Sunday, December 22, 2013

Using the right tool for the job

Yesterday I was browsing my collection of game books. Some of them I don't read that often, and almost forgets about. I have a few...

My eyes fell on GURPS Black Ops, and it piqued my interest. Who doesn't like the idea of truly badass characters taking on monsters? I figured it would be fun to read some of it, and maybe import some ideas into a game some day. When I came to the section about building characters I paused for a second.

Characters in Black Ops are built on 700 points. For those of you who don't know much about GURPS, I checked the core rules about campaign scales, and there it said 500 pts is "Superhuman". Cinematic action is the name of the game.

This is where I got reminded of why it is a good idea to use the right tools for the job.

In the book there are five templates of 650 pts you can use as base for your character. They are the Combat Op, Intelligence Op, Science Op, Security Op, Technology Op. Sounds like it covers all the bases in the genre, right? What gave me cause for doubts was what was on those pages.

Those templates all took up one page each, with about an inch at the top with the stats, Disadvantages and Advantages. The rest was three columns of text listing skills, and taking the illustrations into account it was maybe two full columns on the average. I counted the skills on one template, and it was about a hundred. 100. Yes. 100!

If you have that many skills, how are you even going to find the ones you need?! Why list all those? I've never seem anything so unwieldy in a game before. It would have been easier to list what was missing instead. Sure, the idea is to play super competent characters being really awesome. But, will that list really help you do that? What you really want to express is how cool you are, and how many cool things that character can do. It just screams out to be simplified. Mayve into some kind of system of skill categories, or even in a more daring move, reduced to Aspects like they use in FATE.

Here I think we see one indication this kind of game is not best modelled in GURPS. 

The next thing I noticed was the ratings of those skills. In GURPS you roll 3d6 and try to roll below your skill rating. Personally I cry foul when I see characters which break the ceiling of the system. These templates ranged from 12 to 22. Yes, roll below 22 on 3d6. Foul. Something is broken there, even if the list had been a fifth the size is was.

Here I think wesee another indication this kind of game is not best modelled in GURPS.

I've seen that kind of stuff in other games, sadly more than once. One example was this system which used roll low and a d20, i.e. a percentile system divided by 5 and less granular. This NPC I think of had 40 in some skills and spells, i.e. 200%!

If you want to play cinematic action, the best tool is probably not a game system that focuses on realism and detailed simulationism. You probably want to use FATE, or Savage Worlds.

This I think is also why the idea of a generic system is a failure. The idea is beautiful, and the amount of "generic" systems in my collection tells the long story of that strong allure of having one system for all your games. But, the sad fact is that you have to tweak and adapt a system to the style and setting you are using. Some games can be changed more or less easily and after a while it will become clear that you would have saved time using a system tailored for the experience you want. if you see numbers like 200% in a percentile game, or 34 in a d20 based one, then it's time to look for a better tool for the job.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Some thoughts on veils and lines

Today I was listening to an episode of the podcast Saving the Game, and they were discussing the terms lines and veils. These come from the Sorcerer supplement Sex and Sorcerer.  The idea is that in your play group you might have themes that one of the players or the GM feel is uncomfortable to bring up at the gaming table, and veils are things that might crop up, with it wont be played out in detail. Naturally, in Ron Edwards book he talks mostly about sex.

When I listened at the podcast I started to wonder about the things the hosts listed as their personal lines and veils. Naturally they talked about sex, but also about other things. What made me think was when they brought up torture.

Personally I find torture really horrifying. It dehumanizes both the perpetrator and the victim, and it's useless for information gathering so it's basically just a power game. Still, it happens in games. But, more to the point, it happens in real life.

So, should you just ignore such icky stuff in your game? Should you maybe include it, and face it and through play explore what it does to people and include it as a motivator for stopping the bad guy/gal?

This reminds me of when I first started playing Dogs in the Vineyard. Our GM noticed that some of the things we as dogs encountered was making me shrink back and try to do ignore, maybe hoping to push it into the lap of some other player. Naturally he saw me squirm and pushed it harder towards me, forcing the issue and forcing me to make a stand. It was an awesome session. Someone might consider this a dick move, but I was playing God's emissary with power over life and death. There was a Situation going on, demanding me to act, and it made for a better game when I was forced out of my comfort zone.

So, how about that torture thing?

I can look at my visitor statistics and find that a large percentage of my visitors are living in a country that practice torture, and where people in the highest political levels have shown their support for the practice. Are you really cool with that? Would it be a good thing for you, if this applies to you, to be forced into that same situation I was in when I was playing Dogs? It did make me take a closer look at who I am and how I act.

I guess the answer is, it depends. I had signed up to play Dogs in the Vineyard. I knew what I was getting into, and wanted hard choices. Most people don't want to play that way.

The idea of having Lines and Veils, and talking them over before your game might be a good idea. To make sure you are on the same page, and so the GM can go all in after that, and not have to pull any punches. She knows you can take it. Sometimes, just sometimes, it might be worth thinking about those lines and where they are drawn in the sand.

I know for a fact that if I ever run Kult again, there will be no lines or veils. Then I will mess with my players, and if they squirm I will push harder to blow through beyond any lines. I know that something interesting will come out the other side.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Saturday Night thoughts on the sparsely populated dungeon

It's Saturday night, and I feel a Saturday Night Special feeling coming over me.

Some of you might have read my last post on dense Gygaxian dungeons. Given it is Saturday I got to thinking about those places that make the subterranean underworld its flair, and those moments of "sensawunda". Let me quote you from the 5th ed. Tunnels & Trolls rule book.

"Let your imagination go wild - you can do anything you want because this is your creation. Put in a lot of stuff - nobody likes a dull dungeon. "
So, populating your dungeon. I know some people likes the idea of a big underground labyrinth where there are one third empty rooms or something like that. Each to his own. I don't say I don't like to play that way. But, I've come to realize that I'm no longer fond of creating dungeons like that.

I love to invent those crystal waterfalls, devious traps, combat encounters with multiple co-operating foes or locales of majestic proportions and awe inspiring weirdness. Putting down corridors of nothing on graph paper is no longer fun.

Sure, I could use a computer to generating it for me, but I would not find it fun to run either. What I would like to have is a way to make those slow moving bits be outsourced to  a second GM and then I could step in a run the Saturday Night Specials. Maybe. Is there a way to get it all?

I'm beginning to feel I understand what Ken St. Andre wrote above and how well it applies to me. I don't like a "dull" dungeon. It would be cool, though, if you could just rattle off some twists, turns and empty rooms without bother to have the first part make sense or be ever repeatable (like for backtracking out of the dungeon or repeat visits), and then dive into it. Too bad I like the idea of repeat visits to the dungeon. I would never be able to improvise the same map twice.

If that could be done, I'd be very happy.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gamer ADD strikes again

I had just decided that I needed to capitalize on the enthusiasm I had left from JackerCon and run an online Hangout game of my own. I found an old favourite on my shelves, Tomb of Abysthor, and decided it would be suitable for a Delving Deeper game. After browsing the module a bit I found that maybe I should have a lead in adventure to bump up the participants to level two. Once again I went to the shelves and found DCC #31. All set. Except that I felt I needed to have a settlement next to the dungeon for refreshing hitpoints, buy potions and suchlike. Guess what? I grabbed my copy of the Kingdoms of Kalamar campaign setting and now I feel I have to read that 300 page book to find a good place to set the dungeon. Argh!

I wonder if I'm making this too hard?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Different Old Schools - dense or sparse maps

I was listening to a podcast talking about that famous picture of EGG running a game at a con, sitting with a dense map in front of him and a very terse key. I think almost every aspect about that map and its implications have been talked about, but some of that just now filtered down to me.

If you have a dungeon where there are rooms everywhere, and the map is that dense, there wont be much space for some things. If you look at many published maps in the blogging community of the old ways, they most often don't look like that. We often do maps with variation in room sizes, some oddly shaped ones and some hallways connecting sections of the level. You know the drill. Gary's map is just crammed full of fairly small rooms.

Imagine if you will a section of the level taken over by gnolls. They might have made one room a lair, another treasury and maybe a larder where you can free some captives, useful for stocking up on PC alternatives if death does occur. Did you see what I did there?

If you have rooms that looks like an abandoned throne room, you will have a gnoll lord sitting there. But, if your dungeon is just crammed with small rooms, you probably never get that 'naturalistic' feel. If your dungeon is more labyrinth than anything else, the kind of play we call player skill is something different that I have been thinking about all this time. Sure, it's skill when you take note of resources, map carefully to note when there's a gap in there indicating a hidden room. But, if the layout makes no sense, then exploring and mapping to make sense of what's "down there" wont make sense. At least not they way I thought about it. 'Naturalism' is not about dungeon layout, in Gary's example.

Some years ago I heard about Ken St. Andre's dungeon Gristlegrim, and though it peculiar. Ken had done a bunch of dungeon rooms on index cards, when they players walked around the dungeon he grabbed another room from the pile. I thought it made the idea of a dungeon moot, since you could not map it and you could not "make sense" of it. Now I realize that maybe that was not so different from Gary's densely packed paper of small rooms in a labyrinth. Labyrinths was never fun, in my book. After you wandered around in the coal mine in Zork, and realized you had to drop stuff to make the similar looking room distinguishable I think the labyrinth had served its purpose.

I think I prefer some kind of naturalism to my dungeons, even though I now think Gristlegrim makes more sense. It's probably more like Castle Greyhawk and the Jakallan Underworld than my dungeons are.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Making Star Wars feel like Star Wars

After thinking about how some science fiction novels differ from my sf gaming, and how a simple western can be told very differently, my attention turns to Star Wars.

If you've read what I've posted here lately, you might recall that I was thinking of running a session of D6 Star Wars for the kids. I've taken out my rulebook, and read the basic mechancs, the combat and now also the GM advice chapter.

In the latter, the text tries to tell you how to transfer the experience of watching the Star Wars movies (back then there was only three) from the medium of film, into the medium of a rpg. That is, just the migration I was struggling with before. Some things have struck me as interesting in this part of the book. I'll summarize some of the advice in the GM chapter, and write some of my impressions from those. I'd say there are two big things they concentrate on. The first one is mood, tone and feel in general and the second one is rules. There are also some advice on presentation, which I found extra interesting.

In order to make the game feel like a SW movie, they suggest you make sure to do like in the movies. There are droids in the movies, make sure there are droids in your game. There are aliens in the movies, so make sure there are aliens in your game. They even cite some scenes that showcase some of those things, and urge the reader to try to capture that same "wow" feeling you got when you saw it in the films. These are the trappings, and tropes, which makes it "it". I totally see how that can work. Imagine a game about Middle Earth without hobbits, and you miss out on some of the most iconic things about Middle Earth. So, bring lots.

How all those are used is also mentioned. There is a specific way to tell a story in Star Wars. Scenes are introduced in the middle of the action, the pace is quick and the canvas is broad and the scope is epic. Also, there is a story. I'd say that the wandering murder hobo is far removed from the feel of Star Wars. While the idea of tropes makes sense, I think this is quite key in order to make a property that is not originally made for rpgs work. In a film there is a structure to the telling of the tale, and you probably need to at least simulate that or give the feel of it to make if feel right. Maybe here is where my sf stories in games and the ones I read about differ.

Then there are the presentation. I found it quite interesting to read that they suggested the introduction to an adventure be a short script the players read out/act out before they jump feet first into the first scene. I wonder, did anyone take that and ran with it? I've never heard of it, but it's an intriguing idea. The idea to use establishing shots and cut scenes, where the GM basically presents the narrative like a film does it, is cool and quite different from most rpgs. In the book they even suggest you narrate things the PCs can't see or know, to build tension and structure to the narrative. This I have actually tried myself in a Star Wars game me and a few friends did at a convention many years ago. It worked nicely, I think. Maybe this is what's needed to make it feel cinematic, in the truest sense of the word.

Lastly then, the rules. Most of us who have been around are aware of the idea of utilizing the rules to support or hinder a style of play. Three things I found interesting is this section. First off the book emphasize the need to avoid anti-climax. This is paired with the suggestion that failure is good. I think this is probably a good way to get that free flowing feeling of "keep the action fast" they advocate. Sure, you might have failed your roll, but that just mean we have some new dramatic tension for the next wild stunt coming up. But, of course, this is where rpgs in general differ from other media. It almost never happen in a book or a film that a protagonist fails. If they fail they often get another chance or the next scene adds something that changes the conditions. Still, it pays to remember it. Then there's the last thing, mentioned more than once. Fudge the rules. This is not a game where they suggest that "the dice fall as they may", and I think that in order to make it feel like Star Wars, they are right.

Compare this to how things work in Dramasystem, or Gumshoe where Robin D Laws has designed systems according to resource management for the player to get "screen time" and be able to shine. In WEG Star Wars they go so far as to mention the "illusion of free will", and I think it ties in with the suggestion to fudge the dice rolls. I have fairly limited experience with both Robin's designs and the D6 system, even though I have played them. But, I to the feeling of being, "in there" and participating far more when I rolled dice. Rolling dice and the GM fudging things so they do not contradict the dice, but also don't follow it slavishly, made for a fun game. Actually I think it makes for a funnier game than the two systems mentioned above by Robin D Laws. I think I will get back to this. It might only be me.

I think here are some really core points for translating the narrative from one medium like film to a rpg. Many times I've heard that this GM advice chapter is one of the best written, and I think it is indeed really good. I'm not sure all of them can be used to make True Grit into and awesome rpg session, but some might do.

I really need to make this Star Wars game for the kids happen, because now I'm really pumped up about this game!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

More thoughts on the impact of a story

In my former post on the matter, I mused about how different the impact a really good science fiction novel had on me, compared to a game session. Thinking a bit more on that, I think that maybe I have confused what makes the different art forms work. I know that often when I hear Robin D Laws talk about game design, or when I read some of his newer games, I feel he is often talking about how to model this or that narrative from film or tv. It often makes me cringe, since I feel that he seems to be mixing water and oil.

Having thought about it, I am wondering if I was doing the same. Maybe a novel and a rpg game are two different arts, producing two very different expressions which really don't translate from one to the other. Staggering insight, I know. I have read "novelizations" of games and it usually reads quite terrible. Maybe the idea to transfer a well structured narrative in a novel into a co-created narrative of a game session is just as terrible. You can do it, but more often than not the players are then just along for the ride, and the payoff still isn't that great.

Then there's the movies. In True Grit by the Cohen's, there are some scenes which utilize the screen space marvellously well. They basically make the most of a medium which is visual. A RPG session on the other hand is verbal. A book also is verbal, and I think that fooled me into thinking they are thus related. But, spoken words and written words are very different. So different that translating from one to the other sometimes does makes you hurt.

What could we then do? Anything?

I'm thinking about the Star Wars rpg. For me that means the WEG d6 based game, and I have no problem with any other Star Wars game, but that's what I've read. Yeah, I'm showing my age. In that game there was a lot of advice on how to run a game that felt like the movies did. It might surprise you, but back then there was only three movies. Weird, eh? Where was I? Oh, gamemaster advice. Yes, the advice was about the feel of the movies, not the qualities that made the movies film, their visual impact. No, it was the pacing and the turns and twists of capture and breaking free again to chase down the next plot point. Those qualities you can actually translate into a rpg.

It will probably take me forever, but my next challenge will be to try to find the feel of Karl Schroeder's Permanence and see if there is anything there that can be translated, in feel. At least it helps to know what you're looking for.

Final impressions of the review mess at DTRPG

After posting my last post about the featured reviews at DTRPG I have gotten lot of really good feedback. I thought I wanted to wrap some of it up, even though the conversation probably need to continue about the relationship between producer, reviewer and potential buyer.

So, it seems like even though reviews giving less than top marks has been discouraged at DRTPG, it no longer seem to be the case. Maybe it was even thought of as a way to impress upon some reviewers the need to actually provide a review. Whatever the case, that was a terrible idea. I think it poisoned the well, and sadly made a lot of honest reviewers suspect. I will have a hard time not being reminded of that if I ever visit DTRPG.

Should you shop there? Well, I've heard more complaints about them, and am no fan of pdf game books, so I will probably be even more wary of them from now on. I dislike the idea of the mobbing a re-seller, but I am also a firm believer in informed decisions when you shop.

But, what is a poor game designer to do when wanting to sell their stuff? I don't know, really. There are some other sellers of electronic game books, but I have no idea what their policy is about reviews and how big a cut they take.

Then I'd like to say that I think that if you signed up to get free stuff in exchange for a review, you should write a review. That's just polite.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What is a review worth? DrivethruRPG in particular

I was reading a blogpost yesterday on The Douchey DM, and it was about the interaction between publishers and podcasters in our hobby. What Stu posted made me really angry. This is the deal.

So, DrivethruRPG did put pressure on their "featured reviewer" to write positive reviews, implying that since they got stuff for free, they had to give it good grades. That, boys and girls, is corruption. It's basically a by the book definition of bribery!

While this was a few years ago, and their policy might have changed, this still is the same company, and that used to be their mode of behaviour. I cry foul.

If any of you out there review things for DrivethruRPG, and give that product you've gotten for free good reviews because you "should", I call on you to stop at once and shamefully crawl under a rock!

For the rest of us, those reviews on DrivethruRPG now means nothing. They are bought, and suspect since none of us know if this policy is still in effect.

I could sit here smoulder in my righteous anger and declare that I will never buy from them again, but I don't by my game books in pdf to begin with. But, I sure wont buy them from Drivethru if I can avoid it! I urge you to do the same.

Download a pirated scan and send a $10 bill to the writer instead, I'd say.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Getting the full impact of the story of a game

I just finished reading Permanence, by Karl Schroeder, today. For those of you who don't know, it's a outer space science fiction story with some intriguing aliens and some cool plot twists and turns, and real sense of wonder.

More than once I've lamented the fact that never have science fiction games turned out like I'd want them. When I finished Permanence I once again got reminded of that, since some parts of that book would work just fine as scenes in a Transhuman Space game. But, the philosophical implications, the inner turmoil of the characters and the way the mysteries of the settings were shadowed in the actions of the protagonists of the novel, those would probably never crop up in a game. Maybe it's a problem for me that the kind of sf I like is hard to recreate in a game. Or is it something else?

A while back I watched the Western remake, True Grit. It was a fabulous movie, with great shots and excellent interplay between the characters as they discovered their own "true grit". They way it was shot, using the scenes and the camera to show distance and closeness was also excellent. Today I saw the original, the True Grit from 1969 with John Wayne. I'm quite fond of many of his western movies. The Searchers, High Noon and Stagecoach I consider some of my favourites of all time. So, here we had the same story told in two different ways, just like the same adventure could play out very differently at two different tables.

That movie was shot very differently. It was always very light, never dark even when it was clearly supposed to be night. The music was so light and merry I almost laughed. After hearing for so long that "this ain't an easy trip, sister", that music totally flipped that impression over into a jolly ride into the wilderness. Surprisingly many of the lines the actors had were identical in the two movies, but they felt quite different. They both basically said the same thing, but it came across in a new way.

So, what does that mean for my longing after the deep impact of Permanence in my science fiction games? Well. I know that I can decide not to play jolly music when it's supposed to be grim, and I can try to describe the inner conflicts in NPCs by their external actions. But, I'm still a far away from capturing that magic. Sometimes you say the same things, and it comes across in a totally different way.

I wonder if I'll solve that riddle.

But, damn do I want to play an Old West game now, or what!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Shaping the next generation

Last night one of my kids told me roleplaying games sounded fun, and it became clear that some kind of "try it out" session with some friends from school had to planned. Imagine that. I'm amazed that it has come to this. Who would have thought that, eh? Maybe having shelves overflowing with games in the living room was a great idea after all.

Since the kids are right now crazy about Star Wars legos, and the Star Wars themed Angry Birds game, they want to play a Star Wars game.

For me there's only one Star Wars game, and it's the WEG one with the d6 pools.

I just grabbed this of the web, not my picture

Time to crack open that rules book and refresh my memory, there's a new generation to make into gamers!

I hope there's some Force around when I need it...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Getting hurt in different games

Since I recently played a game of FATE, I have been searching out other experiences of playing FATE, including listening to podcasts. At the same time, I have been re-reading Dragonquest, which a game quite different from FATE. Today I realized you could consider them side by side, based upon what happens when your character gets hurt in those two games.

In FATE you basically only have two hitpoints. You have two stress boxes for physical hurt, and two for mental hurt. Nothing happens when you tick them. Then you have consequences, which are things that last. I guess that's clear from the name, right? But, what I found intriguing is how those consequences are used.

Since they are Aspects, just like so much else in FATE, they can be invoked. That means they will affect the story and the narrative, and they wont just be points of damage. Now, how does damage works in Dragonquest? Well, you have your points of Fatigue, and you have your Points of Endurance. Depending on how severely you get hit, you dock some points off those. But, here's the thing. If you get hit real bad, you take a Grievous Injury. The interesting thing about them is that they are lasting consequences.

See? How about this. Grievous injury are stuff that will stay with you, and a smart opponent will invoke for effect, eh. I mean, utilize to their advantage.

If you were afraid of New School, don't be. It's all known stuff, eh?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Magic Items in a new light - the Investment ritual of Dragonquest

I have been charmed by all those who fondly talk about SPI's fantasy RPG, and with that glimmer in the eye mention it as the best game they've ever played. So far I have not yet played the game myself, but true to the odd kind of madness that sometimes descend upon me, I have bought not only one, but four copies of the rules! Now I'm reading them again, and began to think on how it differs from D&D.

Probably everyone have heard about delves into the hole in the ground, from whence they brave adventurers then emerge carrying a +1 sword. It's so much part of the tropes of the fantasy rpg these days. As I was sitting with The Haunted Halls of the Eveningstar, thinking about how to run a game in that setting with the Dragonquest rules, I came upon the iconic +1 sword. Now, how would that be modelled in DQ?

Well, I quickly found a spell for enchanting weapons, and it increased the chance to hit, and the damage. Basic and standard stuff. What made me think was the fact that this was a one use spell, and like it always is, the sword in the module was a permanent item.

I dived into the rulebook, and found the Investment ritual. With this you can "invest" a spell into an item so anyone can use it at a later date. Sounds great, right? Now, this is not a permanent item. No, it has a limited amount of charges, and let me tell you, it's not 50 like it is in 3rd ed. D&D! No, the rank the enchanter has gained in the spell is the limiting factor. After looking at some NPCs, and generating some characters of my own I feel fairly confident to say that an item with anything near 50 charges will be so rare as to be almost unique.

So, are there no permanent magic items in this game? Well, in a supplement that was written, but never published called Arcane Wisdom (which can be found by searching around a bit), they included the rules for a permanent investment. I just skimmed it to see if it did what I though it did, and did not check for how expensive it would be to learn. Probably quite. Just the fact that the ritual to create permanent items is not in the core rules felt significant.

Now, some of you might claim that even in, say, AD&D, it was no mean feat to permanently enchant an item. True, but you have noticed that there a dozens of them listed in the DMG, right? They are there, and everyone expect them to be around for the taking.

Now, imagine a D&D game where almost none of the magic items are permanent, and those with a limited amount of charges are likelier to hold 5 charges than 50. You will get a pretty different game!

Just imagine, and maybe try it out. It will be fun to try to run this game one day.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My JackerCon experience - playing FATE

This last weekend there was an online convention being organized among the fans and friends of the Happyjacks RPG podcast. It was all happening on g+, after you signed up on the events posted in timeslots in the podcast forums. Luckily for me, some people scheduled events at a time when it was not in the middle of the night here in Sweden. So, jumped in and played a session in a g+ hangout.

First I had to setup a laptop with a webcam, which I did not have on my main machine. Then I actually did a test hangout with my wife just to understand how it worked. It felt like I had never used a computer before. Finally, I was ready. I can say from the start that it worked quite well, even though it felt a bit awkward to switch from the Roll20 window to the Hangout window to actually see the person speaking. But, all in all I think this marks the beginning of more online play on my part, if I can only manage to get all the duck in a row in the messy world of international gamerdom and timezones.

The game was a secret, only to be revealed when we "sat down at the table" so to speak. Had I known more about the source material I might have been able to immerse myself even more. We played gummi bears. Yes, from the children's cartoon. Silly but funny.

Our GM had decided to run the game using Fate Accelerated Edition, a slimmer version of the recently concluded FATE Core rules release. I have not played FATE before in modern times, and it was great to get the opportunity to try out a new game system. I own the FATE books, but sometimes you get a better perspective on the game not by reading, but by playing it with someone who have ironed out the kinks, and can show how it's done. I love that aspect of convention play, and I'm a bit sad it doesn't seem to be done much in these parts where freeform play is popular in the convention arena.

How did it work? Quite well! We had an aspect that defined our character, a bit like the class define who you are in D&D. Then we had an aspect defined as a trait that would get us into trouble, either with the setting or another character. In general that is a great idea, I think. There were some other abilities, but those were the ones I fixated on. We went nuts and acted like cartoon characters for a couple of hours and laughed a lot. Thanks a lot to the organizers and to our GM Mike!

One thing I though you could grab from FAE, and maybe import into other games. In contrast to FATE Core, you don't have skills but instead have something called Approaches. Since older editions of D&D don't have skills, many have pondered the question of whether that is a feature, or a indication that something is missing. I wont take a firm stand on that question, but for your edification I will tell you something about how Approaches work, and you can decide for yourself if you like to maybe include something like that in your D&D game.

Approaches are basically words that describe how you do things. They are Forceful, Quick, Careful, Clever, Sneaky, and Flashy. So, if you want to bypass a door, you can do it sneakily or forcefully. I guess you see what those two options entail. I think the way you do it in FAE, add your rating in that Approach to your diceroll, might be borrowed to other games. Maybe you have a few points to spread around, or decide one Approach is dominant and the other recessive. It could be a cool way to differentiate that 1 in 6 roll to intimidate someone if you choose to do it your favoured Forceful way, or the Clever way instead. If you roll under your stat with a d20 or 3d6 a bigger bonus than +1/-1 might be used depending on how much you want those Approached to influence play. I think there are interesting possibilities in this system! Fool around with it, and if you try it out, I'd love to hear how it went.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Is it hard to get an online game going?

When g+ was new, I remember how some people hailed it as the future of gamers lacking a group. Now all the online community was open for recruitment. That sounded so good I dived in.

Since then I have tried multiple times to sign up to people wanting to run games, and never has there been anywhere near a full group showing up. Mostly it's just me. Still, since I am stubborn I'm thinking of buying a headset and a web cam and try my luck at recruiting some players of my own. That Delving Deeper game has got to me!

But how do you do it? Have someone written a tutorial to how to set up a g+ event and how to run a hangout game? If anyone reading this has a clue, feel free to enlighten me.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

More freeform magic - Savage Worlds

Just as I wondered about alternative system for the freeform kind of magic of Mage, I suddenly find multiple alternatives! This is just as much a reminder and place holder for myself as it is a tips you you out there. Check out Clint Black's rules for improvised magic for Savage Worlds. They look quite usuable.

I guess Savage Worlds have a reputation for quite pulpy and cinematic action, but looking at how WoD games seems to be played I think it could fit. Personal horror or not, they can't get any less of that by Savaging them, in my opinion.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Freeform Mage system - in BRP?

As I'm presently stressed out, and slightly exasperated by the possibilities of getting a gaming group to schedule a session, I'm dreaming up new cool projects.

I used to think that the first edition of that wild and crazy game Mage had something. The setting was black and white to a fault, and the usual "class system" really created game groups where everyone was an oddball and nothing but metagaming would ever keep that group together.

But, the idea of magic as something as the whole basis of ontology and conscience was mindbogglingly cool. Suddenly everything was magic, and you could totally explore the modern world from that perspective. Except you were supposed to play conservative/reactionary people stuck in a superstitious world view. At least that was how it felt, when it painted the technomancers as the bad guys.

Now I picked up the big time about the Technocracy, and started to read it as if we would start playing those guys instead. I began to see interesting option. But, I was vary of the rules.

So, how about using BRP instead? You could just grab the standard Call of Cthulhu skill list and just add the spheres of magic, couldn't you? Imagine you have skill ratings in the spheres just like any other BRP skill. Then maybe you'll have another skill for actual spell casting and if you wanted to do something you'd allocate percentiles up until you reach your rating in that sphere, and if you want to do something more powerful you'll get Paradox. I have long been thinking it would be cool with a system where you would "bet" your chance of success against your character's limitations, and that would be an interesting way to make that happen.

I will probably never do anything with it, but suddenly I have some weird system hackery to occupy my mind with. Maybe I'll even feel tempted to toss some words into an search engine to find out if someone beat me to it. Maybe. It is more fun to just dream up systems, right?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Delving Deeper boxed set at last

Today I first held in my hand the boxed set of Delving Deeper boxed set. It took forever to arrive, and I will probably never buy anything from John Adams again. Still, I got a really warm and fuzzy feeling holding that box in my hands.

When I bought the White Box from Brave Halfling that box was joke. The bottom half was not even glued together, and the corners haphazardly closed up with tape.

This box on the other hand is gorgeous. The cover image is great and the box is sturdy. First impressions last, as they say. As I looked at the booklets, they also looked really nice and clean. No busy layout, no fancy stuff, just readable. Clerics gets no spell at first level, and there's a Thief class if you like that. Classic stuff.

While it looks like I have a hard time keeping a gaming group together, this is a game that just screams to be played. I long to try it out. That's a pretty good reaction for a new game, isn't it?

Monday, October 14, 2013

BRP did it first!

Being one of what China MiƩville once called "the Chaosium kids", I always thought the way things were done in BRP was the way you did things. Today I learned that it was not until 6th ed. Hero system in 2011 that the defensive and offensive capabilities, OCV/DCV, were decoupled and you could become good as parrying regardless of your offensive ability. Maybe there was ways to tweak it, but in an interview I listened to with the line developer (Steve something?), it was presented that way. Back in 1979 when Runequest was released we Chaosium kids had separate attack and parry percentile ratings for our weapons.

God how I love how that simple rules set over and over again shows how everything you could imagine is in there!

BRP did it first.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Material components, taking a cue from Mage

I have more than once felt that the game Mage: The Ascension could be really cool, if I just figured out how. The rules are a bit too vague, and the setting cool but unfocused. Sadly, it felt later editions limited it to become the same kind of superhero games Vampire and Werewolf was.

Now I've started thinking about the really interesting bad guys in the setting, the Nephandi, I decided I needed to read the Guide to the Technocracy. That power group was presented as the main evil in the early editions, but I have picked up this book in order to find a more positive slant on them. There are multiple shades of bad in this setting, and I felt Nephandi would be more interesting as bad guys, and the technos as misguided good guys. It's after all a game about belief, and even the kind who seems abhorrent to you has to be investigated for what they are.

One thing this books talks about at length is the magic foci used to cast technological spells. The magic in Mage is very free form, and based upon some basic spheres of knowledge. You can pick whatever sphere you like and by manipulating that get magical effects of that kind. In GttT the "mages" use implements, like a calculator, mirrorshades, guns and other technological gadgets which both channels and "hides" the reality wracking effects. For example, in order to cast a spell of perception, you put on those shades and the spell take effect. The implements are not just like a magic wand you wave about, it's a thing that related to the magic action being taken. This made me think of material components.

In some editions of D&D, you have to have a spell component to cast some spells. If the component is verbal it is easy to just say your character chants or shouts or whatever. That pesky bat guano or black pearl is more complicated. How often do you need to stock up? How do you track usage? Is that really fun? And so on...

Maybe you could use implements like in Mage instead? It would take magic back to how it worked in the Blackmoor campaign. Dave Arneson had a very tangible kind of magic in his campaign, that much can be gleamed from what he have said, and written in the FFC. It can't get any more old school than that, eh?

I would think it would have to be components of a lasting nature. One problem with the material components rules as they are in e.g. AD&D is that it's unclear how to manage the logistics. If you instead always have your item around, it solves that problem. I do like the idea of being able to improvise and take whatever item that suits the effect you are trying to achieve. Since there are no dice rolls involved in classic D&D spell casting, you could say spells cast without implements take one additional time increment to cast, a segement, round or whatever.

I'll file away this idea for the future. Right now it looks like I'll have few possibilities to actually test it, but if you do feel free to post your experiences!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

When do you need a game system to support your play?

A short while ago I read a forum post where someone claimed the game 3:16 did not work for them. I played it a few times and thought it worked fine. I searched out an episode of the Walking Eye podcast to compare, since they often have interesting things to say about games they've played.

Interestingly enough, on the podcast there was a player who did not feel the game "clicked" for them. The question came up whether the theme of the game was satire, and if it was reinforced by the system of the game. Considering you don't count hits in that game, but kills, I think it's pretty obvious. But, there are some subtle things in there I felt like talking more about in this space.

In the game you have a flashback mechanic. Using that you can take narrative control, and define the psychology of your trooper. This is where the game enters the "hippie game" territory. But, here's the interesting part. Using the flashback you can fail and succeed on your terms, but it does not force you to adhere to the theme. In fact, it's only the last flashback that's mandated, as Hatred for Home. Basically, there is an endgame and there is a setup. The latter picture mindless carnage and the former suggests moral doubt and satire after turning military glory into genocide. What is interesting is that up until that point, you can play it however you like. There's nothing forcing you down the path of satire. Sure, there is that end, but it's fairly open to interpretation and you get to choose the seriousness of it.

Some people like to point out that even though D&D basically only has rules for combat, it's not really about combat. I'm not going to get involved in that discussion, but I want to compare that situation to 3:16. In that game you have a setup which is all about killing. Your game system only involves itself with killing, and that which some consider its core, the flashback system, does not force the issue of the theme. Just like in the case of D&D, it's more about System than system. System with a capital S is the sum of what happens around the table, not just the rules in the book. I think 3:16 is a very subtle design, in that it rather tries to give you a playground and let's you discover its social mechanics than putting it into text.

Killing bugs and going into genocidal frenzy is something that can affect you, not only your character. This is something which I've also found happens in Dogs in the Vineyard. At least for me it does. When I first played it, I started thinking about how I felt about the events my character encountered. If you let that inform your character's actions is of course up to your individual play style, but I found it both challenging and refreshing. 3:16 is a game that works the same way.

If you don't feel a bit repulsed by your trooper's mindless killing you I don't say you are playing it wrong, but if you do get that effect it sure is a memorable one!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Scenes and nuggets - the DGP way

Anyone remember the DGP "nuggets" system? It was back when GDW had handed over most of the development of their Traveller game to Joe Fugate and crew of DGP. They had been thinking on adventure design a bit. The result was that they designed adventures in the format of "nuggest", which were self contained scenes. I wrote about them once before in relation to campaign play of Battletech. Now I'm thinking of them again, for organizing your scenario in a more general sense.

Each nugget had some thing that would happen, some NPC you could talk to and a place to visit. The new thing was that DGP had sorted these in order, and told you which nugget had to go after the other. It was kind of like the solos, where you had forks in the road where you had to choose were to take the plot. I always thought these nuggets were a sweet idea, but I also never felt they worked as promised.

In Trail of Cthulhu the authors write about how to structure your adventure along a "spine" and then have branches off that tree. Core clues, those that are crucial for the mystery, are forming the spine of the adventure. I have not yet played much ToC, so I have no  solid opinion on how well that works. It doesn't read like it would work that well, but maybe it just puts into words what we have been doing all along. The thing is, this is what the nuggets DGP used reminds me of. I guess nobody is surprised that this idea was old.

Now I feel like pulling out some of those old Traveller books and taking a look at them with ToC in the back of my mind. For those who are interested in adventure design, it might be something worth studying. Identifying where you have choke points is very crucial if you want to make sure you don't limit your players, and maybe structuring your scenario in nuggets like that is a good way to find out the logical structure of your design? If you do that, you can then design where to break up the rails, and where to leave them in. I for one am going to take a look at those old nuggets again.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

How to write adventures - stringing scenes together

I've posted before on my thoughts about scenes as the currency of gaming. This post is about how to use them to best effect. I'm not claiming to tell how it is, this are my thought right now, and will probably change.

Having scenes thought out, I think it's quite tempting to decide from the start which of your darlings you want to use, and what's going to happen. Especially the latter is tempting. If you "figure out" that they players will do B after doing A, you can be pretty sure that they will want to do C instead and will violently protest about that B you dangle in front of them. Don't do that. I at way to got at doing just that. So, how do you do?

I've tested out a few ways myself, and read about what others have done. I think that there are a few way to do scene based design without laying down the tracks. I think the best way is to have one opening scene, one scene with some kind of conclusion to the main conflict and in between you have the other scenes. If you introduce a threat in scene one, and put in some things that leads up to the conclusion or what brings the conflict to a head you can kind of have your cake, and eat it too. Say you have a bad guy planning to do a bad thing at a specific place at a specific time. Then it's fairly obvious which the concluding scene will be, and if the first scene is designed to involve the players you probably have your adventure right there. You could probably run that after just thinking about the supporting cast and some key locations, and after putting some stats to that you could improvise the rest.

My latest game, which we cancelled due to scheduling problems, was supposed to be some attempt in this vein. I had a starting scene introducing the action, and when a key event happened a NPC would show up, kill another NPC and then I'd let the law descend and see which way the player character jumped based on whom they had befriended before the murder. That way I hoped to tell a story, while giving the players the ability to steer most of the action. Key for me here would be that even if the players did nothing, I could make sure something happened, and if they did take the plot and run with it, I could just throw in that smoking gun and go along with the ride.

Wish me luck herding the cats back together and we might see if it worked!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Emergent Story - in multiple ways

I was listening to an episode of the The Walking Eye podcast recently. It sometimes has moments of pure brilliance, and I was hoping to catch some of those. Someone mentioned some "Forgespeak", which made me want to write this post. I've tried three times to make this to the point and less rambling. God knows if I succeeded!

Have you heard the phrases Story Before/Story Now/Story After? That was the "Forgespeak" which I triggered on. Basically, those words are all about how and when the "story" appear in the game. Naturally there are strong opinions attached to all those positions. I will just pontificate on the idea of story and when it happens, kind of with those positions as a starting point. We are talking rpg theory here, so nobody just blogs. We pontificate.

It's interesting how "story" became such a loaded term. Personally I blame the metaplot heavy days when White Wolfe reigned. Others were also quite into it, but it seems like the WoD gamers adapted it fully. The Story Before concept relates to that, with the GM showing up with a story in her head before even the game starts. I have actually played in a few con games like that, and they were not all bad. But, more often than not, I don't enjoy that.

But, the other cases of emerging story is more interesting. I'm not entirely sure why the Story After case are considered a sign of "dysfunctional play", but I'll roll with it and consider some cases of emerging stories.

I like to play games where actions of the players affect the world, and small pebbles tossed in the pond by the GM creates big ripples, just because one player or so decides to surf the waves created. That is one quite fun type of emergent story. On the other hand, being thrust into a situation where you have knobs to twiddle and dials to turn is also fun. It seems like some people only likes stories to emerge when they step outside the game system. Others seem to think real story only emerges when the knobs of the game mechanics drives that action. I'm kind of amazed that those two positions are sometimes defended so strongly against each other, when they in my mind is quite similar.

Famously, some people have claimed that the fact that D&D have most detailed rules for combat does not mean the game is about combat, quite the contrary! In that case, story emerges when the rules are not involved.

Other games have rules for social combat, or some kind of game currency you can use in interpersonal interactions, or maybe a set up where the setting and the roles of the characters are creating conflicts to be resolved by the players. I'm actually not sure why especially this latter kind of game so often are scorned by people interested in gaming they "old ways". Sometimes I think it's just a case of narrow vision, thinking D&D is the end all, be all of gaming. At other times it might be that stubborn resistance against "having anyone tell me what my character likes or not". While I can understand the idea of that argument, most people I've encountered arguing like that have also been close minded individuals who came across as jerks in general. Maybe that have coloured my opinion of that argument.

How about this situation? Your character is fighting lizardmen, and overwhelmed decides that as the last man standing, discretion is the better part of valour. From now on that player might decides to always have his character scowl and mutter when lizardmen show up as antagonists. Maybe the character even develops a slight phobia of lizards. That is all emergent story for that character, totally without being based on any rules forcing that to happen.

Compare that to some hippie game where the dungeon crawl is about the mental degeneration of those who crawl underground. Maybe in that game you have a psychological profile, and as you fail some game checks and the numbers decrease, your character get afflicted by some predetermined effect. This is also emergent story for that character. But, in this case it's mandated by the rules.

I personally think the latter way has one advantage. When those knobs and dials are in place, things will happen. If I have to hope for some lucky combination of situation, character and place it will be harder for me as a player to make that happen. It's basically a tool to make it likelier to happen. I think that sometimes the Story Now people have taken that position to be better, since you have tools. I know for a fact that even if I buy a really fancy hammer and saw, I still wont turn into a great carpenter. On the other hand, I still like to have great tools around. Tools I don't have can't help, or hinder. I think that is why I like those games which include more than basic combat, and leaves the rest to the group.

That being said, one thing I really don't get is why so many hippie game designers think that emotional relationships are the only good source of conflict and drama? Do we have to turn all our games into sappy soaps in order to have engaging games? I don't think so. It makes me think of a game I was once in, where we played in a setting developed by our GM. He is a great world builder so just the glimpses we had gotten of the bigger world made me want to go out and explore all that! Imagine my despair when it turned out that we had all been grounded in the village, banned from leaving and exploring the woods and wilds around. This was supposed to be a social game, using the rules for the Buffy RPG. Buffy happens to be a TV series I despise as a sappy soap. Maybe I came to the game from a wrong angle, but it sure didn't work for me.

What I wanted to say with that paragraph was just that the environment can be just a rich source of emerging story as people can. Sometimes I think the dungeon dwellers and the hippie gamers both wants emergent story, but forgets that point, in different ways. Both exploration of time and space as well as interpersonal relationships can create story. Having tools for that in the game system makes for great games when you uses them to hot rod one killer story, or for shiny gears that can lie dormant but admired as decoration as you blaze through the emergent story on wheels you just imagined into being all by yourself without tools.

Yeah, there you have me, creating some group hug of a messy metaphor. Whatever. Here, take a cloth and wipe of some of that grease and oil and go out and game. However.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

How to write adventures - I keep talking about scene based design

I'm continuing my thinking on adventure design, and have now come to how I've planned out my Savage Worlds scenarios. Since I've heard so much about how great this game is for cons, I designed scenarios from that. I've listened to how people often use a scene based design to fit in the time constraints, and that fit me perfectly.

So, I wanted to do something with a lot of feel of the X-files. Since I started from that, it was very natural for me to think of a scene that introduce the mystery and then play the intro and then introduce the characters. Since I was not writing a TV-show, I did think up the first part, but we started play when the players entered the plot.

The first scene would utilize the outcome of the background scene as its "bang". So I imagined a miner in this small community being attacked by his whole kennel of dogs, and how his fiance would see it and panic. That was what had just happened. Then I planned on putting the PCs in that small mining town, fill it with NPCs and build scenes from character interaction and some"plot based" scenes that would exhibit more of the strangeness that was the basis for the hounds attacking the miner.

The main plot was that the miners had dug deep into the Appalachians in West Virginia, and uncovered Cthonians. They reacted by psionic mind controls and called in their minions. I planned to have some weird things happening, like the MIB show up and discourage the PCs from snooping, and finally have the fiance disappear only to call someones phone and lure them out into the wilds at night. I had decided that after fooling around like that, I would end it with a scene where the PCs found them somehow confronting "aliens" in a strong light and finally finding themselves with redacted memories in their car out on the highway.

So, how did it go, and how did I used the scene based design?

Well, I started with the players taking control. They came to the town, and started talking to people. I decided to take a cue from Vincent Baker's advice in Dogs in the Vineyard, and started to give away as much as possible from all the NPCs. Vincent is wise, for without that they would have stumbled!

Talking to the NPCs, the characters were set in a location, some people were there and that was often the extent of my scene framing. I did not include any "bangs" or any destabilizing events into those interpersonal interactions.

In between those I dropped some small bombs in the shape of scenes with not only location and people, but also destabilizing events. It turned out that those scenes which all had things happening they had to react to did work really well. I totally failed to make one of them a chase scene with the Savage Worlds chase rules, but that was only me at odds with that rules set, and I've posted about that in other posts.

Worth noting here is that I did not introduce any shakeups in the "interview" scenes we had. Maybe I should have, because I sometimes felt that all those individuals with cool stories to tell had to walk up to the player characters more often than being sought out. It might be something that is dependent on how proactive your players are, but I did take that with me to my next attempt. It was my greatest lesson from this kind of adventure design.

Then there was that about how to string scenes together. In this scenario, which I called "Deep Calls to Deep", the players had the choice of going where they wanted and talking to whomever they choose. That kind of made it very natural for me to toss in my bombs after they had learned stuff which would make the next thing happening feel more cool. It made for a fairly natural flow, I would think.

All in all I think it went well, and as far as I understood from the after game chat I had nailed the X-Files feel. Nobody ever got any hint it was a Cthulhuoid menace.

But, what could I make different, and better, the next time? I will talk a bit about stringing scenes together next time.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How to write adventures - I keep talking about location based design

So, what were my experiences from Location Based Design for my adventure?

I had decided to play a game of Mutant, one of the earliest games I ever played for any extended time. It's a BRP game, which really looks a lot like Gamma World. Mutated anthropomorphic animals for the win! Thanks to those qualities I could inject lot of humour and jokes about contemporary events.

The backstory say that some kind of catastrophe occurred, and humankind escaped into subterranean bunkers, and only ventured outside when long time had passed. Knowledge of the old times have faded, and now mutants of all kinds roamed the lands. I decided to make the PCs all be part of a secret project to develop psychic powers, and they had all been put to cryogenic sleep. Now they wake up, with hazy memories and can explore the setting with no preconceived ideas, as they knew as much as their characters did.

 My location was a small village, with a sawmill powered by an artifact from the Old Days. The village was basically ruled and run by the robber baron that owned the artifact. I made up a few enemies of his, some shops and people in the village and let the players loose.

Like I wrote about yesterday I had the map, the location in question. The threat I envisioned was the tension in the village between the rich ruler and his "subjects". In order to make it something the players could not just ignore I also invented an NPC with a personal vendetta against the baron, and a timeline for how it would play out.

So, how did it work?

The biggest problem I think was related to the reasons for the PCs to be there. They woke up, and some mutated badgers brought them to the baron and the basically followed along. While they did walk around a bit, they never did take strong action for or against any of the sides in the village. I think I learned that the threat has to be immediate, and personal. If you have very pro-active players they might make things up for themselves, but I think having a clear, threat, is a good idea. It's first now when I look back at it and try to formulate what the components were that I settled on that term.

I claim this is one of the basic forms of design for an adventure. Some call this fish tank or sandbox. I'd prefer to shine the light on the Location. Why? Because a sandbox is just a somewhat flat area, of a common material. I think a location based adventure has to be much more, and that's why I never have had much success with "sandboxes". A Location has to be strange, worth investigating and exploring and there has to be a clear threat looming large and personal. At least that's the theory.

Next up I'll take a closer look at the Scene Based Design.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How to write adventures - some attempts at consolidating ideas

I've listened to quite a few podcasts  where the topic have been how to write convention scenarios. That combined with my experiences running Savage Worlds and my post apocalyptic game have resulted in some conclusions. At least I think it's conclusions. But, naturally, I will probably keep thinking on the topic, and probably keep posting new ideas. Now I felt like summarizing somewhat.

I think I've found two ways to write adventures. There might be more ways, but these two have worked for me, and I felt like taking some note of what parts were needed for the machine to work.

First off, Location Based Design.

For this to work, you need two things.
  1. A map
  2. Threats
The first thing can be a dungeon map, or a map of a city, spaceport or whatnot. It should provide things to investigate, and things to uncover. The second thing can be monsters, traps and NPCs with nefarious plans.

The Location Based Design I think work best when the reason for being there is not based on the location. It should be something that the PCs take with them, a mission or a rumour. For the longevity of this type of design I think that is a key thing.

Secondly, Scene Based Design.

For this design to work, you need three things.
  1. Where the scene is set.
  2. Those who are present stated up, with intentions and motivations.
  3. What just happened, the "bang".
In this case I think the reason for being there is different. Now it should be part of the location. Either it is the place, or the people there, that compels one or more characters to be there.

Naturally, to have more than a very short scenario you will need multiple scenes. The way you string them together can probably be a topic in of itself. I'll get back to it.

I will try to dive a bit deeper into how these two crystallized in my next post, and bring some examples. Anyone having experiences with those two sets of design frames are welcome to chime in. I hope I will better understand my own thinking, and know I have more to learn on the topic.

Monday, August 19, 2013

More loot!

I've got more loot!

Who does not want an intense roleplaying game, eh?

This is the annotated edition, where every other page is just commentary on the text on the other page. I've wanted this for some games. I mean, how often did you ask yourself "what were they thinking?".

Frankly, when I got it, I had forgotten I would also get all the supplements in a big fat book. Goodies.

I also like to say that Ron had been communicative, quick and delivered exactly what he promised without long delays. Listen and learn, people!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Playing Boot Hill again

The day before yesterday I once again played Boot Hill. It was a very old school experience. We had started an adventure, five years ago, and none of us remembered a thing. Our referee looked mystified at his notes while we players tried to decipher our scribblings on the character sheets. What were those abilities again? Finally we figured out what numbers meant we were good at shooting, and our referee rolled back time and we restarted the adventure.

You know how we all say over and over again that deadly systems often have very quick character generation systems? This is a game that should need a very, very quick character generation system! We sat in a cantina somewhere and in came some ruffians, and naturally a fight erupted. My character was a greenhorn and botched loading his musket, and was a sitting duck while the lead was heavy in the air. Finally I managed to get a shot off with my "appropriated" french revolver we had found on some guy during a big kerfuffle in Mexico City. Then a bullet struck my character in the head.

Luckily I survived, but did nothing more in the fight than turning over the table each time someone entered the room, to have some cover during the fight.

The system is really peculiar. You get increases in abilities, but you get bonuses at spaced out intervals. That is interesting, since you can get both the satisfaction of seeing the numbers increase, and the "stair" effect of a level based system. Also, you have stats for sight and hearing, gun accuracy and throwing accuracy. It's really a system where the stats play first fiddle, and the skills are something of an oddity tacked on.

From the reviews I've read, nobody seems to think very highly of the game and I agree that it lacks that something extra. Still, we had fun in a crazy way. My character has 100% speed, 06% in intelligence, 98% in sight and slightly bad of hearing. Naturally I just had to do whatever was the most stupid thing possible, while still trying to stay alive and instant hilarity is guaranteed. Extremes are always more fun when trying to roleplay.

Our GM have created a big pile of tables for weapons, extra rules, tabled and such from decades of playing the game. I'm trying to convince him to type it up for the world to see. Contrary to the deadliness correlation mentioned above, his variant is actually not that quick. But, thanks to all those tables you get to know what you did in the war, where your family is from and all that stuff. I love life path systems!

Maybe our next session will be sooner than another five years...

Saturday, July 20, 2013

More experiences with Savage Worlds

Last night we finished up our latest mission in the Agents of Oblivion series of adventures we're playing. The team was this time lacking their hacking resource, so they had to rely more on fist fights, language skills and some sneaking.

This time we started with a mission briefing, and then spending resource points on equipment and funny gadgets. I think this part of the super spy genre worked quite fine this time. But, the more I play this game the more I start to feel the books are terribly organized. I created some cheat sheets for the different resource options, and I think they are the reason that part of the mission was fun. There are multiple editing errors in this part of the book, and I have compiled an errata list. Maybe I'll post my cheat sheets here, and send the errata to Reality Blurs.

During the mission briefing they got to hear that they would be going to Iraq, where some ancient artifacts stolen from the Baghdad museum during the invasion had surfaced once again. One was more mysterious than the others, namely a cuneiform tabled with a new story about Gilgamesh! They went to Baghdad, talked to lot of people, had a car chase and found and placed lots of bugs for surveillance. Information gathering galore. Finally they took a flight to Beirut, drove to Baalbek and their went shopping. The last scene was a big firefight between two groups of cultists, with the PCs in between.

One thing I noticed was that even when I made an effort to involve the game rules a bit more than before, benny usage still was an issue. During 2-3 hours you have to roll a lot of dice in order to spend your bennies, earn some more and get to spend some of those as well. First I forgot the give out any, when I did they still ended the session with quite a few left over.

Is this my final proof that whatever I might think of myself, I'm a guy who hand waves most of the rules? It doesn't seem like I can bring enough dice rolls to bear for those bennies to matter. Or is is Savage Worlds built so that the average session and amount of bennies match up at a longer sessions than mine?

Who knows? I will post some thought on scenario design as well in the (hopefully) near future.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Deserted Island experiment - Hunter: The Vigil

Sometimes I see...


...and they need to be hunted down...

If you were to take the new Hunter game to a deserted island, the first question if you can only take three books is, what's core? Is the WoD rules core and the Hunter book a supplement? If I choose to include the Hunter book itself as a core book, this is my list.

  1. Mysterious Places -There are more interesting books in the new World of Darkness for doing things beyond the big lines like Vampire and Mage. I like that. This book is one of those I think you could use for many modern day games of creepy stories. The fact that it's name reminds me of the Ars Magica books Mythic Places doesn't hurt either. This is a book with some interesting locations, designed to be horrific, weird and creepy. I think they have succeeded quite well. All of them come with story suggestions and quite evocative descriptive text. I bet you could probably come up with this kind of stuff on your own, but I need to be kickstarted by a book like this.
  2. D6 Adventure Locations - I'm unsure if that D6 is part of the title or just telling us it's part of a game line. I guess you've noticed that I branched out. This is not a White Wolf book. In this book you will find maps of airports, conference centres, hotels ans other everyday locations. Add to that a paragraph of items commonly found at such a location, and you have some excellent help to make a fight scene in one of these places be just a bit more interesting, with some parts of the interior decoration to throw around. But, even though this is a very hand book, it looks bad. There are lots of clip art in it, which looks cheap. Then there's the cover illustration which I hate. What the heck is that woman wearing? It's wet suit for diving? So why does it look so flimsy over her breasts, suddenly clinging closely to the shape of them? Why does it look like it's metal polished to a high sheen, or is it just that it looks like a bad Photoshop colouring? I guess you get the point.
  3. Supressed Transmission - You know what this collection of articles is, right? I'll just summarize. Ken Hite. You need more? Ok, this is a book collecting Ken's columns from Pyramid Magazine (yet another game company, Steve Jackson Games). Here you can find lots of ideas for conspiracy and weirdness, which can conceal those you hunt, or give hints to where they have hidden throughout history. If nothing else, you'll have lots is fun reading and odd facts you can befuddle your players with, and amuse yourself with. There's even a second volume, but then this list would be too long.

As you can see my game of Hunter:The Vigil would encompass a lot. As far as I know there have not been much support material published for H:TV so why not look at other game lines for inspiration?

Would your list look different? Agree? Disagree? Feel free to say so.

For my next post in this series I'm tempted to try to limit D&D or Traveller down to three books. Can you do that to 35 years of supplements? Maybe.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My problem with Fiasco

I have read so many times, and heard on so many podcasts, that Fiasco is a great game. Having listened to some actual play, and detailed rules explanations, I find that this really isn't a game for me. I kind of wish it was, though.

Not every game is for everyone, and you don't have to love every game. Just move on, right? Kind of true. The thing is, the kind of play that Fiasco supposedly is all about is one I think sounds interesting. I also think the multitude of play sets are really cool, and some are kernels to really cool games. Maybe there's something to learn from Fiasco, or maybe there's something that can be found to make it work for me? I'll start to nail down what I don't like.

Playing the game is, unless I have misunderstood something completely, basically done in four phases. First you roll the dice and distribute them using the play set, then you make shit up until you run out of dice, them you roll them again and you make more shit up until the end.

What I don't like about that is the "making shit up" part. In that part, you for each scene get to decide how it ends or how it's set up. That's what's rubs me the wrong way. If someone else is deciding what happens, why should I sit and waffle about what happens? This, I feel, robs me of "player agency" or if you like, the point where I think rpgs really shine. That thing, I think, is going into a game ready to gamble some resources not knowing the outcome, exploring a secondary world. If someone sits there and just makes shit up, why should I then play out that scene? I'd like to turn that on it's head.

When I listens to people playing Fiasco I don't hear people play. I hear people just talk. Making shit up without any relation to effort involved, traits involved or chance just don't a game make.

This makes me think of another game I have read but know played, and listened to and becoming confused. That game is Burning Empires. In that game you do one thing differently, though. In BE you have one trait that is the one that determines success in that scene, and after the talky part you actually do the game bits. You roll dice and "make your bets". I'm wondering if that retrofitted to Fiasco would suit me better?

So, what do I like about all this?
I really like the idea of the setup for the game in Fiasco. Coincidentally, in Burning Empires you also start the game by generating the setting and framework for play. That part I think could be really cool to explore in a game of a more traditional bent. Maybe that part is why I come back to Fiasco again and again, and even bother to talk at length about a game which looks like it will bore me to tears. But, the system for building a city in Dresden Files looks interesting! There is a system based on that in the new shine FATE Core book I own. Maybe there is a way...

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Deserted Island experiment - Call of Cthulhu

A few days ago I started a new thing, listing three supplements for one of my games, that I'd take with me to a deserted island. Now the time has come for Call of Cthulhu.

  1.  The 1920s Investigator's Companion - this book might be disqualified as it can be considered a "core book" for players. I'll add it to my list anyway, and add a fourth as a bonus. This book is just great when it comes to suggestions for character concepts. The long listing of professions and how to create those kind of characters are really helpful. If you want to get away from the dilemma that the characters are an unlikely bunch, you could pick a section and have all make characters from that type or one similar. Other goodies are the sections on research facilities, and how to get around. If you play in a historical setting these facts are gold. They are also well presented. We'll see how the 7th edition is designed, but this book would be great as the core of a Players Guide.
  2. Cthulhu by Gaslight 3rd ed. - This choice might surprise some, but I think the second great era for any kind of horror game is the gaslight era. This is a great book with lot of details about the geography of London and how people lived back then. There are also some good advice and tweaks for character generation that can be used for other eras as well. Naturally there are a few scenarios to start that campaign at the island. 
  3. Arkham Unveiled - Is there any book more iconic than this? Arkham is at the heart of Lovecraft country, and this is a book that gives a pretty good overview of a typical city of that area. There are lots of small mysteries and oddities you can make adventures out of, and there are nothing better than a university that can work as a patron for cerebral adventurers. If that's not enough, there's bootleggers and criminal gangs for more two fisted games. Round it off with a few scenarios and you have a good place to mine for lots of gaming.
Now what's the bonus item? Well, there are two obvious choices. One is that great campaign which some have dubbed the best rpg campaign ever, Masks of Nyarlathotep. The problem with that one is that I have not read it, or played it! I don't even own a copy. I would love to play it, mind you.

The second obvious choice, and the one I'll pick since my list above leans toward the historical eras, is Delta Green. Sure, by now it's also history, but it's modern day and tweakable to be used for 2013 as well, or whatever. It would be easir for me to pack for my island trip as well, since I own it. But, I have actually not read it all, so that will suit me fine. I can stay on the island for a while!

I bet some of those choices would meet with arguments! Agree? Disagree? Feel free to say so.

We'll see what game comes up next. You know where to find me...

Monday, July 8, 2013

Story games, really?

I feel like I have to rant a bit. I realize most people have no interest in the details of how things became like they are, but I hate it when people don't bother to find out.

Why the rage? I heard somewhere someone lamenting the fact that these days "indie games" is just a distribution label, and say nothing of the game. That person also seemed to like the term "story game".

You know why indie game is a distribution label? It has nothing to do with the subject of the game! Read what it say on the tin. Indie means independent. The Forge was started in order to talk about self publication, and creator owned properties. It was all about independent game publication. It has nothing to do with subject matter. Why would it? Look at the name again. Indie.

My second hang up then. You know why the story game community of that name was set up? It was because some people wanted to talk about things Ron Edwards had decided he did not want at The Forge. So, "story games" like they talk about there, are games that people want to talk about in a way Rod Edwards didn't want at his web forum. There, a really solid definition of game content and subject matter. Or not. No, it's not a distribution label.

Story games. Sheesh.

I think you could just as well call it hippie games, like they call non-traditional games at the Happy Jacks RPG podcast. A fun term, meaning nothing. Except of course, that games talked about at the Story Games community are all about long haired individuals with flowers in their hair. Naturally.

Sadly I realize it's damn hard to talk about these things, and I have used those term myself. But, I knew the history.

Why do I even get upset about these things?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Impressions of FATE Core - look and feel

So I finally got my copy of FATE Core. While I am less than happy with some Kickstarter projects, this was not one of them. Evil Hat kept in contact during the whole process from the funding until arrival of the goods, always updating with the latest status. Take note, all you who run rpg Kickstarters! Let people know what's going on? You have taken their money, they deserve to know you have not left for a sunny beach with their money. Kudos to Evil Hat. they did this right.

How is the game?

Well, I have not yet run a game, since I've only owned the book for a few days and I rarely read a game book from cover to cover when I first get it. But, it looks good. I am familiar with FATE 2nd ed and this looks like a really good update. It's well presented and from what I've glanced, it reads well. All concepts are clearly presented.

This is where I'd like to take a moment to compare this book to The Dresden Files game. In that game there was sidebars and "boxed notes" laid out to look like handwriting, and post-it notes. It was horrible! The page looked so busy I got tired from reading just a few pages. It also made it a pain to skim a few pages to search for something, or get a grasp of things. With so busy a page, it made the eyes jump all over the place. Less is more, guys.

Not so in FATE Core.

In this book it's all black and white and the sidebars and boxes highlighting stuff is integrated in the graphical profile of the whole page. If that sounds like just so much typographical gobbledygook, I will hold up classic Call of Cthulhu as an example. If you take a book like Arkham Unveiled or The Fungi from Yuggoth, you'll see two column lay out, few fonts and the boxed illustrations align with the text columns. The eye needs not stray. Everything you needs in where it's expected to be.

There's more.

One thing I really like is how Evil Hat have put small notes in the margins, pointing out where to go for details on something mentioned in that paragraph. Especially in the beginning chapters which explains the basic concepts and character generation that is really helpful. It's taking the usage of an index to the next helpful level. There is an index, but thanks to these hints it's quite short. I think it works pretty well. We'll see how it holds up after heavy use.

Another thing I really liked were the illustrations. I found no gravity defying breasts and ridiculous  armour, and in general women were depicted sensibly. Also worth noting is that there are quite a few non "white dude" individuals. I liked that. I have not found any really amazing pieces that I stood out, but I found none that made me cringe, which I think is far more important. You can say what you want about knowing your target audience, but clearly Evil Hat wants to think beyond the niche here and they should be applauded for that.

This game I like, and I have seen enough of the rules to like them as well.


You know what I have a problem with? Now when I have this game and Savage Worlds, I have two games that can cover multiple campaigns. (Yeah, I also have GURPS but I have given up on that.) Why is that a problem? What should I use it for? I have too many choices! But, maybe I can finally get a Planescape game that feels like it lives up to the setting's potential. Just maybe.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Deserted Island experiment - Unknown Armies

I just listened to the THACO podcast, and they did something interesting. They talked about which game they would take with them to an deserted island. Old hat, yes, but with a new twist. They stipulated that you got the core book(s) for free, and could only take three supplements. Which do you pick?

I'm going to amuse myself by listing some of my games, and my picks. First out is Unknown Armies.

Why Unknown Armies? Well, first off it's so damn well written. The second edition is one of the few game books I read from cover to cover just on the strength of its prose. The content is good as well, but the prose is excellent. UA is a game where violence matters, where magic is ugly and hurtful. It's a game about the urban modernity, and its backside. It's just like the highfalutin 1st edition Mage, except it's not written by hippies with no grasp of rpg rules.
  1. 1. Lawyers, Guns and Money - This is because Alex Able's organization is a good start for your street level investigators to get a lead into the Underground. You can boss the characters around and give them missions to do crazy stuff until they develop their own agendas. It's a good book for getting the players to join something bigger than themselved.
  2. Hush Hush -  Everyone needs someone to hate, right? The Sleepers are great for showing up at weird places, silencing witnesses and if you have them show up and clean the mess the characters have put themselves into, you've got a serious trip going with doubts, debts and murder. 
  3. Weep - Look at that cover. Seriously, look at that cover! Go do an image search and I'll be here when you come back. See? If there's anything more twisted and disturbing than that little girl and her staring eyes, then I don't know what is. This is a scenario collection, and you might wonder why you'd take that to the Island. But, not only are they long and meaty, the book just ooze that feeling of urban decay and desperation, physical and mental, that so defines Unknown Armies.
Agree? Disagree? Feel free to say so. Next game, Call of Cthulhu!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Sad Independence Day

Let's all take a moment and think back to when the US was not like the Soviet Union, and spied on its own people.

Remember greatness, and reclaim it!

Tomorrow I'll be back with rpg content.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day!

Savage Worlds - issues with character generation

I was just starting to listen to a podcast, and they were playing Savage Worlds. Ever since I first read the original 40k miniatures rules, I have thought it would make an excellent rpg. Now they have published some, but none of them seems to fulfill the promise that first book hinted at. But, I think Savage Worlds might be the game to do it. I downloaded the cast, and started listening.

Guess what? It sounds like these guys also have some issues with the dice size system for the attributes! They repeatedly ask what they start at, what the max is and how much they get for a point and what they start at. I'm not saying these guys are stupid, and I know for a fact that my players are not. But, oddly enough I hear see another set of players have problems grasping the ideas about the core abilities. In the comments for my last post, Jeff mentioned similar problems in his experience. Peculiar, I say.

Now, why is it so?

When I read the Savage Worlds rules, I thought many things were slightly queer. But, one of the things I found quite simple was how the die size system worked, and how you spent your 5/15 points on abilities and skills. Now I have had three pieces of evidence that what was clear to me it far from it. Is the idea of die sizes that strange? I remember seeing it back in the oddball game Tales from the Floating Vagabond. But, I only remember it rating the size of the guns. Maybe it was all abilities and skills. It was almost 20 years ago. I'm old. Maybe that's why I got it. I'm old and have seen dozens of game systems, and nothing surprises me anymore. Maybe.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Playing Savage Worlds - Agents of Oblivion

I have now for a while been running a Savage Worlds game. Ever since Savage Worlds first was published I have been curious about the game. For a while the system was everyone's favourite at and cropped up as soon as someone had a game they liked, but wanted a nicer rules set to play it. It seemed like it was the game for every setting. The fad passed, and then it was FATE. At last, I got the Savage Worlds game.

First off, let me say that Pinnacle really is first class. Maybe you heard that the explorer edition of the rules had a really bad glue, so that the book came apart? I emailed Shane Hensley and I got a new book. Class act.

 The game is labelled as "fast, furious and fun" and is known for settings which mash up something familiar with magic or that extra two fisted pulp style action. I kind of like that style, and decided I had to get the Agents of Oblivion setting book.

So, how does it play?

It turns out that our first one off, a short canned adventure, went quite well. We had a car chase, a sneak attack on a mansion and a big fight with explosives and a vehicle. In addition to that also some interpersonal action and roleplaying. It felt like this was a system that could handle lots of moving parts without being cumbersome. It was also clear that the card based initiative worked quite well. Everyone could see that cards on the table and knew who's turn it was. I also liked the tangible effect of the poker chips we used for bennies. Without them, the fight with the major NPC would have been very short and anticlimactic.

I will get back to that last part.

After that we have started to run AoO proper, not with pre-gens. It turns out that either I explained it very confusingly, or the concept of dice sizes as ranks were confusing. I think it is simple enough, so I blame myself. Then we started the first mission proper, Deep Calls to Deep, of my own invention.

This was a X-Files kind of adventure with mysterious stuff happening in a small town. They went there, talked to people, looked for clues and did the regular investigative things and weird stuff kept happening. There was just one firefight, which worked just as well as the first one, and some hacking. The rest was talking and mostly searching or knowledge based skills. This worked alright, and at no time did I feel the system got in the way, or felt clunky. But, did it feel fast, furious and fun? Eh, well. Maybe not as much.

I'm thinking that maybe I was really running a Call of Cthulhu scenario. Maybe Savage Worlds is more Masks of Nyarlathotep than a purist Trail of Cthulhu adventure, if you catch my drift? Unless you have hordes of minions, fast action and chases, maybe investigative games are just as well run with BRP as with SW? Since I have the Big Yellow Tome of BRP, maybe I could just use that instead? I think the conclusion is that if you want to play Savage Worlds, maybe you should use those rules a bit more. Play something involved, crunchy and watch it run smoothly. I'd almost say that the more rules you use, the better it works. 

My decision is to make my next mission crunchier. There will be more fights, more chases and I will, to put it plainly, work the rules more. I don't think I've been in a situation before where the game so clearly demanded that you actually use them. Often it works well to break them out when needed, but now it felt like I should have done it more often. Odd feeling.

Then there was that thing about that fight, where I used lot of bennies to save the bacon of my NPCs.

I can imagine  some of my dear readers thinking that is just wrong for the GM to prolong a fight to have his pet NPC do more than the dice allows. Sure, I can understand that sentiment. Let me then counter with the fact that those extra rounds allowed for some really good ideas from my players, and some hilarious scenes of mayhem. It was worth it.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How about some real life steampunk train?

Yeah, I know. It's very little game content here these days. I have some posts I plan on writing here, reflecting on my late Savage Worlds game. I said that before, didn't I?


Do you like steampunk? Do you like trains? Take a look at the following steampunk crowd funding project! You can contribute using PayPal.

No,  I'm not personally involved.

A real steam train!

Monday, May 20, 2013

While we wait for me to find something intelligent to say about our current Savage Worlds game, I felt like bringing some worthy cause some attention. Check out this blog about focusing on latent homophobia. Next time you make a character in a game, think about why it should be a straight, white guy. Just think about it.

See you later.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The stamina die

I just read on a really neat idea bout how to model fatigue. This does sound familiar, but I'm putting it up here for personal reference if nothing else.

On there they suggested everyone roll a stamina die when doing something that might exert your character, in addition to the regular die roll. When you roll a 1, you step down one die size and take -1 to all physical actions. Naturally someone fairly weak would start with a lower die, maybe d4, while someone more buff would maybe start with a d8.

I like  the simplicity of it all. Maybe you could even tie it into encumbrance somehow.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Thinking back on 7th Sea

I ran a short arc of a revenge story in AEG's 7th Sea a few years back. The idea of swashbuckling is seldom far from my gaming thoughts, and the game system had enough interesting knobs and dials for me to long to try it out.

When I had decided I wanted to run it, and had read the books, a new problem appeared. The game was set in an imaginary Europe with new names for everything, and magic to boot! I liked the idea of filing off the serial numbers. I remembered that Dave Arneson had thought that taking the adventure into fantasy was a great way to stop arguments about historical minutiae, that was not the problem. The magic on the other hand, was.

For some reason I wanted a regular world, with none of that "gamey stuff". I wanted exciting fencing and swinging in chandeliers, but no fireballs. I also decided to ditch the culture inspired by ancient Norse culture. Those are always corny when done by Americans.

Starting the game it also became clear that even though the game system had some really good ideas, for example the incentives to do dramatic stuff, it did have problems. One of the most glaring ones showed up already in character generation, where the sheer amount of knacks and skills made it take too long to whip up a character. I like that part of a game to be quick and breezy, which is why I fell out of love with GURPS.

Now this weekend when I saw the movie I posted about yesterday, I realized I had been wrong about the magic, though.

While my 7th Sea game was a success, the way that musketeer movie shoved in non-historical air-ships and steampunk features showed me the joy of mash-ups. I still think vikings through an American lens is just corny. But magic, swords, Napoleon, cthulhu, intrigue and lost treasures actually goes just fine together in the soup! One reason I liked the movie was those elements which were contra factual. Hey, what was it Dave had done again?

I'm thinking about revisiting 7th Sea, and this time I'm not going to take things out. I'm going to put more gonzo stuff in! There are still issues with the game system I will address, like a hack to limit the amount of skills you get. Maybe even eliminate the fact that there are skills and knacks. That was a bit fiddly. More of that will be posted here, shortly.
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