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A Sample of My Planning:

James, you know who you are, don’t read this!!!!

This week, I’m gearing up to run a one or two shot game for a friend who has never gotten to play in a Star Wars campaign . . . so since I just spent two hours writing, I thought I would share a sample of my pre-game “home work” with you, dear reader, so that you could see the kinds of notes I like to make for myself prior to a session.  It more or less encompasses the first few social encounters of the game, and is meant for the fantasy flight “Rebellion” system.  Sorry for the lack of pictures, Disney is tight-fisted with it’s copyrights!  I generally read the italic parts to my players, and then let them react to the situation!

NPC Rank: (This is to simplify the npc’s in the system, which I am relatively unfamiliar with.)

Legendary*: 3 yellow in something they’re good at, plus perks that let them ignore black dice. 2 yellow 1 green in class skills, 1 yellow 2 green in things they’re bad at.

Heroic: 2 yellow 1 green in something they’re good at, plus perks. 1 yellow 2 green in class skills, 3 green in things they’re bad at.

Normal: 1 yellow 2 green in something they’re good at, 1 yellow 1 green in class skills, 2 green in everything else.

Easy: 1 yellow 1 green in something they’re good at, 2 green in everything else.


Ch. 1: Aboard the Redemption

As the starlines in the viewport revert to fixed points, the myriad dizzying colors of hyperspace flicker and then die, leaving you alone in the vast emptiness of regular space. Well, almost alone.  Suspended in space before you is an oblong, asymmetrical shape, little more than a wad of engines connected to a wedge shaped hull by a slender tube.  Klaxons begin blaring, filling the small cockpit with enough noise to make a firefight seem relaxing.  Above the alarms, LOM-8’s eerily cold voice booms out of the speakers in his mouth, “Calm down.  They’re just painting us with their not inconsiderable sensor arrays.” A charge of static bursts from the intercom, a woman’s voice, saying, “Unidentified ship, power down shields and weapons, and prepare to be boarded.  I hope you can explain how you got these coordinates, because you’re about to have a really bad day if you can’t.”

A dark haired, slender woman in a light brown, blue sleeved uniform, flanked by two rebel soldiers, greets you at the airlock.  She doesn’t smile, and the dark circles under her eyes betray a sense of exhaustion.  She looks you up and down and say, “Well, come on then.  I’m not so far removed from Alderaan that I’ll kill a few sentients without checking out thier story first.  She leads you to a small conference room, and leaves you with a tankard of water, and a few ration cubes.

One way or the other, the characters are brought aboard the frigate, and put in a locked conference room with water and ration cubes.  An hour passes, and Captain Marquez enters the room.

*Captain Marquez (Heroic) – Alderanian, dark hair, slender, tall, commanding.  She has dark circles under her eyes, and treats the PC’s matter of factly, even after confirming their bonafides.

Talking Points:

  1. story checks out.
  2. They have to prove themselves . . . A recommendation from Moonam isn’t good enough.  
  3. On the mission, for insurance, Lom-8 will be piloting another crew, while you are stuck with one of our guys . . . to keep an eye on you, and because Lom-8 is something of a curiosity.
  4. Do you accept the mission? You don’t get to know specifics beforehand, except that you will be running munitions off an Imperial world, and it will be dangerous.  They can walk around the ship, but only if accompanied by Ken and a protocol droid named Emtrey.  Lom-8 has volunteered to be studied by Dr. Rolkied, who has an interest in A.I.


*Emtrey (Heroic only for scrounging) – strange droid, reminds you a great deal of Lom-8


If they choose to explore the ship, read the following:

Each corridor you pass is absolutely martial, all in hard whites and greys, with the occasional hard black.  Each person you pass has a hard, hollow look, like soldiers who have seen too much, and lived too long in the shadow of some great loss.  Emtrey casually announces that 42.3% of the crew are survivors of Alderaan, a planet you recognize from the rebel propoganda machine . . . an entire planet destroyed?! It simply isn’t possible.  But from the glances you are catching, something must have happened . . . something worth hating the empire for.


The Hydrospanner’s Bolthole.

:Shop, with all goods rarity five or lower.


Run by Quiggles, a Duros refugee from Coruscant.  He has special interest in Laminate armor parts and will pay full price for them.


Aldera’s Peace:

Emtrey takes to an inconspicuous doorway on an otherwise barren hall, but as the door opens, you hear the low rumble of music, conversation, and the occasional raucous laugh.  The rec room, called Aldera’s Peace, is a narrow space filled wall to wall with tables and chairs.  A bar runs the length of the left side of the room, with a what looks like a repurposed surgery droid casually mixing drinks, while the entire right wall of the room is covered in two dimensional representations of happy looking humans, peacefully green vistas, and the occasional holoprojection, depicting happy scenes.  A large plaque above the wall reads “Never Forget.” A group of pilots in rebel orange sit at a back table, watching a holo of a recent space battle, using their arms and hands to reenact remembered maneuvers, and it is from this table that the laughter is coming from.  At a large table in the center sit five humanoids, dressed in the white, black, and khaki of rebel troops, quietly nursing drinks.  One, a horned Devaronian, gestures at you to join his table.


Red and Green teams:

Red Leader:

1) Dev Sandar, Devaronian, Heroic Commando.  He made his home on the peaceful slopes of Mt. Alder, before the Death Star blew it up. Welcoming, but sad.  His smile never reaches his eyes.


Red 2:

2) Flax Voltune, Human Alderaanian, Normal Commando. He is quiet, untrusting.  He looks over the newcomers constantly, as though sizing them up.


Red 3:

3) Sam Newman, Human Alderaanian, Normal Pilot.  His face is shadowed, and he openly speaks out about the need to hold to Alderaan’s non-violent philosophies.  


Green Leader:

Alice Dweller, Selonian Female, Heroic Commando.  Her catlike features are hard to read, but her friendly and open demeanor so much to soften her angular face.  She speaks of a fear that the Empire will know they’re coming, because Vader and the Emperor practice the “dark arts.”


Green two:

Gom Shugard, Corellian Human, Heroic Smuggler.  Gom is a burly, blustery man with massive handlebar mustaches.  He is in stark contrast to Alice in that he is not friendly at all, and openly accuses the pc’s of being double agents.  


The conversation can go however it needs to.  Talking points:

  1. Dev greets the newcomers and asks them about themselves.
  2. Flax is obtrusive in his vigilance, possibly evoking a comment from a PC
  3. Flax’s only comments are about revenge, righting wrongs, and killing imperials.
  4. Sam pleads with Flax, asking how much of himself he will lose to these dark times, and whether or not he will ever embrace peace again.
  5. Flax replies that, when he is standing over the smoking ashes of the emperor, maybe then.  He will put some in a capsule to release at the Alderaanian asteroid belt, to help his family rest easy.
  6. Alice brings up the possibility that tomorrow’s mission is a trap. Dev tells her to can the talk, they aren’t supposed to discuss the mission, and that her fears are unwarranted.
  7. Gom accuses the PC’s of being double agents, telling them to watch their backs tomorrow, lest they catch a stray laser . . . he’ll be watching them for anything suspicious.
  8. Dev tells everyone to get some rack time, the mission starts in nine hours.  


At this point, the PC’s can do whatever they want.  For the mission briefing, see the “Rebellion Gun Running” file.

I hope you enjoyed reading what I’m going to be putting my players through . . . let me know if this is something you would like to see more often, and as always, don’t fall for the old kobold pit trap!



Hello sports fans!

I know it’s been a while . . . Real life has been kicking my butt in the form of my 6 month old’s first cold, and training him to soothe himself to sleep . . . the entire family was running a fever simultaneously last week! IRL can be more perilous than the game world sometimes . . .

“I would like all of the drugs, please.”

Anyway, I know I was supposed to do a character biography next, but I’ve switched to primarily writing this blog on a chrome book, which has been awesome so far, but I’m not 100% sure how to create the editable sheet I was working with on my iPad to make a character that you can just print and play, so until I figure that out, the bio’s will have to be on hold.

Instead, what I would like to talk about this week is a common plight of the GM, namely that we never get to play in the games that we hold closest to our hearts.  A friend recently started running a game in the new Star Wars system I’m calling, affectionately? D-sh***y, mostly because I hate games that make me buy stuff above and beyond the already pricey book . . . Ugh, I digress.  Anyway, he loves Star Wars in the same way you might say a new parent loves sleep, and what’s more, he loves this new system.  It involves a set of dice with faces that range from “Triumph” to “Despair” with varying gradations of success and failure in between, designed to encourage role playing from the PC’s and GM, as apposed to the simple, “I rolled a 15,” “You hit it,” mechanic in more conventional games.  While I was skeptical at first, and while I still loathe the dice themselves, I have come to really enjoy the abstract and story-telling-heavy sense of play that I get from this game.

“What’s the problem?” you ask, sitting in your ivory tower, judging me for not getting to the point . . .

Pictured: You, in your tower . . .

Well, like all GM’s, we like to keep our eyes open for new experiences, rule sets that change up the state of play, and when we find something we like, we usually dive into it, headfirst, with all the excitement of drug addict finding an 8-ball in his coat pocket from last winter.  Of course, this is what my friend did, to the tune of three books, a starter set, two decks of cards, several boxes of minis and two sets of dice.  None of this would be a problem, except he fell into the classic conundrum of the Game Master: I love this game, I want to run it for you in the hopes that you will, one day, run it for me.

Of all the members of the Borderlanders, only he and I truly have the kind of love for Star Wars that allows me to tell you, in all seriousness, that the crew compliment ranging from about 30 to over 150, depending on how many systems are slave-rigged, and what kind of modifications have been made.  My point is, no one else in our group would even consider running a Star Wars campaign, because they don’t have the raw nerd knowledge to know the difference between a R2 and an R5, and what if it comes up?!

“Hey, that rebel pilot should’t be on the same board as a clone trooper! They’re 20 years apart in the timeline . . . ” “NEEEEEEERRRRRRRRDDDDDD!!!!!”

He recently told the group that he wanted to play a character, and since he knew that I would never run this new system, he felt like he should just roll up a character for his own game and play it as a background, almost NPC to fill in our gaps as a party.  @#$%^&* . . . I suddenly felt a great disturbance in the force, as though a thousand GM’s heavy-sighed in frustration, and were suddenly silenced . . . Ok, so not a thousand, but I know a few of you groaned!

Basically, what I’m trying to get at in my long winded post, is how to make running a system you’re not crazy about fun for your PC’s.

I was listening to the System Mastery podcast today, in which two guys review garbage, out of print systems for their merits and flaws, and this particular episode mentioned a mechanic in which each character picked a “Best Friend” and a “Rival” out of the other PC’s, and every time they crit, the best friend decides how the bonus comes into play.  Every time they botch, it’s the rival’s job to tell how the egg ends up on their face.  While the game that this mechanic came from sounds absolutely awful, (It’s called Panty Explosion, which I think is enough said on the matter) the mechanic has excellent applications in a game like the Fantasy Flight Star Wars, which is heavy with “Advantages” and “Threats” that you spend every time you roll to your character’s boon or bane, respectively.  Therefore, I am going to run this system for my friend, so that he can experience his favorite setting in his favorite system.  Ostensibly.  Really, I’m going to run a mad experiment to see if this mechanic is a viable way to keep all the player engaged in a system where, often, character are specialized to the point of having literally nothing to do in about a third of the situations that crop up.

“I wish I’d put points into literally anything social . . . “

Let me know what you think, and tell me your stories!  What have you tried, house-rules-wise, in order to make an undesirable system more tolerable? I’m all ears! And as always, roll enough advantages so that you don’t fall for the old Kobold Pit Trap!

Coming soon: Recurring Antagonists!

I got bogged down in Taken king this week, so the post is a little late, probably tomorrow! Stick with me, though, because the game gave me an awesome idea for a new post: Reaccuring antagonists and how to keep them alive without your pc’s calling shenanigans!

I guess I fell for the old pit trap this time . . . See you tomorrow!

Brawlers and Bastards

To continue our look at the fantasy bar scene, I think I’d like to talk about the kinds of street toughs you might find in the seedier types of bars all the best misadventures get started in.  Several examples come to mind, but if you don’t know what I’m on about, take a look here:

For a few excellent visuals, just run a Google image search for “Bouncer,” and you’ll be able to show your players the ballpark of what we’re talking about.

I once played a character named Basten the Bastard . . . and while the name is somewhat lacking (I wish I could say I came up with it when I was a teenager, but I played this character last year) the personality fits this post to the t.  Basten was hotheaded, quick to violence, and in general, not very smart.  He was adopted by a small town bar owner after alcoholism claimed his mother’s ability to reason.  Created by a very bad woman, but raised by a very good man, Basten often walked the razor’s edge between his born-in bitterness and learned altruism, a character trait that fit very well into the wild lands of The Astonishing Swordsman and Sorcerers of Hyperborea.  I’ll wait a second while you check that out . . . it’s worth a click.

Not all bruisers are going to be in favor of the greater good, which can be fun in and of itself.  Popular fiction is full of examples of beefy, knuckle-dragging brawlers dedicated to a darker calling; Crabbe and Goyle from Harry Potter, The Mountain that Rides from A Game of Thrones . . . and even The Lord of the Rings own Boromir, to a lesser degree. (I’m sorry, but seriously, what was he good at besides violence and giving in to temptation?)

All you really need to make a memorable bouncer for your bar is a short but memorable scene.  Is he huge, ham-fisted, but good natured?  Then describe him smacking a bar patron who gets too handsy with a barmaid.  Is he the kind who takes advantage of his station?  Then spin a brief scene where the bar keep pleads with him to go easy on the customers, only to have the tough laugh in his face.  Maybe he’s the cruel sort . . . when the characters next arrive, they see him carrying out yet another “accidental” corpse created by excessive force.  One good scene, and you create an impression that will stand out every time your players return to the bar.

Stat Blocks . . . ok.  I’m going to stick to d20 until I get more requests for other systems.

D20: Give the tough a level or two as a fighter.  High strength and constitution are favorable, with low intelligence or wisdom. I would recommend str 16, dex 10, con 14, int 8, wis 10, cha variable.  AC 12 from leather armor, with about 16HP.  +5 attack with a club for 1d8 + 3 damage. Will +0, Reflex +0 Fortitude +5. If he’s more of an adversary, beef him up.  Otherwise, you don’t want him to overshadow your players. Keep his skills simple.  Low scores in sense motive and perception, probably a point of two in local knowledge.  Have fun!

Any other systems, leave a request in the comments.  I’ll make sure you get what you need!

And remember, don’t fall for the kobold pit trap!

Walking into Bars, Beyond the Barkeep

So, if you read my last post, you’ve created a bar scene with an interesting barkeep . . . one who hopefully has a few memorable qualities other than, “He tells you he’ll be with you in a moment.”  Great! You’re off to an excellent start!

I once read in Stephen King’s autobiography (I highly recommend it, even if I don’t agree with 100% of his ideas . . . you’re born with a certain writing potential?  What?!) that to paint a memorable scene, instead of trying to describe every single detail the scene has to offer, focus on a few details and really hammer them out.  I’m paraphrasing there, of course . . . and I’m at least 80% sure that’s where I read it.  So to avoid pulling a Tolkien and describing every single bar stool, and where that bar stool came from, and whose mighty buttocks inflicted each and every nick and imperfection, and from where- you get the point.

You’ve already got a memorable barkeep, Olef, and maybe even a memorable drink, Olef’s Extra Pale Ale, (now with less piss taste!) but what we’re really talking about here is setting a believable scene.  Is there a certain type of table found in this bar that you can’t find anywhere else? If so, tell your players what they look like (The tables are made from the finest dark oak, found only in the elven forests of etc.), why that matters (Olef loudly brags that fire doesn’t touch the dark oak, and it is rumored even to withstand blows from an axe!), and nothing else!  if you go into detail about the tables, we don’t need to know about the window shutters, or the chairs, or the bar itself, unless one of those things has something to do with the story, kapeesh?

So, my baby’s crying and I have to get him a bottle before he graduates to real tears . . . but stay tuned to my continuing bar coverage! Tomorrow, I’ll cover common characters found in a bar, along with their stat blocks! I’m talking bruisers, drunks, prostitutes and the kind of shady martha falkers that always seem to “have a job for ya.”

As always, don’t fall for the kobold pit trap!  See you tomorrow.

Welcome to the Border Keep!

Welcome all gm’s, dm’s, story tellers, referees, and anyone else who has an interest in the world of tabletop RPG’s.  This is the inaugural post of the Border Keep, a blog dedicated to providing helpful advice and FREE resources to those magnificent few who KEEP THE GAME RUNNING!!!

My name is Bobby, and I’ve been playing RPG’s since I was in high school, largely with the same group of friends.  I’m in my thirties now, and honestly, with a full time job, children, and any and all distractions we face in the human condition, I’ve come to know how difficult it is to provide consistent, quality content to players week after week, month after month, year after glorious year!  There is an old saying about how you shouldn’t reinvent the wheel. That’s nonsense, since reinventing the wheel is how it gets more awesome, and years of constantly reinventing technology leads to- what was I saying?

My basic plan here is to provide free resources, NPC’s (Non-player characters) with complete write-ups and stat blocks, commonly used maps, tips and tricks for all occasions.  My friends and I over at hope you will not only benefit from, but also enjoy the content we’ve decided to create for you.  Here’s to a very successful project! Cheers!