19 March 2011

Great Ideas

From toothpastefordinner.com
It's one of the more frustrating facts that great ideas always come about when there's absolutely no way to express them.

For instance, yesterday I took a nap at midday, because I'm on spring break and I'll do what I please, thank you very much.

When I was dreaming, I dreamt that I was in this place where I'd hung out with my friends, like a hockey rink, and everything was so different but so familiar. I found these old notebooks of mine, and opened them up, and there were these bizarre pictures of men with swords and with these wierd, gun-arm things. In the background were enormous white, patchwork-steel towers that projected a translucent blue sheet into the sky. The combination of them made them look like transparent blue plates of glass riveted together, and I knew that the world was ancient, that the technology that goes into protecting the world is being destroyed, and that the blue plates were what were keeping people alive, between the devastated atmosphere and the meteor showers, and acid rain and all of that beauty. The natives were half-barbaric savages, the last remnants of a planet-spanning empire that permeated all of their stories and subconcious. It was a world of destruction and remnants of ruined dreams.

When I got up, I wrote it down immediately.

This stands in stark contrast to when I look at my blog and say to myself, "Dude, you haven't updated in like a month, go write something about that stuff you were thinking about," and so I lazily slap together some words and call it a day because if you don't stay in the habit of writing you'll never write anything.

The other cool thing I thought of in a dream is basically a plugin for magic, where in order to get any magic the spellcaster has to sacrifice something or obey a taboo for each spell, like if they want to cast fireballs they must have a taboo to always carry an open flame, or to always eat raw meat. The cool thing is that it starts with low-level spells so even if the player is smart and gives himself minor taboos, by the time he wants to learn Grobar's Deliberate Frostfire Beam he has to decide that he's plucking out his own eyeball or scarring his face with hideous tattoos or something. And that's if he hasn't already done that...

15 March 2011

Static Rooms in Dungeons

Most of the time, my posts are kind of vague. Not this time.

You see, one of the things I do relentlessly is call in "reinforcements" from other rooms in any sort of pre-plotted dungeons when the PCs are crashing around and making noise. Sometimes I roll for it, but most of the time I use my brain cells to dictate what's going to happen.

The orcs in the next room over are gambling and arguing about stuff, so they might not notice the PCs walking about with torches, even in full armor. If you've ever gambled with people ever before, you'll know there's a certain level of loudness that goes with it, especially if you're playing for any sort of money. The orcs might not even notice if they're in the next room over, knocking over barrels and crates and ransacking the place. They'll definately notice if one of the PCs is knocking stuff over, or if they start arguing about stuff themselves, so out come the orcs from the next room.

The sounds of combat are even louder, though, so out comes the orcs from the next room down and, in a turn or two, the Ogre five or so feet down. At this point, the entire dungeon is full of screaming, grunting fighters, so just about everybody in the dungeon's about to come down and have some fun.

I don't know if that's the way you're supposed to make it work, but it's the way I like. It makes internal sense (keep it down or the whole dungeon's coming down.), and it splits the dungeon level into three basic parts: Infiltration, Fighting, and Exploration.

"Creature" by Nicole Cardiff
In the beginning of the level, you're infiltrating. The denizens are doing their everyday thing, like any other day. Ogres are eating muck or bullying little guys, Goblins are sharpening their shivs and watching their backs, and Demons are probably plotting or trying to contact wizards and bargain for their souls. Whatever. The point is, they're all on low alert and are easy to surprise. The PCs, since they know what they're getting into, can usually get the jump on the monsters. But they have to pick carefully where and when they pick a fight, because they can only use the element of surprise once. If they get caught, there's going to be enough noise and enough mess that they're not going to be able to sneak around easily any more.

After they either get caught or ambush somebody, generally the whole dungeon will start finding its way to the players. This can either result in the players having a fun hide-and-seek, cat and mouse style sneakabout, or it means that waves of monsters are pouring in from every angle until the players either kill them all, run away, or die in the attempt.

After that, they're free to look about and see what the nasties were hiding. This is also when the stationary or sneaky monsters get to play- the PCs are already hurt and low on health/supplies/ammo/whatever, but that's when Goblins and Slimes and stuff are more interesting. The players are going to want to complete the dungeon as fast as possible, since they can never be sure if there are monsters lurking and sneaking around, and they're not sure when the next level will come up and say hello. This is when they explore the rooms, deal with cartography, treasure, and the like.

This might not be the best way to do it, but it feels natural, somehow, to have it split up like that, and really makes the dungeon feel more alive than if each room is full of orcs who, apparently, can't hear the battlecries and death-screams of their buddies across the corridor.

13 March 2011

I remember Goblins.

I've always had a thing for Goblins. They're like little orcs, with extra fierceness and double the crazy. But they kind of have to be to survive. You're a tiny guy with a skin condition in a world where you're still pretty likely to be beaten up by a guy twice your size because they don't like the way you look, or because they're bored and could use a good warm-up before tackling a dragon.

Life's rough as a Goblin.

I remember one time I was thinking about Goblins, and how they could possibly manage to survive in a world like that. I came up with two things that made sense:

1) Goblins have an incredibly fast birth rate, to put up with constant attempts at extermination and being the enemies or slaves of just about every intelligent species

2) Because they have generally short lives and many children, Goblins are more about the survival of the whole as opposed to their own personal survival. After all, there's going to be plenty more Goblins just like him. Possibly very soon, and probably twice as many.

So that leaves you with a fast-expanding, sort of tribalistic people. Not exactly groundbreaking, but it's a start. You have a picture of a Goblin who realizes that he's not very much of a person, and isn't crazy, just fanatical. He's willing to throw himself at his enemies to stall for time, to carry a knife as big as he is without bothering to wear armor because, well, fuck it. He's going to die sooner or later, he might as well take a "biggun" with him.

This makes a lot of Goblins that don't have any magical talent berserkers. It's one way to even the size difference, after all.

Which leads me to the other things I was thinking; How exactly do Goblins make up for the size difference?

Well, they've got to be smart and sneaky, so I'm imagining plenty of Goblin assassins and, especially, wizards. Goblins would love magic, because it's size agnostic. You can be as small as you like, this fireball's still going to hurt, and you're still going to be a frog when I'm done with you. So Goblins would respect and revere their magic users above just about everybody else. I'm picturing a system where all the young goblins form a militia, and are taught by the eldest, who's manage to survive actual combat. He teaches the youngsters everything he knows about the skirmishing tactics, flanks, ambushes, how to trip their larger combatants, everything. A goblin's fighting style (when they're not suicidal berserkers) focuses on mobility, weak points, and tripping.

The life of a Goblin is one of hope. They can live long enough to see three or four generations of Goblins born, if they're lucky, and they can see that no matter how many of their friends are dead, they're still alive. The constant attempted genocides that force the Goblins to live in caves have been weeding out the selfish, the stupid, and the non-magical. Every Goblin has the good of the group in mind, and they're biding their time, waiting for a time when they can come out of the caves and live in the open like the other races.

Some places accept Goblins even now. Goblins aren't homicidal maniacs and theives, they're just hungry and pushed to the brink of starvation. Goblin wizards even now petition the great schools of magic for representation, and for access to their libraries. Goblin culture is being accepted as a civilization older, even, than mankind's own, and every Goblin knows that it's long overdue. The time of Goblins is coming- they just need to bide their time, keep sticking together, working hard, and survive.

If you're playing Dungeonslayers, you can choose Goblin as a race.

Goblin Racial Abilities:
Short-lived (You were an adult at 8, middle-aged at 20, old at 30, won't live past 40 without magical intervention)
Small (You cannot use two-handed weapons or longbows.)
Flinch (You gain +1 Defense against creatures that are larger than yourself. Which is most of them.)

Goblin Racial Bonuses
Reason, Aura, or Toughness +1

How to roleplay a Goblin:
*You are fatalistic but bright. Your death is coming (probably soon), but you're used to the thought.
*You're ferociously loyal. You are willing to sacrifice yourself to your friends and to your clan.
*You respect magic and magic-users above all else. If you are a magic-user, you tend to be haughty.
*You were probably born in a cave or in some ruins, and are somewhat uncomfortable around dwarfs.
*You have no use for "valor" and aren't above ambushes, poison, and traps. You'll betray those who are not your friends, if it brings a benefit to your group.

12 March 2011

Dungeonslayers! A Review

Last night I ran (and tonight I will run again) a rip-roaring session of Dungeonslayers. It's a great game, and I highly recommend it for your rules-light fantasy roleplaying needs. It's about 10 pages long, with a handful of 2-4 page supplements that flesh out the game rules in beautifully worded and laid-out text that is both concise and interesting. It's available for free from http://www.dungeonslayers.com/, as a pdf download.

When you cut out the portions of the rules that deal with Equipment and Spells (a single page each), or the introductory adventure in the back, you have a game that clocks in at perhaps five pages. I printed it out, read it over, and we started making characters.

The character creation is both differentiated and meaningful, with players choosing one of three races and of three classes, both of which are easily modifiable. The races have a tiny handful of advantages and a +1 to one of maybe three abilities each, so the difference in play is miniscule. It doesn't seem like Dwarves get enough of a benefit in my opinion, but nobody's really power-gaming a system like this to get the Elven +1 to nimble things racial trait, whatever it's called. If you want to be a Dwarf, then be a Dwarf. Furthermore, Dwarves can't use two-handed weapons or longbows which upset one of my players, who chose to be a Dwarf Spellcaster. No quarterstaffs? What, they only come in one size? We decided that he had a Dwarven Quarterstaff, kept exactly the same stats, and went on our ways.

Classes are similarly easy to understand. You're a Fighter, Scout, or Spellcaster, and you get another +1 in a related ability. Your class affects what talents you have access to and when, and what abilities are easiest for you to level up. Your Talents are little perks that you gain access to as you level, like having a Familiar or getting a bonus to damage. All the Talents are flavorful and interesting, with only a couple of relatively lame ones that could be easily modified (What do you mean Familiars can't be scouts?) to suit your own personal preferences and desires. That's the point of the game, right?

Characer abilities are seperated into Attributes (which are Body, Mind, and Agility), and Abilities (which fall under the headings of one of the attributes, two each.) Your scores for things like Hit Points are Body + Toughness + 10. It's quick and easy to set up your character's abilities. The system is roll-under 1d20, say, Body + Strength to succeed at knocking down a door. A single die roll does just about everything.

Picture not related.

Combat is quick and painless, with a lot of missing on either side, at least for starter-level characters. I ran a combat last night where the goblins all missed, every time they attacked but it didn't really matter. Each goblin got a single roll, each player got a single roll, and that was that. Goblins aren't exactly known for their toughness or durability and, truly enough, they were all dispatched with a single successful attack. The really interesting thing is the way damage and attack are rolled on the same die- you want to get as high a roll as possible, but still under your ability so there's always a feeling of "Oh, I just missed em!" which is exactly like real fighting. When you go for the haymaker, you'll either knock 'em flat or whiff hard, and that's what it feels like. It's breezy, exciting, and visceral.

And I think that's Dungeonslayers' greatest strength: Things move extremely quickly, but satisfyingly. Everything is one die, rolled underneath your Attribute + Ability, with all the trappings of D&D but with the complexity of every edition filed off. This game moves extra, extra quickly, and that's great if you're the kind of spontaneous, seat-of-your-pants kind of guy that likes a light system that breezes through everything. It's all just one roll, the same roll, all the time. By the end of the night, my players were guessing what rolls they had to make to do things, and then making them before I even said anything, and that's yet another strong suit.

The other thing I really like is how much easy to digest crunch is in the game. Some rules-light systems feel to generic, like there's nothing weighing it down- the stats aren't interesting, or the rules don't click together in that nice way. Dungeonslayers knows who it's targeted at, and it shows. Spells feel Vancian without being Vancian, fighting is quick and dirty with lots of room to improvise (want to make a flying jump off that bandolier? Sure, roll your Body + Reflexes + Attack Value instead of a regular attack and we'll see what happens). In short, it's a truly excellent game that I wish there was more of. The expansions, also free, add a couple of interesting wrinkles, and the only bad thing I can say is that there really isn't enough of this tightly-designed, truly exceptional game. And did I mention it's free? Download it today. You won't regret it.

08 March 2011


I present this image without context:

If that doesn't inspire you, you have no soul.

If you know the creator of this piece, please let me know so I can find more images of their work.

06 March 2011

What really bothers me

Is that my most consistently popular articles is the ferociously negative Pandering a Game: Doomed to Fail?, where I was pretty upset about people evangelizing 4th edition D&D and it trying its best to be something that it isn't.

It is pretty annoying, and it goes against one of the things that, in my opinon, is most important in any media. You've got to know who you are, and what you do.

Nothing's more annoying than, for example, a teen rock angst-band that thinks that it's badass, or than a country singer that thinks it's rock. Or, bizarrely, a hip-hop artist that thinks that they're rap, or a rapper that thinks they're rock. It's really annoying, since there's nothing wrong with any of those genres individually, but when they try to be something they're not, it's awful.

And so it is with roleplaying games. Nobody's playing D&D instead of video games, and nobody's playing it and thinking they're in some novel, or some movie. The reason it's so annoying to hear about 4e so much is that it's not video games or movies, and they're not for people who'd rather be playing video games, watching movies or writing novels. It's a roleplaying game. It needs to play to the strength of medium, not try and "transcend" it or bring in people from outside the hobby.

The hobby's strengths are enough to make it grow and have it spread. It doesn't need to masquerade as anything else, and I feel it's weaker as a result.

01 March 2011

Taking Over The World (One City At A Time)

I recently had my buddies over for the weekend + Monday, since they weren't doing anything and neither was I. My girlfriend didn't like it, but I can't say no like that to my friends. They don't really "think" about these sorts of things, and they're not very good at thinking things through, so it's usually my job to facilitate the non-destruction of things that are around me.

But I digress.

We had to make a choice between Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Aberrant, and so we rolled some dice, since none of us were feeling particularly decisive. It happens more often than not, sometimes. We rolled for WFRP, setting me up as the GM for the night.

They rolled up a Dwarf Militiaman, a Halfling Agitator, and a Human Burgher, and after perusing the career paths and various charts and minutia that entails, they decided that they would like to take over the Empire. Only one of my friends is an actual Warhammer buff, so we had to explain to the rest of them what, exactly, the Empire would do to three regular joes who decided to wreak havoc on the armed forces of the Empire. This includes mention of Karl Franz's griffon mount, and the multitudes of Knights of the Blazing Sun. We didn't need to get into the wizards, bright or otherwise, before they revised their idea to carving out a peice of Kislev for themselves.

I explained about how Kislevites are even tougher, since they're more or less the first line of defense against the northern wastes, but our Agitator decided that straight military might was out. They'd become crime lords in a smaller town in Kislev, and then, as they put it, "spread the seeds of their corruption" to other cities. I can hardly say no to that, and I really can't think of an idea that it wouldn't at least partially work, so I put on my GM hat and we start playing.

I have to say, I'm lucky to have the players I do- I hear about a lot of conflict between people who want to fight for the sake of fighting, and people who want to do nothing but talk to people, but it's nice to have a group of players who not only want to do things other than kill monster, get loot, repeat, but want to do really, really interesting things like rule a parcel of people with subtle, indirect methods.

There's no telling how far they'll get, but that's never stopped them before. The only thing left is to play it out and see how it works.

Some quick thoughts:

-The Warhammer system is pretty difficult to get started with, which is kind of odd considering how very easy it is to get killed.
-The sort of style it seems to promote is that of intelligent play, which is cool. People are fragile, so you need to fight dirty if you fight at all, otherwise the fairly potent real-life punishment of rolling 30 dice rolls to get a new character has to be incurred. With random careers at least it's interesting, but hey.
-The character classes are all over the place. On one side, you have things like the Pit Fighter and Apprentice Wizard that everybody wants, but in this last game, two players rolled a Burgher and an Agitator. I was hoping to see a Rat Catcher or Charcoal Burner, but better luck next time.
-I'm really digging the uneven "power scales" in character classes. Not everybody's going to be kicking ass and taking names.
-The setting really resonates even with people that haven't played it before. Why is it so interesting?
-People miss a lot when fighting, leading to weapons with a long reload time being suitable for one shot and then you drop it in favor of something else.
-The initiative system seems funny. +1d10 to stats ranging 20-30 points in difference means that it usually goes in straight initiate order when fighting.

Looking Back

They say that if you don't look back at who who were from a year ago and cringe that you haven't grown enough. What if I look back f...