Personal blog

31 March, 2009 at 9:06 pm (meta)

I started a new blog for more personal and political material. Most of the entries will be in Finnish, but there is a specific category for English posts. I might summarise the Finnish ones every now and then. Or maybe not. Time will tell. It can be found here: http://tommibrander.wordpress.com/. (I am oh so very imaginative with blog urls.)

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Go and buy the Open game table

23 March, 2009 at 6:32 pm (linkedin, roleplaying) (, )

You can read about it on the tireless Jonathan Jacobs’ blog (with extra exclamation marks and everything): http://www.thecoremechanic.com/2009/03/open-game-table-now-on-sale.html

There’s even one post of mine that managed to slip past the reviewers in the anthology of blog entries. I also acted as a reviewer and reviewed almost all posts not too tightly coupled with 4e rules. I further have the draft in this very computer and there is much art of significant quality therein. The content is good, also. The strictly 4e material does not overwhelm the useful stuff.

Congratulations, Jonathan, for pulling this off. Let there be many sales.

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War is boring

19 March, 2009 at 9:22 pm (roleplaying) (, )

To be more precise, roleplaying in war situations tends to be boring unless the characters are specifically constructed for it.

This post is part of rpg blog carnival, hosted at The book of rev.

The problem

You are playing this fine character, all tangled up in whatever is happening in the game; politics, looting the local megadungeon or struggling between losing your humanity and having to drink blood to survive. Then there’s war. Maybe your character won’t get involved and everything will be fine as the war will be a background event and simply add pressure to whatever is already going on in the game. Maybe your character will get involved. That’s when trouble starts.

What is there to do in a war? Most characters will follow orders, wait a lot, occasionally fight a bit, rinse and repeat. This is only interesting if the combats are quite enthralling, even when repeated, or one wants to focus on the psychological problems of being a soldier. Neither of these are true of my gaming and, I dare say, most gaming.

Some characters will be in the luxurious position of giving orders. They will have limited information, make decisions based on that, and get back limited information of the effects of those decisions. I’d hazard this would get fairly boring fairly quickly unless one were playing a real war game, in which case, carry on.

Solutions

One obvious solution is to draw attention away from the war, in whichever way one chooses to. Maybe an opportunity to take on a heroic quest that will resolve the entire conflict will conveniently manifest? Maybe one does not get too involved.

The characters taking on special missions is another popular solution. It works if the characters are fairly competent fighters and preferably have other relevant skill sets. Guerilla warfare, assassinations, destroying supply chains, poisoning wells, … By participating in such activity characters can, in interesting game systems, learn relevant skills and really start shining at the activity (or players are encouraged to make their characters competent if there are points, levels or feats to distribute).  This will reduce to cahracters being essentially constructed for warfare scenarios, assuming sufficient time, where sufficient depends on the speed and method of character advancement in the game.

Secondary characters: One easy option is to play other characters, ones built for the situation at hand, until the war ends or gets interesting for the primary characters. Or it could just be skipped in play: There’s war, roll on this chart to see if your character gets wounded or some other interesting thing happens.

Customised characters

Sometimes one wants to play in a wartime game. It pays to build a character who is interesting to play. Generally, at least moderately skilled characters are better than unskilled ones. One may want to have a mentally unstable character and follow its arc, or take a socially unstable group and see what happens to them under pressure. Everyone building specialists that can partake in guerilla warfare is one option, as it gives a degree of freedom and variety not offered by large scale battles.

Summary

Adding a war to an ongoing game is a drastic change and can make many interesting characters moot. Before killing a good game , consider what kinds of activities the characters might perform in the war. Talk to other participants, see if they are interested in playing those activities. If not, make sure there is a way out.

If you are playing in a game where there is a war brewing, it would be polite to inform the GM of this stuff and perhaps say that you’d like another character to play during wartime in case this one doesn’t end up being interesting. There’s no shame in saying that your character is no longer interesting to play, though transforming the character so that interest can be maintained is often an option, too.

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Preparation: a case study

14 March, 2009 at 12:34 pm (game mastering)

In this post I will explain how I have prepared and do prepare for this game. The premise is that three mages (number may change still) are banished from the city of Carcassonne and they will build something resembling a settlement and probably get involved in the local politics (such as who banished them and why) and then there’s the issue of Catharism and the Catholic church and potentially upcoming crusade. Year 1200 + few more.

Characters

Chris Owens, a messianic leader of a hedonistic cult, whose tenets of faith are pretty much diametrically opposed to both the Catharism and Christianity of that age; venerates Rex Mundi (the Demiurge) whom Cathars believe to be the evil creator of the physical world. They believe that Rex Mundi was created bythe true God (along with other heavenly beings) and tried to do the same, hence creating humanity, but being imperfect made the world an evil place it is; very gnostic of them. Chris has perpetual wounds that will not heal and entered the other world in a tower full of all vices that were not enough for him.

Philippe, an experienced soldier who was kindly asked to leve his mercenary company due to issues of witchcraft; he feels no pain and originally entered the other world by being almost killed, or maybe even completely killed. Can see dead people. Can also make people dead.

The third character was once a doctor but failed healing a key patient, whose relatives took their revenge by stabbing his eyes with sharp objects; hence, blindness. Afterwards he was a beggar for quite some time, whom local monastery kept alive by offering shelter at night. One night tehre was an unearthly wind and he followed it; there he bargained a gift of scrying for the mere price of his name.

Thus far

They were driven away from Carcassonne and mostly by accident banded together (community is everything; a single champion is nothing, at least so the conventional wisdom goes). Chris, being well-connected, knew one of the local vine producers and arranged for some shelter for the night.

We’ll start actually playing later today.

Rules

I fear that the rules allow for too easy success; if that becomes an issue, I’ll negotiate to alter them. People have been giving each other tokens which is a definite plus. For the Finnish audience: Nappuloita, in reference to “älä paina nappulaa”, which references the “child pornography” censorship.

Preparation

My players may want to stop reading now. There will be potential and actual spoilers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Of freeform Nobilis and general game mastering

10 March, 2009 at 9:07 am (actual play, game mastering) (, )

As mentioned before, I’m playing in freeformish Nobilis game right now.

The GM started it as an investigation: One character’s (Wilhelm-something else Bönn, the power of meanings) daughter (Catherine Blake or something similar) is gone. So, we naturally engaged this in the problem-solving mode so typical of roleplayers. There was investigation and random playing around.

After game the GM told that it was not his intention for the entire game to be investigative. I offered some cryptic and nigh-impossible to understand advice, as I tend to do when I have not thought something through yet and am trying to do so for the first time. Hence, this blog post will be about what I as a player intend to do to make the game better and the GM’s job easier and what I would do if I were the GM.

As a player

The GM really wants us to be active players, I assume. Unfortunately my character is not the most suited for, say, relationships (what with being one mind, thousand years old, in several bodies at once), though such would at least be very interesting. Well, if the GM happens to throw something suitable at me I might grab it. Maybe. I’m not good at playing that sort of stuff, but one learns by fumbling. So, assuming the GM won’t throw any suitable NPCs at me, what can and will I do? My character is the Illuminati in that I have a fair deal of influence in politics. I might start playing around with that, though it would feel somewhat directionless.

In play one character of mine was fired. Petty revenge? Why not. That’ll give me something to do and will further make the character different from what I usually play, which is strictly a bonus.

I’ll need some ways of engaging the other player characters, too. Particularly mister human-animal-shapeshifter-were[animal, like skunk], and power of animals, seems somewhat marginal, though a man-eating wereskunk in Paris will be fun if the GM does not get soft. Cleaning that up might be fun (or impossible, as it happens). As for the German theologist, power of meaning, mayhaps something related to his former wife whom he declared to mean nothing to him (and being the power of meaning, actually did it so).

As a GM

Game mastering is something of a challenge when the characters are very powerful. An approach that will not work in the long run is just challenging them with more and more powerful enemies; it becomes boring, predictable, and shatters anything like suspension of disbelief or setting consistency. So, the trick is to make players choose between two good things or two bad things (or just two things they care about) such that a clearly right solution does not exist. In Nobilis there’s Lord Entropy who likes to destroy nobles who kill someone or fall in love and has both the power and the authority to do it. Hence love is inherently an interesting subject for nobles, as is killing. Offering opportunities for both is a good idea; trying to force either is generally not. Certainly I would offer sympathetic and despicable characters and develop them further should the players show interest.

As for this particular game and these particular characters: Well, my character is a tough one. Apologies for that. I’ll try to get him properly involved myself. Bönn is already pretty busy, with the daughter gone, some connections to the daughter’s mother potentially existing, and there being the fanatically devoted fan/daughter’s suitor about. So, nothing particular to do there. The power of animals could be easily involved by his general habit of releasing animals and animal-rights activists from wherever they are kept against their will, though that would be simple problem-solving and hence not very interesting, at least for long. Maybe someone captures one of its anchors/pets, like the hydra or the gryphon or the Nessie or the Bigfoot or… Or better yet, maybe someone provokes one of them to start rampaging in the old-fashioned way.

To sum it up, as a GM I would present interesting characters and see if players fixate on some and keep them busy by minor inconveniences and mysteries so as to keep the game moving.

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Now playing and running

5 March, 2009 at 2:53 pm (roleplaying) (, , , , )

Thunderer (who does not have a blog, yet…) is running mostly ruleless Nobilis as an experiment. I’m playing essentially Identity as detailed by Greywolf (the post includes stats for Mutants and Masterminds, but the concept is well worth reading regardless). Ludosofy, formerly opusinsania, is also in that game as is one youngish person.

I would have participated in playtesting an upcoming fantasy rpg called Bliaron as to be published by Northern realms, but there were too many players eager to play that and too few wanting to join Thunderer’s game, so I picked the almost-as-good choice. The people at Northern realms may accept contributions of artistic nature, though they do not have much budget from what I have heard. If interested, post at their forums. English is understood and written there.

As for the as of yet unnamed mage game, we played the first session but I did not manage to contact one potential player. He has not responded to emails yet, so if someone is interested, contact me. We play at my apartment in Kortepohja, Jyväskylä (unless the would-be-player has a better playing space available). Assumed frequency of play is one game per about two weeks, played during Saturday or Sunday. Maybe during a Wednesday now or then. Next session will probably be during the next week’s weekend.

The game is set in fairly historical France near the city of Carcassonne (Google maps finds it), year 1200 or few years more, but not more than 1206. Notable events include an upsurge in Catharism (wikipedia is wise), a gnostic near-Christian sect, and the 1208 crusade that crushed them. We’ll see how that goes. The three established player characters are a warrior who has defeated death, a hedonist (and hence heretical) demagogue and a blind seer. We played a bit during which they were driven out of Carcassonne for various reasons along with a fair number of cultists.

Olorin also wants to run at least a few sessions of game that involves superheroes and dystopic future, called eCollapse, designed by Greg Stolze and still in playtesting phase. There’s still room. Contact him if you are interested.

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Final (seventh) session of the dragongame

4 March, 2009 at 6:42 pm (actual play, Dragongame)

Again, everyone present, as is proper.

Play

Negotiation between the elves and the lizardfolk, with dragons also participating. Of lizardfolk the leader of the plains-dweller, called Garithyx, is quite ready and willing to slay the puny elves; others are not as eager, and neither are dragons (except Zaphádoranon). Garithyx and almost of its warriors are in full war-paint, with red and white markings on their bodies and faces.

Elves arrive at the meeting place; they have roughly hundred warriors who stay farther, and three figures of some value who, accompanied by two bodyguards, come close. Of lizardfolk there is each leader present and a single guard or other cohort for support. And there are the dragons.

There is an honest attempt at negotiation, but one of the elves starts softly singing, working some magic as observed by Hafnir, and Vulcanus responds by his own draconic singing. Everyone is tense and negotiations really do not work out. The elf actually has more powerful magic than Vulcanus, which is a feat in and of itself, but it comes to little as the dragons resist the consciousness-shattering arcane forces, as do almost all of the lizardfolk army. Then there is war. The elven negotiators and their guards are quickly slain and sheets of icy formed by Isla’s breath and ice manipulation make arrows useless. A melee ensues with many dead on both sides and that particular elven army defeated. The other one destroys the village of plains-dwelling lizarfolk and there are griffons that assault the island. Dragons take a portion of the army to retrieve those on the island (freesing one gryphon drives the others away). Finally everyone is in the caves. There is a brief siege but then the elven forces are noted as wanting and the lizardfolk break out. Elves retreat to their island.

All is well, until the large elven invasion fleet arrives, but that is another game at another time.

Post mortem

I am reasonably happy with this game. I had one notable goal besides the obvious (a good game): To train game mastering for characters that have varied and powerful senses. I’d call this a mediocre success in that I only once forgot one of them, but they were not very prominent during the latest third of the game.

I did not succeed at using the rules properly. This can be explained by two factors: The conflicts were zoomed in too much for this resolution system to work and I had too fixed notions of how everything works to leave it to dice. I think I’ll leave more to dice in the mage game, just to practice running a game with heavy emphasis on dice results.

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Blogroll cleaned

1 March, 2009 at 6:06 pm (meta)

I finally got around to cleaning my blogroll. Now there are less dead links, less dead blogs (though I purposefully left some there, if they have good content) and more currently active and interesting blogs. There’ll probably be minor additions in the near future.

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