Monday, December 29, 2014

Legends of the Wulin - It exists!


A very elusive game for those of us who are crazy about wuxia is Legends of the Wulin. Eos Press made a game a few years back called Weapons of the Gods, based on a comic I have never been able to track down. The next step in the evolution of that game system have been mentioned in hushed whispers, but sightings are few and far between. The publisher does not even sell the game from their own website!! I went so far as to pledge for a Kickstarter where one of the bonuses on a higher pledge level was not only the board game the crowd funding campaign was all about, but also a copy of the hard to catch RPG. Now it's mine! Noble Knight Games suddenly had a copy, and I grabbed it as fast as I could! Yah! 

Nothing is so sweet to a collector as finding that thing you have been looking for. The system looks interesting, but a bit fiddly. It's very clearly made by someone who knows a thing or two about Chinese culture, and the visuals are quite impressive with glossy paper and a lot of art. This baby increased the shipping weight and costs quite a bit!

Now it's mine. It will be interesting to see how it stacks up compared to Tianxia.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Playing in Tekumel, with Fate

I have been quite curious about Tekumel a while now. More and more Tekumel texts have assembled on my sagging shelves, and I have decided to take a dive into the deep end and run a game in the new year. Bethorm arrived and I blogged about my impressions. Having read a bit more in it I'm now pretty clear I wont run that game. It's a bit too fiddly for me. But, the game system I have been using lately, Fate, might do the trick.

Fate is a very different game. Different from almost all other traditional games I've been playing for all these years. Trying to adapt Fate for Tekumel I've found one of the reasons for that. If you were to become enamoured by Savage Worlds or GURPS and wanted to convert your old game to that new system, is would mainly be a question about how to map the different systems to each other. Magic works in one way in the original system, and then the question is how to make the target magic system to behave that way. Fate is different. I have found that when I started to do a "generic" conversion it felt a bit rough in places. It turns out that the game you want to play will strongly influence how you do it.

My first idea for a Tekumel game centred around a clan house. I figured it would be easiest to keep the game within one clan, within one location and centre is around interaction between clan siblings.

It turned out to be harder than I thought to model this by figuring out how to make the rules for the usual cabal of magic-user, cleric and fighters. I dived deep into the intricacies of Tekumel metaphysics and magic and suddenly I had a game where magic way more complicated than anything else in the game. But, magic was not intended as the big focus of the game! I found out it is very easy to use the so called "Fate fractal" to take that literally and recursively deep into a tailspin of complexity.

That was when I realized what I wrote above, the game you want to play will strongly influence how you do it. Fate is a game system that change depending on how you handle it. Once again I had been fooled. Once again the strangeness of it all had exposed how I had approached the game I was planning with an approach that the rules was something I brought to the game, not something that adapted to the game. I wonder if I will ever feel comfortable with that!

Now I have a set of Fate rule guidelines for a Tekumelian game, and once I have written it all down from my handwritten notes I will put them up for perusal.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A solution to echoing empty rooms in a dungeon

Some people might remember that I have written before about the empty dungeon. For some people that is not a problem. They like the exploration of the dungeon environment to be a resource management challenge. Personally I like the idea of the challenge, but I have been thinking of "compressing" the experience a bit. If nothing else, it's variation. Right?

Ken St. Andre posted this on his blog a while ago. I had opened it in a tab on my browser and did not get around to reading it for real until now. That is a neat idea on how to do the "compressing" of your dungeon.

For those who want the executive summary, the idea is to make each room a index card, shuffle and deal a matrix of cards and those are the levels of your dungeon. Nice idea.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Old D&D editions and clones - Brave Halfling's Delving Deeper

As some of you might be aware, the delivery of the Brave Halfling boxed set edition of Delving Deeper was a long and miserable story. But, it arrived in the end and it was not a disappointment.

Now, there are nothing here to really excite me. I must admit that first of all. The game is not like LotfP or Ambition & Avarice. But, it does not try to be. Delving Deeper is trying to be faithful to the OD&D edition, and does a decent job of it. I guess you can split hairs and list all the differences, but let us not forget they have to differ from the original game for legal reasons! If OD&D is your kind of flavour, this is not a bad clone to pick up. When I compare it to the original it feels quite close actually. In some cases more close than e.g. Swords & Wizardry Whitebox (which I will write about at a later date).

The first thing that strike me is the pretty box. The front illustration is excellent, and filed with action. Nasty monsters fighting dungeon delvers, it's right there on the tin, so to speak. I really like Mark Allen's artwork and I like the uniformity it gives the game. One nice thing is the amount of illustrations in the monster book.

Having mentioned the books I guess I have to mention that this edition is not three small booklets. It's five books, but in the books "Volume I", "Volume II" and "Volume III" are mentioned, which looks confusing. I like that there's a book for players and one for referees. I'm less thrilled with a whole book of treasures. So often those books are just rehashes of "classic D&D items", i.e. boring retreads of Gary's campaign. A booklet with random tables for generating new content for both monsters and treasure would be my choice. I did say something about this not being intended to be what LotfP is, right? Maybe I should appreciate this for what it is.

The rules for naval combat, aerial exploration and wilderness exploration are compact but looks usable. Probably the only rules for building fortifications I'd ever use would have to be short! That is the feeling about almost everything in this game. It's to the point, solid and usable. I might actually go for this game for the same reason I go for my BRP book, it's simple and workmanlike, even though it lacks bennies, card based initiative and new exciting mechanics. It almost wins me over by not even trying to be selling itself.

One little sweet thing included in the box (did I say I love the box?), is the Blackmarsh setting by Robert Conley. Very classic, with a lot of the feel you get from looking at a map of Blackmoor. It guess that is not a coincidence. It became available before the game arrived at my doorstep, so I got it and for a while entertained the idea of playing Heroes and Other Worlds in that setting. That never came to be, but it is a good canvas for adventure. I'm not sure I'm all done with the sandbox settings of Robert Conley yet! Delving Deeper is not a bad rules set for exploring something like that. It's basic, but that's the point.

Now where do I have my graph paper, pencils and hex paper?


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Bethorm - making the first character

What a better way to get to know a rules set, and to get a feel for the book than to make a character! I took the dive, and Biyúnu hiViridáme was the result. Here are some thoughts that arose through the process.

There are eight different sections in chapter three, character generation.
  1. Clan
  2. Personal Info
  3. Religion
  4. Attributes
  5. Personal Traits
  6. Skills 
  7. Defence Values
  8. Contacts
I find it interesting that stats or attributes come first on the fourth step. So, first it starts with your clan. Anyone who knows even a little about Tekumel knows that its social structure is not like your pseudo medieval fantasy at all. The individual is not the central social unit, but the clan. Here is the first step wherein you have to start looking ahead in the book, and then go back again. You have a attribute called Prestige, and it's a sum of your clan influence, and your professional influence. But, you wont know the latter until much later in the procedure. To be fair, this is actually noted in the rules, that you will have to go back and forth a bit.

The step where you note down your personal information is where the prudes and close minded people who raged about D&D5 and its gender and race inclusiveness gets to go bananas. If you like you can roll on tables to get to know not only the biological sex, but also the gender identity and gender expression of your character. I'm almost disappointed the dice gave me such a middle of the road result.

Naturally the step about Religion will matter. Tekumel is, like Glorantha, not only a game where the gods are real, but religion affect all social interplay and interaction. This is my first stumbling block. To me, the gods of stability varies from staid and bland to slightly attractive and convincing in their outlook. Nothing really sticks out, and it feels like classic rpg pantheons. Then there's the gods of change, which varies from the grotesque to the repulsive. I have something of a hard time understanding why anyone would worship them. But, it's part of what makes Tekumel attractive, to make sense of its very different social mores. I also note that the author of Bethorm suggest most people are not all that ideologically engaged in their religion. Might make sense.

When we finally come to the stats it turns out there are not that many of them. Traits and Skills are also very unsurprising. It's a classic Advantage/Disadvantage system, and skills strongly based on their dependent stat. I did find the list of the former fewer than expected, and the latter more numerous than expected. By not focusing too strongly I managed to buy 7 skills.

Since Defences are bases on your skill rankings, it makes sense you calculate them after you have bought skills. But, I have a hard time figuring out exactly how it's supposed to work. Are your Melee Defense based on the lowest of those skills listen? An average? The highest? Dependant on what you use in a particular situation? This section could have been clearer.

Finally we have the most involved section, Contacts. Remember how I mentioned Prestige was something you had to go back and forth to calculate? Now you get to do it again, for every contact you buy and stat out. Sure, you can skip on the stat out part for them, but you need to figure out their clan, if they belong to a certain lineage and go all the way to the end of the book to find the listing of professional ranks. I think I managed to get the costs right on my three contacts. This probably is where a newcomer to Tekumel will stumble a bit. What kind of character do you want as a contact? Many different clans? All walks of life, or people who can help you professionally. The GM will have to guide their players a bit there I think.

After all that, Biyúnu hiViridáme the arrogant and hot headed merchant negotiator novice and worshipper of Hrü'ü was finished!

There are a few things in the character generation process I find interesting. The first thing you encounter is the clan. Before you even know a thing about your character you will decide what clan she belongs to. Then there's the Advantages/Disadvantages. I'm not sure I like them any more. Back when me and my friends generated characters for Ars Magica 2nd ed. we all thought it was great fun. One legged dwarfs, colourblind and with deadly enemies as well as humongous skill ratings gained from those odd ball flaws. Good times. But, there are some good hooks for role playing in there.

Finally, though, there are the contacts. It's interesting that those are not a Advantage you buy, but something everyone has. It kind of squares the circle doesn't it? You start with the social context, and end with the social context. If there's one thing character generation does, it is pointing the players in the direction for the playing of the game. This way it's emphasized that a lonely individual in Tekumel is an anomaly. If there's one thing I'm missing, that would be the "Fate fractal", where everything can be thought of as a character, with Aspects and Skills. Since that idea took root in my brain, any kind of social role playing makes me want to add stats and skills to organizations. Maybe it can be done within the confines of Bethorm, I have actually not thought that through until the end.

It was fun making a character! To exercise the system I will probably try to make a spell casting priest as well. But, that's all for now.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Bethorm - first impressions of the rules

Today I had a day off from work, and unusual for me, I managed to plow through a lot of the rules, and made my first character. Here are some impressions.

After my first positive post about the weird creatures finally being illustrated, it's natural to start off with the visuals. The book is set in two columns, a constant flow of text and the font is sans serif. I'm really not friends with that choice. But, what is worse is the fact that the sections flow into each other. Section 3 is Character Generation, but after all the 3.1 and 3.1.1 and 3.1.2 sections which sometimes feel very cluttered and chopped up, you will find yourself in 4 and 4.1 and 4.1.1 etc without noticing! Add to this the fact that some things are referenced out of order and I find the organization to be less friendly that it should be. Some page breaks would have been nice.

Here it's worth diving into a few facts about how the book is organized. Before you get as far as character generation, you will have read sections on how to set up a typical campaign and a time line of the world. Then you come to making your character, which starts with clan and lineage before you get to anything else. Here you not only get the to the point step by step procedure, you also get an explanation of what a clan is, how the work and interact. This is interesting.

It's clear that Jeff has focused on making the setting become clear and understandable by integrating it into the teaching of the rules. I think this is a very good idea for a setting like Tekumel. It really works. Reading through it, you get a good idea of lot of Tekumel concepts and how they relate to a thing you can grasp, the character. It might make the book be a bit wordy when referencing, but as a starter game for Tekumel this is the way to go. Good thinking! I really like that.

So, the rules and procedures then. Here I found Bethorm to be a bit puzzling. Actually, it made me think a bit of Palladium. Now, I know Palladium Books has got a reputation, but I do not make the comparison with the intention of doing that connection. It's just that the wall of text, interspersed with line art, feels very much like a book from Palladium. Also, there are abilities, calculated abilities which generate points, long list of skills which seems to be a bit odd in its focus and lots of modifiers and fiddly bits. Basically, it feels very old school, and not in the rules lite variety that has become the flavour of choice in OSR circles.

You will do some calculations, and thumbing back and forth in the rules while doing your character, and running a grapple or a called shot will make you break out the rules and do some thinking before you move on. That's how these rules come across. In theory it looks easy, just roll low on 2d10 and doubles are good/bad crits. Simple, if it weren't for all the details. The proof of the pudding will be trying it at the table, I guess.

Next I'll post my thoughts on the character generation, how it works and what it emphasize.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Bethorm has arrived!

Yesterday I got to open a package I have been waiting for. Once again there's a Tekumel game in print! Jeff Dee's Bethorm has arrived at my door.

Tekumel is one of those games everyone knows about as "that weird game you need a degree in tekumelian studies to run". It's often that way with the games that step outside the box. There's nothing so simple as a horse, everything has multiple limbs and are named weirdly. For some of us, that's a siren call of the Strange and the Fantastic not always found the realms of fantasy and science fiction, strangely enough.

So how is the game? Well, I just got it and I almost never read a game from cover to cover, and when I do it takes me multiple weeks. But, I can give some initial impressions.

One of the things that always throws me into a sense of dislocation when I read about Tekumel is the weird creatures. I have found multiple hacks online adapting this or that game system to model Tekumel. Sadly, most of them lack one thing really vital to "get" a strange setting and that is illustrations. How convenient Jeff is a visual artist! Guess what? Bethorm contains illustrations of all those weird creatures. This alone is worth a lot to make this game one you'll want to get if you're curious about Tekumel. Finally you can put your copy of Man of Gold aside when a creature is mentioned, look it up in Bethorm and then go back to the novel with a picture in your mind of what's in the story. Really useful.

Something else useful is that before getting into details like how you make a character or how the game system works, you get a section on how to GM a game in Tekumel. It makes me wonder why not more games start with a section on the "core activities" and a few campaign frames.

All in all this looks, from a very cursory inspection, to be an interesting addition to the different rules sets that have been available for Tekumel. My only puzzlement from a visual standpoint is why on earth the text is set in a non serif type?

More impressions will follow as I read on.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Do you as the GM have obligations?

Not too long ago we talked on our podcast with Swedish rpg luminary Anders Björkelid. He and his friends in the rpg club NisseNytt toured conventions with massive well researched scenarios, and published their fanzine where they pontificated upon our hobby. Anders summarized their attitude to scenario design, and their modus operandi as (paraphrased) "every player deserves an experience and a story, regardless of what they do". This I remembered when I read LotFP last week. James Raggi mentioned something similar, but with the opposite intention. He claims the GM have no obligations to the players. If they complain about being bored you ought to say "Yeah, so what are you going to do about it?"

So, do you have an obligation to the players, or not?

I find the idea quite compelling if I go to a con and sign up and pay for a game to be guaranteed a story. If I am proactive and engage I will have fun, but even if I sit back and have a day when I just want to hang out and see what happens, something still happens!

On the other hand, I know that a game where the players are engaged will be more fun, and it will be easier to run for me if the players are there as co-creators. Maybe we even share narrative control, and it will be more of a interactive storytelling.

Interactive storytelling is actually one of the key words for what NisseNytt was all about. So how does this tie together?

I think you as a GM do have an obligation to the players. But, I also think as a player you have an obligation to engage in the game.  Middle of the road, wishy washy conclusion, eh?

Have you, dear reader, read any of the Play Dirty GM advice by John Wick? If you have not, I suggest you do. John is sometimes very polarizing, but he is seldom boring. His way of GMing is all about bringing stuff to the players. But, it's not at all holding hands and telling a story. No, he suggest you hurt the PCs as much as you can, and kick them while they are down. "They will love you for it", he claims. I guess you could say John Wick argues you have an obligation to make life tough for the player characters, so to sweeten the final victory.

Obviously, there are more than one way to skin this particular cat.

Maybe this in one of the reasons role playing games are such a powerful tool too express yourself through. It's adaptable to multiple approaches, and none are wrong. I have played in a NisseNytt scenario where I knew there was a story going on, and for me the big thing was to follow along to participate through the viewpoint of my character. I've also played with James Raggi, where he sat back and watched us squirm after presenting us with a extremely messy situation we as players had to sort out as our PCs. Finally, I've also played a session of Dogs in the Vineyard where the game master put me, the player, under more and more pressure to act with my PC as the situation we had become part of spiralled out of control as it began to emotionally engage us as players just as much as our PCs. I was down, and the kicks kept coming.

I loved all of those situations. So, ask yourself this the next time you sit down behind the GM screen. Do you have an obligation to the players this time?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Old D&D editions and clones - Lamentation of the Flame Princess

A few years back everyone was publishing games in boxes. Brave Halfling announced a boxed set of Swords&Wizardry, and a crazy American living in Finland announced he was publishing his own game, in a box. I took down my copy of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess box, and re-read it. I love boxed games!

It's interesting to think about what the intended audience is for a game. It used to be standard procedure to include a short section in the beginning of the rules about "What is a role playing game". Considering how common it seems to be to learn to play from someone else, the uselessness of those sections have of course been debated. LotfP consists of not only two books of rules, one book of GM advice and two adventures, it also includes a booklet called "Tutorial". Four years later I wonder how many read that booklet and learned something from it? I do applaud James Raggi for trying to grow the hobby, but I wonder if that booklet was of any use to anyone?

The game is clearly based on D&D. There are classes and armor class, and there are spells per level. Very much D&D. There are some nice tweaks to the D&D baseline, like the Specialist class. I have never really understood the big fuzz about the Thief class, but the Specialist feels like a nice take on it. It's customizable and can be the basis for many fantasy tropes and roles. Another invention is a simple and usable encumbrance system. I like that Intelligence is used for spell saves, and not only giving additional languages. I never found all those languages very useful. After someone invented "common" all that bathwater followed after the baby out the window. Maybe it was the other way around. Whatever.

Then there's the fiddly bits. Lots of fiddly bits. You'll find rules for different combat actions, different AC if you're in melee or in ranged combat and rules for investments and the very old school saving throw system of nonsensical categories from the early seventies in the American mid west. No condition is passed by unmentioned and there are rules for excavating, foraging and lots more. My lasting impression is a little bit like when I read Dark Dungeons or the complete Mentzer sets of D&D. Everything is covered. A more modern comparison would be the revised 3rd ed. D&D. In a way I guess it would make excellent sense if this is a game for a newbie. Whatever you want to know is in there. You're covered, calm down and get on with the game!

When I get to the Referee book, this impression is kind of reinforced. I think most of the advice is very good. Solid and functional suggestions for how to create encounters, adventures and campaigns. There is one thing that stand out, though. James puts a lot of emphasize on how important it is with NPCs. This I find interesting. Clearly James is very old school in his approach to GM when he suggests extreme detachment and fair adjudication of situations. In alignment with the Story Now moniker, his style is very much Story After. It's a post-modern Story, laid on the events in hindsight. It's taking the game part and simulation part very seriously, but putting an emphasis on the NPC I have not seen in many other old school games. I have played the game only once, with the designer himself as Referee. That scenario was all about interacting with the world and the NPCs. When I compare that to some of his other published scenarios they feel very different, being mostly empty places or mysteries placed in your way to explore and trigger like a bomb.

My way of running a game is very much by the seat of my pants. I grab a setting book, a couple of pre-made adventures and modify on the fly very much dependent on Story Now or "wouldn't it be cool to throw this in now, given the context?". I find the approach to the game in the rules and in the advice leave me with awe and admiration. But, it does not make my wheels spin.

This is not a bad game, and some parts are excellent. But having read it, I don't feel engaged. I think my unplanned chaos way of refereeing could use some of the cold analytic approach in the Referee book. Apart from that, I will put this game back on the shelf without any further play. Should the opportunity arise to play with James again, I'd grab that seat in an instant, though!

...and the box is a beauty!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Old D&D editions and clones - AD&D

Way back in the days, I got to take a peek at the game books used by the older brother of one of my class mates and gaming buddy. It was a hardcover volume, and I still remember to this very day that the illustrations struck me as very silly and amateurish. That book was the 1st ed AD&D Players Handbook.

Many years later and I talk to a guy who once he got that game started up a game, and the game is still running, even though the game sessions now are a year or so apart, was started in those early days. That coincided with WotC releasing 3rd ed. D&D and I felt inspired, and bought the game. So I guess AD&D has been a game that has influenced me, pushed me toward other games and coloured my perception of things.

Still, I have never played the game.

I tried to gather some players some years back when I scrounged up a bunch of Rob Kuntz modules, but never managed to get enough for a whole party. It stayed the un-played edition.

I took down one of my two copies of the PHB and perused it. Yeah, I have two copies of a game I've never played. I have three copies of the 2nd ed. DragonQuest and I haven't played that either. Why are you looking at me like that? Anyway. I took down my copy of the PHB, and decided to check it out. Fiddly bits. Dozens of fiddly bits. You come to the section on how to make a character, and it starts with how to roll up your stats. Is this power gaming or what? You are told you need superior stats, and oh do you need them. Multiple bizarre little things are calculated off those stats, like how good you are at lifting gates. Some stats are even rolled with both d6 and a percentile score. Involved is the word.

The thing is, much of this first saw the light of day in the OD&D Supplement I - Greyhawk, and you understand that Gary and Rob must have loved fiddly bits. In their campaign there were so many subsystems and extra house rules added on top of OD&D that the game beneath was barely visible. This is a game for people who love a game, not a tool for creating stories in secondary worlds.

I actually don't have a problem with lot of rules. I have played MERP, and own more than one edition of Rolemaster. I have both Burning Wheel and Burning Empires, and would even consider running them. But, then there are rules. Let's take a look at Surprise. That section of the rules begin by telling you what surprise is, and then suggests you roll a d6, or a d8 explains that then there's a 1 in 8 or a 1 in 6 chance. Then there's a nice table to show how many time increments difference there is in rolling difference sets of results on those dice. It's both simple and extremely convoluted at the same time. Say whatever you will about Rolemaster or Burning Empires, but they are far more consistent and thus handle the weight of those rules quite differently.

Sometimes I catch the wonder, the fantasy and the strange beneath the over- and under-explained rules. I see why some of this caught the imagination. There was arcane mysteries to be unlocked in this mysterious tome, and since I love Call of Cthulhu you can guess why that speaks to me. But, I still don't want to run this game. Playing D&D as a game - as a challenge for the players, not their characters -  would be a different challenge. Maybe one day, but I would probably chuck much of that Gygaxian cruft. It's just not my style.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Running a game for kids

Tonight I ran a game for our daughter, two of her friends and our son. My wife also played, so give the kids some kind of help when floundering. It was interesting to say the least.

The game, Morwhayle, is a game from the same guys who created the newest Mutant game, that will be published by Modiphius in the UK. It's based on the novels and comics by Peter Bergting. It's designed with new players in mind, and I think it's an interesting game in of itself.

First off I think the idea of using dice pools, adding dice for Abilities, Gear and Hindrances (rated from d4 to d12) and so on is a very good way to visualize the world for the players. With newbies, that is a great way to get them to pick up on the rules faster. It felt like Aspects in Fate, but with less jargon and with more dice to choose from. Also, I liked how the game took hints from Apocalypse World (the most talked about game I have not yet played) and let character creation be done wholly by just picking stuff of the sheet. Slick and modern game design.

Most importantly, how did it go? Well, they seemed to like it and when I talked with our daughter after the game, she mentioned how she was going to test another archetype next game. Hooked!

What most amazed me was that the youngest player was the one who quickest grasped the idea of playing a role, and talking in character!

But, being a GM for kids, isn't it hard? Well, it's different that running a game for adults, I tell you that! For starters, kids have a much harder time sitting still around a table for multiple hours. I strongly recommend you include a break or two, with snacks. They also took the game much more into the real world than adults do. I mean, how often do your players crawl under the game table when their characters are hiding from zombies? But, I think there are benefits for you as a GM as well. You have to keep it moving and if you don't give every player something to do, they will just leave the table! I thought I ran a pretty simple story, but be prepared to face extreme cases of the truth of the Three Clue Rule. There should be lots of hints, and lot of options for how to proceed.

All in all, I think the session was not only fun for us adults, to be able to hang out and play a game with our kids. But also a learning experience about what it takes to make a game session run well. Adults may be more used to take control of their situation, but they can be just as paralyzed in the face of decision and you should always be ready for that.

Best thing in the end is I think we will do this again, and I look forward to it.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Some impressions of Mutant: Year Zero

I guess you have heard that Modiphius is going to publish the Swedish post-apocalyptic game Mutant? If you have not, go forth and click that link and read some about it. I'll stay here until you get back?

You're back? Good. Let's move on. I have read the Swedish edition of the game and I'm going to talk a bit about my impressions. It is a game with some peculiarities and own takes on things. Please note that as far as I know, the edition Modiphius is publishing is just like it. But, I have no inside information.

First off let me say this is an interesting game. I have yet to try it, but reading it makes me really pumped up about the idea of running and playing it. There are some things that stand out.

The first thing is how the game have a communal part, and an individual part. You all belong to a community of mutants, an Ark. This Ark you all develop together, deciding how it's supposed to be developing, putting efforts into defenses or developing culture. This works as a framing device for your individual goals and also drives you into the Zone, to gather resources. I really like how this gives you all a reason to band together, and something to do.

Then there's the characters. All characters have one NPC they hate, one they want to protect and then they have their one big dream. It's the classic stick and carrot. While this is neat, I think where the system has the potential to really shine is in the mixing. You have a "council session" first at every game session where you plan the strategic game, then you get to play your characters and their hates and cares pull them in different directions.

Now, this is when I find it all becomes quite interesting. You have 10 Type Events for the Ark and 10 Events for the Zone. Roll the dice or pick one of those events, like One NPC Is In Trouble or Fight About An Item and combine that with the strategic goal for the Ark and the different characters the PCs care or hate and you will have something happening. I think this has potential! When things have really gelled in my Tianxia game is when I have managed to match a place with characters in conflict. This feels like it could work like that.

Actually, this makes me think of how I used to read Ars Magica and feel that game sounded great, and then really fall flat in play. This promises some of the same things. Maybe it will all come together better this time. I feel this way the characters are beings hooked into the Ark more than the Ars Magica characters ever where. In the Ark there's a desperate need for food and clean water, and necessity will drive the PCs and NPCs into conflict, and into the Zone. With the Type Events, you are sure to have something happen that will topple any kind of balance achieved.  

This all comes together to drive story. Note to my old school friends, this is not Story Before! This is very much a story that develop out of play. This naturally relates a lot to my previous Fate experience. There are still lessons to be learned from that. I will re-read chapter 9 of my Fate Core rule book and think upon the Mutant way a bit more, and I expect the fallout to at least be interesting. Yeah, fallout. The future is post-apocalyptic and brutal.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Running Tianxia - the session that brainfaded

Last Wednesday I was supposed to be running my somewhat weekly Tianxia game. This time I canceled the game, since not only were attendance a bit spotty, but the main reason was I was totally out of ideas. Now the question rears up, should a total brain fade on the GM's part be reason enough to cancel a game night? Can you not just plow on, or is it indicative of something being done wrong?

In theory you just show up for a game, explore the hell out of the secondary world and fun things happen, right? Pure sandbox enthusiasts talk about that as the bees knees, but I've never been able to make it happen. Either it's me not being able to make the sandbox enticing enough, or the people I play with just aren't that good at go and make the world their own. Considering the fact we are all busy people, who drink beer and chat during the the game on a weekday night tired after a day's work, I guess the latter is a major part. My limitations I am well familiar with, so I leave them out for this time.

So, what do you do to give the game some structure? Previous sessions I've set up a location with some people in it and written up some goals for them, and then it has just evolved naturally from there. I wrote about that, the plot triads, and how well it worked before. This time I had the location, but just couldn't invent any interesting people for the life of me.

Thus I turn to the game system for a lead. When you play Fate you can be sure of one thing, it's covered by the rules somewhere. It's the most comprehensive rules set I've played so far! Guess what? I have not read chapter 9 of the Fate Core rules yet...

Looking in that chapter I find a handy little list.

Creating A Scenario:
  • Find Problems
  • Ask Story Questions
  • Establish the Opposition
  • Set the First Scene
There's one way to start off that first bullet point, start with the aspects. Naturally. Everything is about Aspects in Fate.

This kind of brings home how important it is, and hard, to create good aspects. Now when I sit down and look at them, some of these I should be able to use, shouldn't I?

Always in Trouble, Watch Your Tongue, Unwilling Mentor, Paladin in training, These are sad times, Righteous Anger, Scumbags gets what they deserve, The Good Fight

I know where I want the action to kick off, in the governor's palace. Using that I guess the list above should be able to tell me something about the potential conflicts and opposition.

I wonder if it's because it's so formalized that it feels hard? In the end I still think this will make me a better GM. I usually never think things through like this, and when lightning strikes I am cooking with gas. When there's no lightning it will be a dud. Hopefully this will teach me something.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Old D&D editions and clones - Tunnels & Trolls 1st ed.

Now, some of you might object to that title. Surely T&T is not a clone of D&D, and it surely isn't an old D&D edition!? No, it is not, but it is the first published game inspired by D&D and it fits right in here in the series about how much the old games inspire and engage today.

Those of you who have read or played later editions of T&T should really take a peek at this edition if you get the opportunity! I own the 2013 reprint, which might be available yet. I do not know. Anyway. What's interesting about this game are two things, how it differs from later T&T editions and how it differs from D&D.

I found it interesting that on the first page you get a short summary of how to run a game as a GM, how to play it as a player and even the point of sitting around the table talking get across well. I like it a lot. This little section is actually a fairly good primer of what it's all about. Fun details is that the caller is mentioned, as the "Voicer".

There are many fun small idiosyncrasies in this game, but most of it is in the presentation that is extremely colloquial. Ken even jokes about the illustrations right beside the current paragraph. The rules are fairly easy and smooth and there are not multiple odd subsystems.

I like some of the advice for how to run the game, like the emphasize on house ruling, "this is not my game". It is a hack of another game that grew into its own and it is paying its dues. Then there's the suggestion to put in lot of stuff in the dungeons, since "Nobody likes to mess around in a dull dungeon". Here I think Ken is onto something. The big empty dungeon is something I feel have been overvalued in the OSR conversations. I'm not so sure it was a regular feature of the Old Ways even.  Ken goes on with some other good advice suggesting that all the threats in the dungeon should be avoidable or be possible to nullify by smart players.

Much of the rules is as you'd expect, with the suggestion you start with a horisontal cut away fo your multi level dungeon, and there are rules for reaction rolls and capturing monsters. I also love the fact that there are names to the character levels. A Veteran is someone who has reached 3rd level, by the way. Not first.

Comparing this to modern versions of T&T and there are some differences. Armour is ablative, Saving Rolls are mainly done on Luck and you get XP for gold and deepest dungeon level penetrated.

I would actually gladly pick up those for all editions, liking them a lot. In general, I like this edition a lot. Expanding Saving Rolls into the "meta mechanic" it got later on and I feel you've almost hit the sweet spot for T&T rules. There's a rawness to the rules, but it's brimming with enthusiasm and small snippets of the life in the Phoenix campaign, like how they all have 3-15 characters per player! For me the rules feels like a big smiling invitation to just roll some dice and dive in the deep end. This is another winner. I really want to play this game!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Now I think of freedom and liberty


My thoughts are with all of you in Canada today. Let's not let them scare you into giving up liberties and freedoms. That's what they want!

My condolences to the family of the soldier who was shot, and prayers for others who have been hurt.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A horror classic reborn!

Some of you have probably heard about this already, but I'm mentioning it again, just in case.

It's that classic horror rpg, Chill, that is crowdfunding a third edition!

The publisher have run programs like this before, and the scope is reasonable. I've had much fun with 1st edition Chill and even though this aiming at continuing the 2nd ed I still think this is a worthy cause. There was an attempt a few years back, but that one was not run by anyone able to deliver. It looks far better this time than the previous try.

Since I've already pledged, I've downloaded the quickstart and there are some interesting mechanical tweaks I think could work very well.

There are few games doing non-mythos horror, so go forth and pludge, S.A.V.E. needs your support against the Unknown!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Using Plot Triads for the win

Last night we played Tianxia again. My life is in a very hectic phase, but I have managed to get a 2-3 hour session in now for two weeks in a row. Naturally, when you have limited time you have to use your game prep wisely.

The setup for the episode last time was that the Iron Monkey Escort Company had gotten the prestigious contract to move the Jade Buddha from the Green Heaven Temple to the governor's mansion in the city of Bao Jiang. Since running yet another ambush in the woods felt repetitive, I decided to focus instead on what happened at the end and the beginning of the journey. So, it was to be intrigue and showdown in the temple before they get out the door with the jade statuette.

Having decided that I wrote up a few antagonists. I had a young woman, with a troubled past. Since one PC is a "paladin in training" I knew I could entangle him there. I had an arrogant noble sword fighter who would rankle one of the other PCs, and to make things interesting I followed the advice in the Tianxia book and made a plot triad.The plot triad is a simple but smart idea about always having three way interplays between plot elements. So, the arrogant noble knew about the troubled past, but was honour bound to protect her because of that.

I took that same plot triad idea to the jade buddha statuette. Young woman want buddha, scheming corrupt bureaucrat want the buddha and the PCs are hired to take it from point A to point B without those two getting it.

It turned out this was a great way to get the players to interact with the world, and the characters within it. Thinking about it, just interacting with one character that have a "thing" and you want it, is pretty limiting. Either you get it, or not. The triad turned out to twist that into something that felt complex, and manageable at the same time.It was easy on prep, with just jotted down notes on who where present and who wanted what from whom. All in all, just a sentence on each character. Having limited time for prep, this was perfect. I can really recommend this tool!

What happened was the young woman charmed one PC to let her out of jail after her attempt on the statuette, the the magistrate made his grab for it, and the players got to fight a whole squad of soldiers in the abbot's quarters. They whacked the magistrate, scattered the soldiers and ride off with the buddha, escort company banner fluttering in the wind. Up on the hills were bandits and out there was the young woman, and the mysterious swords man. Very cinematic.

Next time I will just fast forward to the governer's mansion, and set up some new triads. Almost instant drama. It worked wonders for a busy gamer!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Old D&D editions and clones - Swords & Wizardry Core Edition

Back when this whole cloning D&D business started, people felt we needed to have a game like the original. We ended up at least three.

I own the Brave Halfling S&W White Box, Brave Halfling Delving Deeper, S&W Core Edition. I have also put in money for the Champions of ZED crowdfunding about which I have totally given up hope. Curiously enough Delving Deeper from BHP was also a total mess, taking forever to be shipped out. Is there a curse of OD&D clones?

I now took time out to re-read S&W Core, and it was a pleasant read. Matt Finch is repeatedly telling you where there are just some chalk lines on the pavement, and you get to decide if there should be a hole there, or something built up along those lines. It comes across very much as a tool box, and it gave me the same sense of possibilities - that really is the best word - that GURPS always gives me. While GURPS makes me start to wonder where I could plug in that little rule or procedure, S&W is more about laying down groundwork. I do like how Matt suggests things like critical hits and mentions explicitly what common house rules are.

There are some things I really didn't like, and not all of them was things I expected. I have never had any emotional investment in the great AC debate, for example. The AD&D way with negative AC always struck me as typical messy and quirky gygaxism, but nothing I felt that strongly about. Now, on the other hand, it really made me cringe! I looked at it and wondered why on earth they included that, and didn't just stay with the rules in the original three booklets.

The other thing I did find needlessly included, maybe even without being questioned, was the inclusion of so much of the magic items from Supplement I Grayhawk. After almost 40 years those magic items are anything but magical, and feel very cookie cutter. Frankly, they have been for a long time. I own a quirky volume by Rob Kuntz called El Raja Key's Arcane Treasury, and reading that I know there are more to draw from that well. Some of what's in that book really show magical qualities. Magic should be unique.

Anyway, back to S&W Core. There are lot of curious corners of this rules set, like a neat mass battles system! There are discussions about how to design dungeons, and how to reward player characters. All advice is well thought out and since it's all so sensible, and tweakable I almost at once wants to do just that. There's really nothing much in this game that reaches out and grabs you by the throught, but as a basic guideline for OD&D style gaming it's really well written, and engaging. I want to play it, and use it with my own special tweak. This one definitely stands up!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Old D&D editions and clones - Ambition & Avarice

I remember when I first heard of Castles & Crusades, and how the creators talked about how it fused the best of older editions with new. I was never that convinced by C&C, but if any game has managed to fuse the best of old and new, that game is Ambition & Avarice.

The first thing I noticed when I opened this game is how good it looks. The layout it clean and readable and the illustrations opening each chapter is adorable. I mean, the illustration to Introduction is of a ruined structure, the proverbial hole in the ground you go to have adventures. It's where everything start, and the focus of it all, which is what the text say when it lays down the design goals. Everything in this game feels well thought out.

It's fun to see new classes, and new races. Some of them are what you would normally call evil or barbaric, and I like how this game never labels them as evil or NPC only.

Some innovations feels very good, like the saves as inherent to the race, while the classes is more about what you're trained to do. Having some things each class is good at, some things they can identify and some kind of companions are strokes of genius! This makes the class cover so much more, be flexible and the companions makes the game tie the murder hobos to the world. Very good new design, in a very old and traditional way. I also like the way the system of Dungeon Rolls gives you that kind of light weight "skill system" that LotfP has. Since there are lots of class based abilities and the races have lot of different qualities it feels like there so many interesting ways to make your character special, while it's still very easy to generate one and the archetypes you in a class based system are still present. It doesn't get much better than that. The author, Greg Christopher, even manages to sell me on a save system that aligns more with the traditional ones than my preferred 3rd ed. style saves.

What are my reactions to this game then? I guess you have noted that already. This is a game that is a joy to read, and thus it makes you want to play it. There are interesting innovations while keeping a lot of the stuff that is familiar. This is a honed game, and finely cut gem that has taken lots of stuff and really focused on player driven play, within the boundaries of old school gaming, but with lots of possibilities to play just the character you want.

There are a few things that really makes me want to run this game. One of them is the lack of a list of standard magic items. One of the things that so often make the fantastic mundane is the thoughtless reuse of the pieces of wonder Gary and Rob invented for the Greyhawk campaign. In this game both monsters and magic is allowed to be unique and fantastic again.

If more games were as well written as this one, we'd all be better off.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Old D&D editions and clones - B/X edition D&D

In my series going back through old editions and clones I've reached the edition of D&D called B/X, for the "Basic" and "eXpert" books of the D&D rules. I'm thinking of taking a closer look at some other old school games as well, but for now it's the Thing itself, D&D.

First impression is good. This is clear about what it's all about, and how to use the book. This introduction is very clear, and this is what you feel about the rest of this book, very clear.

How do you organize a game book anyway? Many books have been organized like this one, and for a good reason, it is clear and makes a lot of sense. You learn about a how to make a character, his or her powers and then about things you might happen upon in an adventure and how to handle them. Even in the section about encounters the author lists things you might want to do when you encounter a creature, and then in the same order they are listed there's a section on how to handle that eventuality.

The only thing I really find curious about these books, Basic and Expert alike, is how they mention monsters. In the first book they say there's more stuff in the next book, like monsters! Then in the next book they once more mention the next book (never published) containing more stuff, like monsters. It's also mentioned on the back of the books that there are "new spells, magic items and over 100 new monsters". Why not mention how many magic items are in there?

It was fun to see that Dave Arneson's rules about magic swords show up again. I kind of missed them when they were not in the first book. I wonder how different the history of D&D would be if all swords had been that special?

Generally when I read this book I feel "this is a game I could see myself playing". You feel that since it's so complete. There are procedures for stocking dungeons, what to do if they players want to speak to monsters or who will act first when they are surprised. It feels like whatever happens, you're covered. This almost makes me feel like I'm reading 3rd edition, which is usually being slammed for trying to cover it all, with a rule for everything. Maybe it's a matter of how you present it? For me it reads very comforting. I am tempted to run a game just because I know with these rules I could handle anything.

Apart from that, there's very few pieces of really inspiring bits for me. The prose is very dry, and not enticing me into adventure, and the rules have no really quirky and bizarre subsystems you long to try out. Oddly enough, if there's one word for this feeling it must be - dull!

Considering this is the favourite edition for many D&D fans, I guess I just cussed in church! But, I don't consider this a bad game. Frankly, this probably is my favourite edition of D&D. For some reason it really lack some pizzazz, though. It wont make me go "I really want to play this game", but like I wrote earlier I could really see myself doing it, because I find no faults at all with it. Come to think of it, this was the last edition I used to run a D&D game, before it fizzled out and we started playing that newfangled thing, called 4th ed.

There is one thing that mystifies me, though, why do a clone of this game? There's nothing to fix, and there's no fault in its presentation and it's easy to find for sale cheap. Well, not being silly I guess the problem would be it's not in print.

But, My two copies of both Basic and Expert have actually kept me from getting Labyrinth Lord. I never felt the need.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

How to write rules for old school games - does it have to be bad?

As I wrote my little piece on Dragons At Dawn, I realized a thing about how to write rules text. There's a trap to look out for when writing retro clones or other games with an old school feel.

Back in the dawn of the hobby, there were lot of things taken for granted that never ended up in the rules. To some people reading those rules 35 years later or so, that leaves room for their own creativity. I think that is the wrong way to see it, if you are writing new rules in particular.

I do not think that there is a development from worse to better, so that newer rules are by definition better than the old. Something that really riles me up is when someone looks down on an older set of rules as inferior because it's older.

But, I do believe we can improve the craft of writing rules. One of the things I think we can do better now than in the olden days, is to write all our assumptions into the rules. I mean, you should strive to make the rules cover all that it is set out to cover. You do not need a rule for everything, but I think those times you don't cover something it is intentional and the base design ideas will make it less of a guesswork to fill in those gaps by your own creativity.

Naturally I can understand and sympathize with those who wants "rulings, not rules". My leanings are for the Old Ways after all. But, there are things worth imitating, and not to.

Dragons At Dawn is a peculiar game. It's trying to faithfully reproduce something where the original sources in many cases are lost. The author even makes it clear that this is a game that demands house rules. So, I will not point out that game as a bad case, but it did make me realize there is a trap out there to avoid. Remember when Goodman Games started publishing the Dragon Crawl Classics? They tried to imitate the look and feel of the old TSR modules, and other have followed. More than one reviewer thought it was cute, but also wondered if not doing something new and you own was the favoured path to tread. I kind of agree.

So, lay down the groundwork and intentions of your rules in the text. Make all assumptions and unwritten rules explicit and then I am confident it will be easier to write, easier to read, and will leave better room for rulings and not rules.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Old D&D editions and clones - D@D


The second of the old D&D editions and clones is Dragons At Dawn. I find gaming archaeology to be a fascinating subject, and the very dawn of the RPG hobby is that Final Frontier before we go into the Great Beyond. Naturally a game that tries to reimagine how Dave Arneson's game looked like in the years before D&D would pike my interest. Does it hold up?

My first thought is, who in their right mind would lay out a book all in a non serif typeface?

Anyway.

The book starts with classes, traits and XP tables for the different classes. It's kind of the way you expect it to be done, with the focus being on how to get a character ready for adventure and then you get into rules systems and how to set up a game. Interestingly enough, this game that has as its express intent to model the early game of Dave Arneson before D&D, is sometimes just as quirky and jumbled as OD&D is sometimes accused of being. You would think it should be presented in a more ordered fashion, or modern if you like. If you wonder what I mean by that, I might give as example that the XP tables doesn't mention that you reset XP after each level. That is mentioned much later in the book, in the section about how you get experience. Why is that much later in the book anyway?

This book is by intent trying to be faithful to a source that in many is no longer around, so it's maybe natural that it sometimes feel disjointed. The author actually say it demands to be house ruled. But, I still wonder a bit about the presentation.

The second half of the book, after characters, lists equipment, monsters and how to run a campaign. There are some interesting ideas in here, with random events for the campaign year and magic spell preparations that takes months! Just like OD&D the bigger picture is part of the game.

How does it feel having read it once more? Well, I like the quirky character classes with their unusual abilities. I like the magic system which is based on physical components, more like alchemy, and also the spell point system. But, here is also where one of Dave Arneson's stupidest ideas really makes me cringe. You see, magic is always touched by the alignment of the creator, and if you touch a magic item of a different alignment than your own you will suffer some bad effects. If all magic is powders, potions and "technomagic" gear in the style of Tekumel how can it have an alignment? If it's some other planar energy it is easier to grasp, but since this kind of magic is kind of like misunderstood technology, how can it have an alignment? I mean, a laser pistol? I guess the defenders of the alignment curse will figure out some explanation...

Do I want to play this game? Yes, I want to. The combat rules where the characters feels more like toy soldiers than any other role playing game and might run away if you fail a morale check, does it work? Yes, I like it. The saving roll system where you on the spot and depending on the situation rolls against a stat, does it work? Yes, I like it!

This game is so different from any other D&D game I at once become intrigued. Also, the combat system makes more sense that D&D ever did, and I really like some things like the negative AC of an undead being matched to the amount of bonus you need on your weapon to hit. Stocking dungeons and other adventures using Protection Points, which you then "buy" up as HD when stocking and restocking is cool. Having to spend your hard earned treaure to get XP for it is also a fabulous idea. There are some really elegant design gems in there.

Even though the idea of more retro games made me sigh, reading Dragons At Dawn once more makes me perk up and want to run a game, like it's 1971 once more...

Monday, September 22, 2014

Old D&D editions and clones - OD&D

I posted the question a while ago "how many clones do you need" when I realized I really didn't feel like buying two new old school games. This is my series of taking down those things off the shelf and reconsidering them. First out, OD&D.

I have pdf copies of this game, since it always costs far more than I think it is worth for a hard copy. Browsing through it, the first things that strikes me is that compared to AD&D, it's not terribly organized! When you read closer you will find odd things missing, and terms and procedures undefined, but it's sorted out in a way that makes sense. Somewhat.

My first impressions is that this is a game you could probably pick up and play. I do find the class list a bit limiting, and I would probably take out the cleric and put in some sort of rouge since the MU is played defensively and the Fighting Man offensively. Something in between and maybe with just a smattering of magic feels better than the odd Hammer Horror Cleric. Perceptive readers may note this sounds a lot like T&T...

I actually like the weird mix of the table top miniatures campaign and the focus on individuals trekking around underground. The game feels more wide open than later editions, which kind of bog down into the dungeon. But, I must say the rules for aerial combat and naval combat reads a bit less than smoothly for me. I wonder why this game was not including more stuff from Chainmail? There are so much references to Chainmail that it's clear it was intended to be used together. Why not package it as 4  books, or include more of that in the 3 booklets?

Do it make me feel like running a game? Yes and no. It's written in a way that feels quite a lot like "this is how we do it", which is I guess the precursor to all those games which state "change that which not suits you". Still, it's not trying to sell me on the idea, and for me there's something lacking.

Would I ever run something like this game, I would probably run it with multiple groups and baronies and stuff. It is a bit enticing looking at it from that viewpoint, as a larger game than just a dungeon slog.

In summary, it is the first and maybe its biggest impact on me now is how little there is in there.

Let's see how the next game fares, what my impressions are and if it makes me want to run a game of that.

Friday, September 19, 2014

100 things you have to do to play like the Old Days, or less...

I guess you have seen those books, or websites with lists like "100 movies to see before you die!"?

This is the XX things to do before you have fully tasted the Old Ways of Gaming. Maybe not all deadly serious

  1. play stable style
  2. had mass battle
  3. encounter green slime
  4. play the strategic game - both small and large scale
  5. play a Braunstein
  6. play Diplomacy
  7. design your own magic item
  8. design a monster of your own
  9. use a house hold item as a prop
  10. stabbed a fellow player character in the back
  11. had a solo run
  12. house ruled magic and combat
  13. encountered hi tech in a lo tech world
  14. played a game of multiple sides amongst the players
  15. had a player character die from a critical hit
  16. painted a lead figure of your player character
  17. figured out how to randomly roll, with even distribution, results from a table like this even there are more entries than sides on your die
...

Feel free to fill in with more.

For the real deal about playing like they did back in the days in the mid west, check out Jeff Berry's blog.



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Campaign design in Tianxia

By now you have probably picked up on what's my favourite Fate setting, the wuxia game Tianxia from Vigilance Press. I have ran a few sessions, and decided to wrote some words on how setting development and campaign design have worked for me.

First off I might say I consider a campaign to be a GM and his or her ongoing game, not a storyline. That being said, I have not really thought much about where this game will be heading. My main focus was to have a set up that would enable people to come and go, and always have a reason so slot in the game for a night.

The gathering point, I decided, would be one of the security and escort companies that litter the setting of Jiangzhou. Having a central repository of "missions" and clients would help tie the characters to existing conflicts and also to powerful individuals that could make life interesting for them.

If you have ever played Call of Cthulhu, you are probably well familiar with the question of not only "why are we doing this again?", but also "why am I hanging out with these nut cases again?". For me that is a very relevant question, not only in CoC. By having the escort company, I get to offer some kind of fall back to those questions for the PCs. For those tired nights when everyone feel less than inspired, that can be a great help. This is what I wrote for the central organization for my campaign.
The Iron Monkey Security Company
It Will Be Delivered On Time
Discretion Above All
It's like a family
Great Contacts +4
Good Resources +3
Fair Lore +3
I really like the way you stat things up like this. I gives you some game mechanics to hang on to. If I'm out of ideas I can always use those traits as a problem and off we go.

For me it has often been a source of problem to tie the PCs to the actions in the setting. I've been a CoC fan for ages, and the idea of Delta Green as a solution to that age old problem for CoC is not exactly new to me. Maybe I had to read it in a book to feel I got the blessing of the game designer to use it somewhere else, I don't know.

I decided the company is run by "Old Monkey Li" one of the disciples of The Flashing Sword Song. Another of Song's disciples, Madame Wu, is running The Golden Flower Company which will be a possible source of conflicts.

I think the next time I start up a "D&D game", broadly interpreted, I will also start with an centring organization like this. It strikes me as I write this that The Harpers in the Realms probably started out with a similar function. Well, it would not be the first time I was a late guest to the party...

This is what I had when I started the first session. Every night would be another mission, or some intermezzo created by the last one. Regardless who showed up, the company would have representatives present as everyone was a brother or sister in the company. I decided to start the off on their way home from a mission, and naturally there was an ambush in the woods. Original, yeah right. But, it has worked before, have it not? At least it were no kobolds involved. Let's just say it's a classic.

From this start we put things in motion, and I'll write more about the highs and lows of what happened later. 

 


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Running a game of Fate - Tianxia

Having played a few sessions of Fate, and having seen how much it's been talked about, I took the plunge and ran a game myself. The publisher of Tianxia has a great blog post about running demo games of Tianxia. I stole his setup whole cloth, and it worked great!

I've found there are some things I really like with Fate. My favourite above all is how easy it is to create the opposition. You just need to think up the main thing the character is about, that's their High Concept, and add their top three skills in the pyramid and you're ready to go.

I guess that is precisely the thing that makes class based systems work so well. For me those have never been categories that sparked my imagination, though. Being able to use Drunk Brute or Snarky Magistrate  just runs straight into what makes me go "wow" and get ideas about what that character can do that would be cool to put in a scene with the PCs.

This might be the "killer feature" I unconsciously have been missing in so many other games. It makes me think that there might have been a reason I so often have relied on stock NPC templates from the GM chapters of the rules of whatever game I'm running. Interesting that it took so long to figure that out!

Monday, September 15, 2014

How many clones do you need?


Today I listened to a Swedish gaming podcast, Viskningar från kryptan [Whispers from the Crypt], about a new old school game Svärd och Svartkonst [Sword and Sorcery]. Incidentally, this coincides with a new release of Delving Deeper being talked about. It's interesting, because I felt roughly the same level of interest in both of them. Let's begin by considering the older one.

As some of you might know, that latter game was once part of the train wreck that is Brave Halfling Publishing. But, after having been published by BHP, others have kept developing it, and now have a new version available.

When I heard about that, my first impulse was to groan and turn away. Buy that game? Again? But wait a minute. Haven't I done that before, and cheered my fortune almost every time?

Naturally, Delving Deeper has had a troubled road to walk to get to my door, but I don't think this apprehension about a new version of the game has that much to do with the troubles with the delivery of the last one. The fact that SoS didn't make me look forward that much to its release might be a clue to a general state of disinterest for new old school games, for me.

I have pdf copies of OD&D, LotFP first boxed set, Delving Deeper boxed set from BHP, Swords & Wizardry White Box Edition, Swords & Wizardry standard edition, Dragons At Dawn, Ambition & Avarice, Dark Dungeons, B/X and BECMI, AD&D1 and also multiple editions of T&T and other non-D&D old school games. Guess how many of those I have played? Why should I play them all? Are they all interesting enough on their own? I think most people have probably done like me, but mostly play or or two of them that best suit their taste and personality.

While this might be old news to most of my readers, I have not really had these thoughts sink in before. I've read a blog post about someone who really found one of the games mentioned above really great. I rushed out to buy it, and might have browsed it a bit before putting it on the shelf among the rest. Now suddenly I find myself with doubts. Why do I not at once become enthusiastic for these new game releases? I think I might have reached the point where I say I really don't need any more clones, or retro inspired games.

Since it feels like I have lost some enthusiasm, I'm planning on taking them out one by one and post my thoughts about it. If nothing else it might tell me what it was I found to enticing, and that I no longer can grasp.

Then again, I might already have Delving Deeper, but SoS? Maybe I should just buy, one more, and then call it quits...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Waking up, smelling the coffee and thinking ahead

Excuse me if I wax a bit poetic in my post titles. Sometimes I get a bit influenced by Samuel R. Delaney and created titles that sound pretentious and grand. Considering I lag behind him English style, it might sometimes become a bit comical. You'll get those laughs for free.

Since I have woken up this blog, here are my intentions going forward.

I have been thinking a bit about D&D again in the hubbub about the 5th ed. and I have been playing mostly Fate recently, so I will write about those things.

Fate for me is a very strange experience. It's a game that liberates, and at the same traps me in crunch and game mechanics. D&D at the same times feels very much more like a sounding board, a reference, than a living game for me. Maybe 5th ed. will change that. I will at least make an attempt in that direction.

Let's go. First out is a post about my thoughts relating to an old school D&D release.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Waking up, slowly

If you have followed this blog for a long time, you know I used to post pretty often. I faded out of it all, loosing interest. Now I have once again started to feel the stirrings of blog posts, so even though the pace might be fairly slow I will start posting again.

Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How to have a moving combat

A while ago we had a game session in our irregular D&D game, and it made me realize that as mechanics went, it was a very clunky game session. I wondered at the time if there was a better way to model what was happening in the fiction, and how the rules might steer you away from something that makes sense in the fiction, but would not be fun or work well in the game mechanics you're using.

We were travelling in a boat, with one PC rowing like crazy since his STR is way better than the rest of the characters. The rest were tasked with protecting a NPC also in the boat, and we were all trying to reach the middle of this lake as fast as possible. That was the easy part. Don't let that fool you, it became a stumbling block for game mechanics as well. More on that later. Now for the dramatic part.

As we sat in that boat, a hundred or so of tiny red dragons circled ahead, and they started to swoop down and attack us. Picture this in your mind.

Picture now in your mind a battle mat, minis on the table for the characters. Now you have to place, and move, all those critters attacking us. Yes. Picture that.

So how on earth do you handle the fact that the boat and its passengers are moving constantly and thus leave the flying creatures behind and new ones come swooping in and you have to keep track of which one is which, and who has gotten 4 hits, 2 hits or maybe is under the influence of a Slow spell? Our DM was kind enough to limit our attackers to just 20, but it was still quite a circus. Also, it was slow moving and it felt quite clunky.

Of course, you could decide that the error here was to bring out the minis and the battle mat in the first place. But, would you do better by trying to just describe all that in vague terms? It would probably be even harder to remember which dragon was hit, and for how much. Maybe the relative movement could have been easier that way, but I'm not sure.

I guess you can tell that 3rd ed D&D was not a great match for this. If I had been the DM, I probably would have tried to figure out a way to change the narrative instead of the rules. But, the setting were set up and I liked the fact that the cool part of what was happening in the setting did happen, regardless of the rules. Thinking about it, I wondered what kind of rules set would handle this.

I pondered some rules I know, and some which people usually grasp for to model wild and woolly action scenes with. Doing a chase in Savage Worlds sounds like it could work quite nice, especially with the new chase rules in SW Deluxe. But, having used those rules I feel they are only slightly less painful than the alternative, not pleasant. Picking another favourite in the gaming scene online, Fate, don't solve it either. You could use Zones and maybe abstractly make the movement easier to handle that way, but the damage tracking would still be there. Frankly I'm not sure the chase would not have been a bit bland in Fate, really. I have not checked the Toolkit book for any rules about chases, though. BRP would probably be just as cumbersome as D&D.

So no great and simple solution readily available, eh?

What was it I wrote about the rowing? Yeah, you know what? There are no numbers in the book about how fast you move in a boat. Seriously? No data? Sailing? Rowing? Nothing. You have to make it up, and guess if that turned into a show stopper as well... While I felt the DM handled the scene as well as could be expected when the action finally started, I really wanted to scream when people slowly and politely discussed how fast beasts and boat should be able to move.

The session left me with the question of how to better model this, and I've still to find the answer.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Comparing two game sessions and the prep - Savage Worlds & Stormbringer


I've been thinking and writing a bit about my recent online game. One thing I was not really satisfied with that game was the flow and pacing, but it highlighted different ways to handle game prep. I thought it might be interesting to compare that game to a Savage Worlds/Agents of Oblivion I ran last year. That game was not online using Hangouts, so the issues I had with that format did not apply, of course. But, I realize that there are other interesting differences.

For those who are interested in how prep notes for a SW/AoO game can look like, check these notes. It's worth nothing that my Agents of Oblivion had a healthy dose of Cthulhu to it, and less James Bond.

Worthy about these notes is that I've listed the names of people, but very little about what they know or what they will do. I improvised that part as we played. Also, I had a vague plan that was basically using the look and feel of a small mining village like the one in the movie October Sky and the dramatic feel of a X-Files episode. Basically, I knew the place and the people, but except that the only thing clear was that the Fungi would mind wipe the characters. Then I just made sure weird shit happened.

I can tell you that they investigated the shit out of that place! They basically took Jackson's place apart and sawed out a bit of the floor with some odd scratches/markings which might have been a Mi-go claw mark! After a fight with the MIBs they totally freaked out when they turned to piles of sand! Some pretty cool roleplaying happened when the sheriff showed up and they had to fast talk her and cover up the weird shit. To say nothing of their trip down to the mines...

In my Stormbringer game on the other hand, I had figured out how they would be forced into the situation, how they would encounter some people who could show them the way and a clear end to their travels, and a final scene where they could do two things. Those was dependent on them either being convinced of the need to repair the world machine or to destroy it. While a con game has to be slightly linear, I can now see some additional problems with it.

While the Savage Worlds game was all centred on the mining village of Torchwood, the players could talk to anybody and go wherever they liked. Also, they could do it in any order. The other game was built on a trip by caravan, where things would unfold. Sure I had the feel and attitude nailed down as well. I wanted the freaky aspect and unreal quality of dream to play up. Moorcock usually introduce the outre into the mundane and I wanted that feel. Less fun with the travel, though. I'm more convinced than ever that trips in roleplaying games should be narrated in a sentence or be the whole point.

Trying to make travel be just part of a scenario never seem to work for me. This makes me think of the Call of Cthulhu scenario Blood on the Tracks from the excellent scenario collection Out of the Vault by Pagan Publishing. Running that worked excellent and it was all travel. In comparison I don't think I've really did any low technology fantasy wilderness adventure that worked well. Know what you're good at, and play to your strengths...

Friday, March 28, 2014

Everything carries baggage

For those who read my post from yesterday about how game systems might colour your experience when converting a setting, this is a good read.

The big thing is how things are presented in Ron Edwards game Circle of Hands and how some attitudes about controversial things can seep into a game text in a way not intended. Sometimes a text might be coloured by your views, and sometimes your views are so natural to you that you do not write them out, which also colour it. Ron has already revised the text for it to clearer reflect his views on these topics and it will make it a better game I'm sure.

Naturally, the lesson here is how not only the game rules, but also the game text can carry meaning and sometimes even baggage you did not intent it to. It pays to have an open mind.

Some people say they just want to kill some orcs and relax among their friends. Sure, that's fine. But, this conversation between Ron and the owner of the Go Make Me a Sandwich blog (who I for the life of me can't find the name of anywhere!) brings out an interesting potential as well.

Instead of having a game carry unintended baggage, bring it out into the open! In a post-apocalyptic game I ran last year we had some quite interesting sessions where the conflict between the owner of a sawmill and the sawmill workers escalated and involved the players. My political views was not a hidden agenda, it was up for debate, forcefully so! We had great fun and it worked out ok. It pays to have an open mind, right?

While I think you have to tread carefully, I think this hobby of ours can even handle problematic issues like sexism and rape (and just plain politics). Unless you game with dickheads, and you don't do that, do you? Good.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Flavour of the week - converting between gamesystems

In between the Fate game I play in, and my resurging love of BRP, I think about these trends in converting games to your favourite system.

When Savage Worlds debuted I remember seeing threads on rpg.net everyday about how you could "savage" this or that old classic and make it sing again. Savage Worlds was the "flavour of the week" so to speak.

I'm a fan of Savage Worlds, and many games I think really benefit from a "savaging". But, one thing not always taken into account in those happy endorsements are the flavour a game system bring to the table. These days the worse enthusiasm have cooled off Savage Worlds, and now I think it's more often suggested for games that need that special pizzazz and zing that a fast flowing pulp, action game gives you. Needless to say, that's not all settings and games.

Now I get the feel that Fate is the new "flavour of the week". How does it stack up?

As anyone who have tried Fate knows, it's a game much like the revised 3rd ed of D&D where everything is nailed down. It's a crunchy system, but very abstract and broad reaching, with its capability of turning anything into an Aspect and thus part of the mechanics of the game. If you want a game system that fades into the background, I don't think it's a game system for you, just like I don't think you should use Savage Worlds if you want a simulationist feel to your game.

But, I'm beginning to see why it's very alluring to try to make Fate the base for any kind of game you want to play. It's very elegant to use the "Fate fractal" and let everything be modelled with a High Concept and some more Aspects, some Skills, some Stunts and Stress tracks. You can fairly easily model anything that way. Understanding that makes it easy to quantify anything, and put numbers on it.

The other game that I always think of is BRP. It's trivial to make up a skill list suited to your setting/game and if you need anything to be modelled by the game system, you make a skill or a derived attribute of it. Then you roll your percentiles and Bob's your uncle. You only need to make up a rough probability of something succeeding and that's the whole game system. Basically.

My thinking is that make not all games has to be run in Fate, just like to every game turned out to need to be savaged? Can anything be estimated as a probability written as a percentile, and end up BRP game?

I guess that if you want to you can turn any game into whatever it needs to be. Hero and GURPS were designed to be used for putting numbers on anything, but it takes so much work I'd never work up the energy to even try.

Whatever the feel of BRP is, and however it compares to Fate (I might delve into that at a later date), they have one big thing going for them both. It's really easy to convert things into those systems. My latest reading of Fate conversions have really opened my eyes to how things like that can be done. I'm beginning to see how the Fate Fractal might be the most insidiously genius thing Evil Hat ever created. Even if I arm myself with BRP in one hand, I'll be thinking of that fractal. Make all the cool things an Aspect, and then roll those percentiles!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Running games on G+, my verdict


I have now played in a few games on G+, and it works quite fine. The biggest issue is trying to figure out which timezones works for everyone so you get a group together. Having tried to run a game I found there were some issues compared to a face to face game, though.

My first issue was surprising to me, having played successfully. I was not getting the kind of visual queues I apparently rely on a lot when running a game. Setting scenes and doing descriptions I often do without thinking to much about it, but this time it felt stymied and stunted. Without being fully aware of it, I think I rely quite a lot on getting eye contacts and seeing my players listening to me. Now they might be listening intently, but if their webcam wasn't trained on their eyes, or if they glanced at another window I kind of felt a bit out of touch. Clearly this is something you can adapt to, but I didn't know I was so dependent on it!

My second issue was the question of where the characters were in relation to each other. Usually I don't play with minis. Instead, I usually drop down some dice on the table to show how is where. Now I had to get Roll20 up and make sure everyone was looking at it. It felt a bit awkward. Those who have been running games online seem to like Roll20 a lot, so I guess it can work fine as a virtual table, but for me it felt clumsy. I had to choose if I wanted to get that eye contact, look at the chat window, or at the virtual table. Maybe if I could have them all in different windows and have them all side by side it would work better?

The last thing is dice. I like rolling dice. The feel of a nice die in your hand as you toss it is part of the experience for me. In the game I ran we used physical dice for the most part and it worked fine. Like I said, if you want to cheat you've already misunderstood what it's all about anyway, so why should I even try to stop you? But, I found I missed the feeling of everyone huddling around the table, waiting intently for that crucial die to land. Maybe the virtual dice rollers are the way to go after all?

All in all, I think this is the way to go. I have no idea of how well Google feel their new platform is doing. They have been known to kill off things before, and I hope it's working well for more people than the rpg crowd. It's clearly where people are getting their game fix these days. RPGA events and cons is good, but this is it. Let's hoep Google keeps it alive!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Impressions from running Stormbringer

Last weekend I ran a game of Stormbringer. It was a long time since I last did, and now I used the 5th ed. which have some changes from the 4th ed. I used to run. I thought I should note down some of my impressions.

As some of you know, the 5th ed. is very similar to the Magic World game Chaosium is selling now, since they no longer have the Eternal Champion licence. Most of what I write here is probably applicable to Magic World as well. Stormbringer often struck me as a great base for a generic fantasy game, and Magic World looks to be just that great game. One day I'll have to get hold of a copy.

System

The first thing about running this game is how to approach any BRP game. Everything is a percentile roll, either against a skill or against a multiplied stat. Anyone can do whatever they like, and as a GM you either make up a percentile chance of success or picks a skill/stat. Anyone understands "You have 65% to success, roll the dice". It's newbie friendly.

The second thing I noticed was how many fiddly bits there are when you look beyond that basic concepts! Some of them have changed in different editions, and I'm not too keen an all of them.

Stats

I understand why you might roll 2d6+6 for stats, since it makes the characters more heroic. But, I think those really oddball stats that can happen in a straight 3d6 bell curve are usually my main hook for roleplaying, so I'd keep the 3d6 method. If you like your game more heroic, what you want to keep an eye on are probably hit points. This game system is really deadly! I suggest calculating HP as CON+SIZ if you want your game more heroic, instead of the 2d6+6 stats.

Combat rules

First off. This is a deadly game! With the major wound rules, you can't just add up hits and keep pushing on. Even smaller wounds will hurt as they pile up enough. I liked the idea of your character falling over after a certain amount of rounds after taking a major wound. I am less certain about the adding up of lesser wounds. Why do you have to make a POW x 4 roll to stay conscious when they add up? I prefer the Call of Cthulhu way of rolling CON x 5 not to keel over. I'll probably do that running the game again.

In 4th ed. Stormbringer you had separate ratings in attack skill and parry skill with a weapon. I kind of liked that, and the idea of a "finesse" fighter focusing a parrying and feinting before lunging for attack. They kind of open the option for you in the book to add your experience either in attack or parry. Another thing I like about the Parry/Dodge rule is that they are actions you can do over and over again. It makes for a more fluid combat and being able to dodge all attacks (if you have a really massive Dodge skill!) is probably good considering how easy it is to be eliminated.

Magic

In the game I ran we didn't have any summonings. Earlier editions of the game only had magic based on demons and elementals. Editions after the 4th added some other variants, and those round out the system to cover more kinds of magic. Apparently it's supposed to better model the Elric stories as well. Frankly, I only remember the summonings, but it makes for a better game engine to include more options. Friends of D&D will even feel at home with the basic spell system, since as long as you pay you magic points the spell will go off and there's no roll involved.

I kind of like the idea of introducing some randomness in spellcasting, but running Stormbringer I'll do it by the book. If nothing else, call it a concession to the potential players coming from D&D. If you'd like more randomness and making spells less common, make each spell a skill. That way you'll get some drain of build points, and randomness. 

Allegience

This something that was added to the rules after 4th ed. I was never really happy with the former "Elan" system, but was unsure of tracking points for Chaos/Law/Balance as well. Now in the 5th ed. they start to mean something, as you can "cash in" those points for extra skill points, hit points or magic points. It can be used to give some flavour to the game, involving the players a bit in the cosmic battles.

I usually say that alignment causes brain damage, as I've seen smart and intelligent people reduced to 12 year olds by it. Everyone remember how you ran your first game, misunderstanding most of it and clinging on for dear life to those rules that give some kind of focus and you think you can use to beat the game into shape with. It's quite natural, but then you grow older and relax. Sadly alignment brings that back out and people who are usually sure of them self and have both wife and a job are reduced to whimpering 12 year old kids who can't make a moral choice of their own. Luckily, allegience is not prescriptive.

Summary

All in all, this is a neat game. It has some simple mechanics you can teach in a few minutes, and most importantly you grasp the concept of a percentile chance of succeeding and can improvise and make shit up in your first game as a GM. You have Professions that mould the characters a bit, but at the same time is less limiting than a class based system. Magic is expressive and if you involve demons it's wild, crazy and dangerous!  Taken a a general fantasy system I like Stormbringer a lot, in the shape of Magic World it would suite me like a glove. As a game of "Moorcockian" fantasy it's excellent. I had forgotten how much I like BRP and will soon bring it to the table again.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Glorantha ORE, maybe?

I have managed to misplace my copy of Heroes and other Worlds, so I had to get on Lulu and order another copy today. Before that I tried to sort through all my games and find it, unsuccessfully. While doing that I did find some gems I had not seen in a long time. Boy do I have many game books or what? I need to stop working and play games full time!

One game I found that made me stop and browse it was Reign. For some time it was a game talked about quite a bit. Now I have not heard about it in a long while. Maybe the fact that the built in fantasy setting was not all that interesting, and that the weird world just felt weird for it's own sake made people shrug and walk past it. But, the rules are interesting and the idea of playing on a higher level, as lords and leaders, still resonate with me. I felt that resonance way back, and long time readers know.

I've never played the so called "end game" of D&D and all that jazz, neither have I ever played Pendragon. I've always felt Reign was the way to go, though. Especially as an alternative to D&D, since you would get there from the get go, and I never was that into knights.

Consider Glorantha. When the rules set Hero Wars and Hero Quest were published, Greg and friends really pushed for the social aspect of the game to come to the forefront. I seem to remember there actually being a book all about "hero bands", like they called the party. It was a group of individuals with contacts, relationships and resources. I kind of liked the idea, but never tried it in play.

Enter Reign. That's the game that's all about playing a "company" of some sort. Maybe it could be married to that setting where you no longer exist (things were different in thr RQ days) as a lone adventurer?

Playing games full time sounds better and better every time I say it...

(anyone want a copy of the flawed but brilliant Glorantha game Hero Wars? Pay shipping and it's yours...)

I pledged for another kickstarter, what have I done...

At the Special Wudang Xiake level I've now pledged to The Legends of the Wulin board game. Considering the martial arts I'm practising have connections to Wudang Shan I guess there was no option for me not to choose that...

If everything arrives this year that I'm waiting for (or have pledged for the last months) then it will be a busy 2014.

Go and check it out, it might interest you!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

How to run a con game, some notes for myself

Last Saturday I ran a online Stormbringer game for an online game con. It was in the middle of the nineties the last time I did something like that, so I was a bit rusty.

Running a game online has its own problems, and running a con game is also its own beast. I knew, in theory, how to do it. This is as much a reminder to myself for the next time as well as some advice for the potential reader.

Base the scenario on scenes
Have a clear idea of the location, and the concrete opposition in that situation. It will help you pace the game, and you know how much the game have progressed in time and in the plot.

Make the end goal simple to grasp
Don't make it too fancy, or subtle. In a long campaign you have all the time in the world to establish the metaphysics of the world or the power players in your setting. In a con game you can't let the players game their way to a stance on the global problems. There just isn't time.

The player characters have to be distinct
Make sure the characters have something they are good at, and some things they don't like. It's probably a good idea to make sure there are NPCs that push their buttons, as well as some of the other characters.

What I did
Sadly I didn't heed all that advice. I did a fairly involved setting, with subtle power play. I also included references to other media, which some of the players clearly had no experience of. But, my biggest fault was I did not break it into scenes. I just started it and knew where it was headed, planning on shepherding it along as we played. Naturally, it made it less focused than it should be, and rushed when I looked at my watch and how far we had proceeded.

But, some of my players got to shine, do weird things and kill every human being on that plane of the Multiverse. That's worth something.
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