I talked about this in the last blog post about the Yard Moose Mountain Mega Shooting Weekend, where I had shooters from all over the country coming to my place for three days of pistol training, about how one night I ran a one off RPG session for 17 of them, and by some miracle it actually turned out good. When this got posted about on Facebook right after, a whole bunch of gamers asked how the hell do you run a game that big and not have it suck, so here’s how we pulled it off.
Apparently, in certain nerdy circles I have a reputation for being a really good GM. So as I was coordinating with pro firearms instructors who were coming to teach at my range, they asked if we could have game night for the nerds in the class. I was like, shit yeah! They reasonably asked, you want to cap it at a manageable number? I said, hell no! Invite them all!
Except counting everybody over the multiple classes, that was potentially as many as 25 people. Which if you’ve played RPGs before, you know is absolutely insane, and the game will probably lumber to a chaotic doom. I’d run big con games before, but nothing anywhere near that. In the words of the great Jeremy Clarkson, this would be ambitious but rubbish.
When I asked the shooters who were coming who was interested in gaming, the answer was most of them. Because the Venn diagram of gun gamers and role playing gamers overlaps a lot more than you’d think, and then some of the non RPGers wanted to try.
So I contacted Alan Bahr, professional game designer extraordinaire, and asked for advice on how to run big games. He asked how big. I said, possibly up to 25, with experience levels ranging from hard core to total newb, oh, and they’re also probably going to be dehydrated, exhausted, and brain damaged from three days of training under the hot sun. He said that was insane, but then offered a ton of good advice anyway. Thanks, Alan!
Much of the following is going to sound like gibberish to non RPGers, but trust me, it makes sense to the nerds.
First I needed to pick a system. I went with Savage Worlds. Why? Once you’ve GMed it enough SW is super easy to run fast. When you know what you’re doing with the card initiative and the benny economy, combats can be quick, cinematic, and flow well. Plus, the rules can be streamlined or crunchy depending on how you want to play. In this case, I wanted super streamlined.
Next, setting. If I went for some fantasy setting that would require some world building framing time I simply didn’t have. I needed to keep it something accessible to almost everyone, so that just by saying a few words, they’ve got the picture. And I’d just watched The Mummy (the Brendan Fraiser one, i.e. the good one) so pulp adventure it was. So all I had to say on game night was Cairo, 1936, think The Mummy and Indiana Jones, and boom, everybody there was on the same page for setting and flavor.
Then I made up 25 pre generated character sheets, all built on the exact same number of XP. I didn’t name them or say anything about their background, I just put in an archetype, like Adventurer, Daredevil, Mercenary, Archeologist, Librarian, Holy Man, etc. I gave each one a single advantage (just one to keep it simple to remember, and writing on the sheet what it did) and distributed skills and attributes according to that archetype.
My plan was to let everybody pick a sheet that had an archetype that appealed to them, then I’d read off the disadvantages so they could pick a single one, so their character could have a flaw to play up. Playing to that flaw earned them more bennies.
Then I had to figure out how to keep from bogging down combat. You can’t deal half a deck of cards in one round and not expect combat to drag all night. So instead I decided to break them into teams. I was prepared for three or four.
Each team would be assigned a Nerd Captain. That would be a person who actually understood the rules of SW, so they could answer questions and tell people what dice to roll while I kept the story flowing. The basic idea was that each team would basically be a regular sized group of PCs. They were allied no matter what, in it to win it together, and the other rival teams could end up as allies or enemies (and we ended up seeing both happen)
By breaking them into teams, then I could do group initiative. Each team got one initiative card. Then I’d set the scene for them, and every member of the team would say what they wanted to do, and then they’d all roll simultaneously. Then I’d go down the line and resolve each action. So it was basically 4 or 5 times faster than it would have been on their own.
Actual plot, basically the Mummy, but mixed with Achtung Cthulhu. Pretty straight forward pulp adventure, get the treasure, fight the monsters, blow up the nazis, don’t let Nylanthrotep sacrifice one of the PCs while reading from the Necronomicon to bring about the apocalypse. Not a lot of room for nuance for this many players this fast.
So game night rolls around, I end up with 17 players and some observers in my living room. Everybody is fried but super enthusiastic. And the only reason any of this worked, the single most important thing, I had great players. It was a bunch of good folks looking to have fun. No cry babies, no rules lawyers. (and this was possibly the most dangerous and well armed RPG night in history)
I explained all of the basic rules in about 10 minutes. I divided them into three teams based upon where they were sitting, explained all this stuff, then the appointed Nerd Captains helped get everybody a character sheet (so they could have a sort of balanced team… mostly). We took a few minutes to pick disadvantages, then they all made up names, personalities, and then they decided what their team represented (the British Museum, the Mallory Institute of Topeka, and the Working For a Mysterious Secret Benefactor Who Is Totally Not Andrew Carnegie)
Very specifically, I didn’t put weapons or equipment on the sheet. Why not? I had a group of hard core gun people. So all I had to do was say if you want it and can reasonably carry it on your body, write it on your sheet, and then you have it. So of course, some people who don’t care just write down “rifle” while the guy who sometimes appears on Forgotten Weapons gives himself an FN BAR Model D in 7mm. And in Savage Worlds, damage is so simple, I just say write down the following, rifle bullets do 2D8, pistol bullets do 2D6. Boom. Done. (and this big and fast, I hand wave range and templates)
Once everybody had picked a name, I went around and gathered those and wrote them down next to their archetype (and since I’d made all those, I knew approximately what their skills were off the top of my head). Armed with a great deal of bad accents, we then played from about 8 PM to about 1:30 AM. It was nuts.
If you are GMing a giant group, you’ve got to be super mentally flexible and adjust on the fly. People are going to do wacky unexpected things. Roll with it. Find a way to make it work, unless it’s going to totally derail everything and leave you floundering for the rest of the night, then find a way to let them do something awesome that almost derails you, but you pull it out at the last second. Oh, you were about to blow up the other team with that hand grenade, but the tunnel wall between you collapses!
Give out bennies like crazy, and encourage the spending of them. If somebody says something hilarious, they get a benny. If somebody has a moment of awesome, benny. And if they want to do something that is absolutely batshit dangerous (like say, roping and riding a Nile crocodile), say sure, but you’ve got to give me a benny to even try that. So that encourages them to do fun RP in order to earn more. If they remember their disadvantage and use it to screw themselves up, bennies.
Try to give everybody a chance to do something awesome. With this many people that’s damned near impossible, but toss out different tasks that only one of them is good at. Give everybody a moment to RP something appropriate for the character they came up with.
In a group like this some personalities are going to be more dynamic than others. Some people are quiet. That’s fine. Everybody is different. Just make sure you don’t forget the quiet ones. Make sure they get to do cool stuff too.
The hard part is when the rival groups butt heads, and it starts to go towards inter-party violence. Now this is fine, even up to them killing each other if its the end of the session. But early in, find a way to derail that path. If one of the level headed players is trying to talk people down in real life, let that person’s character do a persuade or intimidate roll to break it up. Everybody gets some drama and the talky character gets to shine.
One thing that worked well was at the beginning I told everybody that A. because this is a one off game I plan to kill at least 75% of you before the night is over, so there was that expectation going in. And B. If you need to leave early, tell me a few minutes in advance so that I can kill your character in a dramatic manner. And with people being dehydrated/exhausted I had two drop early, which meant that the Adventurer literally named Brendan Fraiser got dramatically torn apart by Nile Crocodiles. And then the Librarian, Conan Doyle, got his head blown off by a cannon shell when Stuka dive bombers shot down their dirigible. That’s way cooler than the players just leaving.
Shockingly enough we made it through several combats, gambling, assassination attempts by the Order of the Jackal, a flaming river boat crash, a cowboy riding a crocodile, “accidental” camel murder, snake throwing, betrayal, ludicrous traps, a swarm of carnivorous tomb beetles, mummies, the evil Black Sun Society (who by some strange coincidence all had the same names as German gun companies), attempted human sacrifice, and the Avatar of Nylanthrotep took a hand grenade to the taint.
The game ended when Professor Rachel Weiss (literally her name) read from the Necronomicon wrong, the army of mummies went into a murderous rage, and everybody set off all their dynamite, burying them all in a cave in, and once again hiding the Lost City of Hamunaptra beneath the sand. This near TPK (94%!) worked out super good, because literally the only survivor of the entire night was the Holy Man, who had earlier declared he was from the Magi. So it was JUST LIKE THE MOVIE only this time Oded Fehr won.
Also, after a day of fumbling draws and reloads I was shocked to discover that I can rapidly snatch literally dozens of poker chips out of the air, almost flawlessly, while they’re being tossed across the room to me while I’m distracted GMing and not really paying attention to catching, but the second anyone calls attention to this I lose my ability to catch. Until I’m not paying attention again, and then I can catch two bennies at a time without looking. Holy shit, if only I could have shot like that all day! 😀
So anyways, that’s how you GM a stupidly huge game. Good luck and remember to have fun.
Okay, first off, a little background. This was not a normal pistol class that I attended at some regular range somewhere. This was the best Father’s Day present ever, because my wife is awesome and was cool with us hosting three days of pistol classes from world class instructors AT OUR HOUSE.
Yeah, that does sound nuts, but for the last few days we held two pistol classes at Yard Moose Mountain (and a third class at a friend’s office building in an adjoining town). The students were a bunch of hard core shooters from around the country and several writers I know. (student names withheld to protect the innocent and guilty!)
I drafted a crew of local teenagers to clean up my little range, got my Polaris ready to play Uber back and forth to my house, and bought a bunch of great quality target stands from Action Target in Provo.
The instructors were John Johnston, Melody Lauer, and Chris Cypert of Citizens Defense Research, and they did an excellent job. A different one of them would be the primary for each class, while the other who also provided a bunch of help and instruction.
Friday was Contextual Handgun: Fundamental Applied Pistol Skills. This was a class aimed at the writer contingent because most of them had little to no shooting experience. That said a bunch of the experienced shooters who were there for the advanced class the next day also took this one, so it was a really good mix of knowledge levels.
Melody was the lead on this class and was fantastic. She’s high energy, entertaining, engaged, and has a gift for watching a student and diagnosing their issues. As a former instructor of CCW and basic pistol, it was interesting to see how she worked. It’s the mark of a good teacher when they can help a newb fix something obvious one minute, and then provide tweaks to coax more performance out of somebody really experienced a minute later.
My 16 year old son took this class, and as a dad it’s a pretty amazing feeling to see that your kid has their shit together! Some of the newb writers were using handguns and holsters that I loaned them, but by the end of the day they were working from the holster, smooth and safe, and getting good solid fast hits. I love watching that kind of progress.
FAPS (yes, I love the acronym) goes through all the basics and then some. One thing that I really appreciate in a class like this is when they do some scenario based role playing exercises to demonstrate that the answer is usually not shooting, but sometimes it is. I’d recommend this class to anyone who is looking for a good, grounded, realistic pistol class, especially for people starting out trying to figure out where to go next.
Saturday and Sunday were Tests and Standards. This class is definitely not for beginners. It’s for people who’ve already had training and know how to run their guns fast and accurate get even better. Most of the shooters in this one were really experienced, and included a few who were already top tier shooters.
John Johnston was the lead on T&S, and he’s a very good instructor and one hell of a shooter. (a few of the drills, when he told us what a good time on them was, I thought to myself, “no fucking way is anybody shooting that clean in X seconds” and then he’d just do it cold on demand to demonstrate.
I learned a LOT in this class. T&S is odd in that it’s the most single student with the instructor, one on one, coaching time I’ve ever seen in a pistol class. But because of that you also end up with stretches of downtime while the instructors are coaching someone else. However, I got a ton out of listening to them coach others, because even if they were working on an issue I didn’t have, it was still something I could pass on to help people I shoot with.
Only a few of the writer contingent shot the advanced class. The three of us were all experienced shooters from a variety of backgrounds, and are the kind of guys who normally would be going for top gun in most regular classes. Here? Oh hell no. I’m not used to being on the low side of the bell curve in a pistol class, but this group was abnormal. Probably over half of them were firearms instructors themselves, taking T&S (often for the 2nd or 3rd time) so they could keep honing their own skills and picking up things to pass onto their students.
A note on that, one bad thing about a lot of firearms training is that if you are one of the best shooters there, the instructor will look at you and your target, say “good, keep doing that” and then ignore you while they go spend time with the rando they are worried is going to do something stupid. That isn’t how T&S is at all.
I don’t want to give away too much about the scored drills you do in T&S, but they are fucking difficult. 😀
On a personal note, there was two ways I could have looked at these classes. I could have run the same gun and gear that I always do in a vain attempt to look good. Or, since I had access to people who know their shit, I could check my ego, and try a bunch of new things to broaden my horizons while I had experts there to help me find out if those things work for me or not. So I switched from my regular IWB to AIWB, irons to MRDS, single action to double action, and I changed the position of my spare mags. Which is stacking a lot of stuff. (I have a goal to avoid fuddery in my old age!)
However, as a testament to how good these guys are, during the personal coaching they got me from an abysmal draw to first shot time using all that new stuff, to about the same as what I can do on demand using the gear I’ve been using for over 20 years, in only 3 days, with a few draws that were close to my best times ever from back when I was competing regularly (only concealed instead of a gamer rig!) Which is pretty damned impressive, considering they were correcting all sorts of crap that I didn’t even realize I was doing.
For lunches we ate at my house (because Bridget will be damned if anyone goes hungry on Yard Moose Mountain), and on Sunday night I ran a 17 person Savage Worlds role playing game, which by some friggin’ miracle, actually turned out super fun. But that’s a different blog post.
The fourth day was off the range and in the class room. Which by that point, thank goodness, because it had been stupidly, unseasonably hot. This one was was called Contextual Cognition, and the lead on this class was Chris Cypert.
If you’ve ever been through three long days of handgun training at 100 degrees and 6k feet above sea level , you know that wipes you out. So understand that this is high praise when I say that Chris is such a good teacher that he kept a bunch of tired and fried people (most of whom had stayed up until 2:00 AM playing an RPG) totally engaged and learning all day.
This class was really good stuff, and not just for shooters and gun nuts either, but for anybody interested in personal protection. It was about risk identification and management, how and why we make decisions, how humans process information, and how to prepare based on that.
The other classes were about how to shoot, this one was about how to think. Which is sadly the part that many of us in the gun culture skip over, even though decision making is way more important than pure marksmanship or looking cool.
I actually loved this last class part on two levels. One, I’ve spent my whole life interested in self-defense skills and how best to protect myself and my loved ones. But also, two, as a novelist, the stuff in this class was fiction writing gold, especially the parts going over how violent criminal actors operate.
So I heartily recommend CDR’s classes. They travel around the country and their schedule is at the link above. Check them out.
Yet sadly, no, you personally don’t get to come shoot at Yard Moose Mountain. That’s secret handshake invite only. I love all my readers, and no offense, but I can’t just toss that out to fifty thousand people to see which total strangers are going to get to blunder around through my house!
That was four days hanging out with super cool people, with no prima donnas or douchebags in the class, having fun, shooting guns, playing games, and just having a good time.
Okay, it has been busy! So this post will be getting sent to the newsletter. (and for those of you who haven’t signed up for my newsletter, it’s all writing related stuff, it’s only sent about once a month, and you can plug your email into sign up box the below this post)
If you go through my last few blog posts you’ll see that most of them are me announcing various new projects. There’s been a lot going on and there’s still a few things that I can’t talk about yet. I’m going to try something a little different this time, with links to these things where I’ve talked about the upcoming projects in more detail. We’ll see how it goes.
Yesterday I got to unveil Writer Dojo, the new writing podcast we’ve been recording. I’m really having a lot of fun with this:
My next release is Monster Hunter Bloodlines, coming out in August. And yes, there will be a book tour (more about that below). The eARC for Bloodlines is available now if you want to get an early jump on it. And the reception to this one from the hard core fans who sprung for the early copy has been great. There’s some cool twists, big reveals, and you get to meet characters that we’ve talked about but haven’t seen before.
Releasing around the same time as MHB (sorry, don’t have the exact date yet, but I’ll post the preorder link as soon as I get it) is a new Audible Exclusive called Lost Planet Homicide. Think gritty cop show in space. Here’s the blurb and cover:
Last week I got to unveil the lineup for No Game For Knights, the anthology follow up to Noir Fatale edited by me and Kacey Ezell. It is a fantastic line up, with a bunch of great authors. Most of the stories are in already and I’ve had a lot of fun editing them. No Game For Knights will be available Spring 2022.
I’m currently working on Servants of War, which will be out in March 2022. The rough draft is done, I’m going through the editing pass now, and are on track to have this wrapped up and turned in this summer. Here’s a link to the cover and blurb if you want to check it out:
After Servants of War I’ll be working on the next installment in the Monster Hunter Memoirs spin off series. Monster Hunter Memoirs: Fever, written with Jason Cordova. This one is set in California in the 1970s. I do not have any idea on the release date for that yet, but my personal goal is to have it turned in well before the end of the year (which would put me at 3 novels turned in this year)
After Fever, the plan is to then get back to the Saga of the Forgotten Warrior. There are two books left in that series (five total, Son of the Black Sword, House of Assassins, Destroyer of Worlds, and working titles, Tower of Silence, and Graveyard of Demons). The way the next two are structured I would like to write them back to back, but we’ll see how that shakes out. I love writing Ashok and can’t wait to tell you the rest of his story.
There is a second Grimnoir trilogy planned. If you’ve seen the various short stories since Warbound (Tokyo Raider, Bombshell) you know the new trilogy will be set in the 1950s. However I don’t want to start that new trilogy until I wrap up Saga.
In between all this there’s also a third Noir anthology with Kacey, and we’ve already started pulling together the writers for that one.
And there’s another Monster Hunter Files anthology under contract. The last one of those was wildly successful by antho standards. It’s the best royalty paying antho I’ve ever been in (and I’ve been in a lot!). The delay on Files 2 is entirely my fault for not getting on that and getting the ball rolling.
Appearances and Stuff!
It feels good to actually have this section of the update again.
Recently I got back from FantaSci in North Carolina, it was the first con I’ve been to in a year. In prior years I’ve done as many as fifteen cons in a year, and I almost always do at least one book tour, so zero events was really sad.
But we’re doing a book tour for Bloodlines. And to kick it off, I am going back to Uncle Hugos!
As many of you know Uncle Hugos is the indy bookstore in Minneapolis that got burned down during the riots. However, Don is still in business online and has been shipping books from his house, and that’s where I usually steer fans toward so they can get autographed copies of my stuff. So Don has teamed up with another store in Minneapolis called Dreamhaven, and I’ll be doing a signing there, and then loading him autographed books to ship to all the places I can’t go sign.
I’ll put up a link for autographed copies from Uncle Hugos when we get closer. That’ll help him make sure he’s got enough on hand too.
After that I’ll be driving across America. Literally. Starting in Minneapolis and going all the way to New Orleans, with stops all along the way. (it’s a challenge right now to find stores that can/will let people congregate) I should have the final list of stops in the next couple of weeks and I’ll post it here. I really look forward to seeing people again.
Leather bound Grimnoirs #2 and #3 got a huge delay when their printer went out of business and kept their deposit. However, they’ve found another supplier who can match the quality of the #1, and have gotten in line.
Plushy Wendells are being worked on now and Jack will start shipping them as soon as they arrive.
I’ve play tested Gritty Cop Show some more, but this last year kind of put that on the back burner. I still want to Kickstart it (which will be amusing since I’m so despised by the ultra woke parts of the game industry, all the professionals helping on the book will be using their fake cop show names!) I need to make a few changes to how to make bad guys and campaigns, and then I want to send that out to play testers. So if you’ve played a test game with me at any cons, I’ll be happy to send you the rules to test if you want. But that’ll probably be a couple of months before I can get around to revamping that.
And there is some more really cool stuff on the horizon that I can’t talk about yet, and it’s killing me, because I know you guys are going to love it.
A lost colony planet, a perplexing murder, and a dogged homicide cop in this Audible Original story from best-selling author Larry Correia.
When the biggest colony ship in human history was sent to settle a paradise world, an accident hurtled it deep into uncharted space. A thousand light years from Earth, with no way home and no way to call for help, the colonists’ only hope for survival was the one barely habitable planet in range, a nightmare world they named Croatoan. Landing on the only five mountain peaks tall enough to rise above the lethal acid clouds, the settlers carved a civilization from the rock.
A hundred years later, Five Points has grown into a city of corruption and violence. With powerful corporations ruling the surface domes and criminal syndicates running the caverns below, murder is just the cost of doing business.
So when a Special Magistrate is found dissolving in a protein vat, it barely registers – until DCI Lutero Cade, the last honest cop in Five Points, catches the case. What he finds could threaten the colony’s very existence.
Or, at the very least, Cade himself.
FAQ – it’s an Audible Exclusive, meaning audio only for a year but then after that I can put it in print.
I know who the narrator is, but I don’t think I can announce that for sure, but it’s one of my regulars.
It’s novella length.
It is set in the same universe as Gun Runner (same as a Tank Called Bob, so this has become my go to setting for scifi stories!), but these events are completely unrelated to what happens in Gun Runner.
I had a ton of fun with this one. Gritty Cop Shows are one of my favorite genres, but not something I normally work in. But sci-fi it up, and I’m all in! I really hope you guys enjoy this because I would love to do more with this one. Five Points/Croatoan is a cool setting.