Friday, December 30, 2011

Dressed for the occasion

Today I took a trip to the royal castle in Stockholm with my family. The kids loved the suits of plate armour on display, and loved trying helmets on and stuff like that. Looking at these royal and upper class outfits I realized one thing missing in most games I've played.

Usually an adventurer have one outfit, and after a sweaty delve they maybe (just maybe) take a bath at a tavern before they put it on for the next trip downstairs. Just imagine if you wanted to do a trip out in the wilderness, or god forbid, actually tried to set an adventure in the city! Suddenly you'd have a new great money sink for your players!

Imagine a historical game. In the historical eras I browsed through at the museum today, each and every social function used a separate dress! Not so long ago, you even had special clothing on when taking a sporty ride in your car! Sure, it might have been purely the upper classes, but at least in some games that's the guys we are portraying!

Now, even in the fantasy city people are bound to treat you differently depending on how you are dressed. Should you start a bar fight and have the city guard show up, I'm betting they would treat someone in fancy clothing quite differently than a tattered adventurer who looks, literally, like he crawled up from a hole in the ground. Also, like I said it could be used as a money sink.

Just some thoughts.

I also passed by a store selling Carcosa and Isle of the Unknown from LotFP. Quite good looking books, I tell you!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 is behind me, 2012 is coming...

So, the year is nearly in the bag, and a new one looms ahead. Let's look back a moment.

What did 2011 bring to the table? For me one of the best moments was when I scored both The First Fantasy Campaign, and a British 1st ed. of Tunnels & Trolls. That one will be hard to beat!

Personal accomplishments must be that I finally sat down behind the screen (from Trail of Cthulhu) as the Keeper of Arcane Lore for a Call of Cthulhu game. For so many years, that has been one of my favourite games and now I finally got to run it! Also, being published in Fight On! together with so many creative individuals was definitely a personal highlight.

A true blessing have been my faithful readers. That's you! Many thanks for those who check in here more or less regularly, and post comments. My interest have flagged somewhat during the year, but having a readership is a marvellous ego boost. Thanks!!

Lost causes this year was my failure to run a game of T&T. I tried the Raggi method by plastering the city with notes, and got no reply what so ever. Damn, I miss Canada! Swedes are a sullen lot, who don't let you in easily. The same fate befell any attempts to play old D&D. I was a player in a play by forum game, but it died on the vine. I have posted my conclusions about play by forum in another post.

But! Time to look forward. What will happen in 2012? Will I finally become a google droid like so many else, and run a game on google+? Who knows. I like the idea, but spend so much time before a computer anyway, and when I am home I would like to either sleep or spend time with my books or my family.

I will try too run more CoC games. I loved it, and have so much good material to try out. Small but vicious dog reawakened in me the urge to do something with Warhammer. I still think that game would be so sweet as a Burning Wheel game. Burning Hammer, eh? Savage Worlds is another game that just begs to be played.

My attempts to create some original material always seen ti flounder. Most of my creativity comes on a tight deadline for my weekly game, which I have none at the moment. We'll see if I do something about those issues.

New games, then? You know, there are some cool things coming out, but I can't for the life of me post a very long list! The only thing I can say I really look forward to is the new edition of Cthulhu by Gaslight.

How was your year? Can you help me get pumped up about some upcoming games that I have overlooked? Feel free to chip in!

A Happy New Year to all of you out there in blogging land!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Some impressions of Skulduggery

A short while ago, I got an email from the excellent service Loot. That means I get some sweet deals and need to decide at once of I want to buy it. This time it was a rpg from Pelgrane Press, designed by Robin D. Laws. I will post another time on my feelings on those names. I had not heard of the game, but it was enticing enough and I bought it. The game was called Skulduggery.

The game is supposed to be a game where witticisms and verbal fencing is a core feature, and inter player conflicts are not only common, but fun. I liked the idea. Now I have read most of it, and I have some impressions to share.

First off, this quote is very telling and summarize much of what the game is about:
"A character who knocks out another and then tried to kill him is invariably interrupted by a surprising event that places him at a sudden disadvantage. While the attacker deals with the troubling plot twist, the intended victim wakes up, unharmed."
Got that? This is a game where everyone is expected to abide by the social contract, and enter the game ready to do this one thing. It's a game about this setup, something with a special feeling and modes of behaviour. Let's delve into some details.

Generating character is a very quick procedure. Every setting is both a scenario with a setup, relevant NPCs and pre generated characters with personal goals and abilities. You spread out the cards, pick one at random and you are done! I wish it was that quick generating characters in all kind of games! There are no other way to generate character in the rules. In this game the character will need to be tightly coupled to each other and the game setting.

The game system is quite simple in the basics. You roll a die and if you 4+ you succeed. The traits you have are pool points you can spend on re-rolls, until you get a satisfactory result. Naturally, there are additional details. Some of those are the qualifiers you get to your abilities. For example, your Persuade ability is tagged with a word showing how you persuade. Some of those trumps or are trumped by other styles. Quite a neat idea. It is indeed a game of fencing, where you jab and riposte with those re-roll spends. The verbal power struggles are at the core of it all.

The bad thing about this game, which to begin with seem so simple, is that you get bonuses, penalties and state in a myriad of different combinations and permutation. Well, maybe not a myriad, but it is complex. There's no way you run this game without a cheat sheet. All those things almost demand you to have chips or tokens and some kind of play area or similar to pile those status indicators on.

While I have yet to actually play the game, it feels surprisingly fiddly for being such a simple game. Actually, many procedures feels slightly odd until you read a side bar or another chapter of the rules. It's a bit like the game could have used another shake through for reorganization and the fiddly bits maybe had been presented somewhat clearer. Now there are hidden some suggestions in the depth of one chapter some costs for point spends in certain situations which then are not part of the combat example. It feels, sadly, like a lot of first editions do in our hobby.

All in all, it's an interesting game. Very much like the Forge style games, it is narrow in focus. But, that makes it piercing to the point of the core game experience it is trying to create. This reinforce Pelgrane Press as a publisher that dares to go out on a limb.

Would I recommend the game? Well, I would like to play it before I deliver the final verdict, but it is a game that suffer from being less clear than it could be. The set up is really cool, though.

Fight On! Magazine #13 is out!

I hope you have not missed that Fight On! Magazine issue 13 is out? This time it is dedicated to none other than Ken St Andre!

This time, I have managed to get a contribution of mine in print. I am in august company, let me tell you! Check it out.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Traveller rule for general empowerment and player satisfaction

Even though I hate the idea of a "balanced" party, there are some value to having game system support for everyone getting involved. Today I noticed, reading my new shiny rulebook from Mongoose, that the latest incarnation of Traveller have a solution for that as well.

I guess everyone have heard it said, or something to that effect, the dread question of who wants to play that class nobody else wants. Usually the cleric. If we leave the question aside if the cleric is a bad/boring class or not, I think the phenomenon is till interesting. Apparently many think a party "needs" a thief/cleric/whatnot to be "balanced" or competitive.

So, why? What can be done about it? Should something be done?

Well. There have been many arguments about the folly of trying to balance the rpg experience for maximum "fun", and I think we are all kind of tired of that. So, just let us assume that the idea is here to stay and maybe there are something to be learned from it.

In Trail of Cthulhu the idea is that since it is a game about investigation, all the skills that can be used for investigation should be covered by the party. The way it is done is basically that the number of points available to by skills for is dependent on the amount of players. You will have enough points to cover all the skills, by design. That is one way of doing it, and it might make sense for a skill based system.

In Traveller, the Mongoose incarnation thereof, they have something that I feel might be of slightly greater utility. After character generation, you get a "skill package", which is a set of skills bundled by the kind of campaign you'll play. Everyone gets to pick a skill, then everyone gets a second one, and so on until all are picked. That way, if you are going to do a trader campaign the basic foundation is there.

Some might say that in a sandbox, no such thing should be allowed. Everything should be shaped by the players, and having a skill package thrust upon the players by a campaign theme is hearing the steam whistle in the distance. Personally I think one reason why I have not managed to get any of my Traveller games off the ground is that we have not been explicit enough about what kind of campaign we have wanted, and thus we have gotten mismatched expectations and player characters. Bringing it out into the open like that, maybe the players can pick a campaign theme? Maybe the referee does not have a say in it at all, if you are that adverse to GM led story gaming? I think that is stupid, but what the heck.

Apart from that idea of having everyone on the same page, can it be used for something else? Well, I know one reason many people hate random character generation is that they want to be competent. They will feel bored or lost if their character does not have a guaranteed time in the spot light. Maybe having such a Skill Package is a way to soften the harsh experience of a pure random generation of characters? Whatever happens, those weird stats you got wont handicap you that much, since you are sure to have at least one or two picks of "good" skills? I think it is an interesting option.

Now let's tackle the cleric issue.

If the reason it is felt that there has to be a cleric in the party, maybe that can be alleviated by something like Skill Packages? Maybe it will even stack with previously picked skills, making sure that the party not only have the skills needed, but also emphasize the abilities of those who already picked the "party support" skills. That way those would be sure to shine. In the case of a class based instead of a skill based system, it might be tougher to jam in additional abilities. If you don't want to soften up the walls between classes and just and the "needed" abilities outright, consider making the Skill Package be mundane and magical items to choose from! If they have charges, and limited charges to boot, the "pure" game will reassert itself when those charges have run out, and hopefully the players have adapted to their character abilities and can use those to best effect.

Maybe I'm kicking in open doors, but I felt there was a tool to be used in general in that little paragraph in the latest incarnation of the rpg workhorse, Traveller. New uses for old tools, eh?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Traveller - the game I thought I had quit

Traveller is one of the icons in the hobby. For me the acronym LBB always meant Little Black Books, and referred to the three volumes of Classic Traveller from 1977. I have never seen the OD&D books in real life, so I maybe they look more brown than I think, but for me they have always looked more cream or khaki coloured, but I guess LBB looks better than LCB or LKB does.

I have a quite decent collection of Traveller books, from all the eras of the game. The first one I owned was MegaTraveller, and while I agree with

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cool things in first edition

As you might have read, I recently became the proud owner of a copy of the British 1st edition of Tunnels & Trolls. It's virtually identical to the American 2nd edition which should be the same as the first one apart from the cover. At least, that's my understanding. Ken or someone else might tell me I'm wrong, though.

In any case it's a marvellous peek into the culture of gaming back in the olden days, regardless of you play T&T or not.

First it starts with some advice on "Digging the tunnels". Tunnels being the word used instead of Dungeons. Yes, this is a game about dungeons. the rules even say about CON and STR that they are automatically restored to their previous level if and when the character returns to safely to the surface! That's a healing rule for you! These are the general rules (paraphrased somewhat) apart from the suggestion that you create a vertical cutaway.

1. Let the imagination run wild
2. Put in as much as you can think of. Nobody likes to mess around in a tedious tunnel.
3. Use as much humour as you can.
4. Deeper in the tunnels mean tougher.
5. Traps and spells should be avoidable.

This goes counter to the Empty Rooms Principle, and I'm not sure I disagree. The principle looks good on paper, but will it lead to players zoning out until something fun happens? Maybe sometimes. Some of the other points I just think is worthy of repeating.

Characters then. Some interesting points. Rogues have to change class after level 7! They have to choose to walk the path of the Magic-User (yes, that's the term. I like it) or the Warrior. Interesting. It would be an interesting hack of D&D to really only have two classes, with magic or without and if you mix you sooner or later have to choose.

Naturally there are rules for combat. As someone who have seen some editions come and go know, inflation hits most games. Everything is smaller in this edition. No weapons doing 6d of damage! Some things worthy of note is the small reminder that you can not fight and hold a torch, and yes all monster get double the amount of dice in a fight in darkness. Ouch! Then there's rules for capturing monsters, which brings back memories of OD&D. Subduing dragons, anyone? I like the variant of the Splintering Shields, where the Warrior (only the Warrior) gets to multiply his level with the armor rating, once, before it is destroyed. Interesting.

When it comes to XP, suddenly we see the gold for XP rule! I like that. Also, multiply by level seem to be a popular mechanic in this part of the rules. Combat XP is Monster Rating x dungeon level / level of the victor. XP for saves are also multiplied by your level, and not by the level of the save. Levels, levels. There's even level titles! Yay!

In general there are many rules in here that I think is better than the newer ones. But, the many subtractions, divisions and multiplications feels a bit old. In any case it's clear that level 7 was something to write home about, and a weapon doing more than 2d is cool again.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Why this focus on sappy tv shows?

This is a rant. You have been warned.

Have you looked at some of the games labelled as "storygames" or games about which the designer sprouts exclamations like Story Now? I have, and while I love some New School Forge games, some things makes me sigh.

This all begins with Robin Laws (my Robin Laws number is 3, by the way).

I was listening to a recorded session from Dragonmeet, namely the Pelgrane Press session with Simon, Robin and Ken and they talked about upcoming stuff. One thing Robin was working on was something called Drama System. This was presented as yet another attempt at trying to use the narrative structure of other media in a rpg.

Often when new school games borrow ideas about narrative structure they seem to think of TV shows. Actually, a few games by Robin Laws does this. There are a couple of games that explicitly try to minic TV shows, like Buffy, Smallville and Primetime Adventures. My experience with those games are not positive.

So, when I heard about Drama System I triggered on the word "relationships". I have realized that one reason I'm not very fond of taking inspiration from TV shows is that I really don't care for relationship focused TV soaps.

Why are all these Forgie New School games so focused on relationships? Some designers talk about how odd it is with the classical adventuring party, outside of society and without any natural human bonds and relations. Others talk about how interpersonal conflicts drive drama and immersive roleplaying.

Those who have games with me know that I can go bananas with funny voices, in character speak and that thespian spiel. But, I can also play the game with the characters as chess pieces when I want to focus on e.g. world or story exploration (going along the rails, for the heck of it). I think both is valid roleplaying.

So, why is sappy tv shows the norm for serious character development? I don't think it's anything wrong with it, but I am bored of it! I have relationships already, to friends and family. Why do I have to have that in a game?

Rant over.

As usual, the real world is a bit more nuanced and if it seems like I was slagging a certain designer, let it be known that I received my copy of Robin Laws Skullduggery yesterday, and it looks like great fun!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What I don't like about Trail of Cthulhu

Since I just ran a game of Call of Cthulhu, including some rules and concepts from Trail of Cthulhu, I have spent some time pondering the qualities of the latter.

Why did I not just run a ToC game?

Basically, my main beef with ToC is that I don't really feel very comfortable about rolling one die. It might seem like a small thing, but I want more randomness in my games.

If you, like in ToC, rolls 1d6, may add in "spends" from your pools (all skills are pools of points) trying to beat difficulty of, say, 3-4, it goes without saying that most times randomness wont be a factor. Naturally, this is a design feature. Robin Laws who designed the game clearly states that his idea is to make the system drive a kind of narrative that behaves in a specified way.

Personally I like the quality of "new school" games, like the forge style games and others, to have rules that reinforce and drive toward a style of play the designer envision his or her game to be about. Many times, almost as many times that I have claimed Alignment leads to brain damage, I have elevated the rule of gold equals xp to sublime levels of design mastery, due to the effects it can have in enforcing a style of play. This is something I think is the great re-discovery stemming from Ron Edwards "system matters".

What kind of style is it then that ToC reinforce with its pools you can spend for basically guaranteed success? Well, it is a game where you can be sure, as a player, that the actions of your character will succeed. If you have a decent pool of at least 2, trying to beat 4 (a rough mean of a 2-8 scale) is an average chance of success of more than 80%. I think that makes it kind of pointless to have a randomizer with those odds. Before we delve too deep into math and probabilities, the main point of my argument is that on such a small scale a spend of one point, to say nothing of more than one, makes successes almost certain.

So, why is that bad? Isn't it good for the players to have say in when they get to shine? Well, no. Not when the object of the game is horror.

Horror demands giving up certainty and hope. Vagueness and isolation, and the strong possibility of failure and its following painful result is what drives the sense of horror. I think ToC is a fine game for CSI, but not for horror.

Some say the rules don't work that way in actual play, and they might be right. I have only played ToC once, but it did not falsify my principal objections to the rules. Feel free to disagree!

Friday, December 9, 2011

How did it work? Combining the Cthulhu game rules

So, now I have run to sessions of my Trail of Cthulhu infused Call of Cthulhu hack. How did it go?

To begin with, I think more sessions are needed to really expose the dark corners of the system. But, I think I some impressions would be fun to share.

How about the most talked about feature of ToC? Well, I have said before that I think having a scenario stall because somebody missed their Spot Hidden roll is just shoddy game mastering. Having rules that hinder that just feels like the wrong way to fix the problem. That being said, I always liked the way how Unknown Armies handled skill percentages. In that game you are really good with a skill of 50%. That doesn't mean that you fail every second time you try to do what you do to earn your living. If you have 50%, you can earn your living, without rolling! That way of handling skills is a way to fuse ToC with the regular BRP system. You don't roll your Spot Hidden to notice that clue, and fail. If you are a guy who needs to be perceptive to make a living, you just spot things. That's what that 50% means. It turned out quite well in real play. You roll your dice anyway and if you succeed I give some extra info or colour. I think that worked fine.

The part of ToC that I personally feel is most interesting is the Drive, Pillars of Sanity and Sources of Stability. I implemented the Drive and the Pillars. The former I actually turned to once, just checking if it was time for a soft driver. The player in fact used the Drive to justify the roleplay, and the Driver thus worked, without actually turning into a game mechanic. Would that roleplay have happened without the Drive? Maybe, but the signpost and guide for roleplay was there. I think that worked fine.

After the scenario I realized that I had totally failed to ask for SAN rolls at quite a few opportunities when it would have been applicable. Thus, the concept of the Pillars needs further play testing.

I will probably make a follow up post on this topic after some more sessions of play. Sadly, it seems like the great game killer season is upon us, and now people will be travelling to be with friends and family. Probably we will have to wait until January until the next session.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

New Loot - pictorial evidence!

Here it is! My holy grail for a time have been to get hold of a copy of the 1974 edition of D&D for a decent price. In addition to that, a 1st or 2nd ed. of T&T and The First Fantasy Campaign have been at the top of the list.

You see that stuff up there? Not only is that a copy of FFC, in pristine condition, from the personal collection of Ken St. Andre. Ken even had a few extra maps, from a few other Judges Guild products it seems like.

But wait, there's more!

You see that little black book? It's the British 1st edition of Tunnels & Troll, which looks identical to the 2nd American edition I have browsed. That means puny damage from most weapons, ablative armour and some other goodies from the earlier editions. You get Adventure Points for gold! The cover looks very funky, but the innards is pure gold. Eh... adventure, I mean.

This was all from an auction Ken ran, with a percentage of the proceeds going to a fund to help artist Jeff Freels with some quite serious medical expenses. Take a look at the stuff Jeff is selling. He's an amazing artist.

I'm dancing the happy dance today, both for me and for Jeff.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


I am finally the proud owner of a copy of The First Fantasy Campaign! From the personal collection of Ken St Andre it came, in marvellous condition! Tomorrow I will try to take some pictures to show it off. Quite the grail, and it was not the only grail I got...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How to play by forum

A friend of mine started a game by post a while ago. It was an attempt to try out the principles in Matt Finch primer, using S&W and a big dungeon. I had tried games like that before, with differing results, but since I had no game and felt the urge to get some gaming done I joined in.

It has now ground to a halt, or at least found such a glacial pace that I doubt it will continue. This time I felt I should summarize some lessons learned.

1. Decide on a posting schedule - This I think is crucial. Everyone involved should know that they are expected to send something in, on schedule. I remember way back when there was such a thing as postal PBM, you had a deadline before sending in your orders. Keep it regular, and time should flow constantly in the game. The GM should move things on if no input is forthcoming.

2. Have a well known way to handle out of character chatter and logistical information - Everyone should have the ground rules down. If you leave town, or had some tense days at work, let everyone know - beforehand.

3. The GM should re-frame the scene in a clear way when collating the player input, either at every new dungeon room, or at each suitable dramatic interval. If you feel up to it, do it every time players have sent in their "orders". In that way players will see the GM rephrase their intents and it will be clear if there's a misunderstanding. It is quite annoying when you expect everyone to be present in a scene/room and suddenly realize one PC is not there.

Using those principles is key, in my experience.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Kult - as a comic book

Some of you might have heard of Kult? It was a Swedish horror rpg, first published in 1991. It was translated to a bunch of languages, English among them, and sold quite decently. It was quite intense and didn't shy back from some fairly gruesome stuff. In the process it proved that controversy can be quite good for the bottom line.

Now Dark Horse have put out a comic book, a mini series in four parts, based on the game. Naturally, I couldn't just let such a thing pass, so I picked it up.

While the idea of a comic book based on a rpg is not new (anyone have read some of that dreadful D&D comics? I have read both the really old ones and the new ones), I thought it would be interesting to see if they had managed to capture the game in any way in the book.

For those who don't know much about the game an its setting, I can summarize the game system as BRP divided by 5 and all the rolls by d20. It's nothing special, except that I seem to remember some funkiness in the combat system. The setting was where the game really shone.

It was a gnostic world view, but with the twist that the moral was that all the pain and suffering is of our own choosing, and by gnosis can you transcend into godhood. Heady stuff. Uncovering more and more nasty stuff and then realize that it was all done by you, and unto you, was potent material for a very personal horror. Sadly, most of the supporting material focused on the nasty stuff in graphic detail, where violence and gore was never really more than effect, and the gnostic elements were never really explored that well.

Sadly, the comic goes to the heart of the metaphysics and the fight for the dual nature of reality, the one part where the game is at its weakest. I mean, who really cares about big fights wherein the dark creator of the world duke it out with someone with too many claws and teeth for their own good?

Kult was very much like Mage in its first edition. In that game reality was a prison and by discovering your own potential you could break free into total freedom. Kult in contrast was about how breaking free was encountering the shivering existentialism at the heart of reality, freedom through total denigration of your self. It doesn't travel that well unto the pages of a comic book.

Anyway for those who feel curios about the comic check this link.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Anyone have a good source of sound effects?

In the prep work for my stint as a Keeper of Arcane Lore for Call of Cthulhu, I browsed around for some sound effects to use as ambient background noise during the session. When we played Beyond the Mountains of Madness, our Keeper had managed to find some very good noises both for the boat trip to Antarctica and for when we was on the ice. It managed to give that extra subtle but constant reminder that we "were" in another place.

What I did find now when I searched, was only short snippets that either faded out or faded in. If you wanted to have them as ambient sounds in the background, you'd get some very annoying clicks and points when the sounds would go away before suddenly re-emerge. Needless to say, looping them just didn't work.

So, where do you go to find good, loop able, sounds for sounds of weather and general noises in rural or urban areas? Anyone have a good stack? Do you know a site where they reside? My google-fu wasn't up to it before the session, and I thought I should try other methods before the next one.

Where to go for you next game setting? The bible!

Even if you care nothing for the religious dimensions of the christian bible, read this marvellous post by FrDave! That is a truly inspired post that takes a literary basis and weaves from it a setting with dynamics and both a dungeon and NPCs. Great work!

How about a new adventure for DragonQuest?

For those you don't follow the DragonQuest emailing lists, this is a heads up for a crowd funding effort to produce new adventures for the old game. I think it looks interesting, but sadly I can't afford to chip in until after Christmas. :(

Take a peek!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Hils Rise Wild - some impressions

Last Saturday we played The Hills Rise Wild for Call of Cthulhu. Now after the fact I'm wondering why I decided to play that scenario? Let me put it this way.

In the scenario, the text describes how the players are introduced to the events and then sketches out a trip into the wilderness and then on day three, it say "this is when the scenario start for real" (paraphrased). There's a problem there.

As written, this assumes that it takes two days to travel to where the scenario start. When we ran it my players checked the capabilities of their car and we looked at the maps of New England I had printed out. It turned out the actual travel time, unless you stop and ask the locals every mile, is one hour. Have I missed something, or have the author only assumed that the investigators stop every mile? Nothing in the background and the introduction suggest that. I guess you could me a sloppy Keeper, but this was something I did not foresee.

I'm going to suggest something.

When you write a scenario which needs a trek through the wilderness, you need a map and a preferably hex grid on it. Discrete units of travel, like hexes, makes it possible to easily measure how far you get in a certain time. Also, if there are to be things happening while travelling, make a list of encounters and/or a random list.

Nothing really broke down, but if the author had intended the scenario to be a slowly building event, there should be in the adventure and not glossed over. I thought the stuff that was in there, but when actually trying to run it I improvised most of it.

Now, why didn't I see this coming? Maybe it takes some training to see what is a good scenario and I think that this kind of scenario, wilderness hex crawl for lack of a better word, is not something I'm very comfortable with.

Monday, November 28, 2011

An interesting way to start a sandbox

I have been listening to podcasts again. Yeah, I do that a lot. Me and my spouse cover different ones. She listens to 'casts about book of fiction and science news while I enjoys listening to people talk about ways to explore and invent imaginary worlds. Yeah. Solid stuff.

I did pick up a nice idea from the Happy Jacks podcast which I now have listened to a new episode of. Blame none but me if you think the following is stupid, though, it's my interpretation of an off hand remark made on the show.

For me the idea of a sandbox hinges upon the very proactive players. Frankly, I have seen few that would fit the bill. So, how about a way to show them the possibilities and wet their appetites before letting them loose? I'm thinking like this. How about you start your sandbox campaign with a pilot? You know how they do tv-shows, when they have a longer pilot episode where the main players gets introduced and suitable arenas of conflicts are delineated? I'm thinking that maybe that is a good way to start a sandbox campaign.

The way I would do that, would be a short but quite scripted episode where I expose the players through a simple plot (yes a predetermined one), to the things they then can poke and prod to their hearts delight. That way you would show how a story could look like in this world, and who the powers are they might want to topple, or play nice with. Naturally this would be strict by scenes, with time limits and also by cut scenes. Very focused and railroady.

Then I'd let the loose.

I wonder if that would fly?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Alignment and brain damage - a new deal?

I was listening to the Happy Jacks podcast, and in a midst the jolly bantering someone suggested (not very seriously, I gather) the alignment one step beyond "chaotic good" namely "chaotic better".

I could dig that.

Monday, November 14, 2011

CoC character generation

So, this weekend we generated some character for CoC. I will be running The Hills Rise Wild when we next meet. It will be interesting.

I decided to include as much cool stuff from Trail as I had earlier been pondering. Drives, Pillars of Sanity and all core clues from Occupational Skills of 30% or above. I also added in a starting max of 85% and the Trigger Event from Unknown Armies. I think it will fit well.

We now have a lady reporter, a private eye and a businessman and gentleman scholar. It will be interesting...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hexcrawling Call of Cthulhu

This coming Saturday I'm supposed to be running a Call of Cthulhu game. I guess it goes without saying that if you plan on playing in that game, the rest might be less fun to read before the game.

Since I like Arkham, and I own the sourcebook, I had planned to run the scenario The Hills Rise Wild from that book. But, some parts of it I'm not very sure on how to handle.

Basically, the scenario is about finding pieces of a crashed meteorite. While searching in the rural outback the investigators will find this cabin where a homicidal maniac keeps his family in thrall, and plans to do the Investigators in as soon as he can.

The problem I'm having is the part where the players are supposed to be driving around in the rural outback, talking to farmers and searching the area for hints of a crashed meteorite. How do you make that part fun?

Looking at the scenario I think it's quite likely that rolling a few rolls for reactions, rolling a few rolls for search skills and then suddenly start to flesh out a cabin and some individuals living there, will be a dead give away that seems people are special and probably the main focus of the adventure. In CoC that means scary stuff to run away from. It will be a very short session if they do.

Improvising some odd rural folk and their quaint tales I can manage, and probably also describing the increasing decrepitude of the area and buildings. But, how to make the search in the fields interesting?

Anyone have any experience running that scenario, or have any hints on how to make a rural trek and meteorite search more engaging, so as to not bore the players until they get to meet some crazies?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Whos's the big kid on the block?

I guess many of you have read the news about Pathfinder outselling D&D? Personally I find the entries lower on the scale more interesting. Is really Dragon Age and Shadowrun that popular! Boggles my mind.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Playing Lady Blackbird

Last Saturday, I ran Lady Blackbird with a couple of friends. It was fun and everyone laughed a lot. Still, it was not as I had hoped it would be.

For those of you who doesn't know, Lady Blackbird is both a scenario and a game system. John Harper designed it, and distributes in freely on the web (see the link above). It's a pdf with a setup, some sketchy setting information and five characters with a rules summary. This means that all the time when you play Lady Blackbird, the character will be the same, and it will start the same way and diverge from there.

So, what did I like? Well, the game system if easy enough and the character are all fun an easily triggers ideas for play. Also, all characters have relations to each other and other forces in the world. It's a good setup.

So, what did I not like? Well, the game system really demands you to invent stuff. You should go out of your way to really, really grab xp at every opportunity. You should also look for opportunities to reinvent the character and take the meagre stuff on your sheet and develop it, though play. You think this all sounds like positives? Yeah, kind of. But, it also mean you have to have proactive players. You have to be able to design and add to the setting as a player. This is not for everyone. Actually, I think the old saying that a good GM can make anything fly is wrong. Good players, can make anything fun! Mine weren't too bad, actually.

What am I complaining about then? Maybe I'm just teasing, to make a bland post more dramatic? Anyway.

It went well, like I said. But, it took quite long in the session until people actually remembered their keys, and that they gained xp for them! Also, I tried to follow the GM advice and ask questions and follow along, and not try to steer the action. Those times I tried to force the issue by pointed questions about how people felt about being treated "like that", they more often than not shrugged and let it pass. But, it shall be said that they did create more trouble for themselves after a while anyway. I just wished they had responded like I wanted them too! Yeah, I know. They did well.

Now I want to run this game again, to see if it will differ as wildly as it seem to have done, in podcasts and forum posts. Interesting game.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What are the strength of a table top rpg anyway?

I was pondering the ways people approach their rpg sessions lately. One brain child of that was my previous post about Rifts. Now I have been thinking about that roleplaying aspect again, and more specifically the immersion some of us crave.

For some they see the game session as an opportunity to wind down, kill some orks and hang out with their friends. Yet others play it as they would chess or a game of bridge, they sit down with some strangers, maybe in a game store, and try to manipulate they rules and procedures in order to grow and develop their in game persona. There are more than one way to approach a rpg session.

Like you might know by now, I love the old school games with their relaxed attitude and how they are first and foremost games. But, I also like the new school games, the story games which focus on enforcing themes and crunchy parts for things like relationships.

It's not unheard of the latter to focus on more emotionally engaging subjects and themes. A game of that school might actually be intended to emotionally engage and challenge not only the character, but also the player. I find that interesting, in more than one sense.

When you sit down to play a game with strangers in a game store, you might prefer a game which lets you sit in your comfort zone. You do stuff which anyone can understand and follow along, without getting their panties in a twist.

Compare that to a game of Rifts, playing Coalition soldiers. For some that is just as abstract as playing chess. You gain XP by wasting the opposition, fair deal. For some others it might make them sit up straight and wonder what it means to play racist bigots with guns.

A few years ago I could see and hear how gamers I used to play D&D with now talked about how they had a "raid" or a "run" to attend with their guild in World of Warcraft. They had been hooked and online gaming took time out from planning a face to face session with friends. Personally I thought it was nuts!

Now, consider that WoW probably does that part of "playing an abstract logical game of chess with strangers" part quite well, what is left for the table top?

Maybe, just maybe, those games which plays best with friends, or at least with people who might like to get somewhat emotionally engaged, is what is uniquely well done by a table top rpg?

Could it be, that when immersion is key, is where these peculiar games really shine? I have a very varied view of the would be thespians at the table, but I do think going that extra step while engaging the game is what WoW will not let you do. For good, or bad...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dogs of the Riftsyard

Have you ever played Rifts? Maybe read a few of the books? Even owns a copy of the game?

For some reason (yeah, I know), this game often makes people blush or just have them talk about how they are above that kind of stuff. I'm not. I like that gonzo shit.

Now, I've been thinking about how to play Rifts, and using any kind of game system but the one in the book. Stay cool Kevin, I'm not going to be publishing any conversion notes! But, that game probably could work with what it got. Hey, I'm thinking of a cool way to approach the setting.

I was listening to the very cool podcast Canon Puncture Show and in it the idea was suggested to think of the setting from a new perspective. The idea was to merge Dogs in the Vineyard with Rifts. This got me thinking. I would do this, but take it one step further than suggested in that show.

So, in DitV you play 18 year old virgins, with guns, who have been educated to act like god sent emissaries of mail, doctrine, justice and death. You are supposed to enforce a social rule which many people find quite medieval at times. In the North America of Rifts we have another society, The Coalition, which is a hundred times as unpleasant. Basically it's all the racial elitism and militarism of Nazi Germany or some of the gun toting nut jobs around even today.

Now, mix and stir.

You play young soldiers in the Coalition, and not only are all the aliens out there really out to get to get you, that racial supremacist ideology is the last hope of mankind. How about that?

That could be a very interesting game about hard choices, ethical dilemmas when you explore the truth of that ideology. Maybe it could even be quite interesting as a very black comedy.

Lot of people probably would not get it at all...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Some musings on skills

I was listening to the Roll for Initiative Podcast, and they were talking about non-weapons proficiencies and "skills" and it dawned on me when skills work and when they don't.

In BRP you have skills, lots of them. You also have stats, and sometimes you roll against those. Usually those are the Luck, Know and Idea rolls which are stat x 5 for a percentage. More often than not, those are only used when there are no special skill, or for specific procedures or mechanics detailed in the rules. The specific skills are mostly based on the development points you put in there, even if high stats might give you a slight bonus in some incarnations of the system, like my beloved Stormbringer.

In Warhammer (1st and 2nd ed. at least) you mostly roll against your stats (weapon skill is a stat, I'm just saying...) and the skills you have just gives you a bonus to a stat check. They are mostly feats or talents to diversify your class. You either have a skill or you don't, so you don't develop them with points.

In 1st ed. AD&D (and 2nd ed.) the proficiencies are legion, and they are bascially skills for lot of different special knowledges. To use them, you basically roll a stat check, with a bonus.

In the Nalfeshnee edition (Type IV you know?), you have a very short list of skills. They are based on development points, but bonus from stats play a significant part. You roll the same die as when you, say, make a save.

Do you see some patterns?

This is how I rate those system on a subjective enjoyment level.
1. BRP skills are fun, worth my time and they make the game interesting
2. WH skills are nice for colour, but I depend on my WS and my I.
3. Why not just roll a stat check?
4. "I need to solve this problem? Gee, I wonder what I will choose? I seem to have one skill for stealthy stuff so I roll that I guess. Was it just like a stat check/save you said? Can't I just use my DEX?"

While it might not be the same thing for everyone, I think I've found out what works for me. In 4th ed. they don't really present you with much a choice. You can have any colour, as long as it's black. right? In WH I have a schtick which I can groove on for colour. Nice. In AD&D, why didn't I just roll my DEX?

I think a game which uses skills should have a mechanic that feel fun and involved and don't feels like it could have been a stat check. They have to be something clearly different from a stat check. Preferably they should be something which not everyone off the street can be expected to have access to. Also, when you have a cool skill mechanic, the choice to roll a specific skill must involve some choice and diversity, to allow for multiple ways to place those development points while still build viable adventurers.

Your mileage might differ. I really like CoC, RQ and Stormbringer while 4th ed. bores me to tears. My summary would be: if you tack on a skill system, make it large enough to matter and roll off your stats otherwise. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Old School Psionics - the final word

As long time readers of this blog knows, I started a project to clone Supplement III since I am fond of psionics. I have reached the end of the road of that project, and it wont materialize as intended.

The fact is that when you delve deeper into Supplement III, you realize that this some of the worst written rules in the D&D canon. The editing is abysmal and the rules contradictory and clunky.

There are two ways to approach this, one is to rewrite it to conserve the feel or the other is to try to untangle the mess and present it the way it was intended. I had intended to do the latter, but I found it was way harder than expected. Partly I guess that comes from loosing all respect for the original after spending some time with it. I also felt the tug to just write my own, but then it would not be a clone.

But, after all those negative vibes I am happy to say that someone have managed to create a set of rules that have that old school feeling, preserve thrust of the original and are clear and lucidly presented. I direct you to the Retroroleplaying blog by Randall Stukey. Randall have written the very cool Microlite 74 and Microlite 75 rules, and those contain a very workable and excellently presented rules for psionics, in the spirit and style of Supplement III.

My project floundered, but at least someone managed to present something instead. My hat off to Randall for his great work.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

G+ really?

I'm seeing the phenomenon that is Google+, and how Zak have manged to bring everyone together around this new online gaming tool. Since I am wary of google and their way to grasp after every activity I do online (Hm.. who own Blogger, again?) I have not yet joined in. But, I'm thinking of alternatives.

Apparently there is this thing called Ekiga which to video conferencing and instant messaging and ghu knows what. It looks like it multi platform as well.

Could it be something worth testing, possibly? I have dozens of campaign ideas and enthusiasm to GM. Maybe I have to jump in the deep and see if I float or not...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Happy Birthday Dave!

Today would have been Dave Arneson's birthday and I guess the guy is well remembered on the blogs today. Let's remember the man who managed to transform a miniature gaming into something totally new!

I have not done much roleplaying, and thus not much posting on the blog lately. Probably it wont change soon. Still, today I got to sit down and talk to a friends about memories and how gaming have meant a lot to so many of us. Thanks Dave!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Worlds of Cthulhu

I just got hold of issue #1 - #6 (apart from #3) of Worlds of Cthulhu, and wanted to suggest you do the same. This mag is quite something, with many really cool scenarios and some nice articles.

Mine I bought directly from Pegasus Spiele, which was a hassle.

Very good mags, though.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Horses and knights in plate mail, in real life!

This last weekend there was a cultural festival in these parts. All kinds of films, literature and ethic food and dance all over downtown. When darkness fell, fires lit up and you could watch a show with real horses and knights clad in armour thundering forth. Guess where I was standing?

It was quite amazing to see a 600 kg horse come galloping down a field of gravel, the ground thundering and loudspeakers playing Ramstein. The fact that the horse had a lad or lass on its back wearing plate armour and swinging a sword or lance didn't make it less impressive! With people breathing fire for the audience and the jousting knights sometimes having swords lit with flame it was quite a show!

Now, imagine that beast and warrior coming charging against you with intent on your life.

I would run.

I'm suddenly feeling that having a PC make a morale check to stand his ground when facing a dangerous monster makes a lot of sense.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Rules found by re-reading

As some of you know, Initiative is something many D&D refs have house rules for. Ordering the chaos of real life combat, or just the monomanical urge to add structure to all facets of life is something that all kinds of roleplaying games are pretty wont to do. Today I found some new little nugget of Initiative related rule.

Since I have not had a regular game for a while, the inspirations for posts on the blog have shrunk, and the posting frequency almost crawled to a stop. But, hope lives eternal and I have started to re-read the Call of Cthulhu rulesbook in the hopes of starting a CoC game.

Today I read the skills chapter. Usually lists of skills and their use is something I find as yawn inducing as spell descriptions. I prefer lists of skills and spell just to be the names, and those to be descriptive enough. But, I had promised myself to give the rule book a full read through so I kept slogging at it. So, now I found a nugget I had missed before!

When you are in a fight, you can either attack, dodge or parry. The latter you can do once a combat turn, dodging you can do more than once. Since Parry is a bit special, you actually have to declare in the beginning of the round that you will parry, and which antagonist you expect an attack from! Should that NPC not attack, you have "wasted" your round.


I wonder how well that would work transplanted to another game, or for that matter, how well would it work in CoC? I have played with BRP derived games for many years, but never have I encountered Parry like that.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Battletech: Random Encounter!

It was time to play another BattleTech scenario today. Last day at work was hell, so I needed something to take my mind of it all. We decided to run a classic lance on lance patrol encounter, in wooded hills.

Once again we visit Zyclone 3, the fought over planet. The Rasalhague have been given it, but Kurita hardliners refuse to give it up.

The Kurita mechs were advancing through woodlands when suddenly there came enemy mechs up over a ridge. Intense fighting took place. First some placed themselves on hills and started to rain down long range missiles, and then others closed for melee all guns blazing. It all ended when the Steiner lance began to fall back, under cover of their leader. Sadly one pilot wanted to launch one more salvo and both him and commander Heinrich MacManus was vaporized, by a direct hit in the head by a laser and a missile ammo explosion, respectively. Fittingly, pilot Brenan Amundsen desperately yelled "Sarge!" and in tears managed to cause an ammo explosion in the Kurita commander's mech as well. Commander Takita's death caused his lance to hesitate and the Steiners could fall back.

Damn, these giant robots are fun!

I find that a simple rules system, with enough quirks and wrinkles, gives a lot of flavour. You roll your 2d6 high is always good. It just took 3 hours, including a lunch break, so it wasn't time killer either.

Naturally I think of this as a roleplayer, and for me the individual pilots and the stories that compel them to fight this fight is always in my mind. Having a pre written story and trying to reenact that in a set of scenarios where there's freedom of movement and action is an interesting challenge. I will probably try to write up our efforts as a campaign, and I will probably try to find ways to play this game on many levels. I have still not managed to get my great project off the ground where you play the domain management game on one level, then pick up your low level characters and do a crawl and have those two be played by different players and have it all interact and create a living, breathing world. Maybe Battletech is worth studying for something like that.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Old School games and thespians

I've been thinking about the conversations had following James Malisewski posts from OSR Con in Toronto, and him playing with Ed Greenwood. Many peoples seem to have an instant dislike of any would be thespians at the game table. It reminded me of a poll at Dragonsfoot way back, when the level of engagement in the game was the focus of the poll. The result was that most people there treated AD&D as if it was chess, or Monopoly.

From what I have gathered, the prevailing wind in these parts are kind of the opposite but with a healthy dose of simulationism as a side order. Way back the periodicals had articles espousing the values of acting, talking and being in character. Add to that an influential designer who seem to value realism really, really high and you have a bunch of kids who grow up to be either sim earthers or drama queens. Yeah, I am exaggerating.

But, what about me? Well. I have found that I becomes quite bored if all I do is roll the dice and have to treat my character like a chess piece. Outrageous accents just makes me more engaged. Now, if you are to treat the characters as game pieces, having many and detailed choices to make in the game makes it far more fun. Actually, I think this is where 3rd and 4th D&D really shines. You can happily play without any hint of "acting", and still have a game where you have a lot of things to do. On the other hand, a game like the older editions of D&D or T&T where combat rounds are minutes long and everything is abstract I think the game becomes boring unless I get to engage in a little extra like at least yell something in a funny voice when rolling to hit.

Now, with more abstract games, and more up to GM fiat and player inventiveness you would gather that those games should leave more opportunity for the players to express themselves by doing more thespians experiments. I mean, they do have less rules baggage to weight them down, and more freedom to interpret what abilities and limitations their characters suffer from, right?

Maybe I am off on a totally wrong track here. There's not like there's any strong causality involved or something like that. Somehow the world is not the way I expected it to be.

Let me also add that I think the level of pretentiousness is important. Even when I was quite enthusiastic about it (yes, I was!), Vampire: The Masquerade was a game I liked best when I never met the guys (and gals!) who played it. The same thing is true about things like freeform and "jeepform" which are way to game which makes my stomach turn. That's when I think the would be thespian ought to go to drama class and leave me to my roleplaying game. I just hate the combination of acting, pretentiousness and RPGs. When I act out a bit I goof off. It might be serious, but I am playing a game.

There's more to it than rules density.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

How to be a good GM

Since the whole blogosphere is talking about how to be a better GM I am going to toss in my two cents in the ring as well. I guess mine have the queen on them, since I have no idea how the euro cents look like.

I suggest there is just one skill you really need to be a good GM.

Well, you probably think that is hogwash, and more than one thing is included in my suggestion. I still want to focus on that thing, though.

To be a really good GM, you need to be able to go with the flow. 

That's it. Say 'yes' and make some shit up. That's what it's all about.

What? You think that didn't help much? Let me expand a bit then.

I suggest that the great thing that hanging out with your friends pretending to be an elf is all about entering a secondary world where you can do anything! In order to have it be like that, for the players it must always feel like the limitations of their mundane existence are no more.

That means that if they sit there and want you to take them through a story, make some shit up and do it. Lead them through fairyland. If it means they have glorious plans for how they will hexcrawl and explore the sandbox, make some shit up and do it. Show them fairyland and let them rape it (yes, they will do disgusting things against your wishes. I didn't type that lightly).

I never said it would be easy, or that I could teach you how.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Battletech, fantasy and the technological arms race

One thing I find interesting with Battletech, is that there are different levels of technology in the setting, and they all fight over technology as much as for power for its own sake. Sometime an influx of new tech shakes things up a bit, and it influences the capabilities of the other states and factions involved in the conflicts. Why aren't we seeing this in the fantasy worlds of roleplaying?

Imagine a country, which have invented gunpowder or the printing press. They invade another country and suddenly that country is filled with guys with primitive guns. Later on another country creates the telegraph and suddenly the game world have "instant" communication in some parts.

Imagine how cool that could be. Imagine your characters in the midst of it.

I think that part of Battletech could be imported successfully into your fantasy campaign!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Battletech: The Dragon holds the line! (and a few thoughts avbout Traveller)

A few days ago we assembled to commanders at my place and fought a Battletech scenario. BT is old school to me, whatever rules you use. My boxed set if the 2nd ed.

Along the border of the Steiner and Kurita empires, worlds have started to rebel, not respecting the deal by Theodore Kurita and ComStar. (this is before the clans. I did say old school, didn't I?). One such planet is Zyclone 3, where the samurai mechwarriors get their orders from the local warlord, that coming down from the mountains are two lances of Steiner mechs. They are spearheading a push toward the industrial centres in the lowlands. "We are redeploying to meet this thread, but you have to Hold the Line until reinforcement arrive and we can defend these vital resources!" Let the battle commence.

I played the Kurita guys, and had one lance of veterans in medium mechs. The Steiners had one light lance and one heavy lance. They were regulars, and the light lance mostly so. Naturally, the first thing that happens in that the heavy mechs stumble and fall while crossing a river! Some giggles in the light lance when that happened. Then I got my LRM and autocannons up on two hills with good visibility on a majority of the battlefield. Missiles started to rain as soon as the Steiners came into view. Two batteries of LRM 15, firing each round for four rounds. Just picture it!

In the end I managed to blow up two enemies, and shoot off the leg one another. It looked like a victory and the other player yielded. This was so fun that I at once started to think about doing a campaign. Naturally that makes you start to think about stories, free form developments and sandboxes. Again.

There are different rules for Battletech campaigns, and some of them have tried to handle the fact that you might want to play in a story line, but also to be the master of your own fate. I have read some of those and been thinking that maybe they can be used got a RPG campaign?

In a BT campaign you use something called tracks, which specify not which troops show up, but their relative size and strength. Also, the terrain is stated in a general case and the outcome can lead you to another track depending on what happened.

If you want to try to game a more controlled story, I don't see why you couldn't use something similar. In Traveller adventures, at least those from DGP, utilized something called nuggets. A nugget was a few resources for an encounter, and it had a dependency tree, i.e. it was connected to nuggets that had to happen before that one, and nuggets you could go into depending on the outcome. I think I'm going to go back and reread some of those old Traveller adventures and see how it worked.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

meme: Dice pron

Never the one to miss an opportunity to talk about dice I join the ranks of dice pornographers. I might hate dice superstition, but I love the dice.

First, all of them!

Th big pile
I love FUDGE, both as a concept and its derivations. I once read an article on how to make your own FUDGE dice, from ordinary d6. Later I bought my own real FUDGE dice but I still have a soft spot for my own ugly ones.

FUDGE dice
Since we are talking about special dice, this is a favourite. I got a novelty dice from my wife, and the text on the dice about what to do right now "breathe", "make love", "relax" and suchlike is cool. Nice box too.
novelty die
Then there are these puppies. Now when I live far from any game store, and continents away from free RPG Day, I find the special dice for that occasion and for the game store I used to frequent (Minotaur Games and Gifts) to be of some sentimental value. Longtime readers of this blog will understand the value of the third one.
sentimental dice
Now for the meat of it. These are my Gamescience dice (hey, I like them. So sue me!), my T&T dice and my averaging and d3 dice. The last one I feat exceptionally neat. This is my "go to" bag. Also, the bag is a homemade gift from my wife.
the first dice I reach for
Then we have the big pile. In here are the dice for WoD and dice pool systems, random dice from all the games I own. In my boardgame collection I even have another pile of d10s. You will note that missing is both d16. d24 and d30 dice. Someday, maybe.
the big pile
I like me some dice!

Naturally I also have a pile of poker chips, playing cards and a tarot deck. All are used in my rpg sessions. The big pile of pennies is also counted to this oddball section of gaming tools.


Houseruling Call of Cthulhu - yet again! Incorporating Trail features

I have thought about suitable ways of incorporating the nice features from Trail of Cthulhu and think I have finally nailed it down.
  • Pillars of Sanity - So, pillars are abstract principles your character believes in. Everyone get for each 20 pts of SAN. 
  1. Advantage: When faced with a horror that invalidates your belief, you can have the Pillar crumble and avoid the SAN loss. When all your Pillars are gone, you will automatically fail your SAN rolls when nothing shields you from the horror.
  2. Disadvantage: When faced with a horror that threatens your Pillar you will always roll the worst effect when failing a SAN roll.
  • Drives - Drives are core desires of your character, which gives you a reason to go mad and die.
  1. Hard driver: Following a hard driver will protect you from the effect of losing 5 SAN in one go for the next immediate experience related to the driver. Ignoring the driver, loose 1d6 SAN.
  2. Soft driver: Following a soft driver and you will only loose the minimum amount at the next immediate experience related to the driver. Ignoring the driver, loose 1d3 SAN.
  • Core Clues - While I don't expect to use it as a hard and fast rule, professional skills will always give the clues needed. Characters should shine when doing their thing. I'll always ask for a roll, but if it is a core clue check, failure will not stop the clue from being found but instead will take a significant amount of extra time, say all day instead of an hour.

Then there are one thing I am looking at importing from Unknown Armies, and a small tweak to the basic system.
  • Trigger Events - In Unknown Armies your character have an event in their history when they encountered the supernatural. I think that is a good idea for thinking more about who your character is. It's probably also a nice way to tie into the Drive of a character.
  • Skill improvement - In older editions of CoC you didn't gain 1d10 when rolling for improving a skill, but 1d6. I love my d6. I do like the idea of extra effect for crits, though, so crits will gain you 1d6+1.
  • Regaining SAN - Sandy Petersen's original game didn't have the option of regaining SAN. I like the starkness of that rule. Taking a cue from ToC, I'd rule that if at the end of an adventure there are no physical evidence left for any unnatural event, you can regain SAN. Roll a d6 and be happy.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Scenario design according to Dennis Detwiller

I was listening to the Unspeakable podcast, a podcast about Call of Cthulhu, and noted Dennis Detwiller had some guides for scenario design.

He suggested
1. having a situation
2. a plan for what would happen if nobody else got involved
3. outlines for all the different ways you could investigate and interact with the situation and sketch possible results from that.

It sounds like pretty good advice. Maybe it's all old news to you, but it made me think how it could apply it to some different kind of games and not only Call of Cthulhu.

Glorantha stuff for sale

While I have no intention of turning this blog into a marketplace, I am a bit wary of entering the big swirl at eBay. Should any of the items below catch your fancy, email me with an offer (address is on the left side on the blog front page). Everything is in Sweden, and you will have to pay actual shipping costs.

I already have more copies of these items, and some (like the Genertela box) I consider to be the definitive source on the matter.

If none of it finds a buyer I guess I'll have to go to eBay. I do have some more stuff, for DragonQuest, that I also have excess copies of. Those might show up later.

Gods of Glorantha - Scotch tape on box. Cults book have tears by the staples. Otherewise just fine.

Tales of the Reaching Moon #13 - spine have scruff marks.

HeroWars:Roleplaying in Glorantha - Excellent condition.

HeroWars:Narrator's Book Game Mastering in the Hero wars - near mint.

Snake Pipe Hollow RQ3 - Excellent condition. NPC stat booklet photocopy.

Apple Lane RQ3 - In shrink wrap. Some tears in shrink wrap, though.

Ye Book of Tentacles vol.2 - near mint. Minimum shelf wear.

Glorantha:Genertela, crucible of the hero wars - One box corner crushed and taped. Map have tears along creases, lover box have split corner, player's book have torn and creased corner. Otherwise excellent condition.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Super Endless Quest - does it sound inviting?

Like I mentioned in my last post, I'm not playing my solo game books to take me through summer slowdowns. I have T&T solos, and I have the Fighting Fantasy books. But, there are a whole truckload of solo gamebooks out there!

I managed to find a couple which actually said "Dungeons & Dragons" on the cover, which was intriguing. Two books found their way into my waiting paws, and the one I'm looking at right now have a Keith Parkinson cover illustration and the inviting title "The Ghost Tower". It's not without some effort I stop myself from writing "... of Inverness" after that. Is there a relation? I don't know yet.

But, what is striking is the enormous series logo above it all proclaiming Super Endless Quest! Is it just me, or doesn't that actually sound a bit discouraging? A quest that goes on and on with all the limitations of the solo format feels very restrictive top me. When doing some research, I found that in the big index at there are indeed if not an endless list at least a very long list of these books.

The game system looks to be something which is quite far from D&D. Actually, it doesn't seem to have any relation to D&D at all! Considering how simple a system D&D can be, when pruned from it's worth excesses like AD&D1 and D&D3, I find it a bit curious that they didn't try to base the rules on D&D. Wouldn't that be an extra sales point if you could take the character in your solo onto further adventures in the dungeons of your friends when playing the full D&D game?

Anyhow, this is a new field of adventure for me and since I know many gamers have tales to tell of being shaped in the forge of Fighting Fantasy I wonder if anyone ever was brought into the fold by the Super Endless Quest books?

Summer slowdown - solo gaming

I'm in the midst of summer vacations, and gaming is now happening less than usual. A few years back I remember a friend saying that soon it would be summer and then there would be more opportunities for games. I've found that instead it means even less. Everyone is gone, to summer houses and trips abroad for those who can afford. But, not wanting to give up I've tried to do some solo gaming.

For many years I saw T&T as that game which was all about solos. I even considered it an odd choice of a game, since I had a gaming group and didn't need such a game. Poor fool I was. Actually, the first contact I had with adventure gaming was through that marvellous little book The Warlock of Firetop Mountain with those fantastic Russ Nicholson illustrations. God knows why I then developed that attitude towards T&T.

Having a pile of T&T solos I grabbed a small volume by Andy Holmes, being one highly regarded solo writer. I have played some of his solos before, but this one Wytches, was new to me. This time it felt there was a story to it, with some quite decent pieces of exposition setting the mood. I started to play it and explored the small village. Walking around talking to people getting to know the story of the solo was a nice change from the kind of solos where you walk from fight to fight. Naturally I finally found myself in a fight, and was squashed like a bug. I had +5 combat adds and had to go up against a monster of +30 or something like that. Might as well have said, "you die" that paragraph. Holmes seem to be very fond of that kind of solo writing where you encounter a monster which is a total TPK waiting to happen. It's not just Holmes doing that, though.

It has been said that "balanced" encounters is a true sign of the decadence of modern editions of the world's most popular rpg. When it leads to players feeling entitled to "challenges" scaled to their level, and treasures as their due I feel it has gone very wrong. That being said, I think monsters which are way out there should at least be very uncommon or possible to avoid. In a solo the possibilities for evasive maneuvers are often not that common, so I prefer those to be random encounters and/or things which the solo writers include an "escape clause" for. Victories won by the skin of your teeth are valued the most, but it's a fine line. I think maybe the subtle queues gained by a GM from her players is needed to gauge when it's time to let the big stomper in on the stage and when the players will just feel harassed by it.

Naturally, I had to bring a Fighting Fantasy book on my vacation as well. That's where it all started after all. City of Thieves, the den of inequity, is where my brave adventurer headed. Once again we have a solo where the main task in not to fight, but to enter a hostile environment to find a person and then having found him scout for the the items of power needed for the main task. The city almost felt like a real place, with a mood of its own when you carefully approach proprietors of different kinds of stores illustrated by the classic look and feel of Fightiong Fantasy artists. I don't think I really appreciated before how much of my imagination of the fantastic have been shaped by these artists.

Once again I run into the limitations of the solo format. Dead ends can, and will, happen when you take one of the paths through the numbers not tested and tried by the authors. To their defence I should say that in a solo of 400 paragraphs that is juist to be expected. You would need a computerized testing suite to find all those possible dead ends. Ian Livingstone have at least prepared for it, writing the paragraph I ended on so that coming there you had to check if you had the needed components before travelling further, a small checkpoint if you like.

It is amazing how this hobby is to its very nature a creative one. Having played these two solos I now find myself wanting to beat them at their game, and write my own! I did it once and that was a mini solo of less than 40 pages, I think. Was it even 20? It was a lot of work. Maybe, just maybe, the summer with its lack of gaming opportunities will be the fount of something after all.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Another way to have tricky games, the Stable system

Yesterday I read about the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, and how you sometimes have to metagame and play them more than once, since there are plenty of instant death situations in those books. I realized there are other solutions which could make those "tricky" situations in a non-solo game.

If you use your henchmen like trap detectors the next lot to sign on will demand extra pay, surely. But, what if you use your own PC?

Way back in the days, everyone used to have multiple characters. In the T&T rulebook from 1979 it's even mentioned as the way to do things. So, maybe it's possible to have those tricky dungeons which "demand" to be tested before you can take intelligent decisions. Just send in one of the clones...

What is it about dice?

I have been following the DCC RPG posts in the blogosphere, where people have been giving their expressions about the beta rules. Many have commented on the oddball dice needed. That combined with me reading an issue of Knights of the Dinner Table before falling asleep yesterday, have gotten me started on dice. Have you read Hackmaster? They have a whole chapter in the new Basic game on dice!

What is it with gamers and dice?

Warning, a rant coming up! 

This probably wont win me any friends...

Trust me, I have the collecting bug, so I can understand that angle. I can also understand the aesthetic reasoning of getting hold of a set that matches the mood of the game, or otherwise fitting what you are playing. I mean, I would love to play a game with stone or metal dice if I played a dwarf in a fantasy game.

But, what about the pure superstition about "lucky dice" and idiotic methods of dice rubbing, not letting anyone touch them and so on?! What?

In the KotDT comic, they even have a long running story about a die which curses all other dice around if it's every used for it's "superior" results. The weird thing is, I have heard similar stories in real life.

Whatever you think of Lou Zocchi, his claim that some dice are "lucky" because they are uneven kind of makes sense. In the light of that, it makes even less sense to care about lucky dice. If you really care that much about true random distribution, use those precision dice. If you don't care, grab what you have a roll them bones and have fun. But if you really grab that special die when a important roll is on the line, aren't you really cheating?

Reading the chapter on dice in Hackmaster Basic, a game that no longer is forced to be a parody, I was amazed of how much hogwash and hokey this was. Either it is parody and humour, or it's just as ill fitting in a rpg rule book as a chapter on the body humors in a modern university textbook for physicians.

Are we gamers all just fun and games, or are we a superstitious lot who'd rather be cheating?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Meh! yet another game dies on the vine

I'm seriously miffed. Due to scheduling problems, my latest rpg game have been shelved until next year sometime.


I really need a new local weekly game group!


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

[The Shadow of Pavis] Solar System - what makes it cool?

When I posted about me playing a Gloranthan game, I said I would post something more on the game system. Instead of just telling you how it works, I'm going to try to say why it makes me think it a good match for this game.

One of the features of the so called "Solar System", is that you have something called keys. I guess you could say they are late cousins of the Spiritual Attributes in The Riddle of Steel. For those of you who became none the wiser from that, I'll say they are triggers for things which gain you XP.

So, the fine things with these keys are that you pick them yourself during character generation. This means you get to decide what you want to do to gain XP! Isn't that kind of sweet, eh?

If you have a key like, Key of Hatred of Uz, then every time your character can show some hatred against trolls, you gain XP. Simple.

The second thing I wanted to mention is Pools. In the basic and generic Solar System, you have three pools of points which you can spend on rolls. All abilities are tied to a pool, and chuck in some of those points and you get to roll more dice and have a far better chance of success.

Like you have figured out by now, that means you can decide when something in the game is important for you and make it pretty likely your character get to shine. Also, it is a pretty cool resource management level in the game.

Thirdly, the best name of a game sub-system ever, is Bringing Down The Pain. I love it. Bringing it down is something you can do in a resisted conflict when you are going to fail, and just wont let it pass that easily. Regularly, you can't kill anybody unless you bring the pain. The vanilla conflict, if it's a fight, is a one roll affair to decide who wins.

When the pain is brought down, you go blow by blow in whatever conflict there is. For all those you you who had played a game which glosses over the nitty gritty when you wanted to dive in, this is where it shines. Having a mechanic like this makes it possible to customize when you want to have an involved game system and you just want to move on.

So why would all this make it a good fit for Glorantha? Well, I think that in a world where the mythic and the mundane are juxtaposed like they are in Glorantha, it's crucial to be able to decide when to "zoom in". RQ always had the same scale on things. I means, in a percentile system everything goes from 1 - 100 since that's the maths, right? It always makes it a bit wonky when you try to mix in godlike abilities and the fact that the power scale between a dirt farmer and some of the movers and shakers are so huge. HeroQuest/Wars tried to remedy that with "masteries" for every 20 steps of an ability, and they could then cancel each other out to reduce the system to a manageable level. While that is kind of neat, I think the Solar System manages something similar in a way more too my liking.

Another thing I like with the Solar System is the idea of gift dice. It is a neat way to make communal support a part of the system. In Glorantha you usually can't make much happen without the backing of someone else.

Most important though, I have always wanted to test the system! Now I had, and it was fun.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Shadow of Pavis

So have I finally joined the ranks of Gloranthaphiles who have fought their way out of the Big Rubble. Last Wednesday, a day that had sucked from when I got out of bed, ended well with our brave adventurers escaping with their lives, and nothing much more.

Way back when RuneQuest was the game of choice for gloranthan gaming, everyone were gaming in the plains of Prax and in the city of Pavis. Far later everyone shifted their focus to Dragon Pass, but latecomers like me never got to experience Prax. Now I have at least addressed that.

There was a time when whatever somebody posted about on Big Purple, the recommendation was to use Savage Worlds instead. The darling before that had been The Shadow of Yesterday. I have the former, but have never played it. The latter I had become very curious about, due to the above mentioned recommendations. Now we had a setting and a system, we all just waited for the lovechild of that union.

After character generation, we started off in media res, but not in the midst of the adventure. After the adventure, having a drink and retelling our adventure!

We had a very peculiar setup. Our GM knew little of Glorantha, the other player nothing, and I know far too many odd little details thanks to my extensive collection. How do that work, do you ask? Well, you just set up a dramatic and appropriate scene based on general knowledge, and when an NPC asks "Tell me more of how that happened!", you as a player with more setting knowledge can step in and add to the background. It was an interesting way to involve the players. There's often talk about player skill, and I found that having the GM set up a tight spot and then as a player have free reins to develop that situation, both by solving the immediate problem and by fleshing out the setting, was an interesting usage of just player skill.

Our brave adventurers was on an expedition into the Big Rubble, which is a dungeon which can contain anything. We ran into some weird plantmen, i.e. elves, which scared us witless. Exchange of gifts according to some ancient agreement with the Pavis cult took place, as we invented that ritual on the spot. After being amazed by a levitating rock, chewed some narcotic leaves and stolen our gift from the elves, our thief managed to loose it in a cesspit. The local occupation force did not detain us, since we had after all our troubles no treasures to tax.

I think the lessons of this session was how a backward narrative with a swapping of tall tales in an inn worked quite fine to set up short and challenging set pieces for us both to solve and embellish. It was a good way to develop both the setting, story and characters without heavy prep, massive reading assignment on the setting and a nice way to keep the session contained and restrained both in time and space. Really good for a one shot.

We didn't exercise the game system that much, but The Shadow of Yesterday didn't get in the way, and the possibility to tailor the abilities you get XP for was interesting. I might write more on the game system at a later time.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Am I missing something?

Now I've seen that in my feed there have been a very intense conversation going on in the blogosphere about shields. But why? After skimming those post I don't understand what all the hubbub is all about. Am I missing something?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How about a little gonzo with that soup?

I just watched Hidden Power of Dragon Sabre from 1984, and it must be one of the most nonsensical movies I've seen.

There are a big mountain with bottomless holes, corridors which looks like a spaceship, laser bolts and odd things happening when you pull random levers. It's just like a dungeon of the wilder kind.

Could you use this in a rpg?

One thing I thought about was how a manual of martial arts secrets are copied onto the walls of a cave, which is then guarded. Then there are the two magic swords which are guarded by a secret society. Finally there is this weird effect when the antagonist manage to get all the weapons and learn the secret art. Then he "unifies the yin and yang" and becomes a half woman and half man creature with awesome magic power. Doesn't that sounds a bit like a rpg?

For those of us who have been thinking about what kind of treasure to provide in our game, maybe the idea of a secret combat art could be a neat treasure? I have no idea how popular the ability to be both male and female at the same time would be in the general gamer populace. Otherwise that might be a treasure in itself. Hey, you could always use it as a curse!

I anyway think the idea of hidden space ship corridors, lasers and plexi glass swords are too cool not to include in a game.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Weapons length and reach in combat

When posting a comment on the A Paladin in Citadel blog about the value of weapon length modifiers I realized it had turned into a post of its own. I have posted on this topic before, but it's worth revisiting. Here we go.

Those rules, adding a sense of simulation to the play, are probably jettisoned because they make combats longer.

While it might be heresy, I might suggest that those who prefer tactical crunch should take a closer look at D&D 4th ed. The teamwork and tactical play needed for efficient combat is a big part of that game. Even with the fiddly bits of 1st ed., it never was a very tactically detailed game.

Now, that being said, there are some ways to incorporate tactical details while making the game decently swift. One good way to add some depth and planning to the combat phases is to have different phases in combat. Ranged combat and magic have their own phases, and I'd suggest they go before melee.

When it comes to weapon length, I think Elric!/Stormbringer can add a simple way to handle that. This is how it works. If you have your weapons categorized as "long" or "short", the longer ones will have reach to hit before the short ones do. Simple enough.

When attacking, in whatever order you choose, let "long" weapons go first. If you use DEX order or side initiative, follow that but let long weapons trumph that order.

For fighters with "short" weapons, they will have to make a dodge of some kind to get within the reach of the "long" weapon. Otherwise they can not attack. The same thing then apply when the opponent have dodged within your reach. Wielding a "long" weapon you then need to make a disengaging dodge in order to use your weapon again.

While it reduces the reach to a binary situation, it have the benefit of being very simple, but still managing to create a lot more tactical depth to the choice of weapons. Should your game system of choice, D&D say, not have a dodge skill, use the initiative! Dice off or use DEX or whatever method you normally use. A great idea from Tomas Arfert's Saga RPG.

Hopefully that gave some food for thought.
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