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.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The madness continues - unabated

Remember that I posted before about games I own but haven't played? Well, the madness continues. I still haven't played DragonQuest.

But, now I own not one, not two but four copies of the game! Somebody save me from myself. By the way, I do have extra copies of Enchanted Wood, Blade of Allectus and Palace of the Ontocle if someone is interested.

I really need to play DragonQuest, don't I?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

How to have interesting extened conflicts

I have been thinking on how some parts of rpgs never seem to turn into the drama intended, but devolve into endless rolls of the dice without any of the buy in and excitement I had hoped for. Lucky for me, the guys at the Narrative Control podcast have been thinking on this as well. A mashup of their ideas in show #65 and my own follows.

Everyone have probably tried to run a game where one guy suddenly is the focus of everything, and the rest is sitting idle. Maybe the thief is checking for traps and picking locks or maybe the netrunner is hacking a computer system. In both cases the rest of the players do nothing. While shared narrative control and kibitzing can help somewhat (like I talked about in my last post), maybe some rule support to keep everyone involved would be a good thing.

Here are the things you can do, and import in your game as rules supporting more engaging play.

  1. A Unified Mechanic - One way to make even climbing a cliff or a trek through a snowstorm engaging is to have it use the same game mechanic as the players. Stat up the snow storm, and let it have an AC, attack rolls and defensive maneuvers. Yeah, I know it sounds daft to have the door you are trying to break down or pick the lock have an attack. But, imagine how it "attacks" your concentration as you pick the lock. Maybe the door attacks you and as a result pearls of sweat forms on the forehead of the thief giving him -1 to his picking because his will is strained? The cliff might not maneuver away, but that beast you are trying to rescue up that cliff might be climbing higher! What I'm saying is, let the whole challenge act as more than it's just sitting there. Make it an active participant in the challenge. It sure helps if you can use the same mechanic that you have used since fifth grade while killing orcs, right?
  2. It's Not Over Until It's Over - In the marvellously cool game Wushu, everything you as a player say is true. Yes, you can say in the first volley of melee that you strike the villain through the heart. As long as the Threat Rating (I don't remember the specific term) is not down to 0, anything goes! When inventing cool moves is part of the game, everyone listen up just to hear what outrageous stuff their friends is inviting.
  3. Let Everyone Pitch In - Closely tied to the last point is the idea that everyone should be able to chip in. If you think the NPC made a lame move, suggest something cooler to the GM! Listen up, game masters! When someone is trying to make your job easier, let them. It's just more engaging for everyone if everyone is engaged. Right?
  4. Make It Measurable - There is one thing among all this loose and woozy stuff that I'd suggest you add some crunch to. In order to have tactical options, and in order to make informed choices, the players need information. If you need to figure out the big trap in order to stop the doomsday device, don't just reduce it to a bunch of skill checks. Here is where I differ from the guys on the Narrative Control podcast. I think the skill challenges in D&D4 bores me to tears. With a skill list that short it tales all of two seconds to figure out one skill you need, and a backup. Instead, toss the skill list or make it far longer. Better is to have the players just speak their mind. Whatever they say that sounds cool, investigative or proactive, give them a +1 or an extra die or whatever. Then let them go at the doomsday device. Now for the interesting part. Have a tally of their progress, and make it public. Make them see what made the scales tilt in the preferred direction and what did not. Actions should count, not rolls.
Some of you might think this is just bogus, or maybe newfangled ways to beat down open doors. More power to you! If you have an un-engaging game, try some of these ideas out, or think them over and tell me what worked for you.

I love these ideas.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Never split the group! Maybe you should...

I have had the fortune to be invited to a Unknown Armies game. The gamemaster is one of my dear readers, and he have done some quite cool things with the set-up for the game I wanted to talk about.

As everyone who have wondered about ecology in the dungeon, or "naturalism", knows there are a few things you just can't explain or have make sense without some major thinking ahead. Personally I lean far enough into the gonzo side of things, but if you want it all to make sense, one thing to watch out for it why the party adventure together.

In Call of Cthulhu there is one attempt to create a narrative structure, Delta Green. It's quite successfull. In our UA game we have The Band.

The band is called Unpeace, and was the greatest of them all. Well, it was riding the wave of death metal, mixing in some symphonic influences and a healthy dose of showmanship. After releasing one album the band was dissolved, but it's legacy and memory is very much alive. Now there will be a documentary, and a lot of memories are being brought to the surface. Naturally the player characters are the members of this band.

So, what's so cool about this?

Well. One thing I find interesting is how our game master have handled the fact that all PCs have a gigantic ego and loves to be in the spotlight all the time. Considering that, I think the solution is both neat and obvious when you think of it. We all met at a bar to talk to the film crew, and when the bar fight erupted and somebody's wife calls them to pick up the kids, we went in our different directions.

We split the party. It just made sense.

Now, to just idle and do nothing is the main cause for boredom when splitting the party, so naturally you have to keep the individual segments short and too the point. There is another trick in the bag, though. Since we have all played a few of those new fangled forge style games, we are quite confortable with the idea of shared narrative. This is used to good effect.

When my character, high on cocaine, runs into an alley after having hit somebody with his car, he finds somebody. The GM just said to me it was, I think, someone whom I had been missing lately. I could have said it was one of the other PCs, and suddenly the player sitting by my side would have been in that scene. Naturally, the other players could chip in their suggestions as well. I thought that was cool. While nothing really revolutionary, it was a good example of how the ideas of kibitzing and shared narrative can help make the split party less of a problem.

Let's think more of how the narrative structure helped the game along.

We all knew, from the first short conversations with some NPCs that we had arranged to start filming tomorrow. Thus we had a structure to the game, and could goof off until we were bored and it was tomorrow.

That also made it easy to split the party, running off doing wild things, since we could all participate to some extent.

I have often muttered about how the holy grail of sandboxing demands pro-active players. In this case we all knew that we had a Story, the film. If we wanted something to happen, we could just do something related to the film, like fight about whether we should play some songs, if we should film individually or as a group. I foresee lots of opportunities when the GM as the crew asks us about filming a scene about when "Frank fell off the stage". Guess if the possibilities of shared narrative are going to be utilized then!

To have an organization that gives you missions is one good way to keep the party together. Having some shared history like the Band creates natural conflicts, and some natural allies. Having the film being done is a good way to drag the PCs together again if we split up. Having the ability to chip in helps everyone to be involved. I think this set-up is great.

Can this be done in your vanilla D&D style fantasy game? Well, there's always the DragonQuest solution, with the Guild of Adventurers and their contract [sic!] spelled out in the rules!
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