Monday, October 8, 2012

Tools of storytelling and solo gaming

Warning: this is a long post. It isn't necessarily meant to be read straight through, though you are free to do so. This is intended to be a central knowledge bank for interesting tools and systems that I have found in my research. It is also far from finished.

There are many interesting and useful tools out there to help an aspiring writer or gamer jog their imagination or to help them improvise when at the gaming table. In my opinion, the best of these are system neutral, in that they don't 'belong' to one intellectual property or game (such as the d20 system), but even products belonging to one family of game can be very useful.  Many of these products focus on fantasy, some on science fiction, but most can be applied to different genres with little adaptation. I will cover actual RPG systems in another post.

Here are some of my favorite storytelling tools and a little of why I think that they are awesome (in no particular order):

* freely available resources are noted as such *

Mythic GM Emulator and Mythic Variations by Word Mill Games -

    These have got to be some of the most useful tools in my kit, as I mentioned previously. They have helped me come to a greater understanding about the history and characters of a particular story that I am working on, as well as being an awesome way to cast off the shackles of GM-hood and allow all players to participate in a game. The Mythic RPG is a fully functional game system, but the Mythic Gm Emulator is all of the useful probability and event generating stuff stripped out of the RPG and re-packaged as a separate product. The Variations book is a great tool to expand your Mythic experiences with new ways to use the system and tips on how to effectively integrate the product into your game.
    There is a community of gamers with a passion for the Mythic system over at the Mythic Role Playing yahoo group. They have tons of useful tools and information on how to get the most out of the system; in particular, Tom Pigeon's alternate description tables are wonderful additions.
    I still feel as though not enough has been said on Mythic. Expect more in the future!

Instant Game by Mike and Kyle Jones (FREE) -

    Instant game is a world building tool, setting and plot generator, and all around useful. It accomplishes most of this through the use of charts, so rolling and interpreting are used again to great effect. It also has a complete game system included, but it can safely be ignored if you already have a system that your using as all of the generating happens at the beginning of the document (and doesn't assume that your using their system).
Random Fantasy Adventure Generator by Adamant Entertainment -

    A simple product with a great idea and well worth the price ($2). It does what the name implies: it helps you generate adventures. You make a series of dice rolls to determine the scope and nature of the adventure, with 1,073,741,824 possible combinations. All of that on a short five page pdf, using five simple charts. It also gives you advice on how to utilize the information. They make other generators for different genres, but this is the one that I purchased.

The Creature Crafter by Word Mill Games -

    Another great offering by Word Mill Games, Creature Crafter is a system neutral way of generating an endless variation of unique and memorable 'monsters' and entities for your favorite RPG system. Yes, there are tables and charts to roll on, and there is interpretation required, but there is a ton of useful advice and a walk through of the entire creation process.

OSRIC by Knights-n-Knaves (FREE) -

    The Old School Reference & Index Compilation  may seem like a departure from the theme of this post thus far. Indeed, the OSRIC is the essence of first edition Dungeons and Dragons. However, the forth chapter of the compilation is all about random charts of things, from the smells and assorted trappings of a dungeon, to random dungeon generation, to wilderness encounters and travel through various environments. Some very useful charts and ideas to be utilized in a fantasy setting.

UNE (Universal NPC Emulator) by Conjecture Games (FREE) -

    Much like Mythic, the UNE is an incredible  tool for creating and playing interesting and memorable NPCs. The entire thing is only twelve or so pages long, so it isn't overly complex. You can generate random characters with personality and motivations. It can help you figure out how helpful an NPC is toward a particular character based on a range of factors, like their attitude towards the player's character, and their own emotional state. Also like Mythic, the whole process is fairly intuitive and easy to understand. I would say that this is probably the second most useful tool in my kit given it's length and potential depth of application.
    The original host of the UNE went down recently, so I contacted Zach Best (the creator of the work) and he was generous enough to send me a copy. He also gave me permission to upload the file through Dropbox for this blog; let me know if the link ever stops working so I can re-upload it. To get the file, just click on the name of this entry or click here. Enjoy!

Gm Gems by Goodman Games -

    This product is fairly simple: it is chock full of random tables and a few other odds and ends. But each of those tables contain a narrow range of (potentially) great additions to any game, in any system. As an example, one particular table is called "Empty Rooms Worth Describing", and after a simple d100 roll your characters aren't just entering another randomly empty room in a dungeon, but instead are greeted with the number "37" scrawled in six foot tall figures on the walls. Or, having just decided to pick the pockets of some completely random and unmemorable NPC, your character finds 'a “thank you” note written in Gnomish' care of the table titled, "What’s In Those Pockets?", instead of some bog standard silver pieces. I mean, who wants currency when you can find 'an odoriferous piece of cod fish wrapped in paper.' Admittedly, you could instead have found an extremely valuable gem, so there is that. It's all part of the magic!

Ultimate Toolbox by Alderac Entertainment Group -

    This beast of a tome is much like the Gm Gems above, in that it is full of tables. Unlike the above product, the Ultimate Toolbox is just that: a comprehensive world building and idea generating tool. It covers a very wide range of subjects over a vast 390+ pages. A great review for the toolbox over at can be found here and does a good job of explaining how useful this thing can be.

The Big List of RPG Plots by S. John Ross (FREE) -
    From the creator of Risus comes this distilled generalizing of common themes in adventure plots, along with potential ways to twist them around. It is a quick read, its free, and it might just save you a lot of trouble the next time you are stuck for ideas. If you want this in pdf form, just go to the bottom of the linked page to where it mentions a printer friendly version.

1 comment:

  1. is a free solo role-playing tool that combines other tools such as Mythic, Instant Game, and UNE into one interface.