10 October 2015

Hireling Generator

Since I had so much fun with my magic item generator, I decided to do a Hireling Generator next. It's a little more robust than the magic item generator, mostly because it's easier to think of things about human beings than it is to think of magical effects and stuff.

Here's a sample of some results:

A short female thief from the mountain town stands before you, with a poor quality shovel and an unremarkable suit of cloth armor. The hireling is focused and has enormous eyes.
A average-sized female ranger from the pleasant plateau stands before you, with an unremarkable pitchfork and a sack of vegetables. The hireling is unfocused and has a habit of chewing their fingernails.
A broad-shouldered androgynous townsperson from the sunny mountains stands before you, with a brand new spear and a dark tabard. The hireling is unfocused and has a thick foreign accent.

The basic idea is, as most generators, that you'll tweak what you get a little to make it fit into your game. As always, let me know what you think and if you use it for anything!

08 October 2015

Magic Item Generator

I made a magic item generator this morning.

Here's a sample of its output:

This is an average cleaver, decorated with a triangular horse. It turns towards goblins. It detects lies.
This is a small axe, decorated with a gaudy human face. It is made entirely of earth. It will never dull.
This is an average shield, decorated with a gleaming wings. It vibrates subtly. It glows when the command word is spoken.

There are a couple of categories that are just the tiniest bit bare, so I'll be coming back to this and adding more as it occurs to me. But it's fully usable now as it is, so click on it a few times, offer me some feedback, and enjoy!

21 September 2015

Magic Words

Here's something I like a lot. 

If you don't want to click the link, here's the gist:

Spell lists suck. You know what doesn't suck? Magic words. If you look through the spell list and take the words, you can recombine them into new spells and have a lot of fun doing it.

That's it. Go read the blog post.

Alright, you done there? Check this out, too, if you liked it.

As I've written before, I'm working on my own heartbreaker, which is really just a set of house rules that I like and have used, plus a couple of things that I want to try out. And minus all that dumb shit that shouldn't have been in there in the first place. [1]

One of the things that I wanted to deal with was magic. Writing a list of spells sucks, and playing a wizard who summons his arcane might from what amounts to a really boring shopping list also sucks. What super sucks is that you have in front of you all of the spells in the game [2] and so magic battles come down to figuring out what the other wizard shopped for and hoping that your selections were more appropriate to the situation.

At first, I was going to write up a spell system where you took a handful of fairly vague spells and then rolled dice and built it on the spot. If you've got Weather and you rolled 3d6 for a result of 15, now you can look at your list of spell effects and... let's see, change the weather to stormy for 1d6 turns!

Pretty good way to avoid having to write a list while still keeping magic a little unpredictable. You just describe the effects you can get and how high you need to roll for it, you keep wizards from all doing the same thing, and you never know what the other wizard's going to get up to even if you know that he likes blasting things.

But I like this better.

So you're a first level wizard. You have X magic points available per day for your spellcasting. [3] You also have a couple of words, rolled randomly from a list. Write down what they mean, and tell the GM what you want them to do (more or less).

Spells have levels, determined by the amount of MP you spend to cast them. A first level spell costs 1 point, a 2nd level spell costs 3 points, a 3rd level spell costs 7, a 4th level spell costs 18, and so forth.

The level you cast the spell at determines what it does. There's a smallish chart- a spell that takes an attack roll does 1d6 damage to a single target per level. If it doesn't take an attack roll, then it does 1d4 damage. If it's an area attack, then divide up the damage. [4] Everything else is between you, the GM, and your collective senses of wonder and creativity.

What does "Hold Magic" do, exactly? Is it a counterspell (as Lum suggested), or is it a method for delaying magic (as in, a delayed fireball, perhaps). Does it let you capture a spell and use it later? Does it have a mnemonic-type "memorize more spells" effect (as in, holding the magic in your mind)? I dunno, man. You tell me. Go ahead and write up some spells and let's think it over.

The best thing, though, is that finding spells isn't about finding pre-made spells somewhere. Now you're looking for the Words of Magic, scouring seemingly boring tomes to find a veiled reference to a magic word, and hidden formulae- a ha, there it is! "Teleport!" Now what do I do with it...

And then at a certain level spellcasters should be able to chain more words together, right? Only now they cost double, or whatever, because "Teleport Unseen Fire" is a pretty cool spell and so is "Prismatic Steel Servant," and, again, I have no idea what those do because I haven't written it down.

Oh, also: Wizards need to write down their words into spellbooks. "Word" is a bit of a misnomer because wizards are actually writing down syllables in the language of creation which, as it turns out, is nearly incomprehensible to the human mind and only years of study, great note-taking skills and some fairly decent shorthand allows magic users to utilize. Capturing spellbooks gives you a chance to learn their spells and maybe even their words but it's not guaranteed and it's going to take you a while!

So that's what I'm working on including. Lemme know what you think.

[1] Man, people who don't have the same opinions as me are dumb! Right?

[2] Unless you invent your own spells, but that requires writing them up and then giving them to the players, who can still choose not to take them because they'd rather prepare the already overly efficient Sleep, Magic Missile, and Fireball. Your options thus are: A spell that's too efficient (and will get picked first now), a spell that's too narrow (that somebody might prepare once in a blue moon), or a spell that's really weird that somebody might pick because it's fun.

[3] I was going to do spell slots but as I was brainstorming with a friend, he was like "why not just use MP?" Here's the original idea: You have a handful of spell slots per day. They have levels- a 5th level wizard might have four 1st level spell slots and 2 second level spell slots. When you cast a spell, expend a slot. A spell counts as the level of the slot it's cast from- a fireball might do 1d6 damage per spell level, and magic missile creates 1d4 unerring force blasts per 2 levels. Or whatever. Magic points makes the math a little easier and lets you shoot lots of little spells during the day, if that's what you want, so it's a plus. And it's not that much harder to track, really.

[4] I know that this makes fireball a little weaker but honestly 5d6 damage (or whatever) is a lot and having a sort of choice between "do I plug this dude over here" or "do I blast minions" is kind of a neat choice.

18 September 2015

"The Story"

You know what bugs me?

When people look at "the story" as being some sort of separate entity from whatever it is that you're doing during the game. The story happens at the table- if it's the players getting slaughtered, or them discussing whether or not to travel down another level or stay where they are and explore more, that's the story.

I write this in response to a post on r/rpg where a player writes, essentially "when play slows down and your players are hesitating, do you narrate ahead so that the story moves on?"

Why would you do this? There's nothing wrong with hesitation. There's nothing wrong with "slow play." And most importantly, obviously, "The story is what happens at the table."

I'll detail these one after the other, for clarity's sake, and for anybody that's managed to stumble here wondering what I'm talking about.

First, there's nothing wrong with hesitation. If your players are hesitating, it means they're not sure. It means they're looking for more information, or trying to build a consensus, or simply weighing their risks. There's no need to rush them! Let them stew a little, and you can even add thumbscrews if you want- adding more pressure is a lot of fun, and one of the most basic ways to wring drama out of any situation.

That said, sometimes your players are going to waffle, whether it's because they're new and unsure, or if they have been burnt before by going in without a solid plan. Like any game, players will learn how to best get what they want out of it. If there are lots of traps, then they're going to look for traps a lot. If there are a lot of ambushes, they'll extinguish their lanterns and send their scout around to flank. Players will learn how you like to run games and adapt their responses to that, and you should learn how your players enjoy their time. Ideally, you should be alternately challenging and surprising each other in equal measure, and then when you've hit that solid medium, you should both be happy with the way things are. [1]

And I'm not saying that you, as the GM, should ignore what you enjoy either. Your enjoyment is just as important as any other player's, and you have a right to be bored with what they're doing. But you're not in an equal relationship, here. [2] And part of being the GM means that you don't overstep your authority in a way that the players don't enjoy. This partition is different for every player and thus, for every group. You need to find the middle here.

Alright, now lastly: "The story is what happens at the table." There's this weird notion among people who came to tabletop gaming from video gaming that story is separate from medium. I'm here to tell you: that's wrong, and if you think that way, you need to stop it. There is no story that the players are not a part of. Full stop.

Let me explain.

If you write a Tolkien-esque backdrop for your story, full of ancient evils and long-dead heroes and legendary swords, none of it matters one bit until your players interact with it. Just like how the history of the American Revolution doesn't matter to me except when I'm wondering why we speak English or why our government has three parts, the thousand-year reign of the Archlich Xaxxax'x literally couldn't matter less until it impacts your players in some fashion. Say, by reanimating its corpse, or stumbling upon its tomb.The orc king's mighty armies don't matter until they attack the town that the players were going to travel to, causing the guards to bar the town gates and refuse entry to those without cause. Now it matters. [3]

Makes sense, right?

Viewing the story as something other than what happens during play is just plain silly and needs to stop. You're (probably) playing a game where a handful of players are playing individuals that run around creating or solving problems. Everything in the game is about what they do, where they are, and what happens around them. Every mechanic is dedicated to what they can or cannot do, or else who they are. Your game is about the exploits of these characters. Why oh why would anybody think that's not 100% what the story is about?

Nobody watches the Lord of the Rings and says it's a story about Sauron. It's not- it's about Sam and Frodo, Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn, and a little bit about Gandalf and Eowin and Galadriel. Nobody reads Fahrenheit 451 and says the book is about society. [4] It just doesn't follow.

The story is what you spend most of your time talking about. That's it.

[1] This is a basic facet of human interaction, but somehow people forget that the GM-player relationship is literally just a set of interpersonal relationships, the same as having a friend or romantic interest. When both sides are contributing to create a positive whole, the relationship is healthy. When one side is not getting what it wants, abusing its power to trample over the other side is not fucking healthy. I really can't stress that enough. If your response to "I am bored with this" is to say "OK it's done now and we're on to what I want to do" then you're abusing your players' trust. I am willing to argue this point. 

[2] In a traditional GM / player split, the GM has more authority over pretty much everything, and wisely using this power is what separates a GM whose players are having fun and a GM whose players are just sort of enduring play. I've written about this before (somewhere) but the GM / player relationship has a lot in common with a D/s relationship, in that one side is intentionally ceding power and formally recognizing the other as being "in charge" for purposes that suit both of them.

[3] If you're still not sure, try it out in a game. Write down "the orc king's armies are massing" on your notes. Hint to it, if you want, when the players are in an inn, or have a herald shouting the news on a street corner. Alright, so the players have been exposed to it. Now cross it off. Didn't happen, orcs got defeated, whatever. Hey look, nothing changed for your players- unless they ask about it or pursue it.

[4] In a sense, it is about those things, but, again, it's about the background to the characters as it affects them. We don't learn about the benefits of the society Guy Montag lives in as it is constructed, or about the conditions of factory workers, or the economic superstructure of such a world. All we know is how Guy is shaped by the conditions he finds himself in- the same thing we find in your standard D&D game. The story is about how a group of characters reacts to the situation they find themselves in, and that's it.

12 September 2015

Morale Scores

I've been working on a minor B/X heartbreaker as a personal project, you know the drill. It's a combination of my favorite house rules alongside some quality-of-life changes that makes the game easier to run at my table. You know, like every other one. But this one's mine!

And one of the things I really want to do is deal with the bronze age. I mean cmon, look at this guy! If you don't want to play as that guy, you're nuts.

Part of this approach means taking some early D&Disms and giving them a more prominent place- "armor class" is the sum of your defensive equipment as usual, but helmets explicitly give armor class, and so do greaves, breastplates, and shields. A bronze-age warrior fully decked out in their panopoly should be pretty damn tough.

I don't want to talk about equipment today, though. I want to talk about morale.

Morale has always been sort of a funky mechanic in D&D, and it's not really a surprise that it got abandoned by the time 3rd edition rolled around. [1] It just sort of sits there, the modifier never changes, and it's really a monster-only thing. You hit a monster- roll morale. The monster gets reduced to 1/4 health- roll morale. The group of enemies suffers a casualty- roll morale. It's too much.

Here's my solution: Everybody gets a morale score, from 2-12. That includes players. When you have to check morale, roll 2d6. Higher rolls are good.

There are a handful of times when you check morale: When you're reduced to half health or less, when your leader [2] is slain, or when half your group has stopped fighting (fled, dead, paralyzed, whatever).

If you pass the check, then nothing happens. You're doing alright, for the time being.

If you fail the check, then your Morale is reduced temporarily by 2, as the stresses of combat wear you down.  [3]

Morale feeds lightly into your attack and defense bonuses- the reason for this is to make the players, not the characters, afraid of trying to hang around a losing battle. "We gotta get out of here guys, I'm at 4 Morale! I can't fight like this!" [4]

This also lets me do something that I've always wanted to see represented in a game: Shouting matches.

If you read heroic classics, like Beowulf, the Iliad, or certain Norse epics, you see that before a fight, champions would often meet to exchange words, insult each others' heritage, and call each other cowards. This is something I want to put in the game, and with Morale being an actual statistic, it's easy.

Just have an opposed Morale check. Both leaders add their Appearance bonus and their Charisma bonus. Lowest result suffers 1d6 Morale damage. That's it. If you refuse to send out a champion of some sort, if your leader refuses to meet in the middle, then it counts as an automatic loss. What kind of ragged army doesn't have a champion? What kind of cowardly fool won't meet his peer in combat?

Now that I think of it, there has to be some sort of "outclass" situation, where obviously the Pharoah of the Eternal Empire doesn't have to meet with the squabbling barbarian tribes' dirt-covered chieftan, but I'm not sure a hard-and-fast rule makes any sense in this situation. We're all smart people here. Use your best judgement.

The last thing that having a Morale score does is allow musicians to be an important part of the game. This deserves its own post, I think, so I'll deal with that later. Soon I'll write another post, detailing either music, Appearance scores, or else possibly just the way that equipment is going to work.

See you soon!

[1] I think it was in 2e AD&D but I'm not a big fan of that game so I don't honestly know.

[2] Typically controlled by a character's Appearance bonus, which is another rule that I'm going to add, because it again guides players towards emulating the right style of play- you should be spending money to gild your helmet, purchase gemmed swords, and acquiring purple capes because it looks cool, and because it ties into your personal Morale bonus, which makes you fight more effectively.

[3] 2 just feels right, and means that if an average untrained human being has 6 morale, that half of them will flee when the leader is killed, and then most of the rest will turn tail and run after the remainder is chopped down. This feels about accurate to me- in these times, generals were also soldiers, and were expected to charge into battle, protected by elite bodyguards. Losing them was a massive blow to morale, and generally troops that were already struggling would break and flee as they saw the commander's standard fall.

[4] I'm thinking 0 modifier for 6, and then +/-1 for every 2 points. This has the added benefit of making elite troops better at fighting than their hit dice represents, and then making low-morale creatures a little weaker. A horde of 4 Morale goblins fights terribly, but six berserkers with 12 morale? You better watch yourself, even if you have more hit dice.

05 September 2015

Three Luckless DCC Goons

Tomorrow I'll be playing through a DCC module, and in the spirit of preparation I managed to roll up three 0th level characters.

In the spirit of getting back into the habit of writing every day, I thought I'd give them all a short background.

Character 1: The Elf Falconer

I can't remember what brought it up, but it came up that our characters were probably doomed, so I decided to make that a personality trait of one of my characters. "The Gloomy Elf" is a fun archetype, especially if he's not just melancholy but actively certain that he's probably boned in some vague, cosmic way.

It'll also allow me to be a little silly at the table, insisting that completely mundane events are certain portents of our group's overarching Doom. I'll figure out a way to prounounce it with a capital D, maybe if I over-enunciate it...

Since he's a falconer, that means that he's probably some sort of petty nobleman, or maybe some sort of retainer to a lord. I don't want to go eastern European or central Asian with the elf, since I'm not entirely sure what sort of world the DM's got in mind, and also that'd mean figuring out some sort of cultural differences that the character has from other characters that are hanging around. I really don't know if the game will get that far, but if it does, I'll make something up on the spot and then my character will insist that's how it is in his homeland. Whether it's true or not doesn't really matter- if it turns out that he's just particular in some way that is unique to him (and other people from his culture don't care about it, or even feel the opposite way) then he'll have just been lying the whole time. And then I'll figure out on the spot why that is, again.

He is the most hardy character, at 3 HP.

Character 2: The Confidence Artist

This one's pretty fun, because the confidence artist has an awful Personality score (5), which leads me to believe that this individual is not actually a confidence artist and perhaps just styles themselves one. I mean, clearly nobody is going to believe any lies and they probably ooze sleaze, like a fantasy Frank Reynolds.

But I don't want to go with Frank Reynolds. I want to take it in a different direction. First thought- the con artist is a woman, and she's sort of a sleazy type. Not in some weird sexual way, but just that she's vaguely untrustworthy and maybe a little grasping, while managing to rub people the wrong way. Maybe she's too direct- she's brusque and a little mean.

She also might end up being a wizard, since her sole promising stat is a 12 Intelligence.

She also has just the 1 HP.

I also don't have any art on hand for a pushy peasant woman, unfortunately.

Character 3: Dwarven Apothecarist

This right here is why I like randomly rolling for occupations- a Dwarven apothecarist? Sign me up!

I'll probably play this guy more or less straight; he's a somewhat fussy, somewhat proud dwarf who learned to make poultices and brew liquids and talks about fine dwarven crafts, and has a long beard and a beer belly. He's not much of a warrior, so if he makes it to first level, then I'll just have him be sort of a bumbler, really more of a brute force smasher than a proper warrior. He hasn't really got any warrior training, but he's doing his best and he's going to do what he can to break things when they need to be broken. He'll probably avoid any sort of unnecessary battlin', since he really did enjoy being an apothecarist and plans on returning to it, sometime.

If the dwarf survives I might add some more personality to him, but I think that a sort of declining personality scale between my three characters is the most useful. We're all going to have three 0th level characters, at least for a while, and if we all try and "hog" the spotlight then we're going to have one hell of a time getting anything done.

25 August 2015

DCC Occupations

Now, there's nothing wrong with the occupational chart that's featured in Dungeon Crawl Classics. It's actually a lot of fun, and I really enjoy the idea that my character starts off as a gravedigger with a shovel facing off against some sort of preposterous nightmare that only serves to fuel latent heroism / villainy.

The thing is, the list is actually incomplete. It wasn't enough. It needed more. So I added more.

Here, check it out!

23 August 2015

DCC Weapon Chart (plus a bonus chart!)

I've really been wanting to run a game of DCC but I tell you what, that damn weapon chart drives me nuts. What's the point of having a mace and a longsword both do 1d6 damage but with different costs? Who would buy a two-handed sword when a battleaxe is just as good?

One of the greatest strengths of old-school games is that there aren't many systems getting in the way of your gaming.

In that spirit, I was thinking of a weapon chart that looks something like this:

15 July 2015

Science Fiction Fate

One of my players is leaving, or has left, and won't be back for a couple of months, if at all. It's not the first time that it's happened, and it probably won't be the last. But every time a long-term player leaves, it always stings a little. [1]

The last time one of our players left for a while, I resolved to try out 13th Age, a system with a lot of bells and whistles, and a lot of borrowing from different editions of good old Dungeons and Dragons. A lot of things seemed to work for me, and a lot of things didn't. [2] It was a decent system and I think that if we had started at a higher level than it may have been more entertaining- but asking players to analyze a game they've never played and generate a somewhat effective higher level character (where the stakes are higher) is a difficult task. It's not like any of us had played this damn system before! I think half of them hadn't even heard of it before I mentioned it.

This time, though, we've decided to do something completely different. The 13th Age game was meant to bridge time in between one of our oldest players temporarily leaving and his return while still playing in more-or-less the same setting. He took long enough coming back [3] that now another player has to leave, and I'm still not in the mood to run FantasyCraft again so we've decided to do something completely different.

We've elected to play Fate Accelerated, for a while, in a science fiction setting. One of my players mentioned Cowboy Bebop and Firefly, two shows I've never watched. Another player was thinking Dead Space and Starship Troopers. I'm thinking Trigun and Dune [4]. I'm sure all of these notes will work together in some fashion.

Since we didn't have a setting created beforehand, we set out to brainstorm one. On one hand, it was a fun experience. Brainstorming with people is one of my favorite things to do, especially when they've got that spark. You know what I'm talking about- it's that electricity that happens when you all come together to make a towering pile of setting that none of you could have possibly done on your own. It's when somebody's idea gives you an idea, and then your idea gives them an idea, and then both of your ideas give everybody ideas, until everybody's sizzling with ideas.

That didn't entirely happen here, though. And it's probably partially my fault.

Part of the reason that I'm usually the GM is that I've got lots of ideas for stuff. [5] One of my other players is very creative and has no problems whatsoever with creating new ideas or thinking of new settings or getting things done. 

My problem was with my other two players, each of whom had their own problems. I'm not getting into that here (I'm not trying to air my laundry, know what I mean), but getting ideas from them was difficult and almost painful. I was trying to stay in the background, encouraging them to speak up and give ideas, but it was rough. One of my players is very mild-mannered and the other is very outgoing and enthusiastic but completely scattered. Bouncing ideas around would go from actual suggestion to joke to digression and then the digression would continue (from mostly one person) and it was frustrating. In the three or four hours we discussed, we got done what should have taken around one hour, and then we could have "polished the turd," so to speak and iterated further on what we've got. [6]

Still, we got some good stuff out of it. We've got one character who's a smuggler turned legit pilot, whose Trouble is that her old smuggling buddies want her back in the game. We've got a scrap technician whose trouble is that he is socially inept. And then we have a blank space, to be filled later.

Our heroes are trying to save the colony of Orvstream, on Meskhent 3. They colony is serviced by large, cumbersome vessels, the only vessels that are capable of FTL travel. If they send a distress signal back to their homeworld, it could take years for a cargo ship to make it- the signal has to travel, then the ship must be readied, then the ship must arrive. By that time, it could be too late. The heroes have access to a single interplanetary cruiser and must figure out how to ensure the survival of the colony they all call home before it's too late.

There's some other background stuff- we all decided that space zombies (like Dead Space, but probably less goddamn deadly) are plausible, that cybernetic limbs are neat, and that prisoners with barcode tattoos and explosive collars are pretty cool. Also that sometimes prisoners who are deemed reformed are allowed passage to a colony where they are allowed freedom- sort of a Space Australia. I also have a neat image that I got from using a Traveller generator online: The image link is here and the system generator is here, if you need it or anything like it.

So I'm excited to break out of fantasy for a while, and I think that as my players get more used to sharing the burden of creation and creativity that it's going to get a little better. Each of my players has something to learn about playing games in this manner, and I think I've got quite a bit of learning to do too, which excites me. I'm hoping this works out, because I am so tired of fantasy hack and slash. Soooooo tiiiiiiired...

[1] Part of the big problem of playing a long-term campaign with no real ending is that peoples' lives keep going on, and you can't expect them to be there forever, you know? Especially since my current group skews as young as it does (for whatever reason that it does).

[2] I'll write about that later- the gist is that the system takes the 3e approach of "level after X battles," which means that for the players to progress with any speed they have to get lots of fighting done, so the game becomes "talk for a while, walk for a while, then kill things. talk for a while, fight for a while, then kill things." The rhythm is ok if that's what you're into, but after running fantasy mankillin' games for as long as I have, I could use a break.

[3] He's actually gone for more-or-less good, although he did come back to tell me that so it's all good. What can you do? It was nice having him at our table and if he ever comes back I'll do my best to accommodate him.

[4] The original Frank Herbert Dune, thank you very much. His children rifled through his notes and created cash-grab nonsense that isn't worthy of the name.

[5] The other part is that I get bored only playing one character, in the traditional player / DM dichotomy. I prefer a systems-light and slightly adversarial DM, where there are challenges for me (the player) to overcome using my character as a proxy. The other other part is that I really just enjoy DMing because I get to be the one who drives the game, in the traditional player / DM setup, and I like to make things for other people to play around in. I always try to give them a wide leash and enough rope to hang themselves, and in return they always manage to find a way to enjoy themselves. Sometimes I give them too much freedom, in which case I expect them to find their own solutions to their inter-party squabbling.

[6] I'm a big fan of iterative design, where you produce a series of drafts quickly. Basically, you set a goal, try to achieve it, and then see what you made. Look at your original goal again- is that what you want still? Probably not, so adjust your goal, edit what you already have to fit the new goal, then see what you made again. Do this five to ten times and you should have something you're reasonably comfortable with. The thing about this, though, is that you have to be able to actually make a finished draft first. If you spend all your time worrying about whether the thing you've half finished is good enough then you're just wasting time. Hammer it out and edit it after!

19 June 2015


E3 came and went (I assume) and it looks like it's another year of mediocre games. If you got excited about any of these games clearly you and I have completely different taste in things because I didn't see anything worth getting excited over.


Not the Doom that they showed in the trailer. That Doom was slow and gory, like somebody looked at the turd that is Brutal Doom [1] and was like "Yeah! What Doom is missing is hyper-violent decapitation and a weapon select screen and really slow imps for some reason! Everything should be muddy and brown! Killing something should take up your entire screen for three seconds so you can look at an animation that totally won't get repetitive after you've killed your 50th demon!" What a joke! You're telling me that over 20 years they can't get somebody who actually likes Doom to make a sequel of it? There's nobody on the Bethesda team who has looked at what the Doom community is still producing in terms of wads and total conversions and mods? Nobody who understands that Doom is about movement punctuated with shotgun blasts, about space management? Doom is like a beautiful dance... a beautiful dance with chainsaws.

I didn't see any of that in new Doom, but that's fine. Old Doom, real Doom still exists and nothing can change that. [3]

This is the only Doom the world needs, and yet there are 4 of them.
Anyways, I'm actually a little grateful for the new Doom thing because it makes me think about what, exactly, I like about old Doom, and plus it's given me an idea.

31 May 2015

13th Age Session One: Ambushed by Wolves and Slaying Blood Cultists

I played my first session of 13th Age today. As is becoming a sort of standard, it was only 3 hours long [1] but it had some good action.

We were using my old campaign setting, which reduced my workload a little but maybe not as much as I thought. It's all in broad strokes, so they had plenty of room to create new lore, but it also meant that most of the FantasyCraft centered work that I did was unusable. I don't mind; FC wants you to spend a lot of time making sure that all of the thousand options they present is part of your world, and it felt nice not having to deal with it.

The players introduced themselves:
  • Frenk, the halfling barbarian. His entire character sheet is in caps and mostly misspelled, and he has a deep hatred for elves despite not being entirely clear on what they are. He wields a greatsword that is nearly the size of his body, and alternates between oblivious and completely focused. Very mercurial but easy-going.
  • Max Edge, a human ranger who's been cursed to drink elf blood (and only elf blood). He hates elves with a passion (one of his backgrounds is Elf Exterminator) and he spends most of his time talking about how he plans to exterminate all elves. Everybody thinks he's a psychopath and he doesn't mind. He's handy with a bow and completely ruthless.
  • Quillos, a wood elf monk. He impatiently tried to live a pastoral wood elf life and got fed up with it, instead preferring to learn a sword-centric martial art in a secluded monastery where he could get some respect. He was too hedonistic to get far, and left the monastery to participate in the Amsu night life. One particularly lively orgy left him sobering up in front of the Merchant King, who wanted to hear his brilliant plan to exploit the elves, which he is trying to do despite being a little in over his head.
  • Sullen, the human Necromancer. A cosmic accident flung him outside of reality itself, where he spend a timeless moment observing the cycles of Life and Death. He seeks to avoid this cycle completely, and has delved deep into the necromantic arts. Strangely reassuring, though he never means it that way, and stubborn in his knowledge.

They are working for Hudread the Conqueror for their own reasons: Frenk and Max out of vengeance against elves, Quillos to try and insinuate himself into the cogs of power, and Sullen merely because mercenary work means coin, and coin means access to the materials he will ultimately need. They were given a mission by Hudread's lieutenant Arild [2]- retrieve the Blade of Enfron before it is delivered to their enemies.

Turns out, the Protector is giving the High Druid a mighty artifact to help the High Druid defend against Hudread. This is unacceptable- the artifact would do more good to the elves in the hands of Hudread, so they are going to rectify the situation.

They camped out in the shell of Hudread's keep and were awoken [3] by the sounds of an Elven taskmaster shouting and kicking his drudges to work. Might as well set off, they decide. Max fortifies himself with some elf blood and they set off. Frenk has some background as a Tribesman, so he leads the way, tracking the party directly into a Druidic ambush. They battle; the wolves are savage and the Druid is attacking with grasping vines that daze the party, but they ultimately succumb. Frenk and Quillon, as close combatants took some serious damage but have plenty of recoveries so no harm done, ultimately. Combat is fluid and interesting; the monk is shifting through his forms, and the barbarian is nice and simple. Building Rage means that missing provides damage when you eventually do hit, but it's a "daily" [4] so I'm unsure if its use was wise. The flaming skeleton does a bit of work, and Sullen actually manages to do the last bit of damage on every enemy except a single wolf.

They do win out, though, and so they're off again. Frenk manages to track the elfspoor to a deep brook. I decide that he loses the way, though, because I feel like traveling through Druid-infested land should be a little dangerous. Max attempts to seek out the elves using his Elf Exterminator and discovers Quillon! Surprise! Quillon, for his part, attempts to use his monastic knowledge to remember if, perhaps, he has seen this on a map or learned anything useful about the Druids. He fails, so we decide he was too poor of a student to have remembered anything useful.

Sullen, on the other hand, manages to remember a bit of Necromantic lore he's read once, and directs the party to a nearby death shrine the druids have built. Inside, they hear chanting voices and Max discerns that they are speaking Elvish. ELVISH??!?! He goes down the root-stairs and sees five cloaked figures arranged around a skull that sits on top of a deep red cloth covered table. He shouts "We're coming to your grove!" and blasts one with an arrow. He then retreats up the stairs and waits.

A tense moment passes. He peeks around the corner and BOOM! An eight foot tall former cultist is in his face, muscles exploding out of his shredded robe, eyes turned to black. The clear leader of the small cult raised his head and revealed a hideous decaying face, eyes ringed with fire. [5] The battle began!

Mad stepped back and fired an arrow into the monster's meat, dealing only miss damage- then he took an arcane curse to the chest. Frenk stepped up to the monster and swung for a pittance. Quillon launched past the monster (whoops) and into the cultists, who panicked and tried to stab the monk, to no avail. He took a foot to the face, though. Sullen's skeleton slipped past the brute and slaughtered a cultist. The monsters were no match for the heroes in the end, although Quillon ended the battle with a scant handful of health, and Sullen had to use one of his mightier spells to dispatch the Cult Leader.

They manage to spare a single cultist goon and calm him down enough to encourage him to spill his beans. He does, and is even willing to tell them that the Sword is on its way to the High Druid instead of being in his sanctum

All in all: Not a bad way to learn a system. I like not having to draw things to 5' grids, and I like how easy movement is. Disengage / intercept means that position sort of matters without having to bog anything down; the real question is "Can you get out of this guy's sword range" and "can you stop the baddie from reaching your back line?" AC was high all around, which was a pain, but I suppose it is also largely due to having to readjust expectations from the way FC worked. I'll work on making battles more "cinematic," and less common than in FC, which has its own sort of expectations about how battles work and who is in them.

I had a good time and I look forwards to next week. I gave them two incremental advances because I'm a nice guy, and I want to have everybody leveling a bit faster than "normal" in my game. One of my players only has a short time to enjoy the game, and that means that I've got to try and squeeze a little bit of extra content in here, if I can.

[1] One of my players started going to church again on Sundays a month or two back; I like the guy and this is the best time slot for everybody, so we just sort of deal with short sessions.

[2] She's a Dragon Priest, which I've decided means that she's a religious Sorcerer in game terms. I doubt that it'll ever come up, but you never know.

[3] Sullen, technically, doesn't sleep, so he occupies himself during the night by keeping some Necromantic rites. I plan on using this information in the future, in some fashion.

[4] In 13th Age, every 4th battle provides you the opportunity to rest. Resting before then incurs a "campaign loss," which is a nice way to provide some immediate forwards pressure straight from the game book. A lot of people don't like tracking rations or torches and so run into this problem where they don't understand that the 15 minute adventuring day has been a solved problem since the 70s. I do like tracking them but I can understand where the game is coming from, and I appreciate them making explicit the link between dawdling and losing some of what you want.

[5] I actually didn't have this encounter planned, because I looked at the next encounter and thought it looked stupid. So technically the giant dude was a Bugbear, the main cultist was a Goblin Shaman, and the goons were Kobold Grand Wizards. Worked out ok enough, despite my multiple tactical mistakes. Note to self: When using a caster, make sure he can actually get behind some goons, and make sure that there are enough goons that they all don't get engaged. A single large defender is not enough to protect anybody- once you're engaged, you cannot intercept anything until you're free again, and staying free from the players is a losing proposition.

30 May 2015

13th Age: Duskmarsh

Since I don't quite know what my players are interesting in doing, I've taken the opportunity to brainstorm a little bit about locations that I'd like to eventually have them encounter. I've had to keep it intentionally vague so I can leave hooks lying around [1] and eventually they can choose to go there if they like. If they don't, that's fine- I'll just reuse and recycle my ideas for later.

Anyways, here it is:


The swamp is actually a nice enough place;  there are some undead there, sure, and probably more stirges than there should be, and yeah, there are actually a lot of carnivorous plants, plus some giant hunting spiders... you know what, let's not go to the swamp.

The thing about the swamp, though, is that there are quite a few rare plants that won't grow anywhere else in the world. There's a dungeon there, too, the ruins of an old outpost from the last age. They both attract different sorts of folks...

A swamp is an explosion of life. All kinds of life. Strange things grow there. Be careful.

6 Monsters

  • Stirges
  • Skeletons
  • Fungaloids
  • Spiders
  • Oozes
  • Carnivorous Plants

 6 Sites

  • The Old Outpost- The surface is an old fort where spiders and stirges make their lair. Underneath is the mouth of a dungeon, where oozes and skeletons roam. 
  • Fungaloid Duchy- Fungus-people have built stone walls and rule over their decaying, marshy realm.
  • Spider's Nest-  A thickly wooded grove infested with the predations of unnaturally huge spiders.
  • Pit of Decay- A tremendous sinkhole in the ground where oozes gather. Carnivorous plants catch prey and the oozes further decompose it, creating a beautiful (if smelly) symbiosis.
  • Overgrown Grotto- A lush cave with a pond. Nest for a bloated Stirge queen.
  • Lake Leomund- Verdant, with a lake island. Forgotten undead lurk there, bound by a curse.

6 Hooks 

  • Stirges have been spreading from the swamp and killing people. The stirges won't stop without the source being removed, so the local authorities are offering a reward for each stirge proboscis, plus a handsome bonus for the corpse of any queen. ~OR~ Somebody's set out to kill the stirges, and the local druids aren't having any of that. Stop the stirge-slayers before they upset the balance!
  • A nobleman from far away has tracked the location of a priceless family heirloom. Its location: Somewhere in the Old Outpost. 
  • An old pirate's dead and one treasure-hunter's got his map. They're pretty sure that the treasure's buried on Leomund Isle, if this map can be trusted. Of course nobody's dared visit that island for decades...
  • The Fungaloid Duke has deigned to expand his territory, much to the chagrin of the local farmers who prefer their lands solid and their hearts beating...
  • A bolting horse carrying a prince's ransom has disappeared into the swamp. The King is despondent that he'll never see his son again; if nobody can recover the random before the next new moon his son will be slain! It turns out that the horse is busy being digested by the Pit of Decay. The inorganic metal coins are intact, but how do you get retrieve them when a three foot thick carpet of ooze layers the place?
  • Somebody from a nearby settlement has been attacked and wrapped in thick silken webs by the spiders. When they capture the person, they are weak and, as it turns out, have been implanted with spider eggs.
6 Hazards [2]
  • The air is thick with gnats and biting flies. Getting a full-heal up here is impossible while the insects swarm.
  • A thick slimy sludge covers the party and its belongings, rendering 1d4 non-magic items useless in the next battle. (Which should be soon, or the party will just pause to clean it.)
  • An unnaturally long leech attaches to one party member (chosen at random). Before it can be discovered and peeled off, it drains 1d4 recoveries.
  • Pockets of swamp gas occasionally erupt with flickering lights, rendering meaningful stealth impossible.
  •  The battle takes place near a breeding pool- every round after the first, a Stirge attacks the party member that's furthest back.
  • There's some sort of forgotten shrine here. If any of the players attempt to pray here, have them roll a die. 1-2: Lose a recovery. 3-4: Roll to recharge a power of their choice. 5-6: Gain a recovery.

[1] If there's any way to describe my GMing style, it's probably "leave lots of hooks lying around." One of my players always asks about rumors, so I keep a nice long list of things that are happening lying around. Usually they don't investigate it, so I just keep track of it and have the rumors of something related happen. One example is that two merchant houses started up some shit with each other; one was smuggling in the others' territory. The players found out, and reported it to the local authorities, who promised they'd do something. Couple of days later, it turns into open skirmishing, and the players happen to be around people fleeing the countryside under the protective aegis of some cavalrymen. Couple of weeks later, they hear that one of the merchant houses has captured an important nobleman from the other house and that they're entering negotiations. Things like these help keep the world moving and, more importantly, remind my beautiful players that the world is in constant flux and that you'll never have enough time to do everything.

[2] I mean environmental hazards; things you can use to slow down your party if you think it'd be interesting. Thinking of these ahead of time is pretty difficult- usually everybody else will inform me about the sorts of things they're worried about or thinking about, and then I riff off of that. You know, basic "Be careful in the water! There could be snakes or alligators!" says one player. Hey, good idea- I'll keep that in mind, especially if a paranoid player asks for some sort of perception roll.

28 May 2015

The Age After 12

In an effort to shake free of my FC-induced drudgery [1], I've decided to attempt to inflict 13th Age on my standard gaming group.

The timing, as it turns out, is pretty good; one of them is going to be out of town (and without reliable internet access) for a month, and another one is going to be leaving in about a month to get some job training. [2] I knew about the job training in advance but the out of town is a bit of a surprise, and our Skype chat is a lot more lonesome without him.

Anyways, though, there's a lot that I like about 13th Age, including the part where I'm allowed and encouraged to make things up again. And so is everybody! The players all have their backgrounds and Unique Things (which can be anything), which means that the campaign is exactly as high or low fantasy as everybody at the table agrees. Like any game where everybody is coming together to make things up, you kind of need to set a baseline of what sort of game you're interested in playing, and I imagine that explicitly saying what it is sort of wrecks the "illusion," [3] but honestly this is exactly the way I like to run my games anyways. It's nice to read through a PDF and think to yourself, "Oh, exactly! This is exactly a thing I've always wanted to try!"

Plus the designer's notes. Oh man, do I love those designer's notes. They lay out exactly where they disagree on things and sometimes both of the designers don't even play by the rules they wrote down for you to try out, instead telling you where the baseline should probably be and then both running in opposite directions. It's really freeing, and nice to see a "standard" fantasy game treat itself like a set of suggestions instead of The One True Law. This philosophy carries into every description of every class, and in every monster's writeup. They give you some ideas and then let you pick any of them, all of them, or none at all and there's not even a hint that there's a "right way" to do your fluff. It's great. 

The closest the game comes to having a One True Way is in the description of the Icons, which are technically not necessary but if you don't use them then you're sort of going against the spirit of what they're writing. The Icons are written into a lot of the fluff and, as I'm finding out, if you want to do away with them, you have to invent your own and they're probably going to be kind of similar. You can't quite create them in pairs, but you do need your Icons to tell a certain story about your world. It's a bigger task than it seems, but I can't blame the designers for wanting to include their new idea strongly into the world. It's just that if the Icons don't fit into your idea of the world, you've got a bit of work ahead of you.

Still, though, I'm excited. Maybe more excited than I should be, given that one of my group apparently doesn't want to play but is too polite to bring it up. I'm sure he'll be passive-aggressive but I really don't have time for passive-aggression...

[1] The way that I've found FantasyCraft most tolerable is if I ignore wide swaths of the rules in favor of running games more or less the way I usually play them. The longer I play the system, the creakier it feels, and I can only slap so many patches on it before I wonder what the point was.

[2] And then one of them doesn't want to play, which is whatever. Your loss, man. He doesn't seem to want to play anything that isn't FantasyCraft so I'll have to look for a new player soon, I imagine.

[3] I used to be more tolerant of this sort of thing, to be honest, but long years reading the uninformed and ignorant opinions of random internet strangers has soured me on this sort of thing. If you rely on some sort of illusion of "realism" to get your jollies in games, then you are reveling in ignorance and I can't take that any more seriously than I can take somebody who thinks that movie critics are "ruining things they liked" by pointing out flaws. Things you like can have flaws, and your group can (and should!) have frank discussions where you explicitly lay out what your expectations are for this game and what kind of themes you like. It's like pulling teeth from my players (many of whom are uninformed and a little ignorant) [4] but then when they tell me that they don't care, I just look at the character sheets they hand me as implicitly informing me as to what kind of game they want to run.

[4] There's nothing wrong with being uninformed or ignorant, to be honest with you, it's just people that think they're informed and urbane that rub me the wrong way. I remember reading from person on Reddit sagely declaring that a game mechanic was bad because it was "immersion-breaking," as though looking at your character sheet and rolling dice to beat a target number provided by another human being in front of you narrating a situation could possibly be "immersive." Ugh, please.

20 May 2015

Android: Netrunner

I've been playing Netrunner with a good friend of mine and I have to say: I can see why people are so fanatical about it.

I'm not a stranger to card games; I played Pokemon throughout grade school, Magic the Gathering from when I was probably 10. I own two Dominion sets, a Resident Evil deckbuilder, and the core Lord of the Rings LCG. I've played a dozen rounds of Fluxx and (bleh) Cards against Humanity. I even tried the lackluster DC Comics Deck Builder, and the bizarrely fiddly Legendary from Marvel comics. Add to it Space Hulk: Death Angel and Warhammer Invasion and Warhammer Fantasy's Battle for Atluma- I've played a whole lot of card games.

Android: Netrunner might be better than all of them.

It's good enough that I'm not working at all on my FC campaign or even looking through systems to switch to when the campaign is over. I'm just looking through these NBN cards, trying to figure out exactly how much tracing is enough tracing  and how many bioroids I should be running in this Haas-Bioroid deck I'm considering. [1] I'm peeking at Shaper cards to steal for my Anarch deck, which I'm hoping will set enough fires that any corp I face will collapse.

Compared to Magic the Gathering, A:N is elegant and creative. In MtG, most of the challenge is in deckbuilding and sideboarding; deck archetypes are strong or weak to each other in varying arrays and there's nothing you can do about it in-game. You have to sideboard in or out cards after losing, and you're still playing pretty much the same deck and so are they.

In A:N, though, you don't really sideboard anything, and you're not expected to. Decks are flexible and play differently every time, because the game puts a massive focus on deception and reading your opponent.

I distinctly remember playing MtG once: I was playing monored aggro and he was playing some sort of white midrange. [2] The dude across from me had been holding back these two cards from the beginning of the game. I recognized that they were probably Wrath of God and then either Akroma or Serra's Angel, so I played around it by pretending I didn't notice but not playing any more cards. Predictably, he wrathed, so next turn I played another hasted creature. He played his angel (I forget which) but it didn't matter because in response to that I just used my last burn spell. I win, dickhead. [3]

Anyways, every round in A:N is like that because the Corp is playing most of its cards face down and the more dynamic and reactive Runner has a plethora of options available to them. Every single turn you are asked "Do you feel lucky?" as you gauge what level of risk you're willing to put on the table. Every single turn your opponent has to decide if you're playing real threats, if you're feinting, or if it's a feint within a feint. It is a turn-based fighting game, and reading your opponent (and reading their reads of you) is essential to overcoming them.

It's a very good game. I hope that I can continue playing it and that my gaming partner will continue to show interest in it! [4]

[1]Answers: "There's no such thing as too much tracing," and "As many as you can reasonably justify, plus two more for good luck."

[2] I usually played a goblin deck. Onslaught block had only recently started, so there were a lot of neat things going on with the tribal subtype. We played kitchen sink casual magic, which is basically Legacy. But without the banlist. Nobody had money enough to buy Black Lotus or anything with Mox in its name, and we only had a vague understanding of things like mana curve or efficiency, so it ended up generally being a good-spirited rumble. My opponent in this story was a smug, tubby, tall dude who always had really fancy sleeves and occasionally used a foil-heavy combo deck he was really proud of, even though it didn't go off half the time because I was just playing aggro and if you needed more than a handful of turns to win, I'd have battered you to death with fast, efficient goblins like always. He was ok, but had sort of a Dennis from Always Sunny vibe; you could tell he thought he was better than everybody else for some reason and I guess he thought everybody admired him or something but nobody really liked him and we only hung out with him when we were playing Magic. Ah, memories.

[3] I've never been one for gloating, or basking in my glory. Win or lose, I just want to improve my play. That's the kind of guy I am; stubborn and self-critical. A lot of things in my life are like that, now that I think about it.

[4] I only play with the one person right now, and online, but I imagine that I can find some more people who are tolerant of newcomers and won't tease me when I make staggeringly stupid mistakes!

20 April 2015

Racial Restrictions?

Quick question:

I'm reading through the 13th Age PDF for the first time and on page 30, it says that "13 th Age is less restrictive than other d20 games, and your racial choice won’t limit your class selection."

What d20 games feature racial limitations on classes? I can't think of any. Oldschool D&D can't possibly count since it's not a d20 game, although I guess retro-clones could. What could they be referring to?

29 March 2015

All Ogre

I've been busy with real-world stuff recently, but there's always time for FantasyCraft.

Today I actually managed to surprise myself with my efficiency in preparations. Check this timeline out:

Last Sunday- Game's over. Time to think about next session. I ran that session by the seat of my pants and my players ended up uncovering a demon cult in the center of town. Now I need to figure out what the underside of the dungeon looks like.

Monday- No motivation to prepare, so I don't. What's the rush?

Tuesday- Same. No preparations done yet. I'll get to it tomorrow, I don't have any ideas. It's barely even the beginning of the week anyways.

Wednesday- I get through five minutes of prep, then a friend calls. I talk for a while, then go to get back to work. I feel the urge to delete everything I've written [1], so I decide to call it an early night.

Thursday- I don't even remember, honestly. Might have had a couple of drinks? I know I was re-watching The Office because I am still doing that.

Friday- Preparing for somebody else's game. I'll write more about that later.

Saturday- I'm running out of time here but the power goes out and stays out for a couple of hours. I use the Aspects system from Fate to draw some connections. This becomes boring so I write a letter to my wife that ends up being 10 pages. The power's still out, so I get bored. I begin drinking. The power's on, now, but I'm too tipsy to write anything interesting, so I play video games and continue drinking until almost midnight. [2]

Sunday- I wake up at 730. I lay in bed for another hour; I'd had too much to drink, so I dreamt I was escaping a horde of demons (or something) by smashing my way through walls with a hammer. In addition, my head hurts. The game's not until 9, so I lay around until about 830. I realize that I haven't prepared anything, and I haven't eaten. I grab a granola bar and sketch out the underside of the temple [3], then the surface. I jot down some monsters I'd like to use, just the names. I grab a basic demon stat block from the FantasyCraft book and modify them. This one's faster and smaller. This one's got a grabbing bite. This one spews acid. Now I've got 7 areas, five unique monsters, and a plan for the next couple of sessions. I make some coffee and am ready for the game.

Moral of the Story: A half an hour of prep a week is more than enough to carry you through a session, if you focus on what you know you'll need.

The Secret: The entire world is painted in broad brushstrokes, and then I iterate. By this I mean I drill down on an aspect of a thing until there's enough detail in it, and then I go broad again.

I'll illustrate my secret another time. Maybe tomorrow?

[1] This happens literally all of the time and is responsible for me not writing here as much as I used to. Inevitably, if I write enough of anything, I will grow to despise it and the best way to make sure that it survives another day is to completely change tracks.

[2] I realize, in retrospect, that I probably should have gotten a good nights' sleep. My players deserve a better game than I can provide when I'm tired and slightly hung-over, but you know what, I did an OK job anyways.

[3] The temple snatches people and animates their corpses as demonhosts, kind of like how it works in that 40k book about Gregor Eisenhorn. I really like that book, for the most part. Some of it is kind of dumb but as a whole, I'd recommend it to anybody who likes a fairly serious 40k tone that isn't grimdorky.

04 March 2015

Maid RPG, of all things

You read that title right.

I successfully hosted a game of Maid: the RPG last Sunday. It was a strange and terrible thing.

Let me start by saying that I am not an otaku, or a weaboo, and I don't understand much about this strange anime-worshipping culture. I really don't. I don't see the appeal in discussing waifus or pillows emblazoned with anime girls or the obsession with pop music specifically from Korea or the prestige in watching cartoons specifically from one country of origin or the entertainment to be derived from arguing about one type of cartoon to the next.

I like Dragon Ball Z and Spirited Away and Samurai Champloo; I also like Aladdin and Wall-E and The Hobbit [1]. I like a lot of things. I don't see the need to obsessively devote yourself to one facet of entertainment; then again, I've squabbled over roleplaying systems for years now, so what do I know?

Anyways, since I don't understand or particularly like weeb stuff, I changed the setting. Instead of playing maids in a setting I don't understand, I decided they'd be playing temple attendents in a setting I do understand: the Fantasy Craft setting I'd been with them in for half a year now.

Instead of the Master, there was the High Priest- a 50ish year old sorcerer-priest.
Instead of the Mansion, they stood on holy ground; the great Temple and its Heart, always to be kept clean and in working order.
Instead of a maid uniform, they wore temple garb; robes, shoes, a hat, and a symbol of priesthood.

It worked pretty well, actually. The game itself is about attempting to flawlessly serve your master and be the "best maid" by accumulating the most favor, so it could ostensibly work for a number of settings; small military units, or pirate ships, or a necromancers' servants, or bureaucratic office drones or even standard adventuring parties, where the Party Leader is the master and the Mansion is the Dungeon and instead of keeping it clean they need to kill all the monsters and take all the loot.

The party dealt with:

1) Waking up late and a grumpy High Priest
2) Messing up the first attempt at a meal
3) A young temple attendant eating most of the food
4) A troublesome young lady who insisted on seeing the High Priest (who did not want to see her)
5) A surprise torture chamber discovery
6) One of the attendants (same one) playing with the implements and nearly getting a visitor hurt
7) Running out of bread and having to travel to the town to get food for the visitors before the High Priest finished his invocation
8) An irritating imp, who had to be abjured away
9) A dinner that was spilled on the ground and a small cake that was ruined

It was an eventful couple of hours! The rules are nice and simple and the action flowed, largely due to the way stress and abilities interact; every roll is 1d6 x your attribute and if you lose a conflict you take stress equal to their roll result divided by your attribute, so it really stacks up pretty quick and when you suffer your Stress Explosion (by getting more than your Will x 10 in stress), then for that many real-life minutes your maid must constantly be acting up. Some of them will become violent, some of them will race, some will go shopping... the list is tailored towards some sort of anime emulation but with a little inventiveness you can tailor the experience a bit more. I should have done that, now that I think about it.

So even though I know nothing about whatever sort of fiction it's supposed to be emulating, Maid RPG is a pretty tight little system, even if it is absolutely horribly written. [2] I'd play it again, but one of my regular players really wants to get back into Fantasy Craft, so we'll just dive back into Maid another time and see what happens at the end of the day!

[1] This one, please. Not that overblown ode to mediocrity that Peter Jackson produced.

[2] The "fluff" that takes up most of the pages is written by what I imagine to be some sort of 13 year old girl on a sugar rush from too much Pocky, one eye on Gaia Online and the other on Naruto. It's some of the worst published writing I've seen in my entire life and its purpose is a mystery to me. Nowhere in the lengthy fluff does it provide any useful examples of the matter at hand (which is simple enough not to need an example)- rather, it seems to be one long "session report" except that it is very clearly written by one person pretending to be multiple people. Did I mention it takes up more room than the rules do yet? Because it does. If you buy Maid RPG you are buying 1/3 fluff by volume, with the remaining 2/3s being largely random tables. If you cut out the tables and the fluff you are left with a one page RPG system.

09 February 2015

...and now I want to run DCC

I don't normally get what some people casually call "GM ADD." I've been running a FantasyCraft game for a couple of months now and it's going great. [1] The system isn't really ideal for my preferred type of play, and the system itself has some objective faults that are going to result in us dropping our characters and starting over from level 1, but that's part of the fun! It's nice to have a system that's broad enough that everybody has six or seven ideas, and it's fun to tinker in the system. It's broad but not too deep, and manages to scratch a neat character design itch without suffering too badly from ivory tower design.

And yet...

I read through the DCC PDF on a hunch. There was a good deal of fanfare about it back in the day and everybody who playtested it had positive opinions and house-rules out the ass for it. That's a good sign, in my book. Easily house-ruled systems are systems that are easy to make your own, and systems that inspire passion. Somehow, still, it passed me by. I continued on my GMing adventure, playing Dark Heresy (mediocre), 4th edition D&D (bad), Dungeon World (good), and 5th edition D&D (too early to tell).

The PDF absolutely floored me. First impression: This book is huge! There's no way that this book is as old-school as it says; it's got to be some sort of neo-grognard [2] 3.x influenced crap. Full disclosure: This impression lasted exactly one page. The Table of Contents is gorgeous. The Proclamations? Tone-setting. Tongue-in-cheek, intentionally pretentious, and hilarious. The introduction? Concise and helpful. The introduction text to the Character chapter? A scared looking and motley crew venturing into the dark with a torch, accompanied by text reminding all that you are not a hero, but "an adventurer, a reaver, a cutpurse, a heathen-slayer, a tight-lipped warlock." Beautiful.

But what really sold me was the funnel. What a perfect system! It immediately drives home the simplicity of generating characters, assures players that these characters will die, sets them on a task from which most of them won't come home, and immediately turns the survivors into level one characters. I could write an essay on the brilliance of this simple (and unique!) mechanic but I'll just be quick.

The really big reason that the funnel is so brilliant is three fold. Firstly, it's the first thing a new player will read. The second sentence in the chapter is "most of these characters will die." You are attempting to survive, and the survivors will be rewarded with a level. It tells you character death is not scary. You'll get over it.

Second, it requires players to use 3d6 but softens this by making multiple characters. You're not rolling 3d6 and dropping shit. You're playing the character, warts and all, and you have to do the best with what you've got. I've gotten into discussions (arguments) about this before and I stand by my point that random character generation is perfectly valid- and this game neatly side-steps anything by giving you a huge variety of choice and then letting you, the player, choose how you want to handle this. You can coddle your "favorites" and let the 1 HP ropemaker with 6 Luck stand in front and hopefully catch the arrow and let that 17 strength slave survive.

Third, you generate random gear and occupations! This leads you directly into making up stories for your characters and encourages clever use of items. When your cooper has a crowbar, barrel, and waterskin as their only possessions, you're going to try and roll the barrel onto people or throw it on their heads or hide in it because your other options are a)fight the skeleton that's marching towards you, b) run away, or c)stand there and hope it's friendly. It's beautiful.

I really enjoy each and every one of the classes, which is unusual. Clerics get a neat mechanic where each sequential casting is harder, and it straight up says "Do not use your powers in a way that would make your god mad or you'll suffer disfavor." There's a disapproval table, and as I found out reading through it, something like 75% of the book is actually tables. It has modifiers listed for trying to use divine power while not acting in the interest of the divinity, and rules for sacrificing material wealth for greater power. Turning unholy is one of my least favorite abilities in other editions (who gives a shit about undead specifically), but what you turn depends on your alignment. Lawful clerics are bog-standard, but Chaotic clerics turn angels and paladins and law-aligned humanoids, and Neutral clerics can turn animals, undead, monsters, lycanthropes, and aberrations! Neat!

Thieves get your basic old-school thief abilities, but it's very explicitly incredible. You can hide in broad daylight if you roll well enough! It's a nice balance between having a thief class and implying that only thieves can climb or steal or hide. You're better or worse at some of them depending on your alignment. Lawful theives are trap-springers and scouts, Chaotic theives are murderous thugs, and Neutral thieves are your classic stealermans. The chart is kind of hard to read but there are 13 skills so it's whatever. You only have to look at it when you level up.

Warriors get a "deed die" and better crit tables. Deed dice add to attack and damage, so you occasionally get mighty swings of momentum where you're hitting at +4 and really slam into that guy. You can also do "bonus effects" where if your Deed die is 3 or more then you can disarm people or push them over or break their things. It goes into detail with some example deeds. You eventually get more actions that you can use to do things, so a warrior's pretty deadly. Probably the "strongest" class to play, and it's nice that they're not just rolling to hit and standing there. They're a complex class in their own right, really.

Wizards are fantastic. Each spell is its own self-contained thing, and they are all weird. Learning spells requires you to do some gnarly stuff, sometimes, or cost you a lot of money, and rolling too low means that bad things happen to everybody around you and you might even get corrupted. I'm talking James Raggi / Warhammer Fantasy level badness. In addition, your spells all have bonus effects, called "mercurial magic," that happen every time you cast it. Some of them are almost cataclysmic! To compensate you can "spellburn," which involves a ritual where you do some seriously distasteful things. I'm not going to name them, at all, I'm just going to say that being a wizard makes you a strange, dangerous being to be around. Wizards have patrons you can call upon, not that you probably should. The whole class reads is kind of like that, really. Your party is going to yell at you for casting spells carelessly, and townspeople are going to accuse you of famines and curses everywhere you go.

Dwarves are basically warriors with shield bashing. They can smell gold, which is fun. Elves are allergic to iron, have patrons, and are basically wizard/warriors that are worse at either. Halflings are the strangest departure, in that they are really good at dual-wielding, sneaking, and being lucky. Looks like a fun class, though.

The skills page is one page and says "Roll d10 if you're not skilled at a thing, d20 if you are, +2 if you might be ok at it, and then compare to the DC." It's just 5/10/15/20 all the time, based on how hard it is for a normal human being to do it.

Equipment is short and sweet. Weapons are just sources of damage and are otherwise unremarkeable. Armor increases the badness of your fumbles, so if you're wearing plate mail you're rolling worse results on the fumble chart. Finally, a system were naked barbarian warriors makes sense!

Combat is simple as well. I'll probably forget to apply the combat modifiers but who cares, the real gem here is the crit table. There's one for 0th level characters/wizards, for thieves and halflings, for clerics and elves, and for warriors/dwarves. Wizards are getting lame crits and warriors get awesome ones. Mounted combat is nice and easy, and morale saves make a comeback! I love morale saves. Monsters should get scared and run, and intentionally fighting to the death should be an oddity.

There are three saving throws, which is odd. The one thing I don't miss about old-school games was having multiple saving throws, but at least there's luck, which can take the place of many things you'd use a unified saving throw for anyways.

Magic is detailed, with each spell having its own large chart with effects and drawbacks determined per-spell. It claims that trying to stay on the path of subtle benign magic generally results in longer-lasting mages but rolling a 1 on pretty much anything can doom you to suffer corruption. It's true that you'll generally suffer more minor drawbacks on elemental spells and enchantments but there's always a chance to suffer some corruption. There are ways to boost your spell checks beyond your normal casting die + stat bonus, but none of them are easy and many of them are dangerous.

The rest is Judge stuff which is neat, with the standout rule being the bit about experience. You determine how much encounters are worth after the fact, based on how much trouble they had with it, so that players are always encouraged to bite off a little bit more than they can chew, and no matter how easy an encounter "should have" been, they're rewarded proportional to the effort they expended.

Magic items are flavorful and neat, with rules on crafting them. They're available only to higher levelled characters [3], and usually involves some serious questing, weird components, and dark secrets. I love every word here.

The monsters table has charts to help you make your fantasy less predicteable and stat blocks for a bunch of generic monsters. You are encouraged to make your own and just kind of throw stuff out there. There's a couple of funny entries and a lot of great design on display here.

In summary: I love everything about DCC and as much as I like playing Fantasy Craft I absolutely want to play DCC, ideally right now, with my group. Every inch was lovingly designed by a team that really does understand old-school design and old-school fantasy. The art is beautiful and the book oozes with so much flavor that some of it spilled out of my monitor and is floating around my house. If you haven't read through it yet, you're missing out. I give DCC my absolute highest recommendation.

[1] We just got a couple new people and they are fitting in marvelously, to the point where sometimes we will talk on Skype for hours on end about nothing in particular. I tell them that they are one of my favorite groups to run for all the time, and I really mean it.

[2] It drives me nuts that people will sometimes claim to be grognards and play 3.X D&D. That is not how this works. If you are playing and prefer modern systems with modern expectations of game design or gameplay balance, you are not playing an old-school game and are diametrically opposed to the old-school style. I can't give my endorsement to this. I say this as a person who appreciates both new and old school philosophies, before anybody gets their undies in a knot. This is why I prefer to call myself an "old-school fan," if anybody ever asks.

[3] Another refreshing thing is the way that they specify that 5th level is pretty damn high and makes you a local legend at the very least. There's a chart that specifies how many of a given person would be around, and it repeats over and over that you're playing in a middle ages styled setting where everybody's illiterate and rumors (if there was any basis in truth) are wildly distorted and might not even make sense. Traveling over to the next city is interesting in its own right and going into the wilderness should be more than a little scary. It's really great stuff.

21 January 2015

On the Special Snowflake GM

If you haven't read through the "On the Special Snowflake Setting" by the irreplaceable Courtney Campbell, you should. He goes over a number of problems more eloquently than I would and I pretty much agree with every statement, so I'm not going to bother adding more.

I just want to offer some practical advice.

If you look, his examples start with "Does anybody have any feedback?" and that's a great question if your players are all comfortable with each other and have a reasonably open relationship. But not all games are like that, and not all people are like that. I've personally found that a lot of people I've ran games for have serious reservations about giving feedback for fear of "complaining" or "being negative." [1]

Far more effective for me than a blanket statement to the whole group is individually sought feedback. People that might not answer a call for "anybody's" feedback will almost certainly answer if you ask specifically for theirs.

A quick example of how both approaches play out for my current group:

DM: Does anybody have any feedback?
Players: ...
DM: ...Really, nobody has any feedback?
Joe: No, everything's good!
DM: There's really nothing you have to say? I'm completely open here, I'm looking to improve.
Steve: Well, yeah, what he said.
DM: Alright, well, see you next week, then!


Not exactly productive. But if you ask each player individually:

DM and Player A via IM
DM: So what did you think about last week's session?
Joe: Oh, it was alright. It was frustrating not being able to damage those guys, though. That one guy took like seven hits and was still alive! [2]
DM: Oh yeah, well, I did get a couple of lucky rolls and plus you know that kind of armor has damage resistance against your weapon type.
Player A: I guess, but still, it was frustrating, especially since they couldn't really damage me, either. You know that NPCs can also have Option X and Option Y...
Cue cooperative NPC creation theorycrafting

Or another example:
DM and Player B via IM
DM: Hey, what did you think about the session last week?
Steve: Oh yeah, it was fine.
DM: Just fine?
Steve: Yeah, I thought the story was going to be different- I created a character for Plot X and it ended up being Plot Y, and I'm not enjoying being in the jungle!
DM: What do you mean?
Steve: Well me and Player C are really urban, you know, like we're from cities and are used to grifting and stealing and partying and charming ladies and all that and that doesn't work with the jungle!
DM: Well, that's true, but you shouldn't be stuck there much longer! You did find that outpost, remember? And what did you mean about the plot thing? [3]

And so on...

The point is that, if you have a group like mine that won't give feedback in front of everybody, asking them in private what they're thinking about the game can get them talking.

If they still insist things are fine, you can suggest things that you're not personally happy with. Leading with a "I wish Charlotte would speak up more" or even something a bit self-deprecating, such as "I keep making the battles too easy!" or "I'm sorry the game's so slow, sometimes" can really let people know that it's ok to talk about the game and that you really are looking for criticism.

If they still insist things are fine after all that, maybe things are OK. Maybe they really are happy.

Or maybe you're such a bad GM that they don't feel like it's worth wasting their time giving you their opinion because you won't listen anyways. You're going to have to pay attention to see which it is and honestly if you've read this much, you at least have the right attitude.

[1]: Plus some players are just shy! I have a hell of a time convincing myself that my opinions are important or valuable, especially when everybody else seems to be fine with the way things are. But sometimes you end up on a trip to Abilene...

[2]: He'd become used to swinging his sword every turn (and indeed, built his character around it) and had a hard time thinking outside the box with another way to deal damage. He could have tripped, taunted, used the environment, or any number of other things... But in his defense, "sword attacks" had been working for him the whole time and he was just delaying while the rest of the party dealt with the archers on the flanks. I'm not sure what either of us could have done differently, knowing what we know. Each turn I was thinking "You're not getting anything done, do something else!" and he was thinking "I haven't done anything yet but this next blow could be the one- I'll just keep at it!"

[3]: I said "roll up characters that are leaving their home for some reason- you're going to be starting on a ship travelling across the sea," and one guy said "like Morrowind?" I replied "Kinda, I guess," and I had meant just "can't go home; must go forwards" but none of them went with that angle in their backstories- 2 of them ended up on the boat by accident, 1 was a self-exiled wandering-warrior daughter of nobility, and 1 of them was an amnesiac priest looking to do good, and 1 of them was a quiet street rat running from the law. So I scrapped it, because by all of them creating characters with links to their old world they have indicated that their character's homeland is still very much important to them. It actually turns out I was right, as when I told them the cultures of this new land they all immediately decided they wanted to be one of them, and one of my players actually helped me flesh out his characters' homeland because, so we spent a very pleasant two or so hours hashing out all of that.

13 January 2015

For Lack Of A Game

I have not played a game in two weeks! This is not for lack of wanting, but because two of my players have been busy and then also some of my other players are unreliable! [1] This would make me upset except that I have been filling the space with many other things!

I have been reading webcomics!

Some people binge on seasons of their television shows. [2] Pshaw! Child's Play! You ought to be binge-reading webcomics!

"Webcomics," scoffs the cinemaphile, "are the last resort of the failed artist, and are nothing more than the chortling playthings of insular dudebros who write about video games!"

That's mostly true! But not all of them. Nimona, for example, is about a shapeshifting girl who teams up with a supervillain to topple a heroic Institution that's not quite what it seems! Hemlock is about a witch with a checkered past in a darkly Scandinavian fairy-tale world! Hark, A Vagrant, for all two of you who haven't read this, is a fanciful retelling of history's most interesting stories, told in the silliest way possible! Nedroid is, like Seinfeld, a comic about nothing. Just kidding! It's about Beartato and Reginald the bird (?) and their adventures through silliness! I've been reading Kid With Experience, an autobiographical comic about the charming Jess Fink! I've been reading other things, too, that I can't remember! [3]

Nimona has a short temper for many things

I have been reading actual things!

Mother Night is a fantastic book, and it's odd reading Welcome To the Monkey House because it's all snippets of stories I'd read online "somewhere" and had completely forgotten about, because Kurt Vonnegut gets reprinted everywhere, endlessly, and for good reason. He's probably as good an author as America can ever produce and if somebody from another country said "what are Americans like, anyways, your television shows are all weird" then they should read some Vonnegut because we haven't changed from the 1960s nearly as much as we like and some of his stories are set much later than that anyways, thank you.

Also good is "FILM CRIT HULK," because when Hulk is talking about movies, Hulk is actually talking about stories, and stories are literally what every human being lives for. Hulk is talking about you and me and life itself, and when you can get past the stylization and unique voice you're finding a person who knows and loves very deeply and passionately. Reading Hulk is like being hugged in your brain. It's a blog, go read it now.

Girls Read Comics is fantastic, in that it got me to consider my previously-unconsidered views on the absurd sexism in comics! I'd never much liked the female superheros common in most Marvel or DC offerings, excepting Black Canary and Hawkwoman [4] in Justice League Unlimited- they were such weak and boring characters. They never did anything exciting or had interesting back stories and just kind of stood around in the back. Even Wonder Woman was like this! I wondered how anybody could be a fan of these women. And then, reading Girls Read Comics I realized that they were boring because their authors were sexist idiots and they always stood in the back because they were supposed to play second fiddle to the "important men" that stood in the foreground and suddenly everything clicked!

I've been playing games!

Tabletop games with my brother! It's pretty cool. My wife isn't as big a board game enthusiast and doesn't like playing them via computer so I'm usually about out of luck, but my brother is a big fan and he's here so we've been going all out.

We've played Darkest Night, which is a decent but flawed game I'll probably review in more fullness later. I want to like it, but it's slow and grinding and really, really random and there's just not enough meat on the game for me. There's a lot of bits and bobs but the game isn't delivering it for me.

A real surprise was Death Angel Space Hulk, which he picked out at random and it turned out to be great. You're Space Marines clearing out this half-wrecked spaceship that's full of vicious aliens, and you're marching ever onwards through corridors while blasting everything and doing your best not to die. It's complex at first but that's just because everything is symbols. It is smooth as hell in play and a really slick design.

Seriously, look at this! Onirim, you done good.
Onirim is a simple card game that is all about hand management and set collection. Your objective is to explore this dream realm and use a key to open doors, or to play three symbols of the same color in a row. Getting in the way are Nightmares, which can slow down or reverse your progress, and your own awful luck. You can pick through your deck using keys, but it's risky, as you're also thinning your deck at the same time. Works great as a solo game, probably alright for two players too. Did I mention it's beautiful? [5]

7 Wonders is a fun civilization building game. There's a dummy with two players, but I find that it actually adds to the depth. This is another one I'll be writing more about in the future, since it's a fairly big game. Smooth in play, slightly Byzantine scoring, great art. Only played one and a half times, so we'll see if it's got longevity.

Red Orchestra: Rising Storm isn't a board game but it is a video game about World War 2. The really cool part is that it's not a big and macho game where it's this big manly heroic thing, it's a really realistic game where you're scrabbling through foliage only to get shot by a guy you didn't see and then you respawn and next life you're machine-gunned down while you're running for cover and then next life you're pinned by machine gun fire and you can hear somebody running and you hope it's backup but nope! It's an IJA and he bayonets you and your squad leader! And for what? To lay claim to a bit of land in the middle of a bombed-out and ruined village on an island nobody's heard of. Really great stuff.

That's it, I guess!

This was really long but a lot of fun to write and it's nice to look back at what I've been doing and realize that I'm not completely wasting my time even if I'm not working on something or (some days) even leaving the house. Life is grand and everything is good.

Oh, hey, if you have any recommendations for good webcomics or board games, let me hear them, because I need to put more things in front of my eyeballs and inside my brain. Thank you very much, and goodnight!


[1] If any of you are reading this, I mean that your attendance is unreliable in general. You are all very good at telling me that you won't be there, but it is unpredictable. This means that the net effect is that when I look at my calendar I can't predict when you'll be around and when you won't. You're all beautiful people.

[2] I do too, actually. Me and my wife would watch entire seasons of Futurama, Scrubs, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, True Blood (don't judge me), and on one particularly cozy afternoon/evening, Adventure Time. I guess you could call watching Band of Brothers or The Pacific "binging" but the goddamn episodes are like an hour long each and they're really emotionally draining. At least the Pacific is. If you're looking to join any part of the military that has anything to do with being anywhere near combat you should watch that show and then think about whether or not you'll be there. I'm not saying my experience was nearly as bad as that show, obviously, but for some people it probably was.

[3] There have been a lot, seriously! You don't have to read tripe like Penny Arcade or whatever Buckly's B^U comic is called. Real-life comics can be funny and sexy and highbrow and don't just have to be jokes about dicks and video games featuring talking heads or capes and neither do webcomics! (And if you like that sort of thing that's fine too, I'm just sayin' there's more out there)

[4] Black Canary was always so cool because she'd be off doing her own thing, in a normal-ass costume, beating up punks and showing up at random moments like "oh damn Black Canary, what are you doing here!" And then the Huntress is like "You should join the Justice League!" and Black Canary says "Nah, it'll just cramp my style," and then BC leaves, presumably to go kick more villains in the mouth. What a great character! And then Hawkgirl was neat because she was from ancient Egypt or whatever and she actively rebuked her wanna-be husband/lover because he was awful to her, and she didn't need him around for anything because she was with a dude who respected him. And she always wanted to smash things. She smashed the crap out of things like, all the time. Although now that I'm reading the webpage it turns out she was just a pawn of her husband and then she betrays everybody and then re-betrays everybody and I guess she isn't that cool in the later episodes. Well, bummer.

[5] Why are "dreams" such an underused concept for games and media, anyways? The only things I can think of that use it as a theme are Onirim, LSD Dream Simulator, and the role-playing game Lacuna. At least Inception got people thinking about that sort of thing, even if nothing really happened about it except that people talk about dreams-within-dreams sometimes if it comes up. That reminds me, I need to figure out lucid dreaming some day.

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...