Game classification

31 August, 2008 at 7:06 pm (rpg theory) (, )

Other people have done campaign benchmarking things before. They are probably okay. This one is mine and is still under development. Potentially.

So, the idea is to provide some data about a game so that everyone knows what kind of game it will be and can play accordingly or tell they are not interested. It also works as a tool for analysis.

Some games

In which I shall list some games I have GM’d or am willing to GM. For meanings of volatile/scripted/sandbox play, see this post.

Burning vikings (old and potential for further play)

  • Setting: Norway, more or less, with fantastic elements.
  • Gritty: Yes.
  • Serious: Yes.
  • Play paradigm: Characters in problematic situation, pressure applied by a giant.
  • GMing style: Somewhat volatile.
  • System: Burning Wheel

Dragongame (old)

  • Setting: D&D fantasy, homebrewn.
  • Gritty: Far from it.
  • Serious: No. Just no.
  • Play paradigm: You live here. Threats happen. Respond.
  • GMing style: Muddled.
  • System: First D&D 3rd, then homebrew fantasy heartbreaker minus publication.

Dragongame (potential for play sometime)

  • Setting: D&D-ish fantasy, homebrewn.
  • Gritty: Somewhat.
  • Serious: Maybe.
  • Play paradigm: Here’s an explosive situation. Do things.
  • GMing style: Somewhat volatile, non-detailed sandbox.
  • System: Updated fantasy hearbreaker minus publication.

Dungeons and crawling therein (Will run at request.)

  • Setting: D&D fantasy, generic or D&D fantasy, everyone forced underground.
  • Gritty: Somewhat.
  • Serious: Not really.
  • Play paradigm: Here’s a dungeon. Survive and thrive.
  • GMing style: Sandbox.
  • System: Custom.

Persistent fantasy (working title that is turning disturbingly, well, persistent)

  • Setting: Swords and sorcery, details built in play.
  • Gritty: A bit.
  • Serious: Not really.
  • Play paradigm: Creating spontanous fiction. Or: Varies.
  • GMing style: Volatile. Very much so.
  • System: Custom.

Wardens (Play-by-post. On hold. Cryptic, damn thee.)

  • Setting: Custom fantasy.
  • Gritty: Yeah.
  • Serious: Yeah.
  • Play paradigm: Here’s a situation. Solve it.
  • GMing style: Somewhat scripted, somewhat volatile.
  • System: Freeform.

Notes

Genre is part of setting. The ratio of combat to not-combat kinda happens in play, as well as other ephemeral factors.

Also: I like fantasy. And gritty stuff. And have a tendency to go for serious stuff. And there is a correlation between something being serious and gritty.

Advertisements

Permalink 2 Comments

Here be elves

30 August, 2008 at 9:34 am (Dragongame) (, , , )

I used to run a game that started as D&D and later was converted to a homebrew system. Dragon player characters were in a prominent role. The game kinda died, and I take full responsibility for it.

The setting had some interesting points (and several outright flaws). In this post I will describe the creation myth of my revised version (a friend is doing another, vastly different, revised version). There are elves in it and it is seen from their perspective. It is traditional D&D fantasy. This is your unique chance to stop reading.

There has been one previous article related to this setting: Body dreaming about a mind. Something like that.

Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 3 Comments

Political leanings

29 August, 2008 at 9:17 am (meta) (, , )

I doubt there will be many political posts in this blog. This has nothing to do with presidental election in a country far, far away, for the record.

I will, in the next election where it is possible, vote for the Pirate party. I am also a member, as of today. This is not because I practice a lot of file sharing or such. I do not. I probably would if it were legal.

I vote for the pirate party because they are likely understand internet. Others try to control it.

I vote for the piraty party because I want there to be more free stuff available by legal means. (Honesty is a good thing.)

I vote for the pirate party because I am disillusioned with the other parties; consensus-based politics and them not helping the poor are big factors in this.

I vote for the pirate party because I am scared; there is internet censorship in Finland, supposedly of child pornography, but in reality of diverse subjects. Surveillance is becoming more and more widespread and accepted (by the law). These are not good developments.

Permalink 5 Comments

Persistent fantasy – system update

27 August, 2008 at 11:37 am (game design, persistent fantasy) (, , )

These are the clarified and collected rules of my default house system, still somewhat in progress.

Big picture

The design goals of this system are, in no particular order:

  • Sword and sorcerish fantasy adventure.
  • Meaningful one-shot games.
  • The setting and the characters have continuity, even though the players present in any one game may radically change.
  • Playing the game generates the setting, the characters and the rules.
  • Planning ahead is futile and impossible, or at least very hard.
  • Players have power to shape the fiction.
  • Character concepts are protected, in that breaking them is hard.
  • Conflicts should be detailed, not tactical.

Cycle of play

  1. Gather players. See how many participants there are. Take half this number, round down, and consult the list (my list is visible in the persistent fantasy page). Select the topmost characters whose players are present, though a given player can only get one character from the list to play.
  2. Consult a relevant random generator (my generator: http://random-generator.com/index.php?title=Fantasy_oracle_compilation). The players who are thus far without characters generate new ones implied or explicitly mentioned by the random entries. Should some named character not controlled by another player be eligible, playing that one is recommended, but not obligatory.
  3. Generate a situation based on the random elements and characters: What is happening, why are the characters involved, and what do they want?
  4. Play.
  5. Update the list and character records.
  6. If such is the habit, also update setting info.

Anatomy of characters

  • Starting player characters have three traits. At most one trait may have the value of six. All have integer values between 1 and 6. Values 1 and 2 indicate a minor trait, 3 and 4 a significant one, 5 a major one and 6 something potentially legendary.
  • Starting non-player characters have an arbitrary number of arbitrary traits. All must have positive integers as values.
  • All player characters must have a name.

Anatomy of traits

All traits work as defined below in the section that relates to resolution. Some have additional qualities. Examples follow. (Ksym, corruption is built for you, if you are interested.)

  • Aspirant to the throne: Increase this trait by one whenever the character does something that will prove useful in evidently grabbing the throne. Inciting a rebellion in the streets, blackmailing noblemen, gaining favour of the church, being of noble birth, deterring an invasion in the borders. It can be reduced by one as a consequence of failing at the listed tasks. Aspirant can be rolled when the character is trying to take over the throne, or at half value when negotiating with the nobles. After winning the game of thrones the trait is replaced by Queen/King of the realm or similar trait at the same value. Any trait that signifies a goal can be handled in similar way.
  • Corruption: Corruption is any source of power that takes over the character when used. A demon whispering advice, a blade with something evil bound to it, the power to make the dead walk. Using the corrupted trait means that its value increases by 1. (This does not apply to others using the trait, only the character who has it, though some corruption may spread to other characters who use it against the person wielding it.) When the value of the corrupted trait is greater than that of any other trait, it transforms the character into something else. Demonic whispers trait may turn into champion of chaos. Necromancy turns into lich.
  • Creeping doom: Any effect that slowly consumes the character. A disease, say. Increases by 1 every session. Trait may evidently transform into something else or just totally cripple the character. Curing it may be useful.
  • Lycanthropy: Any trait that can be drawn strength from, but without the condition becoming more severe. Use the trait and certain effects will come to be; your character is wounded in battle, you use the werewolf trait, win the combat, and later the character wakes up naked in a graveyard next to half a corpse of human, for example.

Names and the list

Some characters are named (including all player characters). Anyone can name a character in play. Some named characters are on the list.

While a character is on the list that particular character can’t be permanently removed from play. Should one be killed, it will later become apparent that this did not actually happen or that the character has returned to life or is now a demon who just happened to be summoned back to this world. Also: Undead.

Any character on the list is owned by some player (or GM). Unless a player explicitly says otherwise, other players are not to play that character. Any player can renounce a character; this means that any entries where that player and that character are linked are removed from the list. It is recommended for one to not renounce characters.

Named characters who are not on the list can be played by anyone, regardless of who previously played them. They can be killed permanently in game (though doing this without the character entering the list is hard) so that they actually will not come back.

Named characters not on the list should be possible result of the random generator. Named characters on the list may not be.

Unnamed characters have some traits and function as other characters do, but they do not enter the list. An unnamed character can be named at any time in play by any participant. This may be done as a reaction to the character failing a roll, so that the character immediately enters the list.

A brief respite

Some player may want to retire a character for a while, but still retain control of that character. The fiction must offer a suitable opportunity for doing this; for example, a character building a cabin in some forlorn woods and staying there. Or entering a large city incognito.

This can only be done if the character has at least one entry on the list. Remove all entries featuring the character from the list. After the session add the character once to the bottom of the list.

If a character is controlled by several players, all of them must agree to the respite. The process works as above, except that the character gets one entry per player to the bottom. The order of the entries is determined by their previous order; the player who previously was closest to the top with that character gets the first entry, and so on. Players can agree to different order.

I will not abandon you

Some characters may stick together, no matter what. A D&Dish adventuring party, a married couple, brothers in arms, a group of soldiers. Pets, cohorts, and such also qualify. The mechanical term for this will be “group”. Grouped characters must have traits linking them to the group, mentioning other members by name. Not all characters need to be thus linked, but any two characters must be linked through other chars. (A linked to B linked to C linked to A, for example.)

Grouped characters will only enter play if all the relevant players are present. If even one of the characters would enter play due to being on the list, then all will. The top-most name of every grouped character is removed from the list.

The actual procedure when using the list is to select characters as normal so long as a group is not encountered. When one is, check to see if all the players are present and if none of them are yet playing another character. If both of these conditions are true, then the relevant players are assigned the characters in the group. Names are removed from the list as above. The players hence selected count towards the total number of player assigned characters before play, and may exceed that number.

(Note to ksym and others playing: This replaces bound characters as a concept.)

Actually playing

By this point, every player has a character and the fundamental situation has been created. Characters are motivated or just plain involved.

Play happens in freeform manner; players tell what their characters do, participants tell what happens around them (should a game master exist, this is likely to be done by them). If a given player is otherwise uninvolved, playing and possibly naming an NPC is a good idea, if that particular player is up to the task.

Adjusting traits

Characters can gain and lose traits in play. This can be in the way of flashback (“When Moh was young he had to fish for his own food, so he has the trait fisher 3. Okay?”) or in-game events (“Since you killed those outlaws the word has been spreading. Take vigilante 2 as a trait.”), or mix thereof (The game starts at desert and my character has been wandering around for a while. I’ll take desert survival 1.)

The above applies to adjusting the values of traits, too. Extensively practice a skill, get better at it. Be in location where a particular skill is never used and it might go down (if someone bothers).

Resolution system

(I use six-sided dice. Other dice can be used, as long as there are enough dice to go around. Everyone must use dice with the same number of sides.)

Should a situation where both (1) the outcome is uncertain and (2) player character is in risk emerge in play, dice come to play. One can use the dice in other situations, too, but inconsequental rolls should be avoided. They break things.

For every involved character some player tells what the character does and names a useful trait of that character or a trait that other character has that can be exploited in this situation, and further that same player explains what the character does, including how the trait is used. For example: “I know this land and the best route through it (trait Born in the desert 4).” or “I meditate and consult the spirits, asking them to reveal the lay of the land (trait Shaman 3).” A clearly relevant trait gives its value in dice. A partially relevant trait gives half the value, rounded down.

Any number of traits can be introduced to a given conflict, but every time one must describe how the trait comes to play. Turns should be taken such that every player, in some order, adds more details to the conflict. This is the way through which play creates fiction.

A player can opt to remove a name from the list to get more dice. The name must be of the character in conflict and it must be linked to the player currently playing that character. Removing the top-most name on the list gives 3 dice, while the name on the very bottom gives 1 die. Every other name gives 2 dice. (Unless otherwise mentioned by the relevant player, the lowest name that gives 2 dice is removed.) This can only be done once per character per conflict. Description should be related to good luck or other unrelated factor.

If some characters have no dice, those character get a single die and the pools of everyone else are doubled.

The dice are rolled.

Interpreting dice

Some characters oppose each other, some do not. They are respectively called opponents and allies. (In this case, someone really is on your side or the other side; mechanically, there is no way of being neutral.) The relations need not be transitive, but they are symmetric. That is: Any two characters are either allies or opponents, but two characters allied to same char can still be enemies. A likes B, B likes C, A hates C (this is only relevant if there is someone for B to oppose, too).

The dice are rolled. If any opponents have dice showing the same number, every character in the conflict removes one such die from table. Continue as long as any opponents have dice showing same numbers. After this process is done, there will be one character or several allied characters who have the highest die still on table. This character, or these characters, are winners. They have a number of successes equal to the amount of dice they have that are higher than all the dice of their opponents. All characters that are not winners get their name on the list. (Order arbitrary, but generally the characters who fare the worst should be entered first in order to remain true to the game’s principles.)

In case of tie (no dice remain on the table),  there are no winners. The conflict must be started from beginning, but the situation has somewhat changed. Nobody gets to the list.

The participants playing the winning character, or winning characters, now have the power to describe what happens in the fiction. The participants playing the losing character(s) have veto power, but using it means they take harm equal to the number of successes of the one who described the events. In case of harm the situation stays unresolved (but it has changed regardless due to the way participants described their characters acting). Dice can be used again or the situation may dissolve.

Harm

Characters can only take harm when losing conflicts. Harm stacks. Player can’t invoke any traits with value equal to or less than the amount of harm that player’s relevant character has. For example: Character with 4 harm can only make use of traits with value 5+. This includes exploitable traits of other characters.

Any character with harm equal to or greater than that character’s highest trait is removed from play for this session. Maybe the character is unconscious, dead, lost, or just got bored and walked away, whatever is appropriate to the fiction. Characters can’t recover from harm in play. All harm is removed from all characters between sessions.

In play

In actual play conflicts usually have less than five participants. Mobs of people or swarms of creatures are better represented as single entities. (Peasant mob traits, an example: Torches and pitchforks 5, mob mentality 4, burn the witch 4. Peasant traits, an example: Peasant 3.)

The way dice work is actually pretty easy to show, but hard to explain. What is notable is that there are no tactical decisions to be made, except perhaps in fiction. What is also notable is that the dice practically never produce a tie; it would require that all the dice were removed from the table, which is extremely unlikely, but possible in few cases.

Also, in conflicts it is useful to check who is winning right now to provide inspiration for the narrative. I am not inclined to explain the process here, however, but suffice to say it does not make a difference on the level of crunch.

Players usually accept the offered narration. If it is unacceptable, negotiation is possible instead of taking harm. It is recommended to suggest what might happen to other participants. Don’t try writing a novel, just keep the game moving in some simple way. Embrace the obvious, because what is obvious to you might not be so to others.

It is possible to grant traits as a result of conflicts. It is usually a good way to harm other characters, for example. General guideline: The value of an added trait should be roughly equal to the amount of successes one got. Charming someone with 2 successes might give the target trait “Trusts [whoever happened to be the charmer] 2”.

Running and playing the game

This game does not actually need a gamemaster, though one is very useful for adding adversity in game. If all characters are on each others throats anyway, GM will play a smaller role. Co-GMing and such activities should be fairly easy.

The fine art of negotiation

When you win a conflict, you can suggest how the events unfold. Few key principles: Make it interesting to everyone. Don’t reach into the future, unless some character has oracular powers, and even then, giving traits is a better idea. Do give traits liberally. Try to give ambivalent traits that are not clearly good or clearly bad, as they are more fun to everyone. Give obscure and fuzzy traits.

Should some other player have an idea of what might happen, do listen to them. The idea might be good. Negotiation is preferable to dictation. But don’t reach into future.

In other words: Consequences should guide and influence future play, not dictate it. Traits are an excellent way of guiding and influencing, but not dictating.

Pacing

One of the actual reasons for having a GM is pacing. At the start of a session, it is necessary to open new story threads and expand on any potential for interest. At the mid-point, one should start focusing on the key story threads. At the end of play, only the key story thread should be there, others forgotten, for now.

The scope of traits

People should have a rough vision of what the traits in play mean. In game it is negotiated further. General guidelines: Only give full trait value in dice if the trait completely fits with the use. Almost always give half the trait in dice, as long as it can be justified. Stingy with full dice, generous with half dice.

Further development

The following are ideas or variant rules. They might be tested at some point and accepted as official at some point.

Death

A way for characters to die in play would be nice. Something definitely under player control, though. My tentative rule suggestion goes thusly: A character whose name is on the list is in conflict. Already has the player removed the character from the list to get bonus dice. Should the player want to do this again, the player must remove all occasions of that particular character from the list (permission of all players whose name is listed with that character is required). One die per name removed and the character may die as a consequence of this conflict.

Alternatively: 2 dice per name removed and the character must die as a consequence of this conflict.

Negotiation tweaking

One of the following…

  • Upon ending a conflict, the loser must suggest what happens and the winner can accept or deal harm.
  • As above, but freefrom brainstormy negotiation.
  • At any point in a conflict any player, or some specific (losing, winning, …) player can make suggestion. Anyone can answer by rolling more dice and describing more, or the suggestion may be accepted.

Things that don’t work as they should

Messy conflicts with several sides, especially if someone is throwing fireballs or other area-of-effect things. Generally, harm and messy conflicts.

Permalink 1 Comment

In spite of laser clerics, or not bashing 4e

21 August, 2008 at 10:30 am (game design) (, , )

I’m not exactly a 4e hater. (Even though laser clerics and astral diamonds and starblah armours are profoundly stupid. In my opinion.)

So, there exists a bunch of things that 4e does very right. I have not played it, so these are only from design perspective. (My bias: I like elegant game designs.) The following are not in any particular order.

Out of combat

Skill challenges are a development long overdue. They allow one to mechanically handle non-combat encounters in such a way that it takes some time, which focuses more attention on them. The challenge can be constructed so that it promotes using different skills, or at least accepts such use. The difficulty can be scaled arbitrarily by increasing DCs or the number of successful checks one needs to achieve a victory. (Two ways of handling difficulty are redundant, as one would have been enough, but it is easy enough to always look difficulty from a chart and only mess with the number of successes required. Or the other way around.) Skill challenges allow partial successes, which are essentially a form of “Yes, but…”. You track down the beast, but it has time to slay the residents of a lone farmstead. You find it resting atop a heap of slaughtered farmers. Good luck you did not fail two checks or it would have ambushed you. Or three, because it would have lead you to an ambush by an unfortunate band of orcs and slipped away in the fray.

Skill challenges are not actually mechanically interesting. To make them gameable, one would need to leave hints about the applicable skills in any particular situation.

The challenges are modular; if you don’t want to focus on a particular thing, just call for normal skill check and be done with it. Unfortunately the gamedoes not allow one to do this with combats, as of yet.

Character options

There are less options at character generation, and radically less options when advancing a character (no multiclassing). Both of these make the relevant process faster, which is good, but reduce playable options, which may be bad. The supplement treadmill is likely to greatly increase the number of options, given time (and money or illegal downloads).

At higher levels when getting a new level one does not so much gain new powers as swap old ones for new ones. This is good, because it reduces the number of options one has in play, hence reducing analysis paralysis and makes it less likely that some ability is forgotten (I have lost a 3rd edition character because I forgot he had one fifth chance of negating critical hits, and it was not fun to remember it afterwards). Also, swapping powers means that planning the character’s path 19/29 levels into future is less necessary, though not any less rewarding, which I think is a good thing.

Non-options, like 3rd edition caster/different caster or caster/noncaster multiclassing, have been radically cut down. This reduces the role of system mastery in character generation, which I think is a good thing. Nonfunctional archetypes are no fun.

Rituals

Rituals deserve their own entry. Personally, I think that rules which force one to make choices between combat and noncombat ability are a bad thing in a combat-centric game. For example: Preparing fireball or whatever third level utility spells there exist in 3rd edition. This is not a problem in games that do not focus on combat to such a degree. Actually, the problems mostly arise in games where combat encounter, as opposed to say an entire dungeon, is a discreet and central unit of game. Utility spells do not always or usually function within that unit, hence it makes sense to make them a separate resource.

The idea of rituals also fits my aesthetic preferences. Implementation not quite as well.

In combat

All characters have several, hopefully viable, actions to take during any given round. At least in theory. This is certainly an improvement from 3rd edition, where all characters have a number of theoretically viable but often practically useless options. And then there is grapple.

I am certainly intrigued by how well the roles and their special abilities actually function in actual play. Does the fighter pushing a target by one square as an at-will power actually make a difference? This I’d like to know.

Here’s a bit of game design philosophy I support: Rules are bad if they are not used in actual play. Hence, the simplified monster stats are, in my opinion, a good thing. They reduce unnecessary cruft from the rules.

Permalink 13 Comments

Laser clerics, or 4e bashing

19 August, 2008 at 9:44 am (roleplaying-games) (, , )

In which I shall be disgusted by the direction the feel of D&D is moving towards, not review it as a game, but rather describe why it is a new kind of game entirely.

If you’d rather read a third edition afficiando bashing 4e, go read Jukka Särkijärvi’s well-written and fun review.

I have, from reliable sources, heard that 4e is fun to play. I can’t really say without playing it, because it is an entirely new genre of games, much like Forge-games once were.

New kind of game

Some characteristics of 4e that are relevant: Extremely involved combat system, combat powers that make fluff a reasonable term in that they essentially have an arbitrary effect that the fluff tries to justify, actual coverage of noncombat encounters in a potentially interesting way.

So, essentially, there’ll be three different games you will be playing. The first is more-or-less freeform roleplaying parts, maybe with a roll or two of dice now and then. Second is structured roleplay in the form of skill challenges. Third is playing Magic: the miniature game. This is a valid genre of games. It has strengths and weaknesses, like any other kind of game. I am personally not interested in it, though I will grab any opportunity to play, should such a thing materialise.

One notable weakness is a result of the strict combat/noncombat division. Given that a cleric can probably shoot lasers or sacred flames or something, can I blind someone by using these powers in total darkness? How bright are they? My warlock also has a laser. Can I use it to harm objects? All the powers are targeted at creatures, according to their descriptions.

One can see the above as a strength, too, in that it will allow one to define how the powers work. The problem here is that the rules won’t start reflecting these definitions. If I define my warlock lasers as fiery missiles, they will still harm fire elementals. Can I light a campfire with one?

The two paragraphs above are me looking at 4e from a wrong perspective. The correct way to look at it is that combats are self-contained units of fun, and what happens in them is not necessarily indicative of what the characters can do outside them. That is the purview of rituals, skills, common sense, genre conventions and the mighty prestidigitation. Accepting this is likely to make the game a lot smoother.

Laser clerics

Philippe shows his evil side by making an attack on this post before I even had written this. He is correct in that lambasting 4e because it has laser clerics is not really valid criticism of the game, considering you can change the fluff at will, as it does not have an effect on anything, at least not in combat.

Be that as it may, there are few parts that are, in and of themselves, jokes. For example, the coin types: There is copper, silver, gold, platinum, and astral diamonds. Huh?

The setting implied by all of this material is awfully flashy. It has preciously little to do with any fantasy I enjoy. Even the D&D literature I have read is much less flashy. The Drizzt books have, in comparison, very little obviously magical stuff going on (though I am have not read the recent ones).

Maybe the style of the books comes from bad anime (defined as anime I don’t watch or like). Maybe it comes from WoW and its ilk. Wherever it comes from, it completely kills any desire I have for reading the books, running the game, or even playing it as anything except a glorified miniature game.

(A necessary disclaimer: The martial classes are an exception to practically everything I have written here.)

Permalink 26 Comments

Ropecon play report 3 – Frog-men, a giant snake and dark caves

18 August, 2008 at 10:19 pm (game mastering, persistent fantasy, Ropecon) (, , )

This game was played during Sunday. Thalin did not fit in, as there already were 6 players (note to self: next time, only five players; the sheer number of new characters is too much for me to handle with no preparation).

The updated characters and setting info can be found in the relevant page. (The list now has twelve unique players, including me. There have been a total of thirteen [again, including me] players, but one did not get on the list at all in this game. Or maybe used that name in play. I don’t remember.) The new characters are Darethos Freyar, Jackpo, Eerik, Thóren, Tobi, Vrael Derith (with a picture).

I made the mistake on not using any random elements. There were reasons for this, yet it was a mistake. Next time I’ll print a few set of random seeds and select one so as to provide inspiration and make character generation faster. As a consequence the characters look pretty much like a standard D&D adventuring party, which is not the aesthetic I am interested in.

Fiction

A bunch of random rogues and such, by request of Darethos Freyar, a knight of the church, protector of good, and (above all) destroyed of darkness, seeks to investigate certain ruins in the Swamp of immortals, due to rumours of treasure and evil cults. Thóren, a shaman of plainsmen, is heading for the same place in search of half an ancestral blade.

No proper roads go to the ruins. Darethos’s party, guided by a local hunter named Vrael Derith, meticulously move through the swamp, avoiding dangerous areas. Something human-shaped with a spear is once seen watching them, but nothing outright threatening.

Thóren the shaman is surrounded by a buzz of insects, frogs, birds and reptiles. He enters a trance (the process involves mushrooms)  and contacts a spirit of that particular part of the swamp, who manifests as a mound of moss and rock and mud, speaking of someone watching him and telling about the safe paths through the swamplands. Thóren also exchanges gifts with something; leaves some animal skins, gets a bronze knife with crude frog-like shape in the handle.

Freyar’s party notices the shaman, there is some communication by yelling, but the shaman does not join the paladin’s group. Sleep, then progress forward.

The defender of the faith and his merry band of adventurers are approaching one of the more woody parts of the swamp. Three arrows in rabid succession fly from the woods, hitting the ground a few meters from the adventurers. They wisely stop, someone tries negotiating while Jackpo the thief crawls and swims towards the woods.

Thóren notices a shape in a tree, wielding a bow, and Jackpo sneaking. Thóren also approaches the tree, as does Eerik (also a scoundrel). Darethos Freyar yells religiosly coloured threats and insults into the woods, getting an arrow to his foot as a reward. The one who was hiding in the tree is swiftly coming down. It is certainly a human or very close to one, but so covered in mud and dirt that further identification would require significant washing. As the creature comes down, arrows, knives and one club fly, seriously wounding and poisoning the archer. It is questioned to no effect, only indicating some interest in the knife held by Thóren, who attempts giving the knife to it, which is responded to by spitting at Thóren.

Jackpo slits the archer’s throat.

Some days after the ruins are reached. A fire burning there indicates human presence, which scouting confirms: A lone man, very short and heavily robed, is sitting besides the fire, completely oblivious of the killers in the shadow. A knife at the throat and some interrogation tell that the man is an alchemist willing to make a fair trade with his fares, assuming he is not slain outright. He is mistrusted and the intruders instead want to know if there is anything of value hereabouts, at which the robed dwarf (as in a human of short stature) points the way down with his abnormally long hand.

The bloodthirsty adventurers head down to what looks like a cellar. There’s some water on the floor and a dripping sound can be heard. It is dark. They are not likely to be eaten by a grue because they have improvised torches. A narrow tunnel leads forward. A giant snake, venom dripping from its teeth, lunges from the darkness ahead twice, to no great effect. It then retreats.

Next in the tunnel there is a larger space, something like a cross between a cellar and a natural cave. The snake is there, as are around 10 small frog-men, some armed with knives, a few even wearing ill-fitting helmets, and a blood-stained obsidian altar with two fires in both sides of it. A flurry of weapons hits the serpent as it attacks, slaying it. The frog-creatures dive into water-covered parts of the cave, still pitch-black except where fires or torches burn.

One of the frog-men jumps on the altar, visibly drops the bronze dagger it had and, with considerable difficulty, takes off the helmet. The player characters accept the evident gesture of peace. Frog-men, few first, but then increasing numbers, up to fifty, emerge from the water and croak and jump around, as if celebrating something. There is a broken shelf with random pieces of equipment on the far wall; Thóren finds half the blade he was looking for, and others pick a few odds and ends that seem useful. The frogs don’t care.

Jackpo and Darethos Freyar go back, as there is nothing further that would be of interest to them.

Of the others Vrael Derith discovers a tunnel through which at least some of the extra frogs came. He swims through it and finds himself in a cave of some sort. Making noise disturbs a remarkable amount of bats that live there, making them screech and twitter about. There is no light and no wall nearby. Vrael continues forward in the cave.

Others wait. Toben, the peddler who brought everyone together, continues waiting as Eerik and Thóren follow Vrael into the tunnel. The uncoordinated croaking and jumping of the frog-men is changing, becoming a dance or ritual of some sort.

In the actually dark cave, with water up to thighs or so, Vrael discovers a platform of some sort, around the fifth of a meter above water. Climbing on it he discovers that there are some round objects, around the size of fist, lying there. They are cold and hard, maybe stone. Dropping one makes noise (and fluttering bats) , but the item does not break. Vrael continues forward, again entering water. There is some beast ahead, as indicated by a “hrumph”, and growling as Vrael tries to move forward. He is thus gently guided back to the platform, after which the creature departs.

Eerik enters the dark cave and starts wandering towards sounds made by Vrael and the beast. Speaking to Vrael is futile due to the bats, easily excited by unexpected noise. Thóren likewise enters the cave, cue yelling and bats. The creature drops a carcass (of a beaver) near Vrael, who slowly starts backing off from the platform.

Tobi in the frog cave is the center of their ritual dance. He is offered insects, quickly denied, but he does accept the rat they give to him and cooks, then eats, it. The dance becomes more wild and fast. The frog that initiated the surrender offers a bronze knife, like the one Thóren has, to Tobi but pricks him before giving it to him. The frogs seem to be growing larger and their movements and shapes distorting. Tobi tries to yell, but only manages a croak. He has become one of the frog-men, their new king.

Vrael is in the water, Eerik gets on the platform, finds the fist-sized thing and breaks one. Bats. Vrael finds some sort of sandy beach and a heap of rotting organic material, mostly plants, lying on the beach. The beast attacks Eerik, who does not fare well. Thóren approaches. Long struggle ensues, Eerik taking several wounds, almost drowning and falling unconscious before Thóren gets there and slays the beast, cutting its throat with the half of a blade. The frogs made a few slashes and cuts at the hated beast that eats them when able to, and few of them were killed.

Vrael finds an egg in the heap of rot and promptly breaks it. He further discovers a way out of the cave, which everyone uses.

Observations

Pacing sucked. Start was too slow, the end was sudden. Two players had to leave early, which worked sufficiently well.

I have the following patterns: Eggs of monsters, arrows flying from nowhere as warnings, creatures that are not outright hostile unless provoked, which is usually easy. There are strange rituals and the sheer weirdness of everything tends to increase as time does, reaching a climax at some point.

I really enjoyed the fiction that was created, aside from the characters, who acted too much like a band of adventurers, or cold-blooded murderers, as they are also called. Individually they are good to mediocre, but in group, nah. Turning that one character into a froggish monster was the definite high point of the session, for me.

All the stats and so on are recorded in the persisten fantasy page, as far as I remember them correctly (two players wanted their character sheets, which I graciously allowed).

Assuming I don’t get too many good ideas before the next ‘con, it is likely that I will run two proper sessions of this game there. Less players, though.

Permalink 9 Comments

Ropecon play report 2 – Blowing up (portions of) a pyramid

16 August, 2008 at 8:27 pm (actual play, game mastering) (, )

My first planned con game that was to involve a bunch of vikings did not happen. This one had six out of five places full. Two did not appear, however, which I do not find to be particularly courteous behaviour.

Players: Niko, Samu, Tomi, and either Samuli or Mikko. I had not met any of them before this game. Total strangers. Tomi (IIRC) had experience with Spirit of the Century and other indie/Forgish games (and dislikes Burning Wheel, the fool). Other players generally played D&D, with various amounts of experience divided among the other traditional roleplaying games.

(The lack of) preparation

My preparation for this game consisted of writing character sheets. In addition, I had run something similar before.

To the players I first made clear that I do not have a map prepared. They can add details. They can add stuff that is appropriate to the setting.

The players and their characters

Tomi was playing Dorian Faust, a british detective. Niko was playing André Menard (Hello Phil.), an incredibly lucky French adventurer of noble blood. Samu was playing Djazdah, an arabian priest ( Samuli/Mikko was playing Adelino Schnoor, a German explorer and now a madman due to having visited the pyramid once before.

If I get the names wrong, which is not impossible, pardon and please notify me of the error.

Of the players Tomi and Niko were very good, Tomi having experience with this kind of gaming and Niko presumably just being a good player. Samuli/Mikko, who had power to add all sorts of stuff to the fiction was reluctant to do so. He did seem to enjoy playing a plotting character, but did not do actual scheming. More revelling in knowing a secret. I hope he enjoyed his play. Samu was okay, not particularly active, but did play his part and contribute. He is what I would call a normal player playing with people he does not know in a style he is unfamiliar with. On reflection, that’s pretty good, given the circumstances.

Each character could do something, mistrusted someone (though not necessarily directly), and was looking for a particular object that would grant miraculous power, if acquired. To my shame I forgot that mister Faust was looking for a book. Others I did remember.

The rules

Characters have a number of traits. Trait gives one or two dice in relevant situations. Environment may roll some dice. Each die generates a success with probability 1/2 (even result means success, odd does not). Traps, in general, deal a minor effect in case of tie and major results when they win.

The dice pool approach does not work when there are this few dice being rolled. They were kind of boring. Using a flat d6+modifiers would have been more elegant, I presume. Alternatively, more dice.

The fiction

History: There’s this pyramid that has just been unearthed. It is somewhere in Egypt, pretty far from everything. Previous explorers are dead or mad. Disappeared they have, either way. The only exception being mister Schnoor, a German explorer now, mad (but not disappeared; death is disputable).

A party of adventurers including the aforementioned player characters and few NPCs (the remaining PC is also an NPC, but I play hims as a passive follower, which is something of a mistake). There’s also a bunch of slaves servants carrying things and so on. (Quoth Mister Faust: “There is no slavery in the British empire…”)

Game starts as the characters arrive to the pyramid. Blowing up things immediately becomes the favoured way of making progress inside the pyramid. (Räjämiittiä galore.) There are dead ends, traps, exploration and explosions. The servants run away or die, a few at a time. One fake throne room, too. It becomes increasingly obvious that the pyramid is not entirely of Egyptian construction. A key is found in the fake throne room. (I gave one player the map and asked him to email it to me, but he probably forgot or misplaced the address. It is quite characteristic of the maps I draw: Messy, sketchy, disposable.)

The climax happens behind a sealed door. The German guide won’t go there (the player’s idea, not mine, but a necessary one). Mister Faust goes to investigate it, remarkably fails the relevant roll, and next there are poison needles piercing his arm. Ouch. There’s fast necrosis and mister Faust goes back to the jeeps, searching for remedy. His arm actually starts slowly melting.

Mister Menard opens the door and happens to do so via a nontrapped switch. A short corridor and there’s a large room constructed of arbitrarily shaped slabs of stone. There are some stone walls, evidently of no purpose whatsoever, and part of the floor and wall is seamless metal. There’s a huge pedestal with some chains connecting it to the roof. There are lots of holes that could fire spears or arrows or darts or snakes. Some testing reveals traps. Many traps. Mister Menard charges right through the room to the pedestal, miraculously avoiding all the traps. He tries climbing atop the pedestal, marginally succeeds, and a horde of scorpions (IIRC) floods the place. Next attempt gets him up the pedestal, where a bunch of stuff, including stuff everyone was looking for, is discovered (excluding the book I forgot).

Djazdah runs away from scorpions and is pierced and killed by all the traps in the real treasure room. Menard, while climbing atop the pedestal, triggered various other traps and swarm after swarm of creatures sweep the dead Djazdah, leaving nothing but the skeleton.

Monsieur Menard equips the stuff on the pedestal, gets down and runs through the trapped area. Schnoor begs for the crown, but Menard does not quite feel like giving it up. The djinn inhabiting/being Schnoor creates an illusory tendril of molten metal reaching for Menard, who burns his hand and then notices that it is not quite real. Another similar tendril appears and reaches for Djazdah’s skeleton, and a djinn formed of one skeleton and some semi-liquid metal is created. Menard runs. The new djinn destroys the one who was once Schnoor.

Menard reaches the jeeps (and confirms that yes, Faust has indeed lost an arm and no, it is not a very realistic illusion). The two drive away. The djinn creates a sandstorm, car crashes, which puts an effective end on the escape attempt.

The djinn catches the escapees. It is not formed of solid metal (not unlike certain characters in Terminator 2+). Some fighting and TNT later mister Faust has both the key and one of the items and essentially gets three wishes. After using those the key is dropped and monsieur Menard gets it and has the audacity to wish for more wishes. Game over, endless loop of wishes achieved.

Pacing

This was the first convention game I have ever GM’d. This particularly means that the pacing sucked. Most of the game was inconsequental filler (other examples of it: many encounters in random D&D adventures), which often did promote interesting dialogue, but was boring in and of itself. There were a few traps, lots of dynamite, and so on. The total game time was around 3 hours and 15 minutes, out of four hours the game slot took. Oh well…

Summary

I certainly enjoyed running this game. I’d go as far as to say that I had fun. Two of the players liked this game enough to come to my other game.

Be that as it may, the game was technically pretty bad. Pacing sucked, there was too much filler and the structure of the game was not very good. Given that the game was enjoyable, does it matter? Personally, I think that the game would have been even better if it had gone better, so, my answer is that yes, it does matter.

Also: The noise level was sufficiently high that I had to speak pretty loud. It almost hurt. Not quite. Sore throat, but nothing that stopped me from running another game.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Ropecon play report – Unknown armies

12 August, 2008 at 5:24 pm (actual play, Ropecon) (, , )

First, a summary: I prepared (for some, very loose, definitions of “prepare”) two games, GM’d one of them (there were too few players in the other) and then also GM’d an ad-hoc game because it felt appropriate to do so. I played in one of game of UA (also known as Unknown Armies), of which a report shall follow, and also played one game of Bang! with Ari and some friends of his. No luck playing D&D 4th, unfortunately.

Most of the program was mediocre. The GM loot, in which game masters get to participate, works so that game masters are named in order of the number and length of games they GM’d, and when named get to pick one item from a table full of loot. My picks: Two containers of fancy gem tokens (useful for representing, say, artha in BW games) and D&D 4th PHB. I don’t have other core books, so it is unlikely that I’ll run it (though possible, given how much free monsters there is almost certainly floating around the ‘net).

So, all in all, game mastering gives you free access and the chance to get some stuff. I approve of this and will run more games at future Ropecons.

Actual report

Previous knowledge about UA: Modern horror game. Rules use a d100. Knives hurt. There’s madness meters, which mean that when in sanity-killing situations, character breaks more or becomes more psychopatic.

The GM was Olorin, the admin of majatalo.org, whom I properly met for first time during this con. The scenario played was from One shots. Other players included: Opusinsania and Vepa and few forumites from Finnish forums. Taustavoima and Tanan, possibly. One player about whom I remember little.

Hereafter there be spoilers

Characters: Me playing a not-too-smart robber who is overtly protective of his dear brother. Finnish forumite playing the aforementioned brother, who is pretty smart. Another forum person playing German doctor Mendele Mensch (or something to that effect) with something of a obsessive-compulsive nature. Opusinsania is playing the leader of the small group and is something of a cowboy. Vepa plays a hyperactive boy, the son of the final character called Rebecca Borgstrom (which, I suppose, is funny).

A bunch of characters in a trailer park far from everywhere. It seems that radio and TV are not working as they used to be. After plenty of talky bits, the two robbers, the cowboy and the kid go to investigate and shop a bit in the only nearby place where such can be done, which is a semi-deserted settlement with a radio station and a general store. The fact that play now happens in two groups means that two players are basically relegated to an audience role, which is, in general, not a good thing.

Everyone’s dead in that place, as becomes clear after some mucking around. The cowboy and my char’s brother go investigating. My char is obsessed with his bro’s safety and goes after them; there is a loud crash and the boy comes running in panic (a previous loud crash made the car nonfunctional, this one makes a hole in the roof.) Blather about black man with an axe follows. Somewhat panicked reactions, further investigation, flimsy excuses to not call the cops, and trying to get a car going follow. End result being that my char gets hit with an axe and the black-clad latino axe murderer shot thrice, once in the head at practically no distance. Also: Vepa is a good character actor.

During that the doctor and Ms. Borgstrom have started driving to where the others are with the only working car (others don’t start), which eats humongous quantities of fuel (a railroading measure to keep us from not simply driving away). A happy reunion. My char is professionally fixed by the German doctor, as well as somewhat drugged. The axe murderer is found to have disappeared, because it was deemed useful for the cowboy to have a gun and another of my char’s weapons had dropped near where the evil one had died and I told them to go get that gun (the effect of discovering that the murderer is gone was intentional). There is debate about what to do next. Railroading by the way of “you feel really bad leaving your dog there alone to die” pointed towards ms. Borgstrom and the kid leads everyone back to the trailer park, also known as home.

Some calm moments later there is a dead dog and everyone rapidly entering the car, driving towards the second nearby place, a farm (or something similar) of random old man. The old man is dead. Desperate grab for gas leads to climatic battle (Olorin: “You’ll have to roll 1 or 11 to hit.” Opusinsania rolls eleven. There is much rejoicing.) in which the evil one is (again) slain.

The actual content of the play was interactions of the characters. All that plot stuff was there mostly as fuel for the interaction. The railroading was somewhat visible and Olorin said he did it. The module also recommends killing player characters if they are ever alone, which did not happen. It would not have been very compatible with 4-hour con gaming slot.

The rules of UA where largely not used or alternatively were irrelevant most of the time. The combats felt slow. Personally, I would have used another, simpler, set of rules for this scenario.

All in all, it was good enough a game that I would play in something similar, given the choice. This is not true of all games I have played.

Permalink 2 Comments

Ropecon

7 August, 2008 at 12:13 pm (Ropecon)

Tomorrow I will go to Ropecon. I will run two games, one about a certain called Nokkonen, one about a bunch of people looting a pyramid and maybe stabbing each other. Or shooting, more likely.

The guests of honour are not of particular interest; there’s some Scandinavian larp person, some d20 person and Greg Stolze, who is a game designer. There’s some talk about the future of roleplaying, using nontraditional economical models, and of social important of roleplaying. They may be worth attending.

Guy Windsor will hold Realities of Steel and that other thing on medieval fighting. They are guaranteed to be at least amusing.

There’s two presentations on probability; one for powergamers, the other for game designers. I doubt they have much to teach to me. Given something to do, I won’t attend them.

I will try to play in as many intersting games as possible. Approximately: Three. If feasible, one of these will be a game of D&D 4th.

I will not participate in the rpg.net meetup due to two reasons: First, I am too much of a wallflower to really enjoy it. Second, I have not actually been participating in rpg.net for a long while.

Other than that, randomly talking with people I know.

Permalink Leave a Comment