Vires et Honos: Actual Play (Session 2)

Vires et Honos 002 Actual Play

NOTE: I’ve remastered these, but I’m still working on recording settings. You may need to play at higher than normal volume to hear clearly.

“Vires et Honos,” is an actual play of a Savage Worlds, Weird Wars Rome game set in Britain during the time of the building of Hadrian’s wall.


The characters follow the trail to a village on the edge of the swamp. There they find some of the missing supplies, and danger. Following the trail deeper into the swamp they find that some legends, are in fact true.


Morrigan Mhoireibh (Gina Ricker)

Tribune Quintus Aurelius Domaticus (Tim Huntly)

Decanus Tiberious Aurelius Kato (Will Huggins)

Miles Gregarius Cassius Horatius Rufinus (Morgan Ellis)

GM (Jason Tryon)

Special thanks to Pinnacle Entertainment group for Savage Worlds, Weird Wars Rome, and the music heard on this recording.

Special thanks to Platemail Games for the sound effects.

Vires et Honos: Actual Play

Vires et Honos 001 Actual Play

“Vires et Honos,” is an actual play of a Savage Worlds, Weird Wars Rome game set in Britain during the time of the building of Hadrian’s wall.


The characters arrive in their fort, set up camp and settle in. Their first assignment is to recover a wagon load of stolen supplies the men who were to be guarding the supplies are secondary. Setting out in search of the missing supplies they find more than they anticipated mostly in terms of trouble. Some of their number begin to show their mettle, while others have lessons yet to be learned.


Morrigan Mhoireibh (Gina Ricker)

Tribune Quintus Aurelius Domaticus (Tim Huntly)

Decanus Tiberious Aurelius Kato (Will Huggins)

Miles Gregarius Cassius Horatius Rufinus (Morgan Ellis)

GM (Jason Tryon)

Special thanks to Pinnacle Entertainment group for Savage Worlds, Weird Wars Rome, and the music heard on this recording.

Special thanks to Platemail Games for the sound effects.

Savage Cyberpunk – Actual Play

Savage Cyberpunk Session1 (mp3)

When our Deadlands game wound up, I asked the players what they wanted next. A discussion with my better half, ok really she’s the better 7/8ths of this pair, but I digress, lead to the idea that we would do shorter more defined campaigns rather than the monolithic unending campaign with which we’re all so familiar. The group decided on a Bladerunner-esque Cyberpunk game and to continue with Savage Worlds as our game system.

Session 0 yielded the following:

  1. Bladerunner-esque with sort of a noir feel.
  2. Cybernetics are a real thing and not uncommon though some people have a negative reaction.
  3. Pit fighting gladiatorial arenas are the biggest spectator sport.
  4. Replicants exist but are negatively thought of.
  5. Clones exist, but cloning humans is technically illegal.

The resulting characters turned out to be the pretty typical net running group:

  1. Hacker
  2. Drone Jockey
  3. Street Samurai
  4. Hunter Killer
  5. Assassin
  6. Childlike Replicant with a doll fetish

The attached mp3 is session 1 of the campaign in its unedited (who has time for editing) raw form which I prefer because it gives more of the impression of the game play (including distractions and unassociated sounds).

Hope you enjoy,


Actual Plays from OrcCon 2015

I ran these games at OrcCon 2015 in Los Angeles, CA.

Carnivale (mp3)

Carnivale is a gothic horror game set in the Ravenloft game setting and played using the Fate Core rules. Travelling the highways and byways of the lands between Barovia and the Sea of Shadows entertaining the masses, lightening their hearts and their purses. You see things that the everyday people do not. They call your kind vagabonds, gypsies and worse, but you’ve seen the shadows that lay across the land, the dark heart pumping its ichor into the nooks and crannies of existence befouling the very air that you breathe. You call yourselves Vistani and you have seen things that the townsfolk fear to utter even in the safety of their homes. But, will even the mighty Vistani survive the storm brewing in the mists?  Carnivale is a gothic horror fantasy game set in Ravenloft, the Domain of Dread.

Thieves’ World (mp3)

Thieves’ World is a gritty fantasy game set in Sanctuary, the city of the, “Thieves’ World,” books. Welcome to Sanctuary. Oh don’t worry, Sanctuary is perfectly safe, just keep your hands near your weapons and your eyes open, oh and you might want to stay away from the Maze at night. Make sure you stop by the Vulgar Unicorn for a pint though, there’s always a good story to be heard there. Sanctuary is always dangerous, but something dark is moving in the shadows and narrow alleys, something that has even the most hardened of Sanctuary’s denizens afraid. Many people have left or are making plans to leave and those that remain talk of the end of the world. Thieves’ World is a gritty street level fantasy setting based on the book series.

GameX 2015 Wrap Up

GameX 2015 Recap

I could spend some time waxing rhapsodic about how awesome the weekend was, but nobody really wants to read that, so let’s just get down to the important thing, the games.

Voyages of the Starship Loki (Fate Core, Me, Friday 2pm)

Lately I’ve been very curious about how games would work in different game systems, so for the last couple of cons I’ve been taking a game I ran in one system and running it again in a different system. For this convention I picked a Star Trek-esque sci-fi game that I originally ran in Hero System and re-ran it in Face Core. It would be difficult to find two more different game systems, but interestingly the game play was very much like it was the first time. (More about that in a minute) I am abjectly flattered and humbled by the caliber of players that I get. Eric, Hamish, Dana and Morgan you guys totally made this game.


  • Sven Ericksson (Morgan), the dashing Nordic captain of the TEV Loki.
  • Siobhan Westerbridge (Hamish), the fanatical imperial ideologue and political officer.
  • Dryx (Dana), the alien science officer from the Tualla, a spiritual fish based people.
  • Gregory Fielding (Eric), the brilliant but idealistic young ship’s doctor.

Even at hyperspace speeds it takes a fair amount of time to get between star systems so the crew started the game as their ship’s AI (Eve) woke them from cryo-sleep with the news that they were entering a system with an interesting planet. As this fit right into their mandate to find new planets for the Terran Empire to colonize they set to work finding out about the system, and the 4th planet that seemed to fit into the standards for human habitation. Closer inspection indicated an M type planet with atmosphere and gravity within the acceptable ranges and signs of habitation. In fact it appeared that there was right then a battle going on in orbit around the planet. A fleet of smaller ships attacked a single larger ship. The pc’s, faced with a conflict between an offshoot race of humans that are misguided offspring of clones created in a secret experiment, and an insect like race that really just wants to live peacefully and not be bothered, have to navigate this problem and find a solution. What that solution might be is up to them to figure out. This was a great game with amazing players. Interestingly they followed essentially the same path as the original game.

Falling Stars (Classic Traveller, Chris Kubasik, Friday 8pm)

It’s been a long time since I got to play classic Traveller, and this game didn’t disappoint. Chris is a great story teller and a great gm. Add to that the total fun of making (and killing off) characters during character generation and you have an evening of rollicking fun and laughs.

Kingsman (Fate Core, Me, Saturday 9am)

Not often do I walk out of a theater already planning how I’m going to make a game out of what I just saw, but Kingsman was an exception. It so completely lends itself to a role playing game that I simply could not pass up on it.


  • Lancelot (Robert), the leader of the group who solves problems in his own … particular … ??? … (idiom sir?) … yes yes idiom.
  • Percival (Mook), earnest champion of justice who comes from more humble beginnings than the other Kingsman.
  • Galahad (Robert Q), The pure hearted lion of good who really doesn’t want to fight, but when he does …
  • Bohrs (Matt), Doggedly determined defender of the Realm

Warned of a threat to the crown by unknown parties the Kingsman set out to find out who’s making this threat and how serious it is. After explosions, firefights, quite a bit of snappy banter, one crashed blimp, and a plunge from a third story window resulting in the bad guy being impaled on a stray halberd the Kingsman once more saved the realm from disaster. I cannot say often enough how fortunate I am in the players that I get. These guys brought my paltry little story to life and made it truly amazing. They perfectly captured the spirit and the flavor of Kingsman. My only regret is that I’d forgotten my digital recorder so I didn’t get a recording of this game.

Wages of Despair (Bulldogs!) (Bulldogs! Fate, Morgan Ellis, Saturday 8pm)

Ok, how can you not enjoy playing a psychotic teddy bear with an affinity for arson? Admittedly there were some rough spots in this game caused by a player who ultimately left the game, but aside from that it was a spectacular game, which is no less than what I expect from a gm the likes of Morgan Ellis. You just can’t argue with a universe with murderous teddy bears, space Nazis, three armed three legged aliens, plant people and assorted other interesting folks. A bit of a darker spin flavored with “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Wages put us into a starship built from cast off parts and leftover junk and IF we managed to survive we would arrive just in time to get jumped for our insanely volatile cargo. Never underestimate the ingenuity of player characters though, particularly when we’re sitting on a 40-megaton cargo of anti-matter. Not only did we manage to survive we convinced our company man captain to go in with us and embark on a life of space piracy.

Vinternacht (Fate Core, Me, Sunday 9am)

I like Vikings, so sue me. The idea of a group of related Vikings; an aging warrior, his grown daughter, her son, and the mother of her murdered husband trying to survive in the village against the soldiers loyal to the Earl who wants them dead interested me. When I wrote this game I had an uncharacteristically clear idea of how I thought the game might progress. That should have been a warning to me that I was totally wrong which I of course was. Instead of fleeing the village they immediately went to retrieve the body of their fallen and were attacked by the Earl’s men. Having survived this fight did they run? No, of course not, instead, they took the body and went to confront the Earl, and incense the town against the unjust rule of the Earl. Now, admittedly I expected that to happen, but not until later in the game. Not long afterwards, the Earl dead, his wife and son fled with the remains of his guard, and the town literally calling for on of the player characters to take up the Earl’s seat, the characters set off in pursuit of the escaping wife of the earl and her son, another case of truly spectacular players making gold out of my little idea for a game. This game focuses around a character who never appears in person in the form of Torkel, a mighty and well respected warrior and leader, murdered by the Earl’s men because they fear his ambition.


  • Brigga (Robert), the wife of Torkel, shield maiden and mother.
  • Einar (Matt), the son of Torkel who will in time become Earl when he is grown.
  • Hrannulf (Mook), the father of Brigga, an aging warrior who though past his prime still has plenty of fight in him.
  • Alfhildr (Tomes), the mother of Torkel and the wise woman of the village who’s clever use of the runes and her knowledge of the townsfolk allowed her to rouse the town against the Earl.

This game was my personal highlight of the convention. All the other games I played in or ran were wonderful and fun and awesome, but this one was truly spectacular in how the players took hold of the game and poured themselves into it.

The Fall of Galactor (GURPS, Mook, Monday 9am)

Take a trip back to the 70’s, and jump into the Phoenix, the amazing flaming airplane piloted by a group of plucky teenagers who protect the world from the evil forces of Galactor, then throw in a bunch of punchy gamer murder hobos on a Monday morning at the tail end of con and the result is a magical mingling of dark humor, psychotic murder and infantile humor. The game was totally awesome as any game run by the incomparable Mook is going to be. It was the perfect way to end the con with mayhem and fun.

Mook is the grand master of game prep and if you’ve never had the opportunity to see his setup, you are totally missing out. When I grow up as a gm I know what I want to be.

Final Thoughts and Parting Shots

GameX 2015 was a great time and tons of fun. It’s always a blast to get to see people that I only see at conventions and to play with people I don’t get many opportunities to play with. If you’ve never been to a Strategicon event I highly recommend going.

Cheers, see you at Gateway.



About Characters: Purpose

Gunfire erupted all around them driving the pair back into the erstwhile cover of the stacked and piled luggage belonging to other travellers on the train. Chill air whipped around them setting Ilse’s pale blonde hair to tossing erratically. Bullets had already shattered the luggage car’s few windows and even at the speeds the train was travelling through the Alps snow whipped through the windows. Blake pulled another magazine from his pocket, the British made pistol barking twice as he returned fire at the Nazi thugs driving them under cover as well.

“If we don’t move now,” his voice was hard to hear over the roar of wind even though he shouted, “we won’t be moving at all.” Behind him he could feel Ilse nod and tighten her grip on her own pistol. Firing twice more Blake bolted from the cover of the luggage to a narrow gap between two racks further on in the car and just as the nazis opened fire again he felt Ilse duck into place behind him and fire twice herself narrowly missing the German soldiers.

Two more times the pair raced from cover to move forward in the car towards their ultimate goal, the safe containing the Nazi plans for the super airplane that would make them invincible conquerors of Europe if not the world.

Blake rounded the last rack of luggage ready to open fire on the nazis when he felt a sharp pain blossom in the small of his back. How had one of the nazi’s gotten behind him he wondered feeling the blade of the knife probe more deeply into his back.

“I’m sorry darling,” Blake’s storm grey eyes widened at Ilse’s whispered voice in his ear her warm breath even now sending his mind to reeling, “we couldn’t allow you to succeed, the Fuhrer simply wouldn’t understand.”

Making characters for a convention game or a one shot where we (the gm) are providing the characters is quite a bit different from creating a character that we will play as part of a campaign, or even from a character that we make for someone else to play in a campaign that we’re running. The purpose of this open ended series of articles is to discuss aspects of creating characters for convention games and to illustrate how I address those aspects with characters that I create. As this series progresses we will create a group of six characters for a convention game. It is worth noting that this process is entirely system agnostic. Where system specifics are used they are for descriptive purposes and we will make note of the system and how the same aspect can be expressed in other game systems as well.

The Game

If we’re going to discuss the characters we need to have some idea of what the game is. For our example we’ll use a pulp spy thriller set in pre-WWII Europe so here’s a description of our game.

The treaty forced on the Germans by the allies at the end of WWI left a bitter and defeated people in Germany. The world wide catastrophe that history will call, “The Great Depression,” did nothing to make things easier for the German people. Adolf Hitler preaches unity to a people who very much need something to believe in, and National Socialism is born. Wary of the growing power of the Nazi party the allies have assembled a group to infiltrate and keep a watchful eye on the Germans and the Germany that they fear will grow from the ashes of WWI.

So, the pc’s will be spies from any allied country who can somehow fit into German society and go (hopefully) unnoticed. They will need to have a broad range of skills and some of the skills should probably overlap.

We could start throwing characters together and giving them attributes and skills, but that doesn’t really help us to make sure that each character actually gets their highlight moment(s). So, we’re going to save that for later and focus on some different aspects of the characters. By doing this it may very well inform choices we make later for things like abilities and disadvantages.

The Characters

The first thing we want to know about each character is, “What is their purpose to the story?” This is not a matter of what is their character class. Even if we are using a game system that has character classes, that is a question we will answer later. What we want to know right now is why are they part of this story? What is it that we expect them to do in the story?

There are lots of roles that a character may take in the story and lots of ways to express them. To give us some commonality and structure to what we’re doing we’re going to use literary terms for our example. In his article, “Eight Character Roles,” [“Eight Character Roles”;, Tim Stout] Tim Stout lists (you guessed it) eight character roles. For our purposes we will use his roles, but provide more game related descriptions.

  1. Protagonist – The protagonist drives the story. Their purpose is to get things moving and keep them moving.

  2. Antagonist – The antagonist also drives the story but they do so in some opposition to the protagonist. They might have their own agenda, or they might just have some reason to do so. (One way this can realize is a character who has some sort of rivalry with the protagonist.)

  3. Mentor – The mentor is a source of wisdom or guidance for the protagonist. They may not drive the story, but they might have the knowledge that allows the protagonist to do so.

  4. Tempter – This is primarily an npc role though not exclusively. The tempter embodies something that might keep the protagonist from driving the story forward.

  5. Sidekick – The sidekick is the helpful person who takes care of the grunt work so the protagonist can shine.

  6. Skeptic – The skeptic doesn’t believe in what’s going on or doesn’t think it’s real. Perhaps they’re along to prove this whole business is wrong, or perhaps they get dragged into it.

  7. Emotional – This character has some emotional tie to the protagonist. They might be a significant other or it might be someone dependant on the protagonist. In any case the emotional character matters to the protagonist somehow.

  8. Logical – The logical character thinks and plans and wants to make sense of everything. Similar to the mentor and the sidekick they are actually here to help the protagonist drive the story forward.

In literature most characters will be very heavily one or another of these roles, but in a game they can be blended together to make things more interesting. There are many different ways to express a character’s purpose in a particular game. What the terms are is not as important as understanding what purpose the character fills in the particular game that we are making.

Consider a character who is the advisor to the protagonist might be both a mentor and an antagonist. All manner of combinations can be used to make characters more interesting.

So let’s come up with some character purposes and see what we get.

We’ll definitely need a protagonist, so we’ll add “him”.

Protagonist – The “leader” of the group he is the one who is contacted directly by the “home office.”

Someone has to be the brains of the outfit so we’ll add a Mentor, but we’ll make him more interesting than just that.

Mentor-Skeptic – The leader’s long time mentor and advisor but he doesn’t believe that the Nazi’s are a threat. (Why does he think there is no threat?)

What sort of pulp game would it be if we didn’t have a love interest?

Emotional-Antagonist – The protagonist’s lover is also trying to undermine the mission without getting caught doing so.

Every pulp hero needs a sidekick.

Sidekick – We could make him more interesting but we’ll leave it for now and see how things progress.

We have to be able to get around so we’ll need someone to handle transportation.

Logical – This guy is pretty simple, just a pilot who’s been assigned to the group. We’ll possibly give him more as we go along.

Logical – Another one who on the surface is pretty simple, she is a weapons expert and demolitions person. She has no particular emotional attachment that we know of yet but she’s been assigned to help the protagonist.

There we go, six characters with six purposes to the story. (Ok, really five because we used one twice.) We also have some idea of who they are already starting to form. No idea what they look like in game terms but we are starting to plant the seeds of ideas. The last three look a little flat so far, but we have opportunities to change that as we move forward.

It is not a bad idea to include principal bad guys at this point because how they figure into the story is really the reason that they exist. Unimportant characters and stuffed shirts can be ignored for now because they will entirely be subject to one of the principals anyway.

By identifying the purpose that each character serves in the story the characters already have greater depth and interest than they would if we threw some stats onto a character sheet and tried to make a story from that.

Final Thoughts and Parting Shots

There are many ways to make characters, and all of them are the right answer in some situations. Working from the standpoint of how the character fits into the story is not always the right answer. Also, just because we used these roles and descriptions for this game does not mean we might not use totally different ones in a different situation.

Hopefully this will give the reader some food for thought and possibly an alternate approach to writing characters for their games.

Next we will begin to give them some relationships to one another and even more of the shape of the game will begin to reveal itself.

Being a Review of Hero System 6th Edition by JiB

Hero System Character CreationAs everyone who listens to the podcast or reads my rambling scribbles can probably attest I’ve been learning the Hero game system for the last couple of months since Stu’s Blue Monkeys game at OrcCon. I’ve run several Hero games (mostly Fantasy Hero), and I figured that after running several and talking with players from those games and with GameX going on this weekend this seemed an opportune moment to share my thoughts on Hero System 6th Edition. I’m going to split this up into three parts;

Playing Hero

GM’ing Hero

Resources and Links

First off let me say that this is some heady koolaid. It’s like Koolaid seriously spiked with Russian Vodka. I could say that it’s not for the faint of heart and that wouldn’t be inaccurate, but it’s also not hard to play or to gm. It’s really more like a puzzle box that the basics of operating are very straightforward and easy to work with, but leaning all its nuances and subtleties is going to require some time and effort.

Playing Hero

If the first time player to Hero is in the hands of a gm who knows what they’re doing playing a character is amazingly simple. The basic die mechanic is about as easy as it gets. Roll 3d6 do some quick math and boom success or failure. Here’s the rub to that, it’s that quick math that can become incomprehensible if the gm isn’t on the ball because there are a huge number of things that can come into play and someone has to juggle them all at some point. Now, it should be noted that many of the rules can be treated as “optional” and simply glossed over. Hit location is a good example. If you don’t want to use hit location don’t use hit location, it’s easy enough to just ignore it and assume that all hits are generically to the torso. I will say that the game becomes more interesting as you add in the more involved rules.

Probably the hardest part of the Hero system for the player is actually going to be character generation. For those who play the game at a convention that problem is removed because the gm will create the characters for their game. Which leads me to a serious recommendation for players. Write up your character concept in plain English (or whatever you speak) and let the gm work out the details. Certainly for the first few characters this is a very good idea and I would never try to create a character without gm involvement. So much of what comes up in the game is a result of what the gm has done to cook their game that it’s almost impossible to reliably create a character without gm involvement.

GM’ing Hero

With the enormous wealth of information available for the Hero System 6th Edition it might seem at first look that running a Hero game would be very complicated for the gm. Steven Long and his merry minions at Hero Games have done a spectacular job of creating a very playable game with mechanics and concepts that just work. That’s the thing about Hero, complex as it can be everything just works. This is largely because everything basically works the same way. Pretty much without exception you’re going to roll 3d6 do some math and get a result that will make sense. Die rolls are made at sane times and nothing seems to take very long to resolve. I’ve never had to make more than a couple of die rolls or look in more than one place for an answer. Hero Games provides a wealth of available resources and information from free pdf documents to a very active and vibrant community that is both helpful and knowledgeable makes the learning of the game a much less imposing task.

Without exception the most difficult part of the game system for the gm is game preparation. But even that doesn’t have to be an onerous undertaking. As complex and rich and full as Hero is, there is so much that’s already done that a full game can easily be done without having to make anything yourself. The time and effort investment comes in when you start building custom elements for the game. Let me add at this point that creating custom elements for the game is where the real fun of game preparation can be found. There is something imminently satisfying about custom making powers, effects and anything else for games. Hero provides the ability to create anything for the game. The price for that power is that it’s not necessarily easy or quick to make.

Conclusions and Final Thoughts

I’ve spent two sections of this article talking about how great Hero is, and that’s not about to change. I am going to talk about a couple of things about Hero that are somewhat barrier imposing on players and gm’s wanting to get started with the game. The two things that I think make Hero somewhat difficult to get started with are the absolute wealth of material available. Very productive, Hero Games is constantly putting out new material and updating material for their game. This is great in that there’s a lot to work with and I’m not for one second suggesting that they change. Having so much material makes figuring out where to start (particularly without someone to show the way) a heady task. I’ve spoken with other gm’s’ and players and the most common question I hear (I asked it myself) is what do I need to buy? There’s not a clear cut answer to that question but with some help from wizer heads than mine I have a solution to that problem. Start with the Hero Basic Rules book either on pdf or in hard copy. I like books but the pdf has all the information you really need to get started. From there it’s a pretty easy jump to the other resources available.

The second obstacle is actually in my mind a little more limiting for new players. The numerous and wonderful books that Hero Games provides are not cheesy little digest books poorly put together and poorly laid out. They are heavy weight well bound books that are well thought out, well designed and put together. As such they are not cheap. The character book reminds one of a college textbook for it’s size and mass and tips the cash register at $39.99 retail. Start to build up a collection at all and it represents a fair cash investment. That said, they are worth every penny.

A Couple of Tips and Tricks I’ve Discovered

You may remember that I singled out the hit location rule as one that could be used after getting a little used to the combat system. I have found, what to me is, an easy way to resolve the hit location rule. Allow me to explain. Hit location works thusly; (On a successful attack) Determine the hit location by rolling 3d6 and consulting the hit location table. (It’s located on p. 109 of the Combat and Adventuring Guid) then determine damage as normal. What I’ve taken to doing is instead of rolling 3d6 and then rolling again, I roll 6d6 in two different color bundles one is for the attack and one is for the hit location determination.

Another tip I might suggest is for Knockback. Knockback can occur because of a number of circumstances but most often occurs in super hero based games. Only attacks that do physical damage (should) do knockback but I can think of and have seen cases where it made sense. In essence mental attacks probably don’t do knockback. Knockback is a function of how much body damage is done by the attack. Again having multiple colors of dice can make this easier to keep track of.

Major recommendation. Buy lots of d6’s in lots of different colors.

Resources and Links

Home page for Hero System 6th Edition

Hero Games

Introduction to the Hero Game System


Combat Summary (three page pdf about the combat system … INDISPENSABLE)

Combat Summary

Rules FAQ for Hero System 6th Edition

Rules FAQ

Master Index for Hero System 6th Edition

Master Index

Creating Mystery Games

When we start talking about different types of games certain questions arise right off. What kind of game do we want? Which is followed immediately by what flavor of that type do we want? When it comes to a game based in mystery the possibilities are endless. Your characters could be hard bitten film noir detectives on the trail of a murder in 1950’s New Orleans. They could be ultra-futuristic sci-fi agents trying to unravel who is actually controlling the universal network. They could be fantasy characters trying to find out who kidnapped the duke’s daughter and now holds her for ransom. All of these possibilities and a nearly endless list of variations are possible.

That said, there are some things to keep in mind when crafting and running a mystery game and it is to those topics that I will turn my attention for this article.

An adventure based game can focus on fights and traps and the other “normal” fare of a role playing game. A mystery game, however, is by definition a much more social sort of thing. Encounters are much more likely to involve talking than fighting. Of course there’s nothing wrong with a good row in a mystery game it’s just not the focus of most of the encounters.

We can take most of our cues directly from mystery writers. The things that work for them are going to work for us as well. What sorts of things am I talking about? Good question. What are the things that make a mystery story work? Think back to the last mystery story you read? You haven’t read any. I strongly suggest that you either read mystery fiction or watch mystery movies from the type that you are trying to emulate. But since we’re all here I’ll give you my short course on writing for mystery.

In any good mystery story someone is trying to hide something. Whether they’re trying to hide the murder, or the theft, or the adultery is actually beside the point. The principal question at hand is how are they trying to hide their deeds and what ends will they go to to conceal them?

The key elements in creating a mystery story include:

  • Misdirection
    • Clues that lead to more than one possible person
    • Clues that don’t actually mean anything (red herrings)
    • Clues that indicate something other than what actually happened (a murder disguised as an accident)
  • Obfuscation
    • Hiding clues in story elements that don’t look like clues
    • Clues that don’t look like clues or that don’t look important

Ok, so how do we actually put a mystery game together?

The short form is to start with a crime or some other activity that someone wants to hide. Sprinkle clues to what’s going on around for the player characters to find. Season with red herrings and misdirection. Throw in the player characters. Give it a stir and a shake and let the players have at it.

What will make it work is the atmosphere and the descriptions that the gm gives the players. Remember that a mystery game is more oriented towards social interactions than a typical adventure. I also recommend that in execution the gm lean more towards role play than mechanical resolutions of situations. If a player character tries to intimidate a source or a witness have them role play it then if you want to use a mechanic to decide how the npc responds to it that’s fine but keep the intrusion of mechanics to a minimum in a mystery based game.

What follows is the setup for the mystery game that I ran at OrcCon 2011. One thing to keep in mind is that a mystery game for a convention is very different (and much simpler) than a mystery game for a campaign. The main reason for this is time. At a convention you only have 4 hours or so to do the entire mystery and things always take longer to do at a convention.

Dark Side of Mardi Gras – Setup

Synopsis: A voodoo sorcerer has come from Haiti to New Orleans and is now expanding his power into the black community of New Orleans making young men into zombies to serve him. Note: These are not undead zombies these are living people who’s are essentially being mind controlled. One of the young men was a student of one of the player characters (Prof. Martinsen) he hired a local detective to find out what happened to his student. The detective (Remy LeChance) was getting too close to the truth and the voodoo sorcerer killed him in a voodoo ritual. At the start of the game the player characters have been picked up by the police for interrogation in regards to the murder.


  1. Remy’s notebook (Found in Remy’s Apt) – Remy’s notebook contains notes about this case as well as others he’s working on. Unfortunately Remy doesn’t put headers on the pages of his notebook so only he knows what notes relate to what cases. Some of the clues may seem like they relate to this case when in fact they don’t.
  2. Newspaper (In possession of one of the pc’s at the beginning of the game) – A copy of the New Orleans daily news paper is available and actually contains clues relating to the case at hand (as well as others) which could lead the player character to go and talk to the report that Remy was working with. (If she is being played as a player character give her the information that they would get in the course of talking to her). Whether the player characters connect the news paper story with the case is up to the players to figure out.
  3. Crime scene photos (Found in the police report) – If the player characters managed to get a look at the police report and/or steal one of the crime scene photos it should point them in the direction of some kind of voodoo involvement. Given the time and setting of the game I expect the character to scoff at the idea with the exceptions of Margaret and Prof. Martinsen and possibly Annabelle but let the players go where they will with it.

If not played as player characters the reporter, the professor, and the voodoo priestess will not directly mislead the pc’s but they may not have or may not remember key information unless prompted by the right sort of question. The idea is to lead the pc’s through the story but not to give it away until the very end.

So we have a basic setup for a mystery story. We have a crime, why it was committed and by whom. We don’t really have a cover up but we do have some potentially very misleading information. At the very least there should be enough to give the characters some discussion as to what’s going on and who’s involved.

The Story Evolving

As the player characters work their way through the mystery and begin to unravel the threads of the plot there are some additional tools that we can employ to make the mystery more interesting. Chief among these is the plot twist. A plot twist occurs whenever the path the characters were following suddenly veers off in a direction they did not expect. Perhaps one of the potential suspects is found out to have been having an affair with the victim or they were in business with the victim and the business wasn’t going well. All of the above and many other ideas are all potential plot twists. Red herrings are plot twists that seem very plausible but actually don’t go anywhere and may actually lead the investigators in entirely the wrong direction.

Use red herrings with caution as too many of them and the players will start to lose interest with the story.

The Big Reveal

The big reveal is the moment in the story when the veil of mystery is pulled back and all is laid bare. If the gm has done their job right the players should be just on the edge of making the connections that will reveal all, but there should be some surprises in store at the big reveal. Usually there’s more to it than meets the eye, and there are things revealed that do not fit the expectations of the pc’s.

In the Dark Side of Mardi Gras the big reveal is when the characters confronting the voodoo sorcerer discover that his powers are very real and very dangerous. (Interestingly in actual play the big reveal was not as impactive as I had imagined it would be.)

One word of caution in the big reveal, don’t change the rules of the game on the players at this point. If they aren’t on the right track that’s fine, but don’t lead them down a false path and then in the big reveal make the real villain someone the characters have never encountered or never had reason to suspect. If they missed it that’s their problem but if you don’t give them the clues that might lead them to the real bad guy you’re cheating and the mystery will actually fall flat on its face.


These are my views and techniques for creating a mystery game. Mystery games can be lots of fun regardless of genre or game system. The main things to keep in mind are to keep descriptions lurid and evocative but not definitive. Keep the players guessing by giving them legitimately misleading or confusing information. Give them the clues they need to solve the mystery even if they don’t see them right away or don’t realize the significance of them. Try to hold onto the mystery until the big reveal and keep some surprises in store for the players. Don’t cheat or change the rules on the characters. Remember the goal is for them to solve the mystery.

As always the words expressed in this article are just my opinion, your mileage may of course vary.



Welcome to my little corner of the internet. This blog site has been created with pretty much a single thought in mind. It is a place for me and others who might want to do so to post their thoughts and writings about the art, craft and science of creating, preparing and running table top role playing games. I probably will not publish this until I have at least one article to post. I intend for that to be no later than Saturday or Sunday. For those of you who read my postings at DouchyDM I will continue to post the JiB on GM’ing series there as well as other short pieces. This site is for longer more thought out or more researched topics. That said, I hope I don’t fall into pomposity. That is certainly not my intention. I will rely on you the reader to keep me humble. Comments are most welcome.

I hope there’s something here that will be useful or at least funny to come.