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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Gm's advice, a personal observation.

Warning, this post doesn't contain any usable gaming content. For that I'm sorry. Not sorry enough to stop typing, but just sorry enough to realize someone might  be looking for usable content, why waste their time. Honestly though, no one is going to read this, so who fuckign cares anyway.

This  will stray a bit far afield,...Fair warning. There is a mountain of GM /DM ing advice on the internet. Some of the advice is practical. Things like "Here is how I used index cards to organize my notes", or "here is the shorthand I used to  write monster descriptions for quick reference." These are useful things that can help a new Gm. I'm all for that. There are people who have been playing for a very long time they're bound to have picked up a few tricks that make running games smoother. I'm all for that.

Some internet DMing advice is personal opinion cloaked as useful tips. Even all that opinion can still be useful. Insightful opinions about how to run a table are useful when the reader understands that they are reading another singular person's opinion. That kind of information is best when it is presented openly as an opinion piece. Before anyone jumps my shit I'm not complaining about any particular person or entity who uses the "my way or the highway" schtick on the internet. That's not quite what I'm thinking about here. There're a set of people on the net who have developed strong characters through which they present their opinions. That's fine. It's hard to stand out on the net. I have never quite gotten the hang of it.
A desire to strongly defend opinions is not necessarily a bad thing. This work is my opinion, free for you to agree with, disagree with, or ignore as the reader sees fit. For another example, An article like this one from "The Angry GM" is at it's base an opinion piece.  It's a damn good one, he did his leg work, then wrote the piece in an organized fashion. It would be foolish to say an article presented like the one mentioned above does not contain well thought out advice.

What I watch out for are those who post "This is THE way to play." Or worse yet "This is how the game was intended to be played." I'm going to work backwards on this one. I think the  second  statement has more meat on the bone.

Unless the reader is the the designer of a particular game, I don't want to hear how that particular game was intended to be played. Any statement from anyone other than the one who originally wrote a game is conjecture. The conjecture increases exponentially based on the age and the popularity of a game. Most designers worth their salt would readily admit that the what happens in a playtest is someone does something with their game that they never intended. Players of all stripes will do things with rules a designer hadn't even thought of. Players will always think of unintended uses for the rules. It's part and parcel to the fabric of what makes RPG's the games they are.

Unintended playstyles were in my opinion one of the driving forces behind the  a session  zero, and  explicit social contracts at the table which were popular topics to discuss a couple years back. Some newer games are designed to be bound so tightly to their intended emotional / contextual themes that techniques had to arise which got everyone on the same page in order for the games to work. As an example try playing "Dogs in the Vineyard" when one or two players are not interested in  the underlying morality tale while the rest of the table is, the game just won't work as intended.

The world's most popular Role playing game,  (No. Not politics) has always been a hotbed for this kind of  debate. How was the  game originally intended to be played? Is a question I hear echoed time and time again on RPG blogs. The impression I get from  my own memory of early Dragon Magazines Q&A column, also from books like "Playing at the  World *" At first no one knew quite what to do with the D&D rules. As the  game spread different groups of people were doing things in different ways. Still are. I'll take a second to reiterate I'm not by any means an expert. I wasn't around in 1974 to play one of those first 1000 copies of  D&D, so I can't speak on what the intent of those games were. I would argue that my point here is there's no way  to know. There is no evidence beyond what the creators of D&D left behind in the form of notes, communications, and  rules. There are still some folks around who did play in those early times, but like any other group of players how do we know they were playing the rules as originally envisioned? That argument opens up a can of worms as there are people who have spent great deals of time pouring over every bit of work G. Gygax and company ever did. Those students of the  early days of RPGS, often think they know the original intentions of the game designers, what more they are willing to endlessly argue that they know. I don't have the  energy. My point being, the  question of how RPG's were originally intended to be played is an endless, unwinnable argument.

If that's how I feel, why bring it up? 
Fair question.
All Internet Game master advice like all advice is based on a person's personal experiences combined with their opinions. I don't want any one telling me that they know the one true way a game should be run, or that they are running a game "as it was intended."
I do want to know  other GM's tips, tricks, organisational ideas.
On't go out there into the ether and tell people that "how you ply is wrong" or "This game is not being run the way D&D should be run."  It's not good for the community, it's not good for the game.
A good Example is Critical role on Geek and sundry. Now for me I don't enjoy watching other peoples games all that much . to Me D&D is not a great spectator activity. With that in mind I watched a few CR episodes in prep for this  post.
Mathew Mercer does not run his game how I run my game. Far from wanting to say anything negative about what he was doing I want to look at the other side. Not everyone's group is full of professional voice actors. I mean I have one player who is not allowed to do a pirate voice in my game ever. Again. ... it's like that. So there is that and other "production" values to think about, then strip away. At it's base he's running a D&D game. A wildly popular D&D game.
I don't think I can over state how many young people, college age and younger I have have seen on twitter who were brought to the game through Critical Role. More importantly many of them are young women, something that have been sorely missing at many gaming tables for far to long.
If Mr. Mercer's version of D&D is the only thing this younger more diverse player base knows I'm fine with that. More players equal better business for in this case Wizards. Rising tides raise many ships and all that.
I see no reason to try and inflict my stodgy old 1980's style Game mastering on these people who are clearly enjoying the game. whether I agree with the calls made at Mercer's table doesn't mean shit.
I'm just hoping the next "Critical Role" when ever that surfaces is as successful in capturing the imaginations of young people as the  first one was.

So.. In a flurry of finishing..
Stop telling  new players that there is ONE TRUE WAY or ONE PROPER INTENDED WAY of playing role playing games. There isn't and the effort doesn't help.
Instead try sharing the tips and tricks gathered over years of gaming. Try helping to new GM's working to  find their own voice have an easier time of it.

thanks for reading.
Mark.


 (Some of the things I have read and or referenced leading to or while writing this post.
Most of these links are to amazon because it provides easy access for most  people.
 I don't have affiliate Links, so click away.)
*"Playing at the World" Written by John Peterson, can be found here.
D&D 5th ed starter set  (I don't reference this in the post Just thought it is a nice link to include.)
Rise of the dungeon master
A collection of Dragon Magazines. (A long time ago I bought a collection of Dragon Mags on CD..I think I gave my  set away after ripping it to a hard drive. By now the CD's would be so old I doubt the data would be worth  anything any more.)
Empire of imagination.
old school playbook, 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

"Marauder Task Force Role Playing Game" Kickstarter update

I just red via a kickstarter e-mail that the  "Marauder Task Force Role Playing Game" Has been cancelled.
I'm personally hoping David Willson Brown keeps working on the game system. I thought it sounded fun.
Perhaps the  game will pop back up in a few months with a new kickstarter project, or another outlet.
-Mark

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Seven Years of Fantasy Weather.

Just boosting the signal of an interesting product.

Seven years of Fantasy Weather Volume 1 Medieval England (by Written Oakes Spalding) has been bouncing around my G+ and social media Feed this week.

 The  pitch from Drive through is as follows:
Each twelve-hour day or evening entry includes information on temperature (in Celcius and Fahrenheit) weather events - fog, thunderstorm, blizzard, etc. - amount of rainfall/snowfall, occurrence or possibility of lightning, wind speed, wind direction, phases of the moon, effect on movement rates and chance of getting lost. It's an almanac for the fantasy gamer. No more annoying die rolling or consulting an app or online program to generate a random or patternless result. With FANTASY WEATHER you can see all of it at a glance
This is one of those things I never knew I needed. An Idea which out of the blue that makes me think, "Damn, I wish I thought of that." As such I wanted to  to pass it along, with a thumbs up. Furthermore it all looks well presented in a familiar / classic old school format that is user friendly and easy to read. The effort to compile this work, and format it with such an obvious eye towards the look and feel of  "Original Old School" products seems worth more than the asking price of $7.00 U.S.

Lastly there's promise of more Volumes of  "Fantasy Weather" which  makes me think how cool would it be to  print them all (once they are done)  into a binder for  reference as needed.

If it's the kind of thing you could use at your table give it a look.


-Mark.

Disclaimer: You have read this before. I don't know the author of this product, I did not receive this product, I don't do "Affiliate" links on this blog as of this writing.

Monday, November 20, 2017

"Marauder Task Force Role Playing Game" Kick Starting NOW.

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I love kickstarter projects and I love the creators behind them.  I have been hoping to include more creator Q&A's on this blog moving forward. In that spirit here is the  second entrant in that series of posts.

Marauder Task Force Role Playing Game is kick starting now, and  it caught my eye the instant I saw it. What only a few regular readers here would know .. (basically only Otto honestly) Like many guys my age, before I loved RPG's I loved GI Joe.
This my friends is a game that allows you to use your 1:18 scale military action figures in both an RPG and a Skirmish game.
WINNER!

More interesting still is that Marauder GR has a a whole line of their own high quality  1:18 scale action figures that will be fully stated out for the game.  While it  would cost a new player some  money to get a squad going , I have viewed the site and I don't thing the entry expense is any  greater than the average big name miniatures game offering. If all else fails there are GI goes floating around most yard sales and swap meats just ripe for the buying.
This is a dream come true for we gamers of a certain vintage.

I personally backed the game at the PDF level , because I am dying to see the mechanics.

In an effort to spread the word I reached out to game designer David Willson Brown with a few questions and he was very gracious in answering them for me.

So with out further Adoo.. Here is our brief exchange about the kickstarter. Please check it out and learn a bit more about this  great idea!

If it grabs your attention like it did mine take a few minutes and, Check out the Marauder Task Force RPG Kickstarter Here.


First off, please tell me a bit about yourself, Marauder GR and the people involved in this project.
I’m David Wilson Brown, game designer of the Marauder Task Force Roleplaying Game (MTF RPG) and the Tactical RPG game engine. The Marauder “Gun-Runners” are the folks behind Marauder Task Force action figure line and their modular accessories for their figures. We have a score of great people lined up to contribute to the project, including Jay Little as a design consultant (the Yoda to myself as Luke); Ryan Lord, our artistic lead; Justin Bell, our fiction and setting lead; Jeremy Land, our editor. Not to mention possible contributions from Christopher West, cartographer extraordinaire, and Keith Kappel, RPG writer and Navy veteran.

Marauder has been making 1:18 scale figures and accessories since 2005. How did you get introduced to Marauder? What sold you on the idea of a game involving military action figures? 

I am an avid GI Joe collector (focused on the 25th anniversary line and beyond) and with the lesser focus on the 1:18 figs I was looking for something else. I saw the early offerings from Marauder Task Force and was blown away. I saw that the original Task Force Kickstarter called the figures “gaming figures” and wondered where the game was. I reached out to them with my idea about bringing the type of experience from a tactical video game to the table using their figures and that’s how we got here.

As a kid, I was a huge fan of GI-Joe toys having an RPG based on 1:18 figures like I remember is a great twist on nostalgia. Did the company always envision writing a skirmish or a role-playing game for use with action figures, or is this a new evolution in what Marauder is doing?

I don’t believe this was in their vision originally, but glad they bought my pitch.

The Kickstarter text says, "The intent of the system is to simulate a tactical combat system similar to turn-based computer games."  Then goes on to mention managing Action points and shots involving distance, conditions, and weapon choice. Without giving up too much, what would fans of turn based combat games be most excited to see in your system? 

I think where the game excels in is the ability to have an accessible and fun tactical combat system and then having a strong option to tie it into a roleplaying game concept of managing the development and advancement of their characters. Hopefully, you will have the feeling of playing a turn based tactical game and care about your character’s continued existence.

In the “campaign mode" description it mentions the CO "manages the team through their down time" and characters built on class templates.  Will there be any skill based system in this part of the game? Will there be character advancement as we normally see it in RPG's? 

So, short answer- Yes. The class templates, or character builds serve as two things: One, the easy way to define characters for skirmish mode play. Two, the starting point for any campaign mode character. You can advance stats, add traits, and gain access to more advanced weaponry as you advance your character. We also want CO’s to be able to guide a bigger story to connect missions and manage team morale. What happens to your characters after a mission where one or more of your team members are wounded or die? How do they integrate and adjust to adding new members? What do they do with the information they collected from their last mission and where do they go next? This is the RPG element that I think could be pretty cool to explore in a modern military setting.

As a big fan of the Cypher system myself, I was wondering if you have been able to apply anything you have learned spending as much time with that game and specifically while working on the CypherCaster magazine to this very different project.

Well, being anywhere near some stellar veteran game designers like Monte Cook and Bruce Cordell, not to mention the brilliant Shanna Germain and the whole staff is what kind of game me some confidence to do something like this myself. I’ve tried to learn from their example and my experience putting together the CypherCaster Magazine as well as running the Kickstarter for the Adventures in the East Mark game gave me skills that I am bringing to this game. I try to find the folks that could bring their talents to raise the quality of the project and get them excited about their contributions.

Combat ranges and areas of effect are one thing when dealing with Standard 25 mm 1:76 models but 1:18 scale action figures are another thing altogether.  As someone who has designed some table top skirmish rules myself, I have been dying to ask, how have you dealt with scale? 

Ask me that in a few months. Seriously though, this is something that only more playtesting will help us determine if we’re off on our thinking. We want the game to move quickly and not get bogged down in cumbersome rules that take away from the experience. It would have been easy with what Marauder GR produces to allow the game to get extremely “crunchy” in rules, striving more for simulation than accessibility and fun. And maybe later we could do “advanced rules” that goes that direction. But I wanted a game that both avid gamers and toy collectors would get something from.

What have you enjoyed most designing this rule set?

Just building something that I can play with my own friends to justify my large figure collection and doing something with them more than just staring at them on a shelf.

I read that Justin Bell is a part of the team, and that he will be bringing his expertise to the game's setting material. How is the game approaching setting? Is it a near future concept, a here and now setting, or perhaps something else altogether?

So just like we have two modes of play, we are approaching this with two “styles” of play, which is both of those you mentioned. The “here and now”, or what we’re calling “Modern Military Special Forces”, is a slightly more realistic approach to the game. The “near future concept”, or our “Cinematic Action Hero Force”, will be more reflective of our love of classic GI Joe vs. Cobra style stories. The combat doesn’t change, although a character is more likely to die than be miraculously saved in the former versus the latter.

Lastly, if someone were on the edge about backing this Kickstarter project what one thing would you tell them to get them to take the plunge and become a backer?

If you have always wanted to have a fun game that you could use your action figures for, if you have ever wanted to have a tabletop experience like that of your favorite tactical videogame, or if you wanted to play in a roleplaying game based on modern special forces teams this is your game.
I have been admonished that we are not pushing the skirmish mode enough, and trust me that mode of play is a significant selling point to the game, so here I am on the record as saying that. If the idea of a RPG is the last thing you would ever want to do, this is still an awesome game for you. We are making this game so nearly every aspect of it adds to the skirmish mode of play especially since the rules for it are the core to the gameplay of the RPG.
Thanks for the opportunity to share this information with your readers and I hope if the have any questions they will reach out to us so we can answer them. Spread the word!



So that's that I would once again like to thank David Brown for taking the time to do this.
I wish him and Marauder GR the best of luck on their kick starter project!

*Edit: In my rush to get this out before any more time ticked away, I forgot to add this: I asked for nothing and received nothing from the authors in return for this blog post. I approached the authors, None of the links above are affiliate links.*

As always,
Thanks for reading
-Mark


Friday, November 10, 2017

The Anatomy of: AAIE Dice Mechanics.

Check out the rest of the  AAIE "Anatomy Of" series:
The series includes:
The Anatomy of Weapons.
AAIE "The town"
The anatomy of Balance.
The Anatomy of a Perk.
The Anatomy of an Ability
The Anatomy of AAIE Magic


Posting this to answer some questions that have come up lately , specifically about  what are the "standard" difficulties in AAIE, which was asked at Metatopia this year of our lord 2017.
I figured the best way to answer that question would be to  disgorge the die system in all it's fetid glory.

Try not to fall asleep this isn't the most exciting game stuff post ever..

AAIE is built around a concept of Bell Curves vs A straight distribution.
When I started this game I ripped the die mechanic form my table top skirmish game lovingly known as "The Block Game." Way back when I wrote the Block Game I decided that I didn't want a straight distribution of 5% per vlue that 1D20 provides. I wanted something that offered more options. More ways that the game could manipulate the chance of a characters attacks being successful. IN that effort I started looking at  the distributions of rolling more than one die with one being designated an "Effect Die" to  determine  attack damage. I figured the success chances back then, when AAIE came around I just used the same methods..

Hold your breath lets do this:

At its base  the game is this: For any normal action the player rolls 3D20 and looks at the  middle value versus a difficulty to  determine success.

For example:
If the player rolls three dice and they come up 12, 7, 16  the middle value is  12.
IF the  player has disadvantage on the task they look at the lowest value in our example 7.
If the player has advantage they look at the highest value in our example 16.

Typical difficulties look like this:
Very Easy: 6
Easy: 8
Average: 11
Difficult: 13
Very Difficult: 16

The  Game master lowers the  difficulty of a task based on the attribute (if any) the character can use during the task. If lifting a log's difficulty is 11 and the  players brawn is  4 the  final difficulty  will be 7. For the example character an average task is actually pretty easy.

Question: "Why does the  GM do subtraction? That seems strange and  kind of shitty."

Well yes it is.  That brings us to the straight distribution portion of this  dance.
The simple Answer is  if the  Difficulty falls to 1 or below  the  player doesn't have to roll to succeed they just do.

The complex answer involves the "Effect Die." The effect die is any one of your three D20 designated at the beginning of the game which determines how successful a successful roll is and how horrid a failed roll is.

Effect die:
Rolling a 16 or over on the  effect die during a successful roll means the  character can invoke perks, which are special effects that character skills or equipment can bring into the story.
Rolling low on the effect die during a success allows the GM (at their discretion) to interject complication into the character's success.
Rolling high on the  effect die during a failure allows for the Gm to  create partial success situations, where the character fails but still gets something done.
Rolling a 1 on the  effect die during a failure creates a critical fail situation which is about as bad as it gets.

Remember the question a paragraph or two above? 
If the difficulty is 1 or less the player only needs to roll the effect die. They automatically succeed but  they still need to determine how strong a success they have scored.

So they roll 1d20 giving them a 25% chance to score at east one perk by rolling a 16 or better.

Which as you will see below is a solid 5% better chance of scoring at least one perk then the best chance a  player can get on an average difficulty roll. In  fact it's .70 % chance better than  scoring a perk on a normal roll if the difficulty is only 2. Lastly it's still .02% better (WHOOPEE!) chance to score a perk even if the  player has advantage on the roll and the difficulty is only 2.

In other words in it's mathematically in the players best interest to get the  difficulty down to  or less if they can.




The maths:
Here are how the difficulties stack up with disadvantage versus Normal versus Advantage.
The chart also shows the % harder a disadvantaged roll is vs a normal roll, and the % easier easier an advantaged roll is vs a normal roll at each difficulty tier.



Here is any dice figuring the  Advantage  distribution:



Here is the  Normal roll distribution:


Here is the Disadvantage Roll Distribution. 

So Using the  same maths,  I can figure out the  chance to get a success vs a difficulty of 11 and roll over a 16 or better on one D20 to score a perk. ...

At the same time I'll look at what the chances of rolling a failure versus an 11 difficulty and also roll a 1 on a separate D20 (which is what is in effect happening when you designate one of the D20's as the "effect die."


What you want to look at here is the  bottom graph  which shows the  % chance of the statement being "true" as in "did I roll over 11  and also over 15 on the effect die"

This tells me that if I have Advantage I have a 20.84% chance to  be successful and score a perk.

On the  other side of the  scale if I have Disadvantage I have a 4.38% chance of  failing vs a difficulty of 11 and also  rolling a 1 on the effect die...probably causing my character to  explode in a mushroom cloud of  feathers and  bile.

To wrap this up nicely the game die mechanic can be said to revolve around the base chances and how the player's actions / characters attributes stack up against challenges in the narrative environment.

The middle ground ... those  base chances.
A  normal roll vs an 11 difficulty the player has 50% chance of success or failure, an 10.63% chance of success with a perk, lastly a 2.5% chance of a critical failure.

So that's that a look under to hood at how how the  dice in AAIE shake out. (HAr HAr)
I'm sure there have been some mistakes along the way.. I'm no statistician, Not even close. However if there are mistakes, I'm going to have to let them be because I built the mechanic on this foundation a long time ago.

WHEW .. That's a bunch.
Thank you for reading ..
-Mark

Check out the rest of the  AAIE "Anatomy Of" series:
The series includes:
The Anatomy of Weapons.
AAIE "The town"
The anatomy of Balance.
The Anatomy of a Perk.
The Anatomy of an Ability
The Anatomy of AAIE Magic


All calculations done with  "Any Dice" found here on the web. It's a great tool.

Monday, October 30, 2017

New Material For Phase abandon:

Phase...
Another group has started playing Phase abandon, apparently a number of people have downloaded the game PDF off Drive through RPG. With that in mind I have set out to produce some short (5 pages or so) Folios which include information that may be helpful to those looking to play phase. A game which Is in my opinion pretty darn hack-able so these folios could end up being a series dedicated to Phase hacking moving towards system bashing.

My vision is that these folio's can be printed and kept to create a larger more flexible Phase campaign binder. Obviously, I'm getting way ahead of myself.(as usual)

The first of these Folio's is "The Phase Skill Folio" Which explains points about  Phase skills. Words are spent on how the skills work along with what their actual purpose within the ethos of the game.

I'm going to be offering it up on Drive through once I finish it, then have the chance create some form of suitable cover page. I might make the folio's Pay what You Want although I know that's as good as saying FREE, so I may go either way.

However because this is my blog which means anyone who reads this blog is my special friend, I'm going to put a download link here to the beta document.

Phase Skill Folio Beta PDF

This is an effort to gage reaction and interest, so any comments are as always welcome.

-Thanks for reading .
Mark.

Phase Abandon, RPG, Dustpan games, Role Playing Games

Thursday, October 26, 2017

"A Far Off Land" Kick-starting now!


Earlier in the week Megan Bennett-Burks, posted on Google plus asking if anyone was interested in  doing Question and answers or Podcast interviews about her new kickstarter "A Far Off  Land."

This in not the  kind of thing I normally write about, but I have been wanting to start featuring cool smaller kickstarters on the blog for a while. 
With that in mind I took a few minutes to check out the Kickstarter page and was pleasantly surprised.



I very much like the  idea of the Fated capable of traveling between two worlds via "Rabbit holes." It touches on many of my favorite tropes.  Creature summoning, Elemental magic, "Fated" characters moving from a normal world to a magical one, wisps of Lewis Carol fantasy. It all appeals to me.
The system being used is FATE, which to my mind is the perfect choice for the amount of narrative flexibility a product like A far Off Land would need.


So I reached out to Mrs Bennett-Burks with a few questions and the results can be found below.
I hopes it's enough to convince you to go give the kickstarter a look.


Here is the brief interview:

My questions are in bold.



Tell me something about yourself and your partners on this project.


My name is Megan Bennett-Burks, I'm a programmer and web-designer, I also am passionate about RPGs, and released an RPG book titled Leaves of Chiaroscuro.  I've also contributed to other books, including the RPGS Science-Fantasy Toolkit, and a few additional projects presently in progress.
Jacob Possin is a co-author of Jadepunk, an RPG setting for Fate, and is a contributor to the Fate Codex.



How did you get in to Rpg’s, more specifically what lead you into RPG design?


I started playing RPGs in high school during the lunch hour. After I got into college there were stretches were I didn't game, just due to lack of gamers, but recently there seems to have been something of a resurgence in gaming, at least locally, so I've not been at a loss for gamers to GM for.
I got into RPG design at first because I love to hack existing games for my own group and create my own settings.  But, I also love to write, draw, and do other sorts of creative things (I actually majored in music so that's another creative pursuit I enjoy), it just seemed natural to eventually work on my own RPG book and release it into the world.


I read your Kickstarter Campaign and I’m intrigued by the concept of characters moving between two worlds. The art on displayed on the Kickstarter seems to imply that the Fated will be themselves in both worlds but some how “augmented” or more “magical” in the Far of Land. 
Is this assumption correct?

That is correct, the characters are shapeshifters. They are naturally human (to alll appearances) in "The Cage" (what the Fated call our own world) and they naturally are stranger eldritch-creatures while in the Far Off Land (what they call the world full of magic and monsters). However, with some extra effort, they can switch forms to whatever they want while in whichever of the two worlds.  They also have access to different abilities depending on what form they are in; however, magic is one thing that is actually stronger in The Cage.  That may seem very counterintuitve and strange, but there is a reason for it.  The Cage seems mundane to most people, but it is of a very deceptive nature.

How do you see that working as part of the narrative? What is it like for a Fated to cross between worlds?

The Fated use rabbit holes to go from one world to the other. Rabbit holes are like little mini-worlds that exist between the two worlds and are sort of part of both.  Think the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland (which is an influence on this game).  While other beings can travel from one world to the next, it is really bad for magical beings to end up in The Cage.  The Fated are the only beings that can use magic and be in either world without it being a very bad thing.


Another intriguing concept are the Courts and Factions.
Will there be rules for players to create their own factions over time?

I haven't presently included rules for player characters to create their own Faction or Court, but, that could be a good idea.

Without giving too much away how do you see Players interacting with the courts?

Player characters are either members of a Court, or a Faction. You can have player groups that belong all to one organization, or belong to different ones depending on whether you want to include some inter-party-tensions between them due to the different goals those organizations will have or not.
The different Courts and Factions all try to use the Fated player characters to further their agendas.  Most of the Factions want to do what they can to keep the things that sleep within The Cage (namely dragons) asleep so the two worlds aren't destroyed by them.  However, the Factions have some different ideas about how to go about that. The Courts, perhaps with the exception of the Munin are less interested in that and have their own interests that can lead to alliances or conflicts arising between them and different organizations. The Fated are ideal go-betweeners and so are likely to be sent on cross-world missions a lot and to act as variously emissaries, assassins, and other things.


Fated using their Blood to summon fourth Elemental Creatures sounds amazing!
What kind of creatures do you have in mind?
How do they relate to those who summoned them?


The creatures are created from the combination of the Fated character's own blood & an element.  Each Fated character has an affinity with one element. We wanted these creatures, beyond being formed of blood and elemental "stuff" combining to be pretty personal to each Fated, so the player can describe them almost however they want.  One Fated might summon an earth elemental form of rotting dirt and bones which would seem very much like an undead creature, while another might summon serpents forged of flame.


This sounds like a setting which is quite ambitious and full of great ideas. I see you mentioned using the material provided with other game systems besides FATE in the Q&A section.
How closely do you plan on marrying the material to FATE?
Would using the ideas for another system be difficult?


Certain systems would be much easier to work with than others.  I think systems that allow for a lot of picking and choosing traits from a wide variety and aren't class-based, like Savage Worlds, or very light systems like RISUS would be relatively easy to use with this.  It would be very hard to use class based systems like 5e, or really heavy crunchy systems unless the rules support a huge amount of custom-building things. Still, important to keep in mind, the rules included are for Fate.


About the actual kickstarter.

Looks to me that you have all of the pieces in place (artists, editors, and designers very experienced with FATE.) 
Beyond what you have already listed on the kickstarter page are there any resources you have in place that are going to make this a great product? 
Guest artists in mind? 
Any pie in sky ideas that strong funding could make happen?


I would really like to hit the PbtA / Apocalypse World Engine goal, and eventually do a print option for that too.  It would also be nice to have a Kickstarter exclusive, maybe if we have enough funding I can support that as well.
I do think we'll end up adding a few more artists, but that isn't set in stone just yet.

Lastly, If you are talking to a person who is on the fence about funding A Far Off Land, what would you tell them to nudge them over the edge?

That's a highly individualistic thing.  I think I would have to start at why in particular they are on the fence, and then go from there. 

Anyhow, thank you for your time!



That's that.
I would like to say that this article was written with no expectation of any kind of return beyond the good feeling of giving another game designer a slight signal boost. 
Beyond that, I hope the reader has found it an interesting and informative way to learn about a kickstarter.

I would like to thank Megan Bennett-Burks for taking part and helping me get started with a feature I hope to do more often on this blog.

Thank you for reading.
-Mark.



Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Phase Abandon Q: and A: (Skills and Skills in Challenge Scenes.)


One of my friends is starting a game of Phase Abandon, and in the course of setting it up he sent me a couple of questions. This is a good thing honestly. I have not thought about the internal workings of Phase for a while. It was written quite some time ago, and we haven't played it for a while. The end result is writing this was a very good exercise for me, and hopefully helpful for him.

Question One:
One of the players has a skill called "Gains from ones losses", He wants to write it as if when someone critical fails a roll, he can then roll that skill to regain 2 lost skill points for each success. If he critical fails then he losses two skill points for each critical failure of his choosing, I feel like the skill should have a very defined restriction since it seems to be a very powerful tool. There is the equilibrium aspect to, he could take as much damage as he gains back. I'm not sure what to think about that.



Answer 1:
First off I'm going to say the  skill is fine by the wording of the rules but here are some thing s to think about.
Some questions for the  group to ask when looking at this skill.

  • In the story  what is  "gains from One's losses" As in how does he gain .. If a character is  20 miles from his character and rolls a pile of crit fails can he gain from that, how?
  • Is it  combat specific?
  • Specific only to Combat while he's with another player's character?
  • So how does he get dice back  by virtue of another character getting stabbed in the face?


The game being a narrative game is not in anyway balanced against number fuckery. It is a problem that is  tricky to overcome, because some times people just don't even know they are committing Dice fuckery. 
Players are apt to think "Soooo I can just write my own slf heal? Or an Area of effect attack cause what-evers?" 
They start to salivate and write awesome Kewl-Powerz when all they needed was a s skill called "First Aide" (On success heals skill damage = success, Hels Heart damage = to 6's on fail heals nothing, on critical fail can not retry on this target's current wounds.

Our famous example is this skill:

Cannon in my chest:
I fire a huge cannon  built into my chest!
For each success, some one dies, for each 6 rolled a world of my choosing dies.
For each critical failure rolled I take 1 point of heart Damage, and someone else dies.

That skill is not in any way against the rules.
It's  stupid.
Very stupid.
BUt not against the rules.

In other words there is no point in taking pride in breaking or exploiting the system because there never have been any breaks written into the game to prevent it. It's like saying "look I ate the cookie! HA! I got over on you!" when the  cookie jar is open on the counter. 
Yeah .. Have a cookie.. we can all have cookies.

The only  thing holding player back from what I consider "Dice fuckery" is the social contract between players to buy into a narrative game in which the  players characters and s skills fit into the  the setting.


The group can  make it work:
My advice would be to  have a conversation with that player asking how he envisions that skill working in a story.. Is it a psy power? some anime reference that the  person loves, whatever. 
Find out the motive behind the skill then put it to the group. If everyone thinks it's ok  then work with it. 
Let it go on a trial basis see if it's  game breaking.  If I remember correctly one of Jay characters had "backstabbing" and we went through a few variations of it before it felt right. You're all players in this game trying to make a cool world with cool stories. It's not a competition, so if a skill is a bit wonky but  everyone agrees that it's OK. It becomes OK.

Also remind the  player that if he rolls 5 ones in combat he could take 10 Heart damage which will put him out of the fight (No one dies in phase unless they want to so....) instantly.
Which might not be the  best for the  group.



Question 2:


A question that's been bugging me about mechanics: Are challenge scenes combat oriented? I know there are skills that can take points of a goals or deal damage but can all skills be used in a challenge scene? 
Answer Two:

Any scene can be a challenge scene.  More to the  point A challenge can be anything the  group agrees is a challenge

Any skill can be used in a challenge scene because any skill can take challenge off of a scenes total challenge rating.


Challenge scenes are set up by each  player putting in chips then rolling a number of  D6's  Equal to the chips. Highest roller controls the opening of the challenge scene. The total challenge is determined the total of all the players rolls.

With That in mind the opening bidding process is not just about  "control" of the challenge scene. It is also about how much weight each player wants that scene to have in the game. 

A scene could come up that the table thinks should be a challenge but one of the players is not that interested in. They could concede the bid, by bidding nothing. 
That will A. mean they aren't getting control at the start of the challenge scene, and B. the total challenge in the scene will be lower. Both of which can be acceptable results.


For example Rik is bartering with a Blacksmith. This could be a skill roll, and  probably should be.  
If the  group determines that this should be a challenge scene that's also acceptable.
However the challenge should not be  very high unless the group thinks that this  interaction with the blacksmith is pivotal or that it might tip the fortunes of the party in some way.
If a challenge rating of  10 or less is rolled for the challenge scene, then Rik's player could roll well and clear it in one or two rounds of talking. It's not combat, but it may push the  group towards completing their goals in some small way.

Another good example which is more in line with your questions:
Muhadin my  Phase character had the  skills "Feats of strength" And "Brawling"
Feats of strength was not a combat skill in it's self, but if I rolled well it could take points of of a scenes challenge. I would use feats of strength all the time to  throw things (aka people) around, rather than using brawling. In-fact in a climatic fight against Muhadin's brother  his brawling was reduced to one die. By the end of the fight I was relying almost exclusively on his raw strength. As a narrative that's awesome... Ended up tossing the guy around until he surrendered.


Hope these have been interesting and helpful. 
It's a flexible and fun game but it admittedly has it's flaws, and comes at some things differently than other RPGs. 
Questions from any one who downloads the  game are more than welcome.


-Mark

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Thimbral Rising: Talking Ideas.

Had some ideas and want to  put them down here on the blog.

If one were to use the labels to search that person would find that the very first time I ever mentioned the  "Shards of Thimbral" setting idea was back in  2013. What that means is I have had this idea bouncing around in my head for a solid four years with nothing to show for it. I do have a "game" sketched out in my "Things Unfinished" folder. By sketched out I mean very much undone.

Yesterday I was kicking around a system to bolt my setting ideas onto. Here's my thought process. I would want something simple. I like a games main mechanic to be easy to remember. I don't necessarily need "innovation." In fact if I were strain for an innovative idea I know I would over complicate the game.

Some Setting ideas (I have shared these before..in one form or another)

  • A world torn apart by cataclysm.
  • The world shattered into an countable number of  floating islands. The  world below rent and twisted, inhabited by creatures unfortunate enough to have been left behind.
  • Humanity took a century to claw it's back to some semblance of  society among the  floating shards of  their world.
  • None of that matters to your character however, as you grew up after the event. 
  • You live in this world of floating villages and buildings built of salvaged scraps is all you know.
  • Technology:  Roughly real world 1500's to 1540's mixed wiht magic
  • Magic, Yes but magic is intertwined with technology, more a form of fule than a thing that manifests effects. No direct casters (AKA Wizards) in fact it's highly taboo.
  • Main Fantasy  resource "Shards." A remnant of the cataclysm shards are a dark luminous green to black Obsidian like element. It is a residue of the  incredible magical forces that shattered the land which can be used as a fuel.
  • Other resources, Coal, iron , wood is in short supply in some areas. Honestly anything  people need on a regular basis.
  • The  event that ripped the world apart also imbued magical effects to many  pieces of the world. Each floating island can have it's own biome and magical effects. One island might have a spring that never runs dry and spills over the  side of the island. A jungle island where it rains all the time. A wind swept desert island cloaked In a constant sand storm. An island encased in a huge glass sphere, a island where the sun never sets. So on and so fourth.
  • I would definitely write a procedural "island generator." It would be a must.
  • Main direction of adventure. Exploring unknown islands.
    • Getting back to what happened in the cataclysm?
    • dealing whit other isolated communities.
    • Going to the dangerous surface to find relics in the ruins.
    • Pirates, Mercenaries and raiders from other communities ..oh my. 
I have not decided if I want to write a system for this or just bolt it onto a game I already have. 
The SMART thing to do would be to make it Phase Abandon setting that I could add to drive through as a support product for the free Rpg I already have posted there. (Go to Drive through RPG and search "Dust Pan Games.")
I'm not known for doing the smart thing all that often though.

So that's what I;m kicking around.
-Thanks for reading.

Perhaps by the end of the week I'll post something table usable. Though I have to admit my mind has not been in the  D&D zone for quite a while.




Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Is Combat always the default mode of interacting with the world?

No AAIE Update this week... Nothing new going on, at least not that I know of.


I love fantasy RPG's.
I also really dig Sci fi games, even though I haven't had the chance to play all that many of them over the years.
The one thing I see repeatedly game after game is a similar theme of blowing shit up. D&D devotes a large portion of it's 5th edition hand book to combat. Not so much In a rules way, the  combat rules in the players hand book only range from page 189 to page 198. I mean more in theme. The idea of adventuring is couched in the  idea that there will be fighting. The  idea that there is magic is  tied to in the idea that many of the  spells are going to be dedicated to  damage dealing. The equipment pages contain  many mundane items, but the weapons get the awesome illustrations. The  New Starfinder book takes this even a bit further. It's Sci-fantasy  setting is  presented as a place where pretty much every one is armed to the teeth. The artwork is good for the most part, but I'm not sure there are any pictures where there's not at least one gun or sword sticking out somewhere.

Not that I have any  problem with any of that. One of my own games (AAIE) is expressly about marching under prepared characters towards a near sure and mostly inexplicable death.   In other words I'm no RPG soft hand. I like building a bad ass warrior to murder-hobo with as much as anyone does.

Though  lately, and it just might me getting old, I don't know.

This post was inspired by two products I saw today. The first a product new to me.
Blood and Bone:
Blood and Bone is a dark and gritty fantasy roleplaying game.
Play as a ragtag company of sellswords, a savage band of raiders, or a gang of outlaws and thieves in the unique and deadly world of Ossura.
Create rich characters, driven by human desires in stories fueled by war, intrigue, and exploration.
And  A game which has come through my  time lines a few times, but I have never actively pursued in any way.
Ryuutama: Natural Fantasy
The characters are travelers in a world without classical fantasy wizards and warriors. Instead, the characters are minstrels, merchants, healers, hunters, artisans, farmers and nobles who decide (or were fated) to leave their towns and explore the world. Using a light rules system based on polyhedral dice where the randomness in results leads to more story development, Ryuutama provides a framework for travel-focused stories fun for adults and enjoyable for all ages. 
I'm not knocking either game they both look very good however, one of those games would have gotten my money instantly  five years ago. One of them might get my money today. They are not the same game. Both games look good, but my perspective is quickly changing.

The nice things about  RPG's is that the  group is free to explore what ever themes make the  game fun for them. I have run D&D games where the party has not thrown a die in anger for the whole session, and those games were still fun. I'm looking for  games where adventure is the theme, but wherein combat is not the default method of interacting with the world.


(Feel free to click those links ... I don't do the  affiliate thing)





Monday, October 2, 2017

9 months of 2017

It's October.
So far This year


    • I purchased.
  • Starfinder Core book.
  • Cypher system rule book.
  • Dragon Warriors.
  • Among a few other smaller games ... (Mechs vs Kiju tiny d6 for example)
    • I wrote:
  • I pretty much finished writing AAIE
  • I rebuilt Phase abandon, which Jens D. then kindly laid out .
  • Rewrote and edited Nova 75.
  • wrote 44 entries to this blog.
    • I played:
  • Played several games of 5th edition D&D, with several different dungeon masters. (Otto & Jay, mostly)
  • Played FATE online with a group of people I had never met. Which was a lot of fun.
  • Played Lost Songs (Jen's gamge) twice
    • I Ran:
  • I ran my Aleria D&D campaign Twice. 
  • One AAIE game, and "Gaming in the woods"
  • I have run four games of AAIE, with various people, for play testing.
  • Two Games of  AD&D 2nd edition online.
2017 = Meh.
-Mark.






Sunday, October 1, 2017

Magic, A creeping abomination.

Magic, creeping abomination.

An oily pool.

Unclean


Magic insinuates itself into everything we do.
Slides into cracks, coats hidden surfaces.
Collects in the low places.
It squirms, Slithers, amoeboid, pseudopodia.



Magic ruined the world.
Stain is everywhere.
Magic left us behind.
Now we hunt Magic.
Stench on our skins.


(How I would have treated Magic in Shards of Thimbral had that ever happened.)

Saturday, September 30, 2017

DM-ing Phase abandon.

Phase is a game I wrote a few years ago.
Born into the world back when 4th edition was announced. Jay and I said  "We don't want to pay for another D&D" With that our group set out on making our own system. I have written the story of Phase on this blog more than once.
I have also called it "The best game no one has ever played."
To further the point I have called it "My favorite out of the games I have written."
I stand by those statements. The PDF as written has a couple mistakes in it (I'll fix them.) Some of the design choices may seem a bit contrived now that a few years have passed, but at least I know it works because our group has played an awful lot of it.

Phase Abandon is available at drive through RPG for the low price of $0.00 USD.

Phase abandon is  at it's heart a DM'less game. It was designed so I could play a character as well as share the G.M. duties. At the time Phase was written I was doing most of the game mastering in our group it seemed like a fun idea. Over the years however we have had ideas that work better with a G.M. then they might have in a G.M-less game so we have run the game several times with a G.M.

The Key to Phase is getting everyone on board with the setting. Setting the tone of the game right out of the gate. There needs to be a session zero where the setting is created by the group,or whomever wants to run the game comes to the  group with a clear idea of what the setting is. I suppose this can be said for every game. Phase with it's custom skills, goals, and character motivations needs a well defined setting to hold everything together.

If setting up a setting a game mastered phase game up start by creating five or so skills that are representative of the setting  to be run. Let each player choose one or more of these skills when creating their characters.

The most basic skill format is

  1. Skill name/ description
  2. What happens on success
  3. What happens when 1's are rolled.
A very simple weapon skill might look like:
  1.  I attack with my  sword.
  2. I do a number of damage equal to the  number off successes rolled.
  3. I take an amount of damage equal to the number of "1's" rolled.
For a setting like Shards of Thimbral which was to be set in a world of land masses floating in the sky I may well design a skill such as.

  1. Sky ship pilot. I have served on a sky ship and trained in their  operation., I know how to fly this thing.
  2. Rolled when making difficult maneuvers or in combat. In combat when an evasive  maneuver is attempted roll this skill if successful the  number of success can be subtracted from the success of pursuer, or enemy combatants next roll.
  3. When the roll is a failure any 1's rolled automatically damage your vessel.
Another tenant of Shards of Thimbral is that magic is a dangerous but sought after physical resource. I could parley that into a skill such as.

  1. Harvester: I know how to  handle Shards without harming myself or others.
  2. Rolled when  harvesting  magical shards each success on a successful roll represents an extra level of shard quality.
  3. On a failed roll each failed die degrades the quality of the  shard by 1 and each "1" rolled gives the  harvester a point of magical Blight. (defined in game)
SoT was to be about exploration as well as resource exploitation.  A skill like the following might be usefull.

  1. "Skytographer" I have dedicated my self to cataloging and  plotting lost sky islands. 
  2. On a successful roll the  character may  plot a course to any  island he or she has already visited (keep a list) and  cut time off the travel equal to the number of successes rolled.
  3. On a failed roll: Each failed die represents an extra day of wasted travel. any "1's" rolled send the  ship farther off course into unknown territory. (AKA the GM decides where the party will end up.)

And so on.
Decide on the  points which are going to define the setting. Build skills that reinforce those points then allow the  players to choose those skills when creating characters.
Using this method with "Phase" will allow a GM to  inject the setting with the flavor they are looking to create without limiting the free form system that makes phase different. 

Thank you for reading
-Mark.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Two Maps, from a thing that never quite happened.

I have not done this for some time. "This" being just a usable map tossed on the blog for  anyone to  take and use for whatever they desire.

The  story behind this map is a tragic one. a while back I Started running a good old fashioned AD&D 2nd ed dungeon crawl, as it happens the game didn't stick. I think sometimes with these side games, if they don't stick it's honestly no big deal. It's not like our main campaign completely bit the dust. (Even though due to scheduling problems it sure seems like it has.) We got a few nights of fun out of it and  that's that. I suppose I could do a whole blog about why some games stick the go on to become the long running games we all love, versus the games that  don't go anywhere. Though I think that ground has been covered before by people a boat load brighter than I am, so all you get are some maps.

The maps: One is of a mining town perched on the  side of a treacherous mountain. The other map is  a section of mine the players explored.
I think the mining town map is  kind of shite. Just being honest. 

How I started to use it:
The town is on a plateau. A low stockade style wall surrounds the simple wood and  salvaged stone buildings. There are two gates one leading out of the camp onto a rampart heading down the mountain. The other gate leads to the  recently discovered and excavated mine entrance. The area marked "The Basset" was a mooring point for an air ship which brought the players to the mine. The air ship was also responsible for all the  supplies to the mining colony which meant it was going to drop the characters off then leave right away. In the game I ran the party was hired from the outside by an archaeologist (stationed at the  site marked "S" on the map) who was working in the newly re-discovered mine to find his assistant who had run off into the mines with the  archaeologists site survey. The archaeologist has no idea why the  assistant might have run off, however he  does want his  survey back so he can  finish  his work before the quickly arriving miners start tearing into the ancient mine below looking for  riches.

The mines are also very "plain" but there was enough meat on it that the players had to think about how to get where they wanted to go then what to do at the end. I'm not going to key and detail all the rooms and what not. Take them, re-key them, use them for whatever nefarious plot you see fit.

Some of the things I did:
There is one room noted in the mines with a heavy metal trap door covered in.  The  party fought on top of that door over the course of several rounds they failed check after check to notice it. When it finally opened only the thief fell in better still she managed to catch herself. The point of the door was not to drop a thief to her death, but to make a very loud "BANG" when it swung open, alerting the  guards in another section of the cave.

There were two exits from the map: The passage at the top of the map marked "caves would have moved of into more proper style mines. In my game a trope of goblin had take these old mines and recently had been sneaking into the mines and robbing supplies from the newly arrived miners,

 The area marked "temple" was in my game a stair case which had been filled in with sand. At the base of the stairs (once the sand was gone) was a stone door which lead into the next area of the adventure. The party made it that far however we dropped the game before exploring any further.

That's it for now.
I hope someone finds some use for these sketches.

Thanks fro reading .
-Mark.







Friday, September 8, 2017

The Anatomy of, AAIE magic.

Small AAIE Update:
On Saturday Morning I'm running a game off AAIE at "Gaming in the  woods" a new Con just starting up this year in Poughkeepsie NY. I guess this isn't  playtesting anymore, now we're just playing. Editing and such continues. I still haven't done anymore art for the game, so ... that's on me.

Also One of the games I wrote back in 2006, which was played quite often between then and 2014 (when fifth ED dropped and we all decided to try it) Can now be downloaded on Drive through RPG for Free.
It's Called Phase Abandon. The  document was edited and Laid out by the multi talented Jens D. From the Disoriented Ranger Blog. The Drive through RPG was set up by the equally talented Neal T. who deserves all the credit for getting this stuff out there.
Quick note about Phase abandon: It's very much a "Narrative style" game. While I hate those labels because of the arguments they cause, I had to point out the Phase Abandon is very much unlike AAIE or D&D.

Yet another in my now growing "Anatomy of" series. This series deals with  various design aspects from my game "Amazing Adventures and Incredible Exploits." The articles below are written to provide clarity concerning the  AAIE game specifically how the  moving parts of that game are meant to  work together.

The series includes:
The Anatomy of Weapons.
AAIE "The town"
The anatomy of Balance.
The Anatomy of a Perk.
The Anatomy of an Ability
The Anatomy of AAIE Magic


The Anatomy of AAIE magic:
This is may not be my longest post, but its still a doozy.
First of all I think I need to start with a bit of background. (start building the  pyre while getting the tar and feathers all warm and ready.) I hate, have always hated D&D Magic. The whole Vancian magic concept has never conceptually made much of sense to me. Worse yet it has never  "excited" my imagination. It has never felt like magic to me. Not the magic I had seen in movies, not the Magic I had read about in  books. (Outside of Jack Vance but .. yeah .. ) Want proof? Ask the people I game with  how many spell casters I have ever played? Not many.
I did a bit of thinking on the subject when I wrote AAIE. The idea that magic users forget their memorized spells when they are cast, the root of the  whole Vancian thing, never bothered me. The  idea of having a limited number of spells, or the need to study each day were also not that offending. When I got down to it, the lists of spells is what has always put me off. Here are my gripes. Primarily I never want to hear "let me look up that spell" again. I am not a fan of that. D&D went a good distance by printing spell cards for each class. As handy as spell cards are WoTC has enough of my money already. I'm not going to ask the players in the game I run to buy them. A pile of index cards works well enough. Prepared players help a great deal to mitigate this gripe. The  people I game with always  have the pages their spells are located on written on their spell lists. Those things are great, but it still takes the player out of the game into reference mode every time they want to cast.*

My second gripe is the lack of creativity involved in predefined spells. The system is supposed to represent magic.  Having each spell predefined by a stat block reminds me more of doing math  than indulging in the dark arts. Sure I have spent time  tying to find creative uses for spells like "rope trick," or "Illusionary Terrain." ** Milking as much use as possible out of the spells, while fun as a pursuit, has never felt magical or creative to me.

With all this in mind I took a cue from some of the older editions of Ars Magica in attempting to create a more interpretive Magical system.
AAIE uses what are termed "keywords" along with "casting styles" to facilitate magic.
A new spell caster knows a number of keywords equal to his or her Academics score.  These words are the building blocks of their spells. A player may use a number of keywords equal to their level +1.
For example if a wizards keywords are, Rune, Thundering , light, and Weapon. That caster at level 1 could cast a spell called. "Thundering Rune" , simply "thundering", "Light Rune" or any other combination. Each keyword used in the spell makes the  spell more difficult while adding to the  spell's effects.
It is up to the player to describe the  desired effect then for the GM to arbitrate if the effect is in bounds.

Using our example above "Thundering Rune" could be a mark made on a door way that  causes a great noise when the door is opened. The key word "Light" could be cast in a myriad of ways. Light the noun as in illumination, light as in the  adjective  "off little weight", light the verb as in light the candle.
At first level the  player could cast "Light Weapon" which could mean a weapon that spreads illumination, causing a weapon to go aflame, a weapon made of light or a large weapon the  player just made weigh less...

How hard a spell is to cast is determined by  the characters Casting style. A casting style are the wizards equivalent of the abilities given to the other classes. A wizard starts with one style he or she may pick up others as they level up.
Spells are categorized at the time they are cast by the GM  as either Offensive, Defensive, Summoning, or Utility. Each casting style has base difficulties along with benefits or drawbacks depending on the category of spell cast.

Lastly each key word used in a spell increases the  base difficulty by one. Our example spell above "Light Weapon" would incur a +2 difficulty to cast. This being AAIE the GM adds that in before taking the characters relevant attribute into account to determine the final difficulty . In effect it's math the player never has to see.

Here is an example  Spell casting Style (or ability if you like)

Offensive Caster.
(You have put it into your mind that magic is to be used for the sole purpose of destruction and death. You are not much fun at parties.)
Attribute: Academics 
This is the character's attribute that will lower the casting difficulties.
Difficulty Offense Vs armor of target - casters academics
When casting  offensive spells the  caster may use their academics score to lower the difficulty.
Difficulty Summoning: Vs 12 + modifiers
Difficulty Defense: Vs 12 + modifiers
Difficulty of Utility: Vs 12 + modifiers
The other spell categories don't get the academics modifier because this is the offensive casting style.
Costs: Myst and focus by spell +
You may add more Myst to any spell to add damage. 1 point for 1 point.
Every spell costs d6 myst and d6 Focus, +1 per keyword used to cast, offensive casters may choose to spend more if they wish to do more damage.
Common: You do normal damage + (see above)
This is the result of a normal success (the result of a successful casting with a non-exceptional roll on the  effect die.)
Perk 1: Stun opponent
Perk 2: knock down.
Perk 3: Push
Critical: X 2 damage.
If the  roll is successful and the  effect die is high  these are the perks the  player may add to their spell. Base effects are also  determined by the number of keywords used. Each key word used adds a D6 to the effects.
Fumble: Use spell fumble table
IF the roll is a failure along with an effect die result of  1, there is a pretty solid chance the  player will blow themselves up ...

Going back to our "Light Sword" spell example.
If it were cast using the  Offensive caster ability above, with the player electing to create a, "Sword made out of  the purest light in their hand!"

  • It's a second level spell. It uses two key words "Sword and Light"
  •  I would love to say this is an offensive spell to match the characters casting style but actually it's not. It's a summoning spell as the  player is  summoning a sword of light to their hand. 
  • The difficulty would be 12 (+2 because it is a spell using 2 keywords)  For a total of  14.
  • It will cost the caster 1d6+2 Myst and Focus. ( I usually ask players to roll those costs individually but it's not a rule.)
  • Assuming the  roll is a success as a GM I would ask the player to describe what the Light sword looks like.  After all it's that wizards light sword, not necessarily like anyone else's
  • The  sword will do 2d6 damage. (2 key words.)
  • The  sword will last 2d6 turns or until dispelled, or another spell is cast. (again 2 keywords.)
  • If I were running the game I would say the  sword casts a glow like a torch, not more because the player never stated they wanted it as a source of illumination but simply as a sword. 
  • I would give it a bonus of 1d6 damage vs undead. Given that the  player said it was made of "the purest light" I just think that would be cool.
  • A smart player would write down the  bonuses I gave to the light sword then ask for them again next time they cast it. A wise player would write down the bonuses I gave to the light sword then mention them the next time they cast the spell then say, "But if you think something else works better..."


Does this seem like much of the  magic system is dropped in the GM's lap for case by case arbitration? Yes.
In my opinion the one great balancing and arbitrating  system most games have in common is the game master. Trying to build a "magic system" that will catch  all of the ideas a player may come up with is neigh impossible. With That in mind I  decided that any free form magic system will have to lean on the GM more heavily than a system where the spells are pre-written. ***  I find arbitrating the magic to be fun. I'm constantly surprised by the ideas players come up with. Equally exciting are  the  ways in which they use keywords to adapt to situations. It's creative, allows the players to stretch out within the game world to work the system a bit. Finally AAIE magic doesn't require those lists of spells for everyone to memorize. It can also be a bit silly at times, after all that's to be expected in AAIE.

In a nutshell that's the basics of AAIE Magic.

Wild and  strange no doubt. I have found it to be the hardest part of the game for new players to  get used to. They usually end up liking it, but it has an adjustment period that the other classes just don't have.

Thank you for reading, and have a great one!
-Mark.






*Unless the group is playing 5th edition which has offensive "cantrips" for each casting class which  everyone has memorized word for word...and are honestly repulsive to me.
** One of the most underrated spells in the  D&D  canon of spells. In my humble opinion.
*** Not that D&D style spells don't require a substantial amount of DM arbitration  now and again.

Monday, August 28, 2017

A Quick Look at Starfinder by Paizo

I think I am obligated to say:

I'm not affiliated with Paizo in any way.
No"review" materials were provided by Paizo prior to this writing. 
Here is ae link to the official Paizo information about the Starfinder game.
I bought the book from Amazon.
I get nothing from your clicking on the links contained in this blog.

I am quite obviously not a professional reviewer, all opinions in this piece are just that..My personal opinions.

I think that covers my rear-end sufficiently.

OK. I have to be a straight shooter here. There is no way to do a "Quick Look"  at a 521 page book.
My apologies.

So here is the TLDR version:
Very good production values. Surprising value for price. A system the group I game with will relate to. A Pazio game I can get in on the ground floor of. Good value for the money. Does Sci-fantasy "shoot-shoot" as well as Pathfinder does Fantasy "stab stab"...


I took the time to hack together that preamble because I know Starfinder has been a hot property since it's release. With that thought in mind I'm safe to assume some people are going to have strong opinions about it. If there's one thing I have learned from reading RPG material on the internet it's that for every popular new product there will be people rushing to enthusiastically shoot it down, with an equal number of people rushing to defend it. I wanted to be clear that I'm not here to do either. My intention is to write a bit about how I see the  new game and how I think I can make use of it. Hopefully that will be at best useful or at least interesting to someone out there.

So let's get to it:
I'm going to do this backwards. I'm going to write about my thoughts on how I relate to Starfinder the  game before I break down the physical object.

A bit of history.
My first D&D was "red Box, then  2nd edition, then  rules cyclopedia in that order. However for several of the players for whom I run games 3rd edition is where D&D started. As a group, we played 3rd edition before we ever started playing Phase abandon. (Phase abandon  is a game we home brewed then spent many years using almost exclusively once 4th edition came around.)
By the time we knew about Paizo producing Pathfinder, we were still playing Phase or off trying other  flavors of RPG. (Hell for Leather, Dungeon World, Retro Clones, even AD&D second edition.) Furthermore by the time Pathfinder hit our radar in any big way, Paizo had already  printed several years worth of books, the game had already gotten quite large. I never lost the  feeling  however that a good number of people in our group must think of 3rd edition D&D the way I think of  Red Box D&D. The comfy old shoes, the one that started it all for them. If I had only snagged Pathfinder when it first came out we probably would have played it quite a bit.

Recently I have been thinking about starting to run a new game. My old D&D campaign has kind of hit the skids again. Meanwhile as a GM/DM I have run an awful lot of fantasy games over the years, it has lead me to want to run something different.
I started thinking about  science fiction. That begged the question, "If I run Science fiction though what kind of science fiction would I run?"

Mind the reader: while I am not the best read when it comes to fantasy fiction, I have read even less sci-fi over the years. So working on a "hard Science" fiction game is a stretch for me. Games like traveler might not be the best fit. Running a game in an established fandom, like Star wars, Star Trek or Fire Fly would get me into trouble considering how shallow my knowledge of those properties is.
Finally I have been reticent about picking up a system where the players would have to learn a lot of new concepts. We are all adults each with a number of things taking up our time, I'm not sure anyone in our group has the desire to learn a whole new game.

What all this leads up to is the bell which went off in my head when I saw Starfinder.

I knew that Pathfinder was the  inheritor of D&D's 3rd edition genes. I also knew it had grown into a very complicated series of books fostering a reputation for complex character min maxing which had scared me away from the system.

In star finder I would have a sci-fi game with the genes of 3rd edition, which as of now only has a core book to worry about. I know the Starfinder game will expand in the future, but I don't need to expand with it. I am of the feeling that the very few role playing games have gotten better when a ton of splat books and rules expansions have been layered on. It's similar to how several years worth of  barnacles add drag to a perfectly good ship. I can take this game and run the core rules without the burden of a decades worth of splat books to avoid, ignore, or disallow. It's what I would have done with Pathfinder had I gotten in on the ground floor.

Those D&D 3rd edition bones are obvious enough in the system that I can easily sit down with our group and say, "Your firing your gun? OK. Roll D20 Add Base attack modifier, Dexterity bonus, and subtract any range penalties, if  the result is over the targets armorer class, you hit."

They (the players) will intrinsically know what I mean even if the packaging is a bit different. Meanwhile those same 3rd ed bones are wrapped in enough  sci-fantasy, bubble-fluff that the experience will feel fresh and new.

Ok so that's my view of  how it relates to the  group I  game with . Now here's a bit about the  book itself.

The book, US Quarter shown for scale.


The physical thing:
The  book is Hardcover, and 521 pages (plus a few adds for upcoming products and character sheets in the rearmost of the book)

The  spine seems solid, and opes up flat quite easily. I don't know how the book will hold up to use though I'm pretty easy on my game books so I might not be the best judge. Only time will tell.
By caparison my Cypher System Core book is 410 pages and has a similar binding but that book does not open as flat.

I have  leafed through the book a few times, read all of character creation and much of  personal combat and have not noticed any printing mistakes or issues so far. I have certainly not seen anything as serious as the  "smeary" ink that many people I know experienced with their D&D 5th edition books.

The pages are a nice weight, perhaps not as heavy as the ones in the aforementioned cypher system book, but close. Each page is a nice semi gloss, and flip easily (no stuck pages.) The  front and back covers are a heavy high gloss that a player would have to really try to dent or ding.
Overall this book is exactly what you would expect out of a flagship book, for a big product, by a successful company like Pazio. They have the resources to  put this kind of book out and it's obvious in the  quality of the physical production that Pazio was willing to use those resources on this core book.

Value:
I paid $49.95 USDs for the book on Amazon. I can say with confidence that it's worth the price as an object, as I said above, the production is top notch.

Editing:
I have not noticed any editing mistakes, however I'm the wrong guy to look for them... I mean you read this blog, you know the  score.

The  Art:
The credits list no less than 34 individual artist who worked on this book in one capacity or another. Each page is full color and there is an art plate of some kind at least every third page, sometimes more often. The art runs from good to very good in quality. Most of the pieces have that "digital painting" look that  has come to be used pretty much every where. While I have nothing against that style, (and it's all better than I can do.) I do think the style lends a samey look to many recent products all crossed the industry.
I particularly like the  double sided plate on pages 11 and 12, an evocative look off a star-ship's bridge. Page 52 a cool racial portrait to the  lizard race "Vesk." Page 363 a character portrait with a great deal of motion and energy. Lastly page 437 an almost impressionist style cityscape that communicates a good sense of colossal scale even in a small third page plate.

Organisation:
The book is well organised. Fully indexed, and with a solid reference section in the rear of the book. There is enough  in text cross referencing that a person can flip back and forth to find the clarity they need when  hitting a new term or concept. Lastly  there are red tabs along the outer edge of each page which are clearly visible along the side of the book, this is a nice touch. I know it's common at this point but I like to be able to see where one section begins and the other ends before I open the book. It saves on  extra flipping. Once I use the book more often I will get to know which section is which without looking first, making the whole thing easier to navigate.
The layout of the book is crisp. As I stated before art is spread liberally throughout the book but never seems obtrusive. The  designers were smart about where they dropped the  pictures as to not interrupt individual sections of text covering one topic.

 The text is in an easy to read font. It is obvious indicators as to where individual topics begin or end. (should go without saying but some  RPG books don't get that right.)

After some introductory "stuff" it starts right off with character generation. Most of the setting fluff is saved for the  end of the book  which is how I like it. There is a large section dedicated to starships and combat among starships. To be totally honest I haven't read that section yet. It looks good. It looks D20-ish with tons of modifiers on top of  specific combat situations. Which is to be expected.

I think the best way to describe the layout and organization is, "everything you would expect from a professional product by one of the biggest companies in the business."

Content:

{Statement of the  obvious} Again For those wondering, this isn't a Hard Science Fiction game.
The label I have seen used most often for the game's flavor is "Sci-Fantasy." It's more Mobius than Rocket manual. Having read what I have read of the book I agree with this  choice in aesthetic. It feels like the worlds of D&D have grown old only to become this. It's not all super technology. There are character classes straight up casting spells. For those of us who cut our teeth on D&D some of the spells are very familiar. One class the "technomancer" cleverly blends technology and magic by  utilizing a suite of spells which  focus on the manipulation or bolstering of tech. It's that kind of genre blending which permeates the  book. I like the sci-fantasy flavor, I like it alot. I find it  flexible as well as evocative. It give me as a GM enough of an umbrella that I could fit most of my stupid, crazy sci-fi ideas underneath. I could see someone wanting a more Paizo does Traveler experience being disappointed.

The core book offers up: 
7 races.
6 classes.
Character Themes, which can (I would call them optional) further differentiate between characters of the same class
20 or so pages of skills
15 pages of  Feats.
66 Pages of equipment.
12 pages of spell lists.
(By pages I mean the  typical Paizo Multiple column not exactly huge, ok I'm old I need to squint now font .. style pages.)

There is plenty here to last a GM like me ( Read: I don't get to play all that often anymore ) for a very long time.

What?
There are no monsters in this book. there is one example monster, shown to explain how a stat block works. There is a monster manual of sorts coming  along, for an additional $35 dollars.
I would have preferred they skip some of the  fluff portions of the book and dropped in 10 pages of usable monsters. It will not stop me from running the game, but I don't like that choice. (feels like a money grab. As in "Now the  GM's have to buy the monster book!" I don't. I probably never will. Unless I run a ton of this game and  at this point that seems unlikely.)

As stated above being a Pazio D20 production there are pages upon pages of  spells along with equipment making up the bulk of the book. With a new game I like that sort of thing. Perhaps because it is a new system seeing  a bunch of pages of  weapons all well illustrated as well as described was easy to look though if not particularly inspiring.

I haven't read all of the spells (some of them are straight up D&D spells,) the descriptions are generally short, as well as to the  point. All of the information needed for play is in each description, which is helpful. The shorter spell descriptions at least leave some wiggle room for game master interpretation based on the in game situation at hand.

A word on rules interpretations:
I'm sure  the Paizo forums will be filled with  questions concerning things like "If this  spell is active then  such and such  gets cast and the  moon is waning..does the  player get +2 for three rounds of  +1 for  four rounds?." I think that's the  price developers pay for creating such detailed (crunchy) systems. Some players just like to have the  answers. There is nothing wrong with that. A game with this may moving pieces is bound to create a large number of  questions. There might absolutely  be correct ways versus incorrect ways to use all these modifiers, skills, feats, spells..ect. I will likely interpret things at the table myself and let the chips fall where they may.

For me:
This game would normally not be my cup of tea at all. I got away from 3rd edition for a reason. Moreover I never took on Pathfinder for a reason. Those reasons were too much crunch combined with system bloat. This game is too weighty on the  system-crunch side, not skewed enough to the story-gamish side for my usual tastes. My biggest questions are, Is the game more complete because of all this stuff?  Does listing a laser ax and a plasma ax, make the game better? I'm not sure.

Not to be too self contradictory, but sci-fi is the  one genre where I  can  get behind some extra system crunch. Coming from that state of mind this game fits the bill for light conceptually accessible sci-fi concepts married to a more detailed, crunchy system.

Jumping back into Paizo's D20 system  is a bit daunting. I have been playing much lighter fare such as Fate, Apoc-World, the Cypher system, Phase, D&D Fifth edition, ect. Dealing with all the modifiers granted by races, classes, character themes,  feats, skills, equipment, positioning .... (the list goes on.) has my  head spinning a bit. It will take some serious reading along with a good perspective readjustment on my part to make this game work. (I mean even my  AAIE game, which is meant to satire overly random and chart filled games, has less in the way of charts and tables than this.)

Conclusion:
It's a big, pretty, expensive book.
If you are looking for a game that emulates space opera shoot em ups, with a science fantasy perspective and are not afraid of  the number crunch that comes with Paizo's  d20 vision, then it's a great choice.
If you have no desire to crunch numbers or a 520+ page book is not something you are willing to wade through then perhaps a different game might be your gateway to the stars.

Thanks for reading.
So this was too long....
Look for an actual play report or two when I finally get to take this bear for a spin.
-Mark.