Saturday, May 29, 2010

What's the probability? AEG knows!

Remember the last post? I did find something yesterday that made me want to post a follow up.

Have you scratched your head about dice pool based systems? Those really drive me crazy when it comes to probabilities.

When AEG once printed the Game Masters' Guide to 7th Sea, designed by John Wick, they included something really nice, a table of probabilities.

If you own a copy of the GMG, turn to page 203 and you'll see the probabilities of reaching the different Target Numbers with different sized dice pools.

A big Thank You! to AEG for that table!

I wish every game designer included such a table in their game.

Friday, May 28, 2010

What's the probability?

That is one of my most common questions. I very often wonder just that. What's the probability of something happening? I'd like to tell before rolling dice about probabilities. I one took down the math books for some basic high school mathematics, and even though I had once studied that I couldn't make head or tail out of it. 

I have posted about my Wednesday game before, and the great fun of playing 3:16. One reason it have been fun is that one of my players, who usually don't complain about dice or luck, in the session last week rolled amazingly bad!

Imagine rolling 20-something d20 rolls a night, and having 14 of those turn up a 0!

That guy missed a lot, but when he managed to roll under 8 for his Fighting Ability check, his kill number were impressive. His ability to roll high was consistent. In a game system where you should roll low, but higher than the opposition, his rolls where hilarious. Of course I had him narrate all his failures.

But, what's the probability?

Apparently poker buffs don't talk about luck, they talk about "variance". The same guy who rolled all those zeroes told me, that some have kept statistics on all their hands to calculate "variance". Even though it should even out, they have decided that there seem to be such a thing as luck. Everything should even out, eventually, right? The question is how close to infinity you have to get.

But, rolling 14 0 out of 20 something rolls? What's the probability of that happening? Amazing. I love dice.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bad writing and a personal style in game book writing

A while ago, my oldest FLGS shut down. It was sad to see them go, but at least I got a few good deals from the shutdown sale. One of the books I bought was the WoD game Hunter. I got it for a song, which was as much as I was prepared to give. Conspiracy and horror are two themes I'd like to incorporate in my gaming, and Hunter was for me an attempt to do something remotely interesting in the moribund World of Darkness. Reading it I discovered something about the medium of game books, the text, and its qualities or lack thereof.

To put it simple, I felt the text in Hunter was badly written. Being on a conspiracy/horror trip, I also re-read some of Unknown Armies, and realized how amazingly well written that game is. It made me think of the voice of the author.

For those of you who have not read UA, I can only say that this is the game that made me scared. It didn't tell me how to run a scary conspiracy-horror game, it made me cringe. Very good stuff. Now, if you like your game to be unpersonal, and just a textbook, you will hate it. It's a game where the voice of the author is very clear.

Contrast that with DragonQuest. It's very matter of fact, even dry, and with the SPI case system it feels methodical to the point of being absurd. It's very precise, but maybe not that engaging. I think this is the style that most gamers prefer, especially in the old school camp.

Hunter was, for the lack of a better way of putting it, waffling. Many things are said over and over again. It lacks some focus and feels more like it's trying to describe a feel than either trying to evoke it or help you evoke it.

So, how do you want your game?

I know that for some people the idea of a narrative voice in a game is the first step towards the kind of game where Story is king and player initiative is stifled.

On the other hand there are indie games where the designer is very clearly present in the text and at the same time it's clear that the game is yours now, and otherwise it wouldn't work.

Reading Unknown Armies I'm beginning to feel that a strong voice in a game both helps me get excited about running the game, and it helps me connect to the rules and their intent. Slipping into the first mode of heavy handed attitude is bad writing. Maybe gamers who hate, say, White Wolf games would actually like it if bad writing weren't so common.

I'd love for more games to be like Unknown Armies, creeping me out and making me dying to give that game a spin and creep out my players.

Still, I think I will try to slog through Hunter and make something out of it, because there are good ideas buried in there.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I'm not alone in thinking alignment languages are silly

(edited: fixed line breaks, Arrgh!)

So if I may, where did the idea for aligment tongues come from? Do you see them as fully fleshed out languages?

"As D&D was being quantified and qualified bu the publication of the supplemental rules booklets. I decided that Thieves' cant should not be the only secret language. thus alignment languages come into play, the rational being they were akin to Hebrew for Jewish and Latin for Roman Catholic persons.

I have since regretted the addition, as the non-cleric user would have only a limited vocabulary, and luttle cound be conveyed or understoon by the use of an alignment language between non-clerical users.


(from Dragonsfoot)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Yet more campaign styles

I have written before about Story Campaigns, Sandboxes and Emergent Campaigns and I still keep my eyes peeled for new ideas and attitudes to campaign development. A short while ago I found this blog post about campaign styles. Check it out. Some interesting nuggets in there.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

R.I.P Ronnie James Dio

It has nothing to do with gaming, but I feel like expressing some of the sadness I feel. Ronnie James Dio is dead, and it so much feel like a part of my personal history have passed on. I think of the 1980-ies often these days.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I have too much choice

I have been thinking the last week about how much I want to start a new game. We have been getting regular sessions going every Wednesday with indie games, lately it's been 3:16, and since it is a game with a time limit I have been thinking of what's up next.

My biggest problem have been to pick one game. I have too much to choose from! Quite a problem to have, eh?

My latest idea, which might be void and null tomorrow, is to use the big fat tome of BRP to play in second age Glorantha. It would feel kind of fitting to use that game system, since I have only tried the seriously broken Hero Wars, and BRP was after all born as a gloranthan system.

Why I'm not thinking of using MRQ? Well. I don't own it, and I need any more to choose from, do I?

Monday, May 17, 2010

No whitebox yet

With growing desperation I notice that more and more reports are coming in of arrivals of the Swords & Wizardry whitebox. It's not like I desperately need a new game, but still.

I keep watch by the mailbox.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The dread curse of cthulhu

Very recently I got my copy of Horror on the Orient Express in the mail, after finding a complete copy on . This is the first time I've spent a three digit sum on a game. Am I crazy? I call this the Dread Curse of Cthulhu.

CoC was for a long time my favourite rpg. Now, I had never played it outside of a convention context, and had never played in any of the well regarded campaigns from Chaosium. The only thing I'd played were the "let's do something special since it is a convention"-scenarios. It's surely more fun to do something different than the regular kind of play, but I had never tried that "regular play". I still have very little experience.

Now when I have some money and are entrenched in not only the playing, but also collecting part of the hobby, I have been focusing on buying some of those great and well regarded campaigns. The bizarre thing is, that I have bought them with the express purpose of not reading them! I would love to have played in a regular, long term, Call of Cthulhu campaign. Instead I buy some of the best, and expensive stuff there is because I have the money, but not the group to play! That is the Dread Curse.

I'm very thankful to have gotten the opportunity to play in the Beyond the Mountains of Madness campaign last year. Without that I would feel very odd today, looking at yet another procurement. One of my goals for this year is to maybe finally play some CoC, but I have realized it's time to bite the bullet. I will take my place behind the screen, as the Keeper of Arcane Lore.

Maybe that will beat the Curse. Maybe.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Through a veil of blue mist did I first behold Talislanta: dreamlike and surreal, as if suffused in amberglow.

Many years ago, I bought a slim volume called The Chronicles of Talislanta. Is is a book which opened my eyes to a new world, literally, and have brought me much fun. It's not uncommon for fans of fantasy rpgs to have heard of Tekumel, but for me the lands of Talislanta is just as weird and mysterious.

The Chronicles is a book totally devoid of rules content. It's just the dreamlike story of the wizard Tamerlin as he travels the lands. The combination of Stephan Michael Sechi's prose and P.D. Breeding's marvellous illustrations is a heady brew. I usually re-read it once in a while to remind myself that fantasy should be strange, surreal and fantastic.

Some have complained that Talislanta is something of a kitchen-sink-setting, and in a way they are right. It's a small island, with a lot of cultures. Many of them are archetypal fantasy and might not break much new ground. But, the way they are presented makes them retain a sense of wonder, which makes me dream. What more could you ask for?

For quite a few years I have now been a member of the Talislanta e-mail list. It have moved around a few times, and now reside on Yahoo. Now I am a moderator and even though I'm not as active as I once was, it still feels like home. One reason is the incredible cool atmosphere there. SMS, as the Creator is known, is very friendly and gladly answers questions and is probably one of the most generous game designers I've ever had the fortune to interact with. Now he have decided to give away all there is of Talislanta, the RPG!

Having been through a few editions, the game have had a few books published for it. For a while now, volunteers have been scanning them all, and SMS is presenting them all for free download at the new Talislanta site! Check it out.

Whatever you feel about the whole of the game, it's rules or the world, this is almost too good a gift to imagine. Go to the site and grab some pdfs, cut some things out and use in your own game. There are quite a lot I think any lover of fantasy would like. Steve have many times talked about his love for the fantasy of Jack Vance, and if you have read his stuff I think you will like Talislanta.

If you happen to meet Tamerlin on your travels, tell him I said hello. Bon voyage!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A shot of science fiction feel

(edit: I managed to mess up the line breaks. Hopefully it looks better now)

I will continue on with the science fiction theme from last post. Now I want to focus on mood and atmosphere, the sense of "being there".

Many years ago I read an article in a gaming magazine about how to evoke the mood of fantasy. One thing that stuck in my mind was how the author had once been running a game for his friends, and when they were packing up for the night one of his players got to see the cover of the module they were playing. He gasped (I'm paraphrasing) "Oh! I didn't know that place was so fantasy!", which for me was very interesting.

That story show how important it is to try to plant the right picture in the minds of your players. Now, some of you might protest that it's the players own business what kind of mental perception they have of the game world. Maybe they just want to roll some dice and hang out, right? True, but if you are playing a game where mood is important, like horror, it might be crucial. Also, it will probably help to give the players a better picture of what to do in the world, and what actions migth be appropriate. Since I wrote that I was going to keep talking about science fiction, I'll start doing that now.

Imagine you quickly, and forcefully want to set the mood for science fiction, and to get the message across that "you're not in Kansas anymore", what do you do? In fantasy you could always resort to having something to do with magic, gods or weird monsters happen. Travelling through the woods, the characters have an encounter with a faun. Fantasy Feeling(tm). Keep trekking and you encounter some standing stones, and the place makes you feel a icy feeling run down your spine and a shimmering haze can be seen around the stones. Fantasy Feeling(tm)!

How about science fiction?

Weird aliens show up! Nah. Too much like fantasy. Weird technology! Isn't that just like magic by another name? I have some trouble with this, actually. For me, things that can happen in science fiction is the vast vistas of space, the impact of science and technology on society. Kind of hard to put into play unless it's a long campaign.

All the time I have tried to start a sf campaign it have fallen apart. Maybe not that surprising, considering the confusion that have come clear from thinking about it this way. It will take some more work for me before I try to run sf again. I did find a page about Star Frontiers which almost made me want to do it again, at once. We will see.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Starship settings?

We were talking after our last session of 3:16 about science fiction
in roleplaying, and settings for gaming in general. It have struck me
that even though most games are fantasy games, there are some other
genres covered. Looking at those other genres, it seems like mostly
it's the indie games that covers the odd ones. I guess you have heard
of Contenders, right?

So, my question about settings is about starships. One of my friends
told me that when we have played sf, we have spend most of our time on
a spaceship. He suggested that was why it wasn't working out, since
most books and tv shows are not set on a ship all the time. But let's
think about gaming where that is the case.

Have you ever seen a game where the setting is a generation ship?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Why do we roleplay?

James Maliszewski managed to nail it down very good in this post why we might put ourselves in the GM seat over and over again, even though it's hard work. Surprise, eh?

That reminded me of one of my first rpg sessions. My GM had to take a break, since his parents called him downstairs for dinner, and I was left gazing at the small booklet that was my new world. I was so amazed that in that small 48 page or 32 page booklet lay a whole world to be explored. The lure to find out, to be surprised, was so strong that I got stuck for life in this hobby. That is wonder.
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