called “Galaxy Warriors.” Talk about wasted potential. At some point in the RPG series, that thing is going to open fire on a major Earth city or at least threaten it. More on that next time.

In the next installment of campaign building for Power Rangers RPG, I plan to talk more about behind the scenes monsters and plots. It’s one detail we get in a TV show that can’t really be emulated by an RPG very well. I’m also devising some sort of Monster of the Week tables, since Renegade is, well… Let’s just say I could be more impressed with the “Core” book in those regards.

Not sure how I’m going to cook up a Morphin Monster Manual without art, but we’re going to try anyway. 😁 (See what I did there?) MMM…

I also want to talk more about Earth 218 and Power Rangers: Unworthy

I live to plan stuff like this campaign. Planning campaigns is tons of fun for me. Even if they never run, at least I had some amusement coming up with plots and settings. Many ideas overfloweth from my brain…

Take care. Please remember to hydrate. Please be extra nice to one another.

Power Rangers RPG Campaign

I looked at the character sheet for the new Power Rangers RPG and I can’t help but to want to build a campaign.

I just saw the character sheet for this game…

And like so many other character sheets, it got me thinking. There is so much potential for this particular RPG to be outstanding in my collection as a GM. I have four kids who are all huge fans of the series, plus my wife is a huge fan of the original Green Ranger played by Jason David Frank.

I’m going to walk through some of my design process without a system attached on here just for fun. The first thing I want to consider is the version of Earth’s timeline or alternate Earth. This happens in several Power Ranger series and is referenced throughout some seasons. Personally, I love cameo appearances by rangers from older series. Megaforce was probably my favorite for this reason.

The opportunities presented by this new RPG are just too juicy to pass up.

Looks very familiar. Similar to D&D.

Needless to say, we’re going to probably start with an alternate timeline to Mighty Morphing. I mean, the original characters were cool and all, but why not kick it up a notch? Think about it. The Time Force Rangers knew alternate Earths exist. What’s to keep our old original arch enemy, Rita Repulsa from doing the same? What if she cast a spell that broke the time/space/dimensional barrier?

I’m going to start out with Lord Zed as the main bad guy in Season One of Power Rangers, uh… ooh. We need a name. Power Rangers Lightning Force. Okay, I can work with that. My 12 year old already has his character designed, like the minute I mentioned it. He wants to play Blue Phoenix. Can you tell he’s excited?

The idea here is not to just replay the old scripts.

Hence an alternate timeline. We’ll keep a few things here and there, but let’s mix and match. Gonna try to go slightly more serious than the Bulk and Skull type characters, but not as dark as the 15 minute remake with Katee Sackhoff that got banned. (Loved it for what it was, but yeesh. Dark…)

The characters are still going to start out as high school students in detention together. We’ll have a Breakfast Club type opening with them all in weekend detention together. My wife will probably want to play Tommy Oliver as a girl, if I had to guess. Tommi Oliver it is. I want to minimize the use of NPC rangers, but so far I’m betting I’ll have three or four solid players at the most with my wife and oldest popping in and out. My youngest is still learning how to play games and sit still, so he might get relegated to GMs helper to begin with.

I’m going to plan on the team only having four colors starting out.

We can always add more later, right? The original team for Lightning Force will be Red (Dragon) Blue (Phoenix) Black (Chimera?) and Green (Pegasus?) I may have to recruit a player or two online and adjust. Again, we’re in the development phase, so nothing is locked down. I’m feeling a very magical flying monster vibe so far.

We’re going to leave the gang in Angel Grove but I’m thinking the population might change. Ever notice how monsters regularly rampage through the town, smashing buildings and crushing cars? Why don’t we ever hear about innocent bystanders during these battles? I want there to be some kind of consequences to not leading the giant monsters out of town whenever possible. Who’d want to live in that town? Can you imagine the real estate nightmares? But I digress…

In the next installment of this campaign building series, let’s talk about the bad guys a bit. I want something more than a gold monkey with wings. I’m kinda considering borrowing extensively from a gaming company that is no stranger to trademark lawsuits. Think of it as a tribute to 40K. But if I’m flirting with danger, why not go all in?

Til then, take care. Please stay healthy. Eat your vitamins, drink plenty of water, get some exercise, get some sleep, and avoid giant monsters rampaging through your town if you can. Game on.

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