A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer



Game Preparation With Limited Resources

About three days ago I decided that I was going to run Fire From the Sky at GenCon, but during these three days I have a boatload of work and other preparations I have to go through before I travel. And, quite frankly, I'm broke. I needed to get ready quickly and at little personal expense. So for those of you that are looking for quick game setups, here's everything I have done so far.

I admit I do have one benefit: access to an industrial grade color printer at work. I don't know how many of you have access to that, so doing the high level of printing I've done may not end up being economical at all if you have to resort to a printing company. So your mileage may vary, I guess.

The Documentation

I printed several copies of the module and used Fedex Office's velo binding to make them look professional, but when I'm running the campaign myself I couldn't care less if it's "professional" or not... I want it to be easy to work with physically. So I printed the PDF with all the pages one sided, holding it together with no more than a single staple in the top left corner. So as I progress through the module, I can tear away and toss pages at my discretion.

As for the Gamma World manual, I didn't really feel like dragging the whole box to the convention. So, using the printer's scanning capabilities, I made a PDF of only the character creation pages in the Gamma World Core Rulebook, and then re-printed it so that the players can use it for character creation.

Time permitting, I will see if I can create some pre-generated characters in order to speed things up.

The Maps

All my maps were created in Adobe Fireworks CS5, on a grid where each square is exactly 50 x 50 pixels. Luckily all my maps are approximately the same size - each map is about 16 squares wide on each axis - but at 50 DPI (to ensure each square is exactly 1" x 1") that would be larger than the traditional page.

When the module was distributed through Drive Thru RPG it included a supplemental with all the tactical maps cut in to sections that fit on a letter-sized page, but this time I took advantage of the printing resources. I took each page and divided it down the horizontal center, printing each part of the map on a tabloid (11" x 17") page. Cut to fit and taped together, it should do fine.

Maps appear a little pixellated - had I known this was going to be the plan, I probably would have created the maps at a resolution higher than 50 DPI - but I don't expect anyone to be looking at the map with a magnifying glass and complaining that the trees look to pixellated.

The Markers

Shuma Gorath will have to do, I guess.

I had a bit of a problem here. Although I could print anything I want, I cannot print it in heavy stock paper. Without access to anything available at the store, what do I do for creature markers?

Instead of creating markers that lie flat, I decided to create stand-up markers that can be folded in to triangles.

Using the same resolution as the map, I created four part strips that could be cut and folded into free standing triangles like what you see on the right. Each strip is 45 pixels wide (just shy of the 1" square size) and 230 pixels long (45 pixels for each base, 70 pixels for each side). The Large creature strips are 95 x 430, effectively adding 50 pixels (1") to each face's dimensions.

Here is what the image for the first encounter looks like:

After they are cut and folded, since it was the only thing I had lying around I used a penny to give it some weight, and the result is the above image. Afterwards, I realized that nickels are slightly heavier and still fit, while the Large markers will use quarters or something bigger like dice.

The hardest part has been looking for appropriate images. I scanned the image of the zombie and some other creatures from the Gamma World Core Rulebook (which isn't as appropriate as you'd think, but whatever), but there are some creatures that just don't appear anywhere in the core manuals. So, thanks to Google Image Search, I found a picture of Shuma Gorath and some other appropriate images for some unique creatures I have. I still have one more to find, which I hope to get ready by end of day today.

I also forgot markers for the players. Oops... I'll take care of that today as well.

The Details

For actual encounter management, I got myself a stack of 3" x 5" index cards. On each card I wrote:

  • Each creature's details: defenses, base hit points, hit modifiers (vs AC and non-AC defense) whether it's an Elite or a Solo and their initiative and Perception modifiers.
  • I pre-rolled initiative for every creature. When it comes time to play, I will determine whether I'll keep those values or re-roll them (I like to space out monster actions in and around the players just to keep things more dynamic).
  • Each individual creature's current hit points, with lots of horizontal space so I can add conditions and manually rewrite hit points as they take damage.

Five encounters, five cards. And each card has the above monster markers (unfolded) paper clipped to it.

Other Supplies

I will have lots of blank index cards, several pens, and all the dice I have. Need to get tape somewhere.

Right now, I can't think of much else I would need... Am I missing something?


The nice benefit to all of the above is that, because I don't have a DM screen, I do not have to be concerned all that much about hiding everything. Index cards are low profile, and I can keep those on my lap or even in full view of the players (maintaining a certain level of discretion and trusting my players not to peek, mind you). As for the module itself, I've been up and down this module so many times that I like to think I don't have to look at it much, so it's not like I'll have to keep it open all the time and in full view.

Now I admit I'm still not sure if this game will happen; there's a lot going on at GenCon, I don't know when I'll actually do it, and I've never been there myself so I don't quite know how things work as far as pick up games. But the above preparations actually took little effort, so I don't feel that it's all a waste. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. Life goes on.

Odds are it will be at some point on Saturday. If you are interested and attending, send me a message to @BrainClouds and let's see what we can arrange.

Hope to see some players there!

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