Getting Ready to Run a Game?

Hey, you, GM. GAMEXPO 2017 is around the corner (less than two weeks!). Are your sessions ready to run? I figured as much. That’s why this post is here.

Nick’s got some great points in his post The Noobs Guide to Planning Your RPG Session. He’s talking specifically about a Star Wars game, but I think his concepts apply regardless of what you’re running. I’ll summarize then extemporize. His high level outline is:

  1. Know Your Party, Know Yourself
  2. Make The Hook
  3. Decide Your Mechanics
  4. Make Your Setting
  5. Commit To Your Setting
  6. Free Up Some Workspace

Suggested Re-Ordering

Seems pretty straight forward. Although I might argue that “Make Your Setting” and  “Commit To Your Setting” should be #2 in the order of operations. . .since they sort of dictate what hooks you have available to you and how your players will expect you to implement them.

I like to think of the game and the setting as characters. In Fate Core games, the game is a first order concept with attributes and mechanics of its own, and its a logical extension of the Bronze Rule of Fate: You can treat anything like a character. Hence, I think of the setting as a character:

  • What does it want and why?
  • What does it [look/feel/taste/smell/sound] like and why?
  • What things about it aren’t obvious that the heroes are going to learn (the hard way)?

I’m sure there are lots of other great questions about a setting-character that I should ask, but those are where I start. Oh, and by setting, I mean the overall universe and each location where scenes/encounters will take place. And each one of those is like a genius loci in my mind.

The Real Hook

With regards to hooks, Nick says:

The hook should have three main things. Why they are there, what the problem is, and the cookie.

I think of “hook” differently. These three items of “hook” all boil down to context for the adventure. In regular groups and playtests, I do what Nick suggests and ask the players to figure out why they’re there. (We’re typically using Fate Core, so it’s not an unusual question for the players.) However, in other game systems, the expectations are different, which is compounded by convention play and the possibility of having five or six random strangers at the table.

What I think of as “hook” that’s important for anything, RPG session or otherwise, is what makes it interesting and different from all the other similar things in the list. I’m running two different, all-new adventures this year:

  • Modern Gods (hook: you get to be a street god defending your peepz!)
  • Forcing Function (hook: you’re smuggling are cargo that’s far more valuable than you first thought)

Modern Gods [Modernity/Fate]
Nietzsche was wrong. New gods are born all the time. You know, because you’re one of them! As a modern god, you have power coming out of your nether regions, but. . .You’ve also got responsibilities. The day to day nonsense? No, you’ve got people for that. But, once in a while, something big shows up that your devoted worshipers can’t handle on their own. When that day comes, it’s up to you and your pantheon to get off your thrones, rise up, and smite the usurpers. Today is that day.

Forcing Function [Starcrossed/Fate]
You’re an opportunistic capitalist! Hurtful Translation: Smuggler. After a couple easy years in the biz, thing were going so well! But now, the “job” that was supposed to be a milk run has turned into a looming disaster. Everything that could possibly go wrong already has. Except you’re not dead. Yet. I won’t tell you the odds, but you and your crew have never been caught behind enemy lines in a three-way shooting war with all three sides hunting you for the cargo. What do we do now, Captain?

Deus Ex Mechanics

Nick didn’t spend much time on this, but the fact that he touched on it at all is huge. Too many GMs (myself included sometimes) don’t think about each encounter and the likely game mechanics that may be necessary. Little things like changing the encounter balance to intentionally easy once in a while can add a lot of flavor to the game–not every fight needs to be a fighting-for-their-lives encounter for the heroes. Let them show off sometimes.

In the mechanics department, especially for convention play, I also highly recommend figuring out where you can fast forward if you’re burning through your time budget too fast. There are ways to turn long encounters into more manageable contests or challenges without making the players feel cheated.

Last Laughs

All up, Nick’s article’s a good reminder of the fundamentals and a helpful outline. If you didn’t wander off and read it already, go do so now.

Unite Austin 2017 recap

Bear in mind, this is my perspective as an indie looking to invade the mobile gamespace in 2018. I’ve been cyberstalking Unity 3D and lurking around their booths at other game conventions for years and fiddled with the tools, but now it’s wave-or-salute time. From that perspective, this was my first in-person all-Unity event.

tldr; They did well. Not perfect, mind you, and a little smaller than I expected, but one of the better organized and funded game dev conventions that I’ve been to. I think they’re finally ready for me to jump in, and they’re still planning to go lots of cool places.

Training Day

Monday was a hands-on, newbie developer orientation day. The project assets were provided by Cybernetic Walrus (based on their new game Antigraviator) and the training by Unity staff. Although it had more than couple glitches, the demo level provided was full-featured and interesting to play with. The 13 introductory steps (most broken down into several subtasks) took most of the day at the trainers’ planned pace. The training (obviously) glossed over the modeling aspects of 3D game development and focused on the gameplay, camera management with the new version of Cinemachine (very sexy) and the new version of Timeline (very cool). They promised to provide the slideware, a completed (and enhanced) version of the project. I hope to get that next week and fiddle with it some more. [I was pretty happy with how my Surface Book handled the day. I think the i7 and SSD zoomed nicely through the work.]

Keynote & Kickoff

Since I was there for Training Day, it felt weird to have all day Tuesday to myself until the keynote that started at 6 pm, but I guess they’re trying to accommodate everybody else’s busy travel schedule. The keynote was well orchestrated and well rehearsed. There weren’t any significant fumbles, and they did a good job hyping the upcoming sessions for the next two days. Since I’m not the partying sort, I wandered through the kickoff mixer and hiked back to my hotel.


My one huge strategic error was not booking a hotel when I first signed up. By the time I talked myself out of driving back and forth from San Antonio to Austin every day, they’d already sold out the low-priced Unity block, and I wound up at the Double Tree a mile and a half away. Needless to say, I got my exercise hiking back and forth, since I’m too cheap to pay for parking downtown Austin. Punishment deserved and delivered.


These are the sessions I went to and the number of stars I’d give each:

  • 2D World Building in Unity (4/5)
  • OctaneRender for Unity (4/5)
  • Creative Scripting of Timeline (5/5)
  • Disruptive Virtual Cinematography on a Budget (2/5)
  • Unity Labs Behavioral AI Research (5/5)
  • Get Paid on Mobile (4/5)
  • Expansive Storyworlds (3/5)
  • Cinemachine for Games and Interactive (4/5)
  • Buil the Multiplatform Games of Your Dreams with UWP (1/5)
  • Neill Blomkamp’s Short Film Screening and Q&A (3/5)
  • Testing for Sanity (5/5)
  • Insights to Action (5/5)
  • High Performance C# Scripting With the C# Job System and the Entity Component System (5/5)
  • Massive Battle in Spellsouls Universe with Upcoming Unity Tech (4/5)
  • Trivia! Unity by the Numbers (3/5)
  • S.O.L.I.D. Unity (2/5)

There are several more that I wanted to go to, but there were conflicts. Overall, the presentations by Unity staff were more polished than the guest speakers. I was bummed that the recordings weren’t available to buy on a flash drive like other conferences do, but I’m hoping they’ll get them up on YouTube or something soon.


Unity has grown quite a bit since I bought a 4.x version of it almost a decade ago. I’m impressed with how far they’ve come. I’ve made the command decision to try my hand at free-to-play mobile game next year (2018). The convention inspired me to begin writing the design doc and thinking through the gameplay and the freemium monetization model. (Daddy’s got bills to pay!) Since you didn’t ask, I’ll tell you anyway that the game will be set in the Starcrossed universe. Be thinkin’ about where you want to take your own personal starship. . .

Thank you for your support!

I had a lot of fun at GaMExpo this year, making new friends and reconnecting with old ones.

We had two Modernity sessions and two Starcrossed sessions.

If you made it to the Hilton Hill Country Resort, I’m glad you were there.

If you didn’t, we missed you. Catch you at the next convention or playtest game.


p.s. Yes, I’m still cranking away on The Raid on Slavers’ Bay. We did more playtesting at GaMExpo. Release date announcement “real soon now.” 🙂

Raid on Slavers' Bay (Fate Edition) Cover 600x900