Wednesday, May 31, 2017

My non-interview of James Raggi

Over memorial day weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Role Play Convention in Cologne, Germany.  I was there as part of the SCA, who was conducting demonstrations of various arts and crafts as well as combat. 


The day before the convention we were infilling our section equipment and we got off on the wrong floor.  And what do I see before me but Mr. James Raggi, in the flesh, checking his cell phone about 10 feet away from me.  After quickly confirming that no one in my party had any idea where they were and needed to call our group coordinator to find out where we were supposed to go, I zipped on over to Mr. Raggi to say "hi". 


I don't regularly (or irregularly) rub elbows with the rich and famous, but I've seen famous folks before at conventions and kept my cool -they're just people after all right? However, I was in a bit of a shock seeing Mr. Raggi there and as a result felt embarrassingly giddy at the experience and just had to gush and tell him how much I liked Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and how excited I was to see that he was at this convention.  He cooly accepted my appreciation for his efforts and pointed off to where his booth was. I told him I'd swing by and check it out. By then the rest of the group had figured out we were supposed to be on a different floor and it was time to start hauling our gear to where it needed to go.


The next day.


I had been rotating in and out fighting for about two hours, happy but exhausted, and finished for the morning.  I stripped off about half of my gear (since I was just going to be fighting again in a few hours) but was still a stinking sweaty mess even if I did have a new shirt on. 

My wife decided to take me upstairs and check out the vendors, but I had to hold the baby.  We looked at various stuff, but I was on a mission-  I was going to see the Lamentations of the Flame Princess booth.


A couple of years ago I had gone into roleplaying hibernation.  Work, family and so forth were just taking so much time that I couldn't get a group together and couldn't really participate in any regular game, and so my dice were gathering dust.  Coming across Lamentations of the Flame Princess re-ignited the sense of wonder and fun that I had for years with roleplaying.  As a result I bought pretty much everything I could from the line.  Recently a new book was released "Veins of the Earth" and it was massive, which unfortunately meant that the shipping from Finland was going to be about 20 Euro just for one book.  I had put it on hold until some other books were released, but hey here was an opportunity to pick it up.

So we stop by the unassuming LotFP booth that is manned by James and only James (see totally on a first name basis now).  It doesn't have a lot of the flash of other booths, but had a cool banner and a couple of tables that were crammed full of books and shirts.  He had some other customers that he was helping there, but quickly and efficiently handed me a price list that was printed out just for the convention (Seriously, if you can get to a convention with LotFP there you get some great prices!)

He asked if I wanted to check out any of the other books at the table But I had everything he was selling except for the one book.  So my lovely wife passed over the money and got the book and a price list because it looked cool.  In total, the interaction was short and swift.

I wanted to say a lot more, and ask a bunch of questions and just talk about the hobby in general.  However, he was there to do business, there were other customers looking at stuff and I knew I had only so long before I had to be back downstairs for the next combat demonstration.

I would like to point out that I looked like crap after fighting, could still feel the sweat pouring off of me, had a bruise forming on my chin from where a good whack had gotten me, and had a floppy baby hanging off of me.  I probably smelled worse than I looked as well.

I went on my way, and just gushed to my wife instead who had raised her eyebrow at me shelling out 60 Euro for a book I hadn't even cracked the cover of, but I reminded her that she loved me and technically SHE had handed over the money and bought me the book as a gift.  Then I stopped and told her to hold on.

The other customer was gone and so I went back to at least get a photo.

James smiled and said yes, I finally got out a bit about how I loved the LotFP line, and to keep up the good work.  He came around to the front of the booth and asked my wife for a count down for the picture. 


5


4


3


2


1


He screamed and head banged like his favorite metal band had just come on stage.  My wife nearly dropped the camera she was so surprised (meanwhile the baby had fallen asleep and just continued to be passed out).


So you know what James did?   He took another photo with me.  And he screamed again. 


I still wanted to talk, but I had already gotten so much, and what was I going to ask, probably the same stuff that gets asked in real interviews, and really the last thing I wanted to do was stop him from doing what he was there to do. Spread the gospel of weird horror roleplaying.


So I went on my way and did more fighting and just enjoyed the busy chaos that is working at a convention. 


Sunday when we were cleaning up and I was bone tired and exhausted I stopped and thought about how much fun and work conventions are, and I thought of James working the booth spreading the word of LotFP and how tired he must be after two LONG days of work by himself (mind you he is selling books in English at a German convention, and while every German I have had the pleasure of meeting speaks really good English, he is competing against products all around him- in German).


I also thought: Crap.  I never introduced myself. 


So James, if you ever read this.  Hi, I'm Tim and I'm a big fan. 




Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Paranoia Play Report

I got to be a player rather than a GM in this game, so who knows what else was going on between notes being passed.

Another great day-cycle to be a trouble-shooter in the service of The Computer and Omega Complex.  I'd recently gotten out of the med bay after getting pretty shot up during our last mission, thankfully I'd kinda blocked most of the bullets with my hand and the doc-bot in its infinite wisdom had replaced my hand with a cybernetic one rather than trying to patch what was left together.

Well after morning hygiene my comm-pilot activated and let me know that I had a mission briefing to attend.  No time like the present!.  I was joined in the briefing room by two other red clearance trouble-shooters that I has worked with in the past,  Jaxx-R and Dillon, just Dillon.  Oh any your narrator?  I'm Johnny-R-GUD-1.

I probably should have paid more attention to the orange clearance clone that was there to give us our briefing, but before he could say anything the monitor came to life with the all seeing eye informing us of our mission efficiency from last time.  90% over all  effectiveness, 70% loyalty, 80% happiness, but only 40% hygene.  The lowest performing member of the team was Kadesh-R-BUB.  Shortly after that the orange clone was executed for failing to have all members of the trouble-shooter team at the briefing.

Our new briefer (another orange) was a real knockout.  she informed us that we have the privilege of escorting Scrub-bot-007 (Hero of the Complex, you've seen its biopic right?) to Sector 2 Subsection E floor 47.  There was an explosion at the sticky syrup factory and the scrub-bots there had become bogged down.  Our mission was to escort 007 (Hero of the Complex) to meet with the scrub-bots and provide a re-supply, 007 (Hero of the Complex)'s safety was our utmost priority.  We were informed that due to an unexplained problem with several bots being damaged during our last mission all of our weapons were put on a safety linked to 007 (Hero of the Complex) who was the only one who could deactivate the safety.

We then went to R&D to pick up our supplies and meet with 007 (Hero of the Complex).  We were issued cleaning supplies, several vats of solvent along with experimental batches 108 (not to be operated by bots) and 107 (we were instructed to report upon their performance compared to the standard solvent) hazmat suits, a flamethrower and a solvent spraying power lifter.

We made pretty good time to Sector 2 Subsection E floor 47 with the only complication being the hordes of adoring fans, on the bright side we picked up a few of our own as we were semi-famous for being 007 (Hero of the Complex)'s security detail.

I did get two unsolicited messages, one asking me to spread a audio file in the security compromised sector and another telling me to cause some destruction and take a photo of it to show I can party.  Huh, ok.

The sector was on lockdown. A blue clearance clone made us decontaminate before we went into the sector.  This presented a slight complication as the labels for 107 and 108 were scrubbed off by the decontamination process.  Oh well, onward!

We followed the trail cut through the sticky syrup that enveloped the sector.  It oozed over the floor, and poured through the windows and just about everything was stuck to it.  Pretty soon we were seeing graffiti and hearing tribal drums in the background.  Just look at the chaos that ensues when security cameras get spotty service!

We pushed on past some broken scrub-bots and the remains of some clones until we encountered a power substation that had been destroyed.   The remains of some clones were scattered around like the mess made by a roomba that had run over dog poo.  I posed in front of the burned out substation with the flamethrower and sent it to one of the mysterious e-mails.  Dillon, just Dillon put on the power suit and started to cut a path through the sticky mess that blocked us from going further while Jaxx and I inspected a tool box and nearby box full of asamov chips, the nifty little components that tell robots not to hurt clones.  Huh, what was a box of those doing here?   We pressed on, and started to hear the beat of some primal drums beating in the distance.  007 (Hero of the Complex) insisted we press on and not investigate.

Jaxx was really starting to question 007 (Hero of the Complex)'s loyalty   He was convince that 007 was leading us to our doom and that 007 (Hero of the Complex)had never really defeated the traitor Laz-O-RUS (apparently on his 24th clone of evil!) Well, there was no time to discuss this further as a rocket whizzed through the air and landed squarely on the power walker operated by Dillon, just Dillon.  He existed the injured walker while I screamed at 007 (Hero of the Complex) to let us use our weapons (it agreed as long as we fought for it).  We left Jaxx to get 007 (Hero of the Complex) to find cover and stay safe.  There were two heavily armed clones coming towards us.  I yelled "STOP" from behind cover and they did (!) but before I could discuss anything further Dillon, just Dillon opened up fire on them.  The firefight was going well for us when we suddenly heard a shot ring out from behind us.  Dillon, just Dillon ran back to investigate and I charged forward to finish off the two anti-robot clones (and loot the bodies - an SMG, EMP rifle, and 4 EMP grenades).

To our horror 007 (Hero of the Complex) was gravely injured as a hole had been shot into its outer shell.  Jaxx didn't know where it had come from but was fairly certain he could fix it, though he would need some parts to fix the damaged motivator and voice modulator, until then we could only communicate with 007 (Hero of the Complex) via texting on our comm-pilots.  So we left Jaxx to fix 007 (Hero of the Complex) and Dillon, just Dillon and I went back to the broken scrub-bots we had previously passed to get spare parts.

We made good headway and a docbot where I was able to upload the audio file I was given before the mission, we piked up some supplies as well.  Unfortunately there was a large group of clones dancing naked (!)  around a fire with some primitive weapons.  There was no way we could salvage the scrub-bot parts while they were there.  Suddenly, and without warning, Dillon,  just Dillon stripped off his clothes (!) and went to dance among them.  His distraction worked, as I gathered up the parts, but not as he intended.  You see, he kind of tripped and knocked some of the dancers over, then when he went to help one up they overcompensated and fell forward plunging their spear into a bystander.  Soon screams of "The new guy stabbed Fritz!" were being thrown around and Dillon, just Dillon was being chased by an unruly mob.  I hoped to scatter them and so threw a (EMP) grenade into the group.  Since I knew it wouldn't really hurt anyone I made sure to yell really loudly "GRENADE!" which caused a brief moment of panic and he almost got away, but then one of the primal clones distented its jaw and shot out a whip-like tongue at Dillon, just Dillon.   I went running back (well as fast as I could carrying all those parts) not wanting to waste Dillon, just Dillon's efforts.  Thankfully Dillon, just Dillon was able to separate himself from the group, and started to catch up to me.  Of course this meant the mob of primals was catching up to me too.  So I decided to brake their morale by handing off the spare parts to Dillon, just Dillon and using one hand to spray bullets from the SMG and another to shoot the flamethrower, effectively creating a wall of "nope" for them to try to get past.  It worked and they ran off somewhere giving us time to get back.  Unfortunately, the sticky syrup had begun to ooze back into our previously clean path and our return treck took a significant amount of time.  So much so that when we returned Jaxx, 007 (Hero of the Complex) and our supplies were gone.

A brief interlude.
While we where gone, Jaxx wanted to hack into 007 (Hero of the Complex)'s memory banks and find out what was going on with him leading us, in Jaxx's mind, to certain doom.  So he shot open an access panel and was a little too successful.  Once we left again he hacked into 007 (Hero of the Complex) and reprogrammed him to be honest (this was a fuzzy concept, so really really compliant was what happened) but was unable to find any compromising data logs or programs.  In fact the only thing of note he could find was the memory of when 007 (Hero of the Complex) defeated the evil traitor Laz-O-RUS.  Laz-O-RUS was running somewhere and tripped over 007 (Hero of the Complex) and proceeded to fall out of a window to his death.  Unfortunately, while he was busy hacking away at 007 (Hero of the Complex's) memory banks he didn't notice the group of tribal asomov free scrub-bots that snuck up upon them and took the whole lot captive.  Back at their camp the scrub-bots tried to decide what to do with Jaxx, but he convinced them that he could fix 007 (Hero of the Complex) and since the scrub-bots weren't programmed for repair they agreed, sort of.  They fashioned a noose with grenades around his neck so if he tried anything funny they could blow his head off.

Back to the two non-kidnapped clones...

We arrived to see everything gone, but there were some pretty handy tracks leading north through the sticky syrup.  So we followed.  We crested a hill and saw Jaxx surrounded by a bunch of scrub-bots and 007 (Hero of the Complex) in the center.  Suddenly Jaxx lunged toward the scrub-bot chief pulling out a hidden pistol with one hand and pulling off the grenade noose with another.  It was all very dramatic and heroic.  It was also very dramatic and heroic his head went pop as the grenades blew up sending bits of Jaxx everywhere.

We sat and stared for a moment.  I saw 007 (Hero of the Complex), our cleaning supplies piled up, and a bunch of scrub-bots.  This was actually what we were trying to have happen.  So I worked my way around the edge to get a view of 007 (Hero of the Complex)'s good side (the side NOT showing any damage) and got a photograph of the scene.  Looks like our mission was complete.  Just to make sure I started recording my comm-pilot conversation with 007 (Hero of the Complex)

Me:  007 are you surrounded by the scrub-bots we were looking for?
007:  Yes.
Me:  007, are the cleaning supplies safely in the scrub-bots possession?
007: Yes.
Me:  007, have we completed all mission parameters in accordance with our mission briefing to your satisfaction?
007: Yes.
Me (turns off recorder) 007, one more question, and please remember, high ratings reflect not only upon me, but upon your role as a leader-bot and the computer's planning as well (turns on recorder)
Me: 007, please rate your satisfaction with your troubleshooter team escort on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest.
007: 10.
Me. Thank you 007.  It has been a privilege working with you.

And so Dillon, just Dillon and I returned from our mission and hit debriefing, just as Jaxx's new clone was being decanted.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Product Review: Designers & Dragons

Product Review: Designers & Dragons
http://www.evilhat.com/home/designers-dragons/
Book & pdf $20 Pdf $10
by. Shannon Appelcline

Designers & Dragons is broken down in four separate books. The 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s.  The breakdown is by what companies were created in that decade.  Companies both defunct and still in existence.  Each book stands on its own nicely, and at the end of each section is a handy reference on what to read next depending on if you want to follow the books organization or jump from the end of TSR to the beginning of Wizards of the Coast and so forth.

Each volume reads nicely, with a narrative flair that tell the story of the people and the games/companies they made.  I wish I had found this gem earlier, or like so many things wish I had a time machine to read this as a kid as it was not only a great read about hte companies and games I love(d) but about companies that I never knew existed, yet either influenced my hobby and style of play, or were more in line with what I was looking for but never knew.

The style of writing does change with more emphasis on mechanics design, especially in the 00s. Of course as with all history, it is easier to understand why a mechanic or idea came about when you can interview the direct source, rather than relaying on interviews of someone that has already passed on.
The indie revolution of the 00s focuses a lot more on the development of game theory and so forth.

Finding out some of the logic about why my favorite lines of games died (it isn't always just sales were low...) was enlightening if bittersweet.

The book may miss your favorite obscure publication, I know it missed one of mine, however the book tries to focus on games and companies that had impact on the gaming community.  So certain omissions are to be expected, however, the books are quite extensive and cover as much as they can.

In the world of Amazon and DrivethruRPG friendly neighborhood games stores are getting fewer and far between.  Which in turn makes it hard for new games to get exposure and get known.  The series serves as a great treasure trove to discover what has and does exist out there and may provide some fun and interesting systems for people to go out any try.


Some personal favorites from the books include:

- Clarifying a rumor I heard as a kid about Vampire the Masquerade.

- As a young player of Vampire the Masquerade I was told that the Tremere clan existed because one of the founders wanted to play their DnD Wizard in the early game. Reading a developer history (Designers and Dragons '90) I found out this had more to do with the acquisition of the rites to Ars Magika by WW, which was going to be the original "history" of the world of darkness. Tremere is a house from that game, and was directly implanted over. The Order of Hermes in Mage:the Ascension is a hold over from Ars Magika as well. Although the idea was scrapped, you can kind of think of Mage: Dark Ages as kind of a re-invention of the Ars Magika roots.

- Why the Warhammer wasn't in Mechwarrior Online launch.  The Warhammer is perhaps one of the most iconic mechs from Battletech.  I had seen a nearly identical looking mech in the anime Macross, and began to wonder which came first.  It turns out that the whole issue comes down to a miniatures production company and licencing (The owners of Macross anime had the design first, which licenced it (and others) to a miniatures company, which sold them to FASA (with a licence), then FASA was later sued by the folks who had gotten the robotech licence and that conflict resulted in it not being there much to the surprise of many fans (along with 13 other mechs).  I guess the issue has been resolved since the Warhammer is in the game now.

-What killed FASA and White Wolf

The short version is Microsoft killed FASA and the company that ownes EVE Online killed White Wolf.



Saturday, April 8, 2017

Product Review: BENEATH: The Inverted Church

BENEATH: The Inverted Church


For: System Agonistic (your choice of OSR/ D&D Clone)
By: Justin Sirios
Cost: 15.99 print 6.66 kindle edition
http://www.severedbooks.com/ (redirects to amazon for purchasing)

This is an adventure; so spoilers ahead.

The book itself had some wonderful cover art of the primary NPC, and is bound a the unique size of 8.5 x 8.5 inches.  The pages are a newsprint pulpy paper which gives it a rough feel and slightly grey coloration to the pages, but it wasn't off putting, as the pages felt durable.  The black and white interior art is crisp and detailed as well.  As a result from the moment you pick up and flip through the book you FEEL like this is going to be a different product.  It is clearly labeled as an 18+ product, and it is.  As a change of pace from many "adult" products the art is not what makes the book adult.  The actual content of the adventure and the choices the players have to make are.

The adventure starts off with the hook to get the players involved, and doesn't fall into the trope of a map or a McGuffin the players are to quest for.  Rather, something very strange and horrible has happened and it gets the PCs to start questioning what has happened.

The adventure has a good mix of combat, traps, and non-combat encounters.  The primary shtick of the dungeon is that lewd acts have to be performed to advance through mirror-doors throughout the dungeon.

The "big bad" at the end of the adventure has been luring people into the dungeon and converting them to a hedonistic path as part of a plan to breed the perfect race- by having everyone blended.  I like this because the monster isn't just a thing that is fought, it is the reason for the story.
As a result the majority of the encounters within are the very townspeople that the players should be saving.  Only a few of them are willing to be saved and can leave on their own, meaning the players are stuck between killing them or taking a bunch of unwilling prisoners as they continue on and THEN have to deal with the real combat encounters.

The book has a convenient list of tables and information at the end as well as important information in bold or otherwise marked as you go through the adventure so you don't miss something important.

The book does have some drawbacks though.
The first is formatting.  Section headers are on occasion the last thing on a page and Tables are often cut off part way though a page requiring you to flip pages to use them effectively.

The second is that the end feels cheap.  There is more to the UnDungeon but the players are prevented from entering it by the very same mirror-door they have been encountering the whole dungeon but it just doesn't work.  This is further aggravated by a bunch of soldiers from a nearby battle showing up and descending into the dungeon.

Then you are hit with it "to be continued" Yes this is listed as book 1 from the title page, but I've never met with something so game disturbing.  The adventure leaves off at such a point, that I can't logically get the players to go and adventure somewhere else and I can't do anything else here without voiding what will occur in the future books.  So until future books come out I expect it would be better to just tie off the adventure by letting the party kill the monsters and ending the threat.

There are some situations that are oddly presented in the book.  Like being exposed early in the UnDungeon to people who don't know how the UnDungeon works only to later encouter other townspeople who are hanging out just beyond a trap with no good reason to be.  I mean did they walk there and someone set the trap behind them? Were they all just lucky and didn't set them off when undoubtedly the players will?  I get it I'm nit-picking now, but the lack of logic bothers me, and I'm going to have to come up with a reason that makes sense within the context of the game.

My final gripe is some special encounters.  These are random and require a special trigger to occur but the monster design is just infuriating.  The area regenerates the players, and some of the encounters have 250 or more hit points.  As a result the game will be reduced to a long slog fest of boring combat rounds unless they think to escape the fight. all together. The end feeling is that these battles are not meant to be won, just an excuse to kill PCs in the most un-creative way the adventure has to offer.

Maybe my gripes will be answered in future books as right now we only get to see a fraction of the whole idea.

All this being said, the adventure has some really neat and novel ideas.  Presents some easy to convey visually stunning moments for players to encounter, and will definitely be unlike anything a party has previously encountered. It does a decent job of trying to tell a story even if it leaves it unfinished at the moment, which thankfully can be easily corrected with the production of the rest of the trilogy.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The nature of dice

I've read on several different occasions that Roleplaying games are like having a play gunfight as kid and then someone says "I shot you" and the friend calls out "no you didn't"


We are playing the same games of make believe.  Cops and robbers, space ships and aliens, monkey bars and lava monsters.  The difference is that we use a set of rules to arbitrate when someone says "I shot you"


Various rule systems exist to mediate these acts.  Probabilities of success or failure weighted and recorded on a vital piece of paper.


I like different genres and the different rule systems that accompany them.  Rules can serve to help convey a feel or concept important to the game setting as well as reward or punish certain behavior. 


For example in early Dungeons and Dragons Armor Class is an abstracted concept that determined if you were hurt or not.  It didn't matter if you were actually hit or not.  As a result Fighters were rewarded for wearing the best armor they could and there was very little incentive to be a swashbuckler type. 


The key thing is that the rules provide a common understanding between all the players.  Rules can be cut out if they feel too clunky or obtrusive to the game, house rules can be added to give an individual flair.


Often times at a gaming table I have seen  (and am guilty of this in my youth as well) a GM change the results of dice because they didn't like the results.  A result that destroys the villain prematurely, or would wipe out a player.  Heck, I've even seen books dedicated to altering the results of the die rolls for the purpose of keeping the game going smoothly.


Sometimes the climactic finish all comes down to a single roll, a great nail biting moment.


But if you are going to change what the dice say, why bother rolling them anyway? If a situation is so important that the GM is not willing to accept a roll, then they just shouldn't.  Narrate through the moment.  If the big bad can get killed in a single roll, and it happens then revel with the players in their success.  If a player gets a bad roll and a character dies -well while it is the end of that character, it can be a teaching point for the player, what did they do to get their character in that situation in the first place?  Even if they did everything right, sometimes adventurers fail- but it makes the success of the next hero they play that much more rewarding.


As a GM if you use random tables stick with the randomness and work you imagination.  The dice have provided the result, you provide the context.  After all, it should never be you vs. the players, it is you with the players, you have the responsibility of setting the scene.  If some tables give you inspiration you can just pick from them as well, the RPG police aren't going to knock down your door and MAKE your roll, they stopped doing that years ago.


As a player if a character is built as a min/max to "always win" munchkin then they are trying to play with only the illusion of failure.  While sure winning is fun, everyone likes to win.  It is like playing a video game with cheat codes.  You don't get any better at playing the game, and the victory is hollow.  The dragon's treasure horde is meaningless, and only has the value of a participation trophy.


If something isn't working look at the rules, and agree on changes.  When the dice are rolled though let them lie where they may.    

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Critical hits and Critical Fails

Critical hits.  There are lots of different mechanics from different systems, but the ol' default always seems to be 20 always hits + critical effect, and a 1 always spectacularly fails.


Statistically this seems to be stacked against the players.  They are usually the few that fight the horde. So if every roll has a 5% chance of not only hitting no matter what but doing extra damage on top of it that horde of goblins is suddenly a bit scarier (not really, but mathematically they are fearsome!)  That 5% comes up a lot more too but no one really cares if a goblin drops his sword.  There are too many to deal with anyway.


Yet players love Critical hits.  As a player I love critical hits.  I think the first rule we tossed in 3rd edition D&D was the confirming a critical nonsense.  Don't deny me my criticals!


After all this is the stuff those great gaming stories are made from.  In one game the DM introduced us to the big bad (a vampire).  We weren't supposed to beat him, weren't really supposed to get into a fight at all, but we did.  The plan was we were to be defeated, learn a bit of his plan, level up for a while and then climatically defeat him at the end of the campaign.


What really happened though....


We descended into the cave and started to battle the big bad.  A few rounds in we realized what we were fighting.  We didn't have magical weapons, not a lot of magic, and realized we were outclassed, we didn't even realize how badly we were outclassed.  My wife who didn't have a lot of D&D experience at the time, said she was making a called shot with her crossbow at his heart, because stake through the heart works on vampires right?  I cast true strike on her because it seemed like the best option at the time and then she rolled and got a natural 20.  The DM decided it didn't matter if undead "couldn't get critical hits on them" The bolt few true, pierced his heart and killed him.  High fives went all around and the tale is still told to this day (outside this blog as well!) The GM let us kill the big bad early, because it was just too cool an opportunity and the dice were on our side along with a good plan, who was he to let a little rule get in the way of a good time and sharing in player success.  He just pencil whipped in that the real big bad was a deamon or some such, and we fought it later.

So on the other side of the screen now I keep critical hits around for just that very reason.  I've expanded a bit on the critical fails as well.

I ran a group through Keep on the Boarderlands.  It was the one time I was planning on having them encounter orcs and goblins and such so I put in a bit more thought than normal to the cannon fodder.

I did this by expanding the critical fails.  Whenever the goblins rolled a 2-5 I aborted their attack and had them do something rather goblinish.  They would loose interest in the battle and take a nap, stop and pick their nose, get confused and think that they were retreating only to realize that they were wrong and come back next round.  I saved the dreaded 1 roll for them getting some revenge on another goblin and taking the thick of melee to stab the other one in the back while no one was noticing.

I played it for laughs and the players seemed to really like it.  Looking back I think it added more personality to the monsters they fought rather than the normal swing and miss, swing and hit results from the dice.

I liked this so much I expanded this to other monsters, though I ended up reducing the numbers to 1-3.  So whenever this came up I use the opportunity to have the monster do something to show its personality (after all the players aren't going to sit down and have a tankard of ale and get to know them anyway).  They may boast, or gloat.  I'll have the monster give a "tell" in a round as a precursor to using a special ability, like a dragon taking a deep breath as the round action prior to using its breath weapon.





Saturday, February 18, 2017

Magical mishaps

I like the idea of magic being a glass cannon in games. Really powerful, but fickle.


The trick is making it incentivized for players enough to be worthwhile, while also actually posing some risk.  Of course the trade off is that this would apply to villains as well.  While probably anti-climactic to have Vecna melt his own skull off, it just might help out mid fight.


A big chunk of the inspiration for this was the book of the dead from Evil Dead.  Where just reading the book (or playing the audio recording of it being read…) was enough to invoke the ancient evil, even if the actual speaker had no idea what they were doing.


-Anyone can cast a spell of any level they have encountered.  Most are written in some esoteric tongue (i.e. latin, etc. ) but other than that they are accessible.  No one wants to actually use a book that was written in code that they’ll have to decipher every time they want to use it. Magic has its drawbacks though.  Every time you cast a spell there is a chance of something bad* happening.  The very act of learning magic also corrupts the mind and soul distancing you from the people around you.  Every spellbook you read will pervert your sense of reality in some way (this is the true reason why wizards are running around wearing pointy hats with stars on them or live as unwashed hermits and so forth) [mechanic effect: for every 6 spells learned, a quirk is developed.  It may be assigned from a spellbook (GM) or if you pick up 6 spells a la carte from scrolls, self study or what have you, you get to make one up!]


So why be a magic user then?


Magic users don’t suffer the chance of something bad happening when they cast spells within their class/level restrictions.


Magic users can also create spells through independent research.  Non-magic users can only cast spells they come across in books, scrolls, or are taught by other means.   


*So what do I mean by bad stuff.

For any spell cast above the normal class level ability for spell per day / level make a saving throw vs. Magic. Upon failure roll on the following table.


If you fail the saving throw here is the spell fail effect. (roll 1d20)
1  Overcome by otherworldly visions collapse for 20+d20 hour coma.  When you wake up you understand more of the deeper functions of the universe.  Ask the DM one Yes / No question.  
2 1d10 wiz damage 1d10 int damage.  Heals at the rate of 1 point an hour
3 cast random other spell of the same level 1-3 cleric spell 4-6 magic-user spell
4 spell failure, no other effect
5 Reverse the spells effect (heal causes damage etc)
6 Mana burn: take 10% max HP (round up) as damage.  Spell fails.  If this kills the caster they burn up from the inside leaving nothing but ash behind.
7 Spell fails.  It was another magic user that made you fail, you are sure of it.  Probably that friend of yours.  They’re jealous of you and your power, best keep you eye on them-the probably want to steal all your stuff for themselves.   
8 Cast Summon (See LotFP Rules and Magic, its free - google it)
9 spell goes horribly wrong (like the transporter incident from Star Trek 1, let your imagination go wild)
10 Illusionary spell: Caster thinks it cast successfully, no-one else sees anything
11 Change target randomly (spell caster included)
12 Area of effect targets single target (closest to center) single target spell affects 1d6 1-2 sphere 3-4 cone  5-6 line (centered on original target)
13 magic drain, suffer -1 int or wiz for # turns = spell level, spell cast as normal
14 stunned -1 to all rolls for # of rounds = spell level, spell cast as normal
15 spell cast with minimum effect, all dice are 1s
16 spell cast with altered cosmetic effect, mechanical effects are the same.  Lighting damage is instead giant balls of hail, or thorny vines that whip out and attack victim.  Sleep is extreme apathy that makes someone completely unresponsive, prismatic spray shoots bubbles, or butterflys, etc.  
17 spell cast as normal
18 spell cast as normal
19 spell cast as normal
20 Spell cast successfully with overpowering effect (max range, have damage dice explode, etc. etc. sleep causes coma, charm creates obsessive sycophant, etc. )


For: OSR/DND 1-2nd ed
Saving throws favor wizards and give ¼ chance of success at 1st level and get to roughly ¾ chance of success at 20th level.  I like this margin because it isn’t horrible at 1st level, but there is still risk even at 20th level.  Other classes don’t have quite such good odds, but that’s ok, they aren’t magic users, so I don’t mind there being more risk for them.

For 3rd ed/Pathfinder  I think a DC 20 save.  It makes the base difficulty a bit higher, but with attribute bonuses and feats I can see it also being possibly abused.

The 15-20 results are so when a spell is cast- given a ¼ chance of success on the save.  There is a ~7/16 chance of the spell being cast successfully and a 9/16 chance of something going wrong.  Risky but not unreasonable odds I think.

I was tempted to include hp damage to the list, but realized this just unfairly punished magic users compared to fighters etc.  

A future project, may be to revise the list to include spell specific side effects. But that is a project for another day.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Reoccurring NPCs

It is always great to have a campaign that spans for years.  On the other hand as life so often gets in the way a campaign may sputter and fall flat well before you want it to.  So you can spin up a new game in the same setting, or completely change games for a new feel.

Either way you probably don't want to run the same adventure that you just ran over again, even if the players have changed.  But that means a lot more work on your part as the GM.

I've seen players keep a favorite PC from and transplant them from one game to the next, in fact that is a core concept behind the organized play of the RPGA and such.

But why should the players get all the fun?

I hold to the ideal that I don't need to make an extensive background for every NPC the players meet. Generally a few notes on how the act, and if the players interact with them more then I might flesh them out to give them a stats and so forth.

But sometimes I know an NPC is going to stick with the group either to shore up a party shortfall or as a story hook or something.  But then I have to build a whole new character for the party each time... more work.

A fellow GM of mine introduced me to the idea of recycling main NPCs.  He has a handful of NPCs where there is a personality that he has developed.  Those same couple of characters who he has developed over the course of a game, rather than be thrown away, are lovingly kept and re-cycled into the next game he plays, re-imagined in the context of the new game, but still having the same general motives and personality.  This way he already knows how the character is going to act and react to situations well before hand, because the character is already well defined in his head.  To keep it easy he doesn't even change the NPCs name so it is super easy to keep track of.

But what if the players catch on?

The will, they do, and they have.

I was surprised at first, but then found that I related well to the NPC as the "feeling out" period was significantly reduced.  Sure, it was a bit meta, but because we generally knew how the NPC would fit into the story the game moved smoothly along.

Of course you can always steal a beloved concept from one of your players have and make it your own as a reoccurring NPC.

An example:

I ran a game of shadowrun and one of the players ran a physical adept, with a lot of points dumped into temporary physical boosts (so yeah, he was a bezerker) troll with short term memory loss.  He was smart (for a troll) so just above average mental facilities minus the amnesia, and of course plenty of physical ability and a nifty enchanted sword.

Stealing that idea an re-imagining it as an NPC I can have a bruiser type character who doesn't fall into the strong and stupid trope, and has the fun quirk of amnesia instead, so he's fine as long as he it with someone else but if left alone can completely forget the task at hand.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Learning to play

Learning a new game, especially a roleplaying game can be daunting with a bunch of new rules, and a world that is all fleshed out.  It can take the wind out of the sails pretty easy to think you have to read 400 pages to play a game. 


So sure, I have 30 extra sourcebooks for extra equipment and character options, but that is probably worth keeping on the shelf until the new player is hooked and wants to dig in deeper. 


Sometimes it is best to just get the game going and go from there.  In one such case it turned into a fairly funny anecdote.


I had a group that was all new to playing Deadlands.  I tried to contain my excitement that they were willing to play something other than Dungeons and Dragons so I kept the tagline simple by telling them that it is the Wild West with zombies and other monsters and weirdness, and that we'll learn as we play. 


To keep things simple I had everyone just pick an archetype character that we could either modify or toss after the first session and started playing. 


The first session was meant to be pretty simple and introduce the mechanics to them.  They were on a train from Missouri to points out west.  At one point the train was going to be robbed by some steam-car bandits so they could get a feel for combat, the train would be damaged and have to make an unscheduled stop which would introduce the hook for the adventure next session, but first I wanted them to get the idea of non-combat skill rolls while they got to know each other.  There was the dark mysterious gunslinger, the Chinese martial artist/laundry worker, the reporter, and the saloon dancer.  The saloon dancer quickly got a reputation for having a very large chest because every time her player mentioned an item she needed she pulled it out from between her breasts. 


On the train there was a kid who was playing with a tin horse.  He was an irritating little scamp who was more than his mom could handle and was running around the whole train asking questions and generally getting in the way.  When the player conversation slowed, I notified the group that the boy was now crying, wailing, bereft of all hope that joy would ever enter his life again.  He had lost his horse.


So the ever helpful players started looking for it.  I explained how the skill rolls worked, and asked each player where they were looking.  I had settled on a easy to moderate difficulty as the point was to show how the dice rolls worked.  It didn't really matter WHERE they searched, just that they did it, and when one of them hit the target number they would be the one to find it.


Everyone picked a location, under a chair, in the baggage rack, the sleeper cabin, etc. and rolled the dice.  Fail, fail, critical fail, fail.  Any one of them should have easily accomplished the task but the dice were against them.  So we tried again, the players stretched their brains a little thinking of other places to look and we rolled again.  Again the dice were only coming up with 1s and 2s, and no one could find the blasted tin horse.  Finally, the player the rather busty dancer in frustration said that she was checking her cleavage. Roll the dice and success!  No one could figure out how it got there, but the roll had it.


We all had a good laugh and the gal playing made it part of a running joke for the rest of the adventure. 



Saturday, January 21, 2017

The city that never sleeps

I'm playing a game of Exalted currently and one thing that has been really fun is that the GM leaves a lot of room open for the players to provide input.  In this specific case he had requested several citystates as background.  Here is one that I came up with.


Fu Tien, The kingdom that never sleeps.


Fu Tien's most valuable asset is that it is a breadbasket kingdom. It controls many hectares of fertile farmland that produce rice, and many other staple grains.  Large irrigation ditches mesh the fields together and serve as a water way for transportation of goods.   A few sleepy hamlets provide gathering spots out in the fields and paddies. With the majority of the land flooded for rice the area has an overall swampy feel.  Waterfowl (duck & Geese) being the primary game to be found (as well as frogs and other swamp creatures to be found amongst the flooded rice paddies).  It is most known for its one large city, Shen-Fan the capital. It is here that the kingdom receives its nickname.


Any public building, be it government, or commercial never closes. Availability is... the number one priority within the city. Needless to say the city is a place of constant trade, business, and entertainment.


A position within the city, be it store owner or government official is not attributed to a person, it is attributed to a mask of office. The dynamic this causes is that an important position is usually filled by two or three people who share a mask of the position. However, this causes several interesting effects.


The first: Social status is determined by mask. Higher positions, and the wealthy have ornate masks. These are passed down as heirlooms, and a reputations cling to masks across generations.


The Second: One person may have several masks. It is not uncommon for a ruler to don another mask and conduct intrigue, or slum to either find out first hand the thoughts of the commoner, or to seek vice with impunity.


The third: Duel relationships develop between people and the masks, with sometimes even best friends turning to bitter rivals and vice versa depending upon the mask they wear.


The fourth: Not everyone wears a mask. The farming villages generally have one mask that is communally owned and is only used when a villager travels to the city to conduct business.  The assumption in the city that a person without is that this person is a foreigner or a poor peasant.  A person is generally treated as not even existing unless they are actively spending money, but they can expect to be ignored if any mask wearers are there for service. 


The most common type of mask is the full face mask. Masks come in many other types though, ones that cover just the eyes/upper face, those that cover just the lower, ½ masks like the phantom of the opera or ones with just he chin exposes like greek theater masks. These partial masks may serve a practical purpose (like exposed eyes for archers) though often they are for fashion purposes and are treated similar to a low cut blouse or high cut skirt as different parts are revealed to show of certain assets.

Names: People have two names in the city. A birth name, which is a single Chinese first/last name: Chen, Chin, Wong, Fai, Wing, Long, Pak, Tau, Hung, Kok, Yahn, Loung, etc. This name is used with a personal mask (always worn out in public. As much of a requirement as pants in other cultures) Non-personal masks have names too (the 2nd name) and this is the name of the position the mask holds in society. Names can be titled etc, as a mask becomes more famous (masks hold more historical personality and status than individuals – as a result people will “live up to” the reputation of the mask.  A mask can give certain bonuses to skills related to it due to confidence of the wearer, though there is no reason a mask can't be enchanted as well to give magic bonuses

Mask name examples: Head butcher of the eastern market Mistress of 100 delights Brutish Robber 2nd Magistrate of the traders quarter Etc. Birth and death of a mask. If a mask is broken it is dead. The offense is as grievous as murder of a person (possibly more so) They have their own funeral ritual and everything. If a person accomplishes something of renown (or circumstance dictates a new mask is needed in society ) their mask may be entitled. On these rare occasions both names are used as well as the title when worn by the originator of the mask. Example: Chen had been a bus boy but saved up enough money to open his own restaurant (the drunken monkey). He turns in his bus boy mask when he quits his job and makes a new mask is to open the restaurant. He is now known as: Chen Manager of the Drunken Monkey. When he goes off shift and has another person manage the restaurant, they take the mask and are known only as: Manager of the Drunken Monkey.

The things the city are known for are trade, and entertainment. There is a large red light district that appeals to all tastes and types (think the Vegas strip mixed with Amsterdam). The culture if very blunt and up front. Although anotimity doesn’t really exist as a mask has as much reputation as a person anywhere else, the constant migration of traders etc that feel they have anotimity because of the masks have affected the culture (much like people feel like they can say whatever they want due to internet handles). As a result people will be very blunt and often only really have respect for and when wearing a position mask. (ex. The manager of an establishment has to be polite because the manager of the establishment is connected, and will treat all guests cordially. The same person with their personal mask on, may tell the same person: “nice outfit, do you look as good out of it?” out of the blue

Friday, January 6, 2017

A son is born and a kingdom dies

So I took a couple of weeks off, because well Christmas and New Years, and my wife and I had our first son.  So a busy time.

So what have I been doing over a holiday of my wife being away in hospital?  Playing Kingdom Death:Monster.

KD:M has a reputation for being a brutal game, and in my case this was no different.  In fact I don't think I've played anything so harsh since I rolled dice to "B-17 Queen of the Skies"

The game is supposed to span about 25 game years.  My little civilization lasted 9 years.  The small settlement I had ventured into the darkness to hunt the monsters that lurked just beyond the lantern's light.

We lost a hunter on each trip, but the settlement slowly grew and developed despite the loss.  The remaining hunters got stronger, and I got better as a player hunting the white lions.  Then I made the mistake of hunting the screaming antelope.  The problem with this was that on both counts while hunting the antelope we found the half eaten remains of the antelope and were ambushed by a mighty great white lion that was well beyond the hunters ability.  While I avoided any TPKs, my most experienced hunters got killed off, sometimes three at a time.  I could probably bare all this if I could replace my lost survivors.  Nope.  Instead my survivors caught a case of ennui and wandered off into the darkness rather than breeding, or died in childbirth. Finally the civilization got the boon of twins being born only to have a strange knight appear and kill off almost all the remaining survivors, which included the only remaining female.  So now, only two hunters remained against the inevitable darkness went off on their last hunt together never to return.

So a horrible sad tale was woven by the game, and I can't wait to play it again now that my wife is back to play with me, and we'll see if we can adventure further into the twisted darkness that is KD:M