Monday, January 24, 2011

Now, what do they want?

I have been thinking more about different kinds of adventures. I realized that I have played quite a few games, for example Beyond the Mountains of Madness, where there's obviously a plot. Those kinds of game can be horrible, in a bad way, if all you get to do is to look at the NPCs doing stuff.

But, thinking about what makes Dogs in the Vineyard work, I realize it is not only the fact that the PCs are clearly in charge, and have something to do (even though it helps) but one thing that makes a difference is that the NPCs all want something. Maybe even a monster in a dungeon wants something, even if it's just a slice of that pie? BtMoM was about wants.

Not exactly revelations of deep design insights, I know. But, I somehow feel maybe it should be more up front. The first thing you get to know when you see them is what they want, not that they guard that door or treasure over yonder.

Maybe it's just be that suck at NPCs that have finally caught up with the rest of you...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Styles of adventures - weird fantasy style, and others

There lot of different kinds of adventures you can design, and play. I think not all of them have been analyzed or talked about as much as they deserve. Last night I played in an online game with Jim Raggi, and the kind of adventure we played just one of those.

The kind of adventure that most people think about when they hear "old school" is probably the location, or site based, adventure. It sits there, and you can come and go as you like while exploring it. Another adventure is the one where you have a string of occurrences, a time line, and you can interfere with it as you like. Naturally there are more than those two. I think it would be interesting to have a conversation about styles of adventures. Their strengths and oddities, and pitfalls to look out for both when designing and running them.

Imagine this.

You have an interesting location, and some people there. Something then happens that upset the status quo, and everyone of those people there have an interest in using the change to their own advantage. Let's say the player characters wont be happy with most of those developments, but find themselves in a position to have to be the arbitrators between all the different wills pushing and shoving.

Is that old school? When is it not? How do you create such a game if you suck at developing NPCs (Like I do)? How would an expert game master handle a situation like that, to make it smooth to run and enjoyable to play?

I'd love to see more talk like that in the blogosphere.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Imagine meeting a... duck in Rappan Athuk!

One thing I really appreciated was how Glorantha had a very cool mix of high and low. I put that in past tense, since in the new HeroWars/HeroQuest era (and that bone dry anthropology 101 book, Thunder Rebels) way to much energy have been spent on making it a superhero game with a social context.

The place names was one thing which always made me smile. Those are still around, luckily. Sadly the great issue 16 of Tales of the Reaching Moon have been superseded. I thought it was a great idea to include things like the Red Square and other cold war era spoofs in the lunar empire. Gaming should be about making fun, right?


There is a creature which for some really nails the silly aspect of Glorantha. Naturally I speak of the anthropomorphic ducks. While they are silly (they are!), they therefor have quite a potential to pack a lot of emotional punch when you play them straight. I have always loved the idea of Death Drakes. A small, beaked, fellow who worship the god of Death and Honour. A small, beaked, fellow who kicks serious ass. A small, beaked, fellow you don't want to walk past your farm because this affinity with Death makes your chickens keel over. A small, beaked, fellow who's affinity with Death, and stay dead, makes him invaluable as a hunter of undead. Where would such a fellow show up if not in a dungeon riddled with undead and temples to Orcus?

Imagine meeting a duck, in Rappan Athuk!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Using D&D modules with T&T

I found this nice table on my hard disk. No author or indication of where I got it from, sadly.

(edited to include the table as a picture so it fits the page. I really need to take some time to investigate another layout of this blog. Thanks for the heads up, Timeshadows!)

Now I am thinking that maybe this can be used to be able to convert monsters in Rappan Athuk to T&T on the fly. If, say, a 5 HD monster is called for, I look at the line for level and finding 5 I read out the MR in the column for Normal, or maybe Hard if the monster have class levels. How about that?

Every time I get back to a game I haven't run in a while I get this sense of dislocation before the old reflexes kick back in. Right now the feeling of how to gauge a fitting MR is really rusty.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

T&T houserules - taking on Rappan Athuk

Since I posted my musings about a new campaign I've become more and more enthusiastic about the idea of running Necromancer Games' megadungeon Rappan Athuk with T&T. Some of the first things I'm thinking of is house rules and tweaks.

I'm thinking of using these
Especially the last one is important. I want all classes, not only the spellcasters, to have to pay continuously for their equipment. More reasons to seek out treasure could only be a good thing.

But things like cool options for combat, like the first one, is always a good thing. Ablative armour would be cool for that reason as well. You will have to think of when you can afford a combat. Hirelings? Well, I just liked the idea of tempting the players to make use of it, knowing how it will be seen back in town. Hard choices are good choices.

Then we enter the realm of Weird Stuff.

I think the Beliefs and Instincts from Burning Wheel look kind of cool. But, in that game I see them become fuel for the game in a way that might not gel that well with continuously crawling a megadungeon. Still, Instincts have a very cool way to make a character come alive. "I have an arrow on my bow at the least sign of danger" could lead to more than a little hilariousness, which I think should be emphasized.

The other idea I have is to have a Long term Goal and a Short term Goal. Maybe that's better developed through play, but I'd like my players to think about it. We'll see.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Once again into the breach - starting a new campaign

So now my Wednesday group have ended due to scheduling difficulties and I'm looking to recruit some new people for a game. First question is of course, what are we going to play?

Since I have no players I'm going to decide what I want and then find players who want to play that. My problem then is to decide.

Have you looked at your game collection lately? There's a lot of choices there. At least there are in my collection of almost 100 different game systems! Naturally I felt this kind of talked to me. How many editions of the same game do I own?

A few.

Right now I'm looking at a few alternatives. I will have to decide on either AD&D 1st ed, S&W, T&T of some edition, B/X D&D or LotFP Weird Fantasy? It would be kind of cool to try my hand at ToEE, or doing Keep on the Borderland with B/X. But, wouldn't it be even cooler do to Rappan Athuk with T&T? Some times I wish I was one of those people which feel the small OD&D box and their imagination is all they need.

Damn. I have too much choice.

That wasn't such a meaty post, was it? Well, I might have some more interesting stuff to say in the days to come, when I ponder the possibilities and maybe feel like creating something.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

So, what do you do in this game?

I realized today, when I was looking at my collection, that there are a few of these games which don't answer that well the question in the title of this post.

Everyone who have followed the Steve Jackson Games line Transhuman Space, knows that one of the more questions about that game is "what do you do in this game"? While there are things to do, and they are even presented in the core setting book, it still seem to baffle people. Considering I myself have asked the question even after reading the book, I think they failed at presenting it like they should have. Now, imagine some other games and how they have handled that problem.

From 1981 to 1996 would Call of Cthluhu be a game where you often spend time doing things your character could barely afford, for reasons which only made sense to the player. At least that's the way it might sound when a fan of Delta Green gets going. Even though that many years and editions indicate that the problem might not be that serious, there is a disconnect between what makes sense to most CoC investigators and their players. Trail of Cthulhu solves it by introducing psychological traits, Drives, that suddenly put the reason for adventuring down on the character sheet.

How about a game like Pendragon? It has game mechanics for Glory, which makes it advantageous to behave like an Arthurian knight. I guess the theme of the game is advertised enough in the book as well.

My problem child, the game I have never managed to work for me, Traveller is another interesting piece. In that game there are three classic paths to walk, or travel if you'd permit me saying so. They are the path of the merchant, the mercenary and the sleuth. For me the biggest problem have always been that it's a big universe and the path is not as easy to discern in starlight as I had imagined. I seem to wander.

Of these four games, two can be considered oldies. But, I'd suggest that that matters little since if we compare CoC and Traveller to D&D and T&T we will find that in the latter it's easy to find out what you do. Explore, loot, kill and level up. Lather, rinse and repeat. Compare that to DragonQuest and you once again have a game that while it's very similar to D&D/T&T again it more open and less focused.  At least it seems that way from my reading it.

It could maybe be argued that games with a strong, focused setting (like Pendragon) have an easier time answering the question. Let's dodge THS and ponder Stormbringer/Elric! and Fading Suns. What do you do in Stormbringer? Planewalk and be the chess piece of the gods? I see, hand me the dice. No. Then there's Fading Suns, which have a central mystery and a structured society to play in. It should be easy, just find out why the suns are fading! Well, except that there are quite few examples of how that is done, since the reason have never been published!

Where am I heading with this? Well. I think one reason why it's harder to make some games sing is that you will have to create the reason for adventuring, and the buy-in, yourself. I never tried to do that for Traveller, and maybe that's why it didn't work for me. Maybe there is a lesson here for game designers as well as GMs. If you don't include a clear hook in game, the game should contain some clear advice on how to make it work for you, or at least point out there need to build upon what's been given. I think there are a few interesting conversations to be had about games designed from that point of view.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Designing games by the words

In my last post I linked to the new round of the Ronnies, a game design competition where you design your game around two words chosen from a list of four. Now imagine if all rpgs on your shelves were designed that way?

How about these made up ones?
  • Fading Suns - Imperium, Mysterium
  • Call of Cthulhu - Book, Run
  • Warhammer Fantasy RPG - Corruption, Old
  • Torg - Change, Belief 
I say, how about that?

A new round of the Ronnies

For those out there that are creative, quick and adventurous, I suggest you take a peek at this round of the Ronnies.

Take a peek at the four words, choose two and design a game around them in 24 hours or less. Shouldn't be that hard, should it?

I have picked two words, but I wonder if I will have 24 hours to spend developing them!
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