Monday, April 30, 2012

Personal horror

A few days ago once again sat down behind my Trail of Cthulhu screen as the Keeper of Arcane Lore. Once again we travelled back to New Orleans in 1929, as imagined by Kevin Ross. This time, people went mad.

I'm beginning to appreciate the way this scenario is put together. The tome The King in Yellow is the key for it, and today the characters found the book, and read it. Telling them what they found made me realize how the whole of the scenario is modelled on and structured by that book. But, the big thing I wanted to talk about was how that book affected the characters, and the players.

Kevin Ross has provided the Keeper with a short summary of the physical characteristics of the tome, and a quite detailed summary of the content of the text, and how it affect the reader. Combining this with how Ken Hite suggested Hastur as a viral meme, I managed to portray the reading experience of the tome in a way that I had never tried or experienced before. I'll get into some details.

I have not read Chambers, but this book might follow his story. I don't know.

So, the setting is a city and the characters are a royal family fighting over succession. A stranger arrives, in a Pallid Mask, and he bears the Yellow Sign. He proclaims the coming of the King in Yellow and at the ball he is the only one not who has not removed his mask, and then it is revealed that he has none. Somehow the city is then replaced with Carcosa and the city is now situated by the lake Hali and everyone goes mad.

So, how does this related to the scenario, and how did I use it? In the scenario, it's Mardi Gras and everyone is dressed up and there's a masquerade ball at the end of the scenario. As you can see, the idea of masks is a common theme, as is the idea of a ball. But, the question of identity and duplicity is also important.

When the first character read the tome, she lost 5 SAN at once and I decided that her feeling of identity had started to slip, and that the idea of personal belonging became kind of hazy, cleptomania struck her as quite logical. Also, she at once started to wear a mask.

The second character read the book, and lost slightly less SAN. That character was most strongly affected by the duplicity of cities, places and time. I described how time and place suddenly had no meaning, and how the one turned into the other just like the city in the book had turned into Carcose. It had always been Carcosa.

The third reader had notes from the others, and here I emphasized the labyrinthine qualities of the text, and how plot lines twisted into each other, and how the pages seemed to be out of order. The main thing to freak that character out was how the literary qualities was as mutable as the reality in the story was.

What I did was I gave all the players different views of what they had read, and how it affected them differently. I had great help of the summary of the text, and could use different parts of it for retelling and rephrase things to freak the character out. Many times when you play CoC, you find a tome, read it and dock some points of SAN and now you have learned occult knowledge and are slightly more crazy. I found that actually have something to present to the players was important, and one of them even noted the fact that they all got something different from the experience. Suddenly the otherworldly qualities of the cthulhu mythos became tangible, or more real. It drove home the idea that you could actually be affected by reading a text. It became personal.

I think the first time I came across the idea of personal horror, was in the World of Darkness games, like Vampire. In those games you play the monster, and thus it's personal. I became bored when I realized that it was just a super hero game dressed in black leather and lace. Call of Cthulhu on the other hand is often criticized for being slightly too cerebral and too focused on the indescribable. I think the criticism is often well founded, but maybe focusing on the personal experience of something like a text could be a way to make it more personal, and make the player connect to the character to some extent. The themes in the setting, and the weird qualities of the text reinforced each other. By underlining the shifting nature of reality in the text, the shifting nature of the reality in the game was kind of implied. Since it was different for each character and it became more personal, isolated and possibly even hinting at the utmost loneliness of all character in the face of the mythos. Can you say "existentialism"?

It was a good session.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

T&T hacks - Over The Edge

 Since Over The Edge showed up in 1992, designers Jonathan Tweet and Robin D Laws have designed more games, and all are very much talked about. I don't know if it started with OTE, but it has been a very influential design. Let's take a look at why.

The setting of the game is very surreal. It's a game where every oddball tabloid conspiracy is out there, fighting over reality. It makes my head spin every time I read it. It is also the only have I have played where That Guy(tm), don't even stand out, he is just like the rest. Yes, it's that odd. But, I don't think it's why the game is so highly regarded, it's the rules.

To make a character, you pick one defining trait, a few supporting ones and assign them some dice. Easy enough, eh? The really interesting thing is that those traits are not picked from a list, or even limited very much at all. Basically, you can take any descriptive phrase at all, and make it your defining ability. In one game I made a character that had the trait Playboy. I used it for seducing, gambling, shopping and intelligence gathering. On the other hand, you could make it quite narrow, and then you get some more dice to assign to it. More dice are good when you roll them, add and try to beat a target number. But, I guess you see how that is the least exiting part of this. No two characters will look alike, and you have lot of freedom to define the characteristics of your character. Now let's see how we can take this system and put it into the guts of T&T.

In this hack, you have one trait called the Expert trait. This defines what your character is all about. Write down whatever you feel define your character, and roll 2d6+6 for that trait. Now, write down two more Good traits. These are the abilities that you feel gives you some breadth and is important, but not as defining. Roll 4d6 and pick any three for both those traits. Lastly, everyone has a Flaw, the ability that always gets you into troubles. Roll 2d6 for that trait. For any other trait you feel you need, roll 3d6.

Now, in order to be able to use as much as possible of the standard T&T rules we need to think of combat adds, combat hits and magic. Designate one of these traits as your Health trait. It can be your Flaw or your Expert trait. This is going to work just like CON usually does in T&T. You also need to define three traits that is level defining, and contribute to combat adds. Pick any three. Lastly, pick your Mystic trait, which works like INT and WIZ does in T&T.

Got that? Let's summarize.

The traits
  • One Expert trait - 2d6+6
  • Two Good traits - 4d6, pick any three
  • Flaw - 2d6
  • Other traits - 3d6

Their usage
  • one Health trait - works like CON
  • three combat and level traits - works like STR,DX,SPD and LK in T&T
  • one Mystic trait - works like a combination of INT and WIZ
This replace the regular T&T character generation, but after that you play as usual, with SR on the traits in place of stats, and roll weapon dice plus adds just like usual in combat.

Since this is very different from the usual fare, expect the games you play be very different. Tweak those numbers a bit and roll some different dice, but keep the distinction of one one trait higher than the rest, two above average and one sub par.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Talents - character traits in T&T

It seems I write more on T&T than I've done in a while. Today's post can be fitted to D&D as well if you like, though. You will have to expand your game with rolls against the stats Dave Arneson's style, though. I will probably write more upon that at a later stage.

One new addition to the game with the 7th ed. is Talents. 5th ed. diehards do without, but those of us who have embraced 7th ed. feel it's an innovation that have some merits. I'm going to talk about how I think the idea can be used and even improved upon.

Talents are defining skills, the abilities that make you the special individual you are. They can be narrow like "Playing Cards", or more broad like "Gambling". Those are two examples from the rules. According to the rules all new characters get a Talent. Then, as they go up in level, they may add another. Simple enough.

There are some problems with this, of course. While this all makes sense, the fact that some character types gets Talents as part of their class abilities is written in a way which makes it unclear if it is in addition to the Talent eveyone gets or not. In the specific case of the Rogue, the example character of Zam the Bony (p.32-33) is awarded a Talent of Thievery while there's no mention of a Roguery Talent.

Just like in OD&D, the Thief breaks the mould and creates problems. I suggest the following way to handle Talents, and the special case of the Rogue.

Every character gets one Talent when created, regardless if high stats rolled makes you start the game on a higher level than one. The Talent is written as Stat + Bonus, and the initial bonus is rolled on 1d6.

Every time a character gains a level through AP expended on raising a stat, another Talent may be added to the character. The bonus for that Talent is rolled on 1d6.


Rogues may at character creation, since they rely so much upon their smarts and good fortune, add their level to the bonus to their first level Talent. This is a set bonus, and does not increase at the Rogue gain levels.

This is a clear set of rules which unifies the mechanic, and gives the Rogue that extra flexibility with going totally over board with a Talent with a potential +6 usable for multiple SRs!

I hope you like that, or voice your disagreement. This probably they way I'll play the game from now on.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

T&T hacks - Savage Worlds

There was a time when you couldn't read the forums at Big Purple (AKA without it every day serving you another thread where people talked about how to convert this or that setting to a new rules set, most often Savage Worlds. I read many of those, and do think it is a great fit for many settings. I own the rules and follow podcasts and bloggers who cover it, and to some extent it has entered into my mind as a "go to" system. One of the cool things with it is the bennies.
In SW you get three "bennies" and the start. When you do something impressive, cool, fun or impressive in character you might be rewarded by another one. These can be used for re-rolls.

Naturally, having the ability to re-roll makes for a more high octane style of gaming. Many "savages" talk about "pulp gaming" as if it was a genre. In fact, it was a description of the cheap paper the lurid "two fisted tales" from the twenties to the forties were printed on. I find it kind of curious that it has become a genre of gaming. There is actually a game for that kind of gaming, namely Daredevils from FGU. But, I can see why Savage Worlds have become popular for it, since it lends itself very easily to fast and furious action. Let's see how to port that to T&T.

Every player start the game with 3 bennies. The GM start with one for each player, plus one. Use poker chips, coloured stones , pennies or whatever you have handy. When someone does something exceedingly cool or makes everyone laugh, hand them another one. To use the bennies, say that you want a re-roll, hand the token to the GM and roll again. If you don't like the result, use the first one you rolled instead. You can use bennies to re-roll any Saving Throw, i.e. a roll based on a trait. In combat you need to attempt those stunts to be able to use bennies to re-roll. At the end of the session, hand in the unused tokens. Next session, everyone start with 3 new bennies.

Option 1: If you don't mind the bookkeeping, make a note of every bennie earned, and cache them in for 50 AP each after an extended downtime from adventuring.

Option 2: The GM can only use bennies for named NPCs or major antagonists.

Option 3: If you as a player want to support another player character, you might use your own bennies to chip in. Only one bennie per roll may be added, though.

Option 4: You may use as many bennies as you like, re-rolling until satisfied. Note that this makes for a very high powered game!

I hope you think these hacks sounds interesting and inspire you to try them, or your own variant thereof, in your next T&T game.
Fight on!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Thinking more on my last CoC game

I have been thinking some more of my reactions to the latest CoC session. There was a time in the beginning of the session where the players where basically flailing about. They even said right out to me that they did not know what to do. It made me start to think I had to do something, and after some futzing around things did start to move again. Not in the "right" direction, it did start to move again. It did also manage to move in a direction that the characters did intersect with the major NPCs and the things that were going on, but that was another thing.

So, today I was catching up on some old email. I am, and have been for years, a subscriber to the Roleplaying Tips newletter from Johnn Four. Usually it contains at least some new nugget to use in a upcoming game, or something to file away in that GM folder of tricks.  This issue I had lying around had as a main feature a piece by some guy called James and he wrote something which made me think. Take a look at this:

  It is not the referee's job during a session to provide
  excitement for his playing group. His job is to administer
  the setting and resolve character actions. If the characters
  are taking no action and are not interacting with the
  setting, then the referee has literally nothing to do. The
  players are wasting his time.
What about that? Do you agree?

Often when I play RPGs, I'm the referee. That means that, potentially, I will more often than anyone else have "nothing to do". That sounds boring.

Now, I think many of you dear readers are well aware of the tenets of the so called "old ways". The games master is supposed to make rulings, present the players with meaningful choices and let the dice fall where they may. I can dig that. Well, I can dig that when I run fantasy, but I also dislike not having anything to do. I am there to play a game as well, after all. So, what to do, and why did I specifically mentioned running a fantasy game?

When I run a game of standard, or not so standard, fantasy I usually make shit up all the time. I once had a few NPCs have a totally unrelated fight in the background of a city while my players where debating what to do. Afterwards I got praise for that, since it made the game world feel real. Not everything revolved around the characters and their quest. That is where I think I can do the sandbox thing. I have enough experience to make up odd or mundane things for a fantasy setting. If the players are not entertaining me, I can entertain myself and maybe they follow along that path none of us knew existed.

Let's compare that with Call of Cthulhu. In CoC, there's usually a conspiracy or plot going on. Someone is going to grab an occult macguffin unless the players intervene, or someone is trying to summon some extra terrestial horror, and following some clues the characters might be able to figure that out and choose to stop them. Let's bring back that part about being bored.

In my last session of CoC, I was bored. I could try to steer the players back to the plot, basically railroading of some kind or another. That was never my intention. While it might be a slightly less dramatic way to end, a fizzle is an end as well. No, my problem was not that I needed to have my players go and actually talk to any of those named NPCs I had given them names and addresses to. No, they could do that or not, but if they did not they would miss some of the clues to the plot. I have ended scenarios before without players understanding things, so that was ok. What was not ok was that I wanted to throw in some things for the players do to, because I wanted something to do.

This is where I think I slightly disagree with Jim Raggi. I think the GM do need to think about providing excitement for his group of players. Not in order to "steer the game back" to whatever it is you usually steer them towards. No, I think you need to provide some excitement for your players when they are not providing any excitement for you! Otherwise you wont be getting any, and there was probably another individual in your life you could share some excitement with instead.

So, what do you do when you want to make a session wake up again? I love random encounter tables, and like I said I have enough experience in fantasy to be able to play with the troupes. When running a game in the US in 1929 I am lacking the troupes. Maybe what I need are random encounter tables? Or maybe I just do what Chandler is supposed to have done, have someone charge in with a gun and let's see what happens...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

T&T hacks - Rolemaster

This is the second post in this series, and today we are going to take a look at Rolemaster from I.C.E., which happens to be an old favourite of mine.

The first thing I remember when I think of Rolemaster is the tables. There are tables for spells, attacks, fumbles and crits. I loved those. 

I guess everyone who has played Rolemaster remember the critical hits tables. Let's see if we can hack T&T to get something with a similar feel.

So, did you managed to get any Spite dice on your attack? Congratulations. Now, did you also manage to get any doubles? Now we get into crit/fumble territory.

But, just like in RM there should be continuous effects. Those spite points are now bleeding, and you take that amount of damage, every round. Now, let's get on with the crits and fumbles.

Count the numbers of dice that are the same, that's the level of your crit/fumble. If the doubles where ones, it was a fumble and any other kind of number is a crit.

For crits, roll a SR on CON on the level of your crit. For fumbles, roll a SR on LK on the level of your fumble. As you understand, this means lvl 2-6. If you fail your SR, this is what happens.

Critical hits
Lvl 2 - roll 2 to more dice of damage
Lvl 3 - stunned, you loose your next action
Lvl 4 - you fall unconscious
Lvl 5 - random limb is now useless
Lvl 6 - save or die

The level of SR is the extra points of damage you take (regardless if you make your save), and that's spite damage folks! Don't forget the bleeding.

Lvl 2 - drop your weapon
Lvl 3 - your weapon break
Lvl 4 - damage random ally
Lvl 5 - damage yourself
Lvl 6 - damage yourself, and you roll one more die. That number is the crit level you just inflicted, on yourself.

Do you think it hurts enough yet? I think in this system you can probably get the same kind of feel as in RM, where a lucky schmuck can kill himself if he is "lucky" enough.

What did you say? Is the math wonky? It probably is, I have not tested this, and am not that great at crafting mathematically sound rules. But, take it and run with it! Let me know what you think.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Monsterlist download

(edit: I had misspelled the title! Oops!)
I decided to collect all the monsters in the officially published monster books from FDP for Tunnels & Trolls. When running a game I often have to scramble through the booklets to try to find where this or that monster i located. Hopefully this document can be of some help to those you you who like me never seem to find the right monster.

Check over on the left on this page, there you'll find a download link. Please let me know if you have any problem with it, or any other suggestions!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

T&T hacks - Burning Wheel

As the first post in this new series, I'm going to take a cue from Luke Crane's game Burning Wheel.

In BW you have these psychological traits called Beliefs. They are things your character are all about. It's things that define your character, and things that you can not miss or ignore when interacting with that character. In short, it's a great way to tell your GM what kind of game you want to play.

The second thing is Instincts. These are stylish markers for how your PC behaves. They are things that will work great for colour, but also short cut some of the "grind" actions you'll want to do. 

Let's show some examples. There's a great one in the BW rules about Beliefs, let's look at that. "People feel better when lied to". How about that? It makes it clear that your PC is somewhat of a cynic, and that you want to lie a lot. Excellent role playing tag, and a hint to the GM that you want to interact with people and lie to them.

To incorporate this into your T&T game, do just like in BW. Pick at least one, and up to three, and write them on your character sheet.

Next, let's look at Instincts.

An Instinct is a if < this > then < that > kind of routine. They will help your character stand out, and also help you not forget to do that thing, which might be a life saver. Again, let's look at an example. "I always use a glove when opening a door". There you go, it makes you look cool and it might save your hide when you encounter a contact poison. The GM could even allow you to make a SR after the fact to notice the odd powder or smell on your glove, telling you what you just evaded. Maximum game fun.

To incorporate this into your T&T game, list one or up to three Instincts on your sheet.

I guess I managed to convey the value of the Instincts, but what about the Beliefs? Well, in Burning Wheel they have many different flavours of what we call Adventure Points in T&T. I think the simplest way is to just say that every time your character in game acts upon one of her Beliefs, you gain 100 AP. It pays to practice what you preach, if you see what I mean?

If you feel a Belief has run it's course, save up 1000 AP and buy it off, exchanging it for something new. Don't make Beliefs something cheap. It will cost you to turn your back on something that defined your character!

I hope you think these hacks sounds interesting and inspire you to try them, or your own variant thereof, in your next T&T game.

Fight on!
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