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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

For the Love of Random Madness

I have taken a break from Shards of Thibral, just a bit of tie to get some space and some air, so I can look at the game from a fresh direction next week.

The rest of this post is a decent into gamer madness.. enjoy.
Part of this break has to do with on singular and innocent post from a friend of min.
He posted “I love charts.” while we were discussing old school games in general after one of our 2nd edition games.
Whit his post in my mind I dug around on my portable hard drive and found PDF copy of
“The Tomb of Adventure Design” http://froggodgames.org/tome-adventure-design by Matthew J Finch.
I totally want to buy a copy of the dead tree version, and I likely will as soon as I can.

I digress, the book is collection of random charts for everything. You want random towns and cities, in there, you want random swamps sure. Random adventure plots? Sure! You want a random spell sure, you name it it's likely in there. It really is a fun useful well done book, I highly suggest it.

Whats not in there? Random characters and a system that works with them. That's where I went over the edge.

Sounds stupid right? It just might be. Regardless over the weekend I spent an inordinate amount of time typing up and reworking a game revolving around an inordinate amount of randomness.

Random stats rolled in order old school grognard style, check.
Random character age,check.
Random careers that the character had before they were adventurers, sure.
Random weapons why the hell not.
Random Personal connections, OK sure.
Random classes with random class abilities, I guess so.
The distinct possibility of your character having a tentacle growing off his back because one of his past careers was “magical test subject,” yeah that could happen.

So tie that to some dubious dice mechanics and some rather over the top critical fumble tables (one of the critical fumbles starts with ("DAMN your eye popped out") and you can see the reason why my blog has been quiet for the past two days.

Add to this silliness that I have been trying to glue a role playing shell over this somewhat insane frame. A process that makes me even crazier because I can't just make a bunch of charts and crap and not try to have them lead to stories. You can probably imagine I have been running this stupid thing though my head for the past few days.

For you fine folks who read read this Blog, I'm going to share one of the first test characters rolled up for this as yet unnamed mash up. 
(The Working title has been "Amazing adventurers incredible exploits!" or (AAIE!))

Again everything is random but the name
Renford Bern
Middle aged human (three careers)
Careers:
Used to be a Boyer (gets bow skill)
Used to be a Thieves guild Mule (Underworld connection) (light weapon skill)
Used to be a Carpenter (gets another light weapons skill and +5 focus pool)
Stats
Brawn 2
Athletics: 2
Resolve: 4
Academics: 2
Knowledge: 4
Focus: 3
Leadership: 3
Attractiveness: 4
Mysticism: 6 
Resolve pool: 20
Focus Pool: 15 + 5 = 20
Myst pool: 30 
Underworld connection: Festering Bozz who owns a mysterious book
light weapons
Dagger. 1D4 dmg
punch blade Perk 2x attacks 1d4 dmg
Ranged weapon
Sling 1d4 dmg

Armor half plate 11+ 2(brawn) = Armor score 13

Class Preist
Diety: Kreigscott "The wolf of Smoke" (random Deity for the win)

Level 1 Ability : Holy weapon
Difficulty 20 -focus = 17
Normal success x2 damage vs undead
cost 1d6 focus pool plus one per additional round of duration.
Perk1 distract,
Perk2 2x attack,
perk3 stun,
critical x2 duration
Fumble the holy weapon explodes hurting anyone near for 1d10.


If I ever get it done enough to really play I will let you folks know how it goes.

Well thank you fore reading about my obsessive lack of control when it comes to games.

Do any of you have any much loved random chat for a game?
Let me know

I hope you enjoyed.




Sunday, January 26, 2014

Dungeons and Dragons turns 40, DIYers owe a debt

Happy 40th birthday to Dungeons and dragons.
No matter if you are a grognard from the tan box days, or started with red box like I did, If you Like your D&D with an “A” in the front or a “3” at the tail, if you are a rabid 4th edition love or are desperately waiting for dungeons and dragons Next, we all owner the original a debt.

For me I think the thing I owe the most to D&D for is the starting of the largest do it yourself hobby the world.

Before D&D people read stories and played games, after D&D people played games to make stories. What seems plain now 40 years latter was indeed a sea change. The game is simply the framework the content, that you do your self. The DM sits down with the players and they create the content. What you used to buy in a book, you are now doing yourself, sharing with others, laughing over and remembering. No other hobby, you could argue outside of the inherent drama of sports, does that. Role playing games are inherently do it yourself and they inspire people to keep creating and innovating all the time.

A side line of this are all the games to follow, and all the D.Y.I. Lunatics who wrote them. The hobby did not exist before 40 years ago, D&D innovated it. For those of us who enjoy writing games, we all owe a debt to the original. Even if your design goal is to stay as far away from D&D as humanly possible.

So even though it's become pretty popular to kick the old girl around on the internet, lets not forget 40 years on where this all comes from. If no one ever thought of adding some personality to their war-game it's a distinct possibility no one would have ever had tunnels dug by trolls, debated “if system matters”, written Dogs in the Vineyard, kept a system alive with Pathfinder, changed the game with FATE, on, and, on, and on.
There could be no O.S.R, without old school.

Happy Birthday D&D!
Moving forward I wish The publishers only the best of luck with NEXT. In all seriousness a strong D&D is always positive for the hobby as whole.

I am going to end with some links to things that may or may not be loosely related to this post.

Have a great day

Thank you for reading.


The linkage:
Note I could post links all day to great games, but here is just a quick set of links referring to the things I mentioned above.

Compendium of free Role paying games from across the internet and acrossed RPG history. This list is almost entirely games created by those devoted DIYers. Why not find one that interests you and give it a spin..Price is right.

I referenced  Dogs in the Vineyard So here is a link to it.

I mentioned Ron Edwards essay "System Does Matter" Here is a link. Almost 10 years on it's almost as popular on the internet to kick this essay around as it is to whump on various editions of D&D. Read it for yourself.

I mentioned FATE as well.

My favorite of the "Old School Renaissance" games Dungeon Crawl Classics

This might be my new thing.... 13th Age ... I just bought the PDF, and am impressed so far

Mike Evans sums it up this way
Here is Mike Evans Page

Ohh yeah Tunnels and Trolls ... Old school as a old school

Runequest and Glorantha from back in 1978 is also old school as a motha f... Hush your beak.






Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Righteous Might, tempered by the system.

        For this post I think A bit about my personal relationship with the 4thEd of Dungeons and Dragons would be a great place to start, for clarity. We had at some point converted our 2edAd&D game over to third and soldiered on (lost some players in the transition). Like a lot of gamers at the time the group I game with were pretty embroiled in a 3rd Ed game when the 4th Ed dropped. My friend Jay and I were riding home after a game and had a conversation that ended in something like, “no way I am buying new books, lets just keep doing what we're doing, or why not write out one damn game.” From that conversation our game Phase abandon was born and D&D of any color was left behind for a few years. In turn we both bought the first D&D 4th Ed players book, but more as a curiosity than anything we planned on playing. We tried it once, and put it on the shelf. We had our game Phase and we were fine with that.
That's the history.

This is the now:
With our recent AD&D second edition old school revival game up and running, Jay said, “Hey while we are at it why not give this 4th edition a chance too?”

So recently I 've embarked on my first ever real D&D4th ed game.
I will play anything, and I have no interest or stake in “edition wars.” I have been enjoying playing in our 4th edition game as much as I have been enjoying running the 2nd edition game. (In short don't come to me with “version this VS edition that, ” I wont bite.)
calm down , no they're not.

      My 4th edition character is pretty straight forward , a large weapon fighter, scandalizing in great sword, called Armed Sage Oka. He is a brave good aligned warrior with middling stats and all the combat abilities that come with a first level Fourth edition fighter. So far however he feels kind of empty to me.

Here is my thought and it ties into some discussions I have had with the readers of this blog.
     My vision for Oka is a sort of two handed sword wielding traveling sage. Going from town to town, offering to help solve problems and dispensing some wisdom along the way. Its a very simple sketch of an idea I have a lot of room to grow the character. Why does he travel? Where did he get his outlook on life? Who the hell is he any way?
I have to deliver this information to the GM who if he can fit it in, will give me a bit of time and space to explore the character, while doing the same for the rest of the party.

Unfortunately, unless our GM feels the need to reward you (a totally personal preference) there is no intrinsic reward in the system for being a traveling sage. The game does not care who your damn character is, it only cares that you are a first level fighter with a 16 strength, wearing scale male. (mind you he would not even wear scale mail except that the role of a fighter is to take hits and if Oka had on anything less.. Like robes, Oka would be dead already) The game could care less, who your character knows, who your character travels with, What your characters intentions are, or what the character's future plans might be.
By way of example, in our last game we saved a villager from a cave where he was held captive by some goblins. We killed some goblins we did some role play, when the villager said “There are more people down there, the goblins took seven of us!” one of the other players instantly said, “I stab the villager in the face with my spear!” Mind you we were playing on role 20 so no one say his sheet (except the GM) and no one could just shoot him a look, be we all let out a group, “You Fuckingwhaaa?”


The player logic, that his character is Neutral evil, there is no way his character is going to risk himself for this ass hat farmer, or his friends, or the party for that matter, and while he’s at it he does not want this guy going back to town and saying those guys saved me but abandoned the rest of the villagers!” so the best thing to do was leave no witnesses, hence stab him in the face. 


Here is where I think the game (and many games) falls down a bit. I don't blame the player in fact he was plying his alignment, and honestly I could nit pick his actions from the game for a page or two, but it would be counter to the point. He was doing what he thought he should do from a Character standpoint. Many games have no framework for the party, his character has no loyalty to the party, in fact it's only our third game, we have no group history. Worse he has no reason to want loyalty to the party, none. Would this little bit of tension be avoided if we had built the characters together as a party at inception? Had we known the whole “neutral evil” bit before hand, honestly we would have asked him to change it, but that's not exactly fair to the player either. The game does not account for the unspoken social contract of “we're the good guys” It's unspoken and he never picked up on it , it's not really his fault. Does the game give the party any mechanical reason to be cohesive unit? Anything besides the fact that there are combat specific roles that the games suggests each party have covered? (controller, defender, striker and so on.) If a mechanical benefit of having an actual party of characters was around would It slow down some of the instances of inter party strife that make for such great blog posts?
Great blog posts: Like this one !



To conclude the thought I want to reiterate I am not saying that any particular types or styles games can't be fun, they can. The fact I play them at least three times a week right now is as much proof of that as I need. I think however, that a lot of the famous RPG problems people like to bat around, like bogged down combat, GM railroading, repetitive fetch quests, and the like could be solved if the game system simply put the Characters mechanically front and center rather than the charter’s stat blocks.

As always thank you for reading , comments and shenanigans welcome!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Playtesting, Better than staring at a document for days.

We play tested Shards of Thimbral once again this morning.
 I feel that we made some good progress so lets break it down.

We started with character creation, each player making a completely new character and a new party. 
Character's were Edward a blacksmith whose goals were to expand his foundries and to reforge the hammer of Vulcan.
And Blake who is a noir detective type whose goal is to find the murderer “Europe Malloy.”

Their group connection was Blake is helping Edward find the parts of Vulcan’s hammer.
The party connection is they are both members of tinkerers guild.

As the Gm I choose reforge the hammer of Vulcan and find the murdered Europe Malloy as the starting goals to use as kickers.

Edward's player had mentioned that he had a foundry on an island named DelFracked so we started there.

This is the first time we had tried the new “chapter” system in-which the gm gets a pool of d6's called “response dice.” After a player rolls back a die to take an action, if the GM wants to narrate a response the GM must roll back one of his response dice.
When all of the response dice are rolled back to zero the chapter comes to a close. It is a simple mechanic that gives the GM and the player's some control over how long the games focus stays on one set of goals.

For this game we choose to have 5 GM dice for the first chapter, and off we went.


After some descriptions of the foundry and the surroundings a representative of the tinkers guild showed up with a map that he thought might lead to one of the pieces of the hammer of Vulcan. Edward naturally jumped at the map.  Blake soon came to realize the map is a red herring the cave marked on the map is simply a distraction and that  a neighboring smaller island may have a better chance to contain the cave they are looking for.
At this point Edward's player invoked his “I am best at finding things” talent, which after the game we realized should be way more specific. Like “I am best at finding things using my deductive skills”, or “I am best at finding things at a crime scene.”

The two agreed to check out the second island and rented a skyship to travel there while avoiding the expedition already at the cave marked on the map.

Once at the island the boat could not get close enough for the characters to disembark due to jungle overgrowth. It became clear the character's would have to climb up some hanging vines to get to the surface.

from http://jackscrap.files.wordpress.com/ his pic and it's agood one.



This was our first impasse and the players built their dice pools pretty quickly. This game was also the first game where the dice pools were limited to 5 dice, a change didn't seem to make any huge difference from a play perspective.
Edward built his pool using his physical approach and his skill “strong grip” and Blake used purely his physical approach to build a smaller die pool.

I set the difficulty and the number of success by writing them on a piece of paper and placing it face down in front of my Gm position.
Blake started and dialed back a die describing himself moving deftly from vine to vine, I rolled back a response die to let Blake know that as he is moving the vines are very wet and slimy making it hard for him to keep his grip.

Edward relied on his strong grip to hoist himself up the vines, rolling back on point of his skill to describe his climb, I again used a response die to describe him rousting a lizard like bird that was roosting behind the vines it flew out screeching in face and trying to make him lose his grip. Blake continued his climb rolling back a die to describe himself dealing with the slippery vines and avoiding the bird things. Blake took the chance to use his strong grip to hold on with one hand an wail the crap out of a bird with his hammer.
I rolled back a response die to describe how he hit the first bird and it's screeching stirred up two more from behind the vines.

Edwards player decided to cash in the TEST.
I turned over the difficulty / successes number and he had plenty of successes to pass the test and described himself hurrying to the top. Blake decided that was a good idea and described himself fighting off the last of the birds and hauling himself up over the lip and onto the island.

They earned some experience and no harm was done.

The character continued through the jungle working their way towards a hill and clearing in the interior.
Once they arrived they found a crashed airship when examined they found it was named the Mary MacGeth and the damage done to to seems to have not stemmed from a crash but from some kind of attack on the ground. Infact Edward found large tooth wedged into the wood near a hole in hull, denoting some kind of large animal had attacked the boat.

They continue to explore the wreckage of the Mary MacGeth when the whole ship begins to tremble, the characters run to the deck and see a huge slug like creature with a tentacled toothy maw, sis black eyes, and two trunk like legs jutting from it's fore area .

This triggered another impasse, Edward went with his intellect bolstered by some physical skills. While Blake went with a pure and very powerful physical approach, managing to stack several skills for the encounter.
This was a decent fight so I wrote down a high difficulty level and number of success. From here things got messy.
Edward decided to try and find a cannon on the ships deck, and he did, but it was not loaded, he worked on that problem as the slug hammered the ships deck to pieces. Blake jumped on the creatures back and began trying to punch it's eyes out.
It was like this with ummm more eyes, and some elephant legs, and err slime.


This was a long encounter and from a play testing perspective a good one. In game mechanic terms I used a lot of my pool of response dice and the players dialed back quite a bit. Blake proved to get more actions without risk in a purely physical encounter, Edward was not quite as formidable. In the end Edward lost two dice from the encounter, and the party earned quite a pile of experience from the whole crazy affair.

In narrative terms the players described some great actions. Blake punched out two eyes and tried to muscle the slimy beast into a good position for Edward to shoot it. He also picked up a cannonball and chucked it at the slug thing underarm fast pitch softball style. Edward managed to piece together a cannon and shoot the giant slug just as the ships bow tipped over, putting a hole right through the giant worm-slug-mole thing. Mucus and slime were pretty much everywhere, and the thrashing slug gave Edward quite a slap on the way into the cave.

Once in the cave they found that it was the worms slime coated tunnel, however as they moved into the darkness they saw a glow. They discovered that the burrowing worm, had uncovered a buried workshop of some kind containing a still operating forge, and a vault.

Edward set to dismantling the vault door after realizing the lock mechanism was somehow linked to the forge making it grow in heat every time he failed to input a proper combination.
Mechanically Edwards player bought back one of his two lost dice using party experience and built a formidable dice pool to dismantle the lock.

Meanwhile Blake hung back.

This was also an interesting impasse, system wise , Edward had a nice pool of dice to describe what he was doing with little or no real risk. But Blake had much less of a pool to apply to the situation.


After discussing the game post play we decided it should have been split into two impasses one for each player (you will read why in a second) so that Blake could use his appropriate dice rather than being hampered. We will try this approach next game.

Narrative wise it came down like this, as Edward worked the lock, the forge started to belch out small “fire children” who when Blake smashed them would split into two smaller fire children. It was only through melting vault parts into the  creatures that Blake managed to stop them by inefect welding them in-place. In the end he used Edwards metal hammer to seal the front of the forge shut (destroying the hammer) just as Edward opened the vault.
hit this guy , you get two ... how fun.


I was out of response dice so we wrapped up the chapter. Edward found a piece of the hammer of Vulcan, in the vault and they traveled back to the ship. Once they arrive where the ship should have been,  they found it gone, they could see it off in the distance flying the flag of Europe Mallory's trading company, leaving our heroes stranded.

T.B.C. (or not we will likely make new characters again for a new test.. but ..)

What did I learn from this.

First of all the game as written can yield a heck of a story, BUT.

The first but is that the players have to want to create a heck of a story:
If the players only goal is to get from point a to point b, finish the goal and get out then that's what will happen. The players have to buy into the system, and there is no way to force that buy in mechanically. If the players choose not to do very much they will not get anything in the way of experience, and they will likely think the “game” is boring. It is in effect very easy to start an impasse put out a dice pool then say “ok I do this impasse over!” My players did not do that, but I could see someone who does not quite “get it” doing just that and thinking the system is broken, when in fact they are not  using the system.
I need to make very sure I put into words the hows and whys of the impasse system so that it's not misunderstood. When two players buy into it (like they did today) it creates a cracker of an adventure.

Second but:
I need a “simple” one die impasse.
Something that mirrors the function of “make a strength check” in dungeons and dragons. I see no reason to ask the players to come up with a dice pool to resolve finding their car keys. As stated above I am thinking a “simple” Impasse where only one die is involved is the way to go . It's straight forward and does not change the basic die mechanic. That will be in the mix next time.

Things that aren't buts....
Character generation went well. It was fast (if we cut out the chit chat but who wants to...) The start of the game using goals as kickers , places on the character sheets as starting areas, and NPC's culled from the characters goals and connections really went well. The characters felt rooted and part of the setting right from the offing.

The response dice tied to the length of the chapter really worked out well. The gm turning dice to inject elements into the players narratives, drove the players to turn their dice and answer the gm's new elements and made them take even more risks. Which is exactly what the game wants. Furthermore it put a good limit on how long the chapter could go. If we had played a second chapter I would have switched up the goals we were working towards and simply continued.

All in all, our play test went well, and things are moving along. I think the basic system is nailed. Now I just have to make things more clear and do some open testing. I really want to test it as a player very soon.
There will be more to come, plenty of work to do .

Thank you for reading , questions and comments are welcome.



Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Genre Touchstones indicate launching off points, not unoriginal ideas


The other day I read this:
Over at Dyver's campaign's blog.
I read a lot of the articles on Dyver's, the sheer volume of posts that Charles puts out is pretty amazing, I highly suggest his blog it's well written and entertaining. But that plug is besides the point.

The article is about being original, and generally boils down to no one writes adventures or games or anything really in a vacuum. It's almost impossible to be wholly original. Everyone is influenced in some way by their precursors. I totally agree.

I am going to add my own input as a dovetail to what he already wrote so well.

I think being less than original is a benefit to the players and the game as a whole.
In our hobby there are touch stones. Examples could include Tolkein, Lieber, Lovecraft, and a many other authors. More recently the works of the hobby progenitors, such as Dragonlance, Blackmoor, Forgotten Realms and the like can be sighted as influences a generation of gamers grew up with.
(Lest I forget Sky realms of Jorune, how cool was that?)

When I describe an Orc in my game, I am sure each player at the table has a different view of orc in their minds eye. One might be thinking of a a green skin pig faced warrior like say Games workshop's interpretation, or a savage twisted warrior which has been represented in recent films. In the end they all trace back some how to the subhuman brute represented in The Lord of The Rings trilogy. 

I don't go through the trouble of re inventing the wheel with orcs in the name of being original.
Same can be said for Zombies, dragons and any number of fantasy game tropes.

Where I am going with my point is this. Using terms and imagery from sources common in your chosen genre, helps keep every one on the same page, and provide some context for what ever insanity the GM injects next. With out that context things can get pretty sketchy if not handled with a light touch.

Originality comes form how those touchstone images and concepts are used.
Take Mike Evans “Hubris” campaign setting:
I have linked to his work  on this blog before, why? I link to it because I think what he is up to is really cool. He is taking (from my observations, If I am wrong I apologize) symbolism, imagery and concepts form all over mythology and gaming and knitting them together into a very original and cool setting. Only an ass hole would look at what he is doing and say , “Gorgons huh? You took that from clash of the titans right?" His shit is different and original even if the concept of  a “Gorogon” is not.

When as GM's we introduce an idea into our game it doesn't matter if The Simpsons did it on episode 354 “Thank God, It's Doomsday” as long as once we put that idea on the table we do something original with it. We use the touchstone imagery much as Mike Evans has, as a springboard to the awesome.

Hope you enjoyed the blog, 
Thank you for reading,
Comments as always are welcome.



PS: (For the record the original map of my long standing fantasy campaign Aleria was a direct rip off of middle earth but WTF I first drew it in Jr. High school. Also J.R.R. with all due respect never had a flying ship with it's whole gnome crew hung dead and rotting by necks off the deck rail by a Mindflayer mage, and at one point, in my game that was a thing.)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Old blog posts still ripe with value.


I was looking at my blog posts and got to thinking, “very rarely do I ever look back in other people’s blogs.”
I think I will start, and encourage everybody to the same when they get a chance.

If I have one problem with the “Blogosphere” in general it’s that old posts tend to get buried, and then relegated to a drop down menu list of entries off in the right margin right some place. Furthermore the most recent five posts are always shown, leaving a regular reader no reason to scroll down to see what’s lurking at the bottom of the blog. (How many of you have seen my tag cloud? Or list of most popular posts?)   A busy blog where there are posts every day or even more than that could have some great content lurking just out of view.

With that in mind I promise that next time visit any blog, I’m going to peruse the back log of posts to see if there is any thing great that I missed.

Any adventure worth his salt knows some times you have to dig deep for the good stuff!

And with that in mind I’m going to drop links back to three of my older posts, ones that I like, from before I started actively promoting this blog.
I hope you enjoy!




As usual thank you for reading and drop me a line!

Mark

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Active gaming causes game design questions, Stalls progress



Lately I have been in a complete stall with my Shards of Thimbral project. This blog which I intended to use as a backbone and support for that project, has been ranging widely around the world of RPG's. Meanwhile and I have not been making much progress on the game.
Yeah that about covers it.
I hit a place just before Thanksgiving , where I need to play the game a lot to iron out kinks. The holidays came everyone got busy and I have not been able to recover my stride quite yet.

Add to this I have been second guessing my design. I’m not sure my original design decisions are leading me down a path that will take me to the game I want to create. It's an odd place to be because I am generally very confident about my design decisions and while I think the ideas I have are strong, I have this nagging feeling that I am missing some important element. 


I have a strong feeling that I will answer my own nagging questions once I start play testing again and can get a e more games under my belt just to see what's working and what is not.

On the upside I have been playing a lot more lately that I was a few months ago. My old school D&D 2nd ed game is plugging along, we are doing a 4th ed dungeon crawl, and playing Numenera regularly.

Some of the things that I am finding fun and interesting about these games are the exact things that are making me question my own game design. Numenera is a very traditional role playing game wrapped in modern games design robes. Playing it makes me think about the uses of skill checks random rolls in a more narrative wrapper. Shards of Thimbral eliminates random risk, but should I? Is controlled risk less fun at the table?
do I really want to do a controlled burn of all my work so far?


Another thing I have been pondering is that the die mechanic for Shards of Thimbral could lead to any impasse turning into something drawn out. As it stands this would be completely in the hands of the players, I don't want the phrase “The goblin guard leaps from the shadows!” to turn into a half hour back and forth narration. I need to account for that kind of thing in a solid mechanical way. One way being, like Numenera has, is to bring resolution back to a more traditional model. To do so would  mean a revision of all my design goals for the project.

That's what on my mind at the moment.

Here are some of my current inspirations:


Questions and comments welcome!



Friday, January 10, 2014

Designing an adventure, matters of style, Art, and Falling towers.

Designing an adventure, matters of style, and falling towers.


Adventure design is a personal art. I use the term art with purpose. It's telling that everyone does it differently and that a hundred GM's could take the same subject and wind up with a hundred different adventures.

Art: (according to Merriam Webster's) The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

OK, so that is a bit off my point but still “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination,” definitely applies to the topic.

I have a very defined method for creating my adventures game to game. This method comes from years of habit, laziness and problem solving. I am going over it here only to start a discussion about what other peoples processes are like, not to say (DO IT MY WAY HEATHEN!)
The Heathen count around here makes Mr. Goat happy


Step one: Story Arc.
I figure out the overarching story as to what's going on behind the scenes. This might be at the level of the player characters or way out of their depth , it doesn't matter at this point.
I have a very hard time writing one shot games or stand alone side quests. As a point of fact I 'm terrible at it. I find a quick story arc even if it is one sentence gets my feet grounded as I work on an adventure idea, so that I know the world and the player characters place in it, even if they don't right away.

By way of an example a game we started then moved away from a few months ago started simply with: “The merchants of Dairhouse are trying to squeeze the people of Torin out of the Fur trade.” With that I could start to build a starting point and move forward.

The most important part of this is to remember if the players ignore, don't catch onto, or dismiss the story arc, keep it moving in your head, have it bear fruit. If the characters would rather open a bar than face down the un-dead legions moving into town, so be it, but eventually there will be a litch stopping by for drinks and as they say, "the shit will be waist deep and tauntaun warm."

Step two: The hook, The hook can be touchy. That first adventure, where everyone kind of looks at the gm and their eyes say “Ok what do you have this time?”
This is the tipping point, I say most games live or die on the that first session. I know this is an aside but I think my work on Phase Abandon (our groups house rules or as I like to call it The best game no one plays) and a lot of my work on Shards of Thimbral boils down eliminating this tipping point moment to one degree or another.


The hook is “character level” sensitive, regardless of the system being used, powerful characters are not going to be grabbed by an overabundance of rats in the sewers. When I brainstorm the first session I think of the power level of the party, I have to give them something they can handle something they can invest in. In my last game it was bands of wolves raiding one local farm. The party was low level, and they can scare off some wolves, they have a Druid and an elf-ranger in the group that would want to know about the behavior of these wolves. It was enough to get the characters out of the inn and into the fields.

3, The Physical thing: Writing things down, (maps, charts, and the rest.)
I am SO bad at this, I take notes, in a notebook, I scribble, I draw, and I pretty much make a ham handed job out of the whole thing. So many times I have made adventure maps with notes and details, and frankly the characters blow the damn thing up any way. I hardly ever use written encounters and if I do, the entry in my notes will be something like “Orcs leading ogres shackled and pissed, will swing chains at everything.” Not exactly a stat block.
 I know some of my players read this blog and I might be tipping my hand too far, but they know as well as I do, players will piss gasoline on any grand plans a GM makes, then toss matches, in a library when one is available.

(side Story: crushing a masterwork one brick at a time)
A great example of being over planned: Another DM whose game I played in created a detailed keep that was in fact a huge tower of many smaller towers. At the top of one of these towers was the grand Viser and to save time, as is usually the case in such matters, he had to die.
I use the word detailed as in he wrote many pages of maps and a huge deck of index cards numbered and cross referencer for each room, with encounters and descriptions, the works.
There was a choke point in the tower where the building narrowed then sprouted off into a plethora of smaller spires. We were probably supposed to die or get captured in that choke point but we hatched a plan. Once the group made it to that choke point we began (with the help of my master stonemason dwarf, a hulking barbarian, and a large amount of unlikely die rolls) to dismantle the wall, to be blunt we collapsed the second half of the tower... boom.
The DM was to say the least crestfallen. (to this day I have no idea why he let it happen but ...Hindsight.. God did we loot, for hours we looted...)
+ Dwarf  will fuck up yo whole tower




 I call it getting Seb'd. I try not to get Seb'd, I saw it, I was part of it, I dread it.
I don't use my energy to write up amazing things to show off and then try and protect my precious creations, I use my energy to keep the adventure flexible enough that if a tower falls, I can dig my way out. I present the amazing things just the same. I just go in knowing something unexpected and unforeseeable is going to happen. I wing it a lot.

As another aside, far as after the adventure is designed and played I am still bad at the leg work. I have managed over the years to write game synopsis and post them to the internet to keep players informed, but even that I mess up. (I owe the group one right now.)

Finally my last step to how I approach creating adventures game to game:
Before each adventure I sit with my notes such as they are from the last game. As a direct result of my willingness to “wing it” more than I should, sometimes I get these nagging loose ends hanging off of a previous game. I do my best to mentally jiggle those loose ends into the story arc I laid out at the beginning, or I branch them into a parallel arc that I might be able to use latter. I try to keep the story behind the adventures cohesive, so the players never have to feel like they are just floating out in a fake world going from contrived scenario to contrived scenario.

This is particularly important when characters go all Dennis Rodman and run off somewhere unexpected. I feel it is absolutely necessary for me to start another story branch using the new opportunities that the players have given me while continuing to move along the original story arc. In other words if you tell the characters that there is an evil army marching a crossed the moors, that army should end up raising hell somewhere regardless if the players want to address it or not.(OK that's obvious)
To further the point, if the players do wander astray of the main story arc, get them involved in SOMETHING in the next game, a branch of the arc a new arc that runs parallel as long as the adventures don't become totally aimless, this will only save you time and effort when working on your next adventure. In fact I feel that as a GM if you watch closely what your players do with their characters you can figure out what kind of action they would like to be involved in, and plan adventures accordingly.
Always use what the players give you.
don't let this  throw off your whole adventure


That's pretty much all I have to share on this topic. I draw some maps (which I treat as drawings they are not as functional as they should be) and keep NPC notes. For me it comes down to rolling with the unexpected, and playing off the characters as much as I can, while moving the main story arcs along in as logical a fashion as possible. It's and Art not a science. (wow! that could have saved us 1400 or so words.)

How do you approach preparation and design from session to session?
Does it affect you if you have more time between sessions?
Does it affect your process if you know the game will be longer or shorter than normal?
Do you do different things for at the table game as compared to internet sessions?


Thank you for reading!

As always question comments and shenanigans are encouraged.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

God damn I revel in a good Role playing game fight.

Played a bit of Numenera last night and it brought some things to mind.
God damn I revel in a good Role playing game fight.

You see this is not going to be about Numenera in general but more about kicking the shit out of things in our imaginations.

Lest face it pretty much all big time RPG’s over the years have a detailed “combat system.” Smaller press RPG games have at the very least a “task resolutions mechanic” that is used mostly to beat things up.
Where I’m going with this is that violent conflict is generally a big part of role playing games.

(What? no way?! duh …)

Is it that rpgs' grew out of a war-gaming tradition? Is it our pent up aggressions, testosterone, inferiority complexes, inner angst, machismo, the id telling the super ego to go take a flying jump? I don't know though I will admit.....
It’s an awful lot of fun to You know, bash things.


In what has traditionally been a male dominated hobby (slowly changing thankfully) Hitting things with other huge things made of sharp steel has been a main ingredient in the game scene since RPG's first crawled out of the war-gaming ocean and used it's flippers for feet. (at which point a guy named Lancelot saw it and cut it's head off..I digress)

I ‘m not a great role player, I am not going to make up long colloquies or artful speeches, I stay in character, I play my part. In a fight however, that’s where I shine. Stupid quips, observations about enemies, descriptions of things my character does to targets and things targets inflict on my character, they all just kind of jump out.

Last night t in our Numenera game, we fought a giant decapod crustacean with crab claws and stalks on its back. Each stalk was topped by the animated screeching heads of the beast’s former victims.

like this only with alot more crazy  fuckedupness going on.


Great.

It was not until the giant shrimp-crab-baddie had my character caught in both claws, and I was face to face with a gibbering, animated head which preceded blabbering cryptic warning signs at me did I really start to feel the character. I got stunned, I threw up, and I smashed one of the heads off of the beast like I was hitting a ball off a tee. I started to look at my edge and my abilities granted by my Foci way more seriously than I was when we were just chatting up the local bartender.

Yeah it was kind of like that... only on a crab... stawlk.. Sorry Dr. Hill


Combat in RPG’s is the great distiller of focus. Once you get into a fight you will learn how the skill system works, you will start looking for every edge and bonus you can sneak out of your character, you will start talking, exploring your character sheet. In combat there is something to loose, the character could get killed. Yes I know this is not the end of the world, but mechanically it demands your attention unlike anything else.

Why is Combat so pervasive in Rpg’s? The same reason movies that are just two people sitting at a table smoking butts and talking to each other for 3 hours are called art films and while they have their place, they are not as common or as exciting as Legend of the Drunken Master.
Versus 


See what I mean?


Characters are built to DO things, to move the story, to bring the action, to create the fiction that drives the narrative, to (insert your own RPG catchphrase.) Combat forces a player to DO.

I do not believe that Combat should have it's own system in a game, I think resolution is resolution. resolution should not change if you are picking a lock swinging a sword, or talking teh mayr into giving his daughter's hand to you in marriage.

I also do not think that combat is the be all and end all of a game. I love the interactive part of the game the talking , exploring, the making connections, and living the story. But in the end conflict , particularly physical conflict brings things to a point. As a bonus It also grants us the chance to describe how we hit an imaginary baddie in the face with a flail.

I'll only say this ONCE....


And really isn’t that what we want? For our characters to be Doing things, making the awesome?

Let me know what you think

Question comments and shenanigans welcome.






Check out: Dyvers: Old and New School?

Dyvers: Old and New School?
This is fun.
He describes the best fountain ever.
-
and he makes a good point, were all just playing games.
Put it on the table, lets roll.

Monday, January 6, 2014

A long reply to "looking at old games with new eyes"

This is a post based almost entirely on an a reply to another one of my blogs titled "Looking at old games with new eyes."
Check that out if you're grappling with context for this post.

The reply is from Otto Q and he should get at least 75% of the credit for this post, co author credit and a glass if IPA to top it off. His reply was concise and well thought out and deserves more than the, "thank you for posting here is what I think " treatment that I do my best to give every reply I get.

It needs to be said in the name of transparency, I know Otto, he and I have gamed together, and I have a great deal of respect for him and his opinions.

The format is this .. Mr. Otto's paragraphs will be in normal font, my replies be in blue italics simple as that.

Otto Q shared your blog post on Google+

I don't know... I agree with you in theory. It seems like narrative/modern based games should enable some of the best characters. Yet, for some reason it seems (as you suggested above) a lot of the most memorable and well fleshed-out characters actually came from the "old systems." The current crop of characters bolster this observation - I can't say, well we were just younger back then and had more imagination - or the ever popular... well we are just remembering the glory days, the characters weren't all that great. Because, the current crop of 2e characters are every bit as good and memorable with distinct personalities and character flaws.

Ok, I hear you. And I agree to the extent that the characters presently being played in our AD&D 2 ed throwback game are fun, and every bit as interesting as our old characters from back in the day. Guthar Preist of Thodin, is frankly pretty darn awesome, as is Willhelm ex footballing dwarf, and the Master last druid of Aleria, and Professor Johann the gnome, the mysterious Cyrus Magnus ect...
We breath those personalities into the characters. I don't think a good "next gen game" really changes that at all. What I would like to see are players getting rewarded by the game for breathing so much awesome into their characters. Lets reward that labor of love no? or is it the reward in itself?


In a way, I think it is because 2e and the old games "got out of the way" of actually creating your character. Stat blocks and skills and all that existed solely to handle the mundane mechanical parts of the game. Heck, we went a long stretch before we incorporated skills into our old games. If I remember correctly, as we converted a lot of characters from 1e to 2e, we didn't even use skills all that much. Our primary character sheet consisted of stats, saves, HP and AC and a convenient place to write down our loot.

That is 100% true we have never really been a rules heavy bunch. You do remember correctly my Helmar sheet was seriously just his stats and his saves, with the word HAMMER written underneath.


It is true that in theory an "aspect" of a character (e.g. your illustration regarding alignment) should have a real impact in the game. But, I would venture to say that (at least in our games) it did. During the time of "no magic" - one character used his evil and necromantic ways to create a particularly vile way of energizing his magics (i.e. sucking the life force from others). It wasn't an aspect or a skill or a power or whatever you want to call it - it was taking an idea and working with the DM to translate it into the game. Same thing with countless "I'd like to do _" actions. We didn't have it spelled out that we could do it - we figured well... it seems like it is a [insert most likely state here]. Let's see if it works. By having very bare-bones stats and saves - I feel like it opened the characters up to being able to truly be unique and role-play.

For the record after the original post I noticed I left a certain Drow Elf Necromancer off the list of old player characters , this was a grave (har har) oversight and I hope he doesn't show up at my house kill me raise me then kill me again.. Just saying.


That storytelling was a function of the group always moving towards the "Frickin cool!" Like Lothar being able to cast in armor, or Treegan and Rhino starting a church of Geb / Fisticuffs training school on Tradewinds island. (how do I remember this stuff?) We did that as players but the game never gave us anything for it. Truthfully though in this case we could be making the same point except coming at it from different points of view. It was awesome because the game got out of the way and let us be.


Or maybe it was just we had an awesome DM that instinctively took into account what modern day rules systems are trying institutionalize. But after playing some of the new MMOs (Guild Wars, Neverwinter and DDO for example) - I feel to some extent players these days are being spoon fed.

They are, you're correct. In my opinion most MMOs and some current paper RPG systems exist only to make the players want the next "kewl Powerz"." IN order to maintain the player reliance on their product and hence guarantee future sales the game has to be rules tight and encompassing enough to where it is less trouble and more satisfying to buy the next expansion / splatbook than it is to do it yourself. It is obvious in MMO's especially the free to play model games, (You generally can't make your own content. VIA LA MUD!) I also see this extensively in AD&D 4th ed, I see this a bit in Numenera's Foci, I imagine I will see it in D&D next when that hulks it's way into the game stores.

The rules are trying to accommodate anything that can happen, rather than trusting to the DM to make it right. I understand that in a tournament like setting, you'd want hard and fast rules and an even playing field for everyone. However, for everyday gaming with a group of friends, I feel like the new rule systems might be doing a disservice to the players. And while I understand that the narrative rule systems are trying to be the opposite of the MMO rule systems, I'd argue in many ways they are doing the same thing - institutionalizing and creating mechanics for role-playing. It seems like a great idea, except, I'd argue it risks dumbing down and potentially limiting the very role-playing and narration it is trying to encourage.

To me this is the very crux of what you are saying, and is why I chose to do the reply in this format. My argument would be that in a game like Phase or Shards of Thimbral which I'm presently working on, the goal isn't to institutionalize role playing, rather to incorporate it as part of the reward system. Where an older game might get out of the way when you want to rp something cool, there is still that chance the the GM (if not named Me,) Might pull some arcane rule out of some dusty player's handbook and say ,
" NO, You can't ride that dear because you don't have animal empathy." or, "No you can not be carried around on a litter by a troop of skeletons because you will not be able to maintain concentration to control them." or "No you can't play a bad-ass cat person, because for a lot of reasons that's why."

Would you like to play game where you are in control of that? where if you have the resources you can just go for the awesome no holds barred? And what's more the game gives back to you the currency to improve your character based on how much you choose to add to the story? (Steve Marin tried to bribe some boat guards with prostitutes in our last playtest, up until then there were no prostitutes in the game, he made that happen, now there is a whole darn subculture of them, Just an example.)
The thing that gives me pause is when you use the phrase, " limiting the very role-playing and narration it is trying to encourage." To which I say I have to be diligent as I work on my current project about making sure the rules never get in the way of the fiction. That phrase almost made me start a massive rewrite, no kidding.





The best stories that we still tell around the old pub tend to have come from the serendipitous melding of a creative (and often snarky) player action being creatively interpreted by the DM. I feel like a lot of that creativity came from the blank slate nature of the game systems. Crude... yes... but effective.


I agree with you here. I think just having all that space to fill as a DM and as a player , lends itself to riffing off each other and telling really cool tales. Some of the classic systems when applied with a light hand give the players a lot of room to poke around and improvise great stuff.

My final point is this, over the years our troupe style of gaming has realy diverged from what the rules sets we were using actually were. I could argue that we have never really played D&D in the strictest sense of the word. I say that because I always used so few of the rules and gave the players so much leeway with actions and descriptions. We have been playing in the style of narrative games for years.'



So what I'm looking to do is write a game the glorifies how we play. Create a risk reward economy, make the in game reward the ability to make cool story elements, link character growth to those cool story elements. Yes a lot of the newer new, but really it's what our group has been doing all along.


Thank you for reading! and as always

comments welcome

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Numenera, some thoughts / Lamenting Brick and Mortar.

Numenera A brief review and some thoughts / Lamenting Brick and Mortar.

I received the Numenera core book in the mail this week. I am I think the last person in the RPG blog-o-sphere to get my hands on this game, but I say that as a plus, I have never been what you would call an early adopter. I have read about and know people who backed Monte Cook's wildly successful kick starter.

Almost every thing (but not all) I have heard or read form these people, has been a moat of gooey positivism, the likes of which has not been seen since the Ghost busters brought the statue of liberty to life.

This game is at least in my view the epitome to date of a successful kick-starter, and what can be done with that success.

So, “Why you no Back Kick-starter?”

Let me be 100% honest, If I could talk to Mr. Cook in person I would be humbled, the guy has been in the R.P.G.industry for 25+ years and is very obviously very, very good. Advice from him would be sage advice . I say that to lend context to the fact that up until I heard about Numenara my extent of exposure to Monte Cook's work was as, “The guy who did work on Planescape and 3rd Ed.” For the record I simply never liked Planescape, it was just too over the top for my tastes. I know this is unfair, it's not right to judge a persons work by so few examples to my deficit, I never picked up Ptolus, I don't know much about his work for Iron Crown Enterprises and so on. I did not back the kick starter because I did not know what kind of product the game was going to be , plain and simple. If it was a new system walking similar steps as 3rd ed or Planescape, I simply wouldn't be interested, so I waited until people I knew had the physical thing and could tell me about it. I went retail (More on that latter)

Now that my lamentations are out of the way, Numenara is pretty darn good, (though Great is a strong word at least until I get to play it.)

About the core book:
Hard cover, Binding seems good.
The physical thing is 416 pages. Each page is GORGEOUS. I mean seriously this is one of, if not the best looking RPG, Product I have ever seen. Some large part of that kick starter money went to hiring a murders row of art talent, and every one of them delivered. The layout is generally 2 columns per page with a side bar on the left, ever thing, (I mean every thing) is cross referenced from the text to the side bar. 

Don't know what a cypher is that's alright, look at the side bar it will tell you what page will contain information about cyphers. It makes a difference when you are chugging through a 400+ page game.

What I like about the game is that it's solidly rooted in the setting. The Ninth World, seems like a place of  crazy sci fantasy adventure and the game is built to support that world. As I was reading the character creation section I kept having moments where I would think “wouldn't it be cool if?” and then read what I was thinking in the next paragraph. It's a good feeling when a game is already supporting the players ideas before they even start playing.

The character creation seems fun,
I was aware of the
“I am a (blank) (blank) who (blank)s.”
Or better put:
“I am a (Descriptor) (Type / class) who (focus)s.”
Format for describing a character, but the system of might, speed, and intellect along with effort and edge was totally new to me. 
In fact it was a pleasant surprise, as I was hoping there would be some mechanical frame to hang the character description off off.
That mechanical frame reads like a really slick system, I have not played yet, but I'm hoping it plays as well as it reads. (I like economy and games that make you potentially pay for your decisions, this seems to do both.)
Here is a nice look at the Numenera internal economy from the Trollsmyth blog:


He does a better job sorting it all out than I think I would.


Another surprise for me is how Descriptors, Type and Foci. Grant the players abilities. 
I love any system that gives mechanical weight the characters description. I was not super excited to see that there are lists of Descriptors players have to choose from, but once I saw that they were tied to abilities I got the picture.
The abilities provided by foci, feel an awful lot like feats to me, I don't say that as a bad thing, I'm comfortable with picking a new ability as my character progresses so I see no reason to complain. My quick scan did not allow me to try and find any min max, best combo super synergistic description, type, foci ability stack. It might be there, but I'm not that guy, I'll never find it.

I could see a small cottage industry sprouting up on the internet as people design original descriptors and foci for characters, I support this, because the game should have more of them from the get go.

All in all my reaction to my first skim of the mechanical side of Numenera is positive. Will it hold up when I play? I'm not sure, I am looking forward to trying it out.

Here is a link to the “Dreamers and Dicepools” blog where in the author had a a less positive reaction to the game as a whole.
I like to try and show both sides of things when I post and while my first reaction was generally positive the author in this blog touches on some things that were nagging at me as well. Agree or not it's a very good read either way and I think presents some fair points.

A brief point About brick and Mortar R.P.G stores. I support mine, or at least I try to. I am very lucky to live within an hour or so of Albany New York and hence Zombie planet.
It's a great store, the best I've been in. Sorry Alternaverse in N.Y.C , Zombie Planet has you beat.
Every time I go in there even if I don't find what I want , I try to buy SOMETHING, even if it is something small, I get something just because I'm happy they're there.

So It is with hanged head I have to admit, I passed on Numenera in the store based solely on the price tag. This is in no way a reflection on Zombie Planet, they are priced just like every other brick and mortar judging by the quick internet search I did.
The Core Numenera Book was on Amazon for $20 dollars less, and considering my wife and I had an Amazon card from Christmas, the game found it's way into our cart.

Why do I bring this up? I don't pretend to understand how a game winds up $20 more at a store than it is online. I don't know the in's and outs of distribution, mark-ups, and pricing. What I do understand is that online sources like Amazon enjoy a huge distribution advantage which helps keep their prices down.
This hobby depends on new people seeing and trying games and I think the local game store can be a big part of that. From Magic tournaments, to board game nights to War-hammer 40K blow outs, these things don't happen (at least not nearly as much) unless there is a store that will host them.

I think that at some level, even though every one has to get a slice of the profit, RPG publishers could and should see it as a benefit to the industry to start cutting the brick and mortar dealers some breaks. (Not you Games workshop, I've given up on you.)
Again, I freely admit I am ignorant about these sorts of things, but I feel a strong network of real physical stores can only benefit the board game, and RPG hobbies, I hate to see them getting undercut right and left.

Well Once again:
Thank you for reading.
Happy New Year, best of luck in 2014, get lots of gaming in.

Questions, comments, and Shenanigans Welcome!