Saturday, October 31, 2009

RPG Bloggers Network melt down, or maybe not?

During the week that went by, I was incapacitated with flu. As it always is, that's when things really start to happen. I'm kind of used to that. Life plays those kind of tricks of irony upon you. This last one was more mysterious, though. What did happen? I haven't the foggiest.

So. The RPG Bloggers Network had some kind of seizure. I had to go back to the webpage and resubscribe to the RSS feed for all the updates, but I saw no message indicating anything different than usual.

At the same time I've seen many of the blogs I read refering to how bad something can blowup when you're not careful, always somehow getting through that they really mean RPGBN. It's very clear to me that some big thing have happened, but when and where? The closest I've gotten to an idea of what has happened is that someone else have started a new network, more social like Facebook. Also, there seem to have been arguments some times about the criteria for joining RPGBN. So what? Someone starts an aggregation service and who will then decide what he want to aggregate? Everyone else? I'm thinking it kind of makes sense for the guy who runs the show to call the shots, right? Maybe it's more to it.

God knows what happend, and I'm amazed that I have seen none of it happening, but the talk afterwards. As long as RPGBN provides feeds that people can subscribe to and find my blog, I'm happy. I've found bunches of stuff that way myself.

Edit: Now I found this link which gives some more information. How the hell are you supposed to find it from the frontpage?!

So what does that mean? Business as usual? I'm confused.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Reading T&T 7.5 - Equipment p.41-89

After a lengthy battle with the flu, which is still not finally won, am once again able to think my usual semi-clear thoughts. Since I'm also bored out of my skull I want to blog, talk and feel a bit alive again. Time to read T&T and talk about the next chunk of pages.

Starting on p.41 we gets treated with multiple ways of equiping a character. Personally I like the third method of just giving out some basic stuff and jump into the fray. It sure makes the game going quicker. "Don't get bogged down" is solid advice.

I find it kind of amusing that silver is described as the common currency in most places, and then most of the stuff in this chapter is still priced in gold!
Real nice is that we get a short mention of reselling, lower quality and such stuff.

Regarding selling and buying, we get to know that there are merchants for everything you need for life on Trollworld, but that the Wizards' Guild are the only one dealing in magic items.

I'm very divided about selling and buying of magic items. Treating magic items like any other commodity to be bought and sold is a sure way to devalue their mystery and "magic". The question is of course if the publication of the Greyhawk supplement in 1976 with it's long shopping lists opened a door that can now hardly be closed again. I'm not so much thinking of the idea of selling off some loot, as I am of players taking their characters to the magic shop with a wish list in hand. That feels wrong on many levels. But, even in my own campaign I played it by the book that way. I had inventive players who did something fun with it, so maybe I'm just needlessly wary. But still...

Then start the most thankless part of a rpg publishers work. Long lists and tables which can be so very, very wrong without you noticing. My advice to everyone doing this. Do the layout, and then make a FREE pdf of it you give to ALL the fans to proof! There are no sane reasons what so ever not to let as many people as possible look over your tables. They will crawl with errors.

T&T 7.5 have some oddities, but it could be worse. It was worse in 7.0, I can tell you. Still a few things to wonder about.

  • Why are there no descriptions of the first/second aid kits?
  • Why are there no descriptions of why there's two values for DEX sometimes, like for Daggers?
  • Why isn't there no description of how a bola is used?
  • What does all the / separated values for the lance really mean?
  • What the heck is "rifing" mentioned in the Gunnes table?

I have found some of it out in conversations with the Trollgod, but it would have been nice to have that in the book. I'm dead sure that would have been caught if 500 persons had seen those tables.

In my campaign we said the first aid kit healed 1 CON, the second one 5 CON (since it hinted at it in the table). I'm pretty sure it screws with the economy of healing, but such is life.

Next we get to armor. It's very cool to have listings of full suits, so you can just buy one of those and pick and choose later. What makes up a full suit? I don't know, it don't say so in the book. Since I'm stingy I said it didn't include a helmet. Also worth noting is that a suit of Plate is 460, but Full Plate for two measly more points will cost you 1300! Almost three times as much money for two points. Ouch! It makes no sense not to buy a suit of Soft Leather, it's dirt cheap and gives almost a third of that Plate for a lot less than a third of 460 gold.

Included in equipment is also Poisons and Treasure! The former is fun and to the point. Let's talk more about the Random Treasure Generator. The Treasure generator wsn't in 7.0, and since I was using that set as my only T&T solo rules, I did feel that lack. Many solos ask you to use the Treasure Generator to figure out the loot. We also had a lot of fun with it in my own campaign. Nobody could say I screwed my players over with loot. They roll the generator themselves, and might score high.

The procedure it simple, with subtables and the possibility of generating coin, weapons and armor, potions, gems and magic titems. Yes, magic items by random roll. The only part which I feel is broken is when you roll for jewelry, and get 4 on the Jewel table, "Value of item plus value of jewels". What the heck is the value of the item, then?

Finishing off the big chunk of equipment is something sorely needed. A glossary. I haven't mentioned much what's in the weapon tables, but trust me that most any kind of weird stuff is in there. Being able to delve in dungeons with a Bich`wa, Chakram, Estoc or any such kind of odd weapon is a classic of T&T. While I like the choice, I must say I don't think the long list does much for me. I need something sharp to hit people with, on the cheap. Still, some like it. The oportunity for worldbuilding is there, with all elves using weird weapons and dwarves refusing to fight someone using a weapon "without honor" or something like that. But, you'll have to build it yourself.

That was a big chunk, eh?

Next Week: Monsters and Combat!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Reading T&T 7.5 - a pause

No post today, to weak to think. But, the fever seem to have left me so I'm not dying any longer.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Health update

Right now I'm suffering the mother of all autumn colds. Since my brains is tryign to escape through my nose, I wont try to say anything profound the nest few days.

I hate having a cold.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Talislanta - wonderful and weird

Through a veil of blue mist did I first behold Talislanta: dreamlike and surreal, as if suffused in amberglow

That is how Tamerlin begins his travelogue and journal across the fabled lands of Talislanta. I first encountered Tamerlin and the strange lands he travelled, in a booklet, published by Bard Games, called Chronicles of Talislanta. Reading it was a totally new experience for me. It was styled as a collection of manuscripts by someone who had travelled to other worlds and then putting it on thickly while telling of his exploits. Surreal it was, and dreamlike as well.

When I look back in the electronic archives, I realize that since the earliest message I have saved is from 1998, I have been a subscriber to the Talislanta e-mailing list for eleven years. This is a long love story. No wonder I have seen the ups and downs of the line.

After Bard Games it was actually WotC that published the game. Since then it has been through so much it's a wonder it's not dead and buried. But, Stephan Michael Sechi, the creator of Talislanta is correct in that this is the Rasputin of rpgs. Through all the events where publishers dropped it and different other projects never materialized, the fourth edition managed to get published. Not only was it the biggest rpg ever, it was also the first time I saw my name in print. I love that edition.

The love the game and the setting invoke in me is something special. The fact that SMS (as Steve Sechi is known) keeps watch over the game and always communicates with the fans, makes it feel like a very close knit tribe. Talislanta is home to me. Even though I'm not as active any longer, I still keep in touch.

What's so special about this fantasy setting then? I guess some of you have seen the old ads saying "No elves!", right? Even though some people think that the amount of fey creatures with pointy ears kind of invalidates that claim, it's still a signpost saying "this is not your daddy's fantasy rpg". Using the evocative illustrations of P.D Breeding-Black, and the chatty and conversational style of "Tamerlin", the game come across as different more than anything. No cows, no horses and no knights. On the other hand there are avian humanoids, a genetically engineered warrior race, faeries with gossamer wings and other outre things. It's a hallucinogenic feast and marvel, which is both funny and sometimes satirical. It makes fantasy feel fantastic again.

So. Why do I bother to proclaim my love for this setting? Well, apart from just wanting to share some knowledge of an under appreciated and fun setting for adventure, there are things happening with Talislanta. SMS have promised that while he is planning new and interesting stuff, all of the old books are going to be available for free, online! The idea of all that weird and wonderful stuff being shown to the world outside our tribe is exciting. While it might take a while to happen, you can go and bookmark the Talislanta web home so you know where to find it. I don't know about you, but for me it is a setting that always made me want to play a game there right now! We can dream together with Tamerlin.

Tamerlin, evidently anticipating the scepticism of future generations of scholars, had only this to say in defense of his work:

"As to the authenticity or value of my writings, I leave it to the reader to decide. Know only this: Talislanta exists, for I have been there, if only in dreams."

Monday, October 19, 2009

The future sure is filled with history!

Today I feel far from great, with the great autumn cold coming on, so I hope I'm not to rambling or to unfocused today. It will pass. I hope.

If you have read what I've written lately, you know that I have gotten back into Battletech again. I have, due to that, been looking a lot at the official Classic Battletech site for information on the game, and on the setting.

Back in the days I never got the impression there was a world. You and a friend had 12 meter tall robots throwing hot lead and plasma at each other. Do you need anything more? Apparently those hints in my 2nd ed rulebook about some futuristic power blocs or whatnot, had been developed further in sourcebooks. I never saw anything except a myriad of Techical Readouts, which meant even more mechs. I never felt the need for more mechs, since I did have rules for creating more on my own. Why would I buy a book of mechs when I could design them myself? That was part of the fun, right?

Now when I browse the BT site, my eyes almost glaze over from the information overload. While it's extremely generous of Catalyst game labs to provide so much goodies from the OOP back catalog for free, I don't know if I want it! But, I still want to give them a pat on the back for being so forthcoming with previews, outtakes and whole OOP books online. Even someone who just want to browse around, or find inspiration for personal futuristic campaigns can go nuts and enjoy.

So why wouldn't you want to read the background books? Well, I always feel a bit daunted by the challenge if I see that I need to read a huge pile of imagined (future) history textbook to "get" a setting. Game settings with a very rich backstory are nice, in a way. You know that a game book will feel like a meaty piece of entertainment even if you don't get to play much. For those of us that get to play less than we want, it's nice to have some other use of the game books we buy. But, on the other hand it's sometimes a little bit to much. Where do I start? What do I need to start? How much do I need to know to be able to play in tournaments? You get the picture.

Battletech sure is fun, and the setting have some good drama and amazing scenes with excellent special effects and stunning visuals. Will I drown in it? Time will tell.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Entourage Approach

I was reading Fight On! issue #2 today, and came across an article with the same title as this post, by David Bowman. This is not the first time I've encountered the idea, but I at once got to think about something I'd read in my T&T 5th ed rulebook.

This is what Ken writes about how many players you need:
two or three players with up to four characters a piece is ideal. When it is necessary for a GM to try to cope with more than three players, it may be necessary to limit the number of characters they can use at one time
From my perspective it's kind of amusing that the idea to start with one character per player and add characters if you're short of players, seem to be far from Ken's experience. Apparently the norm was to have more than one character!

David writes a very interesting article about how to have one PC as your main guy, and then a Loyal Follower to take over when the big guy dies. It's a neat and workable way to have a bigger choice of what to play, but also to keep continuity when some calamity strikes the party.

I have been talking about troupe style play before, and it struck me as kind of amusing that when that idea was introduced with Ars Magica, that style of play was already way old. The new way was the old way. Nobody knew Ars Magica was that "old school", right?

When I ran my Dungeon of Voorand campaign, I used the "stable" approach with three characters per player. That was my attempt to play it like I'd read they did in Phoenix when the game was invented.

So, if you want to play your game the way they did it "back then". Break out Ars Magica, or read that article in Fight On! Or roll up a stable and play T&T. The more the merrier. I guess they knew it already during the seventies.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Battletech, still fun ten years later

I'm sorry I haven't been posting as frequently as I would have wished. With no gaming happening regularly in real life I get lot less food for though. Hopefully it will pick up somewhat soonish, though.

Now for a fun game night yesterday! I bought Battletech 2nd ed some day back in the late eighties, and played one game with a friend. It was very slow and we found it very cumbersome. Today I wonder how we managed to get that impression! Thanks to some talk about the Battletech universe lately (check out microMechWarrior!), I dug out my old box and started reading.

God knows I find all kinds of anime or manga with mecha boring. I really can't understand what's so cool about those robots. But, for some reason the setting of Battletech seem less silly to me. I sure am strange. Fire up about those big robots, I decided to bring the game to games night at the club.

I decided to build two teams of exactly the same mechs, since I could find an opponent who wanted to play but didn't want the fiddly bits like choosing a mech and filling out the form. In the end we had one 20 ton Stinger, a 55 ton Shadow Hawk and a 65 ton Crusader each. Putting down the two maps from the Battletech box, we started from one side each and without a scenario we just tried to beat the living daylights out of each other. It was quite enjoyable!

The only problem we had with the rules were that we missed that LRMs should be rolled for in packs of five, and how many missiles were really fired in a salvo. The former problem just meant we had to roll less dice when we noticed it, but the latter was only resolved by looking at examples, as it wasn't explained well in the rules. We checked the newest quick start rules and strangely enough they were not very informative on this subject.

It was cool to see a critical success on my Crusader. Soon I had to adapt to the fact that I had an reactor which was leaking and helped heat my mech 5 pts every turn! Ouch. Then my Shadow Hawk got pummeled by LRM fire from the opponent Crusader and looked kind of beat up. Revenge was sweet though, when I managed to shoot off one leg and totally maim the other on my opponet's Stinger. If someone can tell me how to use, and survive in, light mechs please do!

After we had been fighting a while one guy came over and admitted that he and his old friends had been playing MechWarrior quite a lot when they where younger. This game have been everywhere.

Now I feel tempted to start a Battletech campaign!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Reading T&T 7.5 - Levels

A friend of mine was very vary of games with classes and levels. He felt they were unrealistic and the characters were to static. He did manage, oddly enough, to gather quite a few games of that kind, though. Some of them are now in my collection and I wonder everytime I see them about his problematic relation to games with levels. T&T is a game with levels, but compared to D&D they mean fairly little. This Friday I'll take a closer look at levels in T&T.

On page 36 the section on levels start. A sure sign of the importance of levels is the page count alloted to this subject. All in all it ends on page 39. Got that? Now, let's see what it's all about.

Levels have never been a big thing in T&T. Actually, while some adventures have been written for "level 1 or 2" characters, it often meant next to nothing. increasing stats have always been the effect of experience in T&T, and back in earlier editions different stats increased quicker than others, so it was very nebulous what a certain level meant. Often Combat Adds was a much better gauge. Now in the 7th ed Ken has changed all this a bit.

A Type now has a list of stats that are "level attributes". The rating of the best of those determine what level your character is. Simple, eh? Well. A have a small complaint. How about listing those in the descriptions of the Types, much earlier in the book? That would help you when you have rolled your stats and wan to choose a fitting Type.

So what are the benefits of having a high level then? Well, here's where it becomes clear that T&T is not a game where level matters much. When you have failed a Saving Roll, you can add your level and hope that it help you reach your target number. For some odd reason the example talks about "level  attributes" here, which obviously is a remnant of an earlier rule, since that's never mentioned anywhere else and obviously wrong. That's it! Well, at least if you only read the section on levels, anyway.

If you, like me, thumbed through the descriptions of the character Types in hope of finding the level attributes listed there, you would have noticed that Warriors get to add their level to their combat damage! Also, Wizards get a redution in cost for spell casting when having a higher level than the spell being cast. Taking a peek at a chapter further ahead in the book I also noted that your Wizard can't invent new spells until reaching level 5, or level 10 for a Paragon. Why on earth is the list of benefits of levels limited to just mentioning the SR bonus?! Obviously it's used for more things. Still, I see why the importance of levels is played down, especially compared to D&D where your level determines the extent of almost all of your abilities.

Would me dear friend have accepted T&T even though it's a game with levels? I would have hoped so. My experience tells me that the most intense dislike for levels is usually when they determine a lot about your abilities.

Personally I wonder about the usefulness of levels in T&T. Maybe it could instead be that your SR bonus would be 1/10 of any of your level attributes (which would then be called something else) could be added to those saves? Maybe a limit where the level of spells you can invent be 1+(INT/10) and keep doing stuff based on your stats? It sure feels like the stats is the traits or general abilities whereupon everything is built in T&T. Why not get rid of that D&D artifact and skip the "level" thing?

Next up! Equipment!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Thanks Pinnacle/Studio 2 Publishing!

I bought Savage World: Explorer Edition a short while ago. Some of you might have noticed that the second printing was not holding up to normal wear, and had pages fall out. I contacted PEG, and was very pleased to hear that they would replace my book!

Today it showed up, and not only had they sent me a replacement for free, they had also included a freebie and a catalog with all the products carried by S2P. That's a sure way to get me to become very positive to a game company. I'm going to look hard and that catalog now, and will feel very tempted. Goodwill, how sweet its taste!

Guess if I want to play Savage Worlds after this experience?

Thanks Pinnacle!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Gaming Library: Carcosa

The book I'll look at today, is a small booklet called Supplement V Carcosa. Those who know some of the history of weird fiction obviously know about that name. If you also know something of rpg history, I think you know what those other four supplements are. This is a hobby project by Geoffrey McKinney, as his personal way of playing OD&D. 

Some of you might have heard of Carcosa before, and might even be sick of every mention of it. Then just pass along and let the rest of us talk a bit more.

Having said that, let's take a closer look at this game. The first thing you notice is that this is indeed almost a game of its own. While the structure of the booklet, and the cover text, claims it's a supplement to a fantasy rpg first published in 1974, it actually replaces most of the rules of that game.

What is it then? The character options are few, and easy to grasp. Like its parent game it's class based, and there are only two classes. They are Fighting Men and Sorcerors. The latter is all you get rules for, and they are basically summoners who can interact with nameless horrors. There are few creatures in the game which you would recognize from a regular fantasy campaign. Most are slime, oozes and fungi, and extra terrestial horrors in the Lovecraftian vein. All the magic in the game is rituals to summon, bind and punish these creatures. Add to this the existence of psionics and you have a distinctly unorthodox fantasy game.

Most reviewers have spent much time talking about the magic rules. Personally I don't find them worthy of that many words. You age, you have to roll saves and you wont know until too late if you failed. The rules are businesslike and not anything special. The reason Carcosa is available in a censored edition is that the descriptions of the rituals of sorcery are fairly gross. That is gross as in descriptions of murder, sacrifice, mutilation and other unwholesome deeds. It's very matter of fact and not gratuitous. Sure it's gross, but if you complain about that you should take a long hard look around the real world, and think about if you shouldn't take action to alleviate misery and dehumanizing behaviour there before you get all worked up over a game. Censorship don't belong in a open society. I bought the original edition for a reason.

What I find most interesting with the game is the fact that you get a map, with keyed encounters and findings for all the hexes! Not only will you get a new summoning based magic system, psionics rules, a new funky die roll mechanic and technological items (more on those in a second), you will also have somewhere to go and something to interact with. Make no mistake, though. There's no listing of nations, rulers, population density and trade routes. You will get a map and a list of what's in those hexes. Go wild.

So what was that about new ways to roll dice, and funky tech? Let me tell you. The designer of Carcosa have decided to do something interesting with dice. All damage rolls are variable! All hit points are also variable! Sometimes you will fight a spawn of Shub-Niggurath with 15 hitpoints and sometimes it might be 3. I really like that. A bit more funky is the fact that you roll all kinds of dice to determine damage, but the d20 will tell you (look up a short table) which of them is used! This will mean that carefullness is rewarded, and that when you attack you want to stock the odds in your favour and be ready to run. The result is a game where the world sometimes hate you, and it is prudent to take advantage of the days when fortune smiles upon you. It has a certain bleak charm to it. Frankly, bleak is what it is most of all, Carcosa.

Apart from that, I find the existence of Space Aliens, and alien technology to be the most jarring, and potentially most cool oddity in a very odd game. That is odd as in the existence of protoplasmic entities summoned by grisly murder and at the same time robots, androids and other technological artifacts from a retro style comic book science fiction. I can't decide if I find it amazing or just baffling.

Worth noting is that there are no immediate reasons for adventue in this world. Most of the monsters have no or little treasure and those technological artifacts might be the best shot at treasure.

So, why sould you get this game? Well, I'm kind of unsure who the audience would be for this game. Many of the gamers who like classic D&D style fantasy shun tech like the plague. Add to that the very gloomy world were most monsters are terrors who will drive you insane, turn to goo or just eat you will mean a very special kind of fantasy. That being said, if you like post apocalyptic games, or fantasy tinged with horror you might get lot of inspiration from this little booklet. There's not much art, and it looks like something designed in 1974, but Geoffrey sells it for a lot less than you would imagine, considering the amount of stuff it contains.

Go take a look! It is, if nothing else, innovative and a different mix of things we these days don't expect in our fantasy. It's a potent brew.

Finally an important message:

Friday, October 9, 2009

RPG Blog II Friday Discussion - How do I feel about weather in my game?

Zach over at RPG Blog II have decided to start off today with some nice weather based discussion. I felt like rambling, so I made a post of it.

RPG Blog II: Friday Discussion: Using The Seasons And Weather In Your Game

My latest campaign didn't make much use of weather, since most of the time the players where underground anyway! But, I do remember when I first got the idea of using weather in a game.

Back when I was younger than today, there was an expansion published for the biggest FRPG in Sweden, Drakar & Demoner. (yeah, it looks a lot like dungeons and dragons, doesn't it?) That expasion Gigant, included a whole chapter on weather, and even included a nifty little sheet you could fill out, depending on in which climate zone your campaign took place. We gobbled it up (with every other optional rule there was) and from then on rolled for weather every day.

Since then it has been less common for me, but I have never really stopped using it. I used weather charts from Rolemaster in one campaign (BRP based game hacked into a Rolemaster hybrid. Really!), and even used the Wildeness Survival Guide for AD&D (for which some grumpy old men have an irrational hatred) in one campaign.

The thing is, when playing a game where treat the wilderness as anything more than just a highway, weather effects are cruicial to make the experience of the wild come alive, I think. What you do in a wilderness camapaign is to test your mettle against the elements, and to not include weather would like not letting monsters attack more than one PC at a time! Just to easy!

Why do I feel there has to be rules for weather then? I'll be frank and say that it's a lingering fondness for realism. Also, I bet most of us would never let it rain as often as it does in real life. Then I'm also pretty sure than if you are getting really hosed but weather once, or suffer silly amount of luck, it will coincide much better if it's all randomized. Roll some dice and have fun, eh?

Reading T&T 7.5 - Talents p.31-35

Welcome back to Tunnels & Trolls Friday! Today I will focus on a new feature of 7th ed, namely Talents. Skill systems have been grafted onto Tunnels & Trolls since way back. Michael Stackpole wrote one that's included in the 5.5 printing, I've been told (my 5th ed is from 1979), and many lesser know designers have done so for their home campaigns. Talents is a idea in that vein, but by Ken St. Andre.

Back when I was a strong critic of all class based game systems, I used to think that since every character of a specific class at a specific level were basically all the same, and that it was boring. The system of Feats which were introduced in D&D 3rd ed. was to me a boon. Now you could finally differentiate your hero from everyone else! It turned out to be much more complicated than that, unfortunately. The Talents of T&T, though, have a similar function to make your imaginary persona a bit special. Lucky for us, the mechanics are way simpler. Even elegant.

Our designer mentions on page 31 how you can use Saving Rolls to make anything happen in a T&T session. Not until page 99 will we get a description how to make those rolls (SR for short) but here in this section Ken manages to descrive their general utility better than the section where they are the subject of discussion! So, since you can roll a SR for anything, why do you need Talents? Well, it isn't really argued in the rule text why. Well, there is that suggestion to the player to imagine what skill there are that defines who or what your character are, and to use that as a Talent. I'd say that their main utility is to make you special. It's chrome, really. Anything you can do with a SR can be a Talent. I like the idea.

When we get to the meat of the rules, we encounter some oddities. In the example we have a Rogue who takes Thievery as his Talent. Looking to see what it says in the description for the Rogue Type, we see that a newly created Rogue has to take Roguery as the first Talent! The example is thus breaking the rules. It makes you wonder if that rule was written later, and the example not modified. While we are talking about rules, I am wondering if the concept can't be taken further. Since your rating in a Talen will be determined randomly at creation and never changed, you might end up with a 1 or a 6. With a higher and higher attributes as you gain levels it will be less and less of an issue, but it feels like an itch I'd like to scratch.

In Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes by Michael Stackpole (still for sale from Flying Buffalo, and there's a solo written by Dave Arneson available! What are you waiting for? Go grab it, and tell Rick I sent you.),  you can level up your skills. It would probably be possible to do the same for Talents. How about this? One way would be to put a tick mark beside the Talent when used, and when you have used it as many times as you have ranks in it, pay 100 AP and raise it by one. Possibly 100 x Rank. Well. Let me know if you try it out.

Another cool House Rule would be to not base Talents on a specific ability, but letting the situation dictate. Thanks Dalton for that one!

What I really likes about Talents, and I do like them, is things like page 33 where Ken really shows us how to take a trait and do a cool stunt, even in combat where the use of Talents wont work to just boost your combat ability. More examples like this in the chapter about SRs and people might take notice why we T&T junkies harp on about how cool the SR mechanic is.

So a Talent will set you apart, but will also boost your ability to be extra good at once special thing. Take not that when asked about their Talents, my players managed to be creative (mind you, you can make up anything, there's no list!) and one of them took Cooking! Belive it or not, it can be used both in combat, business and interacting with monsters. Talents are pure roleplaying opportunity in a box.

Let me finish off with a quote from the rules about Talents. Ken writes: "Saving Rolls against a Talent may be called for by either the GM or the player." Maybe it should not be necessary to put that in the rules, but it's still good to see it. You have a cool idea? Go for it! Say Yes or roll the dice. Heck, roll some dice anyway.

Next week: Levels!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A comment about my Traveller experience

I've realized that maybe I should not have tried to be so subtle. The medium isn't good for subtleties. So, what I felt might need clarification about my former post about Traveller is that it was consciously written with a subjective view of things.

Naturally not everyone will be feeling bored after reading through the Traveller trading rules, and thinking about Accounting! It was my way of showing how my disenfranchised mental process went along. I'm aware that some people like accounting. My problem was more along the line, why did I get enthusiastic about this in the first place?

Something else have occured to me as I've been thinking about the relation between expectation, rules, actual play and the social space that gaming is. Gregor Huttons elegant game 3:16 Carnage Among the Stars is another game where issues like this might affect the game. Taking a look at that game, it looks like it's all about rolling a d10 under your FA and then you killed some aliens. Lather, rinse and repeat. It's not a very exciting game when presented like that. Still, it can be very cool. I think I've gathered as much from reading what Gregor himself posted on The Forge, that if they players are not getting in the spirit of the game that is all you'll get. Roll d10, roll damage and why is this supposed to be worthy of awards? Buy in, baby. From everyone, GM included. If only we could make it happen by writing it in the rule book...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

More thoughts about rules and play

I have been listening to the podcast Theory From the Closet lately. In it, Clyde interviews Mike Holmes and Mike Mearls in two episodes. I have forgotten why I downloaded just those, but in tandem they turned out to be very interesting indeed.

Clyde and Mike Holmes were talking about reward mechanisms in play, and Mike said some things that stuck in my mind. He mentioned that these days he prefers to design without the idea of a reward mechanism, since playing the game should ideally be rewarding in itself. Instead he felt that the best way to entice players, which is one thing reward mechanisms are used for, is to have a cool mechanic that players want to use. Players wont get to collect gold and treasure, the characters will. Simple, yet so poignant.

The other interview brought up the concept of skills challenges. Those who have seen me post on the subject of D&D 4th ed knows that I'm no fan, and that I feel Mike Mearls is barking up the wrong tree. But, having listened to the man, I realize that the man might have different views than me, but he has good reasons and some design ideals I even share!

They might be clunky, and look severely out of place, but Mearls explained that skill challenges were thought of a way to make skills have consequences, and to make a framework where you could use that skill check to mean something, depending on circumstance. Add to that the design intent to let people be more creative than just rolling if they have the skill asked for, is a nice idea. Critics of skill systems would of course say that without any skills at all that would be even easier. While I belive that to be true, to some extent, I also know that having a framwork will make it easier to make a ruling.

Now imagine we combine these two thoughts. Just imagine we have a mechanic which is so cool everyone really want to use it. Let's imagine us having a situation where playing the game is the reward. Maybe this situation is set up with science fiction trappings, and you have a very complete but elegant system to interact with. Suddenly you might find yourself Across the Bright Face, rolling skills and enjoying it.

The question is of course what to do when that situation don't feel like something so cool you want to be there. Without going for too deep into jargon, I think I found myself having a clash of rules as simulation, rules as pure game and then me envisioning immersion in a secondary world. All of that usually wont fit in the same box at the same time. I think I'm onto something why I don't have fun with Traveller.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Uther was dutch! Awesome Blackmoor archeology by James Mishler!

I just read James Mishler's awesome post of Blackmoor archeology, where we takes a closer look at the sources of inspirations Dave might have used. It's fairly convincing, and fun to boot! I had read, some way back, that Dave mentioned a "Dutch map" as the source for Blackmoor, and James shows up how it could have been done. Personally I know how the original Wilderness maps looks like, but to say that the map in The First Fantasy Campaign is surely is Bob Bledsaw's work is beyond my capabilities. I do trust James when it comes to maps and familiarity with Bob, though.

For anyone curious about RPG history, or the development of the campaign where our hobby evolved, this is a must-read post my friends!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Traveller - boring and still excellent

A few days back, I found a whole box of science fiction rpgs in my basement. I opened it up, and when I looked inside I realized that there was no point in me bringing them all up to the apartment. In fact, I realized that my extensive Traveller collection was of no interest to me. Well, you see, I love to read about that game. It's also a game which I love to think about. But, it's a game which just bores me when I try to play it, and sometimes even when I read it. Still, it's an excellent game!

So. Why doesn't it work for me? I think I might finally have understood why.

Looking at two things, it will become clear why I think I've found out why Traveller wont make me tick. If you have any of the adventures for Traveller published by GDW, take one of them out and look at it. Chances are that in the booklet in front of you, there are descriptions of a vehicle of some kind. There's a very high probability it's a spaceship. Since it's a science fiction game, there will be space ships. Nothing odd. Then there are probably a list of personnel of that spaceship, and some text describing the capabilites of said vehicle and where in the Third Imperium it can be found and what it might be doing there. Maybe it migh even be a tracked terrain vehicle, and it is in one place and has to be driven to another place. You start to feel excited about this adventure yet?

Then, secondly, let's take a look at the rules of the game. We can skim most of it, but look a bit closer on those bits about space combat and trading goods in space. The space combat system is different in every edition I've read. Nobody seem to like the rules of their predecessors. One thing seem to be common through all of them, though. None of them say much about what happen to the people involved, i.e. it's fairly abstract and board gamey. Looking at the rules for trade, and keeping the rules about the cost of running a spaceship in mind, we see the same trend there. I get the feeling I see a complex field like economy rendered into simpler rotes you can follow, and while it might look like filing your tax return it is called a game. Are you excited about this kind of thing?

So. My problem is that I have played Traveller, and realized it wasn't having much fun. I guess the easy way to handle that would be to just stop doing that unfun thing and leave it be. Naturally, I had to figure out why it wasn't fun, since I wanted it to be so. Playing something else would not let me get rid of the lingering ache that it could have been fun, if I only did it right!

My two examples above of things which rubbed me the wrong way always looked insular to me, but now I think I see a commonality. Playing the rules is what are supposed to make it fun!

The adventure where I'm not seeing interesting tensions between NPCs with goals and ambitions, or plots and stories waiting to be unfolded, are to be used in a different way than I expect them to. This is confirmed when I look at those other issues. When I see chores which looks like homework, some other gamer will see something else. Probably interesting abstract shapes to be manipulated and combined according to specific set of rules in order to create new shapes and forms which in themselves have beauty, but also as an aesthetic act in itself. Playing the rules is what are supposed to make it fun!

Maybe my big problem with Traveller is that it seem to lack some sex, melodrama, sweat and emotion. I'm not saying it can't be brought to the game! It sure can. The thing is, I know that I've met people who think the great fun with a fantasy game (like, say D&D) is to move their character like a chess piece and optimize its potential and utilize its resources in order to gain tokens which show the success of that process. Like, killing things effectively with a minimum of resources to gain as much XP and gold as possible. Lather, rinse and repeat.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that. But, what I am saying is that while nothing ever stopped me from doing that while as the same time engaging in immersion and talking in funny voices and taking decisions which were sub-optimal since they were based on "in character" emotions and impressions. I don't need rules telling me it is ok to do that. But, for some reason it is just not happening as easy in Traveller. In fact, I think the rules are in some places (like the trading and spaceship economics) written in a way which makes me think it never struck the designers as a possibility that you would want to do that. While being fairly bare bones, the rules of Traveller 1977 makes me think of the straight jacket school of design I associate with D&D 4th ed! Sketchy and everything nailed down at the same time.

I still think Traveller is an excellent game. For example, I think the life-path character generation is a stroke of genius! Great fun for a gamer without a group of her own, and also a marvellous way to build a back story for your in game persona. Also, the idea that you start the game as skilled and mature is a novel and great idea. There are so many things I like about this game. But, that adventure Across the Bright Face, brought home to me that the game was designed with a different perspective than mine. There are nobody to interact with during the whole adventure except the other player characters. The game can very easy be a long string of skill rolls to untangle the group from external threats you encounter during the trek. Maybe you even have to figure out as a player some novel use of skills and equipment to solve problems, but it is still a string of skill rolls. It's the ultimate victory of "rollplay" over "roleplay". Now, it has been said that you can make any game sing with the right players and attitude, but I must confess I don't understand what I need to bring to the table to make this game work. It's definitely not just gathering a bunch of "story gamers" and start gaming. For some reason the game just bends my effort into its own path and I find myself where I don't want to be.

While the situation probably isn't unsolvable, my box of science fiction rpgs will stay in the basement. Rifts, TORG, Fading Suns just work for me, but Traveller will collect dust a while longer.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Reading T&T 7.5 - Adventure Points p.29-30

Welcome back to T&T Friday! Today I'll talk mostly about Adventure Points, and also a bit about the small interspersed pieces of game mastering advice the author have sprinkled his text with.

Our read through today start at page 29. Here we finish up the character generation by mentioning some things apart from abilities and kin which would have to go unto the character sheet.

Adventure Points is the first. What is interesting with those, apart from how fun it is to see your character get better, is how they are presented here in which is really the player's part of the rules. Ken writes:
They are the most mysterious aspect of life on Trollworld -- it is as though the gods themselves were keeping track of the players' actions and scoring them, handing out rewards and occationally punishments for all actions undertaken during the course of one's adventures.
This is a very fun attitude, I think. There's no pretense here about any simulation of a secondary world. Adventure points are given by the gods, and they are an interesting mix up of the reality of the game and the reality of the players. A quote like this succinctly encapsulates the feel of the rules text.Note that it also gives you a hint of how to play the game! Just like the gods award their followers, sometimes giving and taking, you as a GM and player can anticipate the AP to come and go. Play loose and reward actions, good and bad. I like the implication here that your actions have consequences, in a lighthearted way. You play a game and try to score points. Simple enough.

Then there are mentions of Weapons, Armor, Languages, Magic and Equipment. All of this is self explanatory stuff, really. What is interesting, though, is that under Armor there is a hint of something from a former edition. Back in the days, armor was ablative. It meant that when you took damage the armor absorbed it for you, but got hurt in the process. While the idea of damaged armor is mentioned here in an off-hand remark, I think an opportunity is missed by not mentioning that armor effect as a boxed note, or something, for the GM to use an an interesting optional rule. I'm beginning to think that the game would have benefitted from a section for players and another for Game Masters. The fact that e.g. AP is explained and expanded upon on p.102 almost gives this impression, but in a more confused manner. I'd have liked to see it done more purposefully.

Lastly before the big section on Talents, we have a short but interesting section on encumbrance and how it affects the life on Trollworld. The idea of tracking weight is "for the purists in the audience", and I must confess I ditched that rule myself in my campaign. What is interesting here is first that Ken mention the old Weight Units (1/10 of a pound) which have been in the game for many editions, but we get no real reason not to just use kilos or pounds. Secondly, we have a paragraph about how this affects people in Trollworld:
the delvers of Trollworld have developed wonderful packs for stowing stuff, and their clothing is full of all sorts of pockets, pouches, belts with hooks, and so forth. It's funny to visualize, but the heavily laden dungeon delver probably looks more like a boy scout leader buried under packs and gear than he does a medieval warrior.
I can't emphasize enough how that picture evokes the wonder of delving for me! No "dungeon punk" attitude with spikes and impossible poses. For a game that is so unashamedly a game, with its wacky logic, this for me gives a stamp of "realism" to it. Don't sweat the details, but imagine how fun this looks, eh? I like that.

Next up: Talents!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Some good advice on impromtu game mastering found

After my somewhat rambling post about being empty headed when preping and my random thoughts about how to cope, I found this good piece of advice on the  The Dice of Life blog. As if that wasn't enough, it turns out there are more! When I bought Savage Worlds, I did it because the idea of a game that was smooth enough for a busy adult could be just right. That attitude is, apparently, something I'm not alone to like. I'll try out some of that advice really soon. Wish me luck.

How to plan an adventure successfully when uninspired

So how do you make a campaign, or an adventure then? I've seen many bloggers talk about sandboxes, and sometimes I think they are treated like the only way to really play old school. It might be true (but I don't think so), but it sure isn't the only way to do it.

Every campaign needs a setting, NPCs and players. That much is clear, and how to combine those elements is the hard part.

What is an adventure then?

A string of encounters? A time line with things that happen? NPCs with motives and agendas? A plot with things that will happen at certain times when certain NPCs explore those agendas?

I've found that adventures with a plot have the nice feature that social gamers can follow along just fine, and character actors can act out their little persona and be happy. It is a very good way to make the game into that proverbial railroad, which potentially is very unfun. Otherwise it can be great. I have done this before.

Another way of doing things, the sandbox referred to in the beginning, is to fix up a setting with sites to explore and then sit back and let the players tell you what they want to do. Do that with social gamers or character actors and watch your game grind to a halt and be taken over by monologues before grinding to a halt. Very unfun.

I have now lately been running a site based game, with a dungeon as a flowchart of encounters, more or less disconnected. With players who have some kind of driving force to explore it works just fine. I could imagine that those players who love interacting with NPCs don't like it that much, though.

While nothing of this is new, I have been thinking lately that I'd like to run this or that game, and found out that without having any idea of what kind of players I have, it's very hard for me to prepare! No shit, Sherlock, eh? Well, the thing is, I have been thinking all along that I don't adapt much to my different players and that was something I should get better at. This is a time for rediscoveries.

So, who do you run your game for? Yourself? Will it help you to prepare, if you don't have to care about what kind of players you'll get? Or, do you run your game for your players, but don't know about it? How do you then make them work, without explicitly engaging your players in the campaign design?

I have realized that since I have never involved my players in planning an adventure I must either have been very lucky, or did something else correct. Sadly it kind of make it work less for me like now when I'm stuck and uninspired, since it was all done unconsciously. Something I read in Alternity might be a way out.

Since I don't have my Alternity books handy, this will be a summary of the idea from memory. In that game the GM chapter on encounters talk about Combat Encounters, Interpersonal Encounters and Challenge Encounters or something like that. Unless I have it mixed up with some other GM advice, they basically said that these three kind of encounters should be in a good game in an even mix. Alternity had a very good GM book, I think, so maybe it can be used for this dilemma of mine. The idea for me would to prepare a bunch of encounters of each kind, and toss a few at them and see what sticks. I'm beginning to wonder if I might have reinvented what's called "Bangs" in Forge-speak?

Well. I hope it works.

Oh! By the way, Cthulhu.
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