Friday, December 28, 2012

Empty dungeons - all except the fun parts?

 As some of you might know, there's work going on to produce a 8th edition of Tunnels & Trolls. Naturally, it makes me ponder the qualities T&T have, it's quirks and sparkling facets. I remember how the Trollgod, Ken St Andre, wrote in the former editions about how to approach the game, and how it came to be. One thing I remember from older editions of the game is the suggestion, when designing dungeons, to put a lot of stuff in there. Nobody wants to mess around in a boring dungeon, was the thinking. It ties in to the great debate earlier this autumn about the empty dungeon and the pile of "worthless" treasure.I have talked about it before, and might do it again. Now I have some observations to share of what's boring or fun.

Writing a tent pole dungeon, or a megadungeon, it might make a lot of sense to have sections of the dungeon be quite empty, some to be the highways and some to be Saturday Night Specials. Looking at the Wilderlands, the setting published by Judges Guild, it makes sense. It is basically a big empty dungeon, is it not? Now imagine it all being a vast castle, or a big underground mine and it will look kind of the same. I mean, it's a world in of itself. But, let's for a moment limit the vision to something smaller, which is just one adventure, and not a whole world.

You know what Adventure is, right? Adventure is like real world, except the boring parts are cut out. At least that is a way to describe it I find funny. Approaching it a bit more serious, I find the dungeon design advice which suggest you cram in more stuff there, since nobody want to fool around in an empty dungeon probably belong to that school.

So, then the problem is to identify the "boring parts". I know that for many of us playing these games of adventure, we like to be something bigger and greater than we usually are. But, for some others it's not so focused on the bigger, better and greater part. I have found that for those people it's often a question of exploring a secondary world, that is interesting in itself, as a living real place. Personally I like that aspect. Once I played in a game with a very tantalizing setting, with lot of mysteries and it failed for me. I knew at once when my interest started to wane, because we focused on interpersonal conflicts, and I was more interested in the world we never got to explore.

My hypothesis is that this is related to some sense of "realism". Not in the meaning working like the real world, but working in a consistent way within that world. You hear of a mystery, and you know it's not just some random "oddballness", but there's a rhyme and reason for the thing to exist, and you can find it out.

Then, the boring parts are when you explore a fully realized secondary world, and there's nothing there! You expect there to be rich cultures which behave like they do because of their history. You expect to find artifacts which can be better understood by exploring the ancient history of the fallen empire in the world you are exploring. Empty dungeon rooms can then be something of a let down.

Now imagine someone who does not care much for the secondary world, but cares a lot about for a Saturday night feeling great as the greatest ranger of the North, or the mighty slayer of dragons. Empty dungeon rooms can be something of a let down, reminding you a little bit too much of the cubicle or office space you sat in hours before.

I know, of course, of the argument that proper old school play is as much about resource management as anything else. That being said, I don't think it's the only lesson to be learned from the "old ways" of doing things, and if my "boring parts" are your "fun parts" I actually think that aspect of roleplaying games can be brought forth in other areas, not necessarily related to moving about in space. But, that's a subject for some other day. Today I focused on the psychology of empty rooms, which I don't think was covered during the big brouhaha earlier this year.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

How to make time mean something in your campaign

What does it mean you have to hole up for two weeks to wait for natural healing, or wait two weeks for that magic item you ordered to be made? Some games actually make time mean something, and not something to be glossed over. Recently I listened to an episode of Ken and Robin talks about stuff where they talked about time in games. It made me think of my old 3rd ed campaign. In that campaign I had the opportunity to see time as an obstacle being circumvented in a not so cool way.

The deal was that with the Craft skill, you can produce items. In this case it was items which should be enchanted, and thus they had to be of Masterwork quality. Unless I remember totally wrong, it wasn't that much harder to do them, or even something you needed a certain level of skill for, but you paid in time. Now, if you delve in the dungeon and the time in between is just that, time in between, then it means nothing. It doesn't matter if it takes one hour or two week if you let it go with "and when it's done you get back to the dungeon". It reminds me of how some spells in older editions of D&D used to age the caster. As far as I remember, that didn't make it into 3rd ed. but item creation rules still had a "time cost".

Can we say something about how time was used to be handled in the olden days, and how time is handled in newer games? I think it's pretty clear that all the talk of the 15 minute game game day, and then back to town for healing and re-memorization of spells signifies something.

Let's think back to the Blackmoor campaign. We know that the players there were in command of armies, and that Arneson in the FFC mention things like yearly events. Clearly time were advancing at a decent pace if it made sense to have random annual events for the kingdom.

But, I am also pretty sure I have read enough of old school campaigns where the only time that mattered was in the dungeon, and I find it significant that in the Mentzer edition of D&D there are no healing rules. You go back to town and when you start the next adventure you are healed. Some time have passed, I guess.

Clearly there are different ways of handling time at work here. There are more examples, and they are not all clearly and easily align chronologically. Maybe someone have done some research in this area. There are some excellent scholars of old school gaming styles, so it would not surprise me. For me it's a stepping stone for ideas on how to play.

Let's say you would like to have time matter. Without keeping those famous records of time, you probably can make the "time tax" useful. Let's take a look at two games where time matters. In Ars Magica and Pendragon time is of importance. Maybe they can teach us something?                                                                                                                        
In the latter game, you often only play one of two adventures each year, and then it's the "winter phase" where you do macro management of your character, talking care of manor economics, childbirth and marriage. Step by step your character age, and later on you probably get to retire your character and play with his heir.                                                                     
In Ars Magica, you play multiple characters and the mage will probably do research that take years to finalize. Since you will be able to play another character while that happens, it's no impediment to being engaged in the game, but it will still matter that your mage is doing research and not out on adventure.                                                                                
How can we use this?                                                                                                                                                                                
Would it be useful to have a limit year year on how many adventures you can participate in? One way would be to have three delves a year, and if you are injured you have to make a save or loose one of those three opportunities being holed up for healing. I think that would be a cool mechanic.                                                                                                    

Let's then take a gander at long term projects, like crafting items and researching magic. If magic of any complexity takes time, then it makes sense to combine that with the idea of a set amount of adventures per year. If a project takes more than a month, one of the yearly adventures is forfeit.

If we in addition to this takes a a cue from Ars Magica and let all players have a "stable" or adventurers we can have our cookie, and eat it too. A stable of characters is a phenomenon I first heard of in 5th edition of T&T. So even if it's a way to hand a player a cookie when her other character is busy doing magic research or crafting, it actually is as old school as it gets. :)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Upper Echelon gaming - Rebellion Era Traveller & Endgame D&D

Thinking back a bit upon my notes and impressions of Out of the Darkness, I realize that the issue I have with time lines for game settings might be one of perspective. Who are those written for? Who could make us of them, and how?

So, for me as a GM, when I start a game I do it in a local, clearly delineated, area according to the principle of starting small. But, that usually means the player characters are going to be local and small. Nothing wrong with that, especially if it's a rich world with a lot of detail. But, If you do that, those earth shattering events in the time line will go unnoticed, and more importantly, the players wont ever get involved.

Apparently, in order to make those events useful for your game, you need to get the players involved in those earth shattering events that shape your campaign. If we take the example of the Rebellion in the Traveller universe, most of the details we get in the official source books talk about the figure heads of the factions, and things like strategic evens like which worlds to defend when that other throne pretender comes knocking on the door.

How often do your players get to take those kinds of decisions?

As often as that, eh?

It seems like what you need to do is not to start small, as in that small farming community in the wilderlands, but big. Since it still makes sense not to overwhelm your players with information, I gather we here have a potential for trouble. How to do big in a small way?

The thing here, I think, is to thrust the players into the upper echelons of society. They need to be where it happens. If they are not the ones with a hand on the wheel when the flagship engages the enemy they at least needs to be able to look over the shoulder of the guy who has. Naturally, it could mean NPC doing cool stuff while the players look on, so care needs to be taken. Also, I'm not sure how to combine this with the free wheeling sandbox play held so high in some circles. Actually, I'd love to hear how people running those kinds of games handle these kind of problems.

What's my suggestion then?

For a campaign like the Rebellion in Traveller this is what I'd do.

  1. Make all characters nobles. Set SOC at 10+1d4
  2. Have a family and sibling generation system, to make sure inheritance and dynastic issues will crop up
  3. Everyone should have a personal patron, so there are multiple and conflicting loyalties
  4. Generate contacts during character generation. This I actually did when I last tried running Traveller
  5. Don't mess around with starship economics, just give the characters a starship, ok?
I'n a fantasy campaign, this is the equivalence to the so called "D&D endgame". I think some of these points might be valid there to.

If you start it like that, then you have the pieces put in place to have the actions of the characters matter on a grand scale, and also social entanglement are bound to happen.

Next time I'll try to do it like that. Maybe it even works...

Game giveaway

Do you want a copy of the innovative, and mind bending Robin D Laws design Hero Wars? The game is horribly broken as written, but the ideas within are mind shatteringly cool. It's a shame it was published
in the shape it was, since it deserved a better presentation. But, it has changed the way I see some things, as Robin's designs usually does.

I have the Narrator book and the Hero book, decent shape both. Send me your address, and pay for shipping and it's yours.

Stay tuned for some post soon with real content.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A reflection on Rolemaster - tweakablility

Having been in a conversation about Burning Wheel, a game built very tightly to a specific specification, I think back on how amazingly modular Rolemaster is.

Anyone who have seen the long series of companions published for the system probably know what I mean. Almost any part of the system can be tweaked, added to or subtracted from. It would still be Rolemaster! I think I have at least four different initiative systems in my collection, and that not counting the fan made stuff free on the internet!

I think that was the same thing that made me a fan of GURPS back in the day. Take the parts you like and the core is still the same. Learn some basics and then you know the game, but there's more flavour if you need it.

Contrast that with modern iterations of D&D.

Do you remember how convoluted, complex and contradictory the 3rd ed D&D rules became when you started hacking them with all the splat books that came out?

I still look favourably on Rolemaster, and even though I don't expect to play it again soon I almost always start make up new and exciting rules tweaks as soon as I start to read it. I like that quality in a game.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A depressing read

Since Traveller is a game I have a very complicated relationship to, I don't know if I dare to get ideas about starting a game of Traveller. But, you can always read your gamebooks, right?

I've been reading 1248 Sourcebook 1: Out of the Darkness lately. It's number one in a series of books expanding the time line and concepts of the Traveller edition knows as TNE, or The New Era. TNE have caught a lot of flak from the fans, and for good reasons.

The guys at GDW lasting impression in the rpg hobby is How To Ruin Your Game Setting. A sad one.
This book have a long section where all the threads from older sources are tied up into a long history from 1116 to 1248 Imperial time. Many times I find time lines be of little use, but in this case its kind of needed, since older source have included information about what would happen, and tying it all together takes some time.

It's an impressive effort, and author Martin J. Dougherty have managed to include a lot of back history, and reasonably often making sense of them. Still, the lasting impression is one of failure.

Mind you, it's not a failure by the author in his task of assembling the data and presenting a gameable setting. In that I think it probably does as well as could be hoped for. No, the impression of failure is rather the theme of 132 years of pure misery in the game setting. Step by step civilization is rebuilt after the madness that was the civil war of the Rebellion, and the senseless slaughter that came after with the unleashing of Virus. But, as soon as someone forms some stellar state that can rebuild, another hammer comes along and beats them into dust again. Frankly, it's unbelievably depressing.

More problematic is the idea of 130 years of warfare. Considering that multiple times the wars degenerate into orbital bombardment with spinal guns and nuclear warheads (case in point - Vland) it's hard to believe that anything would be left. And you know what, smoking ruins makes for a boring game setting.

So, while something emerges that looks like a setting that could actually be fun to game in, the way there is depressing. To say the least.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Rolemaster combat variant

Way back in the days, Rolemaster was one of those big systems used in fantasy campaigns all over the place. Then the company who published it, I.C.E. suffered some setbacks and eventually folded. Through all this a few new iterations of the game saw the light of day, and being an old fan of the system, having started my GM career with MERP, I own more than a few of these books.

Now the company is back again, and it's time for consolidation and a new edition of the rules. Will it be viable in today's marketplace? I have my doubts, but for old times sake I took a peek at the play test documents.

One thing I never liked was how every weapon in the system had its own attack table. If for nothing but logistical reasons, it was unwieldy. But, it also made no sense. While the difference between getting hit by a small piece of sharpened metal and a bigger one might might be significant, the steps in between were just way too fine grained. It was often lauded as realistic, but in reality that was a simulationist dream. But, in MERP and in RMFRP they did something else.

In those variants of the rules (I consider them all to be kind of the same, even HARP), you had groups of weapons, like one handed edged weapons. It was easier to handle, and kept a level of verisimilitude. Today, considering the effects of what this about to model, I came upon an idea of how to present this even more concisely.

The individual hit points matter little in RM. What kills you is the critical hits, which are divided into levels of severity. So, I thought why not boil it down to those crits? Since a critical shows up in the upper level on the hit charts, you can see how big a percentage of the hits are of a specific level. Those percentages could be rolled in tandem with the attack roll, skipping the roll on the hit table. If you beat your opponents roll, add the overlap to the crit roll and see what level of crit you inflicted. It will make a bunch of simplifications to the RM system, but keeps some of the flavour. The obvious thing missing is of course the difference against different kinds of armour. Maybe I can shoe horn that back in somehow as well, given some time.

I wont be able to do a proper play test, since I'm lacking a group to test with. But, I felt like throwing it out there for anyone who happen to see it, and for my own archival purposes. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

What the eye can see

Right now the eye is half closed, sleeping and waiting the arrival of those days when free time and gaming is plenty. Some of you who have been faithful readers might still be around. Thanks for your patience! I have managed to get a few sessions of gaming in the last months and will have a few posts coming in the near future. Still, I make no promises and posting will probably continue to be sparse for a while more.

Take care, and game on.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Just something that needed to be said

I think some people need to see this.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

On hiatus

As if it is not bleeding obvious, I'm not gaming much at all right now. I hate it, and am quite drain for ideas to write about when I am not getting regular feedback from actual games.

It will continue to be quiet around here some more.

Hang around and The Eye will, hopefully, open up and peer at the world again.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The hangover

I got a bunch of emails today that made me sad. Today I got refunds from IndieGoGo for "Of Unknown Provenance", "Machinations of the Space Princess", "The Unbegotten Citadel" and "The Land that Exuded Evil".


I really wanted to see those adventures...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Some thoughts on crowdfunding

(edit: Jim Raggi have chimed in on the specific case of Monte Cook, on The Mule Abides blog, and apparently Monte did promote his project, even more than others, but not where I saw it. I still think video is key, as per below)

I guess everyone right now is looking at LotFP, and the big crowdfunding campaign of Jim Raggi. So am I, and I'm thinking a bit about what this tells us. Everyone has an opinion, I know. These are mine.

So. There were 19 adventures up for funding. Four of those funded. That is a success rate of 21%, which is not great. But, I think the interesting part is how far the 79% got. 3 got in the 54-27% funded and the rest (often far) less than 30% funded. Those numbers talk louder than if most had gotten around 50% but not funded.

This might tell us a few things. Let's assume one: gamers have a limited amount of money, and Jim's hypothesis that "Each author's fans would follow them to their adventure here." is wrong. In that case it would explain the campaign was so "top heavy". Is that true? Well, if they pledgers where mostly from existing LotFP fans, that would be true. I've heard many gamers talk about how they have to pick and choose these days so I think that part is true. It would be bad for LotFP if the outreach has failed and the author has not managed to pull in their fans. There are two sides to that coin.

I think Jim's assumption is quite sound. Probably each author should be able to pull in their fans, getting a solid ground for funding. If they all have a big enough crowd to begin with. For some of the creators, I have no idea if that is true. Maybe. I know the Monte Cook example have been used before, and I'm going to use it again. I think the assumption rests upon the crucial idea that the authors could rally their fans to their cause. I suggest that for that to happen either the publisher or the author would have to do some marketing.

If we look at the projects that did well, It's clear that marketing played a factor. Vincent Baker did Q&A videos, Jeff Rients did videos of "design notes" and Brockie added extra stuff which related to him and his previous activities and creations and finally Green announced it would get published no matter what. Those who have analyzed the numbers claim to see clear spikes in contributions when those "added value" actions took place.

I'm going to hold up Monte Cook as the anti-example here. He did no marketing that I noticed, at all, until the Ptolus pdf. Also, it was not an addition that felt tied in to the project. Also, I think most of the expected hard core fans have Ptolus already. I wonder about the other projects that achieved under 20% if those authors did any promotion? Face it, if money is tight, you need to work to get some of it. Talk about it on your blog, get interviewed, pitch in extras. Also, do a video.

When I have contributed to Kickstarter projects I have noticed that they seem to include a video pitching the project. Every guide to how to succeed in crowdfunding seem to suggest you need a video. I claim Jeff and Vincent have proven that advice to be correct.

I'd like to hail the hero of LotFP promotion, Jennifer Steen (of the Jennisodes fame). Her interviews with the project creators was great. I think more of that special sauce would have helped the 79%. Why would I chip in money when you don't want to tell me about your project? Jenn did I great job there. 

The last thought I have on the matter relates to the upper tier of the whole shebang.  

When I think about an offer where I have to shell out $100+ in order to maybe get something, I withhold my funds. Come one. If I see no money on any project I would feel like an idiot taking the chance to put down $100. If I had 19 projects almost all funded, it would make more sense. Needless to say, if someone has to plunk down a few hundred for the campaign to get past that bump, it wont happen. Nobody puts down money for something which seem to have a slim chance of happening. 

This part of the campaign is where I think James Raggi didn't think it through enough from a consumer perspective. High tiers should be for those stretch goals a couple of hundred percent above fully funded. Otherwise they don't make sense.

All in all it was an interesting experiment and kudos to James Raggi for exploring the limits! 

Personally I supported a few of the winning bids, and even though I'm really pumped up about Vincent Baker's project, I'm sad I wont get to see what Monte Cook could do.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


I love summer. Finally some heat for these old bones, and no more of that cloak of darkness that descends over you in winter.

But, I never get to play any games during summer! Since everyone is away on summer vacation it's even harder than usual to get people together. I hate it.

So, I sigh and read games, not play them. It makes it hard to write anything inspired here, since I lack the input of real play.


How about this idea.

A big starship has crashed, and sits there with the nose buried in the soil, smoking. The imperial marines are sent there, in case the aliens are hostile, since it's clearly a warship. But, something is leaking out, into the soil. It's the aliens reality leaking...

Things are about to get interesting for our brave team.

Maybe I'll type it all up.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

How to not write a game

Last night I had some time to browse a game I have borrowed from a friend, Dresden Files the rpg. This is a game that have been talked about a lot, and most of it very positive. I did find some points of it so grating I had to put the book down. What do you do then? Gripe online!

In Dresden Files, the pages a very "designed". In my view, overly so. For example, some parts of the pages are designed to look like someone took a highlighter pen to some words and sentences. Personally I have never been able to use highlighter pens. For me they are of no use. I don't read like that. Sometimes I have read books bought second hand, and underlining or highlighting drives me up the wall. If anything, I take notes on a separate paper, never in the book I read! Having a thing like that in a printed book, by design, drives me nuts. It makes my eyes stop at intervals which are not natural to my way of reading. Quite jarring.

The other design element is sticky notes. Yes, they have small "sticky notes", with faux hand writing in the sidebars of the text! To me it just makes the text on the page drown in the clutter of notes. Adding insult to injury, the few times I stopped reading and glanced at those notes, almost all of them contained snarky remarks of a very annoying nature. I mean, if you add something to the text, add least make sure it adds information!

Since it's very easy to complain, I'm also going to say how I think it should be done.

The best game book I ever read is the 2nd ed. rules book for Unknown Armies. What's so good about it? It's clear and understandable. There are no witty quotes or snarky sidebars, just a clearly presented text with illustrations not interfering with the text. The text is different from the majority of gaming prose, though. It is not detached. Instead it is personal, and with a very clear author voice. For some that is a killer, and for those I direct you to SPI's DragonQuest, which is as formal as it gets.

But, I'd like to emphasize that in Unknown Armies, the voice never hinders the important function of the text, to get the information across on how to play the game. You can read one sentence after the other and the information flows naturally. The combination of all these factors are sadly quite rare, and one reason why I have sought out Greg Stolze's writing since.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Character personality as crunch

I read a post on The Douchey DM, by Stu from Happy Jacks RPG Podcast. He posts on the topic of whether character personality chould be part of the game mechanics. I have on more than one occasion in both posts and blog comments mentioned how I by far prefer to randomly generate my characters and than designing them through, e.g., point by systems.
For me it works better by far to play the character and in play develop personality traits. When I don't, I find more often than not that I run out of ideas and the character becomes a one trick pony.

Now, what happens when the character personality and psychology is supported by game mechanics?

I think the crunch heavy game, where I get to game (so to speak) the personality, it works better for me. Even if I decide beforehand some character traits, I tend to get more out of them if I can use them as an excuse to roll dice. Maybe it's because most games have some kind of mechanic for those traits to change and develop. It kind of is a way to support my implied way of developing a character with a game system.

Interestingly enough, many new school game, like those from the Forge community, are not only quite crunch heavy but also quite "in your face" when it comes to supporting the psychology and personality of the character and its relationships with game mechanics.

Thus, we have three groups of games.

1. the old school game where there's not much game mechanical support for anything but combat.
2. the 2nd generation game where the designers left the random tables behind and you "can build anything". Premier examples are GURPS and Hero.
3. the new school game with few rules, but they often focus on the character personalities and interpersonal activities.

What I find interesting is how this is also something of a chronological series. Really new games and old ones have interesting similarities for supporting a style of play where you "game the personalities of your character. One game by leaving you to your own devices, and the other by focusing the rules on that thing.

For me this explains why I find some games so fascinating, but still can't make them work for me. This is also why I do things like this, where I try to merge the qualities I like most from games of different eras and generations. The true test of skills would of course be to find a way to hack GURPS to be what I want.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Forgotten Realms Personalities - what levels are they again?

Everyone knows about Elminster, right? Lot of people have also heard of some dark skinned elf with some feline companion from some kind of novel or three, right? Mary Sue, anyone?

So everyone knows that there are multiple high level personalities in the Forgotten Realms. Many of us feel that those long lists of people in the setting books are slightly intimidating. Is there any space for the stories of my character?

I decided to sum the level of the named personalities in the grey box for Forgotten Realms, FR1 Waterdeep and FR5 The Savage Frontier (all for 1st ed. AD&D) and see what the average level is of them. It might give you a hint of what might be the best books to use, and if FR is a place for your heroes to make their mark. The results are interesting.
Grey Box - 9
Waterdeep - 6.5
Savage Frontier - 13.333
What do you say about that? Considering the box is detailing a significant part of a whole continent, it's not surprising to have a few level 26 individuals in there. But, the average lands right in the sweet spot for "name level", which kind of makes sense if these are the people who are significant enough to stand out. They have begun to make their mark in the world, which with player characters happens at "name level". Maybe FR is not so filled with demigods after all?

Lets then look at the metropolis, Waterdeep. Considering this is the most densely populated place in the realms, you would imagine this is a place you are quite likely to find those big wigs.  Interestingly, there are some character in the upper teens, but not as many as I expected. The movers and shakers are described in vague terms, and the so called "Lords of Waterdeep" are actually secret, which makes it easy to slip in a player character or two in there.

Then, finally, we have Paul Jaquays. While I have a healthy amount of respect for the man as a dungeon designer, I think I know where I don't like his world building. In the Savage Frontier we have him fleshing out the wilds around Waterdeep and he adds a few high level personalities. By adding in his marvellous The Enchanted Wood adventure material for DragonQuest (which I happen to have an extra copy of, if anyone is interested), he manages to up the epic feel quite a bit. I remember someone posted that they felt FR5 was a bit much, when a section about random events mentioned two flying castles with dragons crawling over them passing overhead, locked in a wizardly duel. I think I agree. This book adds way to much. In my FR I think I will pass on it, however much I like Jaquays' dungeons.

I don't have many more of the earliest FR books for 1st ed. Since Ed Greenwood wrote the one on the Red Wizards, and they are all over the Grey Box as the big evil force, I feel tempted to to a similar analysis of that one. I have Moonshae, but it feels a bit separated from the rest of the world.

So, while it seems like the reputation FR has of a myriad of high powered NPCs is not totally unfounded, I think it is not found in all the sources. Personally I can't stand game novels, and I have stayed away from most of the 2nd ed. source books as well, since most of those are written after the novels started to flow out of TSR. If those are ignored, and some source books are screened, I think there are space left in the Forgotten Realms for your heroes.

A campaign which uses the Grey Box as a basis, adds Waterdeep and takes that Old West feel, might be a "Greenwood-ian" realms, and one wherein your adventures might not only fit, but also make an impact on the world. That's how I would run it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Where to start a campaign in the Forgotten Realms?

It has been fairly quiet around here a while now. I have been playing some D&D 3rd ed. but it is summertime and the regular slow down when everyone is on vacation this or that week until September.

Like I wrote before, I have been reading DragonQuest and different Forgotten Realms source books, and nurturing some hope of combining the two. Today's question is where to place the "home base" and centre of adventures? I'm going to think out loud somewhat.

Ed Greenwood detail the Dalelands in the grey boxed set, and it's clear that that area and the kingdom of Cormyr is where his players spent a lot of the early years. I have the module FRQ1 Haunted Halls of Eveningstar, which is situated in Cormyr, but suitably close to the "wilderlands" and the "borderlands" or high adventure. Sure sounds like a nice place to start off, eh?

One good thing with Eveningstar is that there are enough NPC detailed for them to be fun to interact with without being drowned in them. Also, the average level is actually around 5-ish and that makes them "within reach" so to speak. Secondly, there's a dungeon near, and a small keep with traps and some badlands with monsters. A little bit of everything, wilderness, "city" and dungeon.

The Dalelands then. There are lots of people to interact with in Shadowdale, but maybe a little too many. In the grey box there's a census report of every stead and its inhabitants! I'm vary of trying to fit a bunch of PC in there. Maybe it can be used as a blue print for another similar dale, but frankly I am a bit confused. What did TSR think you would use all that data for? The good thing is there are some small hills with nasty rumours, some holes in the ground and some intrigue. I'm not sure about the Dalelands, though. It feels like Harn in a way, and for me that is not positive. Who's pig is that again? How many silver does a farm hand need to be paid per fortnight? Anyone?

The third alternative is the city of Waterdeep. Now, that would mean no wilderness adventure, and the dungeons would in all likelihood mean Undermountain. That sound kind of intriguing. The myriad of NPCs is another thing to think about. How many movers and shakes do I want to juggle? A quick sum shows that interestingly enough, the average level of the named personalities of Waterdeep is actually just 6.5! Considering FR has a reputation of NPC demigods that is very interesting! I foresee many opportunities for players to make a difference in a not too distant future with that kind of competition. Suddenly Waterdeep looks like it just passed the Dalelands in my personal list of starting locales. There's enough going on, and you could easily find work both honest and more shady. Eveningstar is slighly smaller and manageable, though.

I'd love to hear if anyone has any experiences to share. The feel I got from the grey box of something like the Old West, with an interesting dichotomy between the wild and the civilized intrigue me, and I'm still pondering how to emphasize that, in whatever local I choose as a starting point.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A new "one page dungeon"-like project

For those of you who have missed it, the excellent podcast Happy Jacks RPG Podcast are having a contest in the style of the One Page Dungeon one. It's called 2 Sides: 1 Epic, which I personally think sounds fairly bland, but the idea is solid. You have one sheet of paper, now cover both sides with your generic adventure and tag it with genre tags, and your name and send it in.

I'm pretty sure Stu and crew would love to see some more contributors. I'm trying to come up with one myself. Check it out!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

D&D Next epic fail

I still have not been able to download the next version av D&D, have not gotten any new link as a replacement for faulty links (which I found out abouf of their existence from a podcast) and still a HTTP error when I try to access the tab to contact WotC to tell them it does not work.

The guys who work with computers at WotC: epic fail, guys!

Should the documents happen to find their way to me some how, I would love to take a peek. The likelihood of WotC getting even a cent from me is now pretty slim, though...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Forgotten Dragonquest

I have gotten this idea, that I want to use DragonQuest for something. Since I have just been re-reading the grey box Forgotten Realms the first thought that struck me was to combine the two. Have anyone out there tried it?

Somebody, I have forgotten where I read it, wrote that the feel of that early FR is very much like the Old West. It's a borderland where civilization is slowly being established, and the daily experience of the encroaching wilderness. I happen to be a big fan of Westerns, so I'm totally buying that depiction of the Forgotten Realms. But, this also made me think about other settings where the "feel" have suddenly clicked for me. Forgotten Realms was never presented that way.

One day when I was browsing the setting book for Kingdoms of Kalamar, I suddenly realized that the schtick this setting had was not to be special at all! The special about it was that it was just a quasi medieval setting presented in as a clear and "realistic" way as possible. No oddities or specials like Talislanta or Tekumel. Take apeek at the books and you will find that was exactly what was described on the can. God knows why I hadn't understood that. This was kind of the inverse of the experience of FR.

I still haven't gotten that feeling for Greyhawk.

Friday, May 25, 2012

D&D sure is popular too...

I have gotten my download link for the D&D Next play test, but it is broken, and the page where you can click to email WotC is also broken...

Really solid impression your give me, guys!

Monday, May 14, 2012

T&T sure is popular

Dave Arneson's personal copy of 2nd ed T&T just sold on eBay for $347.00 and I guess that is a sign of a popular game. Yes, I did bid. No, not $300.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

T&T hacks - D6 Star Wars

Some people likes their games wild and crazy, some want it more downplayed and subdued. If you like me have looked fondly on DARO (Doubles Add and Roll Over, the exploding dice mechanic of T&T) results in the stratosphere, you probably like it wild.

Maybe T&T does not need any more of that juice? Well, let's take a look at another way to inject some unpredictability in your game. Let's take a cue from the WEG edition of the Star Wars RPG.

In SW, you used a dice pool system. Traits where rated in dice and you gathered them all up and rolled and summed them. Kind of familiar territory so far. There was an additional quirk, though. In addition to the dice from your traits, you also rolled a Wild Die. Since I only have the 2nd ed. of the Star Wars game, I am not 100% sure if this mechanic was there from the start, and I know it was tweaked in later editions of the rules. So, what use is the Wild Die? Simple. It makes a situation a little more interesting.

To incorporate the Wild Die in your T&T game, just take one of the dice you use and make sure it's special. My T&T dice used to be the black ones with a troll or the T&T logo instead of a one, but I gave all those away. Nowadays I use ten white Gamescience dice. For a Wild Die, I use my blood read die with the Minotaur logo from my former FLGS. Make sure it stand out!

When you roll your dice, keep an eye on that special one, the red one in my case. If it turns up a six or a one, it's time to rumble.

1. Something just happened, and it is not to your favour. If you made your roll, you still made it, but another complication shows up. Say that you rolled a SR on DX to jump over a chasm. Maybe you got over safe, but that belt pouch of yours dropped down into the depths! Say that you rolled a SR on CHA to intimidate those hyenakin you let you pass, but now they insist on accompanying the brave adventurers and making a nuisance of themselves and making it impossible to sneak up on that dragon. I don't think I have to give any examples of what happens when you fail and roll a 1. Bad stuff. You'll have to determine before the game how harsh you want to be.

6. Some just happened, and it was to your favour! If you failed your roll, you still failed, but something happened that opened up new venues to approach the problem. Say you failed to intimidate that hyenakin chief, but he instead haughtily proclaim that such an insult to his honour has to be answered the traditional way, with a duel. At the chess board. Maybe you'll win that challenge? The icing on the cake that a success and a 6 is combined need to be elaborated. We all like cake, or pie. Maybe both.

Optional: I think the Wild Die is used to best effects on SRs on stats, but feel free to add it to combat as well.

I hope you think these hacks sounds interesting and inspire you to try them, or your own variant thereof, in your next T&T game.

Fight on!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

When horror hits home - an experiment with Unknown Armies

So we have just finished a session of Unknown Armies, and it really left the players feeling confused, and a bit freaked out I think. Was that good or bad? I'm going to think out loud about some of that.

First impressions from behind the screen is of satisfaction. I finally got to run a game that reads great, it's the best written RPG bar none, and even though I had to flip through the book a lot, it worked out ok.

We played one of the scenarios in the back of the 2nd ed rules, called Bill in Three Persons. This is a scenario full of weirdness, and also some really twisted NPCs and lot of opportunities to trying to cope in a world full of hard knocks. I thought it had lot of potential, and it had the excellent qualities of working fine with characters (and players!) that know nothing of the setting and don't know each other beforehand.

Once again, my players surprised me by not interacting with the NPCs. I guess I should have learned by now that these players wont actually approach and talk to everyone they meet, like I do when I play. When I asked them after the session, one of the actually said it was a weird scenario, where they was whisked from place to place and didn't have much people to talk to. How does that jive with their efforts to avoid interacting with the NPCs in the game? Maybe they were too freaked out by them? Let me take an example, with spoilers for the scenario, so be forewarned.

The scenario is in three parts, and is about how to three times encounter the person Bill Toge, and maybe put him on a different path in life than the one the PC encounter in the starting scene. Bill is not a very nice person, or at least a person who has been roughened up by life quite a bit. In our session the first part ended with Bill shooting one PC in the chest before being shot to death by a police sniper. I guess that established him as dangerous, and so dangerous that the players stayed out of his way in the rest of the session! That kind of puts a damper on the NPC interaction opportunities when he in the main NPC in every scene.

Mood wise I think the game worked perfectly, though. After the first 10 minutes everyone was already feeling freaked out and everyone could see their world trying to burst its seams. It was very David Lynch, so to speak. I loved it, and I those who commented said they loved it as well. That brings me to another point. How does it compare to Call of Cthulhu we played the session before that?

CoC ended with everyone mad or going mad in the alien city of Carcosa after seeing some alien monsters grabbing them and flying through space. In UA on the other hand, they had seen low life crooks getting shot, child molesters being harassed and drugged cultist being taken out by police. And getting shot. I think it all felt a bit more real.

It will be very interesting to compare when I finally run a modern CoC scenario, if it hits closer to home that way. I know that the idea of alien non euclidean angles and books about arcane non human knowledge doesn't sound horrifying to many modern people, as my players. Modern horrors, and modern non-Lovecraftian ones, feel more real.

After this run, I think it's time for something of a different genre. Horror wear out, and post apocalyptic gaming beckons, or Old West, or science fiction, or something else. But, I will run more Unknown Armies in the future, now I know for sure!

Friday, May 11, 2012

How dynamite solved the problem

\The last Saturday was the final session for my Call of Cthulhu game. I say final, and I think you can guess what that means?

All in all, Tell me, have you seen the Yellow Sign? was a very good scenario. It was well structured, and had enough support for the Keeper to keep focused on what was going on in the setting. I liked the story and plot, and how it had a strong theme that came out in play. So how did it feel in play, after all was said and done?

Our intrepid investigators finally decided on a trek out in the swamp lands after finding the occult bookstore, and seeing too many signs and needing someone to tell them what the relation to the raid of 1907 was. It turned out they found the gate, the site where the coronation and the calling of Hastur would take place. They spent some time debating the best cause of action and finally decided to build bonfires and use heat and cold water to break up the standing stones at the ceremonial site. Not too bad an idea.

The next night they were woken in the night my thugs dragging them away to the main cultist, Papa Screech, and taken to Carcosa via Byakhee. The experience made them all really shaken, and the poor journalist who was formerly experienced temporary insanity turned totally bonkers. There we left them, having saved the world but having lost themselves. Very Call of Cthulhu, I'd say.

It was kind of telling that in the end what they needed most and couldn't get was dynamite. Very Call of Cthulhu I'd say.

I loved being the Keeper of CoC, and hope to do it soon again!

Now it's time for a one shot of Unknown Armies before the big summer mess arrived and everyone travels around and have no time for gaming.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Why some games are hard

I just read the following by Justin Alexander about why the Transhuman Space game is known to be hard to get into.
To make things worse, Transhuman Space was primarily designed to be an interesting setting for the sake of having an interesting setting, without any real consideration or focus given to the types of stories/games that can be told in that setting.
This struck me as quite insightful on the specific setting at hand, but also a key to why I find some settings and games to be hard to get. I have never managed to get enthusiastic about Harn and sometimes I think this is also the problem with the original Mage game. It's especially true for the latter, where clearly even the designers didn't know what to do with it, but it became boring in later editions when they got a clue. I'm quite sure there's a lesson in there, for both scenario and world creation.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Old and new together

I played D&D 3rd ed. yesterday, and it was a very interesting mix of old and new. Most of the players were older than the hobby, which is not always the case these days!

We don't need no stinking character sheets! Graph paper works just as well for us!

When I was your age we didn't have no metal miniatures! We used sticks and pinecones and, and... pieces of plastic!

My dude is the d12, since I feel they need some love...

During a trek through the wilderlands of the southlands we were beset by a pride of lions! Six lions attacking a crowd of humans, arguing over whether playing the pipes raises or lowers the morale. All the while birds are circling us, and out in the sea are the mysterious ships of iron, travelling under the surface. Will we get the help we need from the tower of the iron fortress? Never ending drama.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Persuading people for fun and profit - redux

I listened to an episode of the Happy Jacks RPG Podcast when they talked about how to convince another PC, while still keeping that free will. I liked the idea voiced there and decided to put it up here for keeping.

When you want to persuade another PC, make you roll for whatever ability or skill you use. If you succeed, now ask the player of that character what they might be convinced by, and what buttons pressed might give them the idea to change their minds. Now role play out the scene, with that newly gained knowledge from the meta level.

You might not convince them in the end, but you gained something from having a character that was more socially experienced or convincing than you are. Also, nobody was robbed of their free will be a roll of a die.

I might work out.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Old School Forgotten Realms

I have been reading the grey box Forgotten Realms lately. Yesterday I also took out the first supplement, Waterdeep. Apart from some very interesting art in that book, I suddenly realized that these books differed to some extent from other old school gaming books.

In the FR cyclopedia of the realms, you get a sketchy view of many kingdoms and different landmarks like bridges and villages. There are many opportunities for adventure and I felt like I wanted to start a campaign there. But, there was that other chapter that felt different. There's in both the cyclopedia and the Waterdeep book a long, really long, list of personalities of realm.

In the cyclopedia, there are some personalities that are of a different class, namely the Powers. I think this is interesting, for Ed Greenwood does not call them gods, but Powers. That and the list of NPCs makes me thing that the powers are just heroes of old that have ascended. You get the distinct idea that adventuring in the realms you will interact with many of all these personalities mentioned, god or mortals. Is this a peculiarity of the Forgotten Realms?

Thinking back on other distinctly old school game books, I don't think there as are many NPCs listed there. I remember thinking a way back that a dungeon, whatever it was I was reading that day, felt kind of empty, since there was no named personalities in it.

I know some people dislike FR, and anything touched by Ed Greenwood. To many it makes them think of Elminster, the deus ex machina, or heavy handed "story" based game mastering. Even though Ed is not to blame for those practices, it feels like his FR is slightly more about people than monsters. Even though I love the explorative part of the game, and some good exhilarating fights with foul beasts, I can't but help feeling a lot of sympathy for a game where there are heroes and personalities around. It kind of makes the world feel like a real place. Someone lives there, and are doing heroic deeds.

Maybe this subtle flavour difference of the Forgotten Realms it just my imagination, but I'm wondering how important interaction with named personalities is to my and other peoples expectation of fun. Anyhow, if you are having fun, you are doing it right. Right?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Personal horror

A few days ago once again sat down behind my Trail of Cthulhu screen as the Keeper of Arcane Lore. Once again we travelled back to New Orleans in 1929, as imagined by Kevin Ross. This time, people went mad.

I'm beginning to appreciate the way this scenario is put together. The tome The King in Yellow is the key for it, and today the characters found the book, and read it. Telling them what they found made me realize how the whole of the scenario is modelled on and structured by that book. But, the big thing I wanted to talk about was how that book affected the characters, and the players.

Kevin Ross has provided the Keeper with a short summary of the physical characteristics of the tome, and a quite detailed summary of the content of the text, and how it affect the reader. Combining this with how Ken Hite suggested Hastur as a viral meme, I managed to portray the reading experience of the tome in a way that I had never tried or experienced before. I'll get into some details.

I have not read Chambers, but this book might follow his story. I don't know.

So, the setting is a city and the characters are a royal family fighting over succession. A stranger arrives, in a Pallid Mask, and he bears the Yellow Sign. He proclaims the coming of the King in Yellow and at the ball he is the only one not who has not removed his mask, and then it is revealed that he has none. Somehow the city is then replaced with Carcosa and the city is now situated by the lake Hali and everyone goes mad.

So, how does this related to the scenario, and how did I use it? In the scenario, it's Mardi Gras and everyone is dressed up and there's a masquerade ball at the end of the scenario. As you can see, the idea of masks is a common theme, as is the idea of a ball. But, the question of identity and duplicity is also important.

When the first character read the tome, she lost 5 SAN at once and I decided that her feeling of identity had started to slip, and that the idea of personal belonging became kind of hazy, cleptomania struck her as quite logical. Also, she at once started to wear a mask.

The second character read the book, and lost slightly less SAN. That character was most strongly affected by the duplicity of cities, places and time. I described how time and place suddenly had no meaning, and how the one turned into the other just like the city in the book had turned into Carcose. It had always been Carcosa.

The third reader had notes from the others, and here I emphasized the labyrinthine qualities of the text, and how plot lines twisted into each other, and how the pages seemed to be out of order. The main thing to freak that character out was how the literary qualities was as mutable as the reality in the story was.

What I did was I gave all the players different views of what they had read, and how it affected them differently. I had great help of the summary of the text, and could use different parts of it for retelling and rephrase things to freak the character out. Many times when you play CoC, you find a tome, read it and dock some points of SAN and now you have learned occult knowledge and are slightly more crazy. I found that actually have something to present to the players was important, and one of them even noted the fact that they all got something different from the experience. Suddenly the otherworldly qualities of the cthulhu mythos became tangible, or more real. It drove home the idea that you could actually be affected by reading a text. It became personal.

I think the first time I came across the idea of personal horror, was in the World of Darkness games, like Vampire. In those games you play the monster, and thus it's personal. I became bored when I realized that it was just a super hero game dressed in black leather and lace. Call of Cthulhu on the other hand is often criticized for being slightly too cerebral and too focused on the indescribable. I think the criticism is often well founded, but maybe focusing on the personal experience of something like a text could be a way to make it more personal, and make the player connect to the character to some extent. The themes in the setting, and the weird qualities of the text reinforced each other. By underlining the shifting nature of reality in the text, the shifting nature of the reality in the game was kind of implied. Since it was different for each character and it became more personal, isolated and possibly even hinting at the utmost loneliness of all character in the face of the mythos. Can you say "existentialism"?

It was a good session.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

T&T hacks - Over The Edge

 Since Over The Edge showed up in 1992, designers Jonathan Tweet and Robin D Laws have designed more games, and all are very much talked about. I don't know if it started with OTE, but it has been a very influential design. Let's take a look at why.

The setting of the game is very surreal. It's a game where every oddball tabloid conspiracy is out there, fighting over reality. It makes my head spin every time I read it. It is also the only have I have played where That Guy(tm), don't even stand out, he is just like the rest. Yes, it's that odd. But, I don't think it's why the game is so highly regarded, it's the rules.

To make a character, you pick one defining trait, a few supporting ones and assign them some dice. Easy enough, eh? The really interesting thing is that those traits are not picked from a list, or even limited very much at all. Basically, you can take any descriptive phrase at all, and make it your defining ability. In one game I made a character that had the trait Playboy. I used it for seducing, gambling, shopping and intelligence gathering. On the other hand, you could make it quite narrow, and then you get some more dice to assign to it. More dice are good when you roll them, add and try to beat a target number. But, I guess you see how that is the least exiting part of this. No two characters will look alike, and you have lot of freedom to define the characteristics of your character. Now let's see how we can take this system and put it into the guts of T&T.

In this hack, you have one trait called the Expert trait. This defines what your character is all about. Write down whatever you feel define your character, and roll 2d6+6 for that trait. Now, write down two more Good traits. These are the abilities that you feel gives you some breadth and is important, but not as defining. Roll 4d6 and pick any three for both those traits. Lastly, everyone has a Flaw, the ability that always gets you into troubles. Roll 2d6 for that trait. For any other trait you feel you need, roll 3d6.

Now, in order to be able to use as much as possible of the standard T&T rules we need to think of combat adds, combat hits and magic. Designate one of these traits as your Health trait. It can be your Flaw or your Expert trait. This is going to work just like CON usually does in T&T. You also need to define three traits that is level defining, and contribute to combat adds. Pick any three. Lastly, pick your Mystic trait, which works like INT and WIZ does in T&T.

Got that? Let's summarize.

The traits
  • One Expert trait - 2d6+6
  • Two Good traits - 4d6, pick any three
  • Flaw - 2d6
  • Other traits - 3d6

Their usage
  • one Health trait - works like CON
  • three combat and level traits - works like STR,DX,SPD and LK in T&T
  • one Mystic trait - works like a combination of INT and WIZ
This replace the regular T&T character generation, but after that you play as usual, with SR on the traits in place of stats, and roll weapon dice plus adds just like usual in combat.

Since this is very different from the usual fare, expect the games you play be very different. Tweak those numbers a bit and roll some different dice, but keep the distinction of one one trait higher than the rest, two above average and one sub par.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Talents - character traits in T&T

It seems I write more on T&T than I've done in a while. Today's post can be fitted to D&D as well if you like, though. You will have to expand your game with rolls against the stats Dave Arneson's style, though. I will probably write more upon that at a later stage.

One new addition to the game with the 7th ed. is Talents. 5th ed. diehards do without, but those of us who have embraced 7th ed. feel it's an innovation that have some merits. I'm going to talk about how I think the idea can be used and even improved upon.

Talents are defining skills, the abilities that make you the special individual you are. They can be narrow like "Playing Cards", or more broad like "Gambling". Those are two examples from the rules. According to the rules all new characters get a Talent. Then, as they go up in level, they may add another. Simple enough.

There are some problems with this, of course. While this all makes sense, the fact that some character types gets Talents as part of their class abilities is written in a way which makes it unclear if it is in addition to the Talent eveyone gets or not. In the specific case of the Rogue, the example character of Zam the Bony (p.32-33) is awarded a Talent of Thievery while there's no mention of a Roguery Talent.

Just like in OD&D, the Thief breaks the mould and creates problems. I suggest the following way to handle Talents, and the special case of the Rogue.

Every character gets one Talent when created, regardless if high stats rolled makes you start the game on a higher level than one. The Talent is written as Stat + Bonus, and the initial bonus is rolled on 1d6.

Every time a character gains a level through AP expended on raising a stat, another Talent may be added to the character. The bonus for that Talent is rolled on 1d6.


Rogues may at character creation, since they rely so much upon their smarts and good fortune, add their level to the bonus to their first level Talent. This is a set bonus, and does not increase at the Rogue gain levels.

This is a clear set of rules which unifies the mechanic, and gives the Rogue that extra flexibility with going totally over board with a Talent with a potential +6 usable for multiple SRs!

I hope you like that, or voice your disagreement. This probably they way I'll play the game from now on.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

T&T hacks - Savage Worlds

There was a time when you couldn't read the forums at Big Purple (AKA without it every day serving you another thread where people talked about how to convert this or that setting to a new rules set, most often Savage Worlds. I read many of those, and do think it is a great fit for many settings. I own the rules and follow podcasts and bloggers who cover it, and to some extent it has entered into my mind as a "go to" system. One of the cool things with it is the bennies.
In SW you get three "bennies" and the start. When you do something impressive, cool, fun or impressive in character you might be rewarded by another one. These can be used for re-rolls.

Naturally, having the ability to re-roll makes for a more high octane style of gaming. Many "savages" talk about "pulp gaming" as if it was a genre. In fact, it was a description of the cheap paper the lurid "two fisted tales" from the twenties to the forties were printed on. I find it kind of curious that it has become a genre of gaming. There is actually a game for that kind of gaming, namely Daredevils from FGU. But, I can see why Savage Worlds have become popular for it, since it lends itself very easily to fast and furious action. Let's see how to port that to T&T.

Every player start the game with 3 bennies. The GM start with one for each player, plus one. Use poker chips, coloured stones , pennies or whatever you have handy. When someone does something exceedingly cool or makes everyone laugh, hand them another one. To use the bennies, say that you want a re-roll, hand the token to the GM and roll again. If you don't like the result, use the first one you rolled instead. You can use bennies to re-roll any Saving Throw, i.e. a roll based on a trait. In combat you need to attempt those stunts to be able to use bennies to re-roll. At the end of the session, hand in the unused tokens. Next session, everyone start with 3 new bennies.

Option 1: If you don't mind the bookkeeping, make a note of every bennie earned, and cache them in for 50 AP each after an extended downtime from adventuring.

Option 2: The GM can only use bennies for named NPCs or major antagonists.

Option 3: If you as a player want to support another player character, you might use your own bennies to chip in. Only one bennie per roll may be added, though.

Option 4: You may use as many bennies as you like, re-rolling until satisfied. Note that this makes for a very high powered game!

I hope you think these hacks sounds interesting and inspire you to try them, or your own variant thereof, in your next T&T game.
Fight on!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Thinking more on my last CoC game

I have been thinking some more of my reactions to the latest CoC session. There was a time in the beginning of the session where the players where basically flailing about. They even said right out to me that they did not know what to do. It made me start to think I had to do something, and after some futzing around things did start to move again. Not in the "right" direction, it did start to move again. It did also manage to move in a direction that the characters did intersect with the major NPCs and the things that were going on, but that was another thing.

So, today I was catching up on some old email. I am, and have been for years, a subscriber to the Roleplaying Tips newletter from Johnn Four. Usually it contains at least some new nugget to use in a upcoming game, or something to file away in that GM folder of tricks.  This issue I had lying around had as a main feature a piece by some guy called James and he wrote something which made me think. Take a look at this:

  It is not the referee's job during a session to provide
  excitement for his playing group. His job is to administer
  the setting and resolve character actions. If the characters
  are taking no action and are not interacting with the
  setting, then the referee has literally nothing to do. The
  players are wasting his time.
What about that? Do you agree?

Often when I play RPGs, I'm the referee. That means that, potentially, I will more often than anyone else have "nothing to do". That sounds boring.

Now, I think many of you dear readers are well aware of the tenets of the so called "old ways". The games master is supposed to make rulings, present the players with meaningful choices and let the dice fall where they may. I can dig that. Well, I can dig that when I run fantasy, but I also dislike not having anything to do. I am there to play a game as well, after all. So, what to do, and why did I specifically mentioned running a fantasy game?

When I run a game of standard, or not so standard, fantasy I usually make shit up all the time. I once had a few NPCs have a totally unrelated fight in the background of a city while my players where debating what to do. Afterwards I got praise for that, since it made the game world feel real. Not everything revolved around the characters and their quest. That is where I think I can do the sandbox thing. I have enough experience to make up odd or mundane things for a fantasy setting. If the players are not entertaining me, I can entertain myself and maybe they follow along that path none of us knew existed.

Let's compare that with Call of Cthulhu. In CoC, there's usually a conspiracy or plot going on. Someone is going to grab an occult macguffin unless the players intervene, or someone is trying to summon some extra terrestial horror, and following some clues the characters might be able to figure that out and choose to stop them. Let's bring back that part about being bored.

In my last session of CoC, I was bored. I could try to steer the players back to the plot, basically railroading of some kind or another. That was never my intention. While it might be a slightly less dramatic way to end, a fizzle is an end as well. No, my problem was not that I needed to have my players go and actually talk to any of those named NPCs I had given them names and addresses to. No, they could do that or not, but if they did not they would miss some of the clues to the plot. I have ended scenarios before without players understanding things, so that was ok. What was not ok was that I wanted to throw in some things for the players do to, because I wanted something to do.

This is where I think I slightly disagree with Jim Raggi. I think the GM do need to think about providing excitement for his group of players. Not in order to "steer the game back" to whatever it is you usually steer them towards. No, I think you need to provide some excitement for your players when they are not providing any excitement for you! Otherwise you wont be getting any, and there was probably another individual in your life you could share some excitement with instead.

So, what do you do when you want to make a session wake up again? I love random encounter tables, and like I said I have enough experience in fantasy to be able to play with the troupes. When running a game in the US in 1929 I am lacking the troupes. Maybe what I need are random encounter tables? Or maybe I just do what Chandler is supposed to have done, have someone charge in with a gun and let's see what happens...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

T&T hacks - Rolemaster

This is the second post in this series, and today we are going to take a look at Rolemaster from I.C.E., which happens to be an old favourite of mine.

The first thing I remember when I think of Rolemaster is the tables. There are tables for spells, attacks, fumbles and crits. I loved those. 

I guess everyone who has played Rolemaster remember the critical hits tables. Let's see if we can hack T&T to get something with a similar feel.

So, did you managed to get any Spite dice on your attack? Congratulations. Now, did you also manage to get any doubles? Now we get into crit/fumble territory.

But, just like in RM there should be continuous effects. Those spite points are now bleeding, and you take that amount of damage, every round. Now, let's get on with the crits and fumbles.

Count the numbers of dice that are the same, that's the level of your crit/fumble. If the doubles where ones, it was a fumble and any other kind of number is a crit.

For crits, roll a SR on CON on the level of your crit. For fumbles, roll a SR on LK on the level of your fumble. As you understand, this means lvl 2-6. If you fail your SR, this is what happens.

Critical hits
Lvl 2 - roll 2 to more dice of damage
Lvl 3 - stunned, you loose your next action
Lvl 4 - you fall unconscious
Lvl 5 - random limb is now useless
Lvl 6 - save or die

The level of SR is the extra points of damage you take (regardless if you make your save), and that's spite damage folks! Don't forget the bleeding.

Lvl 2 - drop your weapon
Lvl 3 - your weapon break
Lvl 4 - damage random ally
Lvl 5 - damage yourself
Lvl 6 - damage yourself, and you roll one more die. That number is the crit level you just inflicted, on yourself.

Do you think it hurts enough yet? I think in this system you can probably get the same kind of feel as in RM, where a lucky schmuck can kill himself if he is "lucky" enough.

What did you say? Is the math wonky? It probably is, I have not tested this, and am not that great at crafting mathematically sound rules. But, take it and run with it! Let me know what you think.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Monsterlist download

(edit: I had misspelled the title! Oops!)
I decided to collect all the monsters in the officially published monster books from FDP for Tunnels & Trolls. When running a game I often have to scramble through the booklets to try to find where this or that monster i located. Hopefully this document can be of some help to those you you who like me never seem to find the right monster.

Check over on the left on this page, there you'll find a download link. Please let me know if you have any problem with it, or any other suggestions!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

T&T hacks - Burning Wheel

As the first post in this new series, I'm going to take a cue from Luke Crane's game Burning Wheel.

In BW you have these psychological traits called Beliefs. They are things your character are all about. It's things that define your character, and things that you can not miss or ignore when interacting with that character. In short, it's a great way to tell your GM what kind of game you want to play.

The second thing is Instincts. These are stylish markers for how your PC behaves. They are things that will work great for colour, but also short cut some of the "grind" actions you'll want to do. 

Let's show some examples. There's a great one in the BW rules about Beliefs, let's look at that. "People feel better when lied to". How about that? It makes it clear that your PC is somewhat of a cynic, and that you want to lie a lot. Excellent role playing tag, and a hint to the GM that you want to interact with people and lie to them.

To incorporate this into your T&T game, do just like in BW. Pick at least one, and up to three, and write them on your character sheet.

Next, let's look at Instincts.

An Instinct is a if < this > then < that > kind of routine. They will help your character stand out, and also help you not forget to do that thing, which might be a life saver. Again, let's look at an example. "I always use a glove when opening a door". There you go, it makes you look cool and it might save your hide when you encounter a contact poison. The GM could even allow you to make a SR after the fact to notice the odd powder or smell on your glove, telling you what you just evaded. Maximum game fun.

To incorporate this into your T&T game, list one or up to three Instincts on your sheet.

I guess I managed to convey the value of the Instincts, but what about the Beliefs? Well, in Burning Wheel they have many different flavours of what we call Adventure Points in T&T. I think the simplest way is to just say that every time your character in game acts upon one of her Beliefs, you gain 100 AP. It pays to practice what you preach, if you see what I mean?

If you feel a Belief has run it's course, save up 1000 AP and buy it off, exchanging it for something new. Don't make Beliefs something cheap. It will cost you to turn your back on something that defined your character!

I hope you think these hacks sounds interesting and inspire you to try them, or your own variant thereof, in your next T&T game.

Fight on!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Gamemastering Call of Cthullhu - pacing

Today I was once again behind the screen as Keeper of Arcane Lore. I'm collecting experience, and this was my sixth time as a Keeper! While running this session I experienced something I wanted to talk about.

I have been running games now for almost 25 years, and I think I have a pretty good grasp on how to behave in many different situations. Are the players looking excited? Are they laughing? Do that guy over there look like he is getting bored? I think I have those things nailed down when I stomp around in my familiar fantasy grounds. Especially the problem of pacing is something I usually know how to handle.

Today they players sat down trying to continue from having explored a warehouse of a suspected cult and having had to retreat with one member of the party K.O.'d. What now? From my point of view it was pretty obvious what to do in a Call of Cthulhu game. You visit every named NPC and talk to them to track down ever scrap of knowledge, since knowledge is the most important thing in this game. Right?

Naturally, my players did not do that.

After some very intelligent and smart use of backstory, connections and leveraging Credit Rating, one of my players found a masonic brother and started to talk. Since he was the D.A. I thought that this was a guy who knew stuff, and had resources. I had him mention a few things and be friendly. That and some interest from the players in one of the named NPC and they had finally gotten the idea that talking to people was good, and digging around for people in the know was fruitful. Finally.

Now the P.I. in the party decided to go sneak into the posh mansion of one of the key NPCS. In broad daylight. In an area where I specifically mentioned police patrols being regular and observant. Guess who got to spend a night in jail?

So. What would I have done? Well. I don't understand why they didn't start to talk to all the people on the list they had gotten from their main contact? I would have visited each and every NPC, in alphabetical order! After the session some of the players even voiced the opinion that it felt like it was a bit hard to find the clues. I even play with GUMSHOE inspired rules, so they will find core clues, and they know it. At least I have mentioned it. Interesting.

You do know about the three clue rule, right? Go read that essay if you haven't.

Now, if this had been a fantasy game I would have rolled for a random encounter. I love the idea of a random encounter. The random encounter could provide a conveniently dropped clue, to make it an even three, or just something to do so that after the encounter someone had a new idea.

What do you do when there's a lull in the action in an investigative game? You can't really push the players toward the next clue. It would be bad form, and boring. Also, in order to entertain them while waiting for the penny to drop, do you let wandering kobolds show up and pick a fight? I guess not. I think there are, after more than 20 years, still some things this old dog has to learn.

Friday, March 30, 2012

T&T hacks - a series of rules surgeries

I took a long hard look at my wall of games. I like those games. Some of them I haven't played in a long while, though. I see why the idea of learning one system and sticking to it can be very appealing. Yeah, I have GURPS on those shelves too. I even used to have more than one edition. But, maybe there is a way to have your cake and eat it too!

One of my favourite systems is Tunnels & Trolls. Now, how if I could take some of the cool features or subsystems out of those other games and transplant them into T&T? Some might work like a charm, and some will be terrible frankenhacks. Hey, there's only one way to find out which works or not!

I will in the coming weeks post one post every Sunday, taking the surgical knife to another system, trying to graft its entrails to my T&T homonculi, creating a new life form. Follow along, it might be scary and it might be fun. If you care nothing for T&T rules hacks, stay around any way. I'm keeping up *ahem* with the regular posts in the regular bursts of activity.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Judges Guild take on social mechanics

I wrote about social mechanics a while back, and the notion of influencing the player characters wasn't all that popular among some of my readers. I still think the same rules should apply to all characters in the game, in some fashion, but I can see the logic of the detractors.

Going back in the history of the hobby, I found some "social combat" rules from Judges Guild. These rules are called "Offensive Locution (Attacking with words)" and they include repartees and witticisms. The former will basically interrupt combat and stun the opponent with your verbal skill. The latter is a way to make people laugh and make the destabilized. Naturally, this being old JG rules, it involves oddball mechanics and dice Gygax style.

As if that wasn't enough, there's even a "prestige class" for fighters called Buffoon. Funnily enough, the stat requirements demand a high CHR and low STR and WIS! He always succeeds at repartees, and is described as a face man for scams and theft. Kind of neat.

I find it interesting that way back in 1978 in the Ready Ref Sheets, someone thought of the idea of rules for influencing people. While it's not a general Social Interaction mechanic by any means, it is an intriguing addition to a game.

For the T&T minded in the audience, I suggest the following rules to use something similar in T&T.

Buffoon - a talent always tied to CHR. Whenever you want, you may taunt and jeer and by wit and by the sharpness of your tongue incite rage or cause debilitating laughter. Roll a opposed Saving Roll on CHR, adding your Talent rating. The difference is the amount of turns the opponent is effectively useless for offensive actions.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

RIP Professor Barker

Professor M A R (“Phil”) Barker died just recently. I was away from home, cramming my head full with new skills for my gong fu, when I friend called me up and told me the news. I have never played EPT but I have read his first novel, and liked it. Right now I wish I could re-read it, but I lent it out and now it's lost. One of these days I'd like to explore Tekumel.

So, what can I say that have not been said already? I didn't know him, and don't have any experience with the game world. I'm thinking of how fans of Tekumel write their setting and rules hacks.

If you check out the official Tekumel site, you will find links to many different rules systems. Those I find intriguing are the ones which don't try to adapt an existing set, but instead start with what is specific for Tekumel. There are a few, and some are not even finished after those specifics are nailed down. Maybe that is what is the core of the rules needed. The main theme of the game is by necessity what should first be written. Can you spot what is the core theme of GURPS? I bet there is one. Those might not be obvious at first, but even fairly setting agnostic rules have themes in them. I'm right now suddenly immediately struck by the necessity of that fact. I think I'm going to meditate on that a bit. Maybe re-reading those Tekumel rules again will make me see the Tekumel behind the rules.

Thanks for the cerebral workout Professor! Even indirectly, your creation makes the gears turn. The power of dream and imagination is amazing. Game on!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Action/Drama/Fate points and player engagement

I was replying in a comment on this post, and realized it was turning into a post of its own. I'll expand all my thoughts below.

The idea was that points which players can use to change probabilities and/or change the game world is bad in a old school game. The perceived threat was that of eliminating the deadliness of the system. Here are some direct feedback on that, and some further thought on the matter.

There are multiple kind of systems for giving the players a way out, and for changing the fact of the game world. I have played multiple systems using those and have some experiences to share.

First, in Warhammer FRP there are something called Fate Points. Those can be used to "save the character from certain death". Suggestions are mitigating the effects of a fall from a cliff, or a critical hit. But, and it's an important but. Once they are gone, they are gone! In a game like WHFRP, which is quite deadly, this is literally a life saver. Will it rob the game of something? Well. I have played with quite a few characters in WHFRP and I tell you that I sweat every time my character takes a hit! Fate points or not. Too see those few points dwindle just reinforce how close to death I just came.

Secondly I want to mention the Drama Dice of 7th Sea. In that system you roll dice depending on your stat and your skill, as a pool. But, you only keep as many as your stat's value. Using the Drama Dice, you basically get more dice to choose from to keep. So, using this mechanic you make it likelier that your character succeeds. These Drama Dice you get for acting in a heroic and swashbuckling manner, i.e. it reinforce the theme of the game. It's a reward mechanic. When I was running 7th Sea, I noticed that the psychological effect of getting a physical token (poker chips in our case), and comparing the amount to the guy sitting next to you, made it work really well to reinforce the theme of the game. Sure, sometimes people chucked in token after token (you can commit them after the fact) on a roll they really wanted to succeed at, but it mostly worked as a prod to act thematically correct.

Thirdly, and finally, I'm coming to Type IV D&D. I played in a campaign up to "Paragon Tier"?  See, I have already managed to dismiss the jargon from my head. Anyway, up to what used to be called Name Level. I remember that I once in a while used a Action Point when I wanted to do something, but in that game the "respawn time" of powers was dominating the game so much that yet another mechanic, like getting "blooded" and triggering new effects, made it down in the general noise of game mechanics. Basically, I barely noted those points and they never affected our actions as far as I could see. They surely never did mine.

So, what am I trying to say? I'm saying that having some kind of points or game mechanic to "save your bacon" can work out in many different ways. I would claim, with some emphasis, that the brittleness of characters is not the defining factor of old school play, and that there are more than one way to skin a cat. The cat in this case being giving those points to players. Compare getting xp for gold to the Drama Dice in 7th Sea. Those are both reward mechanics. Also, having dwindling resources can in fact give the game an even tenser feel, and reinforce the dread. If that's what you're after. But, when you add something like a new mechanic to the game, make sure you are not conflicting with other systems in the game, making the effect lessened by it being forgotten or drowned!

I am vary of the idea of giving more spells to neophyte magic users. It change the tone of the game, but I don't think a scarce resource like the Fate Points in WHFRP does. Is it a valid comparison? I don't know.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Call of Cthulhu is so metal somtimes!

Today I once again was the Keeper for my CoC campaign. Now it was time to handle the scenario Tell me, have you seen the Yellow Sign? from the Great Old Ones book. As I was prepping the game, getting the mood, I was listening to some music.

So what kind of music do you listen to when you want to get in the mood for a slightly paranoid setting with sighting of a certain occult symbol all over time? I put on some Danzig and the song I Don't Mind the Pain.

So how did the scenario go?

Our brave investigators arrived in New Orleans after a close fight with a vampire. They talked to their local contact, agreed something was fishy and started digging. Soon they was convinced by a chatty physics professor that the stiff must have died some other way that was the police official story. He must have jumped from a hot air balloon, or something else flying fairly high up in the air. They also talked to some police men, including one guy who partook of the famous raid of 1907. When night fell, they started the real work, investigating a warehouse they had visited during the day.
How come so many rpg parties set something on fire, steal stuff or start breaking and entering? I was just earlier this week, or the week before (I don't remember) listening to a podcast where someone suggested it's always just a matter of time before the PC set something on fire. It didn't take long for one of my players to suggest it. But, instead they trespassed on private property doing some old school breaking and entering.

As a diversion, the party doctor decided to play drunk and act out some shenanigans on the fire escape ladder, involving the night patrol man. It ended with the rest of the party hastily retreating, dragging their bleeding companion to medical attention with a cracked skull. He will now be hospitalized for weeks.

I don't mind the pain.
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