The year is coming to a close and the last few months have been very interesting games-wise.
I have been playing a lot of Pathfinder 2E before porting my group over to ICRPG (lovingly called ICRPiG "Index Card Roleplaying in Golarion).
I’ve also played and GMed a lot of other different games (Tales of Xadia, HEART, EAT THE REICH, anything Cypher system) and learned how other games structure the information for GMs and players.
- Pathfinder and Cypher are very oldschool in that regard, lots of blocktext and formatting that makes my coddled OSR-heart cry in pain
- Tales of Xadia does the same (although differentiating between different tpes of scenes is very clever and something I have inclluded in my prep)
- HEART is a beautiful game and the springboard for the idea in this post: HEART puts information about places and scenes in a statblock.
I know, Pathfinder does have statblocks for everything from traps to environmental hazards and cities, but they are still verbose and some of the information is nice to have but not very useful at the table (unless you want to lore dump your players on what commodities Geb exports and what percentage of people in Mechitar is undead etc.).
Since my session prep tends to get out of hand quickly, because I put way too much information into my documents, I am looking for a way to condense gameable information.
“Dude!”, I hear you say. “Don’t you know of the Runehammer-way of only doing a spread in a notebook for one session?”
I do, but limiting myself to one spread is not feasible. My games are not dungeon crawl-type games with maps where I don’t need to describe things because I can simply (and lazily!) point to a map and where all my players do is fighing wave after wave of monsters. They are roleplay heavy, theatre-of-the-mind games with battlemaps signifying boss battles. Other fights are done in the shared imagination.
This is of course a problem completely of my own making.
Nevertheless, I have been thinking how to solve it and turned once again to HEART because I want a narrative- and fiction-first game but I also want cool gamified mechanics to accomplish this (and HEART hits the sweet spot doing that, in my opinion). So once again I turn to landmarks and delves.
Session Prep in a statblock
The TLDR of this is: do your session prep as a statblock and put all the information into the statblock so that you can run your game with one statblock per scene.
Here’s how I think, I would do it: there’s statblocks for landmarks which are places, villages, safe havens whatever have you. Then there’s delves which are dungeons, ruins, places where combat and danger awaits. Both of those places can have statblocks that include all the information you need to run a game. The template would look like that:
[Name of aldea, village, place etc.]
Description (a little flavourful box test or some concise bullet points)
Haunts (as in retreats, favourite places etc.; places to barter weapons, equipment and artifacts, buy and sell stuff, regenerate etc.)
NPCs (short description, stats etc.)
Ressources (loot, stuff to find)
Special rules (for anything mechanically or narratively different, see example below)
[Name of the Delve]
Route: from place A to B
Description (a little flavourful box test or some concise bullet points)
Resistance (hitpoints of the scene, which have to be reduced to 0 to narratively resolve it, this is an idea I first wrote about here: Learning from HEART: Give your scenes HP)
Events/Encounter (things to happen to the PCs while traveling and maybe even conditions what needs to be done to resolve the scene)
The goal would be to put all the info you need to run a game into those statblocks, so ideally half a page or one page per statblock.
If you are one of those people who are absolutely happy with two to three bullet points per scene and have perfected using a notebook spread for your session prep, this solution will not be a solution at all but rather a complication. Making something that was perfectly fine verbose again.
But if you find a spread constraining, because you want a little bit more detail to your session prep but not as much as 10 pages of lore, NPC descriptions etc. putting everything into a statblock might be something to try.
Now there’s the template, but how would this look in practice? I am GMing The Last Voyage of Finigan’s Pride on Friday, so let’s use one of the bits in the adventure to show you how I think it could be done.
Example “Finigan’s Pride”
Description: If dampness ever became a place this would be it. Shorepoint is a soggy seaside town and even if it won’t rain for weeks or months this town will still be wet and gray and muddy and miserable. People are gray-eyed and downtrodden, but ale is cold and cheap and coin is short.
Target number: 12 (14, if starting a fight in the tavern)
- The Foamy Fathom: run by Karl Lagergrabbe, everybody ends up here eventually
- Ulma’s Anvil: Ulma is hardworking and entrepeneurial, famous in town, fair prices
- The Docks: ships are moored here, including the Ivory Jane, boardwalks creak ominously
- Henryk’s Overlook: desolate rocky crag where one could write nature poetry or gaze out at the uncaring sea
- The Rows: sad-looking houses stand clustered together, as damp as everything else
NPCs: Muncel Longshanks (mad sailor), Karl Lagerkrabe (barkeep), Ulma (dwarven mariner), Keth (mobster), Lade Velle Ward (rules or Shorepoint), Godiva Goodwyn (ominous mushroom farmer)
Ressources: Good mug of ale, canned stinky fish found on the overlook (CON check to heal MAGIC), weapons and other miscellany at Ulma’s Anvil (roll on shabby loot table)
Special Rules: if you’re a dwarf, prices at Ulma’s Anvil are very fair (you pay half of that non-dwarves would pay); boardwalks at the docks are creaky and rotten, DEX save to not fall into the water
- Ulma has finished her tankard of ale and wants you to get her another one, she will grant discounts on future purchases if you do
- Karl Lagergrabbe has lost his daughter Celia to Finigan and wants to rally uncaring villagers to find his missing girl
- Muncel Longshanks: certifiably insane and on a quest to find the myth-enshrouded ship Finigan’s Pride and its treasure, will die foaming at the mouth in the PCs arms
- Keth and his goons want to start a fight with Muncel because he owes them and they are here to collect the debt
ABOARD THE IVORY JANE (Delve)
Route: from SHOREPOINT to PYLON ISLAND or FINIGAN’s PRIDE
Description: Let’s not kid ourselves. This ship has seen better days. But she has a rough beauty that takes time and skill to appreciate. Brigadier with two masts and a jib sail, which can be handled by two somewhat competent people. A seamaiden as a figurehead is mostly green patina and missing a piece of her crown.
Target number: 12 (HARD to handle the ship if inexperienced)
Resistance: 30 (sail the sea to find the myth-enshrouded ship Finigan’s Pride)
- get the ship going (D4)
- navigate through unseen reefs (D6)
- PCs discover that the shipped is rigged with explosives, which can be disarmed with a HARD INT check (D12), if INT check fails players have D12 rounds before the ship explodes
- you find casks of fire beer; terribly strong brew roll CON to get alcohol-induced intel (D6)
- 1D4 Dreadfish Casters, who use sea water as telekinetic projectiles, appear and you have to fight them (D8)
This is a very long post but hopefully also one that is informative and helpful. Let me know what you think about this way of session prep. Too verbose? A solution to a problem nobody except me has? Feedback and thoughts are appreciated. Take care y’all.