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The Location Crafter
Publisher: Word Mill
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/16/2019 01:32:46

Set your expectations correctly. It's worth noting what the Location Crafter isn't:

  • It's not lists of room types, encounters, furnishings, doors, tricks, or traps for dungeons, haunted mansions, spaceships, supervillain lairs, box canyons, or anything else. It's not tied to any genre, setting, or game system. (Whether that's good news or bad news is up to you.)
  • It's not a mapping tool. There's nothing to tell you where the exits are, how big anything is, what sort of cavern you're seeing, or how to get from one location to the next. There's no world-building guidance.

Location Crafter is about helping you build as you go, using inputs you've provided about the sorts of things that should be included.

Would Location Crafter help if you already have tables and generators for room types etc.? Maybe. You could let Location Crafter drive your building process, and use your generators for populating Location Crafter's lists. More on that below.

Would Location Crafter help if you had an existing map, but little or no content? Yes. You could have Location Crafter flesh out each map location, in advance or as you play.

Would you need Location Crafter if you already had a detailed setting? No, unless you use Location Crafter to extend what you already have.

Location Crafter uses a mix of planned and random elements.

Your prep work involves populating your lists of Locations, Encounters, and Objects. You're not tying them to a map or to each other at this stage. You might know you want guardrooms and a Temple of Awful Evilness on the list, for example, so you add them to your Location list, but (so far) you don't know where or when they'll appear.

You can make entries for unique locations, encounters, and objects (a named NPC, a one-of-a-kind object). You can make entries for reusable locations, encounters, and objects (a guest room, a band of goblins, a sack of coins). You can use None as an entry. You can repeat entries if you want them to come up more often. You can use Expected as an entry, meaning you won't specify what it is now, except to say it'll be something ordinary and expected when it comes up. If you have outside tables and generators, you could use them to help you populate the lists. You can use Special as entry to trigger a roll on a table that adds a twist to something you roll up. You can add Random as an entry, which will be determined randomly when you use the lists later. You can add Complete as an entry type so you can mark the end of exploration.

There's more art than science in deciding how to make up your lists. How far down should "Complete" appear in the Locations list? How far down should the evil boss appear in the Encounters list? How many "None" entries do you want? Do you want lots of "Random" and "Special" entries, or just one of each, or none at all?

That's the prep work. You could stop your preparations there, and not use the lists until game time. Alternatively, you could start using the lists ahead of the session to start fleshing out the content, but you'd probably still leave some of it for the session so you can be adaptive during play.

Using the tables involves rolling against the lists you've created. You're creating scenes. You create a scene by rolling up a Location, an Encounter, and an Object, and you give the PCs a way to reach the scene. You add and subtract Progress Points as you go, which biases your die roll toward the earlier or later parts of the lists. In other words, you'd put the stuff to find early near the top of each list, and the stuff to find later near the bottom. If you wanted to separate earlier and later content entirely (e.g. stuff on this side of the river vs stuff on the other side of the river), just make separate lists for each; you'd probably include a location in the first set that will lead you to the second set.

You could wind up with many combinations of Location, Encounter, and Object when you roll up a scene. To me, this helps you stay flexible. It avoids the old problem of opponents who sit in one room forever, waiting for an adventurer to wander by. If you have set pieces in mind (THIS encounter must happen in THIS location with THESE objects present), you can do that, but mostly the lists are for mixing and matching on the fly in random combinations.

While you're rolling stuff up, the various entry types mentioned earlier could kick into action. "Expected" is something you make up on the spot, or maybe you have an outside generator to help you. "Random" means you use Location Crafter's description oracle to roll up two terms (e.g. "Jovially" + "Fancy") that inspire you to create something. If you roll up a unique element, you cross it off the list so it won't come up again. You add and remove Progress Points as you go to modify later rolls. If you roll up Complete, there's no further exploration to be done.

If you need help with things like whether there's another way out of the room, or whether a door is currently locked, you could use one of Location Crafter's included oracles (Simple Questions, Complex Action Questions, or Complex Description Questions), or some other answer oracle you might prefer. The "complex" oracles have you roll up two terms and use them for inspiration.

A nice feature is that you can expand your lists as you use them. If a new Location, Encounter, or Object comes up during play, and if it might come up again later, add it to the appropriate list. This can add continuity and coherence to your setting.

You could use Location Crafer and Adventure Crafter in tandem, although neither mentions the other. Adventure Crafter is more about what happens and why it happens whereas Location Crafter is more about where it happens. When Adventure Crafter does make location references, you could use Location Crafter to flesh them out or to replace them. Location Crafter's Encounters list is largely redundant with Adventure Crafter's Characters list. You could use one or the other for both purposes, or you could make one the master list while the other helps populate the master list when needed.

To recap: Location Crafter is helpful for building an area as you go.



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Location Crafter
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The Adventure Crafter
Publisher: Word Mill
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/26/2019 14:07:15

Adventure Crafter is a useful genre-neutral and game system-neutral tool if you're looking for inspiration when creating key moments in an adventure. It's modular, meaning you can employ or skip various elements as you see fit, and the tool still works. I recommend it.

You can use Adventure Crafter for solo play, or as a GM you can use it for inspiration on the fly or for planning in advance. You could use it for a one-shot session or an on-going campaign. You could use it for a single scene, or for a series of scenes. You could use it for GMless play to help you create scenes, but it doesn't include an answer oracle that handles questions like "Are there monsters in the room? Is the door locked? Is it raining today?"

The core element it deals with is the Turning Point: "Turning Points are the pivotal Scenes in your Adventure that propel the story along. They are the plot twists within your Adventure." Each Turning Point consists of "plot points" you select or roll up from one of five styles: action, tension, mystery, social, or personal. I had to get used to their use of the term plot point. Outside of this product, a turning point and a plot point are pretty much the same thing to me. What Adventure Crafter calls plot points would have made more sense to me sooner if they had been called tropes instead.

There are 40+ "plot points" that cover various things like what happens in a scene (someone runs away, mass battle, corruption, etc.), who's involved (an old nemesis, someone who needs help, etc.), or the circumstances of a scene (small town, night time, etc.). It's then up to you to fit these pieces together. There's also nothing stopping you from discarding elements that make no sense. There are various ways to use each plot point. For example, if you roll up a Mass Battle, the battle could be the trigger for the scene, or it could be the action within the scene, or the scene could portray a battle's aftermath.

Each of the five scene types (which Adventure Crafter calls "themes") uses its own mix of the various plot points. This is a strong point of the tool, because you might want one scene to emphasize action while another emphasizes social elements, for example. You whip up a short theme table that lets you prioritize the themes. You roll up (or choose) one of the themes using that table, and then you roll up a plot point for that theme. Do that five times, and you've got the ingredients of a Turning Point. You can get up to three "None" results, meaning you'll end up with 2-5 plot points per Turning Point.

Many of the plot points invoke new or existing characters. You maintain a character list that also serves as a table to roll against. When a plot point mentions a character (such as, "A Character acts in a very risky way"), it's up to you to determine who that is. You could make the decision without rolling dice, but the character list is there if you want some randomness. At first, the entries are a mix of "New character" or "Choose most logical character." You overwrite entries with characters who are likely to be involved - the PCs and key NPCs. As you roll up plot points, you'll also start adding characters to the list. This is how Adventure Crafter adds continuity from one Turning Point to the next, by involving characters that appeared earlier. Adventure Crafter provides general-purpose Descriptor and Identity tables to help you make up new characters, but you could easily use your own methods for creating new characters.

Similarly, you can keep a list of plotlines. For a one-shot or a tightly focused session, you might not want multiple plotlines, but if you're willing to let plotlines accumulate, you can keep a list and roll against it every time you create a Turning Point. Like the character list, the plotline list is a mix of "New plotline" and "Choose the most logical plotline," and you add to it as new plotlines arise.

A possible shortcoming (depending on your expectations) is that Adventure Crafter doesn't produce anything like a goal, logline, or elevator pitch for the adventure, or even for an individual scene. Most of the plot points don't give anyone a goal. It's up to you to come up with these things, whether you decide them before you roll up plot points to guide your interpretation, or whether you use the plot points as inspiration to see what emerges.

Another possible shortcoming (again depending on your expectations) is the lack of plot structure. It does indeed discuss making an adventure outline, and it achieves that up to a point by having you string together a series of Turning Points. You could, for example, make an action opening by emphasizing that theme for the inciting incident. You could throw a mystery into the middle. You could have a big action scene saved up for the end. That's fine as far as it goes, but the tool makes no distinctions between the different stages of a story arc. If you want your Turning Points to follow the Magnificent Seven Plot Points, the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet, the Lester Dent Pulp Master Fiction Plot, or the Spirit of the Century Pulp Plot Framework, it's up to you to impose that on the Turning Points you create.

Adventure Crafter is written clearly (aside from the terminology quibbles I mentioned above). There are good explanations for each plot point. There are a good number of useful examples. The PDF includes a few pages ready for you to print out so you can write on them and have them at your fingertips during play.

Adventure Crafter is a nicely done tool. I recommend it.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Adventure Crafter
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Plotlibs - Medieval Fantasy Edition
Publisher: Morningstar Productions
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/29/2019 04:59:05

It's a good tool for inspiring a situation in a medieval fantasy setting. You've still got some work to do to flesh out NPCs, scenes, locations, objects, and so on. This tool provides what is essentially a logline: a brief summary of the core conflict in the adventure. You're filling in the blanks on this template: "[Catalyst] just wants the party to [Quest] and thereby [Goal]. But when [Minor Hazards] and [Major Hazard] stand in their way, how can they possibly succeed? And they don't even know that [Plot Twist]!"

Catalyst, Quest, Goal, Minor Hazard, and Major Hazard are tables with 100 entries each. The Plot Twist table has 50 entries. Each table offers a good variety of stuff. A number of entries make direct references to PC connections, such as "the party warrior's brother."

What the tables don't offer is any sort of description. What's the Moon Cult? the Object of Power? the Fiery Maw? These are all "intentionally vague." It's up to you to decide what they mean, and how they're connected to other pieces of the situation. That's good news if that's all you need to get started, or bad news if you'd rather have the additional detail. The lack of description means you can easily change up the usage of each table. For example, maybe the Catalyst is the focus of the inciting incident instead of the quest-giver. Maybe you'll make a Minor Hazard your chief villain. Maybe you skip rolling on a table or two because you already have things in mind.

There are no location tables, but many of the entries imply locations (e.g. "a conclave of fairies" implying a fairy forest or meadow). Use your favorite session prep checklist to come up with locations and other situation elements (objects, supporting NPCs, scenes, connections between elements, and so on).

For those who hope (or fear) that something called "plotlibs" is going to generate a full plot outline, you're out of luck. It's just a summary of a core conflict. Anything you want to add on top of that is up to you.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Plotlibs - Medieval Fantasy Edition
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Worlds of Pulp: Generic Random Event tables for Haunted Houses
Publisher: Scaldcrow Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/11/2019 15:42:02

Here's what you get:

  • 4 pages of front matter. The table of contents would be easier to use in the PDF if the entries were linked to their respective pages. In addition, it would be easier to use if the page numbers in the table of contents matched the PDF page numbers. For example, the ToC says Poltergeist is on page 10, but if you go to page 10 of the PDF, the document says you're on page 6. Page 10 of the document, where you find the poltergeist table, is page 14 of the PDF.
  • 1 overview page about using the tables and running a horror RPG
  • 12 pages of tables for creating the setting. The tables are presented alphabetically by title, which is generally not the order you'd use them in, so you'll be hopping around the pages as you go. While the pages cite each other by document page number (not PDF page number), live links would have been helpful. As it's currently set up, if the text refers you to a table on page 12, you have to navigate your own way to page 16 of the PDF to find it.
  • A 6-page table for establishing a situation
  • A final page citing related works by the same publisher

It's all system-neutral.

The notes on running a horror RPG are a little thin, although they're decent as far as they go. You might need to search elsewhere if you're looking for more than a few brief tips. Horror means different things to different people, anything from Scooby Doo to What Lies Beneath to The Ring or a slasher gore fest. If you're looking for a richer set of tips, search online for "lines and veils" for advice on setting expectations in a horror setting.

What I'm calling the setting tables are called "event" tables in the document. "Event" is somewhat of a misnomer. Many of the tables are about the nature of the haunting instead of specific events that might occur during play. For example, you might roll up a phantom child who can walk through walls, not a specific event involving the child. The tables do a good job of coming up with a setting, but don't expect them to create specific encounters or incidents.

The setting tables often invoke each other in useful ways. They hang together well. Any table that mentions a phantom, for example, will refer you to the Phantoms and Shadow Creatures table to find out what sort of phantom it is, and the Phantom Activity table to find out how it usually manifests. The tables seem fairly complete on that point, citing each other instead of giving you redundant or incompatible tables.

The setting tables are modular enough to let you pick and choose. Maybe you already have a solid vision for a poltergeist, for example, so you go with your version instead of rolling it up. You can still use other tables to create a setting around your poltergeist.

What I'm calling the situation table is entitled the Haunted House Plot Twists and Theme Builders. That also strikes me as a misnomer. You get 36 entries consisting of a brief paragraph each. Each entry suggests how and why the PCs become involved, and it mentions a complication or extra challenge for the situation. The situations are good and you'll probably recognize a lot of them. Do they create plot twists? Often not. Do they establish themes? Well, "theme" is one of those slippery terms that mean different things to different people. To me, these entries don't establish themes. They give you situations, such as a creepy toy that keeps showing up.

If a setting and an initial situation are enough for your group, these tables will do a lot of that work for you. You might want to stat up the various denizens for your game system, and whip up a quick map, and then you're good to go. If you're looking for more structure than that, such as encounter tables, detailed maps, and plot points, that's all on you. These tables give you something to build from, so that's not a bad thing. Just set your expectations correctly.

The tables should give you good replay value. Several trips through the tables can give you lots of variety.

Some more editing wouldn't have been a bad thing. You get things like "The host’s brother is doing some quite reading the house" and "no matter what else if going on."



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Worlds of Pulp: Generic Random Event tables for Haunted Houses
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Plot Generator
Publisher: Ken Wickham
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/01/2019 14:54:14

This would be most useful to you if a string of randomly selected plot-related keywords is the inspiration you need. If you want something to flesh out the plot or to tell you what sorts of things would normally go into a plot of one type or another, this isn't enough. It's just random keywords.

This generator gives you a 12x12 table of plot types - 144 entries. Each row is a category: Quest or Adventure, Pursuit or Escape, etc. The 12 columns in each row cover variations on that type, such as Abduct for a Pursuit/Escape plot. The variety seems pretty good.

You choose which kind of dice you want to roll (d100, 2d6, 1d12, 3d6, or 1d20) for the row and column. You roll up entries until you have enough to work with.

Calling it a plot generator is somewhat of a misnomer. Per Wikipedia: "Plot refers to the sequence of events inside a story which affect other events through the principle of cause and effect." There's none of that here - no inciting incidents, no plot points or plot events, no sequencing or cause and effect, etc. There's no discussion of common plot elements for one plot type or another. Instead, you get one or more keywords as random inspiration.

Ken Wickham's generator tables frequently give you a choice of dice combinations for the table, although without explanation about why you might select one over another. Does he assume that some gamers have limited access to dice? Or is it because the tables are carefully designed according to the shifting odds when you change the dice combinations? If it's the latter, the choices seem odd. Quest and pursuit stories are standard fare, right? Depending on your dice selection, that category could have the highest or the lowest probability, compared to other categories. Or consider the Metamorphosis/Transformation row. Depending on your dice type, it's either impossible to select, or one of the two most likely categories, or somewhere in between. The only die type that gives all categories equal weight and that includes all 144 possibilities is 1d12 for the row and the column. In my experience, you're much more likely to find RPGers who don't understand dice probabilities than you are to find RPGers who have only a limited set of dice.

The main thing to keep in mind is how much you expect from a "plot generator." If a few randomly selected plot-related words will inspire you, you're in luck. If you want more, you need something else.



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
Plot Generator
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Premise: 100 Science Fiction Plot Ideas
Publisher: Dancing Lights Press
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/26/2019 12:19:59

The premise statements lay out clear conflict situations in a single sentence. They're good premise statements. However, a lot of them have little or nothing to do with science fiction in particular. If you're looking for cool science fiction ideas, a lot of the situations will disappoint you. The situations themselves aren't bad. You could still have a good adventure when the PCs have been framed for a crime, for example. I'm just pointing out that the focus is on story ideas more than science fiction ideas.

Probably all of the premise statements are suitable for a single adventure. Many of them could also be turned into longer story arcs or even campaign premises.

The protagonist notes are good. They offer guidance that helps you decide whether the PCs themselves are the protagonists, and whether you'll need any NPCs to be the protagonists or to fill in knowledge or skill gaps for the PCs.

I like having story goals. At least in my games, players usually want something to focus on, whether it's a short-term goal or a long-term goal. A good story goal gives you a concrete way to mark an achievement, whether it's a good success or a "big one that got away" failure. Most of the story goals presented here are good concrete goals that tell you when success has been achieved and the story is over. Where some of the story goals fall short is that they tell you what success looks like, but they don't tell you what failure looks like.

Take stopping an assassination as an example of a good story goal. The objective is to stop an assassination attempt. It's not making sure that the target is never assassinated; it's making sure that a particular assassination plot is foiled. If you foil that particular attempt, you've got concrete success. If the target is assassinated, you've got concrete failure. Either way, you know when the story is over. Compare this to a story about finding something ("a scientific find, a treasure that brings them financial gain, or a personal epiphany that changes their life for the better"). If the PCs find it, you've got concrete success. Failure, however, is left open-ended. The story goal would be stronger if it made failure more concrete, such as needing to find whatever they're after before a certain event occurs. Obviously, you can add concrete failure yourself, but the story goal would have been stronger if it had talked about concrete failure as well as success.

In any event, I take the story goals as initial defaults. In play, the story could take a whole new direction and the players might come up with a different goal. That's all part of the fun too.

The obstacle notes are good. In the space of a paragraph, they suggest the types of obstacles the PCs should encounter, how they might escalate in difficulty, and what the final obstacle to success should be.

The antagonist notes on goals and motivations are also good. Each entry also suggests whether the antagonist should be a recurring character, a new opponent, or either.

All of the guidance is fairly general, and it's up to you to make things specific for your setting. For example: "This premise requires the protagonists to have connection to the tech start-up or its employees. If they do not, be sure to include a supporting character who does and can ask the protagonists for help." You need to fill in the blanks.

The story ideas have varying degrees of replay value. Take the assassination plot as an example. On the one hand, you could have multiple assassination plots, with each one different from the last in some way, but you'd still be doing the same basic story over and over. A go-and-find-the-thing story allows for a lot more variety, so you could probably get a lot more replay value out of that. Nevertheless, even the ones with low replay value don't have to come up very often, given all the other story premises available.

Overall, it's a good mix.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Premise: 100 Science Fiction Plot Ideas
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Sixteen Stars: Creating Places of Perilous Adventure
Publisher: Sine Nomine Publishing
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/23/2019 11:51:18

This does a good job of presenting adventure situations for a science fiction RPG. Like the description says, it's system-neutral. On the sci-fi plausibility scale, it aims for the low-to-moderate range of plausibility. The settings mostly assume interstellar travel by humans to known and unknown planets populated by humans and/or aliens. Many of them are adaptable if you have a sword-and-planet game, such as turning "Derelict Orbital" into a wrecked vessel instead.

The sixteen site types are: Ancient Temples, Asteroid Bases, Barbarian Courts, Bureaucratic Agencies, Colonial Outposts, Derelict Orbitals, Disaster Areas, Doomed Habitats, Hellworld Settlements, Merciless Deserts, Planetary Starports, Prison Colonies, Savage Jungles, Tomb Cities, Vicious Slums, and War Zones.

They're not sixteen specific, mapped locations. There are no maps. There are no individual names of characters, stars, or worlds. There's no description of alien races or specific interstellar organizations. Instead, you get guidelines for creating your own sites and applying your setting's specifics.

Each site type is covered in two pages. The first page offers several paragraphs of guidance on setting up such a site: what purpose it might serve or why it's present, what state it might be in, and so on. The "Dressing the Set" section on the first page walks you through the creation of a conflict situation, using material from the second page.

The second page for each site type consists of tables for choosing or rolling up elements of a conflict situation. First, there's the d10 Adventure Seeds table. It offers five summaries of conflict situations for that site type. For example: "An Antagonist is taking advantage of a Complication in order to progress their plans to seize a Thing being kept at a Place. A local Friend is aware of their scheme, but is unable to intervene directly. Instead, they try to induce the PCs to steal the Thing first and get it offworld before the Antagonist can grab it."

The second page then includes five d8 tables for filling in the blanks in the adventure seed: Antagonists, Friends, Places, Complications, and Things. In the example above, the antagonist might be a hostile native alien leader and the place could be a storehouse of irreplaceable goods. There's a sixth d8 table that answers a question for the site you create, such as "What are they using it for?" or "Why won't they cooperate?" or "Why was this colony founded?"

Replay value should be good, because these aren't individual prefab sites. You could leverage Colonial Outposts to create multiple colonies, for example, or for additional adventures in a colony you used previously. Essentially, you're reskinning every time you use one of the site types. You're not bound by the tables, of course. As you flesh out your campaign, you could use your own Adventure Seeds, Antagonists, Friends, Places, Complications, or Things.

There are no mind-bending science fiction what-ifs or major campaign premises. It's more like you're planning next week's episode of an on-going TV series.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sixteen Stars: Creating Places of Perilous Adventure
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Conversation Guide for Role Playing Characters 3.0
Publisher: ThinkDifferent
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/19/2019 15:56:27

Frankly, if you don't need much help running a petitioner/granter conversation, these templates probably aren't for you. If you sometimes struggle to decide how an NPC reacts in a petitioner/granter conversation, these templates could help.

The title "conversation guide" is a little misleading. First, the document doesn't cover conversations in general. Instead, it specifically covers a petitioner/granter conversation: the petitioner wants something that the granter is potentially ready, willing, or able to do, say, or offer. The granter might or might not grant the request, and there might be enthusiasm, strings attached, or counter-offers.

Second, I'd expect something called a "guide" to have more guidance. This document offers two printable templates with a few examples filled in. That's it. There's no explanatory text beyond that. There's no guidance on persuasion techniques, personality differences, or whatever else you might expect from something called a conversation guide. Also, why are all the sample action verbs marked "X" in the examples but not in the template? It doesn't say. Why does the Capability/Interest/Control Map have three columns, when the middle column isn't labeled, and isn't used in the examples? The bottom row of the middle column is grayed out, implying a use for the middle column, but there's no explanation.

The templates are system-neutral. You might use the templates to come up with your own mechanics for handling these conversations, such as what drives a petitoner to go with an offer vs a threat, or what it takes to get a granter to respond with one answer or another.

If you're planning ahead, you could use the templates to anticipate some potential conversations between the PCs and particular NPCs. If needed, use the Capability/Interest/Control Map to identify what the NPC is ready, willing, and able to offer or threaten and what the NPC wants or needs. Or at least I suppose that's what that template is for. Review the conversation template as a checklist for different levels of response the NPC might have. You could make templates for whole categories of NPCs, such as city guards, a faction, or an organization.

The templates make no distinction between which side is a PC or an NPC. In general (I assume), you'd fill in only the NPC side of the conversation, according to whether the NPC is the petitioner or the granter.

During play, if you've prepared templates ahead of time, you could hold petitioner/granter conversations without having to think through it all on the fly. If you have to make it up on the fly anyway, the templates might serve as a quick checklist for thinking through the possibilities.

The blank templates aren't fillable PDF forms. Either you print them and fill them out by hand, or you make your own documents using the templates as inspiration.

The version 3.1 document is, as the product description says, more printer-friendly. Where the 3.0 dialog template had filled-in silhouettes for the two characters (needlessly using up more toner), the 3.1 version has facial outlines instead. As of the time I'm writing this, the preview shows the 3.1 version. The content is identical otherwise, including the example comment in which one character offers a bribe by saying "My pursue is not light."



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Conversation Guide for Role Playing Characters 3.0
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Building Characters [Black Box Edition]
Publisher: Dancing Lights Press
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/11/2018 20:13:23

Although the subtitle is "for Writers and Roleplayers," I'm reviewing it from the RPG perspective. This is DriveThruRPG, after all.

Take to heart the message from the "How to Use This Book" section: "There are many elements that go into the creation of a great character. All are optional." The book would be WAY overkill if you applied every element to even a few characters. As the old quote goes, "Perfection is achieved not when there's nothing left to add, but when there's nothing left to take away" (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in case you're wondering).

I'll sum up first, and then get to some details. To sum up: The descriptions of 24 different character roles is the best part. A lot of the other sections make up potentially handy checklists, but there's a lot of unnecessary, redundant, or excessive description. Those sections could have been much shorter without a loss of information.

Things to like about the book:

  • It's system-neutral and setting-neutral.
  • The descriptions of 8 protagonist types and 8 antagonist types are very good. For each type, you get a useful one-paragraph overview, examples of the type from popular media, a description of the type's values, and how others perceive the type. Another interesting element is that you get a "supporting cast" for each type - the interactions a given type is likely to have with other types. This is all great material for making an interesting character. This is mainly for a player creating a PC or a GM creating a major NPC.
  • The 8 supporting types are also helpful. For each of these, you get a discussion of how the type interacts with a main character, examples from popular media, and a description of why you might want such a character in the story. This is mostly about secondary NPCs.
  • The good part of the Dimensions chapter is that it's a checklist of things to consider when describing your character's "physiology, sociology, and psychology." It's also a 14-page temptation into overkill. Only include the elements that will help you run the character in an interesting way.

Things I liked less about the book:

  • The subtitle, "for Writers and Roleplayers," sounds like scope creep. There are things that would matter to a fiction writer that generally don't matter in an RPG. For example, a writer might spend many a paragraph throughout a story just on a character's thoughts and feelings, and how they evolve. In an RPG, you spend no time watching a character ponder. Fiction writing and RPG characters aren't the same thing. If there's too much irrelevant stuff to wade through, the whole work becomes harder to use, and therefore less useful.
  • I found the the section on "Stages of Life" to be overkill. Do we really need explanations of how a child is different from a young adult, who's different from a much older person? At 8 pages, it's both too much and too little - too much if you're thinking "Yes, I know the difference between a child and an elderly person," or too little if you want to pursue all the nuances and complexities of a given age level.
  • The "Motivations" chapter also felt like overkill. Now, you may well want to understand a character's motivations. However, if that character fits one of the 24 types described earlier, you've already got a decent idea of the character's motivations. Also, the motivations get excessive description. Take the Stakes element, for example, which is under Goals, which comes under Motivations. If your character has Stakes at the Low Stakes level: "Neither the reward nor the consequence will have much impact on anyone." Maybe that's there for some desire for completeness, but if the stakes are that inconsequential, don't include them! The whole motivation section could have been a lot shorter not by describing all five levels of every motivation, but by listing only the useful descriptions, the ones that show that one motivation or another is compelling, not useless.
  • The "Aptitudes" chapter also felt like overkill. It discusses 10 different aptitudes - body, empathy, language, etc. - but I found most of it unnecessary for RPG purposes. Besides, if a character has "Below Baseline Nature Aptitude," I already get that he doesn't know much about nature. I don't need extra description to explain that.
  • The "Experiences" chapter offers a list of skill categories: Academic, Athletic, Creative, etc. Getting that down to specific skills for your character and your setting is up to you (as it should be, because this work is setting-neutral). Maybe a checklist of skill areas would be helpful to you, but chances are, you already have skill lists in place if you need them, so you wouldn't need this chapter. By the way, this is another chapter that could have been a checklist, but instead it goes into excessive, repetitive description.
  • "Resources," like the other chapters, is over-described. Maybe it's a good checklist of the types of resources a character might have or lack, but each item was overdescribed. Besides, once you've developed a basic concept of the character, most of these resource items are going to be fairly obvious.
  • "Wonders" felt too generic. It brushes by the topic of adding magic, psychic powers, or superpowers to a character, but with no actionable content.

All in all, the book is worthwhile for the character types at least, but it could have been a lot shorter and more tightly written.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Building Characters [Black Box Edition]
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Setting Design [Black Box Edition]
Publisher: Dancing Lights Press
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/08/2018 14:33:34

While the subtitle is "for Writers and Roleplayers," I'm focusing solely on the RPG aspect.

What this is:

  • It focuses on story-driven setting design instead of a top-down approach (starting at the world level then drilling down into local details) or bottom-up approach (starting at the local level and then expanding from there). The story-driven approach has you focus on the story you want to tell. You include elements that help create and/or resolve conflicts for that story. The idea scales well. You could be working on a single story or a grand campaign arc.
  • It's game system-neutral and genre-neutral.
  • You could use these guidelines for building a very plot-oriented campaign or a very loose, player-driven campaign. You could have a very tight premise statement that supports a single story ("A group of strangers who met at an inn must defend a caravan from bandits as they travel to the big city") or a more open-ended premise statement that gives players a lot of leeway ("The crew of a starship patrols unexplored space seeking scientific discoveries and first contact with alien races").
  • The 10 main setting elements it covers are: premise, genre, place and time, theme, stakes, locations, people, technology, events, and vocabulary. Each element gets its own chapter. The writer invites you to "Use as many elements as you choose. Skip over any that don’t resonate with you, or fit the project you’re working on."
  • The premise chapter is particularly important for the story-driven approach. I'd compare the premise statement to a logline for a TV series or a movie. The premise chapter helps you craft a premise statement, with examples. It gives you a checklist of things needed to support your premise statement: characters, goals, obstacles, and setting elements.
  • Each setting element chapter discusses things you should consider as you pin down the particulars of each setting element. Each chapter ends with a list of questions for reviewing how your choices for this chapter stack up against the other nine setting elements. For example, in the chapter on Place and Time, one of the review items is how place and time interact with the stakes. It includes questions like "What stakes are specific to this particular place and time, as opposed to any other?" These questions help you integrate your choices into a whole that serves the story you want to tell.
  • You could go through the chapters in pretty much any order. You probably have at least the germ of an idea: a place and time, a culture, a technology, etc. Start with the chapter corresponding to that idea, and then hop around the other chapters as needed. Each chapter helps you build on whatever you've created so far.

What this isn't:

  • This work is story-driven, but not plot-driven. That is, it focuses on creating the environment in which your story will operate. It's not about building plots: no plot outlines, no scene lists or story beats, no plot points, no division of a story into acts, etc. The same publisher has other offerings about building plots. This work is just about the setting.
  • There are no tables for rolling up particulars about your world.
  • There are no map creation guidelines.
  • This isn't a reference source for world-building. There are some broad descriptions of things like climate, terrain, and culture, but only to the extent that you consider them as you establish your setting. You'll need other works if you want more details on those topics.


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Setting Design [Black Box Edition]
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FREE d20 to FATE Conversion Guide
Publisher: Adamant Entertainment
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/06/2018 08:29:06

This conversion guide is now somewhat dated. The guide was released in 2007 (11 years ago as I write this). That's right about when Evil Hat started using Fate (the word) instead of FATE (the acronym). More to the point, it's 6 years before Fate Core and Fate Accelerated were released, and it's when d20 3.5 was the latest d20 release.

The guide is most useful if you're converting from d20 Modern to Spirit of the Century. It has you create up to 10 aspects, just as you'd get for a player character in SotC. It maps d20 Modern skills to SotC skills.

If you're not specifically converting from d20 Modern to SotC, this guide won't do much for you. You'll have to come up with your own skill mappings. The Fate "aspect economy" in Core and Accelerated would have you create no more than 5 aspects instead of 10. You'd come up with your own conversions for creating stress tracks. You could still use the guide's conversions from d20 ability modifiers to levels on the Fate ladder. The guide already suggests that you create Fate stunts from scratch instead of trying to convert anything to stunts, so that guidance can still be applied to newer editions of Fate.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
FREE d20 to FATE Conversion Guide
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Situation Aspect Cards (for Fate)
Publisher: Nothing Ventured Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/29/2018 14:12:47

I was a little disappointed in the cards, but maybe that's a matter of mismatched expectations. I was hoping it would be a rich set of situation aspects usable in a variety of settings. Instead, it seems more like a sampler pack - possibly useful as inspiration for creating your own.

There are 10 cards for environmental conditions. Most of them cover a scattered handful of specific weather conditions. I'd have used one card for weather, say, "Severe Weather," letting you adapt it to your setting. The other environmental cards offer a small sampling of environmental conditions. Again, they were a little over-specific. For example, instead of having two cards for different ways to have poor visibility, I'd have gone with "Poor Visibility" as one card, leaving you to adapt it for your setting. Your campaign probably has a lot of variety in your locations, but the environmental condition cards would be applicable to only a small subset of them. A better mix, if I had to squeeze a broadly useful set of environmental conditions into 10 cards, would have included other circumstances that could apply across a variety of settings, such as "Poor Footing" or "No Room for Vehicles" or "Creepy Surroundings."

The 10 personal condition cards are a decent mix, because they're more widely applicable to the things that can happen to characters, regardless of your setting. All the same, one could easily double the number of persoal conditions, especially if you have setting-specific conditions. D&D5e, for comparison, lists 15 personal conditions: 13 that are applicable across almost any setting, and two that are specific to a D&D-like setting.

The 10 social conditions aren't bad. Well, 9 of them actually. One of them had me wondering how it counted as a social condition. Anyway, they're not bad, but again, one could easily imagine some common social conditions that aren't represented here.

The 10 danger cards are good about covering a variety of settings, but as above, you could easily come up with dangers that aren't covered in these cards.

Bottom line: Don't expect this deck to stand in for coming up with your own situation aspects. It's effectively a sampler pack. Maybe you'll say "It's raining hard" and then you'll remember there happens to be a card that covers specifically that. Or maybe you'll say "The undergrowth makes progress difficult" and there won't be a card for that. The cards aren't bad, just eclectic.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Situation Aspect Cards (for Fate)
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Plot Twists
Publisher: McDonald Publishing
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/27/2018 23:28:56

It's a good mix of twists. If you think of a plot twist as a "wow this changes everything" moment, well, not all of the entries are radical changes, but there's still a good mix. If you need a truly radical twist, you might need to reroll/redraw, or you might need to think up a way to turn a seemingly mundane event up to 11.

Each entry gets a title and a one-line description. The titles are often self-explanatory on their own. The descriptions are pretty clear about what the twist is. The descriptions leave room for interpretation, as they should. For example, when "extreme natural weather" crops up, it's on you to decide what sort of weather that is.

Most of the twists are genre-neutral. Several of them assume magic or the supernatural. All of the twists are game system-neutral.

Virtually all of the twists are suitable for a mid-adventure twist: twists that are revealed somewhere in the midst of the adventure. Some of them are suitable for the start of an adventure - things you could find out right off the bat (for example, learning that there's a great distance to travel). Only a few of them are suitable for end-of-adventure zingers (e.g., finding out there's no reward after you've accomplished your mission).

Some of them are good for unplanned, unexpected events, so it's no big deal to have them pop up randomly during an adventure. A change in the weather is one example. Other twists are revelations of something that should have been true all along, such as finding out you've been dealing with an imposter. Those might be better as planned twists instead of random twists, if you want to avoid the risk of creating inconsistencies.

The setting-specific dice roll columns are a nice touch. Each column is a d1000 column. The Random column gives you the full range of 150 twist types. The Underground, Wilderness, Large Urban Area, and Small Urban Area columns include only the applicable twists for locale in question. The User column is blank so you can write in your own list of probabilities for the entries you want to allow.

Including pages for printing the twists on business card stock is another nice touch. Using cards makes it fairly easy to exclude the cards you'd consider irrelevant. They recommend Avery 3612 printer stock, but it seems that Avery no longer offers the 3612 stock (8-up business cards). Avery has other 8-up business card stock now, but I haven't tried them with this PDF. The PDF includes a page of blank cards (blank except for the frame around the twist's text) in case you want to make up your own twist cards. There's also a page of card back images.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Plot Twists
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Fate Solo
Publisher: Cabbage Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/22/2018 21:07:00

It could really use an editor's hand to clarify the text.

Things you might like:

  • What it comes down to is that if you're looking for a solo GM emulator that uses Fate dice instead of other dice, here you go. Given that there are dice apps and online dice rollers, and given that many RPGers already have an assortment of physical dice, you should have little trouble finding a way to roll dice for some other tool. I don't see much need for a Fate-dice-only tool.
  • You could use Fate Solo for Fate Core or Fate Accelerated. The character creation section is written for Fate Core, but it wouldn't be hard to adapt it for Fate Accelerated.

Things you might not like:

  • If you're not already familiar with solo RPG play, solo oracles, and so on, this isn't the place to start. This isn't an introduction to solo RPG play. You already need to know how you'd use a solo oracle before you can make sense of this document. That prerequisite should be called out in the product description.
  • If you're not already up to speed on Fate Core, this isn't the place to start. You need a decent familiarity with Fate Core before you use this. That's another prerequisite that should be called out in the product description. This isn't a stand-alone product.
  • It asks you to use a randomizer "to discover what the modifier means" or "to help frame questions," but it doesn't tell you what a randomizer is, where you might find one, or how you might make your own. It doesn't tell you how a randomizer might explain a modifier or frame a question. Presumably, it's talking about things like the Event Meaning tables from the Mythic Game Emulator, or the situation/adventure generators you can find in various resources. If you already have these other resources, however, why do you need Fate Solo? Your other resources probably use something other than Fate dice anyway, so there goes the "philosophy" of Fate Solo - "That when playing Fate you don't have to pick up non-Fate dice." Is it really so horrible to touch non-Fate dice?
  • There's no explicit explanation of the notation used in the oracle, which is an odd omission for a core tool. The text gets around to telling you that the number of pluses or minuses is the number of "surprise factor" rolls to make, but it doesn't tell you how to handle Yes+ vs Yes-, for example. It doesn't tell you if Yes+ and Yes++ differ in ways other than the number of surprise rolls. One can guess that Yes+ means "Yes, in a beneficial way" while Yes- means "yes, but there's a catch." Or maybe it means that if there's a surprise, Yes+ is a beneificial surprise while Yes- is a problem surprise. Either way, leaving the notation to guesswork is still an odd omission.
  • It's odd that the "first non-blank dice" helps you pick between two options. Does the author expect you to roll your four Fate dice one at a time, every time?
  • The surprise factor description could definitely use some editorial help to clarify the text. In essence, the chance for a plot twist increases the longer you go without one.
  • If you want help using the oracle to establish a game world, a campaign story arc, a short-term story arc, or a scene, too bad. This doesn't offer any help with any of that.
  • The interview, which takes up roughly half of the page count, has a lot non-nutritive filler ("great to be here," "umm," etc.). It includes some brief, limited comments on forming questions and runnnig NPCs, but that information should be incorporated into the description of the solo engine. The interview itself isn't important. (Or if the author considers the interview important, he should give the context - who the interviewer was, and when, where, and why this interview was conducted. As presented, it's an anonymous interviewer without any context. Maybe it's the author's own hypothetical interview?)

The more I look at solo engines for use with Fate, the more I've realized that Fate doesn't need an outside solo engine. Fate's own discussion of "Scenes, Sessions, and Scenarios" gives you questions to pose. Aspects can describe a situation and assert truths about the setting. The Create an Advantage action lets you create aspects on the fly, and you might or might not get the answer you were hoping for. You've got everything you need to ask and answer questions, without an outside oracle. You can use "Create an Advantage" for meta-questions (questions about the situation instead of actions your character carries out), and there's your oracle.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Fate Solo
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The Covetous Poet's Adventure Creator and Solo GM Guidebook
Publisher: Covetous Poet Publishing
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/07/2018 18:32:18

I'm always on the lookout for tools to give me fresh inspiration in creating adventures. This is a decent tool. Is it better than other such tools? Hard to say.

Things you might like:

  • It's system-neutral.
  • It includes genre-specific charts for fantasy, horror, and sci-fi. The Covetous Poet blog adds free superhero and mystery charts. The Kickstarter page adds a free spy genre.
  • The genre-specific charts have lots of entries (but see my other remarks farther down). Opposition table: dozens. Motivations (for your antagonist): 100+. Themes: a few hundred. Complications: 100+. Locations: 200+. Plot devices: a few hundred.
  • There are a few genre-independent tables (events, challenges, etc.). These figure into the plot creation process. They can also be helpful if you're inclined to provide your own genre-specific details, using these genre-neutral tables to tie them together.
  • It walks you through using the tables to create a three-act structure.
  • It discusses alternative structures (though in less detail), such as a one-act structure that could work in a single session, or formats combining short-term and long-term stories.
  • It includes an answer oracle for solo play. You could also use it for GMless play or as a GM aid.
  • If you like the Action + Thing model for inspiration, each genre has such tables.
  • You might find the Location chapter helpful. It offers a few paragraphs each on a dozen or so location types - the sorts of people you'd find there, what happens there routinely, etc. If you need great detail, this chapter won't be enough for you, but you might find a high-level overview helpful.

Things you might not like:

  • The tables don't help you apply motifs across tables. For example, if you want to tie everything to a certain terrain type, or a particular mood, or a particular type of opponent, you're on your own. (To me, any advice to "just keep rerolling" indicates a design flaw in the tables.)
  • Similarly, the tables don't tie into each other. For example, your Theme might be Man vs Nature, but none of the other tables make use of your chosen theme. It's completely on you to figure out how your theme affects anything else. Again, either pick without rolling or you're stuck with the "just keep rerolling" approach.
  • The answer oracle is a basic yes/no oracle at a few levels of probability, with a chance for an Interruption roll. If you want something more nuanced, you'll want another solo engine.
  • If you're not easily inspired by Action + Thing rolls, these tables might be problematic for you. They're not terribly orthogonal. For example, many of the actions are applicable to people, places, OR things, while many of the Thing rolls are also people, places, OR things. Many combinations won't make much sense. Ambush Ambush? ("Ambush" is on both tables) Estimate Chef? Befriend ID Card? The more you wind up rerolling, the more the tables have wasted your time instead of helping you.
  • The PDF isn't bookmarked or cross-referenced. The table of contents isn't linked.
  • While having lots of table entries can seem like a good thing at first, there are potential problems too. You want the difference between one entry and another to be significant, as in "Wow, that completely changes things." Take taverns on the Fantasy Locations table, for example. When there are several entries that are different terms for the same thing or something only slightly different, you've cluttered the table, not improved it. A nice clean table would combine entries that don't add much separately.
  • The distinctions between some of the tables gets blurry. There's overlap among Complications, Plot Devices, Interruptions, Events, and Challenges. This reduces variety (because of the overlaps), creates conflicts (when tables contradict each other), and adds to the chore (because you could bounce from table to table if you're trying to shake things up but you keep rerolling until you find an outcome you like).
  • The Adventure Creator's "how not to railroad" material seems a little thin. Railroading is a risk of any plot creation method, if you force the PCs into a particular plotline no matter what they do. You can prepare extra scenes to cover various possibilities, and then use or adapt the ones you need during play, but I still think the document could have included more material on how to strike a good balance between plotted events and player agency.
  • The Character Companion chapter is nothing new, just the usual list of system-agnostic traits you'd find in any of a zillion other character trait generators.
  • The project's blog archive says the last posting was July 2014 - no updates in four years, so apparently there's no new content in the works.
  • The blog site's Bonus Materials / New Adventure Sheets entry has no content. You could instead print the blank sheets at the end of the document and write on them. I'm not aware of any form-fillable PDF versions, Word templates, or the like.
  • The document could use a trip through a spell-checker.


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Covetous Poet's Adventure Creator and Solo GM Guidebook
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