Friday, December 30, 2011

Dressed for the occasion

Today I took a trip to the royal castle in Stockholm with my family. The kids loved the suits of plate armour on display, and loved trying helmets on and stuff like that. Looking at these royal and upper class outfits I realized one thing missing in most games I've played.

Usually an adventurer have one outfit, and after a sweaty delve they maybe (just maybe) take a bath at a tavern before they put it on for the next trip downstairs. Just imagine if you wanted to do a trip out in the wilderness, or god forbid, actually tried to set an adventure in the city! Suddenly you'd have a new great money sink for your players!

Imagine a historical game. In the historical eras I browsed through at the museum today, each and every social function used a separate dress! Not so long ago, you even had special clothing on when taking a sporty ride in your car! Sure, it might have been purely the upper classes, but at least in some games that's the guys we are portraying!

Now, even in the fantasy city people are bound to treat you differently depending on how you are dressed. Should you start a bar fight and have the city guard show up, I'm betting they would treat someone in fancy clothing quite differently than a tattered adventurer who looks, literally, like he crawled up from a hole in the ground. Also, like I said it could be used as a money sink.

Just some thoughts.

I also passed by a store selling Carcosa and Isle of the Unknown from LotFP. Quite good looking books, I tell you!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 is behind me, 2012 is coming...

So, the year is nearly in the bag, and a new one looms ahead. Let's look back a moment.

What did 2011 bring to the table? For me one of the best moments was when I scored both The First Fantasy Campaign, and a British 1st ed. of Tunnels & Trolls. That one will be hard to beat!

Personal accomplishments must be that I finally sat down behind the screen (from Trail of Cthulhu) as the Keeper of Arcane Lore for a Call of Cthulhu game. For so many years, that has been one of my favourite games and now I finally got to run it! Also, being published in Fight On! together with so many creative individuals was definitely a personal highlight.

A true blessing have been my faithful readers. That's you! Many thanks for those who check in here more or less regularly, and post comments. My interest have flagged somewhat during the year, but having a readership is a marvellous ego boost. Thanks!!

Lost causes this year was my failure to run a game of T&T. I tried the Raggi method by plastering the city with notes, and got no reply what so ever. Damn, I miss Canada! Swedes are a sullen lot, who don't let you in easily. The same fate befell any attempts to play old D&D. I was a player in a play by forum game, but it died on the vine. I have posted my conclusions about play by forum in another post.

But! Time to look forward. What will happen in 2012? Will I finally become a google droid like so many else, and run a game on google+? Who knows. I like the idea, but spend so much time before a computer anyway, and when I am home I would like to either sleep or spend time with my books or my family.

I will try too run more CoC games. I loved it, and have so much good material to try out. Small but vicious dog reawakened in me the urge to do something with Warhammer. I still think that game would be so sweet as a Burning Wheel game. Burning Hammer, eh? Savage Worlds is another game that just begs to be played.

My attempts to create some original material always seen ti flounder. Most of my creativity comes on a tight deadline for my weekly game, which I have none at the moment. We'll see if I do something about those issues.

New games, then? You know, there are some cool things coming out, but I can't for the life of me post a very long list! The only thing I can say I really look forward to is the new edition of Cthulhu by Gaslight.

How was your year? Can you help me get pumped up about some upcoming games that I have overlooked? Feel free to chip in!

A Happy New Year to all of you out there in blogging land!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Some impressions of Skulduggery

A short while ago, I got an email from the excellent service Loot. That means I get some sweet deals and need to decide at once of I want to buy it. This time it was a rpg from Pelgrane Press, designed by Robin D. Laws. I will post another time on my feelings on those names. I had not heard of the game, but it was enticing enough and I bought it. The game was called Skulduggery.

The game is supposed to be a game where witticisms and verbal fencing is a core feature, and inter player conflicts are not only common, but fun. I liked the idea. Now I have read most of it, and I have some impressions to share.

First off, this quote is very telling and summarize much of what the game is about:
"A character who knocks out another and then tried to kill him is invariably interrupted by a surprising event that places him at a sudden disadvantage. While the attacker deals with the troubling plot twist, the intended victim wakes up, unharmed."
Got that? This is a game where everyone is expected to abide by the social contract, and enter the game ready to do this one thing. It's a game about this setup, something with a special feeling and modes of behaviour. Let's delve into some details.

Generating character is a very quick procedure. Every setting is both a scenario with a setup, relevant NPCs and pre generated characters with personal goals and abilities. You spread out the cards, pick one at random and you are done! I wish it was that quick generating characters in all kind of games! There are no other way to generate character in the rules. In this game the character will need to be tightly coupled to each other and the game setting.

The game system is quite simple in the basics. You roll a die and if you 4+ you succeed. The traits you have are pool points you can spend on re-rolls, until you get a satisfactory result. Naturally, there are additional details. Some of those are the qualifiers you get to your abilities. For example, your Persuade ability is tagged with a word showing how you persuade. Some of those trumps or are trumped by other styles. Quite a neat idea. It is indeed a game of fencing, where you jab and riposte with those re-roll spends. The verbal power struggles are at the core of it all.

The bad thing about this game, which to begin with seem so simple, is that you get bonuses, penalties and state in a myriad of different combinations and permutation. Well, maybe not a myriad, but it is complex. There's no way you run this game without a cheat sheet. All those things almost demand you to have chips or tokens and some kind of play area or similar to pile those status indicators on.

While I have yet to actually play the game, it feels surprisingly fiddly for being such a simple game. Actually, many procedures feels slightly odd until you read a side bar or another chapter of the rules. It's a bit like the game could have used another shake through for reorganization and the fiddly bits maybe had been presented somewhat clearer. Now there are hidden some suggestions in the depth of one chapter some costs for point spends in certain situations which then are not part of the combat example. It feels, sadly, like a lot of first editions do in our hobby.

All in all, it's an interesting game. Very much like the Forge style games, it is narrow in focus. But, that makes it piercing to the point of the core game experience it is trying to create. This reinforce Pelgrane Press as a publisher that dares to go out on a limb.

Would I recommend the game? Well, I would like to play it before I deliver the final verdict, but it is a game that suffer from being less clear than it could be. The set up is really cool, though.

Fight On! Magazine #13 is out!

I hope you have not missed that Fight On! Magazine issue 13 is out? This time it is dedicated to none other than Ken St Andre!

This time, I have managed to get a contribution of mine in print. I am in august company, let me tell you! Check it out.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Traveller rule for general empowerment and player satisfaction

Even though I hate the idea of a "balanced" party, there are some value to having game system support for everyone getting involved. Today I noticed, reading my new shiny rulebook from Mongoose, that the latest incarnation of Traveller have a solution for that as well.

I guess everyone have heard it said, or something to that effect, the dread question of who wants to play that class nobody else wants. Usually the cleric. If we leave the question aside if the cleric is a bad/boring class or not, I think the phenomenon is till interesting. Apparently many think a party "needs" a thief/cleric/whatnot to be "balanced" or competitive.

So, why? What can be done about it? Should something be done?

Well. There have been many arguments about the folly of trying to balance the rpg experience for maximum "fun", and I think we are all kind of tired of that. So, just let us assume that the idea is here to stay and maybe there are something to be learned from it.

In Trail of Cthulhu the idea is that since it is a game about investigation, all the skills that can be used for investigation should be covered by the party. The way it is done is basically that the number of points available to by skills for is dependent on the amount of players. You will have enough points to cover all the skills, by design. That is one way of doing it, and it might make sense for a skill based system.

In Traveller, the Mongoose incarnation thereof, they have something that I feel might be of slightly greater utility. After character generation, you get a "skill package", which is a set of skills bundled by the kind of campaign you'll play. Everyone gets to pick a skill, then everyone gets a second one, and so on until all are picked. That way, if you are going to do a trader campaign the basic foundation is there.

Some might say that in a sandbox, no such thing should be allowed. Everything should be shaped by the players, and having a skill package thrust upon the players by a campaign theme is hearing the steam whistle in the distance. Personally I think one reason why I have not managed to get any of my Traveller games off the ground is that we have not been explicit enough about what kind of campaign we have wanted, and thus we have gotten mismatched expectations and player characters. Bringing it out into the open like that, maybe the players can pick a campaign theme? Maybe the referee does not have a say in it at all, if you are that adverse to GM led story gaming? I think that is stupid, but what the heck.

Apart from that idea of having everyone on the same page, can it be used for something else? Well, I know one reason many people hate random character generation is that they want to be competent. They will feel bored or lost if their character does not have a guaranteed time in the spot light. Maybe having such a Skill Package is a way to soften the harsh experience of a pure random generation of characters? Whatever happens, those weird stats you got wont handicap you that much, since you are sure to have at least one or two picks of "good" skills? I think it is an interesting option.

Now let's tackle the cleric issue.

If the reason it is felt that there has to be a cleric in the party, maybe that can be alleviated by something like Skill Packages? Maybe it will even stack with previously picked skills, making sure that the party not only have the skills needed, but also emphasize the abilities of those who already picked the "party support" skills. That way those would be sure to shine. In the case of a class based instead of a skill based system, it might be tougher to jam in additional abilities. If you don't want to soften up the walls between classes and just and the "needed" abilities outright, consider making the Skill Package be mundane and magical items to choose from! If they have charges, and limited charges to boot, the "pure" game will reassert itself when those charges have run out, and hopefully the players have adapted to their character abilities and can use those to best effect.

Maybe I'm kicking in open doors, but I felt there was a tool to be used in general in that little paragraph in the latest incarnation of the rpg workhorse, Traveller. New uses for old tools, eh?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Traveller - the game I thought I had quit

Traveller is one of the icons in the hobby. For me the acronym LBB always meant Little Black Books, and referred to the three volumes of Classic Traveller from 1977. I have never seen the OD&D books in real life, so I maybe they look more brown than I think, but for me they have always looked more cream or khaki coloured, but I guess LBB looks better than LCB or LKB does.

I have a quite decent collection of Traveller books, from all the eras of the game. The first one I owned was MegaTraveller, and while I agree with

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cool things in first edition

As you might have read, I recently became the proud owner of a copy of the British 1st edition of Tunnels & Trolls. It's virtually identical to the American 2nd edition which should be the same as the first one apart from the cover. At least, that's my understanding. Ken or someone else might tell me I'm wrong, though.

In any case it's a marvellous peek into the culture of gaming back in the olden days, regardless of you play T&T or not.

First it starts with some advice on "Digging the tunnels". Tunnels being the word used instead of Dungeons. Yes, this is a game about dungeons. the rules even say about CON and STR that they are automatically restored to their previous level if and when the character returns to safely to the surface! That's a healing rule for you! These are the general rules (paraphrased somewhat) apart from the suggestion that you create a vertical cutaway.

1. Let the imagination run wild
2. Put in as much as you can think of. Nobody likes to mess around in a tedious tunnel.
3. Use as much humour as you can.
4. Deeper in the tunnels mean tougher.
5. Traps and spells should be avoidable.

This goes counter to the Empty Rooms Principle, and I'm not sure I disagree. The principle looks good on paper, but will it lead to players zoning out until something fun happens? Maybe sometimes. Some of the other points I just think is worthy of repeating.

Characters then. Some interesting points. Rogues have to change class after level 7! They have to choose to walk the path of the Magic-User (yes, that's the term. I like it) or the Warrior. Interesting. It would be an interesting hack of D&D to really only have two classes, with magic or without and if you mix you sooner or later have to choose.

Naturally there are rules for combat. As someone who have seen some editions come and go know, inflation hits most games. Everything is smaller in this edition. No weapons doing 6d of damage! Some things worthy of note is the small reminder that you can not fight and hold a torch, and yes all monster get double the amount of dice in a fight in darkness. Ouch! Then there's rules for capturing monsters, which brings back memories of OD&D. Subduing dragons, anyone? I like the variant of the Splintering Shields, where the Warrior (only the Warrior) gets to multiply his level with the armor rating, once, before it is destroyed. Interesting.

When it comes to XP, suddenly we see the gold for XP rule! I like that. Also, multiply by level seem to be a popular mechanic in this part of the rules. Combat XP is Monster Rating x dungeon level / level of the victor. XP for saves are also multiplied by your level, and not by the level of the save. Levels, levels. There's even level titles! Yay!

In general there are many rules in here that I think is better than the newer ones. But, the many subtractions, divisions and multiplications feels a bit old. In any case it's clear that level 7 was something to write home about, and a weapon doing more than 2d is cool again.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Why this focus on sappy tv shows?

This is a rant. You have been warned.

Have you looked at some of the games labelled as "storygames" or games about which the designer sprouts exclamations like Story Now? I have, and while I love some New School Forge games, some things makes me sigh.

This all begins with Robin Laws (my Robin Laws number is 3, by the way).

I was listening to a recorded session from Dragonmeet, namely the Pelgrane Press session with Simon, Robin and Ken and they talked about upcoming stuff. One thing Robin was working on was something called Drama System. This was presented as yet another attempt at trying to use the narrative structure of other media in a rpg.

Often when new school games borrow ideas about narrative structure they seem to think of TV shows. Actually, a few games by Robin Laws does this. There are a couple of games that explicitly try to minic TV shows, like Buffy, Smallville and Primetime Adventures. My experience with those games are not positive.

So, when I heard about Drama System I triggered on the word "relationships". I have realized that one reason I'm not very fond of taking inspiration from TV shows is that I really don't care for relationship focused TV soaps.

Why are all these Forgie New School games so focused on relationships? Some designers talk about how odd it is with the classical adventuring party, outside of society and without any natural human bonds and relations. Others talk about how interpersonal conflicts drive drama and immersive roleplaying.

Those who have games with me know that I can go bananas with funny voices, in character speak and that thespian spiel. But, I can also play the game with the characters as chess pieces when I want to focus on e.g. world or story exploration (going along the rails, for the heck of it). I think both is valid roleplaying.

So, why is sappy tv shows the norm for serious character development? I don't think it's anything wrong with it, but I am bored of it! I have relationships already, to friends and family. Why do I have to have that in a game?

Rant over.

As usual, the real world is a bit more nuanced and if it seems like I was slagging a certain designer, let it be known that I received my copy of Robin Laws Skullduggery yesterday, and it looks like great fun!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What I don't like about Trail of Cthulhu

Since I just ran a game of Call of Cthulhu, including some rules and concepts from Trail of Cthulhu, I have spent some time pondering the qualities of the latter.

Why did I not just run a ToC game?

Basically, my main beef with ToC is that I don't really feel very comfortable about rolling one die. It might seem like a small thing, but I want more randomness in my games.

If you, like in ToC, rolls 1d6, may add in "spends" from your pools (all skills are pools of points) trying to beat difficulty of, say, 3-4, it goes without saying that most times randomness wont be a factor. Naturally, this is a design feature. Robin Laws who designed the game clearly states that his idea is to make the system drive a kind of narrative that behaves in a specified way.

Personally I like the quality of "new school" games, like the forge style games and others, to have rules that reinforce and drive toward a style of play the designer envision his or her game to be about. Many times, almost as many times that I have claimed Alignment leads to brain damage, I have elevated the rule of gold equals xp to sublime levels of design mastery, due to the effects it can have in enforcing a style of play. This is something I think is the great re-discovery stemming from Ron Edwards "system matters".

What kind of style is it then that ToC reinforce with its pools you can spend for basically guaranteed success? Well, it is a game where you can be sure, as a player, that the actions of your character will succeed. If you have a decent pool of at least 2, trying to beat 4 (a rough mean of a 2-8 scale) is an average chance of success of more than 80%. I think that makes it kind of pointless to have a randomizer with those odds. Before we delve too deep into math and probabilities, the main point of my argument is that on such a small scale a spend of one point, to say nothing of more than one, makes successes almost certain.

So, why is that bad? Isn't it good for the players to have say in when they get to shine? Well, no. Not when the object of the game is horror.

Horror demands giving up certainty and hope. Vagueness and isolation, and the strong possibility of failure and its following painful result is what drives the sense of horror. I think ToC is a fine game for CSI, but not for horror.

Some say the rules don't work that way in actual play, and they might be right. I have only played ToC once, but it did not falsify my principal objections to the rules. Feel free to disagree!

Friday, December 9, 2011

How did it work? Combining the Cthulhu game rules

So, now I have run to sessions of my Trail of Cthulhu infused Call of Cthulhu hack. How did it go?

To begin with, I think more sessions are needed to really expose the dark corners of the system. But, I think I some impressions would be fun to share.

How about the most talked about feature of ToC? Well, I have said before that I think having a scenario stall because somebody missed their Spot Hidden roll is just shoddy game mastering. Having rules that hinder that just feels like the wrong way to fix the problem. That being said, I always liked the way how Unknown Armies handled skill percentages. In that game you are really good with a skill of 50%. That doesn't mean that you fail every second time you try to do what you do to earn your living. If you have 50%, you can earn your living, without rolling! That way of handling skills is a way to fuse ToC with the regular BRP system. You don't roll your Spot Hidden to notice that clue, and fail. If you are a guy who needs to be perceptive to make a living, you just spot things. That's what that 50% means. It turned out quite well in real play. You roll your dice anyway and if you succeed I give some extra info or colour. I think that worked fine.

The part of ToC that I personally feel is most interesting is the Drive, Pillars of Sanity and Sources of Stability. I implemented the Drive and the Pillars. The former I actually turned to once, just checking if it was time for a soft driver. The player in fact used the Drive to justify the roleplay, and the Driver thus worked, without actually turning into a game mechanic. Would that roleplay have happened without the Drive? Maybe, but the signpost and guide for roleplay was there. I think that worked fine.

After the scenario I realized that I had totally failed to ask for SAN rolls at quite a few opportunities when it would have been applicable. Thus, the concept of the Pillars needs further play testing.

I will probably make a follow up post on this topic after some more sessions of play. Sadly, it seems like the great game killer season is upon us, and now people will be travelling to be with friends and family. Probably we will have to wait until January until the next session.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

New Loot - pictorial evidence!

Here it is! My holy grail for a time have been to get hold of a copy of the 1974 edition of D&D for a decent price. In addition to that, a 1st or 2nd ed. of T&T and The First Fantasy Campaign have been at the top of the list.

You see that stuff up there? Not only is that a copy of FFC, in pristine condition, from the personal collection of Ken St. Andre. Ken even had a few extra maps, from a few other Judges Guild products it seems like.

But wait, there's more!

You see that little black book? It's the British 1st edition of Tunnels & Troll, which looks identical to the 2nd American edition I have browsed. That means puny damage from most weapons, ablative armour and some other goodies from the earlier editions. You get Adventure Points for gold! The cover looks very funky, but the innards is pure gold. Eh... adventure, I mean.

This was all from an auction Ken ran, with a percentage of the proceeds going to a fund to help artist Jeff Freels with some quite serious medical expenses. Take a look at the stuff Jeff is selling. He's an amazing artist.

I'm dancing the happy dance today, both for me and for Jeff.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


I am finally the proud owner of a copy of The First Fantasy Campaign! From the personal collection of Ken St Andre it came, in marvellous condition! Tomorrow I will try to take some pictures to show it off. Quite the grail, and it was not the only grail I got...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How to play by forum

A friend of mine started a game by post a while ago. It was an attempt to try out the principles in Matt Finch primer, using S&W and a big dungeon. I had tried games like that before, with differing results, but since I had no game and felt the urge to get some gaming done I joined in.

It has now ground to a halt, or at least found such a glacial pace that I doubt it will continue. This time I felt I should summarize some lessons learned.

1. Decide on a posting schedule - This I think is crucial. Everyone involved should know that they are expected to send something in, on schedule. I remember way back when there was such a thing as postal PBM, you had a deadline before sending in your orders. Keep it regular, and time should flow constantly in the game. The GM should move things on if no input is forthcoming.

2. Have a well known way to handle out of character chatter and logistical information - Everyone should have the ground rules down. If you leave town, or had some tense days at work, let everyone know - beforehand.

3. The GM should re-frame the scene in a clear way when collating the player input, either at every new dungeon room, or at each suitable dramatic interval. If you feel up to it, do it every time players have sent in their "orders". In that way players will see the GM rephrase their intents and it will be clear if there's a misunderstanding. It is quite annoying when you expect everyone to be present in a scene/room and suddenly realize one PC is not there.

Using those principles is key, in my experience.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Kult - as a comic book

Some of you might have heard of Kult? It was a Swedish horror rpg, first published in 1991. It was translated to a bunch of languages, English among them, and sold quite decently. It was quite intense and didn't shy back from some fairly gruesome stuff. In the process it proved that controversy can be quite good for the bottom line.

Now Dark Horse have put out a comic book, a mini series in four parts, based on the game. Naturally, I couldn't just let such a thing pass, so I picked it up.

While the idea of a comic book based on a rpg is not new (anyone have read some of that dreadful D&D comics? I have read both the really old ones and the new ones), I thought it would be interesting to see if they had managed to capture the game in any way in the book.

For those who don't know much about the game an its setting, I can summarize the game system as BRP divided by 5 and all the rolls by d20. It's nothing special, except that I seem to remember some funkiness in the combat system. The setting was where the game really shone.

It was a gnostic world view, but with the twist that the moral was that all the pain and suffering is of our own choosing, and by gnosis can you transcend into godhood. Heady stuff. Uncovering more and more nasty stuff and then realize that it was all done by you, and unto you, was potent material for a very personal horror. Sadly, most of the supporting material focused on the nasty stuff in graphic detail, where violence and gore was never really more than effect, and the gnostic elements were never really explored that well.

Sadly, the comic goes to the heart of the metaphysics and the fight for the dual nature of reality, the one part where the game is at its weakest. I mean, who really cares about big fights wherein the dark creator of the world duke it out with someone with too many claws and teeth for their own good?

Kult was very much like Mage in its first edition. In that game reality was a prison and by discovering your own potential you could break free into total freedom. Kult in contrast was about how breaking free was encountering the shivering existentialism at the heart of reality, freedom through total denigration of your self. It doesn't travel that well unto the pages of a comic book.

Anyway for those who feel curios about the comic check this link.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Anyone have a good source of sound effects?

In the prep work for my stint as a Keeper of Arcane Lore for Call of Cthulhu, I browsed around for some sound effects to use as ambient background noise during the session. When we played Beyond the Mountains of Madness, our Keeper had managed to find some very good noises both for the boat trip to Antarctica and for when we was on the ice. It managed to give that extra subtle but constant reminder that we "were" in another place.

What I did find now when I searched, was only short snippets that either faded out or faded in. If you wanted to have them as ambient sounds in the background, you'd get some very annoying clicks and points when the sounds would go away before suddenly re-emerge. Needless to say, looping them just didn't work.

So, where do you go to find good, loop able, sounds for sounds of weather and general noises in rural or urban areas? Anyone have a good stack? Do you know a site where they reside? My google-fu wasn't up to it before the session, and I thought I should try other methods before the next one.

Where to go for you next game setting? The bible!

Even if you care nothing for the religious dimensions of the christian bible, read this marvellous post by FrDave! That is a truly inspired post that takes a literary basis and weaves from it a setting with dynamics and both a dungeon and NPCs. Great work!

How about a new adventure for DragonQuest?

For those you don't follow the DragonQuest emailing lists, this is a heads up for a crowd funding effort to produce new adventures for the old game. I think it looks interesting, but sadly I can't afford to chip in until after Christmas. :(

Take a peek!
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