Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ways to spend money in a T&T game

I have been thinking about money, experience and T&T a long time. Long time reader of my blog knows that I really like the xp for gold rule in old D&D. I idea behind it is good, and I have been wanting to try it for T&T a while now. Ken St. Andre used that rule for T&T in earlier editions, but decided to skip it when it became clear that it caused problems with Monty Haul campaigns. With the provision that you have to spend the gold to exchange it for Adventure Points I think that problem can be avoided. Worth testing, I think.

When I refereed a weekly campaign of 7th ed T&T it became clear quite quickly that after a few delves to the megadungeon everyone had the best armour and weapon they could wield. If you take a look at the price list in the T&T, you find that most of the gear is affordable. The only thing that costs a lot is buying new spells. My players pooled their resources and bought a few key spells like Whammy, Omnipotent Eye and Poor Baby. I will talk about Dura-Spell Battery some other day. But, having bought those they had what they needed and once again had an a lot of loose cash.

Some might say it's a very GM centred problem to have to much gold in a campaign. While it's true to some extent I think I was fairly restrictive and when the characters did hit upon a hoard it was fun and not Monty Haul. They fought for it.

What can you spend your hard earned gold on then? Well, I guess you can buy magic items, but I like to think they feel more interesting if they are found in a dark dungeon than made to order in a craftman's shop. I did let my players buy some items, and I probably should have but more magic treasure in the game instead. But, I like to think that some of the items they did find felt interesting and wondrous enough.

But today I read something about ablative armour, again. For those who don't know, protective gear used to be worn down in earlier editions. I kind of dislike the idea of book keeping reduced hits on armour, but Dan in the post linked above gave me a new reason to reconsider it. He mentions having to spend money on repairing your gear once now and then when they take punishment from action. That is a very interesting way to part the characters from some money! I had never thought of it from that standpoint before. Worth considering, I guess.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Some observations regarding DragonQuest and Tunnels & Trolls

I have not had any luck getting any gaming done this week. My T&T game got rescheduled for next week, and the campaigns in preparation are not ready to go live yet. So, I have read some old games instead, like DragonQuest.

Now when I have re-read selected parts of it again, I feel it have a few things in common with T&T. If you attempt an action, the normal thing to do is to roll against your stats (modified for difficulty by multiplication). Looks a lot like T&T. Also, the magic system have this idea of Active Resistance where your Willpower is reduced from the skill level rolled to loosen the spell. Once again I think of T&T and the Kremm Resistance rules of 7th ed.

Those of you who have read what I've written on that subject before know that I'm not that fond of Kremm Resistance. For me it seem way to binary. Actually, DQ made me think that maybe there is a good way to actually use it, kind of like the Active Resistance.

One way of doing it would be to let it be specific action. You can resist the spell, but then you wont do anything else. Then you have a few ways to handle it.

I think there are three basic ways to do it. You have to compare the WIZ scores between the Caster and the Target, and then you can use that for either affecting the INT to cast the spell, affect the level of the INT SR or lastly to affect the WIZ cost.

For fans of 5th ed, where there is no INT SR to cast a spell (which some have complained about as a nerfing of the Wizard without realizing that the extra AP gained evens it out), I think the last option is the way to go. That is, if you want Kremm Resistance in your game.

For us who use 7th ed, I prefer the option of affecting the INT score. Trying to get a number in a sensible range to affect the level seems harder. So, I present this suggestion.

Reduce the INT rolled for casting the spell the amount the WIZ score of the target surpasses the caster's score.
e.g. Caster with INT 16 and WIZ 16 cast a spell on Target with WIZ 20, so the Caster rolls his INT SR with an effective INT of 12 (20-16).

That way rolling doubles might still penetrate the defences, and since it will have to be actively resisted it might not be an option for every time and place.

I don't want to go the way of rolling saves or resistances all the time, it just wouldn't be T&T. This way the changes to the regular rules are minimal, and the binary nature of the rules as written is avoided. I never liked the way magic became so "scientific" and sure when you had the "you can't go there" sign of a high WIZ opponent.

You feel the WIZ drain effect is missing? Well, I think that will happen anyway. Just watch that Wizard working over time casting spells and throwing WIZ around. Survive a few rounds, or be smart and tempt him to waste some and then punch him. Otherwise I'm sure there's some way to re-engineer that one in as well.

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Loot and Plunder have arrived, from Lulu!

So now I'm finally the proud owner of some more excellent gaming materials, of the old school variety. Fight On! is just as good as always and the other stuff was also very nice indeed. Undoubtedly I will post more about this hoard later. Today I will note one of my impressions of the bundle.

After having browsed Stonehell, by Michael Curtis, I still think it would have been better if he had reworked it a bit from the original format. While the One Page Dungeon template might be a good focus for your creativity, I don't think it works as well as a quadrant of a bigger dungeon map. On the earlier maps I think it is clear that the connections between the quadrants are few, and it doesn't look like one big map. It looks like four maps with some connectors. The lower levels look more "organic" so I guess he felt more at home with the template as he kept chugging along.

Now, don't get me wrong. I think Stonehell is a marvellous piece of work and my first thought on cracking it open was "Now I want to find someone to play this with!" It's that inspiring. But, I think Mike could make something even more exciting without limiting himself to the template.

If I weren't so unfocused on my own writing I might try to learn something by this for my own. Having my dungeons shaped by the limits of my medium have been on my mind before.

Well. Go get Stonehell yourself and see what you think! I'm very happy I got it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Castles made of sand, stories made from threads of many colours

A few days ago I read a very enlightening piece over on the blog Playing D&D With Pornstars. He writes about the way the "work ethic" of the rogue drives play, and gets the character into troubles and adventure.

As you might remember, I posted about how I had a bad experience of my players ignoring the hooks to adventure I dangled before them. This about a work ethic made me think.

I really think you can have a good and solid game which feels interactive, even if the GM have a story to tell. I also think that having a open sandbox sounds like it's liberating, but it comes with its own set of problems not advertised on the box.

One suggestion from in one of the comments to my post lamenting my experiences with adventure hooks has the key. Imagine a campaign where the outlines of the world are prepared, and there are forces at work in the setting. This will lay some groundwork for greater machinations going on behind the scenes. Now imagine how those machinations will manifest themselves on a concrete level, visible to the players. This is an adventure hook.

This makes me think of how Dogs in the Vineyard works. The players have a town in front of them, and if the go there they will be entangled in the webs of intrigue and the twisted relationships there. Also, whatever they do will have consequences.

If the GM wants to have epic stories play out in his world, this is how they evolve. Great changes are afoot, and if the characters interact with the results of those changes the players will help shape the future. The GM will decide how much he lets the players shape until they have stepped up their game to the global level.

Let's imagine for an instant that the players ignore that town, ripe with sin and glorious options for kicking ass. If there are more things going on in the world there will be more things happening soon which will hit the fan close to where the characters are standing. This is another adventure hook.

Our hard working GM might be a bit frustrated by now if the players don't take that hook. No worries. Keep moving your "story" along, and if you don't decide to kick out your players for not doing their job (go ahead and do it!) things will happen they can't ignore. Bring 10 000 orchs to their hometown.

What I'm imagining here is not a Sandbox as such, at least not the way it sounds like when its praises are sung on old school blogs. I don't think it's a railroaded Story campaign either. I suggest a new term is founded to express the idea of a campaign frame where there are a Story fuelling conflicts in the setting, an open world whereupon the players can leave their mark and finally a whole bundle of threads which tie into the bigger issues that they players can ignore as long as they take some of these threads and start weaving. I'd like to call it a Threaded Campaign, as a middle ground between the open Sandbox and the Story Campaign.

I realize I might misrepresent some of your holy cows here. Some is for emphasis, but I think my main thrust is interesting. Feel free to comment upon that, and other thoughts you have.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Defining Dogs as a sandbox, and how hooks and threads make the box tick

Once again my commentators are thinking along the same lines as me, and I'll tie in a bit with that. I will try to expand upon DitV as sandbox, and my thoughts on the social aspect of play and what makes a game tick. The latter is what I call narrowing the sandbox. Let's dive right in.

If we put it down to basics, riding from town to town settling issues might not look very much like an open game. It's correct that there are few allowances in the game to, say, settle down and grow crops instead. But, within the limits of the way the game is set up, it's very open. Let's take a look at that, and then the rules for settling down and grow crops.

As you come to a town in Dogs, usually the problem with the town will be apparent for all to see. This person have sinned, or stepped out of line socially and the society has to be healed somehow. If you accept that your role is to heal that town, you now have total freedom! ? You could burn the town to the ground, shoot all the sinners, forgive everyone or any kind of harsh or mild action. You are invested with the power to say it is alright, and you choose how to exercise it.

So what if I wanted to grow barley instead? Well, nothing is stopping you. If you take a look at what the game system, you'll see that is not a task system. In fact, conflicts in DitV is even not really about who "win" the conflict. The system is a betting game where all you're doing is to see how far you are ready to go to win. There's even suggestions for other settings in the rulebook. If you want to settle down and grow crops you can do it, and when conflicts arise from agriculture the game system will help you decide how for you are ready to go to get what you want. Let's take a look at the social aspect of play.

Since my dear readers have pointed out that this idea that you are a "wandering religious lawman" could be considered very limiting, let's ask ourselves how that is. I'd suggest that the meta layer of the game, the social rules is most important here. Just like in my game (posted about earlier) where the players ignored the fact that they had sat down to be adventurers and thus go on adventures, there are always social rules that are the basis for a functional game.

I'd say that accepting the fact that in DitV you are supposed to be a lawman is just as basic as accepting that in D&D you wont play a starship captain. It's a social meta rule. I think these rules are probably what makes a game tick. If the players accept a limited arena of action it will feel cool, and the spaces wide within that arena.

Now, why would anyone even accept a more narrow arena than a wide open world? Well, I think it ties into the idea of adventure hooks. Even the most open game will go nowhere unless there's a hook somewhere. It might be in the character backstory, or something the GM put together. Actually, I think the game where it will feel like a real world, and with endless possibilities is one where the GM have a whole bunch of hooks, or story threads. Let's say he have a dozen he hand dangle in front of the players and they can pick and choose which one to go for. I think then you will get a good game from that prep and the socially accepted arena. It will be open, but not wide open. The edges of the box will have come into focus, but everything you do will make sense and have an effect. Isn't that what we all want as players?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What shape is that sandbox anyway?

In the comments to my last post the question arose, what happens if you ignore the town and go out in the mountains to dig for gold? Well, in DitV you are God's Watchdogs, who travel from town to town so doing that would be an error in the part of the player. Basically, you wouldn't play the game, so why did you show up?

This is where I think the shape of the sandbox becomes an issue. Imagine a game where you are playing a roguish character, but stop behaving like one. Imagine a game where you are a preacher and mailman, but stop behaving like one. In a narrow sandbox you would be able to do whatever you want, as long as you stay within that box. The thing is, there's always a shape of that box, be it narrow and long or something else.

I think that while strictly limited games where you can only do what's expected of you is considered bad, the solution to that problem is not the Sandbox silver bullet. I think the wish to be able to go anywhere and do anything is the ultimate dream of Simulationism. I'm afraid I have to use some Forge-speak, since it actually expresses what I mean here. But, for a casual gamer who just want to be heroic this wont cut the mustard.

I suggest that the reason we have adventures is that for those of us who don't want Simulationism, there has to be a Story, of some kind. The effect will be that the sandbox has to shrink, and maybe a little more narrow. It doesn't have to be narrow as a railroad track, but it suddenly gets a bit of focus when the edges are no longer lost in a mist, but can at least be imagined. I have some ideas about how to bring that focus, which I will detail tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Wild West sandbox

I was about to play Dogs in the Vineyard the day before yesterday. Since everyone in Sweden is ill, all the time, it didn't happen. But, when I was sitting on the bus going to where I though we were having a game, I realized one thing about Dogs. In DitV you as the GM generate a town, according to specific rules. Some NPCs will inhabit that town, and they are all involved in "the thing" that's happening in that town. They all have an agenda and want something specific from the characters, and you have to specify what will happen if the characters never had entered that town. Then you let the players loose and don't ever try to play god! It struck me that this is the ultimate toolbox for sandbox play.

So, that means that the most well known new school Forge-style indie game is based on sandbox play, not Story. Interesting.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gobling Waters delve!

This last Sunday we played T&T, and great fun was had. Three brave adventurers managed to be in the hobb hamlet of Kobb, and answered the pleas for help from the vertically challenged.

Grötz - a very stout dwarf
Farhandian - a very charming fairy
Jack - roguish human

Later on, Farhandian was lovingly carried back to town in an envelope to be buried and the very sturty hobb Sam took his place. Nothing stops adventure!

So, what happened? We were playing Garen Ewing's small GM adventure Goblin Waters, since it was of fitting size and I had it printed out. I really wish Garen had published the map in some other format than jpg, though. With a lossy compression format like that it was very hard to read the keys from the printout. Use png, people!

Our brave adventurers, broke as usual, came to a small hamlet where everyone was sad because their mayor and their dragon mascot had been stolen. Our brave delvers accepted their hospitality and enjoyed themselves among good food and fair hobb maidens. Then they grabbed their weapons and followed a young hobb named Sam to where he had seen the vile goblins disappear into the mountainside.

All the while they was in the caves and tunnels, goblin patrols managed to run into them. For some reason it always meant a fight instead of evasion. I guess they took that kind of serious about "punish those vile goblins". I tried to be good with hints when they encountered bigger and more well trained goblins. All those hints fell on deaf ears, but when the dwarf decided to behave like a bowling ball, and the fairy focusing on diversion it went very smooth indeed. Then the delver with gossamer wings and 4 in CON decided to go up against a goblin. Fairy past against his shield and the cavern wall. At least his comrades in arms decided to buy him a nice card to be sent home in. Suddenly Sam realized he had qualities hereto unknown, and joined the group as a spell caster. They brought poor Farhandian back to the village and Grötz had to scream very loud and recruit and train a local militia to get them to think positively again after that. Then they got back.

My favourite scene was when they had dared to enter one of the tunnels off the under ground lake and found the goblin accountant! He was totally non plussed by the appearance of intruders and even got them to help him work! Don't let anyone say that there are no NPC interactions and no character role play and immersion in a dungeon crawl! Questioning him was great fun.

What can be said about that session? Well, everyone seemed to think T&T was very fun, and that the freedom allowed by the Saving Rolls system was making the system come alive for them all. I tried to be quite generous with AP for good ideas and making us laugh. A sense of accomplishment is not to be underestimated, and the constant trickle of AP from SRs helped that. I ignored Kremm Resistance, since I haven't decided what to make of it. We also used my House rule with 4d and pick 3, for humans to measure up to other kin. Paragons I only allow after a triples, since the 4d makes all 12+ more likely.

My players will have to chime in with details I have forgotten.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A summary of the Outlaw Press scandal

This is so sad.

Today I read this very good summary of the amoral behaviour of James Shipman. Please don't buy anything from him, or contribute anything. If he sells something that is yours, initiate legal action, it seems nothing else will stop him.

This is just so sad.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Skills in Lords of Creation and DragonQuest

Last night I had intended to work on my modules, but fretted and paced to no avail and wrote nothing. Today I was dead tired from not having slept enough (not easy while fretting and pacing), and decided to take a look at Encounter Critical for Jeff Rients' competition. Guess what, I got sidetracked and got down Lords of Creation from the shelf instead. Yeah, that focused.

Did you know that there are actually skills in this Tom Moldvay design? I took a gander at the skills and their descriptions, and there was an illustration which caught my eye. On page 11 there's a lady, clothed in a ankle-length cloak. But, she is holding it open exposing a body which is either painted too look like stars and planets, or is actually a gate unto the void. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be seductive or scary. It is weird. Imagine what impression that would have left on me if I'd gotten this game at a more impressionable age. Gaming illustrations are weird sometimes. Hmm. Focus.

Back to the skills. Let's see how they work. Just like DragonQuest, these are nothing like any skills I recognize (BRP experience talking). In DQ a skill is something like a whole profession, or a class. Putting more experience into the skill unlocks new abilities, not to dissimmilar to class abilities. I thumbed through the character generation chapter in LoC, and there are skills in there! I saw a odd looking chart and decided to read up on how it worked. So, in this game you put points into a Skill, which have levels and are actually called a profession. Just like DQ you also multiply the level with some funky number (yay! arithmetics!)  to get a percentage of success. Hmm. I wonder if Mr. Moldvay knew of DQ? LoC is published in 1984, so I guess it's possible, since 2nd ed DQ was published in 1981.

I will probably not write a module tonight either.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Some reflections on sanbox campaigns

If you hang out by the blogs, especially those OSR oriented, you have probably heard the word "sandbox" mentioned a gazillion times. I don't know if it's as frequently used on the rpg forums. Maybe it is.

The idea behind a sandbox is nice. You have a world to explore as a player, and the GM have the freedom to develop just as much as is needed, since the players are going to be exploring and thus be the engine that takes the campaign somewhere. Often, freedom from "story" seems to be an objective when people set up to talk about their sandbox campaigns. I think a few things is worth mentioning about this.

Now, I am just as bored by GM railroading as the next guy. But, that is just as extreme as a world map for sandbox and having everything that happen by driven by the players. Simply put, elevating the sandbox style of play and disparaging "story based games" is taking one extreme and making it an ideal while calling the other bad and "extreme". You see what I mean?

I have had some experiences that highlight some things worth thinking about, regardless of game style. I once had a game prepared where the characters were walking down the street and a NPC jumped into the river right in front of their eyes. I expected my friends to do the obvious thing and try to rescue that fellow and try to find out why he was trying to kill himself. Let's look at this from two perspectives.

From the sandbox perspective, I was a bad GM. I had a story and I wanted my players to walk the path. In a way I agree with that description. It might have been better if I had asked the players what they wanted to do.

Let's put it another way. We had gathered to play a game, and I had prepared some stuff to entertain my friends. They re-payed that by acting like jerks, just being contrary and refusing to follow along. Weren't they just ignoring my kind of fun and trying to strike out on their own instead? No, I maintain they broke the social contract.  The rest of the session was a meandering mess where they walked around town ignoring any kind roguish adventure. No fun was had. While I certainly failed to make the game fun for them, they failed to make it fun for me as well.

If your players wont grab a plot hook you'd better let them create their own adventures. In the same vein, if your players seem to wander about and not doing much like adventure you'd better show them a hook or two. If they wont do any of those, they might need a reminder that you agreed to play a game and they don't. Too bad it took me quite a few years and my own attempt at a sandbox campaign to realize that.

It's very popular in the blogosphere to talk about the liberating effects of a sandbox. This experience of mine, and my latest attempt at a sandbox campaign in Traveller have shown me that neither the open sandbox nor the GM-story ends of the spectrum works for me. Nuances don't come across as well in this medium, but for me it seem to be the way to make a campaign work. A guided "story-sandbox" kind of works. I wanted to toss in those two cents in the big sandbox conversation.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ice Cold Horror is very popular!

I don't know about you, but I can be somewhat obsessive about collecting rpg's. One of the games where is can be expensive is Call of Cthulhu. I saw a copy of Pagan Publishing's Walker in the Wastes up on eBay a few days ago, and since we recently played through Beyond the Mountains of Madness, some more chilly horror would be right up my alley. Unfortunately Pagan are well known for quality products, and their stuff are almost all out of print, except the Delta Green stuff which I guess sells best. But, I can't help but wonder if it wouldn't be enough fans around to pay for a new printinng of Walker. POD maybe? Pre-oder POD, maybe? Guess what? I didn't get that book off eBay. It ended on $193 USD!! Even I am not that crazy. Good grief.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Do you want to own a rpg? M20 for sale

I just read over on Greywulf's Lair, that he is selling the rights to Microlite20! That was not what I expected to find on the web today.

If you don't know what it is, I will summarize. 3rd ed D&D had something called the SRD and the OGL, which made it possible to write a game based on 3rd ed and retool it to your tastes. Greywulf decided to distill the core essence of that game to three stats and four skills. Everything fits on a page! I was participating somewhat on the ENWorld forums when Greywulf started to talk online about this project, so I feel I was there from the beginning. For some reason I have never managed to convince somebody to try it, but it's still a favourite. Take a look at it.

Now Greywulf feels he has lost that initial energy and enthusiasm, and that somebody else should be the one to take M20 into the future. So, if you want to own a game system of your own, it's for sale!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Swords & Wizardry experience richer

So, finally we managed to arrange for a session of S&W, and I even got to play. This last autumn I got the impression that everyone is ill all the time in this country. Even tonight one of our players couldn't show up, and one was ok but had a slight cold. Gaming prevailed.

It was interesting to have a group with so mixed experiences of D&D. Where one player was solidly a 3rd ed player, another have been playing since the seventies and are a regular 1st ed gamer who have also played 3rd and 4th. Then there was me who loves the old school, but have a solid knowledge and experience of 3rd & 4th and just disagree with it. It would be an experiment with old school to see how well it went over. Luckily we complemented each other and we had a good time.

While I had expecting roll 3d6 in order we actually had the generous option of 4d6 drop the worst. Those characters were good! I wanted to play a M-U and got the stats for it. Naturally, I started with Sleep prepared.

We got a background briefing, and it was clear that our DM had been working on the setting and the history. If I hadn't actually been talking to him about dungeons I might have become a bit worried there. Some haggling and in character interaction we positioned ourselves in our party roles and established some character traits. Since my fellow players rolled far worse than me for starting gold, I graciously offered to lend them some of my money. Naturally, I charged interest. Stiff interest. Miser? Me?

Then we set off for the ruined city. While the setting info had given me some sense of wonder about the olden days when the Empire was around I had already forgotten most of it. I always do that unless I take notes. I knew there was a ruined city, and we wanted to go there.

We scouted somewhat and got a good view of the city. Most of it was rubble, but some greater structures stood. Dice rolled on the table and we noticed some flying monsters taking off from some still standing tower. Lucky us. Taking cover we kept out of sight and nothing bad happened. Something bad did happen to a goblin skulking about in the city, he managed to get a throwing axe lodged in his back. Clumsy goblin.

Since it was late we had to find shelter, and did find just that in another tower. We had to fight a monster who poped out of a glass globe someone unfriendly tossed at us as soon we entered the tower. A seriously grumpy owlbear was dispatched and my poor mage missed with his darts five rounds in a row! The melee fighters was good to have around. After some negotiations we could enter the tower and managed to calm the crazy hermit living there. While everyone were busy talking to the hired hands I decided to kill the crazy hermit and take his library of glass globes as my own. For some strange reason it turned out my party was squeamish and after the deed expressed horror. At least he wouldn't slit their throats at night. We took possession of his camp and grabbed what valuables there were. That was the reason we wanted to seek adventure, right? Having counted the gold we decided this was enough for one session.

S&W was easy enough, with a very quick combat system. Much could be accomplished without being bogged down in rules, and I felt we got that thrill of exploration even though we hadn't even found the entrance to the catacombs under the city. Clearing out a building room by room is a special feeling. The only real discussion we had about the rules was about xp bonuses. One player felt they were unfair and undermined the idea of the party. I have been thinking that myself sometimes, since it's a reward given over and over again for someone being lucky with random generation of stats. A very good player might be punished even if he does everything right, while a player who lucked out and rolled 13 both for CHA and WIS suddenly advance quicker. I really hate the idea of a "balanced" system, but that rule is not one of my favourite. Letting go of it, without building a sense of player entitlement probably is on my wishlist. I've thought it before, but real play made it stand out.

Now I hope we can make this more than a one shot, and that there will be some regular S&W gaming. Our DM and his betrothed are expecting their first child pretty soon so we will see how that affect things. After some time at home with a newborn you probably want to meet some other adults, I hope. At least I now have had some S&W experience, and it was positive!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sherlock Holmes, dungeon delver III

imagine standard spoiler disclaimer here

My last impressions of the Sherlock Holmes movie are concerning the main antagonists. If you have a recurring vilain in your campaign, you have probably been thinking about how to make that villain cool and worthy of the attentions of your players. I have some hint for you.

Imagine Lord Blackwood. He has short, backward combed hair. He has deep set eyes. He enters a stage to speak to his followers in a black leather coat which makes you think of Gestapo. He talks about his thousand year reign. He is tacky.

Imagine Professor Moriarty. He drives around in style. He has normal clothing. He let's others do his dirty work and when he is walking about he does it without being noticed. He don't want to kill everyone who disagrees. He keeps in the shadows. He offers threats which are subtle and thus believable. He is a good villain.

Keep it classy folks.

I have no idea if the book Villain Design Handbook by Kenzer & Co is any good, but I think it could have been useful for Guy Ritchie. Do tell if you know anything about the book.

The Piper delivers!

Today I got to sit down and take a peek at some goodies in the mail. I'm happy to say that as the last customer of Pied Piper Publishing direct sales I got a very tasty treat. Go to Noble Knight Games and purchase some of the PPP Old School goodness!

For those of you who don't know about PPP, this is what you need to know. PPP is the company of Robert J. Kuntz, the guy who was co-DM of the Castle Greyhawk campaign. Not only is Rob a very nice guy who have kindly answered questions I've asked about the old ways in Lake Geneva, he also sells some very nice products. Some of those are reproductions of his notes used in the early seventies while Dave, Ernie, Gary and others were delving in dungeons. Almost as cool to get to see as a proper publishing of Ken St. Andre's Gristlegrim would be.

I ordered The Original Bottle City, which came numbered and signed with two maps scanned from very fragile looking graph paper almost as old as myself! Add to this the module Tower of Blood and the source book of magic miscellanea called El Raja Key's Arcane Treasury and you have one very happy rpg fan opening his mail. Combine the talent of Eric Shook and Lance Hawvermale with Rob Kuntz and you have some very interesting stuff. I will probably post more about my impressions of these items later. Now I'm a very happy camper.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sherlock Holmes, dungeon delver II


I guess everyone who saw the movie noticed the elaborate trap, and maybe even thought about it. This is how I see it.

When the trap was triggered Irene Adler was in dire straights. The stake was to get the machine stopped before she died. We get graphic visuals showing us what is at stake, as pig carcasses gets sawn apart. Now did you notice where Sherlock was looking?

He saw the mechanism to the trap, and he saw what was holding Irene fastened. At this point he had two ways to approach the problem, by freeing her or by disabling the mechanism. Note how the clock is ticking, and we have a time limit for the trap. This makes it more tense than just a pressure plate and a save for half damage.

The most delightful part of how this trap was set up was that violence was always an option, as well as a more refined or crafty one. The mechanism was visible and you could poke at it and try to stop it, you could grasp how it worked and try to shut it off. A very real option was also to just jam something durable into the gears and make it stop or at least slow down. This gave it a possibility for multiple types of gamers to solve the issue. Yes, we also had the chains and the lock. The lock was visible, but you had to reach above Irene's head to get at it, and it was moving. Clearly an oportunity for inventiveness, and also sweeten the payoff for successfull disabling by putting the character who tries to solve the puzzle in the line of danger. Everyone loves to succeed when there was a threat of real danger. Naturally, you could hang onto Irene and just try to apply force to those chains and break the hostage loose.

Did you see all that?

I think the way this scene was set up was a marvellous set piece trap that any DM worth his salt should study and emulate. There are multiple venues of approach, and you can work one them more than one at a time. Violence is an option and there is a time limit. Very important for all this to work is that there are nothing hidden. We all see the mechanism clearly and the only thing left is to to try handle the situation. I'd would love that in a game!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sherlock Holmes, dungeon delver I

Last night I watched the newest Sherlock Holmes film, and I started thinking of gaming as soon as I was out of the theatre. The rest of this post and those related to it will talk about what happens in the film, decide for yourself if you want to come back and read them after seeing the film.

Now we can get started talking about what happens in the film, and how it can be used to make your games better.

I think the film was quite fun, even though it was an interpretation of a more action and violence oriented Holmes than I'd prefer. Victorian London was a quite rough place to be, and maybe I've been seduced by the fairly idealized picture that Conan Doyle presents, and ignored the sooty and miserable place London was for the majority of its inhabitants during the late 1800. Still, there were a few very graphic fights, which I will now dwell a bit further upon.

Except for the fight in the arena, or pit fight (which by the way made me think of a certain career in Warhammer FRP), the environment was crucial to the outcome of the fights. The fight with the big French speaking dude was just about destroying furniture until Holmes found the electric device. Picking up junk lying around will in most games just give you something equivalent to a dagger, or similar "light" weapon. Improvised weapons like the leg of a stool or chair might not pack the same punch as a gun, but sometimes they might be just what you need. I made me wonder if beefing up those improvised weapons, handing out action points or some other way to use game mechanics to bolster combat effectiveness is the answer to make this happen in a game. Frankly I think not. The best way to handle it is probably a change in the attitude of Game Masters, giving out support for innovative actions. Still, game mechanics are such a method. Hmm.

Apart from that insight, I think the general question of the environment is interesting. When they were fighting, it made the fights less repetitive and more interesting when there was a possibility to fall off a tall bridge or get crushed by a ship while fighting. Dan Bayn used to write a column over at about action scenes. I think it should be mandatory reading for any GM. Dan is overflowing with cool ideas, and I only wish I remembered half of what I've read of that column when I sit behind the screen. One of the things Dan writes about is how to enliven fights using the environment. Just think about when Sherlock swings around on top of that bridge, rotating around and coming up behind whom he was fighting. Are there a rope or chain hanging around? Grab it and swing!

So, you say that all this is cool and great, fun you want your game more traditional, and more focused on the thrill of fantasy than cinematic steampunk? Well, think about rivers of lava, high bridges over deep ravines. I don't know about you, but some of those images gives me a great feeling of fantasy. Just think about Moria.

Maybe the lesson from all this is that when designing dungeon rooms or encounters in general, we as designers should include some random junk, and some more cracks in the floor, ice patches, lava rivers and red hot pokers. One way to make it less "canned" and make it more of a toolbox would be to include a chart of these effects and suggest the GM rolls on it once in a while to liven up the delve. Food for thought if you plan on writing an adventure for somebody else to run.

My next game will include a Sherlock Holmes and Dan Bayn.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Old School. More than a feeling?

Some of you might have read Grognardia a short while ago, where a quote from Ken St. Andre was commented upon. I liked it myself and nodded in agreement until I thought some more.

If this snippet of wisdom from Ken St. Andre should work in play, you would have to train your players!

I have tried to use dopplegangers as a monster in play. It failed miserably, since the players didn't trust nobody. Guess what happened when they found someone chained in a dungeon asked to be freed? Guess how likely they would have been to act like Ken suggests?

In order to have your players try to talk themselves out of troubles instead of just charging into a TPK, they need to be trained to do it. Old School play is not just a feeling, and this proves it. Any kind of dungeon dressing, or any kind of "first edition" monster collection can be brought to the table without any old school play happening.

Few xp for monsters but much xp for gold is an excellent way to achieve the training I'm talking about. I'm beginning to wonder this was removed from T&T? Yes, it was in there back in the beginning. Ken once mentioned it was taken out, so unless I misunderstood him it should have been in there.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Looking forward to 2010

I have been keeping quiet for a while now, with the holidays taking all the time for me. For some people, this is the time to meet old friends and play games. I'm afraid most of my old friends I might meet if I go visit familiy, is stuck in the WoW swamp and wont play proper rpgs any more. I love to spend some time with family, but for my gaming needs the holidays really suck. But, now I'm looking forward to the whole of 2010.

This is my dreams and visions for 2010 of what I want to play

Play more T&T
The last year was the year when my T&T campaign really hit its stride. Sadly it was also the year when I had to bring it to a close, since I was leaving Canada. The gears are still turning, and I would like to keep the momentum. 2010 is the year when I will try to play T&T regularly again.

Start a Call of Cthulhu campaign
One of my old friends e-mailed me once a month, when the electronic mailing list for that gaming group sent out monthly reminders. I will try to make something of that this year. That friend have since been swamped by family issues, but his enthusiasm was contagious. 2010 is the year when I will try to start a Call of Cthulhu campaign.

While I have been a enthusiastic supporter of a lot of the retroclone efforts, I still haven't played any. Labyrinth Lord is not that interesting for me since I have more than one copy of B/X already, and the same is true of OSRIC and AD&D. I would like to play some S&W, though, and in a few days we have a session planned. Hopefully I will see more of that this year.

Looking wider I think we will see the OSR publication efforts continue. Today I pre-ordered the S&W white box from Brave Halfling, and I think we will see more interesting developments. With some luck I will at least try S&W WB out once.

As everyone knows who reads this blog, I love Tunnels & Trolls. It's not as visible in the old school community as I would like, but since D&D have a huge mind share of everyone playing rpgs it's not that surprising. But, I plan to actually produce more material for T&T in the future, and make it more visible. I have gotten permission from Rick Loomis to post T&T support here and in the fanzines, so I need to get up to speed. I will have less time in the future so maybe I will have to scale back on my other online activity, or learn how to sleep less. We will see how that goes.

I also have a bunch of material I would like to publish in a more tangible form. That now takes up most of my time, and I have been thinking of how to go forward with it. Tax rules and that kind of crap is making my brain hurt, and it isn't very easy to start up a publishing company. It takes a lot of time to write, map, layout and also think about the business end.

To summarize 2010 from this vantage point I'd say, get in touch with me if you need a player! I want to play more games.
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