Lost in translation

28 February, 2008 at 11:20 pm (definition, rpg theory) (, , , , , )

This post is about language. Tangentially related to roleplaying, more so in the end. I don’t have any training in the area, but meddling is fun, so…

There will be three examples used: Written English (you have probably heard of this one before), propositional logic (which can handle such phrases as “p and q if and only if q and p”, “if p, then q”, and usually has the operators not, and, or, if…then, if and only if) and a small indie RPG Risus by S. John Ross.

Defining a language

Language consists of four components: There is  a set of symbols (in case of spoken language, this would have something to do with the kinds of noise one can emit), a set of rules which define a grammar, a set of meanings and a set of relations that combine some meanings with some grammatically correct expressions.

English: Alphabet and other symbols used when writing constitute the set of symbols. Grammar tells that expressions such as “agonagasgjsegls” or  “write .ChA!oS” are not legal. The set of meanings is extremely large. The set of relations is even larger; it tells that such sentences as “Car is red.” can be used as a communication tool.

Propositional logic is an example of a formal language; notably, it is complete in that all grammatical expressions have a well-defined meaning. Set of symbols varies a bit, but may consist of between 2 and arbitrary number of operators and usually a countably infinite set of variables, like {c1, c2, …}. Parentheses are allowed (often). Propositional logic is severely limited, meaning-wise. A given variable can have two values (true or false). A given proposition (e.g. “c1 <=> (c2 or c1)”) may be a tautology (always true), a contradiction (never true) or neither (sometimes true, sometimes not). The relationship between propositions and truth is not terribly complicated, but also not worth writing down here.

Risus is an example of a supplemental language in that it builds upon a given natural language (English, for example) and needs one; it can have no meaning without a base language. Risus uses the symbology of natural languages. It adds new grammatically correct expressions, for example: Blogger (3) has well-defined meaning which involves rolling three dice in given situations.

Actually, I cheat

If I really wanted a good definition, it would have to be recursive so that, for example, words have meaning, words combined into sentences have meaning, and sentences that consitute a story have even more meaning, and so forth. It gets complicated and is not worth it.


The scope of language is all the meanings it could have. Natural languages have large scope; formal logic usually does not.

Supplemental (with regards to a given purpose) language does not have sufficient scope to communicate whatever  the purpose would require. Roleplaying games are generally supplemental to natural languages. Computer games are usually do have sufficient scope to be played; MMORPGs may not.


Translation happens when one is given a (grammatically correct) list of symbols and should retain the meaning while changing the symbols, the grammar, or the relations.

Translations are problematic. There are several reason for this. First and most obvious is the difference in scopes languages can have. The canonical (but wrong) example is the number of words that inuits have for snow of different kinds. If it were true, it would certainly either be impossible or require an exceedingly long list of symbols to make a difference between them. Correct example are not hard to come up with: Propositional logic is an obvious example. It can’t make a difference between, say, “all humans are mortal” and “one human is immortal”, while natural languages and more advanced logical systems (such as predicate logic) can.

Another, though less obvious, problem occurs when symbols are changed. IIRC, Japanese have problems with “l” or “j” or some other letter that is common enough in where I live. If I asked, say, Nakano to write this blog in katakana or hiragana, he would have problems, even if only the symbols were changing. This problem gets really bad in languages where a given symbol means a given word (there is a fancy term for such languages).

I prefer to read books that have been translated through as few languages as possible. Also, reading a book in two languages or changing the language in the middle of a series can be surreal (I did exactly that with the Song of Ice and Fire).

Implications to roleplaying

Some people prefer to create characters in play, others at start, and this is not a true dichotomy. DIP and DAS the styles were called in the r.g.f.a. days, according to what I have heard. Assuming a player who is of the DAS type, that player first builds a character in her head and then tries to translate it to whatever system is being played. Conversions of whatever between games are similar. Some games make this very hard (Burning Wheel is notorios at this with the lifepaths; anything with random chargen likewise). Even the games that try allowing all options, like JAGS or Silvervine, make certain options difficult to impossible. They usually break when trying to create extremely powerful, small, large, or weak beings. Wushu and the like may be an exception in that they don’t make things impossible; rather, Wushu doesn’t tell enough about a character. (There are games that don’t have this “problem”, at least theoretically.)

An exercise for the reader. Two, actually.

Take two game systems that have sufficient detail and are sufficiently different. Try to convert a character from one to the other and see what happens. Try to recreate a fictional character in both and see what happens. Both exercises are pretty illuminating when it comes to what the game rules are about.

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A good D&D blog

25 February, 2008 at 3:43 pm (game mastering) ()

I stumbled upon a great blog: A journey through a land of fantasy. The author has a lot of insight into the matters of building a good campaign. I see a lot of familiar goals combined with totally different techniques to get there, which always makes for interesting reading.

One can hope that  the author continues reporting the preparation and maybe even the actual session material.

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Teaching is like game mastering

25 February, 2008 at 10:45 am (game mastering, mathematics, rpg theory) ()

I spend this weekend prepping s person for the mathematics part of the matriculation examination. The student was a pretty smart guy, but he did not have much routine in twisting numbers and letters around.

I could not help noticing some parallels between teaching and running games.

The matter of preparation

When running a game, I have some possible events that I can confront the player characters with. Extensive planning is just work and encourages railroading (when done by me). I also learn the system well enough so that I don’t need to check the books that often, if at all.

When teaching, I had some ideas about what subjects to handle and possibly some specific problems to solve or tricks to show. I did not build a script of the teaching session. I did go through the MAOL formula book (contains most of the formulae used in the matriculation examination and can evn be used in said examination). I still have an excellent handle of almost all of the material, differential equations excluded. Maybe I’ll ask Thalin to give me a quick summary or alternative check out some literature. Anyway.  I familiarised myself with the “rules”. The parallels are clear, I hope.

The flow of the session

When running a game, I usually have prepared enough toget the thing going and then follow up with improvisation that springs from player choices and the dice. This leads to quite dynamic gameplay, but does have some drawbacks, too. One relevant strength is that I can change the direction or emphasis of the game based on player input, verbal or nonverbal. This would work a lot better if I actually noticed the nonverbal cues, as opposed to what I do now.

When teaching, I had something to start with (nested functions, understanding derivatives to be the rate of change or angle of a graph). I explained something from different angles until the Samuli, the student, understood what I was talking about. If a difficult problem came up, I constructed a series of problems so that it started with very simple and basic, every problem was a bit more complicated than the previous one, and the difficult situation was culmination of the series. The longest series was probably three or four, so nothing terribly elaborate. Likewise, if something was easy, we could skip past it and get on to the harder stuff.

The skills required

Roleplaying and game mastering are both skills. They can be learned, improved, or get rusty. Ditto with teaching.

I think the following skills are all central to both running a game and teaching, if interpreted sufficiently broadly:

  • Gauging interest: Are people yawning or eager and focused?
  • Building suitable obstacles/problems that are not trivial, yet are not too difficult.
  • Clear communication: Explaining/describing things so that shared understanding of the subject matter/fiction is built. See anchors by Bruce (Tumac).
  • Leaving room for the student/players: Teacher/GM knows more about the problem/obstacle than the student/players does/do. Yet, the student is the one who should solve the problem, and players the ones who deal with an obstacle. No use setting up a problem or obstacle and then solving it by yourself or having a GMPC solve all problems.
  • Judgement: When a solution or mode of action is suggested, teacher/GM is the one who judges how well it works. Sometimes a simple mistake is done, sometimes the solution is flawless. GM does have the luxury of letting dice arbitrate some events, but even then the difficulty or modifiers of those rolls are up to the GM. (There are some games where this is not true. E.g. Primetime adventures, Beast hunters, Agon. This all IIRC; I have never played any of those.)
  • Quick thinking. This one is obvious and general enough to not be worth extensive commentary.

Other styles

I had the luxury of only teaching a single person. This is good. It is very exhaustive. I’d say that teaching a group demands slower pace and is probably more conductive to  preparing. Reasoning: If everyone must understand a subject, more numerous angles of presentation are useful. It is often hard to improvise multiple ways of doing the same thing (at least for me it is). Hence, preparing them ahead of them is something between viable and necessary.

Does this apply to roleplaying? Does a larger number of players imply easier or more useful preparation?

In my experience (I have never run a game with many players; four is probably the upper limit), solo games move fast. It takes huge amounts of prep to not have to improvise in solo game. When there are many players, OOG chatter is more prominent, the characters interact with each other, and generally everything takes more time. This means that less content is used in the same time and hence preparation is more possible.

On the other hand, multiple player characters means more complex plans can be formulated and practically achieved. I’d say that the time planning takes means that adjudicating such is not a huge burden, as opposed to the rapid-fire approach a single player is likely to take.

Also, when there are several PCs, the material can be more generic, because nobody assumes that every moment of the game is relevant to every character in a very personal and intimate way. I hope.

Conclusions and a warning

There are clear parallels between teaching and game mastering. The different styles, prep-wise, are quite similar. (Sandbox play would be roughly equivalent to having a huge menu of problems for the studen to choose among; there is similarity between a textbook and a published setting).

The warning part: Don’t use roleplaying to teach a lesson. Like, “greed is teh evilness”. Punish every character that does a greedy thing, reward every generous action. Players will see it and resent it. Be open about such an undertone and add it as a setting or rules premise, like a setting where the generous are held in esteem and greed as a sign of possession by evil spirits. Let players challenge the notions and don’t fiat a conclusion you like. Provide a playground, not a brainwashing session.

This applies to teaching ethics, too. Teach something and people will resist it just because. Give something that people can interact with and they will form their own opinions about it and actually learn something.


I have no training in pedagogy. Take my opinions with a grain of salt. They are opinions, not facts.

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21 February, 2008 at 10:18 pm (meta) (, , , , )

All WordPress.com blogs (possible also wordpress.org ones) have a feed: http://thanuir.wordpress.com/feed

All of them also have a comment feed: http://thanuir.wordpress.com/comments/feed

Just replace the url with whatever is relevant.

If blogger/blogspot or livejournal-hosted blogs have something similar, do share. I know how to access their normal feeds, no problem with that, but do they have comment feeds available?

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A heroic quest

21 February, 2008 at 9:27 pm (Burning vikings, Burning Wheel) (, , , , )

This is the last AP post for a while; real life gets in the way of gaming for at least two weeks, possibly for longer period.

AP report

Last session, everyone ended up resting in the same place. Rare.

Scene 1

Everyone wakes up. Brunhildr is at -1D on everything due to fever; significant, not fatal. The day started with the repercussions of the previous day’s rumour-spreading by Mori. To wit: Brunhildr gets told that Mori is present and the he was telling certainly very exaggereted stories about Halvard having sold her daughter to a witch. The “certainly very exaggereted” part was due to Halvard being close enough to hear. ksym gets artha for Brunhildr flat out trying to punch Halvard righ then and there. Well, being in fever and not having any brawling skill are not conductive to successful punching. Halvard has the instinct to always hold his spear ready; there is an opposed test with Brunhildr’s sword skill, with the end result being her sword at his throat and some warnings to not mess with her daughter.

The little incident done with, there is discussion about taking a trip to retrieve a particular toy and to prepare a trap for the giant.

Scene 2

Halvard talks to Leif (back at the village). Some threats, some genuine getting things done. At the ambush location. There is some planning done and other boring bits. Mori does not get near enough to really listen. Soon enoug, Halvard, Brunhildr and five loyal mooks (but without the red shirts) start their great quest. Brunhildr is still is mild fever, so I get an excuse to ask for a roll on complications. Depending on the speed of travelling, ksym must make a health test. Obstacle 1 for 8 days, 2 for 6 days, 3 for 4 days total. The time that remains is there for Leif to further any of his plots. Halvard is the leader; wgaztari sets the obstacle at 2. Stakes: Success means no complication and a cured disease; failure means that Brunhildr gets a trait like “hacking cough” or such and permanently loses 1 health. Nothing crippling, but not good either (and ksym would get artha from that pretty easily). Successful roll again spoils my clever and oh-so-planned consequences for failing. Given that, the seven happily adventure in the wilderness.

Scene 3

Meanwhile Mori enjoys a week of time without the two watching over his actions. He pays a visit to Nifur; after that, the giant knows about the trap and the fact that Thorvald’s actual body is likely to be involved. He also hears about the sword.

Mori goes to check on Gilla (as asked/ordered to by Brunhildr or Halvard). I play Nässla, let ksym play Gilla, and give a magpie to wgaztari, who is not very good at playing inhuman sentient creatures without warning. He doesn’t screw up, it just sort of falls flat. A matter of experience, certainly. I’ll try to give the two others the hard creatures to play, from this on. Anyway. The relevant events: Nässla doesn’t much care about Mori. There is some interaction between Mori and Gilla, who has been doing okay.

Mori does yet another trick: Some disguise to look like Leif going alone to the woods. He succeeds and hence someone spots Leif going alone into the woods.

This’ll have wider implications; I started a thread on Plotstorming about it. (Nice site and has monthly writing contests that I have sadly neglected.) There is likely to be some spoilers in that thread, so my players should be certain they want to be subjected to such if they intend to read it.

Scene 4

Inside the mountain. The trip there is promptly skipped. Brunhildr fixes for armour with untrained mending roll (when any armour die show a 1, that location’s armour loses one die; the earlier duel had cost Brunhildr a few armour dice). I give Thalin (usually plays Mori) the monster book open on troll brute. “Can you play this?”, after which I quickly explain a few things and give the troll an additional belief: “I must have my father’s sword; I will use the humans to get it.” Said troll has will and perception 2 (2 is almost retarded) and no social skills beyond intimidation.

There is some roleplaying as Mori brilliantly plays a moron who tries to manipulate humans. Good times. I kicked the process a bit forward when it seems Thalin was not getting on with it (hope I didn’t step too much on his toes). They enter a large cave with a stone statue of troll holding a sword. Brute, Halvard and Brunhildr dahs forward; Halvard gets less successes, falls behind (the troll has 5 speed; ouch). Opposed strength checks between Brunhildr and brute to grab the sword (the stone-like troll also resists with G6 strength; brute has B8 and rolls well). At this point we enter the long form Fight! subsystem. The five companions simply aid in positioning tests of Halvard and Brunhildr (I can’t be bothered to script and play out their actions unless either char commands them, which they did not do, though I informed them of the possibility a couple times). Long fight short: ksym is bothered by bad dice rolls and Brunhildr getting superficially wounded. Brunhildr and the ancient troll who soon wakes up grapple on the ground, with Brunhildr actually resisting (not bad at all). There is a number of ineffective attacks against the stony skin (mail equivalent). Halvard scares/convinces the brute to attack the ancient former troll king (brute does so with a throw, lock and defensive actions). After this Brunhildr, who grabbed the sword and was hit for her troubles, slays the troll. I give both characters a deeds point for getting the sword and killing the troll; deeds is the most powerful form of artha in the game.

Observations from the fight: It is chaotic. It tends to get dirty with people panicking, locking, running away, etc. It takes time. ksym doesn’t enjoy the chaos when the dice are not on his side. I hope the sword that kills every human with a single strike but that also severs one’s contacts to all humans and such fixes that. On the sword. Stats visible in the BW wiki (I have also updated the characters a bit). Whenever you kill someone with it, it corrupts one relationship, affiliation or reputation of yours. After those are done it gives the GM pretty free reigns. Brunhildr killed once with it (the troll king who used it enough to no longer be a king) and lost the respect of the ship’s crew, who no despise her for whatever reason I come up with. ksym got to decide what was spoiled. He enjoys this curse and even said I am brilliant for creating it. Thanks, ksym. I am pretty sure I stole it from somewhere, though.

The aftermath of the combat: The brute suddenly becomes quite worshipful of the two characters. It even follows them some time outside the cave and maybe even follows after them if I ever need to introduce an extra troll to the game. Trolls turn to stone in the sun, which kind of limits their options, though.

And that was it.

Miscellaneous ramblings

I assume the game will take a session or two to finish, after which Thalin will GM something. At this point his idea is wuxia with homebrew system. Up to change. I have a character concept ready for the wuxia game, if that is what happens.

In other news, I’ll spend two of the three forthcoming weekends prepping some random person for math. Matriculation examinations are coming up. This will show how much of that stuff I have forgotten. Probably a lot. Specifically: No or extremely limited internet access during the weekend. My grandmother doesn’t have internet.

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Theory discussions and critique

17 February, 2008 at 10:42 pm (game design, rpg theory) (, )

I am pretentious enough to call myself an rpg theorist, even with practically no formal training in anything related to roleplay. This even though I don’t actually write a lot of rpg theory, at least not of the hardcore model-building or academic-paper-citing variety. I think I am a pretty good critic. At least it is an activity I like and enjoy. With this all given, here are two models I have been helping with a bit:

RPG theory journey part five (there is a category for theory stuff) by Tumac, the author of the league of imaginary heroes, and Roberto Grassi’s attempt at unified model on rpg.net.

If you are interested in hobbyist rpg theory, do check out those two.

If you are developing a theory or designing a game and want some criticism (I won’t promise actual playtesting), I am here to be poked. Response time is not very quick right now due to studies keeping me more busy than they should and some other real life business.

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The nature of scheming

17 February, 2008 at 1:33 pm (Burning vikings, Burning Wheel) (, )

Another short session. Also, Thalin’s schedules change which changes our gaming schedule into an unreliable, yet hopefully surviving, one. Regular gaming is important and I am not happy with the change. This’ll be brief report. We played on Saturday, too, though there is likely to be a break until the next game happens.

Actual play

Half a day in the fictional timeframe. Artha flowed a bit slower this session. I seem to need some time to get into the zone properly and can notice the effects in play. Not a good thing, but won’t go away without practice.

Scene 1

Mori and Halvard leave Nässla’s hut. Mori goes on to manufacture a pretty nasty poison (causes a B10 wound, which kills weak characters and even the strong will be utterly unable to succeed at anything for a long time and will need help to survive without permanent injury; giant would actually notice it), while Halvard goes to the village. The stakes for Mori’s roll were that failure indicates that the poison is very easy to notice, makes the cause of death obvious, or some such. The poisonousness was not even a question. The poison’s actual effect, in addition to fatal wounding when the target sleeps, is to seemingly age the target. Maybe actually, if the target happens to survive. The herbs for this were gathered a some time ago and the roll was pretty successful, giving a bonus die to this roll. Some artha was also used.

On his way back to the village, Halvard is kinda-sorta-almost ambushed. One arrow from the woods, and that one is not particularly dangerous. I intended it as a warning, but wgaztari interpreted it as an attack. Leaves some options open for me. Halvard took the arrow, intending to later investigate the matter.

Scene 2

Halvard in the village. He tricks Gilla (Brunhildrsdottir) to come with him, which takes a bit of effort (a good roll or two). She gets pretty scared of the magpies, claiming that they are not natural. wgaztari actually succeeds at a pretty hard orienteering test (unskilled) and manages to find the way to the witch’s hut without any help from the magpies, which would have a forced a new steel test on Gilla and had all sorts of potential amusing consequences.

Once inside with Gilla and Nässla, I get to use one of my favourite GM tricks: Assign players whose characters are not there to play the NPCs. I play Nässla, let kysm play Gilla and Thalin gets to play one of the birds (the other is not present). Gilla is persuaded to stay with the witch due to it being good for the village and other reasons. Nettle gives Halvard what was bargained for: Vague direction, guidelines to go to a mountain with lots of caverns. There is a former troll king there with a sword that will be able to slay the giant. Halvard leaves.

Scene 3

Brunhildr and her retinue are looking the the ambush position. They see the giant walking towards them and promptly hide. Brunhildr sends the competent tracker/hunter (named Varg) to track the giant’s tracks, in order to find out where it came from, with orders to come back at night if the trip would be too long. Brunhildr further wants to send one of her men to follow the giant towards the village; this is a circles roll to find someone capable of following the giant. Success: Find someone who can do it and not get caught; failure: find someone who should be able to do it but is not quite good enough and does get caught (is what I tell to ksym). Successful the roll is. The others get as comfortable as they can without fires (which Nifur could notice).

Brunhildr is feeling somewhat sick (due to Mori’s herbs) .

Scene 4

Mori goes talks with the giant. Some information about giant-slaying swords is shared, as well as the body having been a fake. Dice get rolled, just in the case of the soldier following Nifur identified Mori. A tense roll, but Mori remains unidentified. Mori first goes to the village (no Halvard or Gilla there) and then towards Nässla’s house.

Mori encounters Halvard, there is some paranoia from Halvard’s side, who threatens Mori with a spear. Thalin rolls steel, fails, Mori runs screaming through the dark woods. This is a chase situation; Halvard is eventually victorious with some artha burned. There is an interrogation; Mori has falsehood, Halvard no interrogation skill, which leads to a quick defeat on Halvard’s side. Mori must compromise a tiny bit (as opposed to spilling his dealings with the giant); Halvard trusts him, for now. The compromise was that Mori told Halvard that the giant wants to eat Thorvald’s heart to gain the strength Thorvald gained from eating the heart of Nifur’s father. After this bit of exposition, the two return to village.

Scene 5

Leif and Halvard interact in very brotherly manner, with Leif implying that Halvard raped Gilla. There is some further talk, too.

Brunhildr hears of the traitor (identity unknown), tells everyone to keep quiet, fails the roll that would have made it so, implying that at the next opportunity someone will tell about the existence of the traitor and probably more, sends a messenger to get Halvard, some loyal men and specifically no Mori. Messenger finds the Halvard, makes his request, which which Halvard agrees to. He picks some men, Mori comes with him, messenger questions, is denied.

The man who tracked the giant returns and can approximately tell where the giant might be, but didn’t get that far. It can move pretty fast over long distances. This was not a roll, but possibly should have been. I just find it boring to roll dice when player characters are not the target and found no way to translate this test to a test for any PC.

Scene 6

At Brunhildr’s campsite everyone meets, happy as ever. Mori is inconspicuous enough to not get Brunhildr’s attention and goes spreading rumours among the men, mostly about Halvard having sold Brunhildr’s daughter to a witch. Mori fails in being discreet enough so that people would not remember who originally spread the rumours.

Halvard admits to having sent Gilla help an old man and tells what he knows about the sword. There is some negotiation about who would go about getting it, with Brunhildr not being very well and all. I could have asked for duel of wits, but decided that this is pretty much a foregone conclusion and thought the dialogue as mostly elaboration.

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As the witch wills

12 February, 2008 at 10:12 pm (Burning vikings, Burning Wheel) (, , , )

This session was shorter than the previous ones due to wgaztari’s university stuff.


Game starts as everyone gets up, with a bit of retconning due to Mori first visiting Nässla and only then going to sleep.

I neglect to mention several rolls and both gains and expenditures of artha. They are a legion; artha is flowing as it should, dice get rolled often enough for my tastes. Thalin wants more. Maybe so.

Scene 1

Brunhildr and Halvard wake up. Brunhildr goes bathing in a nearby stream. I resist the urge to do the classical scene at this point, which might have been a mistake. I may get another opportunity. Anyway. After getting back she goes to get some food. ksym (plays Brunhildr) asks where Leif is. Of course he ust came in and is taking food at the same time as ksym is. Brunhildr very accidentally knocks his food to the floor (ksym gets fate artha for playing thug and moving the story forward). Leif is outraged. One of his soldiers challenges Brunhildr to a duel (this happy event involves  Brunhildr’s instinct to punch anyone who touches her without warning; she misses, having no brawling and soldier having some; this involved a roll). The soldier is pretty good at what he does: Relevant numbers are solid (black) fours, including stats and weapon skill. Not quite in league with Brunhildr, but still potentially deadly.

The duel was fought along more-or-less historically accurate model. I assume the “less”. A cloak was set on the ground. The one to first step off it, drop blood on it, be disarmed or dead loses the duel. In this particular case, this allowed using the rather elaborate Burning Wheel Fight! rules and disregard positioning, as both combatants preferred their weapons. I asked ksym if he wanted the long form combat; he did, though struggled a bit with it. When dueling, ksym quickly noticed how damn important armour is for survival and how frustrating it is to use a sword against an armoured opponent (the opponent used an axe and had lighter armour than Brunhildr). I once allowed ksym to probably save his character by expending a persona artha; this was a minor breach of the rules, I would handle it in a different way if the situation came back again. After a number of attacks clinging of armours and everyone noticing just how chaotic the combat system really is, Brunhildr managed a successful disarm. The opponent rolls steel due to losing a duel to mere woman and fails it. He stands and drools. Some witty banter and one attack on head that is handled by armour, Brunhildr gets a choice: She can slay the opponent then and there. It is clear that she did after having won. It breaks no rules but certainly will give her a fierce reputation. Result: Off with the head. Ksym gets fate and persona artha (IIRC, at least fate). A lot was used in the duel, too, so net effect on artha was probably mildly negative. This is one of the good gaming moments and I got to give ksym artha as a recognition.

Scene 2

Before the fight breaks out two important things happen. First: Halvard and Leif bet on the winner. Leif loses, gives Halvard a loan (one PC actually has a resources exponent to use again). Mori returns to the hall (catching the attention of two magpies due to failing a foraging roll; lame consequences), succeeds at inconspicuous (nobody pays significant attention to him). He flirts with Gilla and poisons the gobletful of mead (or something) that the winner of the duel is to drink. Nothing lethal, just something that will cause a mild fever for some days. ksym first intends to not drink it, but decides to go with it after I bribe him with a point of fate artha (slight breach of the rules, but stealing an idea from FATE/SotC is generally not a bad idea; worked fine this time).

This is an opposed test: Poisons versus health. Mori’s poisoning is successful with two successes over Brunhildr’s health test. I read this as giving -2D on everything for one day and -1D on the second. Both players agree. ksym burns a point of fate artha to open-end the one six rolled and reduces the effects of the disease to -1D for the next day due to mild fever. Both players are happy.

Pretty eventful morning, I must say. When Brunhildr gets back and talks to her daughter, it becomes clear (dice are rolled to find this out) that Mori was there and talked to her (about her seeing spirit or spirits, among other things). The poisoning is not discovered. All players know, of course. It’s fun.

Scene 3

Next in order: Gathering information. Halvard and Brunhildr have a cunning idea of setting up a trap for Nifur the giant. It involves finding a suitable place for ambush, which involves finding someone who knows the local area very well. This is a circles roll. Halvard gets Leif to help as it is for common good. Brunhildr also asks around. Helping dice are a powerful thing; success. Failure would have meant that the hunter who knows the area like his backyard just tragically lost his brother by Brunhildr’s arm. Failures complicate, not block. Too bad the roll was successful.

Halvard asks around for someone who knows about giants and gets directed to a witch who lives in a nearby spruce swamp with a nasty reputation. That’s Nässla. He, too, gets two magpies following him. Gets fate artha for throwing one with a rock; misses, though Nettle doesn’t really appreciate it, which probably did not show enough. Mori found out the magpies serve or report to Nässla.

Scene 4

Halvard knocks on Nässla’s door. Mori opens it. Situation is somewhat interesting. There is some subtle unhospitability on Mori’s part and lots of negotiating with the witch. Halvard wants to know about the giant; Nettle promises to tell where and how he can obtain a weapon suitable for slaying it, for a price. Namely; to bring Gilla there and make sure she remains there. This after Halvard didn’t want to give Nässla his strength.

A note on OOC talk: I explicitly asked players if they want a magical weapon in the game; wgaztari wasn’t particularly keen on magic in general, but okayd the sword, assuming it is not very flashy. Well, I can guarantee there will be no threat of that. Our senses of aesthetics seem to be quite compatible. Good.

Halvard further asks if Nokkonen knows about his father’s death. Answer is flat-out yes. Price: Halvard’s strength. Nässla does accept the strength of someone else, too (Leif is the most likely target right now). Halvard leaves, Nässla orders Mori to accompany him (and make sure Gilla really gets there).

Meanwhile: Brunhildr and some men start seeking a suitable place for ambush.

Notes and some minor spoilers

There is likely to be some retconning, namely: Did ksym order his men to keep Mori away from Gilla? Did she leave her armour to be repaired or take it with her?

There is a chance that Leif’s men will ambush Halvard on his way back. It would kind of fit, but would,on the other hand, be dramatically a bit unsuitable when thinking about the possibility that Leif is taken to Nässla and his men attack after that, which I would prefer. I have not decided yet. Time’s running.

There is a significant chance that Brunhildr and the others meet a giant. The giant. This for two reasons: First, if they fail a suitable roll, I can use Nifur as a consequence; second, other Brunhildr will be less active for significant time (one and a half sessions) and that is not good.

Gilla will not be too willing to meet the witch; if nothing else complicates the matters, she will see some aura on the magpies. I assume she will be taken to Nässla regardless.

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Death note?

12 February, 2008 at 8:17 pm (game design) (, , , )

There exists an anime called Death Note. I have seen some episodes of it. Premise: A college student finds a notebook. Writing a name on it causes the death of the named person. Kills criminals. Implausible plots and death gods are involved.

Why is the relevant? Well, Thalin just finished he SW d20 game he GM’d in the Monday (university) group. I’ll run a one-shot, or maybe even longer, game with inspiration from the aforementioned anime. (Implying that I steal the idea of death note and ignore everything else.)


I’ll likely go with Egypt. Something like Indiana Jones, tech-wise. Other possible setting is South or Meso-America. Doesn’t matter that much, anyway.

Characters are people who organised an excavation to get hold of the fabled Book of the Dead or Book of Death. Whatever. Write any name on it and think about the person and he will die. Possible elaboration: Death occurs within an hour and not immediately, character can determine the method of death, some sort of sign is left, the killed follow the character as undead bodyguards, character turns into undead, … It is quite easy to come up with more.

Characters should either know each other well (in which case getting the item is of extreme importance) or be strangers who have used false identities so as to not give each other power over themselves. Either works.


This is what I call a generic system. It makes relatively few assumptions. It does have a new way to roll dice because I like experimenting.

Characters are defined by an archetype: Something that tells their general skill-set and way to solve problems. Occupation is a good idea. In addition, all player characters and important NPCs have other traits. I think I’ll go with one related to appearance (like lean, scar-face, sun-burned, tidy aspect, big, kid) and one to personality (religious, friendly, scheming, irritable, curious). These are simply to make the characters easy to remember (appearance) and to play (personality). More can be added in play as explained soon.


Resolution is engaged if and only if there is a consequence to both succeeding and failing such that both take the game to interesting directions.

Dice pool. Get two dice if doing something clearly suitable to the archetype (soldier shooting or marching, chemist investigating a foreign susbtance), one die for something related to the archetype (journalist repairing a camera, guide telling about local legends of man-eating ghouls), one die for every relevant trait, up to two dice for favourable circumstances, variable number of dice roll-over from any linked rolls. Also: One die for every trait the opponent has that hinders the opponent. If you have no dice, you get one and the opponent’s pool is doubled. If neither would get any dice, both get one. If a roll is not opposed, GM sets a suitable amount of dice for it.

Before any dice are rolled, the consequences for succeeding or failing are described by GM. They are open to negotiation. After they have been agreed upon (negotiation is rare), dice are rolled as follows: Both sides total their dice and roll them (example sets: {1, 2, 2, 4, 4}, {2, 3, 3, 6}). Matching results are negated so that both sides lose an equal number of dice (example continues: both have one 2 and one 3, so lose one of both => {1, 2, 4}, {3, 3, 6}). Highest number indicates the triumphant side (the second, 4<6). Number of dice the winner has that are greater than all the dice the opponent has indicate the number of successes the winner got (6>4, 3<4 => 1 success). This number can be rolled over to any roll that is clearly linked to this one.

Foo points

Every system needs foo points. I might call them willpower in honour of WoD or maybe something setting-appropriate. Any ideas?

Players start with 2 or 3 foo points. Foo points do any of the following but only when rolling the dice, up to veto by other participants in the game:

  • Define a new trait for your character. This must be relevant to the roll at hand, either beneficial or harmful, and does contribute a die to the roll. “Did I mention my char is a pretty good swimmer?”
  • Define a new trait for an NPC in the conflict, up to the condition above. I am not certain of including this.
  • Get 2 dice in the conflict. Use before rolling. “I buy flowers and chocklad to her before knocking on her door.”
  • Spend n to get n dice in the conflict. Use after rolling. “The dog is about to catch me when a hare jumps from the bushes. Dog runs after it, barking loudly.”
  • Give to another player for whatever reason, but hopefully for entertaining play.
  • Remove a trait the character has grown over after demonstrating said development in the conflict. This probably won’t happen in such a short game.

Foo points can be earned in the following ways:

  • Get them from another player, hopefully due to entertaining play.
  • Get them from GM due to good (role)play.
  • Get one when your trait gives a die to your opponent in a conflict.

I’ll use whatever small objects I happen to find to represent foo points and kill book-keeping.

Designer’s rambles

Chargen is quick and simple. I can drop movie references (quality movies like Mummy [who may return], Indiana Jones) if someone gets stuck. Character development, if any, happens in play. Players have narrative power if they want to seize it, but doing such is not mandatory.

Dice are rolled when it matters and players can, if they care about it, influence the result significantly. (Forge theory or at least Ron Edwards would call this a position mechanic or some such.) This also has the tendency to build more colourful fiction as a side effect. As a bonus: Resolution practically always resolves something. Draws are rare and can only happen when both sides have the same amount of dice. Also: Adding dice after the roll can, in certain situations, wildly alter the result.

Giving foo points for good roleplaying is something that keeps me active and watching the performance of people. I just need to lower my standards to get the foo flowing properly.

The situation: General structure is one of my favourites; there is this powerful MacGuffin. You are about to get it. Who will take it? Who will get to use it? Will the others be killed? After that has been resolved, the nature of the game changes significantly. The main theme becomes: You have the power to kill anyone. Any public person at all. Anyone who has ever slighted you. Ultimate power. Ultimate corruption?

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Appeasing the giant?

5 February, 2008 at 9:51 pm (Burning vikings, Burning Wheel) (, , , , )

I’m pretty busy with schoolwork for the time being, so pardon the lack of interesting posts. They’ll be back sometimes within three months, I hope.

These AP reports are now linked from actualplay.com, which seems to be a bit slow right now. Link: http://actualplay.com/actual_play_directory.php?id=661

Session report

Second session of the pretty fast-moving BW campaign. The scenes may not be in actual order they were played in, but the continuum of any given character should work. I jump pretty quickly between players and detailing that after the occasion is next to impossible.

Scene 1

Mori, Thalin’s char, goes herb-gathering. To be more precise, he wants to gather an herb thatwhen prepared successfully, in addition to killing someone, will also age that someone in appearance. I set the foraging difficulty at 3: pretty hard. I don’t know if that kind of poison exists or anything, but it was reasonable enough a suggestion from Thalin, so there it goes. Consequence for failure would have been encountering Nässla, Mori’s now-bitter witch mentor, who had just gathered what Mori was looking fo. That way the herbs would still have been available and I could have introduced a relationship and some potential conflict. Alas, Thalin succeeded at the foraging roll with the help of bonus dice from herbalism and poisons-skills. Mori gets the material for said poison and decides to meet Nässla, first getting some eggs he was supposed to deliver before getting on the raiding trip.

Nässla would have commented the lack of eggs, had Mori not went to get them.

Scene 2

Halvard (played by wgaztari) and Brunhildr (by ksym) activate a bit later. Brunhildr wants to find his family and asks about, getting the response that only Leif (Halvard’s brother) knows where they are. Halvard tries to get her mother to talk with no effect and to eat with some small effect. I felt like I was blocking a lot there. I definitely need to keep my mental image of who has done what out of the way of good gaming. Blocking isn’t fun.

Leif comes in and is engaged by Brunhildr and Halvard. It is quickly discovered that he was visiting the dead Thorvald and has no excuse to not let Halvard visit him, too. He asks his guards to stay at the house; what evil could come to him with his brother, they great hero, at his side? I did this for two reasons. The first was to give Halvard the opportunity for some bloody-handed murdering. It was interesting to see if such would happen. The second was to imply that Brunhildr should also be left behind, which did happen. This was done solely to ratchet up the tension: Would she do something stupid to get to her family?

Scene 3

Halvard and Leif get to the cellar that is used to “store” Thorvald. Some knocking, Grímr (Brunhildr’s husband) opens. The cellar is small, lit by a total of two torches. Thorvald lies on a makeshift bunk atop some barrels (reminder to self: always barrels or chests, never boxes). He is covered by various herbs, put there by Grímr. Their purpose is to keep the body in shape, to keep the smell down and to keep rests away. Death was not by violence. The players fixated on solving a murder mystery, so they’ll get one. Gilla Brunhildrsdottir is sleeping in corner wrapped in a heavy cloak.

There is some exchange of words between Leif and Halvard; Leif manages to insult Halvard for the third or fourth time; Halvard tries intimidating him, but only wins his disdain (failed intimidation without the skill). I’m not really happy with this roll; the consequences of failure should have been more tangible. Leif leaves the cellar.

Scene 4

During all this, Brunhildr does some scounting of the area, mainly about where the giant went the last time. I was floundering, no roll to make, nothing interesting happened. After that (possibly after some out-of-game spurring of ksym; encouraging the players to do something is a thing I do, for better or worse) Brunhildr gets sneaky and decides to just randomly wander to where her family might be, in the hopes of somebody getting out of the hidden place and revealing it. Her (unskilled) inconspicous roll is successful, which means that she happens to see Leif coming from the cellar, walking to her direction but not noticing her. (Failing the roll would have meant that she bumps on Leif some distance from the location and looks suspicious skulking thereabouts; I stated as much to players.) Brunhildr calmly walks past him, “accidentally” pushing him a bit (and ksym gains artha for playing his character as the thug she is).

Brunhildr enters the temporary crypt. There is a happy reunion, which I am uncomfortable or unable to play. I need to practice more. Getting comfortable with emotional scenes is a matter of playing (or living) through enough of them. Anyway. It is found out that Leif has been bringing gifts to Gilla Brunhildrsdottir, who has something of a fever (and is still deep asleep). After some time Halvard and Brunhildr leave.

Scene 5

Mori grabbed some eggs from the livestock that currently resided in the great hall. None asked pointed questions (inconspicuous). He went to Nässla’s hut, which is sort of small. Nässla is there cataloguing his herbs. I mentioned the herb Mori just had gathered were some Nettle was throwing away due to them being old, but Thalin didn’t catch on. It probably won’t become relevant, given Thalin didn’t make it so. Maybe it was intentional.

Nässla asks Mori to make food. The materials have been waiting for him all the time. They look like it. Mori chooses to go to the village yet one more time, searching for other foodstuff this time. Some inconspicuous linked to (successful roll gives a bonus die to the next relevant roll; failure adds difficulty; exactly succeeding does nothing) falsehood later Mori returns with new foodstuff and wants to appease Nässla by making a fabulous dinner. This is a bit suspicious, given how the relevant contact is characterised by rivalry or hatred. I set the difficulty at 3; Thalin makes the roll. Nässla is pleased with the food and doesn’t throw too many cutting remarks on Mori’s way. Maybe, just maybe, Mori can win over his former mentor.

Nässla tells Mori to get Gilla to him. She has shown some talent. Mori gets on the way, arrives to the village, where all the PCs are together (rare enough an event even without me arranging it whenever possible). They all decide to go see Gilla and the late Thorvald to see if Mori can tell why he died and possible even to treat Gilla, though Brunhildr is not delighted at the idea of Mori doing anything to her.

Scene 6

Gilla is still asleep. Mori investigates the corpse, Thalin rolls poisons with maybe some dice from fields of related knowledge such as assassination-wise; success and Mori discovers the reason of death with Thalin deciding how it came to be; failure and the same happens but the reasoning Thalins gives is the wrong one; I tell both of these to the players. Thalin is successful (not a big surprise given Mori’s grey poisons skill). Successful roll and some narration after: Thorvald was killed by poisoned barb disguised in an amulet. Poison was very rare due to being foreign. I got to check the name with Thalin but I think it was something to the effect of “maiden’s kiss” or “tears”. Grímr recalled some foreign trader who sold furs and some suspicious material visited but left quickly after being shown general dislike. Suspicions are thrown on Leif.

Thalin was a bit uncertain, possibly thinking that he maybe was overstepping his bounds. I might have contributed to that with my body language, as I had not expected him to seize quite as much authority on the fiction as he did. Worked out well in the end.

Brunhildrs specifically asks Mori to keep away from Gilla. He doesn’t do that, of course, but checks her health as the others are discussing something else. Failed inconspicuous and he gathers some attention. I don’t remember if there were any notable consequences. A bad roll, overall.

Leif ordered Grímr and Gilla to stay there, but Halvard orders Gilla taken away (with no little pushing from Brunhildr and Mori). Brunhildr carries her away. Before that, Mori grabs some herbs and fails sleight of hand against Grímr, who is not pleased and recommends Brunhildr to keep Gilla away from Mori.

On the way to the hall Gilla finally wakes up. Halvard continues on, Mori stays between. There is some confusion, greetings, and finally Gilla tells to Brunhildr that she has occasionally seen Thorvald around his body. He seems to be full of hatred or fear. Actual talking has not happened.

Scene 7

The giant is coming. Everyone knows this. Preparations happen with great hurry. Halvard and the others dig up a grave to get a replacement body to offer to the giant in place of Thorvald.

That’s pretty severe breach of all possible laws, but nobody is complaining, as long as the giant is tricked.

This asks for command rolls to get the people dig and do it before the giant gets there. Brunhildr and some men go get two chests of treasure so that Brunhildr still has tiem to help with organising the digging project. Far too many successes are rolled by wgaztari, which means there is plenty of time to get the body done (linked test). Halvard gets Thorvald’s equipment. Disguise is done. Again, many successes. Well disguised. Things look promising, don’t they?

Scene 8

Mori sneaks away to meet the giant (this probably happened earlier, but it doesn’t really matter that much). Upon meeting (no rolls needed because Nifur the giant is a relationship and they can generally be found when requested), Nifur picks Mori up. Mori divulges the main points of the plan, but also asks the giant to not kill everyone quite yet, because there is about to be a battle between the two would-be-leaders and this is likely to weaken the settlement and also warns about two formidable warriors (that would be Halvard and Brunhildr). Mori also asks the giant to not harm any young girls (that would be Gilla), because he needs one of them. Giant more-or-less agrees. Mori wants to know why Nifur is after Thorvald’s body, and Nifur says that Thorvald killed his father an he is here to pay the debt back. One can see the forming of a magnificent bastard PC, which I guess is the archetype Thalin gravitates towards. Insufficient gaming experience with him to be certain.

After the deal with the giant, Mori gets back in and starts cooking for Gilla.

Scene 9

Here be giants. Nifur enters the village. Parley time. First we roleplay a bit of negotiation, me as the giant and Brunhildr mostly speaking for the village. Time to roll out Duel of Wits, the extended social resolution in BW. No participant has haggling (Mori has but is inside), Nifur has will 5 against Brunhildr’s 4. I recruit Thalin to help the players with scripting and give him a cheat sheet (given that Mori is not involved). I script (plan three actions ahead of time what Nifur does) first and then let the players discuss, answering any questions they have. I don’t change Nifur’s scripts based on what I hear (that would be cheating) but do script to the best of my ability. Round by round, everyone declares their actions and they are cross-referenced in a handy table. Small part of dialog is mandatory. The stakes are that this confrontation determines how much treasure the giant will want; base obstacle is 3 (formidable), -2 for total victory of players, -1 for partial, +0 for draw, +1 for Nifur’s victory, +2 in case of total victory to Nifur. End result is that Nifur barely wins; Nifur retains one dice out of the five he started with. Also: DoW without relevant skills makes rebuttal a poor choice. Resource obstacle: 4. Quite hard.

During this all Halvard went to ask for Mori, but failed a conspicuous test and didn’t manage to get his attention before too late.

Halvard orders the body brought to Nifur, who promptly picks it by, rips the armour off, pulls out the man’s heart and swallows it whole. Pretty hardcore. I should have asked for steel tests here, but, alas.

After that is the payback time. Resource test tells if Nifur is satisfied with what he got. Halvard gets all the treasure they looted or traded for, puts his meagre possession and contacs in play to get some extra stuff on top of that, but decides to not use the village’s winter stash. Mori is hired to prepare some food for the giant, which is a linked test. Mori fails, which implies +1 Ob which means obstacle 5. Not gonna work. Dice are rolled. Artha is burned. 3 successes. The giant is not happy. He shrugs, grabs a few chests and lumbers off with them. Nobody attacks.

Scene 10

Mori succeeds at cooking to win Gilla’s favour. I am a bit uncomfortable playing out a seduction with one of my best friends and getting tired, so the detailed discussion is glossed over. Thalin rolls persuade to get Gilla’s trust, but fails, which means that Gilla succumbs to fever and sleep before anything happens.

Everyone goes to sleep, Mori in his own cottage.

Spoilers and other stuff my players might not want to read

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