Friday, December 31, 2010

A bit less ranty, the art of game mastering

I posted a rant the other day, and instead of posting a comment I'll make a post out of it. Wild ranting is more fun, but since I did have a point I will put it through a bit clearer. 

So, well, I was ranting and thus making the arguments walk that extra mile. But, I think I still have this idea about being a DM and being creative.

If you feel you have to stick to the book, and thus limit yourself to the extent that you feel stumped when not all your work is done for you, I think your style of game mastering could use some tweaking. In order to make a "canned" adventure work for you, you will not be able to just pick it up and run. If you could, computers could do it better.

Being a DM is, in its essence, to be creative and adaptive on the fly. Not even saving some time with a pre-designed module will change that. It's not easy, but it can be done. I keep fighting with it.

The high and low of 2010

At this time of year, some people make lists and remembers the year that went by. I'm no better, so here we go.

There are a few things which just rocks
That have been the highlights of 2010, no doubt.

Some of the less fun things is that my T&T petered out and I have not been playing any more really old school game since then. I have been thinking about putting out recruitment posters downtown, but with one regular weekly game I don't think I could defend being out gaming twice a week to my wife.

What have happened here at the blog? Well, this was the year when I happened to mention rape in a game context, and got surprised by hot a topic that was. I have blogged about dungeon design and density and pontificated about a middle ground between the rail road and the free for all sandbox. I hope some of it have been entertaining. Some things I have been very excited about this year were S&W whitebox and Dragons at Dawn.

Some low marks during the year have been Ronnie James Dio dying and the fact that some of my more ambitious projects have generated nothing. I guess the latter can be expanded upon a bit.

At the beginning of the year I had a few ideas about self publishing. Sadly I've seen work and real life take a much bigger stake on my creative energies and nothing much have been done. Also, a few of my best ideas have now been found to be already done, or in progress by far more creative people. But, being in the company of people like Zak Sabbath and Paul Jaquays isn't too disheartening. The project that still lingers on is my attempt to clone or rewrite the psionics rules from Supplement III of the world's most famous rpg. I still haven't given up on that one.

So what's up for next year? Well, I still have some hopes for those publishing plans and I'm thinking of doing some more thought out sessions this year. Hopefully I will also start a few regular features. Even though my blogging seem to ebb and flow I still have a lot of fun doing it.

Ending this year I will thus wish you all a happy new year! See you in the future!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A few DragonQuest adventures, a rant about the need for supplements

The question showed up on a DragonQuest list if the Judges Guild produced supplements were worth hunting down. For those who wonder, after the latest hubbub about the game, this what I replied:

I actually took them out and thumbed through them.

The one called Magebird Quest contains some deckplans for a couple of boats and an inn or two. Apart from that it seems to be only a small section of travel speeds by boat which might be of interest as far as rules and crunch go. I think I spotted a new monster as well.

The Starsilver Trek contains more specific crunch. It has a description of the Prospector skill and stats for magically irradiated creatures. Also, probably a new monster but I don't know the DQ monster list that well. The cover illustration is depicting a fight between dwarves and lizard men. What is there not to love? :)
 Now every completist out there knows there is a new skill to get!

Another supplement with characters, to be used as NPCs or whatnot, was summarized as follows (not by me this time):

I seem to recall that Heroes & Villains had a lot of "rules violations". That is characters ranked in weapons they didn't meet the requirements for and similar issues.
That made me thinking... (Rant ahead!)

Back when I was hanging out on the Necromancer Games forum, I remember how I was saddened, and annoyed, when people moaned about "rules violations". You see, NG had put out their first adventures when the SRD was not finalized, and they worked from a draft and the rules they had used from older editions. Naturally this meant that there was quite a few instances when the stats wasn't really "by the book" or maybe some game mechanic referred to some procedure which wasn't like that any more. I thought it meant you as the DM just had to be creative.

Then WotC put out the revised 3rd ed. Everyone was scrambling to "update" their stuff and for ages after that people kept asking Bill and Clarke to publish a revised edition of the flagship monster book Tome of Horrors. At this I more than once posted some urgings for people to be creative and just fix it on the fly or sit down and do it themselves. The steam had began to cool in the 3rd ed. engine by that time and I knew that no revised printing of ToH would come. You can maybe still find my post where I heckle and tease people for their lack of creativity and ask how they became DMs with that attitude.

If you want to call me arrogant and maybe even a bit rude I wont argue the point. But, it brings into focus the "problem" with Heroes & Villains mentioned above. How much will it bother you to have a supplement miss a few facts about a monster, or a NPC?

The reason we buy supplements is that we as DMs don't want or can do the work, and thus pay somebody to do it for us. Frankly, if you have the rules of a game you really never need to buy anything. Considering how many freely available games there are, you never need to buy anything! But we do, and for some pretty good reasons.

Is it then ok for those supplements to not be perfectly "legal"? As you can guess, I think it might be ok. For me it don't work as well when I write it all myself. I'm not a world builder, plotter, NPC designer and dungeon digger. I am duck tape, patching together things behind the screen, rolling dice and saying "yes". My last 7th Sea game showed this again to be true.

Now, I see the point that having bought something you expect it to be worth your money. But, being worth it for many seem to mean they get annoyed when it don't pass the legal review. Why do you even bother to get agitated? Spend that energy to design your own, right? I think, especially looking at those Judges Guild booklets in cheap newsprint, that today we have probably forgotten the level of amateurism that have ruled this hobby for most of its life. Today we expect professionalism, or at least glossy paper and colour on our maps. What's you money worth?

I still think that a DM worth his or her salt should be able to take something and combining it with some of that other stuff over there. Hey, isn't the platonic ideal the DM who writes everything by herself? I have met more than once who boast of that proficiency. Maybe it's not for everyone, but if I can patch half decent stuff back into playable games with player enthusiasm as glue, then I think anyone can do it! I'm not that special.

DragonQuest "retroclone"?

I guess quite a few of my readers have heard of DragonQuest. A certain blogger just these last few days posted about it, and I have gotten some interesting news about the game I decided to share. 

Just a few days ago James Sutton, managing director for RedBrick LLC announced to the DragonQuest community that he have have started to investigate the possibility to try to "retroclone" DragonQuest back into print. He have been in contact with Eric Goldberg, once the lead designer of the game, and he seemed to like the idea as well.

James post was a call for volunteers, and this heralds some interesting times for the game. I will be watching the developments with interest. Since WotC have shown their disinterest in the property by letting the trademark slide, this opens up possibilities.

Dragons at Dawn read through collected

A while ago I started a series of post about Dragons at Dawn, an attempt to recreate the rules used by Dave Arneson in the first years of the first fantasy campaign.

Here are the whole collection on one easy to access page.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

If you haven't read through it all, I can summarize my impressions as very positive. This is 30 years over due, and very interesting.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The point of dice

I'm doing some prep work for my new game, and one thing I'm reading is Burning Wheel. In this amazing game Luke Crane writes something really cool about dice, and I'm going to quote it in full. Consider this:

"Why roll at all? Why not just agree on what's happening? We're all fair-minded adults, right? Well, social agreement is a fantastic ideal, but it is subject to bullying, blustering, intimidation, manipulation, cajoling, persuasion and lying: all things that are separate from the characters -- part of a social dynamic that is apart from the game. By relying on the dice, everyone is on a level playing field. Burning Wheel is a game, not acting class. The versus tests get everyone playing the game, and besides, your characters only advance if you roll the dice!"

There are multiple things here that I really dig. The quest for a game that works, even if people are not acting live fair-minded adults can take you down many different paths, but having a system is a must. Note also that BW is a game, and I think it should be emphasized. While you can go in a mental spin about how roleplaying is a new art form of interactive storytelling, it shines when it's grounded. A game. A game which can be played on multiple levels, at the same time be what different people want out of it. Finally, by grounding that in the rules, preferably the advancement rules, you have a vehicle carrying the kind of game play you want. There's nothing like it.

Roll the dice.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reading Dragons at Dawn Part V

In this installment we will look at magic and some general ideas on campaign building in Dragons at Dawn.

The first thing you notice is that mages can cast spontaneous spells. Not only can they do that, the things they can lob around at will is lightning strikes and fireballs! As in other parts of D@D, there are more than one system, shadowing the development in the Blackmoor campaign.

A few things are consistent in all systems, like that are the fact that magic and technology or at least alchemy are tightly intertwined. All spells are based on physical components. I also like the idea of having to roll a save to cast, which reminds me of how Rolemaster handles things like casting spells above your capability and suchlike. Magic should be capricious, I think. It makes it more "arcane", kind of.

Much have been said about magic swords through the ages. In these rules they all have some intelligence. It feels like Arneson liked his Stormbringer. It will probably feel very different from regular D&D to have ray guns, intelligent swords, singing elves and a Sleep spell which you might literally throw in the face of your opponents.

Otherwise can be seen his inspiration from Tolkien, since in the expanded games elves may sing their magic. This system, like Arneson's original idea for magic, uses spell points. Personally I'm not that fond of spell points, since it's just another fiddly thing to keep track of. I do feel for the designer who likes to transcend the hard limits of a slot based system, though.

Like so many times we can see how this is a game from the school of hard knocks. No flowchart to help you design "balanced" spells or magic items. It's wild and wooly. From what I've read of Tekumel, that other campaign where Dave Arneson played, the idea of technology indistinguishable from magic was prevalent there as well. 

Campaign Rules
There are a few intriguing parts of D@D for campaign and adventure building. The first are the role random events must have played in Blackmoor. Having both a set of index cards with divination and seer consultation results, and also a set of index cards with strategic evens in the campaign. Picking randomly from those during the campaign time frame is an interesting way to add to classical rumours and that dreaded "story campaign" where events are plotted out in advance. Have your cake and east it too. I like this way of steering the events in a campaign, since it will probably be just as much fun for the GM as the players to pick a card and see what great events are a foot this month in the campaign.

The other thing I want to mention is Arnesons way of using points to populate his dungeons. Sometimes you might hear critics of D&D3 talk like having Challenge Ratings somehow destroyed the game. Nothing stops you from ignoring the idea of the "balanced encounter" just because you have the means to calculate something like an encounter difficulty depending on the strength of your party, you know! Apparently Dave thought that way, for he seemed to have used the idea of quickly stating a dungeon by deciding on how many points of opposition there were, and then later deploy those points as actual hit dice of enemies. I like this idea.

All in all, this rule set really makes me want to sit down and roll up a character. The combat rules are interesting, and the idea of saving rolls for resolving general challenges talks to my Trollish heart. Sometimes they lay out of the book isn't great, and I think it would have benefited from a more tight structure with a short discussion of the sources and Arneson's ideas together with the presentation of a specific set of rules. Now there are great snippets spread around, but some rules are presented with less reflection on what came before and I can't help wonder how much of that section was invented whole cloth by Dan Boggs? I like what I see, I just had wanted to know. The only read problem with this book is that it's 30 years over due! Just imagine if this had been done while Dave could have seen it and given feedback. But, who knows. Maybe he would just have shrugged and told us to invent some on our own, since he didn't remember. Great games makes you co-creator and entice you to house rule and add to it. This is such a game.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Me, with a part of my collection. In my hands the most gonzo of games. I will definitely roll up a character and see what it can do. I have actually played this game before, and it was the most fun I've had next to WHFRP and Stormbringer back the the crazy days of youth.

Many thanks to a certain knight!

Admit you are tired of your old RPG...

Maybe it's time to switch to Synnibarr?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Reading Dragons at Dawn Part IV

It's time to dive into the depth of, the Arnesonian combat system. Prepare for acceptance of new ideas!

So, it's time to cross swords and the first thing you do is check for morale. Yes, all of you, including the player characters. You base it off your Hit Dice, and the result is the morale condition you're in, and which will affect your performance in combat. If you are shaken, you will have halved effectiveness, for example. This feels a lot like a wargame. If you have been pushing cardboard chits around on a hex map or handled lead toy soldiers, you will feel at home at once. Initiative is no big thing and you usually have the players do one round of attacks and then the opponents have a go before it's a new round.

Hit Dice and modifiers
The meat of the combat system is how you calculate the combat odds using HD. They are your offensive strength, your defensive strength and also what you roll for damage. Interestingly enough, you also get the opportunity to save against your AC if hit. At least if you are a PC.

The modifiers for the attack is difference in dexterity, size and level. Double or half according to morale and then compare the total to the opponent's total on a chart and roll below the cross referenced number by 2d6-2. Roll your HD for damage if you hit. I said it looked a lot like a wargame, right?

Once again (am I beginning to sound like a broken record here, or what?) I feel these rules feel a lot like T&T. Roll your total and compare. But wait, I'm not only grasping for weak links to my favourite system, there are more similarities. Damage is dealt to the weakest character in the melee, and excess damage after a kill is spread to the next weakest. Imagine totalling the HD on one side, add and compare and it's beginning to look very familiar. Same, but different. I feel these two games could be combined in so many cool ways. I can totally see someone asking their DM to make a Save against a stat in the middle of a combat to try out a stunt. Said stund would double your attack strength or something. Sounds like Dave Arneson style to me, and exactly what I've been doing in my T&T games.

Armor and magic swords
Time to stop talking about T&T and get back to Dragons at Dawn? Sure, I will. Let's talk about Armor. Since it's good to have a high HD value, a high HPV and a high DEX, it makes sense to have a high value being the best kind of armor, right? Well, I know there are some religious feelings about this. Personally I feel armor on a scale from 1 to 8, with 8 being a suit of plate with shield making a lot of sense. Same with Dave, I guess.

What I like in this section is how the negative AC ratings are used for non corporeal and magic creatures. You will need to have magic which is at least as powerful as the AC to cancel it out, i.e. an AC of -2 mean you must have a weapon of at least +2 to hit and damage. Neat, I think. It's also very neat to have AC "roll over" after 10, so some really heavy duty kevlar armor will have AC 14 (i.e. -4) and withstand anything but +4 weapons. Bring your laser to town!

There's a lot of flexibility in the system, and you can have magical armor either subtract dice of damage, or have it add a bonus to your armor save.

General impressions
In general I think the combat system have a lot of interesting features. You can double, add and shift columns and modify it a lot but still keep the basic mechanic. Anyone who loves to have weapon quality, skill levels, magic bonuses or oddball materials can go wild, but in the end it's just defensive strength versus attacking strength on a table and roll 2d6-2. I like it, a lot.

There's also unarmed combat and some mention of criticals, but I wont go into all the details.

The next post will be about magic and campaign building, and it will wrap up this series on Dragons at Dawn.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Reading Dragons at Dawn Part III

So, time for another part in my series of post on Dragons at Dawn, the game that tries to salvage the rules used by Dave Arneson and friends during the earliest years of our hobby.

There are a few interesting differences here from D&D. Levels in the Basic game is limited, and in the Expanded game they go to 10. Hit Dice change per level as do Hit Points. No, they are not the same. I will talk more about them later when I come to combat. What is interesting is Hit Point Value, HPV, though. You get a set amount at each level! There are different charts for the progression for different kinds of classes but all have a set amount. Interesting. I can't say how happy I am to see level titles in the Basic game!

Those with good memories know I claim alignment only causes brain damage, but since nobody is perfect the founding father did use them.  Much have been said about how many you should use, and if they are guidelines for roleplaying or actual limitations on behaviour and functioning of in game powers. In D@D magic is aligned. This have been seen in D&D, in the Lankhmar campaign setting with white, black and red wizards. I still think it makes no sense what so ever and especially in D@D where much of the magic items are technological, and spells are always based on components. But, there you have it. The idea that you will get hurt if touching a powerful item of a different alignment than your own is interesting, though.

I saved this for last, since this is what I personally find most interesting. In 7th ed. T&T, there's this thing called Talents. They basically give you a bonus to your regular stat based saving rolls for the limited set of a trained skill. In D@D we see that once again T&T and it have evolved along similar lines, even though there have been no direct line of influence. Interesting.

Education are special areas of expertise, and you get a maximum of +5 however well trained you are. Very similar to the +1d6 of Talents. Just like in AD&D, you have to spend time and money to train in order to gain new ones. You don't just get new ones while levelling up. I think I'm liking the idea of making Talents work along those lines as well, i.e. you don't get them naturally, but you can train them and get a bigger bonus, from the starting +1.

Non-human characters
While there are the usual possibilities of playing a dwarf, elf or halfling there's also the possibility of playing a "monster race". There is a formula to calculate hits, HD and XP. It kind of makes sense, considering the original Blackmoor players actually played both sides, antagonists and protagonists. Naturally, this makes me think of how T&T have stood out as that game where you could play a monster. I got my copy of Monsters! Monsters! a few days back and have just read about how that was introduced way back. You do know you can buy it again, don't you?

More and more it feels like T&T and D@D would appeal to the same kind of gamer. I like sure them both!

Next up, Combat.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Reading Dragons at Dawn Part II

This time I'm going to talk about some of the basic building blocks of characters, and how they differ from your regular D&D game.

Classes and Traits
Like I posted last time, there are two different sets of classes. The Basic game only have Warriors and Wizards. This is something I find interesting, since it resembles Tunnels & Trolls. In that game there are more classes, but basically it's all Warriors or Wizards or a combination thereof. In sword and sorcery gaming that are the basic building blocks, right? The Expanded game in Dragons at Dawn have a bunch of more classes like Elf Mage, Merchant, Priest/Monk, Sage and Thief Assasin. The inclusion of Merchant and Sage is interesting, I think. One is capable of persuading and the other can curse his opponent!

The class everyone seem to have an opinion on is there, the thief. He has no more skill system than anyone else, and combines the feature of another class, the assassin. The latter and the monk both show up in the Blackmoor supplement to D&D. There have been some controversy about who wrote what in that supplement and at least the idea for the classes indeed seem to come from Minnesota.

The monk I find interesting. There are no indications that the monk had any of those kung fu powers he is equipped with in D&D. I sure wonder where that came from? I've never understood how they fitted in Blackmoor, which is as solidly in the mainstream of medieval fantasy as Greyhawk. Boggs notes that even though Priests were the first class invented (after the basic Warrior and Wizard, I gather) we have very little information on how those developed, more than the fact that "curates" did have spells. The information for Priests/Monks presented are based on inference from the Tekumel campaign and some later source of the class' ability. Considering M.A.R. Barker is still alive I can't help but wonder if someone asked him about it?

Stats, Traits or Abilities
These are the first things you generate in so many RPGs. Interestingly, in D@D you have six of them and you roll 2d6-2. Somebody with more skill at probability theory will have to chime in and tell me what kind of spread that will give you, and what the average is. Now, how you use those abilities is what really made me sit up and take notice.

Most things you do in D@D, you do by rolling 2d6-2 against your traits. This is the saving roll mechanic and the "skill system". Anyone who knows a thing or two of T&T will recognize that mechanic. Isn't it amazing that Dave used that mechanic with ability rolls, it never showing up in the published D&D and then Ken St Andre reads those rules and reinvent the mechanic? D@D feel like a interesting marriage for D&D and T&T sometimes. There are more of those quirks which I will make note of later on.

Next up is some more notes on characters, like my pet hate - alignment.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Reading Dragons at Dawn Part I

After a few weeks which have been far too hectic I'm going to steal some spare time and start to put down some thoughts and impressions from reading Dragons at Dawn. Dave Arneson and his Blackmoor campaign have fascinated me for a long time and I have used concepts from his campaign in a few of my own. Also, Ken St Andre and Dave Arneson are two of my main source of inspiration for starting this blog. I was very excited when I first heard that Dan Boggs was going to publish his recreation of the rules used during the very dawn of our hobby. Let's dive into it.

Look and feel
The first thing I noticed was the font. For some discernible reason Mr. Boggs decided to use a non serif font for the main text. For the life of me I can't understand why he choose that font and the one column layout. It's harder to read than necessary and the font also looks quite ugly.

Since I once found a very cool disclaimer once in a game (I think it was Chill) about any likeness to persons living dead or undead being coincidental, I these days read the small print on the first page closely.

"Authors are encouraged to create derivative works for use with this product" and "Any number of print or electronic copies of this product ... may be freely made by any purchaser of this product for their own use and for the temporary use of any players participating in a Dragons at Dawn game"

How about that? This Boggs fellow is apparently a man with the right attitude. Those two sentences alone made me very positive to this work. Even if the font was a bit harder to read than necessary.

Introduction and designer notes
In this section Boggs makes it clear that his intention with D@D is to present a piece of gaming archaeology. The intention is to capture Dave's original style of play, the rules behind the D&D rules so to speak. I think it is kind of essential for this kind of play to have a loose framework whereupon to base referee rulings. In this case it will be by necessity, since much of the lore have been lost. It's very interesting that a manuscript from the communications between Dave and Gary have been unearthed and have been used as a source for this game together with the Judges Guild First Fantasy Campaign product, and interviews with the players of Dave's campaign. This is as good a picture as we are ever going to get of the FFC. It makes me giddy just to think about.

Now, I do which some parts of that heritage had been handled better. The notes Arneson left are sketchy and the same must be said of most other sources. That makes it twice as interesting to know when the author of D@D have added some glue, and when the sources are coherent enough to be presented as is. In some places it's explicit, but I'd have liked to have had, say, notes in sidebars about how well this or that is covered in the source or had to be cobbled together. That being said, this is a gold mine and should have been published ages ago!

Points of divergence
Quite early in the book you understand that this is not your regular D&D game. Already on page 3, in the glossary section, you are told the regular unaided healing rate, one HPV per day. Those of us who remember reading the Basic D&D set and searching for rates of natural healing in vain will smile upon seeing that.

Since the game developed quite a bit as the Blackmoor campaign went on, there are actually two sets of rules in D@D. The first is the Basic Game where the levels are few and the classes even fewer (Warrior or Wizard, just like in T&T), and the Expanded Game with more classes. The magic is also different in the two rules.

In T&T 7th ed. the designer tells you that unless you have modified the game you have not really played T&T. In this game you have to. I imagine many readers will look at the Basic and Extended game and cherry pick parts they like the most. At the minimum you have to decide to just go with the Basics.

One thing I found very interesting was the notes on cooperative and competitive play. When the Blackmoor campaign started, some players were playing bad guys. Just like when you have a miniatures battle you have two sides. To put that up front makes you realize that this is a game where you must leave all preconceived notions of how the game works behind.

There's more to come
Since I don't like over long posts I'm going to break here. There will be more. Next up are the stats, six of them and they are not like D&D, and the classes. See you next time.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The point of NPCs, and styles of play

This morning I met an old friend whom I used to game with. We chatted a bit about life, work and family before delving deep into our gaming experiences since last time. Since I split from a game after inheriting this friend's character I talked a bit about why that game didn't appeal to me. This made me verbalize a few things which I've been thinking but never before put into words. I'll try to share some of that insight here.

I was playing in this game where we were young adults in a weird kind of post-apocalyptic fantasy world with religious overtones. It kind of made me think of the Alvin Maker series by Orson Scott Card. We all had some Gift, and our village felt like some kind of religious commune. Since everything around the village, out in the woods, is dangerous and strange we all had the roles of rangers in training. After having encountered some soldiers and had a big fight there erupted a thunderstorm and when our village elder visited the druids in the wood afterwards we learned that he had made a deal for us to stay for one year in the village, not trespassing into their realm.

So, here we were, sitting for a year in the village with a bunch of refugees from another village which had been invaded by the soldiers we'd fought. Note that this year was not to be glossed over. We were expected to play it out, in a fairly low pace. That is, we would spend the game chatting with ourselves and "getting involved" in the refugees and other NPCs in the village. Character based soap opera, in other words. I quit the game.

I realize I'm already a bit long winded, but will now get to the point.

What are the point of NPCs in your game? Sources of information? For you and the players (I'm writing this from the point of a referee here) to interact to find out more about that NPC's inner life or maybe develop the character you're playing?

Now when thinking of why a soap opera game was to contrary to all my wishes, I managed to narrow down what I like with roleplaying as the possibility to explore a secondary world. Using NPCs you can showcase how someone who knows this world acts and thinks. Basically, they are they way the secondary world shows itself to the players. The NPCs are a way to make that world look like it breathes and moves while your players are not looking.

Contrast that with NPCs who are there in order for your players to get to express their longings from drama class. In that case you are interested in the NPCs for their own sake, and in the player characters for their own sake. Not for their actions, which is very different.

I've come to the insight that the latter way, especially combined with ideas like "freeform" or "jeepform" bores me to death. I want to play a roleplaying game not act in an amateur theatre group. If I wanted that I would be better served by finding an amateur theatre group, I think. Add to that the pretentiousness of some of the people involved in that kind of "gaming" and I feel like throwing up.

How do you feel about styles of play, and the roles of NPCs? It might be different, and it's totally ok. But, if you differ very much from how I feel, I doubt we will enjoy the same game for long. Now I at least have something to show people when they want to know what kind of game I like.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dungeons in new games

Zak wrote something interesting about dungeons the other day. He notes that newer RPG are often a bit more cinematic and also they usually don't feature dungeons. This made me think.

I have a few friends who have been playing role playing games since way back. They also have one thing in common in that they look and sound a lot less enthusiastic when you mention the word "dungeon".

For some people the fun part, and even the whole point of, playing a RPG is to interact with NPCs - to roleplay. What is interesting with dungeons though, is that like Zak writes anything, however mundane, is potentially interesting. Exploring the environment is what the game is about. Your role is not method acting, it's interacting with the other party members and acting out your role in the party. This doesn't necessarily mean you don't do roleplaying!

I still wonder how to make my friends more enthusiastic about this kind of roleplaying. We might like slightly different kinds of gaming, but you play with the gamers you've got and like to hang out with. Also, I like to think roleplaying can be a lot of different things, maybe even at the same time, for different people.

Maybe there is a way to make NPC interactions more common in a dungeon environment? Maybe there is a way to make the virtues of explorative play more common in the NPC crowded city based game? I'm not sure how, but I like to think it can be done.

If James Joyce does that in his exploration of Dublin, maybe I need to read it? I think that sometimes cityscapes have been less used as a canvas of the fantastic than they deserve. While going down a hole in the ground to dig out treasure have a certain resonance of the Hero's Journey, I guess the urban jungle can be just as wild and feel just as much like a game of exploration. How would it be to do a hexcrawl of a fantasy city?

It would be interesting if Zak Sabbath was the one who finally made me read James Joyce, because I wanted to read the dungeon crawl novel, Ulysses.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Distracting myself - kung fu fighting

Some gamers feel their fantasy works best without starships and rayguns, thank you very much. Other still think sf is best without space elves or psionics (yeah I know, the promised psionics project is moving forward very slowly, but it's not dead), thank you sir! Considering those purist tendencies, it's not surprising that oriental martial arts are not every gamer's cup of tea. For those who like it, read on.

On the commuter train this morning (my brain marinating in Wǔdāngquán, Ba gua, Wu Xing and my own practice of Chinese martial training and exercise), I suddenly wondered if it was possible to capture some of these ideas in gaming rules, and rolling dice. This is what I came up with.

Let's say we have a game where every school of martial arts provides your character with some techniques. Those all have an aspect of a certain movement or "element". You also have different pools of chi, likewise aspected (this is totally bogus of course, but makes for an interesting resource mechanic). Every time you want to use one of those techniques, you dice off. You always roll opposed, and you always have to have chi to fuel the action.

So, you grab your dice for the chi pool you have at hand and the dice for your technique. Roll and add your successes, and also add your total. Now, the limiting factor here is your technique. You can't utilize more power than your training allow, even if you are loaded up with chi. So, you roll all the dice but only keep as many as your technique rating, then do the counting of successes. But, if the "colour" of your chi pool matches the movement which generates the one of the technique used (according to the shēng cycle), you get to keep one extra die.

If, according to the cycle, the aspect of the technique used "defeats" the defending one, you get to keep the chi used to power the attack, otherwise it's lost. Same thing for the defender.

The amount of successes determine who won that exchange, and for every ten points you narrate one detail. Narrative power goes to the looser in the exchange.

There you go. I bet it's half broken and needlessly complicated. The thing is, I will probably never bother to beat those rules into shape, since don't see me have any chance to use them soon. Use them and abuse them, and feel free to tell me what works and not.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A few words from Ken

In case you had missed it, or thought he had come clean. Here's the latest words from Ken St Andre about James Shipman:

[ some parts removed ]

I've been in contact with Ken again, and the situation have changed a bit, so for now I have elected to take that notice down. The advice to do no business with James Shipman is still valid, but that's me talking, not Ken.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Slowdown of posts

This is a very hectic week for me. The Atlas experiment is doing huge reconstruction jobs, and tomorrow CERN expect to start a lead ion run.

Naturally when there's data taking, we have had things erupt left and right! RAID sets and file systems have crashed at the most inconvenient of times.

Since I have been scrambling to keep track of which pile of disks have been imploding, and what security breach have happened at the same time, I have not had time to think much about the series of posts on Dragons at Dawn I have promised. Maybe things cool down a bit next week while the lead is colliding. Bear with me.

Nice resource about the FASA Star Trek game

I found a very cool resource I'd like to share. This page have a listing of all the publications for the FASA Star Trek game. Quite useful when hitting eBay. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A nice crit mechanic

As a follow up to my last post, regarding critical hits. One thing that's neat with having to roll percentiles to hit is that you can have something cool happen when you get doubles, i.e. same number on both dice. Rolled over the target number and it's something no-so-cool and below something cool. At least in a roll low system. Almost worth considering even if you are using a d20. Just multiply by five and you can break out the percentiles. I first saw this in Top Secret/S.I. and I still love it.

Complicated combat rules - when it matters

I was reading issue #9 of Fight On! magazine on my way to work yesterday (is it just me, or are there more typos than usual in that issue?), and found something interesting in the review section. Well, there were two interesting things, one being the review of Dragons at Dawn, but I was going to talk about the other review I took note of.

The game being reviewed  was called Backswords & Bucklers. In this game you get grievous injuries when hitting zero hit points. It made me think of how to make combat more detailed when needed, while at the same time keeping it swift and fun. I once again started to think of how it works in 7th Sea, and how that gels with B&B.

In 7th Sea you have three classes of NPCs. There are Brutes (mooks), Henchmen, and Villains. I guess you can tell which are quickest to dispose in a fight? You have a similar thing in D&D 4th ed. with minions.

So, how about the idea of using crits, hit locations and called shots i.e. going all Rolemaster, but only do it after the "monster" reaches zero hits? You could do this in any game, like S&W, T&T, B/X or Labyrinth Lord.

For me it sounded like an interesting way to add that crunch, but only when it matters - when the Villain have been blooded and you both go that extra mile to finish each other off.

Nothing revolutionary, but it sounds neat to me.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sales and the life of the business, and the hobby

I guess everyone have heard the news by now, how Pathfinder and D&D are tied when it comes to sales figures. Probably you have also heard how Gareth-Michael Skarka posted his view of things and how people reacted to that. There's only have one thing about this which makes me curious.

It's no news that online gaming is where people are gathering these days. What makes me curious is why people play those games instead of traditional RPGs?

For those who have never played a traditional RPG the question is easy. They don't know that traditional gaming exists, or have preconceived notions about what that entails. If those people would have become our kind of gamers had the online games not existed, then we are obviously observing our hobby fading away. There are those who have ideas how to handle that, like Skarka.

Then there are those who once were active table top roleplayers, who now exclusively play online games. I have personally met gamers who these days not play good old RPGs, but only WoW. Why?

If you have been playing rpgs and enjoyed it, why would you stop? Well, I can imagine that for some it can be hard to keep a regular group with married life, kids, full time work and all that jazz. I've seen it happen to myself. But, what then makes you come back to gaming in the form of WoW, and not traditional gaming? Fading away I can see, but phasing over to WoW?

Is it harder to find a group again? It can't be because it's cheaper. It isn't. Also, one of the good things about roleplaying is you get to hang out with your friends and goof off. Is it so that it's easier to sit down by that ever present computer? You sit by that screen all day, so it's easy to go through the motions again, this time to play the game?

Frankly, I can't see how we could ever snare those people back to the hobby. I just can't see how anyone could choose one over they other. To me they seem too different. I once tried to sway some old friends back into the fold. The lack of enthusiasm was total. What made these people shift from our kind of games to the online kind? Frankly, I just can't understand it.

Oh, and I do think Skarka is onto something. This hobby sure isn't in a healthy state.Talking about that is a much bigger subject, and I'm not sure I have anything more to say than that you should all try to recruit a gamer, and remember to teach your kids.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Watch out for James Shipman - again

I found this link today about what that bastard are up to. Beware, and spread the word.

Randomness and fun - old/new school

I just revisited some old bookmarks and found two interesting ones I wanted to share.

Compare Zachary Houghton and Vincent Baker.



Zach very aptly put the focus on what is fun. Memorable gaming is fun because of the wonder of the unexpected.

Compare that to this.

Vincent very aptly shows us how aligning player expectations using the game system to share the benefits of the effects on the characters from some action.

In one case you accept before the fact that the random effect will be endured, because it is the shared benefit will be a cool story. You have the expectations aligned beforehand

In the other case you do that which will be a cool story, because the game system helps you to align player expectations, in play.

Look at the end result. You have a cool story where some suffer and some gain, and you have agreed that this is cool, and there are ways to broker the pain.

I like how this converge.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dragons at Dawn - some impressions

I just recently ordered the biggest pile of games from Lulu yet. This time it was no less than three issues of the excellent periodical Fight On! magazine, and some other goodness. One of these other books was Dragons at Dawn.

For those of you who have missed it, this is an attempt to collate all the bits of information on how the earliest rpg sessions worked. Due to some luck with the find of an actual manuscript, postings on the web and information from the players of the first campaign, this is as close as we will get to the rules used by Dave Arneson when starting Blackmoor. This is as old school as it gets, the very roots of our hobby.

The executive summary is simple. Get this if you are interested in the history of the hobby! Also, get it if you play D&D and are interested in rules tweaking and design.

Many small details in these rules makes me ponder their implications, and many times I am amazed by how some ways of handle things reminds me of other games which have no relation to the players or designer of these rules.

I really wish that someone could make the book First Fantasy Campaign, published by Judges Guild, available legally in pdf format. I have had the opportunity to browse that august volume, but now it would be fun to see how Dragons at Dawn author D.H. Boggs interpretation compare to how things are represented there. Naturally there are lot of gaps in these rules. We have documentation of rules for subduing dragons, but it makes you wonder if those rules just happens to have survived, or if that was a common occurrence.

Within the near future I will probably post a short series of posts about Dragons at Dawn, and specific reactions to some parts of the rules.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tactical moves in combat - positiong redux

I have gotten some feedback on my last post on positioning. Apparently I wasn't all that clear, so let me try again.

One of the important things about positioning is your relation to your enemy. Do you control the area? Are you able to keep the enemy at bay? To what extent do that relation shape what actions you take? The ideal is, of course, to limit the actions of the opponent.

Considering that relation, we keep tabs on whom are engaged in melee with whom. If you are engaged, your options are limited to fighting that enemy. The same is true for your enemy.

The only things you need to keep track of is whom is engaged to whom.

If you don't want to be engaged, or you want to limit someones options by engaging him (for example hinder somebody from attacking the magic user as she is preparing her spell) you'll roll dice.

Now you just roll initiative like you usually do, and if you win you now can free your options for next turn by disengaging or you can now limit that other guy by closing for melee and engaging. If you fail, that was all you did that turn. I hope your armour will take the blow!

I hope that was clearer.

Three combat options

Here are a few more options in combat for the world's most popular frpg, and similar games.  The rules in the block below are Open Gaming Content.

Hits and Misses
  • Every time you roll a natural 1, a complication occurs. It wont necessarily hurt, but it will complicate matters. 
  • Every time you roll a natural 20, something happens that's good for you. Roll damage as usual, and then double it!
Being Hurt
After your HP reaches 0, the Hits and Misses rule no longer apply. Now you are Hurt. When you suffer enough hits to reach the negative of your initial HP you're finally dead.

Damage by level
To speed up play, especially if you have many players, roll one less die and just assume you do your level amount of damage. If you are Hurt, you do half that.

These rules came from me thinking on combat in 7th Sea. In that game you have flesh wounds and dramatic wounds. The former you can rack up as many as can be dealt, and only after failing a save do you get serious damage. I thought that maybe that could be used, in a way, to give characters in other games some more staying power.

Pairing that with Hits and Misses, you will probably adjust the power up slightly. Any kind of crits and fumble rule are going to affect the player characters most, since they are present in all fights. But if they also can take some more damage it wont be so hurtful to once in a while be the victim of double damage.

Doing damage by level might be less fun, since it is actually fun to roll dice. On the other hand it do take a while for some people to find the right die, roll it and tell you the result. Having ten players I'd imagine it would be a time saver, though.

Hate them? Love them? Indifferent?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

15 games - the list

"So, just name me 15 games you've played. The first ones that pop into your mind"
"Like, any kind of game?"
"Yeah, any kind. You don't even have to have liked them."
"I could probably mention 50 rpgs, just like that."
"But, would it be the first ones to pop into your mind?"
"Well, I don't know. My mind just wanders, sometimes."
"So, just name 15 games, any games. It could be interesting to see how many of those 50 you really could think of, eh?"
"What he heck!"

1. Tunnels & Trolls
2. Dungeons & Dragons
3. Stormbringer
4. World of Synnibarr
6. Advanced Squad Leader
7. Diplomacy
8. DBA
9. Call of Cthulhu
10. Zork
11. nethack
12. Grand Prix Legends
13. Junta
14. Hacker
15. Battletech

"That was just a mess!"
"Yeah, not the first ones you would have thought would be on the list, would you?"
"Well, some of them. Why on earth was I thinking of *bleep!* just now?"

Fancy moves in combat

After tonight's 7th Sea session I've come to the realization that there's a side effect to trying to make combat more interesting by adding options.

Now we have had a few fights where my players have started to use their fancy moves, paid for with hard earned XP. But, every time someone want to Tag an opponent, or Feint him or Riposte, we have to look it up in the rules.

Guess which move is most commonly used? The one you first bothered to look up, since that's the one you remember the procedure for.

Somebody is right now probably thinking I must have missed the whole conversation about how Feats and Powers not make combat more interesting, just take longer. Yeah, I know. Sometimes it takes a while to penetrate this thick skull of mine.

Seriously, though.

This makes me think of general resolution mechanics. It's so much easier to add options and have complexity in a system if everything you do is based on the same mechanic. D&D 4th ed. does that, but only makes it dull. I on the other hand feel the idea have merit, knowing how well the basic percentile roll works for any kind of action in RQ and other BRP based games. In 7th Sea you sure can have interesting combats, but every option is handled differently. Some people like so called sub-systems. I'm less than charmed.

A general resolution mechanic, and some more options in combat. That's something to chew on.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Update on my rules project

Today I realized I haven't been thinking on my psionics rules in a while. Some real life happened, and even though it seems like the subject is always buzzing around the web, I haven't managed to calm down and be creative. A few days like that and suddenly a fortnight have passed!

The project is still on, and I keep thinking that psionics in fantasy is a cool addition. One problem I have though, is I keep shifting back and forth between doing the traditional cloning, and new development inspired by the old sources. Some ideas from the old sources are antithetical to how I think rules should work, and still I would like to at least preserve the feel of the quirkiness of the source.

I'm definitely going to make another serious push this week. Maybe I can hash out a definitive stance at least.

Favourite combat posts

The reason I'm thinking about combat rules now, happens to be these fine posts by a Paladin from Calgary. 

I just looked back a bit at what have been written about what can be done in combat, and happened to find a few favourites.

Trollsmyth wrote about judging old school encounters.

Way back I wrote about dirty tricks in combat. Maybe worth visiting for those who haven't seen that one.

I felt like brings some good stuff to light once more. Yeah, I even dig my own contribution.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tactical moves in combat - positioning

How about some spicy in your rpg combat? I've a few discoveries to share. Especially in light of what Michael Curtis briefly touches on in the end of this post.

Like I posted about a short while back, I visited a con, where I can the opportunity to talk to Tomas Arfert and James Raggi. One result of that meeting was that I decided to take a closer look on Tomas game, Saga (link and game in Swedish only). I had read about it before, and thumbed through it, but know I suddenly saw a few nuggest of gold I had missed before. One of those were the role of distance in combat, and positioning.

In Saga you roll you initiative, and the winner get to decide on the distance for melee. If you on the other hand want as your action, to position yourself at a range more beneficial to you, you roll initiative again and if you loose that was your action this round!

This struck me as a very neat way to handle positioning in combat without the need for a battlemap and having to know exactly in which square your dude is standing in relation to those goblins.

There is one other game that I know which have a similar idea. In Elric!, one of the most silly names of a game in the industry, there's also rules about combat range. In this game you are either engaged, or not. When engaged you can not move. When disengaging you have to dodge all the attacks one round, then you can move.

The mechanic is similar, but it feels smoother and probably more fun with an active role for the player, like rolling initiative, than to just sit there and endure duress.

I see some interesting potential in this. Thanks for the idea, Tomas!

Once again, eggs. With werewolves!

Long time readers of my blog might remember that I once posted about my wide eyed attitude toward pickled eggs. Today I once again had a close encounter with these fantastic things.

I have a lot of very fond memories of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. A lot of young gamers in the UK, and other countries where Fighting Fantasy gamebooks where sold, have started their dungeon delving careers in the tunnels under that mountain. On my way to work today I picked up my sword and entered the mountain.

Imagine my surprise after having beated a werewolf and his dog companion. He has a store room, and there's a jar of pickled eggs! It was not, like I wrote in my old post, a troll that guarded a larder with pickled eggs!

How did I managed to mix up trolls and werewolves?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dungeon designed by 5 year old

 The best way to make sure the hobby survive must be to make sure your offspring is taught the skills early, right?

A few weeks back I took out my notes for my The Dungeon of Voorand in order to check some small detail. My daughter saw the funny drawings daddy had done, and immediately insisted on making her own in that style. She picked the best parts and invented some similar looking on her own.

She loves to draw and paint.

Can you tell which is mine and which is hers?

I think it would be so sweet to be able to hand over the reins to her and have her sit behind the screen and have her take us through her dungeon.

Maybe I need to wait a few more years.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How to create a swashbuckling campaign in no time at all

This is one post players in my present 7th Sea game might want to avoid. I don't say that because I'm going to spoil any important parts of the plot, but because I will come across as disorganized and confused.

Many bloggers have posted about how to set up "sandbox" campaigns. Personally I'm not yet a convert to that style, so I will post something different. I'm not sure what can be learnt from my experiences, but if my suggestions are not good advice I at least hope some of it might be amusing.

So. This time I had gotten a request for a game of pirates and swashbuckling. I own 7th Sea, so I suggested that. Now it was time to think of some way to start it off. Since the theme didn't fit very well with meeting in a tavern to go off and fight monsters I decided to start everything on a ship.

Now what?

Swashbuckling means a merry chase round and round and breathtaking escapes and chases, right? Ok. Then I'll start with a fight, and let them get hold of a treasure map. Either they grab it from the villain when winning the fight, or they get hold of it because he drops it. Yeah, I know. But, I figured it kind of fit the style of story. Then they might go off and try to find the treasure and I can have someone mysteriously trying to stop them, or if the go ashore to find out more I can have people chasing them and trying to get the map back.

As you might note I had no master plan. I kind of figured they would meet the villain whose map they had gotten in the end at the treasure site, but that was it.

So what you need for a campaign are three things

1. a location that reinforce the theme, a ship.
2. a villain
3. a MacGuffin, the map and the treasure

Then it might help to have a few outs for the likely roads taken, like "Somebody chasing them if they go to A and somebody chasing them if they go to B."

After this I had no idea. I did buy a pile of adventures for Flashing Blades when they were on sale at DrivethruRPG, so I figured I could somehow contrive to place them in front of the players if they went off in unexpected directions.

Now we have just began to entangle us in a few of those adventures and I have introduced a whole crowd of conspiracies and secret societies. I have a strong suspicion it will become more and more twisted, and considering I have no idea how it fits together I wonder what will happen?

What amazes me most of all is that they still haven't tried to get hold of that treasure from the map.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ow my gawd!

B.A. Felton's game Dawg RPG is here, in front of me.

Friends, there is a game out there about roleplaying dogs!

When I thought I could imagine a game about anything, I still didn't get the idea abouts dogs. I'm not sure if it means I need some more creative energy, or that someone at Kenzer & Co are just nuts. It's probably me.

Why I don't play 55 session campaigns

I knows many of those of you who read this blog also read Grognardia. Perhaps that mean you have followed the adventures of James' groups in Dwimmermount. Then you have probably also noted that they have played at least 55 sessions in that campaign. I don't play games like that.

Tonight we had another session of 7th Sea, and we managed to play (I think) roughly 2 or maybe 2 and a half hours. This is how much time we have available after working, grabbing a bite, all assembling at my friends and just chat a bit before playing. Now, if you want to feel like you are not playing a online ply by post game where a single fight can go on for weeks, you want to focus. That focus means you want to have everything happen at a somewhat accelerated pace.

Imagine you roll up a character, and decide that his motivating factor is to find the one armed man who murdered his father. If that is not something that will just fade away, you will have to make sure it happens to play a part in a fairly short time, in game. This is just an artifact of the slow pace of our game. If two months have to pass in game before that plot start to develop, it will mean maybe 150 sessions. 150 weekly sessions mean everyone will have forgotten that part, and the player will fell like the GM ignored his interesting story hook.

I'm not sure I like this, but the alternatives are not that many when you have at most 3 hours a week to set aside for a game. Anyway. That is the reason there wont be any session report from our 55th session if this game. I'm guesstimating 5-10 sessions more and then it will be a new game.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thanksgiving it is So, thank you!

 Today it is Thanksgiving in Canada, and I want to take that opportunity to thank all the readers of my blog. Without you I would have stopped long ago.

I also want to thank all you people out there who not only lend me your ear, but also share all your thoughts and creativity with us all online. This "echo chamber" of ours is a warm and cozy place, sometimes heated by arguments, but still homey.

Take it easy out there, and don't forget your ten foot pole!

An outsider looking in - British OSR

Are you from the US? Are you interested in gaming history? Read this very entertaining post about how the British gaming experience felt like in the 1980-ies.

Was really Maiden unknown in the US in the early nineties? Mind boggling.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A rare treat - gaming snacks

Today I found something foreign to these pagan shores, A&W root beer!

When I met James Raggi, we talked a bit about North American longings of ours, and proper root beer was mine. I was very glad to find this at a cafe me and my family visited today. Yes Jim, not only in Helsinki! Aint that grand? One can cost roughly $3!!

This of course makes me think back to what kind of snacks and drinks I've had during game sessions. Root beer, while very tasty, have never been a gaming drink of mine. Coke, Dr Pepper and black tea have been, though. When it comes to eating I have been trying to stay away from anything that can leave greasy spots on my game books.

Fatty snacks and Mountain Dew seem to be the kind of stuff gamers are "supposed to" be stuffing their face with, but I wonder how well that actually reflect reality?

I'm thinking of trying to get hold of a bunch of cans of A&W root beer and bring to my next game sessions, just because it's there!

Games - narrow, broad or both?

I was thinking the other day about something that cropped up in the comments on Grognardia. James said he prefer broader games, which made me think. I'm not sure my thinking any longer have anything to do with what James wrote, so don't blame him for what follows.

Many new school games post-forge, are very narrow. The are designed to do one thing, and just that. Compare that to T&T, which back in 1975 contain the masterpiece called Saving Rolls. With them you can on the fly whip up game mechanics to cover any situation. If your game is about killing stuff, they can help you do that, and if your game is about dealing in the dust of the blue lotus it can do that. Today if someone made a game about dealing dope, it would have rules for that and not much else. Take Dogs in the Vineyard for example. It has rules for fighting and arguing and so on, but it is a game about belief, power and consequences.

Personally I like the narrow games. Some very tight gaming can be had, but it might feel a lot less like hanging out with your buddies and rolling them bones. Different games for different feel, eh?

I know that some people, the most visible example is probably Vicent Baker and his Storming the Wizard's Tower, have tried to do a new school narrow game with an old school feel. We play tested it a bit in our group in Ontario, but I never really liked it. the mechanics felt far less dynamic than they read. It was unfinished by them, but it still made me think.

Looking at it from the other end is the narrow old school game. Is there such a beast? Is it feasible?

I know some people like to claim that D&D is such a game, since it is about defeating monsters and taking their stuff, and that's all that's in the rules. Naturally, it's not that simple. Reading the original rules from 1974 there's a lot more going on, and there are rules for a lot more. You could claim it's a game about sneaking around finding traps, killing things, leading troops in battle, establish a fief and so on and so forth. Just like T&T it is a game which can cover more than is obvious.

Now we have the last item on the list, a modern new school game of broader scope. Is there a game of the new style which focus on shared narrative or narrative control or game mechanic for internal mental and social interactions that at the same time try to be useful for any game situation?

I'm not sure what I'd do with either of all these, and if I'd like them all. Now I am just throwing those questions marks out in the wild.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Art that scream - adventure

You remember I posted a picture of the AD&D DMG when James asked what picture we associate with D&D?

This might not be D&D, but damn do it just spell "adventure" in big flaming letters, or what?

The picture is from the old school inspired game from The Sorceror under the Mountain, i.e. d101 games.

Friday, October 8, 2010

How I love and hate Glorantha

I have a fairly extensive collection of Gloranthan gamebooks, fanzines and other esoterica. Once I was totally entranced by this world, but for reasons not of that world I fell out of love with it.

Now a few days ago I once again became amazed by the enormous amount of "gameable" stuff there is in there. So many cultures are strange mixes of real world cultures, but with that extra twist that makes you want to invent reasons for how that extra twist came to be. Put that power in the hands of players, and I think you could have a jolly good time.

Since I hadn't read about things in a long while I got back on the main Gloranthan discussion list to ask about a few things which had gotten muddled in my brain. Guess what happened? I totally fell out of love of it all again.

Having people tell you from up on high how things really are, that is a killer for all kinds of enthusiasm. The world enemies of Glorantha as a game world always seems to be its official publishers...


Another cool blog!

For those who think that the OSR bloggosphere is just Americans talking about old D&D, there's a cool blog out there by a British chap. He develops new OSR materials as well, and not necessarily for the usual games. Take a look!

I just recently delved into the Gloranthan side of the web and through some loops found a revisitation of and old friends of min, the Warlock of Firetop Mountain. We are old chums, you see.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Modes of old school play

After talking to a few of my friends who are not that keen on the classic frp game setup, gaining gold and fame through spell and sword, I have been thinking of other ways to play.

Way back when I started to play rpgs, adventures were always sorted in three modes of play. Either you played dungeon adventures, wilderness adventures or city based adventures. I think that often we think of "old school" as adventuring in dungeons, even though that must not be the case. Frankly, I have no idea where that three fold model comes from, but it seem to linger on.

Those who claim not to like the old way have told me they prefer cities, and all the things you could do there. Personally being a big fan of Fritz Leiber's works of fantasy, I can see why that kind of setting would be enticing. But, what is it you do in a city you don't do in a dungeon?

Anyone who have been mugged in the dark alley ways of a medieval urban centre, or fought thugs in bars, knows that there are just as many excuses to swing a sword in a city and in a mine or abandoned temple complex. What distinguishes cities is of course the fact they are filled with people.

So, how do you play old school style among people?

I think the kind of game where you speak in funny voices, develop extravagant back stories and interpersonal relationships with NPCs are seen as quite foreign to many old schoolers. Considering we like to talk about games where the rules are more of a guideline than a crutch, older game without skills and "social combat" should be quite fitting, right? No damn skill that stop you from haggling with a merchant in downtown Waterdeep, right? Or is that so?

Having played a few of the "new school" storygames, where the mechanics is usually there to codify much of the interactions between players, and between player characters and non-player characters I wonder how that relates to games like Gamma World, T&T, OD&D and Traveller. Is something missing in those older games that makes them less useful for games in cities, where a lot of the game is about talking to people? Isn't talking to people all we do when we roleplay?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mooks and swashbuckling

I just found this very cool rule for how to handle mooks in D&D. It could probably be used just as well for, say, T&T.

Combine that with the Arnsonian rule that you get to take another swing with your sword if you kill something and you'll have a groundwork for some truly epic wading through foes.

Come to think of it, this might be the core of a mass combat system.

Monday, October 4, 2010

How to spell stupid

I found one copy of Star Frontiers, and one copy of World of Synnibarr at an auction site, and forgot to bid. That's just stupid.

Rough and Ready - an angry young man

I heard a song by what used to be my first metal favourites, Saxon, and this prompted me to invent this NPC. Stats for Tunnels & Trolls.

When taking a ride on one of the pick up rides from Korbo's Transport, you might ride with a young man called Peter. The story is that Korbo found him on the street, took him in and gave him a job. Now he is growing into a man, but is still just a kid. Peter is a dashingly handsome young man, with dark hair combed back. Should you find him out on his own after work, you'll probably recognize his swaggering gait and him constantly whistling some tune. Many have taunted him and called him "rubber legs", only to quickly regret it when they found out that young Peter is a pugilist of rank. He is also a womanizer with a nearly magical ability to charm. Many young girl have also found out another trait of his. He never beds the same woman twice.

Peter is not only a driver, he knows a thing or two. If something happened in Town, he knows it. If you want forbidden alchemical goods or a knife fight, he can take you there.

Name: Peter  
Kindred: Human   Type: Warrior Lvl: 2
STR: 17    IQ: 12       LK: 27
DEX: 24   CON: 10   CHR: 32
[SPD:  17   WIZ: 8]
Combat/Missile Adds: +30[+35]/+42
Weight Possible/Carried: 1700/-

Height: 5'11"
Weight: 170 lbs
Talents: The Voice +3/CHA, Puglism +3/DEX

1 - Peter is actually the heir to a big fortune, but doesn't know it since he ran away from home when very young. The player characters get the jobs to try to find him.
2-3 - In one of the gambling joints there's one man who have lost one game to many. He couldn't pay when the crime boss asked him to, and came up with the lie that Peter had beaten him and taken the money. One other person who is owned money is a party member.
4 - Korbo allows Peter to sleep on the premises, but when the place get burglarized at night when Peter was out drinking all night he decide to kick him out. The next night the player characters are the ones burglarized.
5-6 - After a night out the player characters are jumped in an alley by some thugs. In the middle of the ruckus they hear a whistled tune familiar drawl.

Now listen to the soundtrack:

Tunnels & Trolls is a trademark of Flying Buffalo Inc. and used with kind permission

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Reviews of newbie friendly old shool games

I just read this review of Swords & Wizardry, the white box edition. The idea to review games that really tries to bring in new gamers while touting the old school horn is interesting. I note that the reviewer mentions nothing of the bad production quality or the uneven cut, like my copy. Damn, how lucky I got the bad copy. :(

At that site is also a review of Tunnels & Trolls! Having thought a bit about the 7th ed box I think agree with the reviewer, for a newbie this box don't work as is. Some better adventures and maybe some more thoughts about what kind of setting it can be used for. It's a bit hard to place T&T. It's solidly old school, with no setting. But, there's an implied setting which is even mentioned by name, Trollworld. That makes it resemble the newer games with a over supported setting. It would be a good thing to either drop Trollworld or explain how it differs from ye old medieval game world.

Good reviews all!

To save a king, swashbuckling style

This last Tuesday we had our latest 7th Sea session, after having had a hiatus of a week. You could say a lot about that session, but it was not event less!

After having met the rector of the university, and heard that Francis old friend now was a spy, they decided to go shopping for some fancy clothing suitable for a night at the theatre. Now they had agreed to try to help find that list of contacts for the Invisible University. Cloak and daggers!

Suddenly Juan saw his hated half-brother in the crowd! Without thinking he drew his rapier and started to run. At once someone yelled "Assasin!" and all hell broke loose.

A shot was heard, and suddenly a gilded carriage crashed down the street, mowing down pedestrians like harvesting wheat. From nowhere rushed black clad people with blue sashes, attacking and pushing people aside. Francis got pushed into an alley and beaten, until he managed to shake them off him.

Anna Maria grabbed the reins of the stampeding horses and surfed on the back of one horse, trying to make them stop. At the same time a masked figure jumped on top the carriage and gallantly greeted her as the whole vehicle at last slowed down. She got down, but as another shot ran out an arm from the carriage grabbed her inside.

Juan had, at the same time, fenced his way out of a bunch of the guys with blue sashes, using elbows, knees and sword. Now he thought he saw his brother again, this time running after the newly started carriage. Quickly he drew his gun an shot the "sash" blocking his sight. Naturally, his brother was then nowhere to be seen, but since the vehicle ahead was speeding up he must have jumped inside.

A Olympic quality sprint later, Juan caught up with and threw himself onto the rear of that horse powered mode of transport, and feet first he then entered the vehicle after having clinged onto its back for a few seconds. Suprised he gazed up into the eyes of his king.

Francis now came out of the alley, having at gunpoint gotten the information that all this was arranged by "the cardinal".

Much later they had gotten the promise of a favour of the Castillian king, and with new fancy clothes where ready to go to the theatre.

Sometimes it's fun with some political intrigue and assassination attempts. I guess this is why some people prefer games where intrigue and conspiracies about. When was this first tried? My first thought is Flashing Blades (and Flashing Blades modules are what we are playing next...), but might be wrong.

Welcome, Trollhammer!

For those of you who haven't seen it yet, there's a new blog about T&T out there. Take a look!

Monday, September 27, 2010

"I really want to game that show!"

I've found that after I see a film, or a TV show that I find cool, I immediately want to game that show.

Now, those who have been around have heard of licenced settings, and probably have already experienced the problems with those. I have been thinking along those lines again after having seen a couple of episodes of a show called Leverage. Let me think out loud for a moment, and maybe I have something new to say.

To begin with, let's talk about Leverage for a moment.

In Leverage we have, just like the good old Mission Impossible, a setup where somebody have been harmed by a bad guy and the Leverage team agrees to help them out. Then there's the briefing when we get to hear about the bad guy and how he can be approached. Roles get distributed amongst the experts in the team and they get rolling.

Now. Try to imagine that happening at a game table.

In order to make that work, you'd have to have players capable of from an outline of a villains personality concoct a plan to fleece him of his ill gotten gain. Likely? No.

Sure, if you have a team that must include someone who hacks computers, one who's a master at close combat and one actor it means that the plan will use those skills. Apart from that, sewing together a plan and then pull it off is another matter entirely.

This brings me to the problem with gaming a film or a tv show. You can probably never get it to flow that smoothly unless you have very capable players and have some Director behind the GM screen. So much of that which happens roll along fairly narrow paths. The amount of information available must be just right, and everyone must act in the most logical way. All the time.

If there's a way to make this happen by rules, social contact or something else then I far so far not seen it. I guess I will keep watching films and tv shows and dream of those moments of perfect drama and suspense.

Good web based feed reader, anyone?

I have been using bloglines to keep up with all the good blogs out there. But, now they are closing down. Since that means I have to find an alternative I am out looking at the alternatives.

Anyone have any suggestions?

It has to be web based, handle all the Atom and RSS that the rpg blogs produce, and it has to not be google reader!

Let me know.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

An interesting take on character classes/types in T&T

I just read a post at The Grand Tapestry, linking to this. That is one seriously interesting take on Types in T&T! When gaining a level you can "shift tracks" within a type. In old D&D and T&T there's fairly few classes, but they contain a lot. A fighter can be both a "paladin" and a "barbarian", basically they are the same class but different takes on the Fighting Man. Now, imagine that to be spelled out that way, and levelling up means broadening your scope as a Fighter?

Personally I think this ties in quite nicely with this post and others by The Fighter, eh... Paladin I mean.

Are you getting better at killing things, is that what experience means? The Old Way shows us the path of flexibility. Me like.

I might be zeroed out by gaming hiatus and an autumn cold, but some guys write some really good posts out there!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

So that was how a con feels like

I'm back home again after the con. To summarize things:

1. Make sure you have a map of the convention area, and a handout to give out at registration about what is going on where.

2. Place your con so it's easy to get there, to get to an ATM and to some source of food.

3. Make sure you know who is there as a dealer, speaker or panel attendee and help them out.

It's not that hard to run a convention, is it?

In the end all the gaming I did was the Blood and Mud WWII skirmish. It was fun, even if analysis paralysis made it far longer a game than intended. Maybe I should have had more coffee. Do stupid things faster, right?

Me and James Raggi and Tomas Arfert sat and chatted a lot. We talked about some personalities in the OSR, experiences of players not-getting-it-at-all. fun was had. Naturally we also analyzed the intricacies of system, play and text in old and new school, some of my old issues. There's a lot of fun stuff coming from both Tomas and James, but I'm not telling you yet what it is.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Convention experience so far

So, my first gaming con in Sweden for ages, how is it? Well, it's in a small suburb os Stockholm at the end of a road, without any signs showing the way. It's well hidden, and it takes forever to get there.

Game wise it seems like the board game crowed are here in force. There are piles of "German" games for pick up play, and some miniatures games. Strangely enough, Magic is almost totally absent. It used to be everywhere.

I met James Raggi, and had a nice little char with him. Apparently the goods was not flying off his table, but I can see why. This was not a place where people buy stuff. He will probably post of his experiences later. We did chat about the wonders of travelling and how showers seem to be different all over Sweden. I guess you didn't knew that, did you? It was fun to finally see someone in this OSR crowd in the flesh.

Then I managed to talk old school design with the Swedish rpg designer and illustrator Tomas Arfert (page in Swedish). Very illuminating to talk about OSR stuff with someone who have done design in this new country of mine. He felt some ideas hadn't really found root here yet. It seems like some peole don't read the net, or something...

I did play some game as well. A miniatures game about WWII skirmishing was there, and I was drafted as one of three German commanders. It was great fun, but we procrastinated like crazy so it took forever to conquer Calais.

I hav eyet to decide if I will go back tomorrow. Nobody looked interested in playing T&T, but I did have someone ask me about my nice T&T shirt. Good work, Jeff!

Now I feel very tired. I hope this post isn't to incomprehensible.

Friday, September 17, 2010

What is D&D to you? What is roleplaying?

James asks, over at Grognardia, what image pops up in your mind.

This is my answer:

Even back when I abhorred D&D, preferring BRP, I still thought that cover was the epitome of fantasy roleplaying. I still love it.

(Image from The Acaeum)

Convention weekend

So, for the first time in ages I'm going to a convention this weekend. This is not one of my usual haunts, so I have idea what to expect. Apparently LotFP will be there, so I'll pass by and say hi. Maybe I'll even get to play a game or two of some sort, even though I'm not pre-registered for anything. I'll bring my trusty T&T book so find me if you want to play T&T.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

An update on psionics

Some of you might be waiting with baited breath for news on my psionics project. No? Well. I'm going to tell you anyway.

I've rewritten all the old powers and rescaled a bunch of them. I've been thinking about what it would make sense to include, while at the same time keep the flavour of the original rules. Some of those powers are quite out there. Still waffling on a few of those.

In the old rules there are different procedures for attacking different targets with Attack Modes. This is quite involved, and I wonder how much can be slashed while keeping the flavour. I guess most of it can be simplified. I've already tossed out the point based system. For some that might be heresy and mean I have already left the original far behind. So be it. I think one reason psionics aren't more popular is that they are just too fiddly. I want it to be strange, but not cumbersome. Now psi combat is based on d20, AC and roll for damage. I think it finally makes sense. You be the judge.

Lately I have felt a bit sluggish, and it seems like everyone around me have a fever, flu or a cold right now. Not exactly a catalyst for your creativity that.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

More thoughts about experience

I read these two posts about how different designers have handled the idea of experience point awards. On this blog I have expressed my great enthusiasm for the idea of gaining xp for gold. To be more precise I think the Arnesonian way to award for gold spent is even better, but still it's xp for gold. The posts by the Paladin made me think again of how to award the behaviour you want to promote in your game.

In Rolemaster you get XP for a bunch of things, a little like in The Fantasy Trip. Looking back at the rules now I realize we must have glossed over much of that when me and my friends played MERP/RM. You get XP for miles travelled, Spells cast, Saves, Damage taken, enemies killed and a few more. If someone doubts that rules for experience strongly influence style of play, let me tell you how weird that last one can get. We had more than one fight become quite a farce when at the end the opponent looked haggard enough to get killed in the next good blow. Suddenly everyone charged in, pushing friend and foe aside to get in that killing blow. It might be realistic but it sure wasn't fun. It was the first one to go.

You have probably all read about how old school play is more about exploring the unknown, right? How about that idea of XP per mile travelled? Is it feasible? Jeff Rients wrote about it, and his take was very interesting I think. Jeff's take is a little more sophisticated than just XP/mile. It have been sloshing around in my brain since I first read it, and I want to write something that uses that idea.

Another cool idea is that you probably learn more from your mistakes than from what you already know. In Tunnels & Trolls you get experience when doing Saving Rolls, failed or not. I always liked that, and have more than once seen people try wild things beacuse "The worst thing that could happen is I get some experience, right?". Me like. Imagine a game where you only get experience when you fail!

Now imagine this

* XP targets for points in the adventure which necessitate some curiosity and exploration or are somehow more majestic than usual.
* XP everytime you fail relative to the margin of failure (multiplied by level, maybe)
* A flat bonus for every crit done or received
* xp for gold, spent on hedonistic pursuits

I want to play that game!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Outcast, me?

It seems like a lot of people have found my blog lately searching about whether metalheads are outcasts.

No need to feel marginalized my gamers friends. Others do fine.

What was that again? Me? In those earphones? Why, metal of course!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Do you have roleplaying in your game?

You might remember me talking about Diplomacy a while ago as the origins of roleplaying. Once again the question pop up about rules supporting roleplay. Today I read what Roger had to say about D&D being a role playing game or not. Naturally, it made me think of Diplomacy again.

When you look at the rules of diplomacy, they don't tell you to speka in funny voices. Neither do the rules of D&D, or T&T or any other first generation rpg. They are directions to facilitate play of the game by giving room for personal touches, while steering it along some common ground. Roleplaying just happens.

Roleplaying is an emerging quality of play. Those qualities are often the most valuable in a game. Some games have rules for X, which just happens to make most gamers do Y, since it's natural in that context. Sometimes you design for it, sometimes you don't.

I've realized one thing about those games which work really hard to facilitate a certain style of play. They often have a lot of space in them, like places of rest where you can find out what is natural in that context. Even there roleplaying is an emergent quality. Even when you have rules for social interactions and narrative control there's space in the rules. That's the rules that support roleplaying.

At least that's what my tired brain just found fascinating. Tell me about it.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The birth of roleplaying

I guess everyone have listened to Clyde talking to David Wesely by now?If you haven't you should. Dave was the guy who together with Dave Arneson invented roleplaying, if you didn't know that.

One thing I found interesting was how Maj. Wesely told Clyde and us about how they played wargames back in the sixties. It wasn't unheard of for them to have players do things like scout ahead of a battle and talk to peasants about enemy troop movements. The fact that miniature games back then had such sketchy and crappy rules made in necessary to fudge things and make rulings on the fly, which made it very easy to "step outside the rules" and do things not immediately related to the lead figure battle.

Everyone have heard about how D&D grew out of wargaming culture, and sometimes that's taken as an excuse for us johnny-come-latelies who don't always "get" the old style of play. Wesely shows us how that probably don't always mean what we think it does. Diplomacy is probably worth studying if you want to know how the early Blackmoor games were run. Dave Arneson was a Diplomacy fan, and listening to this interview I can see how that must have influenced the early roleplaying. Go listen to that podcast!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Unisystem experiences and "unbalanced" games

Earlier this year, I was trying to expand my vistas by playing with some new people. This also meant playing some new games. We used the Unisystem from  Eden Studios, Inc. To summarize I guess you could say that it didn't work that well. Some of it was the people, and some of it was the game system. Some guys you just don't game well with, that's just how it is. I'm going to talk a little more about the game system, since I think there might be something interesting to learn from that part of the experience.

I need to say from the start that I hate Buffy, Angel and all those shows. While it might have coloured my perception of Unisystem, I think there's more to it.

There are three classes of characters in Buffy/Angel (the edition we used of Unisystem) and I think they were called White Hat, Supporting character and something else I have forgotten. The idea being, of course, that this would be a way to model the different kind of characters in the TV shows, and how they had roles to play in the drama. I played a character in one of the lesser classes, Supporting character. You make a character by spending points on stats, skills, and special abilities. In addition to that the different classes also get different pools of Drama Points, to be used to influence the narrative in different ways. Since the list of skills is fairly short you probably want to focus on a few things to stand out as someone who can seriously contribute. It was here that my first beef with the game showed up. 

We had one guy playing a White Hat, who managed to buy roughly the same skills that I did. We had different concepts, but since the list was fairly short and the others had specialized in many of the other abilities it was to be expected. So, that shouldn't be a problem, but these two characters were of different classes, which meant I was always trumped.

The Unisystem buffs around will now probably tell me that the characters should have different roles. The big thing is of course Drama Points. Using these the Supporting characters are able to step into the spotlight and do their thing. Different classes of characters are not to be played the same. It's explicitly said that some characters are to be more in focus than the others.

Now compare this to the old school scorn for "game balance". 

The thing is I still think game balance is a bogus goal. My problem wasn't really that my character was of lesser importance and that some other player had an "unbalanced" character. I had much more problem with having less possibility to shine, to be in the spotlight. Maybe I could even call some of it niche protection.

No matter how much you fiddle with your rules to make it balanced, you will not be able to make sure I get as much attention from the GM as that other guy. Well, it might not be entirely true. It can be done, and the most extravagant I know of is Burning Empires, where you have a quota of scenes.

Non the less. I think that what very often is the case when people holler about game balance is time in the spotlight.

A game system should be able to generate characters that are distinctly different from each other, and not only in the backgrounds and psychology but also in the hard numbers on the sheet. If you have that support from the game, any character should be able to contribute in any given adventure. Spotlight is much more intangible, and thus harder to know how to handle. But, a game with fairly simple rules don't have to be the only thing needed. Much can be said about Unisystem, but it wasn't the complicated and convoluted rules that kept me sidelined. 

I have myself been GM in games where there's this one guy who never steps up, so I think it's not always easy to handle from the other side of the screen as well. In the space between game balance, rules and support for distinct and interesting characters there are many opportunities to stumble and fall. Take a moment to think about it, and maybe you see some possibilities for improvement as GM, as a designer or a player. I'm not all sure about the lesson of all this, but there's food for thought.

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