Friday, August 26, 2011

Battletech: Random Encounter!

It was time to play another BattleTech scenario today. Last day at work was hell, so I needed something to take my mind of it all. We decided to run a classic lance on lance patrol encounter, in wooded hills.

Once again we visit Zyclone 3, the fought over planet. The Rasalhague have been given it, but Kurita hardliners refuse to give it up.

The Kurita mechs were advancing through woodlands when suddenly there came enemy mechs up over a ridge. Intense fighting took place. First some placed themselves on hills and started to rain down long range missiles, and then others closed for melee all guns blazing. It all ended when the Steiner lance began to fall back, under cover of their leader. Sadly one pilot wanted to launch one more salvo and both him and commander Heinrich MacManus was vaporized, by a direct hit in the head by a laser and a missile ammo explosion, respectively. Fittingly, pilot Brenan Amundsen desperately yelled "Sarge!" and in tears managed to cause an ammo explosion in the Kurita commander's mech as well. Commander Takita's death caused his lance to hesitate and the Steiners could fall back.

Damn, these giant robots are fun!

I find that a simple rules system, with enough quirks and wrinkles, gives a lot of flavour. You roll your 2d6 high is always good. It just took 3 hours, including a lunch break, so it wasn't time killer either.

Naturally I think of this as a roleplayer, and for me the individual pilots and the stories that compel them to fight this fight is always in my mind. Having a pre written story and trying to reenact that in a set of scenarios where there's freedom of movement and action is an interesting challenge. I will probably try to write up our efforts as a campaign, and I will probably try to find ways to play this game on many levels. I have still not managed to get my great project off the ground where you play the domain management game on one level, then pick up your low level characters and do a crawl and have those two be played by different players and have it all interact and create a living, breathing world. Maybe Battletech is worth studying for something like that.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Old School games and thespians

I've been thinking about the conversations had following James Malisewski posts from OSR Con in Toronto, and him playing with Ed Greenwood. Many peoples seem to have an instant dislike of any would be thespians at the game table. It reminded me of a poll at Dragonsfoot way back, when the level of engagement in the game was the focus of the poll. The result was that most people there treated AD&D as if it was chess, or Monopoly.

From what I have gathered, the prevailing wind in these parts are kind of the opposite but with a healthy dose of simulationism as a side order. Way back the periodicals had articles espousing the values of acting, talking and being in character. Add to that an influential designer who seem to value realism really, really high and you have a bunch of kids who grow up to be either sim earthers or drama queens. Yeah, I am exaggerating.

But, what about me? Well. I have found that I becomes quite bored if all I do is roll the dice and have to treat my character like a chess piece. Outrageous accents just makes me more engaged. Now, if you are to treat the characters as game pieces, having many and detailed choices to make in the game makes it far more fun. Actually, I think this is where 3rd and 4th D&D really shines. You can happily play without any hint of "acting", and still have a game where you have a lot of things to do. On the other hand, a game like the older editions of D&D or T&T where combat rounds are minutes long and everything is abstract I think the game becomes boring unless I get to engage in a little extra like at least yell something in a funny voice when rolling to hit.

Now, with more abstract games, and more up to GM fiat and player inventiveness you would gather that those games should leave more opportunity for the players to express themselves by doing more thespians experiments. I mean, they do have less rules baggage to weight them down, and more freedom to interpret what abilities and limitations their characters suffer from, right?

Maybe I am off on a totally wrong track here. There's not like there's any strong causality involved or something like that. Somehow the world is not the way I expected it to be.

Let me also add that I think the level of pretentiousness is important. Even when I was quite enthusiastic about it (yes, I was!), Vampire: The Masquerade was a game I liked best when I never met the guys (and gals!) who played it. The same thing is true about things like freeform and "jeepform" which are way to game which makes my stomach turn. That's when I think the would be thespian ought to go to drama class and leave me to my roleplaying game. I just hate the combination of acting, pretentiousness and RPGs. When I act out a bit I goof off. It might be serious, but I am playing a game.

There's more to it than rules density.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

How to be a good GM

Since the whole blogosphere is talking about how to be a better GM I am going to toss in my two cents in the ring as well. I guess mine have the queen on them, since I have no idea how the euro cents look like.

I suggest there is just one skill you really need to be a good GM.

Well, you probably think that is hogwash, and more than one thing is included in my suggestion. I still want to focus on that thing, though.

To be a really good GM, you need to be able to go with the flow. 

That's it. Say 'yes' and make some shit up. That's what it's all about.

What? You think that didn't help much? Let me expand a bit then.

I suggest that the great thing that hanging out with your friends pretending to be an elf is all about entering a secondary world where you can do anything! In order to have it be like that, for the players it must always feel like the limitations of their mundane existence are no more.

That means that if they sit there and want you to take them through a story, make some shit up and do it. Lead them through fairyland. If it means they have glorious plans for how they will hexcrawl and explore the sandbox, make some shit up and do it. Show them fairyland and let them rape it (yes, they will do disgusting things against your wishes. I didn't type that lightly).

I never said it would be easy, or that I could teach you how.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Battletech, fantasy and the technological arms race

One thing I find interesting with Battletech, is that there are different levels of technology in the setting, and they all fight over technology as much as for power for its own sake. Sometime an influx of new tech shakes things up a bit, and it influences the capabilities of the other states and factions involved in the conflicts. Why aren't we seeing this in the fantasy worlds of roleplaying?

Imagine a country, which have invented gunpowder or the printing press. They invade another country and suddenly that country is filled with guys with primitive guns. Later on another country creates the telegraph and suddenly the game world have "instant" communication in some parts.

Imagine how cool that could be. Imagine your characters in the midst of it.

I think that part of Battletech could be imported successfully into your fantasy campaign!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Battletech: The Dragon holds the line! (and a few thoughts avbout Traveller)

A few days ago we assembled to commanders at my place and fought a Battletech scenario. BT is old school to me, whatever rules you use. My boxed set if the 2nd ed.

Along the border of the Steiner and Kurita empires, worlds have started to rebel, not respecting the deal by Theodore Kurita and ComStar. (this is before the clans. I did say old school, didn't I?). One such planet is Zyclone 3, where the samurai mechwarriors get their orders from the local warlord, that coming down from the mountains are two lances of Steiner mechs. They are spearheading a push toward the industrial centres in the lowlands. "We are redeploying to meet this thread, but you have to Hold the Line until reinforcement arrive and we can defend these vital resources!" Let the battle commence.

I played the Kurita guys, and had one lance of veterans in medium mechs. The Steiners had one light lance and one heavy lance. They were regulars, and the light lance mostly so. Naturally, the first thing that happens in that the heavy mechs stumble and fall while crossing a river! Some giggles in the light lance when that happened. Then I got my LRM and autocannons up on two hills with good visibility on a majority of the battlefield. Missiles started to rain as soon as the Steiners came into view. Two batteries of LRM 15, firing each round for four rounds. Just picture it!

In the end I managed to blow up two enemies, and shoot off the leg one another. It looked like a victory and the other player yielded. This was so fun that I at once started to think about doing a campaign. Naturally that makes you start to think about stories, free form developments and sandboxes. Again.

There are different rules for Battletech campaigns, and some of them have tried to handle the fact that you might want to play in a story line, but also to be the master of your own fate. I have read some of those and been thinking that maybe they can be used got a RPG campaign?

In a BT campaign you use something called tracks, which specify not which troops show up, but their relative size and strength. Also, the terrain is stated in a general case and the outcome can lead you to another track depending on what happened.

If you want to try to game a more controlled story, I don't see why you couldn't use something similar. In Traveller adventures, at least those from DGP, utilized something called nuggets. A nugget was a few resources for an encounter, and it had a dependency tree, i.e. it was connected to nuggets that had to happen before that one, and nuggets you could go into depending on the outcome. I think I'm going to go back and reread some of those old Traveller adventures and see how it worked.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

meme: Dice pron

Never the one to miss an opportunity to talk about dice I join the ranks of dice pornographers. I might hate dice superstition, but I love the dice.

First, all of them!

Th big pile
I love FUDGE, both as a concept and its derivations. I once read an article on how to make your own FUDGE dice, from ordinary d6. Later I bought my own real FUDGE dice but I still have a soft spot for my own ugly ones.

FUDGE dice
Since we are talking about special dice, this is a favourite. I got a novelty dice from my wife, and the text on the dice about what to do right now "breathe", "make love", "relax" and suchlike is cool. Nice box too.
novelty die
Then there are these puppies. Now when I live far from any game store, and continents away from free RPG Day, I find the special dice for that occasion and for the game store I used to frequent (Minotaur Games and Gifts) to be of some sentimental value. Longtime readers of this blog will understand the value of the third one.
sentimental dice
Now for the meat of it. These are my Gamescience dice (hey, I like them. So sue me!), my T&T dice and my averaging and d3 dice. The last one I feat exceptionally neat. This is my "go to" bag. Also, the bag is a homemade gift from my wife.
the first dice I reach for
Then we have the big pile. In here are the dice for WoD and dice pool systems, random dice from all the games I own. In my boardgame collection I even have another pile of d10s. You will note that missing is both d16. d24 and d30 dice. Someday, maybe.
the big pile
I like me some dice!

Naturally I also have a pile of poker chips, playing cards and a tarot deck. All are used in my rpg sessions. The big pile of pennies is also counted to this oddball section of gaming tools.


Houseruling Call of Cthulhu - yet again! Incorporating Trail features

I have thought about suitable ways of incorporating the nice features from Trail of Cthulhu and think I have finally nailed it down.
  • Pillars of Sanity - So, pillars are abstract principles your character believes in. Everyone get for each 20 pts of SAN. 
  1. Advantage: When faced with a horror that invalidates your belief, you can have the Pillar crumble and avoid the SAN loss. When all your Pillars are gone, you will automatically fail your SAN rolls when nothing shields you from the horror.
  2. Disadvantage: When faced with a horror that threatens your Pillar you will always roll the worst effect when failing a SAN roll.
  • Drives - Drives are core desires of your character, which gives you a reason to go mad and die.
  1. Hard driver: Following a hard driver will protect you from the effect of losing 5 SAN in one go for the next immediate experience related to the driver. Ignoring the driver, loose 1d6 SAN.
  2. Soft driver: Following a soft driver and you will only loose the minimum amount at the next immediate experience related to the driver. Ignoring the driver, loose 1d3 SAN.
  • Core Clues - While I don't expect to use it as a hard and fast rule, professional skills will always give the clues needed. Characters should shine when doing their thing. I'll always ask for a roll, but if it is a core clue check, failure will not stop the clue from being found but instead will take a significant amount of extra time, say all day instead of an hour.

Then there are one thing I am looking at importing from Unknown Armies, and a small tweak to the basic system.
  • Trigger Events - In Unknown Armies your character have an event in their history when they encountered the supernatural. I think that is a good idea for thinking more about who your character is. It's probably also a nice way to tie into the Drive of a character.
  • Skill improvement - In older editions of CoC you didn't gain 1d10 when rolling for improving a skill, but 1d6. I love my d6. I do like the idea of extra effect for crits, though, so crits will gain you 1d6+1.
  • Regaining SAN - Sandy Petersen's original game didn't have the option of regaining SAN. I like the starkness of that rule. Taking a cue from ToC, I'd rule that if at the end of an adventure there are no physical evidence left for any unnatural event, you can regain SAN. Roll a d6 and be happy.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Scenario design according to Dennis Detwiller

I was listening to the Unspeakable podcast, a podcast about Call of Cthulhu, and noted Dennis Detwiller had some guides for scenario design.

He suggested
1. having a situation
2. a plan for what would happen if nobody else got involved
3. outlines for all the different ways you could investigate and interact with the situation and sketch possible results from that.

It sounds like pretty good advice. Maybe it's all old news to you, but it made me think how it could apply it to some different kind of games and not only Call of Cthulhu.

Glorantha stuff for sale

While I have no intention of turning this blog into a marketplace, I am a bit wary of entering the big swirl at eBay. Should any of the items below catch your fancy, email me with an offer (address is on the left side on the blog front page). Everything is in Sweden, and you will have to pay actual shipping costs.

I already have more copies of these items, and some (like the Genertela box) I consider to be the definitive source on the matter.

If none of it finds a buyer I guess I'll have to go to eBay. I do have some more stuff, for DragonQuest, that I also have excess copies of. Those might show up later.

Gods of Glorantha - Scotch tape on box. Cults book have tears by the staples. Otherewise just fine.

Tales of the Reaching Moon #13 - spine have scruff marks.

HeroWars:Roleplaying in Glorantha - Excellent condition.

HeroWars:Narrator's Book Game Mastering in the Hero wars - near mint.

Snake Pipe Hollow RQ3 - Excellent condition. NPC stat booklet photocopy.

Apple Lane RQ3 - In shrink wrap. Some tears in shrink wrap, though.

Ye Book of Tentacles vol.2 - near mint. Minimum shelf wear.

Glorantha:Genertela, crucible of the hero wars - One box corner crushed and taped. Map have tears along creases, lover box have split corner, player's book have torn and creased corner. Otherwise excellent condition.
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