Saturday, October 29, 2011

Coffeeshop Gaming - Part 02 (or is it Part True20?)

It occurs to me that I had forgotten one of the possible options for the simplification of dice rolls: True20.

I'll admit to having a small collection of True20 games, was getting familiar with it, am somewhat interested in some of them and strongly interested in major spliter-offs like Mutants and Masterminds/DC Adventures.

It's just rolling a single D20 for the resolution rolls and effect rolls -- isn't that pretty much my goal?

What caused me to shy away from it? The linear roll stresses me out, really. Not just for the resolution roll, but also for the effect roll. That and the granularity, the narrowness of the effect ranges for damage.

But I do like it, and need to go back to it again.

Although, if we go purely digital, dice isn't really an issue. There are many dice rolling apps out there that speed up dice rolling, keep dice histories, and eliminate the clattering of dice that fall off the table and get lost.

D&D: Ditching XP and thinking (Power) Levels

There was a time that I ran a short-lived D&D campaign using 3rd Edition rules set in the Forgotten Realms, and I dispensed with XP for monsters, treasure, encounters, traps and so on. I basically said that characters would level up by one level for every three sessions they played (based primarily on the fact that I had only so many scenarios and a tight schedule to actually run games).

The campaign framework was a combination railroad / sandbox: a merchant caravan. The main prepared encounters and NPCs and what not were based on the caravan's trip from the Dalelands, through two other kingdoms.

It helped me keep down the bookkeeping, shifted the focus of the characters away from taking on every obstacle they found in order to max out their XP haul, and let me spend more time figuring out what their opposition might be like.

I remember that one of the interesting things that came up due to this shift in thought was trying to use levels (and the 3E challenge ratings) to create a sort of "landscape of challenges". Certain areas (and plot threads) that I didn't want them to pursue at the time were immediately supplied with recognizable high-level threats in comparison to their current level, but leaving things open for them to pursue now -- or perhaps later when they could better handle the obstacles. My players, without the high reward for high risk option, seemed to act a bit more cautious and only went after surprisingly difficult opponents due to roleplaying / character motivations or because they weren't listening carefully and this misjudged their opposition.

The experience made me want to tinker more with Challenge Ratings and Levels without concerns for XP gain rates.

Of course, 3E already was a big shift away from traditional XP gain in D&D. They had XP for getting past traps, and other XP bonuses -- so I don't know if was just ignoring some improvements already made to the gain. I just wanted to get past the bookkeeping and adventure at a controlled rate of progress throughout my campaign.

Also, thinking about the campaign, I'm reminded of the "Drizz't effect", because certain players kept trying to make some captured Drow "good" by talking to them and being nice to them. I don't know if they felt betrayed when the Drow pretended (rather badly) to go along with the conversion attempts, but the villagers and other players weren't fooled. But that's another post for another day.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Isle Imperium: Episode 1.18 -- Mission Season Part 2

Fractured Shards are very dangerous to bear.
In the midst of preparations for the second mission, the party is betrayed by the corrupted Fractured Mage, which takes control of its mount, DUMAS, in order to kill the other members of the party except for ALECTO and CATALINA. These two are fortunately able to resurrect the others—in particular, through the assistance of Ossis Potior, MANTIUS, who after much frenzied battling finally banishes the corrupted shard from the Ninth Number in his capacity as Unconquered Warder.
  • In the course of its malice, the Fractured Mage managed to cleave and partially shatter the Opalescent Mage shard, doing some damage as well to the Prodigious Scholar and Sanomagus. Cat and Aly are later able to repair the latter two in their respective capacities as Repentant Bombadier and Gentle Chemist.
  • Mantius goes to the DIAMOND BLOOD CLOAK WARDER to report what has occurred, overcoming the warder’s initial disbelief with Varian’s aid as Bejeweled Nuncio. DBC summons the Tenth’s Grieving Warder PORENDUS to explain himself, in the course of which they realize that the Fractured Mage is now seeking a host among the Ninth.
  • Following DBC—who departed earlier to take Porendus’s place in battle—Porendus, Mantius, ARCTURUS, and Varian hasten to the scene, where they are able, with considerable difficulty, to capture and possibly destroy the corrupted shard, though not before it has killed all members of the Tenth except for Porendus.
  • Aly and Cat are called and are able to resurrect them, except for the Fractured Mage’s last host. Porendus is led away by his number before his distraught utterances can prompt DBC to punish them further beyond their expulsion from the circle of ten.
  • Back on the ship, Arc and Varian return to their oracular endeavors, learning the seven steps required to fulfill their second mission: finding something, something, someone, someone, and something; making an event occur; and achieving a rescue. Each of these must be done successively by midnight, one each day over the course of seven days.
  • The shards of the Ninth play politics: Ossis Potior cautions Mantius against the Renegade Warder and requests never to be slotted in the gauntlet; Ossis and the Saint of Shadows discuss their gathering of allies opposed to the Renegade’s schemes; and the Repentant Bombadier makes his case to the Bejeweled Nuncio for inclusion in the Renegade’s set.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Inspiration: Ultima III Exodus - Races and Classes

I was looking at the old manual for Ultima III (which was my first computer RPG), and I saw the following table:

Interesting things going on here.

First off, the Bobbit is clearly a LOTR hobbit or D&D halfling. Next, the Fuzzy race isn't obfuscated -- it's the Fuzzies from H. Beam Piper's series of novels concerning that race of furry bipeds. If you look at the Dennis Loubet pictures, you'll see what I mean.

In the professions, I note that the Lark provides the ability to use any weapon, despite being limited to cloth armor, and still cast spells (at Half Intelligence). The Illusionist seems to be a combination Cleric / Thief, while the Druid can cast both Sorcery and Prayers at the greater of both Halfs (Intelligence or Wisdom, I presume) and can regain magic points faster than other characters. The Alchemist seems to be a combo Mage / Thief.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fading Suns: Saints & Virtues

In Fading Suns, the Church's belief is based on the vision of the Prophet Zebulon, his teachings, and his activities while he was alive. Because the religion that grew out of his words and deeds is so massive, it's sometimes difficult to give it proper weight in the context of game sessions.

One of the things I cling to is the list of the initial disciples of the Prophet. While there is no shortage of possible heresies and convoluted catechisms that can no doubt be created, there are some important core elements that should be reviewed to retain the flavor.

On page 18 of the 2nd Edition revised rulebook, there's a boxed portion titled "The Virtuous Disciples". I use this list of virtues and saints a lot when crafting stories and teachings from the religion's holy texts:
  • Paulus the Traveler (Questing) - also the patron saint of charioteers (space pilots and navigators), Paulus embodies a virtue that is one of the major themes of the game. Questing refers to the constant search for truth and the perfection of the mirror of the soul so that it might properly reflect the Holy Light of the Pancreator. It also gives an impetus to go out on adventures, rather than just sit at home and navel-gaze.
  • Lextius the Knight (Loyalty) - as a knight, Lextius would probably be upheld by many a faction trying to instill fanatic loyalty in its members, in much the same way the beatitude "blessed are the poor in spirit" was shortened to "blessed are the poor" when taught to the less fortunate countries and members of society. Still, it would be important in a setting where the fabric of society is upheld by powerful factions carefully balanced against one another. I'd imagine his image would be very prevalent in training grounds and initiations.
  • Amalthea the Healer (Compassion) - healers are told to be compassionate, and that allows us to partially avoid the problem found in some D&D games where clerics refuse to aid other PCs unless they've converted to the patron deity. Furthermore, it serves as a valid motivation to bypass one of the "sins" noted by the Church: Invention.
  • Mantius the Soldier (Protection) - certainly, any adventurers would seek Mantius's intervention when embarking on dangerous missions. Others might view it as a calling, however, and hear the call to becoming bodyguards and vigilantes as part exercising the virtue of protection.
  • Maya the Scorned Woman (Justice/Retribution) - speaking of vigilantes, Maya would certainly be another saint that would garner attention when seeking to right a wrong. It would not be difficult to envision this defiant chained woman's image adorning doorways of the reeves and halls of justice of the Known Worlds -- perhaps even in their jails and places of punishment.
  • Horace the Learned Man (Wisdom) - the books portray Horace as highly intelligent, and one capable of a battle of words against the Prophet Zebulon before he was converted. His conversion serves to highlight the difference between intelligence and wisdom (which many D&D veterans already understand) and makes it likely that the Known Worlds culture would been keenly aware of the difference as well.
  • Hombor the Beggar (Humility) - humility is a hard thing to endure in a rigidly structured society. When people don't have much, they take pride in things that they do have -- being a servant, for example, may be valued as a respected place in society (as portrayed in the TV series Downton Abbey and the movie Gosford Park) despite the fact that they're not really recognized by their "betters". And they may take great offense if that place in society is belittled. Furthermore, silence would probably be under the bailiwick of this virtue, along with self-deprecating humor -- making it appropriate for this sly saint to represent this virtue.
  • Ven Lohji the Ur-Obun (Discipline) - an alien disciple of the Prophet, one that comes from a culture with its own ancient religion, makes for an interesting saint. That he represents discipline is probably a nod to the belief that aliens cannot truly understand human values and cannot enjoy true salvation -- but can follow the rites and rituals and enjoy the sacraments and therefore enjoy some measure of benefice in this life.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Enigmundia: The Library of Bone

This fantastic image can be seen in greater detail here.
In the Underground, that strange maze of caverns and passageways that link between the Hollow World and the Spires of the Kingdom of the Wheel, there is rumored to be a library of skulls.

Perhaps it is in the Empire of the Ossiarchs, where Liches rule over skeletal armies. Or perhaps it is in the lost lair of the Bone Savants -- the masters of the magics of bone and blood.

Wherever it is, it is said that those who know how may speak with the spirits of these skulls. In life, they were wizards, mages, and loremasters of great power and knowledge. Many were plucked from their graves, some were taken forcibly in life, and a few were -- ahem -- rescued from otherwise ignominious fates across Enigmundia to find final refuge here.

Coffeeshop Gaming

Maybe we'll also look at reducing the dice used to just the d6s?
I'm thinking of running RPG sessions that take up very little table space.

There's a coffeeshop at the ground floor of our building that has relatively small tables, but most places that we want to game at need a fairly large-sized table to be able to comfortably fit:
  • maps and figurines
  • character sheets
  • rulebooks
  • dice and tokens
  • GM tablespace (including the GM screen, dice, game notes, and maps)
  • food and drink of the players
In order to eliminate maps and figurines, we'd probably need to eliminate the need for tactical (positional) combat.

In order to reduce the character sheet space, they should be able to fit on a 4" x 6" index card.

Not much we can do with the rulebooks, unless the rules themselves are easily memorized and internally consistent, or can ALL (every last rule) fit on the GM's screen.

Electronic devices can tackle the dice, but it also helps not having to roll that many dice per person and over an entire gaming session. Tokens have the same issue, but perhaps poker chips will work -- you can stack them.

Following the above items can help reduce GM tablespace requirements as well, though not much can be done about the screen. Unless the GM can keep all rules and adventure notes in his head. Alternately, laptops and tablets work too.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Enigmundia: A Hollow World as a Labyrinthine Prison

Mystara has a hollow world, and according to canon, it was created and is sustained as some sort of dynamic stasis world for civilizations and creatures that were going to become extinct or be lost.

For Enigmundia, especially the Kingdom of the Wheel aspect of the setting, this can be conflated into a prison / menagerie of multiple gaming worlds within Mystara that are folded and interlocked into themselves like a mad combination of origami and mobius strips and gordian knots. I can have in that world -- segregated by Immortal class spells, mini-settings like Thunder Rift and the Lendore Isles, very specific culturally inspired settings like Harn and Roma Imperious, and larger distinct settings like Dark Sun and the Majestic Wilderlands and Ravenloft.

And I'd probably stick Vornheim in there as the gateway city or the city that can be reached from almost any of these prison setting locations. That's also  probably where you can buy a map (that looks something like the one from Time Bandits) to travel to different places in the Hollow World.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Enigmundia: More on Kingdom of the Wheel Megadungeons

I've been thinking about what elements might be present in the Megadungeons of the Kingdom of the Wheel. After all, even if they were warped by Chaos Magic, there should be some expectation of more orderly remnants or elements of the original structure somewhere.

What might these be?

Corridors and Stairwells

If it was meant to be a fully functional underground facilities, there would be long (perhaps even wide) corridors and hallways for people to travel through. They would be designed to fit not just people, but perhaps even pack animals and carts -- particularly if the rationale was to store food and other supplies for times of hardship and famine.

Food Storage and Consumption

If there are people who are meant to oversee things like food storage, or two provide security (in case something from the interconnected Underground comes through) then there should be supplies and places to consume them in key locations. Therefore, food storage, food preparation, and food consumption areas should be found somewhere in the dungeons.

Bottlenecks and Saferooms

If they were paranoid, there'd be certain bottleneck areas that people could conceivably hold off armies from. And there'd be places for non-combatants to hide (secret doors with locks) in case they are overrun and need to wait for rescue.

Rest and Recreation

Places to sleep, places to congregate and have fun, places to practice or drill in their specific skills are likely. So, several areas where people can sleep (with larger spaces for the more important members of the community), and perhaps a general purpose empty room or two where things can be brought out of storage and used -- for an indoor game or two? Or perhaps even some military drills?

Other things

Maybe sources of water? A library? Something that keeps any records or logbooks of the people stationed below?

Last but not least: the Spires and Teleportation

Of course, one of the main things adventurers are looking for are the teleportation rooms (small and large) tied to the primary usage of the spires. These things were meant to move not just men, but materials, supplies, and trade goods across the Kingdom. There'd be at least one area meant for military use, and another area meant for public use (much like a teleportation port area).

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Milestones in my gaming life: Vampire the Masquerade

Perhaps more so than the Dragonlance series of modules, Vampire: The Masquerade and the entire World of Darkness family of RPGs and splatbooks garner a generous heaping of scorn from the OSR crowd for departures from sandbox gaming into the storyline approach.

Still, it does hold a special place in my heart for a series of RPGs that I was into at the time that took the idea of an immersive setting and ran away with it. (The others were Star Wars D6, Cyberpunk 2020, and Shadowrun.)

Furthermore, it -- along with Star Wars D6 -- did teach me how to craft storylines and branching episode adventures (which my players often managed to subvert and ignore) and gave me a better understanding of characters and their motivations in the overall running of the game.

While this may seem strange to some of you, I do have to point out that I learned in college (and am still learning now) the extent of my narcissism, arrogance, shelteredness and self-centeredness (however pleasant I may smile or modulate my tone of voice) had as one of their consequences the inability to understand other people's points of view.

Why would someone abandon their post to check on their wife or their child in a time of crisis (earthquake, fire, zombie apocalypse)? Why would someone betray their principles or their lifelong friends?

A more clear analogy would be likening my NPCs to those in early computer RPGs -- they had set speeches and generally waited in the same area to be spoken to by the PCs.
Call of Cthulhu and its fantastic ubercampaign Masks of Nyarlathotep, Vampire: The Masquerade and a later game known as Kult helped me understand how to make them more lifelike.

Of course, the reason I originally picked up Vampire: the Masquerade was because it would allow me to play games akin to the movie Lost Boys. That pretty much fell by the wayside, and I eventually gravitated more to Champions for my superhuman fix, and Call of Cthulhu and Chill for horror.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Musings on Gaming Conventions

When I first got the 'States (which is what we Filipinos sometimes use to refer to the U.S. of A), one of my first exposures to conventions was not a gaming convention. It was Origins in L.A., and my cousins, who had moved there before we had, were my guides and fellow explorers of this strange new experience.

It was fantastic -- my first honest-to-goodness exposure to wall-to-wall geekdom. So many things that I knew, other things that I didn't, and things that I might have seen somehow on TV or in bookstores but not really knowing what they were. For example, I clearly remember seeing someone dressed up as the Tom Baker incarnation of the Doctor, but hadn't seen the show -- yet I somehow knew it was from some SF show akin to Sapphire and Steel (which I did watch together with my sister when we were growing up).

Also, my first U.S.-based RPG purchase took place there: the Paranoia boxed set.

The two conventions that I went to with any regularity were: (a) Pacificon at the Dunfey Hotel in San Mateo, CA during the Labor Day weekend; and (b) Slug-a-thon in Santa Cruz, CA.

Pacificon was the first gaming convention I went to, and the one I attended loyally. I have fond memories of the Cthulhu LARP games (this was slightly before the Cthulhu Live ruleset came out) that were run there, and all the Champions games that I played in. And of course, the Willamses (Pat, Robin, and Courtney) a lovely mom and her two lovely daughters who enjoyed dressing up in tight leather and were into the vampire role-playing thing a year or two before the Vampire RPG came out.

They were a part of the reason I used to go to Slug-a-thon in Santa Cruz (the other part being all my friends who'd gone to UC Santa Cruz), which was a much smaller and cozier gaming convention, unlike the hotel-based Pacificon.

Ah, those days when I could stay awake for 72 hours straight before crashing at home. I remember signing up for 12 hour games (6pm to 6am) because I couldn't afford a room and could at least sit down and rest before the next day of gaming (we weren't allowed to sleep in those rooms -- the hotel was strict about that). I remember my dice collection growing and shrinking with each 6 and 12 hour game I played. I remember being thrilled as I experienced different GMing and gaming styles.

Man, I wish I could go again to one of those cons. But honestly, I don't know if I can handle the scene anymore.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hari Ragat: Boar Hunt

Inspired by the first Hari Ragat actual play report (good job GM Dariel and Players), which does tackle a boar hunt as part of its very lengthy text, I wanted to post this picture, also from the art done by Gener Pedrina.

One of the bad things about hunting in the jungle in the rain: things can sneak up on you due to the visual cover (trees and vines and shrubbery) and the noise (rain, rain on leaves, thunder and lightning).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Enigumundia: Rain in the Jungle

In the Philippines, there are two seasons -- tag-araw (sunny) and tag-ulan (rainy) -- and it's interesting that I almost never run games when it's raining.

I used to, back when I ran Cyberpunk and it was almost a given that the setting was an acid-rain soaked city. But a rainy jungle is almost non-existent in my repertoire.

Perhaps when I run Fading Suns or Enigmundia I shall have a rainy season based campaign. Hunting for monsters in the rain, especially at night, adds an extra level of difficulty.

For people traveling, the salakot is a good option. It's a waterproof hat, like a flattened cone, that keeps rain off your head and -- unless the wind is almost horizontal -- out of your face as well. Of course, a typhoon-strength wind will rip it off your head. The hood is fine (if it's waterproof) but is best with some sort of cap or hat to keep the edge of the hood from sagging into your eyes. You want your hands free to hold weapons and gear, not constantly adjusting your hood.

Another concern is footware -- if your feet are wet and cold, you're not happy!

The images are from a comic book that I wrote and scripted, and a friend -- Gener Pedrina -- did the art and lettering for.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fantasy Hero -- a different philosophy from OSR

In comparison with the more abstract combat of classic D&D, Fantasy Hero (based on its rules lineage of Champions and the Hero System) is much more tactically complex. But it also does give more tactical options in combat, options that would be eerily familiar to D&D 3E aficionados.

What I do like about the current (Hero 6th Edition) version is that there's a clear dedication to giving a taste of not only the tropes and elements of the genre -- there are quotes from the many varied novels and short stories and other source material that serve to illuminate each of them.

Like prior versions, though, it provides options for running fantasy games: racial templates, class templates, varied magical systems, equipment lists, martial arts (weapons and barehanded), genre and subgenre definitions, and so on.

In short, a gold mine of tools to put together your own campaign -- whatever your chosen ruleset.

Of course, the Hero System is one of my favorite systems, because it taught me (someone who didn't quite understand the concept of game balance/imbalance early on in my gaming career) how to evaluate what trade-offs are done between advantages, disadvantages, abilities, penalties and so on.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Lazy Encantadia Post

Saw these pics associated with Encantadia 2 (though there's a vague feeling of photoshopping). Since I did some earlier posts on Encantadia, so I figured: why not?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fading Suns Premise: Explorers of the Lost Realms

Earthdawn may seem like Yet Another Fantasy RPG (YAFRPG), but it has many similarities to Fading Suns that make it a delight to draw upon for a campaign premise and other possible elements.

First and foremost, it's a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting -- the cycles of cosmology shifted, making it possible for a period of time to other-dimensional horrors inspired by Cthulhoid and Weird Fantasy menageries to exist, plunging civilization into underground safezones called Cairns. With the cosmology shifting again, only the lesser Horrors (still quite formidable) seem to have remained, allowing the fragments of civilization to attempt to rebuild once more.

It seems that the default campaign premise involves characters from a given Cairn venturing forth to explore the much-changed landscape, surviving the dangers of this brave new world, and seeking out (hopefully) friendly Cairns to trade and ally with or fallen Cairns with wonders from the glory days of the past Empires.

This echoes the fall of the Second Republic in Fading Suns, and can even be analogous to the desire of various factions to rediscover lost technologies and lost worlds from the much larger Jumpweb of old. PCs can discover dead worlds with ancient horrors lurking in the ruins, fantastic technology that would alter the delicate balance of power, or even ancient secrets that would shatter the understanding of what truly happened during the Fall.

Likewise, there are also other remnants of civilizations past that have weathered the intervening time and are also seeking to rebuild and expand -- sometimes with agendas quite at odd with the homelands of the PCs.

If you're looking for other civilizations and alien races for the Known Worlders to encounter beyond the default Fading Suns cultures and races, Earthdawn is a treasure trove of inspiration.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Post Series Restarts for Fading Suns

There's a phrase in Tagalog (Filipino): ningas-kugon. It refers to a grass that, when burned, flares brightly for a short time, then dies out. It's often used to refer to people or initiatives that start off strong, but then loses steam quickly and fizzles out.

That's how I feel I've been with some of my post series, so I'm trying to go back to them and finish them off.

First up on my list: the campaign premise series for Fading Suns. It was a series of one post, and the next installment is a draft in blogger that's been languishing.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Lazy Fading Suns Post

Inspiration: Downton Abbey

I can't wait for Season 2. I wonder if it'll have only 7 eps too.
I'm floored, absolutely floored by this series.

It's not really something I'd want to run as a game, but it certainly sheds some light on the type of stories that can go on behind the scenes of a household.

Power struggles, politics, good manners, principles, proper behavior, and misunderstandings -- and their consequences.

Absolutely lovely. I'm looking Fading Suns in a whole new light. Those nobles -- especially the ones who have to manage households -- really have a lot on their minds. And the household -- their lives aren't mere jobs, they're careers. That some of them took pride in.

A lot to think about.