The Gears of War Tabletop Report: Finale

So, you guys may have forgotten about this, but once upon a time on this site I did a small series talking about my experiences running a custom ruleset tabletop game for, of all things, a game based off of Microsoft’s Gears of War. Ultimately I stopped doing the session reports because they were digging into my time a little too much (I needed to be writing more important things, like the next book and whatnot), but the sessions themselves didn’t stop.

Until this last Tuesday, that is. Tuesday evening was the final session of the campaign. I won’t say it was a great one, because it was my first time being a DM, and it was a completely custom system that I built and had to do on-the-fly adjustments to … but there were definite fun moments and our team did have some good times.

So how did it end? Well, the players managed to prevent a surviving faction of UIR soldiers from setting off an experimental heavy-metal bomb (atomics, something the Gears universe isn’t very familiar with) in the middle of the COG defensive line on the Jacinto Plateau. Basically, they almost died, but saved the day, and in the end, were rewarded with a ship—something they’d been looking for all campaign. Sure, they had to fight for it, but with a gratuitous selection of high-powered weaponry, the players were able to find it, defend it, and then lay waste to everything that approached while loading it up.

The best campaign ever? Not by a long shot. But … they did have fun. And I did too.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer: Writing for Interactive Stories

Welcome back readers! It’s going to be a great week here on the site. More stuff coming, as usual. Follow-ups to prior posts, feedback … Basically, there’s a lot going on at the moment, so expect to see quite a bit of that on display here as the days come along!

Okay, rather than spend a few paragraphs on news or teasers, I’d really rather just jump into today’s topic. This one is, as many of you probably already know, a request topic. And you know that because you were one of the many readers that requested it, and you let out a satisfied “finally” the moment you saw this post’s title.

But yes, we’re talking about writing for interactive stories: Choose-your-own-adventure-style works, tabletop campaigns, or any other sort of story where you give your audience the means to pick their own fate.

Now, this is one of those posts that I’m going to lead with a disclaimer. A stronger one than the normal “everyone’s experience is going to be a little different.” And that disclaimer is: I am not an expert at this. While I’ve been playing tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons for a few years now, and have been running my own custom campaign now for over six months, I would still acknowledge that I’m a novice of sorts and tend to make a lot of mistakes. Crud, last week I made a pretty lousy one and did something that would have worked for a normal book … but instead flubbed pretty bad because it wasn’t a book, it was an interactive story.

In other words, what I offer today is only going to be scratching the surface. I’m not a master-class writer at doing interactive stories and running tabletop games. I’ve never once written a Choose-your-own-adventure story, though I did read a number of them growing up. What I offer are some of the basic lessons I’ve learned that can hopefully help get you started. From there, I would hope that if you find the topic interesting, you would go to someplace like Youtube or Google and start searching for advice from dedicated Game/Dungeon Masters who have run professional games and have for decades. Yes, such advice does exist, and in fact I watched quite a bit of it before starting my own campaign in January.

Also, a bit of a warning: We’re going to bounce a bit today. Mostly because running a tabletop campaign story is still a bit different from a CYOA-style story. Plus, since I have more experience with the former, the advice I share here today will be more tailored to what I have done for that and would I would do for the other.

Right, disclaimers and notifications out of the way, let’s get this post underway! So … you want to run an interactive story.

Continue reading

The Tabletop Report: Gears of War Campaign Update

So, I doubt any but a few of you noticed, but there hasn’t been an update on the Gears of War tabletop campaign in a few months.

It’s not because the tabletop game stopped, or the campaign ran out of gas. No, it’s actually been moving along at a good weekly clip, with the players really getting the hang of things and figuring out the system. Which doesn’t mean that there haven’t been a few missteps: There have been a few systems I’ve made small changes to, and the system has turned out to be a little overly complicated in some situations. Some streamlining could be done.

At the same time, however, it’s proven fantastically flexible in adapting itself to a wide array of player choices and actions. Players needing to make multiple successful rolls to pull something off, for example, as opposed to just one make-it-or-break-it roll has led to a lot of interesting moments and tense countdowns among the players. Enemy encounters remain threatening as well, with the players often coming quite close to not making it out alive.

So why did the tabletop reports stop if the campaign has actually been going quite well? Well … pretty much because no one was reading it, so it wasn’t worth the time investment. Writing up these weekly reports about how the campaign was going was fun, but at the same time it was a fairly large time investment once a week on top of how much time I had to spend being ready for each weekly session, plus work and everything else … And when it was only garnering one or two views a week (yes, that few) it was clear that I should just focus on getting each week’s session ready rather than providing updates on the adventures of my gaming group.

That said, for those curious, no one has died yet … though they’ve certainly come close. They’ve also put themselves in some hair-raising scenarios due to underestimating the intelligence of their foes: The week before last they tried to set an ambush, not realizing that their ambush they were trying to pull was inside of someone else’s ambush … Theirs! Which they then escaped by, I kid you not, slamming the boom of a construction crane atop a skyscraper into another nearby skyscraper and running across it. With safety clips so that they wouldn’t fall nine hundred feet to their deaths if they slipped … which several characters did.

Their opponents responded to this by blowing up the base of the crane, which led to the players frantically running down the boom and into the next skyscraper over … and the boom twisting and falling away, leaving the last two swinging out into the abyss, connected only by their safety rope (yay for that!) before being pulled in.

Is it a perfect roleplaying system? No, there are definite flaws to it. It’s a little complicated in places for one; I’d definitely simplify a few things before doing a second run. And there’s a lot of pressure on the DM when it comes to leveling, unlike something like DnD.

But it’s working so far, and the players have been having a good time adventuring through the ruined world of Sera. Don’t expect weekly updates to resume, but know that it has been a fun weekly adventure thus far.

The Tabletop Report – Gears of War: Session 8

It’s time for Tabletop Report! For the uninitiated, Tabletop Report is a new series chronicling the adventures of my DnD group as I run them through a custom campaign and ruleset based off of Microsoft’s Gears of War universe.

Disclaimer: I don’t own Gears of War, and I’m totally not claiming otherwise. I just really love the universe, and have wanted to run a campaign set in it for the longest time. The system I built is entirely my own, and this game is a test-run of its viability as a full tabletop system.

This is the report summary for session 8! Prior sessions will be listed before the break if you need to catch up. Some knowledge of Gears of War‘s greater universe may be helpful. Now, let’s see what happened to our players after last week!


Session Eight – Act 1, Chapter 4 Part 1

This session was pretty much all roleplaying … but that’s not boring at all, as this group proved. In fact, there was so much laughter that not only did I nearly paint my GM supplies with my drink, but today my sides are sore and I’m pretty sure that feeling is shared across a good chunk of the group. Players were laughing so hard they couldn’t breath.

What happened? Well, we’ll start at the beginning. It was a shorter session because after last week’s combat, it was time for the players to level, plus we needed to wait for a late player running late to show up, since their character (the obssessively clean stranded) was the navigator and the group wanted to be sure he got the map copied down.

Continue reading

The Tabletop Report – Gears of War: Session 7

It’s time for Tabletop Report! For the uninitiated, Tabletop Report is a new series chronicling the adventures of my DnD group as I run them through a custom campaign and ruleset based off of Microsoft’s Gears of War universe.

Disclaimer: I don’t own Gears of War, and I’m totally not claiming otherwise. I just really love the universe, and have wanted to run a campaign set in it for the longest time. The system I built is entirely my own, and this game is a test-run of its viability as a full tabletop system.

This is the report summary for session 6! Prior sessions will be listed before the break if you need to catch up. Some knowledge of Gears of War‘s greater universe may be helpful. Now, let’s see what happened to our players after last week!


Session Seven – Act 1, Chapter 3 Part 3

This session was pretty much all combat, with a little roleplaying at the end. But the group came out alive, thanks to some lucky rolls on their part, clever roleplaying, and some absolutely horrid rolls on behalf of the Locust (which really was just dumb luck, all part of the game).

So, when we’d last left the group, they’d made their way through the woods to a downed King Raven chopper in a gully and found themselves ambushed. When this session opened, we picked up right where we’d left off, with the group making reflex rolls for turn order and caught right out in the open.

Their ambusher, a Locust drone, rolled a perfect 1, and thus got to go first, which made things all the more panic-striken for the group.

Continue reading

The Tabletop Report – Gears of War: Session 6

It’s time for Tabletop Report! For the uninitiated, Tabletop Report is a new series chronicling the adventures of my DnD group as I run them through a custom campaign and ruleset based off of Microsoft’s Gears of War universe.

Disclaimer: I don’t own Gears of War, and I’m totally not claiming otherwise. I just really love the universe, and have wanted to run a campaign set in it for the longest time. The system I built is entirely my own, and this game is a test-run of its viability as a full tabletop system.

This is the report summary for session 6! Prior sessions will be listed before the break if you need to catch up. Some knowledge of Gears of War‘s greater universe may be helpful. Now, let’s see what happened to our players after last week!


Session Six – Act 1, Chapter 3 Part 2

When we’d last left our players, they’d decided to head out the following morning for a remote weather station out to the east, with the goal of installing a relay into it so that Ray—and the team—would have radio coverage over a larger area, as well as weather reports. However, the team didn’t want to leave the moment the sun rose. Instead, after camping out in Ray’s shop (he didn’t let them into the heavily fortified house above it) they decided to spend a little time first acquiring some more stuff from his scrapyard—mostly odds and ends to make sure that their own equipment would stay in good shape. They also hunted down a few more bike frames in order to make travel easier. Of course, they were missing tires and gears, but it was a start. They added the bike frames to the wagon and trailers they’d put together. Unfortunately, due to some poor rolls, this took them several hours.

Continue reading

The Tabletop Report – Session 5

It’s time for Tabletop Report! For the uninitiated, Tabletop Report is a new series chronicling the adventures of my DnD group as I run them through a custom campaign and ruleset based off of Microsoft’s Gears of War universe.

Disclaimer: I don’t own Gears of War, and I’m totally not claiming otherwise. I just really love the universe, and have wanted to run a campaign set in it for the longest time. The system I built is entirely my own, and this game is a test-run of its viability as a full tabletop system.

This is the report summary for session 5. Prior sessions will be listed before the break if you need to catch up. Some knowledge of Gears of War‘s greater universe may be required. Now, let’s see what happened to our players after last week!


Session Four – Act 1, Chapter 3 Part 1

When we’d last left our players, they’d just finished helping Ray of Ray’s Scrapyard clear out a particularly bothersome infestation of Wild Tickers, and in return collected some weapons better than the Civil Defense stuff they were using. They’d also leveled, and the first near hour of the session simply became the group leveling and then figuring out exactly how to divvy up the loot they’d collected (along with a bit of confusion, as we’d somehow lost a piece of paper detailing part of their inventory).

Continue reading