GM’s Corner 01: Red Markets Episodes 1-3

Our first campaign was done as a beta playtest for Hebanon Games’ upcoming RPG Red Markets ( None of us had an established gaming group that wanted to play Red Markets but we all wanted to take part in the closed beta. Our team first met on the Role Playing Public Radio forums, after I posted to the forum a suggestion that people should band together and play the game online.I was lucky to have Aaron, Ethan, and Laura respond, and the rest is history.

Now with our group set, our discussion fell to creating the world of our campaign. Red Markets’ system allows the players and GM to collaborate on their base of operations. As Ethan is on the side of the country that serves as the playable area in Red Markets, his home state of Missouri seemed like a good place to base our Enclave out of. We took to Google Earth, and they agreed that a place along a river or lake would work well. They settled on the serpentine Lake of the Ozarks. While checking it, we spotted the small Village of Four Seasons. Struck by the absurdity of naming a post apocalyptic city after a fancy hotel, our Enclave’s name and location were decided upon.

With our characters and Enclave out of the way, it fell to me as GM to create the scenarios for them to play in. Red Markets provides a random roll table to set up scenarios, so it seemed prudent to test these rules. My rolls gave me a job for energy goods. Not knowing what would make sense for the middle of Missouri, I searched Google and found a website for the Missouri Department of Energy, which said that coal is a major part of Missouri’s energy needs. Modifying my search to ‘Coal Production in Missouri,’ I found a page from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The Department asked people to provide old maps for abandoned underground coal mines, showing a map of the Little Pittsburg Coal Mine of Lingo, Missouri, originally surveyed in 1890 as a sample. ( Such a striking and clear concept gave me all I needed to make a job for our heroes to partake in.

Their job in hand, I now had to provide a twist (as is also mandated in the rules.) My first thought was to trigger a mine collapse, but that seemed too deus ex machina and had the potential to kill my players with one set of bad rolls. My background is not in tabletop RPGs. I’ve only been playing games in these systems for the past four years. My background is mostly in video games, where one of the biggest tropes is boss fights. One of the creatures in Red Markets that had not (as of the beta) been fleshed out were ‘Aberrants,’ highly mutated zombies that could function as bosses. Taking a risk and some artistic license, I made an Aberrant for them to fight.

Perhaps my biggest lesson from this session is the importance of improvisation. Another facet of the Red Markets experience is the random Leg table. The GM places the jobsite for a session an arbitrary distance away using Legs: small vignettes or encounters along the way. I set out to make my own table for the purposes of our campaign, and had to think of 20 encounters. I was struck by the ability to use dogs as a companion in the game, so I created an encounter where the players meet a dog and have the choice to give it food to take back to its master. It was even written such that they did not have to meet the owner, but they followed the dog back. I had written no dialog or personality to this dog and its owner.

The only things I had written were that the owner, Anton, was the lone survivor of a group that failed their mission, whereupon he became a Latent, infected with the zombie virus but still human. So, naturally, they met the owner and had a tense encounter with him as they found he was infected and befriended him as he came to the realization that he was infected.

This one paragraph throw away NPC turned out to be the most important NPC in the game.

The thing I love the most about RPGs is the collaborative process. It should never be the GM forcing a story upon their players; it’s the GM and players working together to tell an amazing story. We hope you enjoy this session and the many more to come from Technical Difficulties.