We’re back and we’re continuing our analysis of the structure of roleplaying games. RPG scenarios are similar in form to stories, even if they become more chaotic in play! While they don’t necessarily follow a three or four-act structure, they do have beginnings, middles and ends. There are different techniques involved in presenting these, so we have devoted separate episodes to each one. We covered beginnings in episode 91, so this time it’s the turn of middles. You may be able to guess what’s coming in episode 93.


Does a fortnight’s time count as nigh?

These three episodes came out of a recent chat with our Patreon backers where we asked for episode topics they wanted to hear. The ideas they suggested included pacing and building dread in games, as well as the three-act structure. Maintaining pace and building atmosphere are the GM’s main jobs in the middle portion of a horror game, so we give them a good, hard look in this episode.


Not always easy if you got carried away building atmosphere.

The middle part of a game is probably the hardest to pin down. Beginnings and ends are pretty self-explanatory, so we defined the middle as everything else. As well as pace and atmosphere, we talk about handling spotlight time, the importance of improvisation and whether big plot twists risk alienating some players.


The players’ interest in the game was dead all along!

In the introduction, I blatantly abuse the podcast to promote a new publication. I shall do so again here with the excuse of providing the promised link. A few years ago, I wrote a convention scenario for Tim Gray’s excellent sword-and-sorcery RPG, Jaws of the Six Serpents. The scenario, titled, The Blizzard’s Teeth, centres on a mismatched group of characters who find themselves stranded in a keep while an unnatural storm filled with howling demons rages outside. Like much sword-and-sorcery fiction, it straddles the line between fantasy and horror. Tim has recently published The Blizzard’s Teeth as a PDF, and it is available on DriveThruRPG.


We recorded some singing to go into this episode, to thank a new $5 Patreon backer, but Paul’s computer decided to spare you all. Somehow it turned the file into something that sounds like R2D2 orgasming. While many would argue that this is an improvement, we have decided to re-record instead, so our thanks will have to wait for the next episode.

There was a major omission in the show notes for episode 91. During the episode, we discussed the use of ambient music to build atmosphere in games. I recommended the music of Brian Lavelle and promised to link to his Bandcamp site. I then forgot to do so when writing the notes. Apologies for that! You can find his work here.


Being old and out of touch with such things, I am not sure which musical genre would best describe Lavelle’s work. He describes himself as a Scottish sound artist, which leaves the field pretty open. His music is electronic and ambient, often unsettling without being overpowering. Most of the tracks I’ve heard would make perfect background music for sessions of Call of Cthulhu or any other horror game. The Night Ocean and his most recent release, Rune-Filled Eyes, strike me as especially well suited for this.


All of Lavelle’s tracks can be streamed from his Bandcamp site, allowing you to try them before committing any money. If you do decide to buy, the downloads are priced extremely reasonably. Listeners from overseas will also doubtless benefit from the weak British Pound!


We’re back and we’re ready to start at the beginning. No, this doesn’t mean that we’re recycling episode 1. Instead, we are trying something a bit new. This episode is the first of three linked discussions in which we talk about structuring roleplaying games. Like stories, RPG one-shots and campaigns have beginnings, middles and ends. Each part requires different tools and techniques to make them come alive.


Although you can never go wrong with electricity.

Appropriately enough, we are starting with beginnings. The next two episodes will cover middles and ends, respectively. We thought about being all avant-garde and jumbling them up, but we figured we’re difficult enough to follow already. This episode delves into the techniques we use to prepare for a game, how we work with the players to set everything up and some different ways we actually start the game itself.


Paul blows the ancient horn of K’ah R’bord to mark the start of the game.

In the intro, we mention a couple of current Kickstarter campaigns. There is a new edition of Monsterhearts, the game of teenage monsters and their messy lives. We discussed it back in episode 32. The Kickstarter campaign has three weeks to go at the time of posting and is already funded.


Much closer to completion is the Kickstarter campaign for Operation Unfathomable. We mentioned on our recent episode about The Seven Geases how much fun it would be to play a game where we wander about having chats with all these ancient and inhuman gods. Well, apparently this game exists! Operation Unfathomable is a campaign setting for Swords & Wizardry (which means it will work with most OSR games) that mixes the weirdness of Clark Ashton Smith’s Hyperborea with old-school gonzo approach of Gygax. It looks like a hell of a lot of fun. You only have two days left to back it at the time of posting, so be quick!


As Paul also mentions in the intro, I was pounced upon at his recent Halloween party. Our friend Vicky, in particular, did things to my beard and hair. Paul promised evidence of this. He really is far, far too kind. Here is a photograph taken by our good friend Oli Palmer.


Not pictured: Scott’s dignity.

And, finally, we should warn you that there is singing in this episode. We have a new Patreon backer at the $5 level, which means we have sung his praises. This particular song is a strange one even for us. We used tubes to make it. They did nothing to mask the horror.

Edit: I mentioned Brian Lavelle’s superb ambient music in the episode but forgot to include any information about it in these show notes. You can listen to and buy Brian’s work via his Bandcamp site. I have posted a bit more in an addendum to these notes.