A campaign wiki

4 September, 2008 at 8:49 pm (meta, persistent fantasy) (, )

Worlds generated in play have a particular feature; they tend to be chaotic and beautifully interlinked at the same time. A page on this blog is hardly sufficient to host such a creation. Hence, I want to use a wiki.

Some options:

  • Obsidian portal is basically a wiki, or something close to it. It has some unnecessary focus on players and the control of characters, which might prove annoying, and further all sorts of unnecessary rating systems. I could write the setting there, but there are extra features and actively bad aspects. (My game has been played by a total of thirteen people thus far; no way I could track all of them, and getting more than four or so to register would be likewise difficult.)
  • GMspaces as hosted by the stumbler Streetline, who was gracious enough to give me a link. Gmspaces sporadically works for me (might be better if you live on the other side of the big oceans) and has unnecessary emphasis on GM keeping stuff hidden from players and planning adventures and that sort of stuff that is not of interest to me right now, if ever.
  • Campaignwiki is the most attractive option right now, though I need to investigate it a bit more before making anything resembling a decision.
  • Campaign builders’ guide also has a wiki. It would work as well as any other wiki anywhere, basically.
  • Or, I could find some site that hosts a free wiki and use it. There are sites that host free forums, so I doubt a free wiki is hard to find.

So, any suggestions?

I should have a reader or two. Does anyone know any good sites for hosting a campaign wiki or have actual experience with the aforementioned sites? It would contain characters, setting info, a few instances of maps and other scanned stuff, and links to AP reports on this blog. It would be preferable if people could edit it without registering and if there was little spam there. (Combining these two is not trivial, but is possible.)

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A demoness, for a change

4 September, 2008 at 8:22 pm (actual play, persistent fantasy) ()

GM: Me. Players: Arirmind, wgaztari, ksym. Social setting: This particular composition of players have not played together before. Also, not all people had met within half a year. Further, we played in my home, where people (excluding me) had not spend significant time before this. Result: Much talk, some play of Uno (it broke wgaztari), some roleplay.

Random generator:

Innkeeper who sells wealthy guests to a malevolent power.
A band of demons, laughing and malicious, authors of debauched sensuality and corrupt appetites.
A king’s chief huntsman, preparing to become a young and inexperienced master performer
A simple insult, casually inflicted, striking very, very deep.

The two first entries were actually used (the fourth maybe somewhat accidentally in play). Characters were Cadoc, a treasure hunter with broken bones, as played by wgaztari; Chen Pong, a merchant with a precious stone for an eye such that it allows one to close gates and banish demons as played by Arirmind; Perlyacekanach, basically a succubi with mind-controlling powers, as played by ksym. Perly also had an igor, Work.

The game is set in the same tavern that was part of the first game in this series.

Play

Cadoc is recovering from the grievous injuries he sustained when fighting a griffon. The recovery is taking place in a tavern (which we really ought to name the next time it comes up in play). Chen Pong arrives and offers a round of drinks to everyone, then inquires the tavern-keeper of opportunities where a lot of money might trade hands (the tavern-keeper is selling guests to interesting creatures, as known by players, but not merchant Pon). Cadoc hears the noise and comes down from his room.

Perly, cloak-covered and leather-clad, enters the inn. Chen Pong’s eye starts tingling and he gives up seeking an opportunity for getting rich, because it would not work anyway. People keep to themselves, in sharp contrast to the gregariousness of moments before. Perly’s igor carries a coffin after her, though few notice. The ale Cadoc grabbed is spilled to the floor as Perly bumps into him. Cadoc calls her on the act, yet is powerless under her gaze (through which her domination works). Cadoc goes down and licks the spilled ale. Perly orders wine and a room to which she departs, igor right after her.

Some miscellaneous bumpling by the igor after which Chen Pong and Cadoc are negotiating in the common room. A plan and trading: Cadoc is to kill the woman, given that dealer Pong gives Cadoc (five doses of) power dust, a smoke bomb, a rocket like those used in fireworks and a fine hat made of crocodile skin, and in return receives the ruby acquired by Cadoc during his former adventuring. A bargain, really. The hat is that good.

Cadoc, on the way to his room, sees Work (the igor) opening a door to let a maid, carrying wine and a sealed letter, in. Cadoc decides to wait for the maid to come out, sniffing some power dust while waiting. Inside Perly does not approve of the wine and sneers at the letter with the implications of allies of greater power, which she interprets as meaning Martoh, by her knowledge banished from this world. Evidently the maid is sent away with an urgent message to the tavern-keeper.

Cadoc, empowered by the dust and barely feeling the pain of his broken bones, throws the smoke bomb in and rushes past the fumbling igor. Some dialogue and failed attempts at domination later the succubus dives/falls out of window to avoid incoming fireworks. Some taunting, then igor again tries to grab Cadoc, who easily defenestrates the crude attacker.

Empowered by the power dust, Cadoc leaps towards Perly, but Work intercept the knife with his back. They all hit the ground, there is creative use of a whip and a hat when Chen Pong enters the scene. His stony eye undulating violet light, and the ruby in his hand slighty pulsing he confronts the hellish spawn, evidently casting the ruby at it, with the result being one stone statue of a demoness.

And one doped treasure hunter, owing a favour to master Pong.

Notes

  1. Ksym can play random npcs. Exploit.
  2. Chen’s name is no longer in the list. He is a character available for all and sundry to play. Hence: This result is possible to achieve, maybe even easy, given a sufficiently powerful character and sufficiently careful play.
  3. Stealing a bit from Burning Wheel: Traits are otherness. Nonhumans need to have traits to that effect.

Memorabilia

  • “Soul trade center.”
  • Drug-addicted, knife-wielding Indiana Jones.

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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.

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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.

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A mediocre session and some inn-fighting

22 June, 2008 at 12:43 pm (game mastering, persistent fantasy)

I played my current default fantasy game with Gastogh and Cryptic. It featured a desert, a disguised lizardman thingy, wereanimals and a slayer of beasts, as well as an old acquitance, Martoh the summoner, this time buying a slave (and not opening a gate to hell).

The session was mediocre. It kinda fell flat. The reason probably was that I did not tie the characters together well enough and that there were only two players, hence creating much faster gameplay than I am used to. (I should run a game for only one player just to get practice at faster-paced gaming.)

Characters and such are on the persistent fantasy page when I get around to adding them. Gastogh’s character has an amusing trait.

Some rule changes

Characters can be tied to another. Such characters are written in square brackets on the list and are treated as though their player is not present. Another named character on the list must have a trait that keeps the tied character with them, as a pet, prisoner, cohort, or whatever. The tied character is not considered an active entity, most of the time, unless gameplay provides a change to break the ties.

Also: If there are less than four players, then only three oracle entries should be generated. This requires testing.

Inn-fighting

A card game by Wizards of the Coast. We played twice (I did not win, bleh). I’d say the game is somewhere between Munchkin and Fluxx/Uno, closer to the latter. It does not reward system mastery (knowing the cards by heart) significantly and has a great deal of luck involved. It fits my preferences far better than Munchkin, mostly because it is less fiddly. The game needs dice or similar to be used as hp indicators. D20 is also needed for attack rolls and some other stuff.

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There shall be war.

23 May, 2008 at 7:50 pm (game mastering, persistent fantasy) ()

Another game session of the new fantasy game. I created a page that catalogues what is known of the setting and named characters. It will be updated whenever the game is played. The page is likely to be renamed but currently stands as persistent fantasy. Anyways. Participants in this session: Me, Thalin, ksym, wgaztari.

And so it begins

Abulafia speaks:

An unsavory treasure-seeker, with an honest map.
A mad alchemist brewing potent substances in his lair, where a monster is about to break out of its cage. (This oracle entry inspired by Ian Toltz, actually.)
A towering spire that overlooks the surrounding lands, left alone for centuries.
An unseasonal and destructive flood.

Thalin again plays Lóng the musician and ksym plays Kyo the ronin, as those two are on top of the list, aside from Chen Pong, who is not included as Ari is not playing.

wgaztari plays Cadoc the unsavory treasure seeker with an honest map. Stats: Treasure seeker 4, unsavory 4, honest map 4.

It is decided that Cadoc is hunting for the treasure that lies in the deserted spire. Lóng is seeking the alchemist living in the same. There are horse-riding barbarians, known as sedanei, who hold the spire sacred and Kyo is on a mission to find out why they are restless. There is a flood that has just about isolated the town from the knight who actually rules this border.

The spire is on a large hill with plenty of boulders, rocks, and such, many with sharp edges. Cadoc arrives during evening and makes a camp. Kyo, not much later, chooses to wait until day before seeking the sedanei and happens upon Cadoc’s camp. Both have horses. Kyo negotiated his from the one who ruled over the small town he just left, while Cadoc happens to own one. They share the camp.

Lóng joins them soon enough, first sneaking close and then pretending to come from afar. He introduces himself as Hûang. For all night everyone feigns sleep or sleeps lightly, save for Lóng who once sneaks to the tower, knocks, hears random animal noises and then someone opens the door a bit. Lóng asks if the one opening it is the alchemist who lives here. Answer is “No!” and the door slams shut. Lóng gets back.

Dawn, things start moving

Come dawn Cadoc starts climbing the tower. It is far from easy, the tower being 100 meterst tall and the lowest windows being around 50 metres from the ground. (The next set of windows is very close to the top.)

Kyo goes on the meet the sedonai coming closer; there are two warriors and three priestesses coming. Some discussion and bribery leads to discovering that there have been some human sacrifices (which is unusual by ksym’s narration) and offer to take Kyo to the spire to see what it all is about.

Lóng hides among the rocky slopes of the hill to spectate all of this.

Kyo and the sedanei get to the spire. There is a small stone table for sacrifices there; fruits and few dead animals are placed there, then there is waiting. Cadoc reaches the 50 meter mark at this point, though some rubble falls down and alerts the sedanei that something is going on. Inside every room takes one floor of the tower; there are unnamed liquids and random body parts in jars, one floor with moss and rats, next one with a leopard (that is not hungry at the moment), and the next relevant room is one with several buckets of water and half a human body.

Lóng pays a visit to the barbarians. They are not very happy at a random person intruding their sacred site. One warrior tries knocking him unconscious; Lóng plays along, pretending to succumb to the warrior’s attacks. He is bound and thrown to the altar-stone. Kyo chooses to also go inside. The door to the spire soon opens; there is a human-like shape of mud inside. It watches the sacrifices, then turns around. Kyo grabs Lóng and they both enter, with the ropes quickly cut. The golem then goes to pick up the rest of the sacrifice.

Cadoc rises to the highest floor of the spire. There are large windows, actual light (as opposed to mere torchlight) and one quite hungry gryphon loosely bound by four golden chains. Cadoc goes back one floor and feeds half a human to the griffon. It seems satisfied for now and lets Cadoc circle to rope ladders that allow entry further.

On the ground floor Lóng deals with the alchemist, trading some precious stones for a liquid that allows jumping into campfires without being burned. The golem starts ascending the stairs. Kyo and Lóng soon follow. On the way up they see something of an alchemist’s lab, a cage with human-monster hybrids and other similar details. Lóng tests the liquid given by the alchemist and finds it works, maybe even better than assumed. Lóng gets some gunpowder from the lab, applies it to the cage of the monstrosities, then starts making a trail of gunpowder towards the top of the tower, some floors behind Kyo.

Cadoc has climbed as far as possible. There is a ruby hanging from four frail golden chains there. Cadoc rips it off. The more massive chains that bound the griffon are likwise ripped apart. Now there’s somewhat malnourished gryphon keeping Cadoc stuck up there. After a while it becomes necessary for Cadoc to come down. The griffin grabs Cadoc and takes to the air. Kyo reaches the floor just in time to see this happening and throws some knives after it. Cadoc stabs it at the roughly the same time. The knives miss and the dagger Cadoc used causes the griffin to loosen its grip. The griffon dives, straightening just before hitting ground and then throws Cadoc away. It hurts. Cadoc gets new trait, “broken bones 3”. The gryphon’s 7 dice for fighting served it well here, as can be seen. I overall rolled pretty well. Note to further game mastering: Creatures with high traits hurt, a lot, as they should.

The gunpowder Lóng set up goes boom. Kyo runs down, the golem, after having placed the foodstuff to where the gryphon used to be also starts moving down, and finally Lóng, too, starts moving down, playing his instrument of choice while doing so . The griffon assumes this to be a challenge and answers in kind while circling the tower (after having eaten the leopard that did not appreciate the “music” Lóng produced). Kyo encounters one of the formerly imprisoned disfigured monstronities, this particular one with a frog’s or toad’s head, somewhat mantis-like forearms, though not quite as formidable as weapons, and in other ways this one is human-like (later named Gez). It tries to hit Kyo who jumps over it, and the dice would have it succeed, by ksym chooses Kyo to instead take 1 harm. Running further down the only other relevant creature is a large, spiderlike thing that has leathery substance between its limbs, creating rudimentary and nonfunctional wings. First Kyo just dashes underneath it, but then turns around and after a single swing there are two halves of the spider-creature.

Lóng also gets past the critters, of which Gez takes a liking to his playing. Lóng avoids it (for now). The two eventually go to chat with the alchemist. There is some oil on the lowest step of the stairs, but it causes little harm. Little discussion, then action: Kyo rushes the alchemist, who first throws some dust that Kyo avoids, then Kyo gets grappling but has hard time due to only having one arm, and further the alchemist touches Kyo with his stuff, which makes Kyo nearly freeze. ksym chooses that Kyo takes harm in place of being paralysed by the cold; total harm is now 5, which means that the only relevant trait of Kyo is “ronin”.
In spite of this the alchemist is finally subdued by Kyo.

The mud golem finally gets downstairs. The griffin is waiting outside for someone to exit the spire and be eaten. Kyo forces the alchemist to turn the golem off. Said alchemist does tricks that look like magic and that may or may not be related to the golem, which does stop doing anything. Gez the disfigured monster comes down and tries to hug or kiss or pet Lóng, who easily avoids the clumsy monster. Kyo and Lóng ponder and discuss a bit, deciding to have the alchemist eaten by the griffon. The alchemist, for obvious reasons, doesn’t fancy this at all and orders the golem to slay Kyo.

The happy ending

Kyo and Lóng toss some alchemical liquids around, the alchemist is cast out but not eaten by the gryphon, which is scarred by an explosion and which quickly leaves the scene after that, Lóng (and Gez, carried by Lóng) exit the spire, Kyo and the golem are trapped in the spire by poisonous fog (well, Kyo is and the mud golem doesn’t really care), Cadoc is discovered by the horse-barbarians (sedonai) and tied to the ground as a sacrifice to the griffon.

Lóng, still carrying Gez, releases Cadoc. Gez attacks Cadoc but is easily stopped by Lóng. Kyo and the golem duel, Kyo gets some scars and finally defeats the golem, but is trapped inside the tower. Cadoc’s map reveals a hidden passage into the spire; along the way Lóng observs that the alchemist has disappeared; once on entrance to the passage, it becomes clear the alchemist passed that very way. The map turns out to be reliable; A way is discovered for Kyo to leave the tower and Cadoc secures an egg, presumably one of a gryphon. This he keeps hidden from the others.

The list

  • Chen Pong (Ari)
  • Lóng (Thalin)
  • Lóng (Thalin)
  • Martoh (Tommi)
  • Cadoc (wgaztari)
  • Cadoc (wgaztari)
  • Kyo (ksym)
  • Cadoc (wgaztari)
  • Grisnach (Tommi)
  • Kyo (ksym)
  • Grisnach (Tommi)
  • Kyo (ksym)
  • Kyo (ksym)
  • Gez (Tommi)
  • Lóng (Thalin)

Observations

Thalin avoided the dice pretty skillfully, so I did the stress-testing on other players. Worked out well enough. I’ll need to clarify some minor details related to attacks and such that affect several targets.

When not to roll dice

The following conditions are not sufficient for rolling dice: Someone is sneaking around and someone might notice the sneak; the dice only become involved when the sneak tries to accomplish something concrete, or the potential observer is clearly hostile towards the rogue. Likewise, merely lying is not a sufficient condition for rolling the dice; there must be concrete consequences to succeeding and failing. Besides, characters that are walking lie detectors are, simply, boring.

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It works!

9 May, 2008 at 9:19 am (game mastering, persistent fantasy) (, , , , )

In which I will gush about the actual play of the game I built in the previous post; first, a few words about In a wicked age, then the actual play.

In a wicked age

The game that inspired this one; if you want sword-and-sorcery, a light but important system and episodic play, I can really recommend the game, assuming it plays at all like my hack does. For more information on the game, see the rpg.net index (and linked review), this rpg.net thread (or the relevant seach results), or search the Forge for relevant actual play.

Actual play

Players present, in no particular order: Ari, Thalin, ksym. Players not present: Wgaztari. Hence, no victorian game. The random generator, which I tweaked a bit before play to provide slightly more explicit NPCs, generated the following:

A conjurer who needs blood to entice his uncouth spirits.
A troupe of musicians for hire, one of whom is a burglar and cutpurse.
A seerstone, one of only five, which rumours suppose to be close to the entrance into the underworld of lost souls.
The site of a pitched battle, ground churned and stinking, and the widows mourning there.

Thalin first claimed the burglar/cutpurse/musician, Ari fixated on playing the seerstone, while ksym after some pondering chose to play a one-armed veteran of the pitched battle. The game kinda drifted towards somewhat oriental flavour, so the final characters (at chargen) were:

  • Lông (bad musician 6, ninja training 3, liar 4) played by Thalin
  • Chen Pong (merchant 4, stone 5, fat 4) played by Ari
  • Kyo (ronin 6, one armed 3, fast 3) played by ksym
  • Martoh (summoner 5, fighter 4, spirit guardian 4), an NPC

Quick and shallow characters, much as they should be. I told it doesn’t matter and is in fact positive. Mister Chen Pong requires some further explanation (if Ari plays Chen again, the traits will probably be changed to reflect this). Chen’s one eye, usually covered, is (IIRC) an emerald. Chen does not know this and to him the eye does not feel extraordinary.

On that note, I just now notice that I managed to misread one of the entries: The seerstone is “supposed to be close”, not “supposed to close”, a gate to underworld. Well, no matter. Other things were ignored or altered slightly, too. The widows were totally ignored and the uncouth spirits somewhat turned into demons of Christian mythology. Not to mention “burglar and cutpurse” evidently meaning “ninja”.

Crafting the situation

It did not take long for me to draw connections between three of the random elements: Certainly the site of pitced battle is exactly what is necessary for a summoner to open a gate to the underworld (which was implied by the seerstone). I asked if any PC had connections to the summoner; it turned out that the Chen Pong the merchant has a deal regarding a barrel of gunbowder, for which a small opal was given as a payment before the deal and more were implied to be the reward for providing the barrel in a fairly discreet manner.

Where does this leave the others? Well, in the same tavern as the merchant, of course. Of Kyo’s background it is known that he was healed in a nearby monastery (which later turns out to be a Christian one) and tended by one sister Victoria residing therein. Lông and the related troupe of four musicians get some meager food and lodging in echange of performances.

The plot threads are created

The musicians play (Lông pretends to). Kyo is drinking. A young man or woman, shaven completely shaven of all (visible) bodily hair, including eyebrows and lashes, enters the tavern He or she is wearing robes that are somewhere between grey and black in colour. People first fall silent, then nervously start talking about anything but the hairless one, who walks straight to Chen Pong, handing him a sealed letter. The letter containts instructions on where to deliver the gunpowder and when (a burned building midway between the monastery and the only local mountain, at the this midnight).

Soon the hairless goes away, merchant Pong asks the tavern’s owner about the young one. He instructs not to ask more. Kyo sits nearby, yet reacts not. The troupe stops playing, Lông sits next to Chen the merchant, orders some milk (cue random jokes), steals a few gold coins from Chen and finally pays his milk with one. This is first time the rules as used; Thalin rolls 3d due to ninja training, Ari 2d due to merchant 4. Thalin is the victor and suggests the aforemention stealing, which Ari accepts. Tavern keeper is quite impressed with the gold coin and soon offers a meal.

Some interaction between Chen Pong and Kyo, Chen and Lông, happens. End result: Chen offers to provide Kyo with some fairly rare rice beverage from a certain village, further notices that some coins of his have been stolen, one troupe member called Jin is more-or-less framed by Lông, is chased away by Kyo who doesn’t catch him (but gets on the list due to failing the roll), after which all the player characters gather outside near where the musician got away (the vile rogue!). Ari adds trait “suspicious towards artists 1” to Chen, ksym “suspicious towards vagabonds 2” in imitation.

A serving wench from the tavern addresses Lông, provides him with an iron key to his room for the night, should he wish to take it, then goes back to the tavern. Lông soon follows, enters his room, goes to rest. Chen Pong hires Kyo to work as a bodyguard and the two take Chen’s wagon and start their way towards the meeting point, though Kyo first wants to visit sister Victoria in the monastery.

Tying some threads together

Visiting sister victoria at night involves waiting and an illicit deal with a monk who greatly appreciated a soft pillow and traded it for a nice, hand-crafted prayer carpet.

Lông gets a visitor; the aforementioned tavern wench. They try to make each other drink the provided wine; end result is Lông taking 1 harm and the wench being drugged to sleep (after some hours that were promptly skipped when playing so that people may imagine whatever they will). Lông leaves through a window, immediately after which a trapdoor on the floor is opened and six robed, hairless young ones come in, pick up the drugged woman and lock the trapdoor behind them. Lông runs to catch the two other PCs, who do not expect him.

Aside: I so wanted to get Lông there. Who has ever heard of evil summoners using beautiful women as sacrifices? Well, the dice roll as they may and random serving wench is not a terribly powerful opponent, generally speaking.

The grand climax

Chen and Kyo are at the burned house. The stone walls are still standing, but roof has burned away. The doorway is covered by a curtain that serves as a temporary door. Chen’s eye feels a bit strange. There is someone playing a flute inside the ruins; Lông, now present, recognises it as Jin the alleged thief, who did not play quite that well before the occasion.

Kyo rolls the barrel next to the doorway, Chen enters first. Inside there are the following: A naked serving wench tied to an obsidian altar. A bonfire. Jin, not very attentive, playing the flute between these. A warrior, sword on his belt and a sacrificial dagger in his hand, waiting. Some initial hostile reactions avoided the trade is sealed: Six of the hairless kids carry a small chest, which containts a small fortune in opals and gold, to the merchant’s wagon; then they carry the barrel of gunpowder inside what remains of the burned house.

Every PC is ready to depart. Lông reveals his presence. First there’s some hesitation but then the PCs decide to go and rescue or kill whoever is in need of either. Chen Pong sees the doorway fluttering, as if in wind, but the others see no such effect. The action: Lông enters the building, Kyo is about the follow, Chen starts playing with fireworks aimed towards the doorway, which takes some time. As Lông brushes aside the makeshift door and steps in, the situation is as follows: The six young ones are holding vessels with gunpowder and are standing around the bonfire. The pace of the music has been ascending; the summoner is preparing to use the dagger. Oh, yeah, and the curtain-door dissolves into something of a living, axe-wielding shadow that attacks Kyo at the Summoner’s behest. (It is the summoner’s very own death spirit guardian shadow demon. Something to that effect, anyways.)

Kyo and the demon start dueling. Lông utilises the blowpipe hidden in his flute against the summoner (dice favour Thalin, whose suggestion I accept) who is hit, drops the dagger which cuts one hand of the (right now very drugged) woman free from the bounds, then staggers some steps backwards and (my small addition) draws out the spirit of poison, which starts fluttering around him.

Kyo and the shadow duel; Kyo is clearly better at it, even if his blows are not terribly effective. They do drive the spirit back to the building, where the energies involved in opening the gate fortify the spirit again (2 more dice due to summoning 5 of Martoh the BBEG). The dice favour me and my suggestion is that the shadow is, finally absorbed into the blade that Kyo uses; it is accepted. New trait: Demon sword 3. (Summoner consequently loses the relevant trait.)

Chen Pong fires one of the prepared fireworks. Dice get rolled (doorway has 2 dice; 2 seems to be a decent arbitrary number for random enviromental obstacles); the doorway wins and my suggestion that the projectile hits one of the young ones, who spills gunpowder around; particularly, upon the woman (and Jin the flute player). Such happens, the projectile then goes up and explodes pretty harmlessly there.

Kyo gets there and starts fighting the summoner, who is pretty overwhelming due to the demonic sword being the summoner’s pet. Pretty intense bit of fighting ensues, end result being that Kyo gets a small wound and two drops of his blood end up on the altar. Meanwhile Lông is busy saving random people, which involves jumping into the bonfire and slapping the flutist, and so forth.

Chen’s eye starts seeing things; there had been random ominous signs some time before, but now
there is an actual gate inside the bonfire; it is small, but grows slowly. Chen walks to the gate and the bonfire it is around gives way. The summoner approaches Chen, Kyo gets in the way, there’s dueling and finally Kyo defeats the summoner.

The gate is bound by an iron crossbar, but something big is striking at it from the inside. Chen knocks on it and a window appears. There’s negotiations with demons, which don’t seem to be going too well be fore Lông starts playing music; such bad music is something the demons can’t stand (and the three dice give some extra weight to the negotiation). The final deal: Demons get the summoner (who is in need of what they call training, having failed in opening the gate), some of the rice beverage and some fireworks, but don’t open the gate by themselves.

Everyone leaves the scene; Lông had saved all the hairless and evidently enchanted young ones and now grabs few opals from the chest before leaving. Kyo and Chen Pong leave with the drugged girl and the wagon.

Everyone lives happily ever after, or at least until the next game where they take part. Chen Pong gets trait “rich 3”, Lông gets “rich 2” and The current list with strikethrough indicating that the character is no longer on the list (at least in that position).

  • Chen Pong (Ari)
  • Kyo (ksym)
  • Lông (Thalin)
  • Kyo (ksym)
  • Martoh (Tommi)
  • Chen Pong (Ari)
  • Kyo (ksym)
  • Lông (Thalin)
  • Lông (Thalin)
  • Martoh (Tommi)

The setting

Here’s what is known about the setting: There are somewhat oriental lands, there are also mroe European-themed lands with Christianity dominating. There was a war between these two. There is a tavern with at least one room designed so that people sleeping there can be captured. There is a monastery of mixed genders (strictly separate). The monastery is very close to the war zone, but was not pillaged.

Running the game and theoretical blathering

There process of running the game is not mechanically complex; to use DNAPhil’s terms, the hard skills are not terribly complicated. The way dice work is complicated to explain in words, but very intuitive in play.

The process: First, use the oracle to generate random inspiration. Then guide players in character generation and explain how the game works. Once all the characters are somewhat done it is time to weave them together. Players are a great help here, especially those who sometimes GM. The trick is to have enough plot threads to make the situation interesting, but not too many so that it doesn’t explode all over the place. One session only to solve all of them. Either I have accidentally learned to do this or got lucky. (We did play past midnight, but that is not unheard of.)

In actual play try to win all rolls and suggest interesting stuff. The players are good enough to beat you every now and then, but there is little reason to play soft with the resolution. You can’t accidentally kill anyone off or otherwise screw their characters, because they get to shrug off unwanted consequences by taking harm. Essentially, the players have total control over their character concept, but if they are blocking everything, the character will be harmed enough to drop from play.

Note to self: Thalin is a powergamer and good at it. This particularly means that I have the responsibility to hold him in check by throwing some nasty consequences at him. There’s always harm as an alternative. So, next session will involve stress-testing the system when real pressure is applied to at least one player.

Resolving conflicts

There’s the traditional way: Player tells what he tries, rolls dice, GM tells the success or failure and describes it (or lets the player to describe it). There’s the hardcore Forgish way: What happens upon success and failure are negotiated before the dice are as much as touched. (I usually live between those two, though closer to the Forgish extreme.)

This game used a third way: First roll the dice, then negotiate. This has the good aspects of stake-setting, in that everyone must know why the dice are on table, but this is faster, as the margin of success kind of implies how significant the suggested results can be and only one outcomes needs to be negotiated. Further, the way traits are gradually brought into play creates narration during the conflict, which often implies certain consequences and hence guides the process.

It is interesting how this resolution feels extended while actually being mathematically equivalent to just rolling all the dice at once and being done with it. I guess it is the extra narration and the fact that the dice can shift who the conflict favours mid-conflict, even a few times.

Fictional content

I relied heavily on stereotypes (and so did the players). It may not be necessary with a group that has enough common history, or if the session can take a long time. One should not think too hard about such things as a cohesive setting or sensible villain actions, if there is a villain.

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Hacking together a game

6 May, 2008 at 11:51 pm (game design, game element, persistent fantasy) (, , , , )

Vincent Baker a.k.a. Lumpley has published a game called In a Wicked Age. Being the cheap bastard I am, I won’t buy it (unless Arkkikivi/Arkenstone stocks it, at least), but will rather hack together something vaguely similar and play it.

What makes the process fun is that I have neither played nor read IAWA.

Components

The parts are, in no particular order, the List, the mechanics, the way resolution is used, and the random generator. Their implementation is explained after first explaining the components on more general level. And, as before, there’ll be one GM as a default assumption.

The list

This is stolen more-or-less directly from IAWA. Whenever a certain condition is met, the relevant character is added to the bottom of the list. Character can be crossed off the list by the player of that character to get a bonus. Whenever a game is played and the list is not empty, a number of characters from the top of the list are automatically in the game and their names are crossed off.

A (short) list might look like the following, with the character name first and player name in parenthesis after it. One entry has been crossed over. (Usually, there would be a huge swarm of entries crossed over in the beginning, but that is not very illustrative.)

  • Kisfal (Gastogh)
  • Ceosinnax (Tommi)
  • Kisfal (Gastogh)
  • Mori (Thalin)
  • Animagynth (Gastogh)

The random generator

The idea behind having a random generator is that at the start of every session/scenario/story/game (choose whichever is appropriate) a number of entries is generated and those are used to build the starting situation. I personally use Abulafia, but other generators can fit the bill. If one wishes to be independent of computers writing down or printing out a suitable list is advised. Number it, use dice or playing cards or whatever.

IAWA was what sold me to the concept of using random generators like this. (Actually, a random thread or two about IAWA, but the point remains unchanged.)

The mechanics

Characters are composed of a (finite) number of freeform traits. At least one should be an archetype or profession or something similar. Each trait has a numerical value, which directly determines how many dice it is worth in conflicts where it is directly and unambiguously applicable. Halve the number for somewhat applicable traits. (The idea of freeform traits is originally from Over the Edge; the numeric value corresponding to number of dice is from somewhere.)

When two characters are in conflict they get dice as above. Not all of the dice need to be claimed at once; it is possible and recommended to first roll whatever is most relevant and then add more dice from other traits if necessary. This bit stolen from Thalin‘s current victorian game, where it is not really doing anything due to there being too few traits per character. Any flaws give dice to the opposing side. If side 1 has no applicable traits, other sides have their pools doubled and side 1 gets a single die. Good luck.

Once dice are rolled and both sides as satisfied, or have run out of traits they intend to use, the dice are compared as per a method I have used before: First remove opposing and equal dice, then the side with highest remaining die is the winner, margin of success equals the number of dice that are higher than all the dice of the opposing side.

This didn’t really work in the previous incarnation, largely because there were too few dice on the table and I used too few dice for the opposition. The lack of a sufficient number of interesting traits also made it stale. Hopefully this attempt will work out better.

One should note that the resolution is very chaotic; it is possible for a single die to turn a minor defeat into a major victory. This is very much intended, so that one who is just about to win a conflict will be tempted to use all traits, even the ones that are of a somewhat questionable nature.

The resolution

After dice have been rolled (as above), the winning participant (player or GM) suggests what happens; the losing side either accepts that suggestion or takes harm equal to the margin of failure in the conflict. This, again, is from IAWA. The idea is that the winning participant needs to suggest something the losing participant finds interesting (or be content dealing harm, which won’t actually solve anything).

The resolution generalises to several participants: Whoever wins has a total margin of success that can be divided among the opposing sides. Every side with successes above the opposition can do this. All the dice can be targeted at single opponent or they can be divided in arbitrary way among the opposition that was beaten.

This we will play(test)

This is an explanation or example of play, which reveals details not included above. Assume everything written above still applies.

In the beginning

I mixed several appropriate generators on Abulafia to create the fantasy oracle compilation I’ll be using in this game. The oracle seems to generate too few actual characters; I’ll have to see if that is an actual problem. An example of output:

Ore which seems to whisper with incoherent voices.

The guardian spirit of a foolhardy, naive, reckless and impressionable young person.

A genius of flame, imprisoned within a brass mirror. (Might be a typo; maybe should be a genie.)

Forest of Eternal Peril

What is relevant is that there are explicit and implied characters generated. There’s the piece of ore or whatever resides inside it, if anything. There’s the guardian spirit and the foolhardy youngling. There’s the fire genie. And there’s whatever, if anything, that resides in the forest of eternal peril, whatever that is.

Part of the list may be ignored; namely, if a player is not present, all entries keyed to that player are simply ignored. If the list is empty (of relevant entries), every player selects something implicitly or explicitly generated by the oracle. If there is something relevant on the list, take half the number of participants, rounds down. This many different characters, counting from the top, are included in this session. The other players take characters implied by the oracle.

Assuming three players and one GM, the cast of player characters might be as follows, with traits and their values listed in parenthesis. Starting limitations: Up to three traits, up to six dice per trait. Scaling: 1 and 2 are minor, 3 and 4 significant, 5 quite powerful, 6 a bit too powerful to be used very often.

  • An efreet (genie 5, essence of flame 4, entrapped 3)
  • A kid (street kid 4, naive 3, “The stone guides me.” 2)
  • A guardian spirit (unseen 5, protect the kid 6, mute 4)

The starting situation could be: The kid, following the whispers of the stone she carries have taken the kid to the forest of eternal peril, where she discovered a beautiful brass mirror lying on the bottom of a pond. Her guardian spirit could only watch as she scrubbed it clean…

The next task is to determine something for the characters or the players to strive for. This can be formal (a trait) or informal, but the characters should bump into each other frequently.

The play

Characters done and the starting situation established it is time to play. Feel free to skip the next paragraph; it is mostly dry mechanics.

There’s the normal narration and roleplay and so forth until a clear conflict emerges; at least two entities, named or not, are in conflict more severe than mere discussion (arguments, intimidation, swindling, … are not mere discussion). For example, the efreet wants the kid to free it. Efreets are good at bargaining (that’s their purpose), so the efreet starts with 5 dice. The kid starts with 3 dice for the entrapment, the power of which makes it harder for the efreet to be released. Efreet: {6, 4, 3, 3, 2}, kid {3, 2, 1}. After putting the matching dice aside, one is left with {6, 4, 3} for the efreet and {1} for the kid, with {3, 2} aside from the efreet and the kid. The guardian spirit protects the kid from the vile efreet’s influence: 6 dice for protecting the kid. Dice show {4, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1}. Since the kid and the guardian are allied and not the same entity, one 3 and one 2 the spirit rolled is set aside, as the kid and the efreet also lost one of both. Then another 3 and 4 are cancelled from both the efreet and the spirit. This means that the relevant sets are efreet {6}, spirit {2, 1}, kid {1}, aside several (which I won’t write down; this is a lot easier when there are actual dice on an actual table and they are moved and grouped). To make matters worse, the kid is naieve, which the efreet’s player can draw upon, giving extra three dice, which show {5, 4, 2}. Other traits are not claimed, so the final result is efreet {6, 5, 4}, guardian spirit {1}, kid {1}. The efreet has 3 successes over both opponents, the others have none. The dice are biased tonight.

So, the efreeti has total 3 successes over the kid and the kid’s guardian spirit. Efreet’s player offers that the efreet is released from the mirror, owes the kid three wishes, but the kid does not know that with mere 1 die to back it up. To the other involved player the efreet’s player suggest that the efreet can see and interact with the guardian and does not seem an immediate threat, backed with the remaining 2 dice. Both suggestions are cordially accepted. Efreet’s player changes the trait “entrapped 3” to be “Those who imprisoned me shall burn! 3”, which seems appropriate, so the GM and other participants accept. There would naturally be some roleplay involved in describing these events.

What if one of the players had not accepted the suggestions? Their characters would have taken 1 or 2 harm (kid and spirit, respectively). The meaning of harm: One can only use traits with value exceeding the total harm suffered. That is: Harm 4 and only traits with 5 or more dice can be used. This does not affect opponents using weaknesses, but does affect the harmed character exploiting the weaknessses of others. Harm is recovered only when the session/story ends, and is then recovered completely. Harm equaling or exceeding the character’s highest trait (or all traits, same thing) implies that the character is unable to do anything meaningful; maybe dead, maybe imprisoned, maybe searching for more peaceful lands elsewhere. Such characters, if they are on the list, can be encountered later.

The list, right. Current idea is that any character losing a conflict gets on the list. This condition may be too lenient, but only play(testing) will tell. More restrictive conditions in the same spirit: Only when when actually suffering consequences for losing a conflict (marginally more restrictive), only when losing a conflict and accepting the interesting consequences suggested by the other participant (as opposed to taking harm; if people take harm too often, I’ll implement this), only when taking harm (feels too limited and encourages taking harm, which I assume will not be that interesting). Crossing the name of the character you are currently playing has the following effect: If the name is on top of the list (of the characters whose players are present), get 3 extra dice. This is typically a very significant lucky incident or divine favour. If crossing the name on the bottom of the list, get 1 die. For any other location on the list, get 2 dice. This can be done exactly once per conflict per character. These dice are not restricted by harm. Alternatively, the player can choose to cross over all places where the character is on the list. This gives single die per name, and hence should not be used unless there are at least three names of that particular character present. Note that this has a significant chance of permanently removing the character from play. Take care, use wisely.

In the example, the guardian spirit and the kid get on the list. I think their order will be first the spirit and then the kid; this because the spirit risked 2 harm. If this is not sufficient to determine the order, remaining draws are handled by the GM by pure fiat (which may include asking the players if they have preferences).

A character can get on the list if and only if the character is named.

Character change

When participant feels a character has changed in some significant way, he ought to tell that to the other players and any relevant change in traits should happen immediately. Training is suitable. Saying the character has practiced something during his or her downtime is likewise suitable.

One of the more interesting possibilities is trait change due to losing conflicts: The winning participant may suggest changing, adding or removing a trait. For example, an assassination attempt could lead to traits like “crippled”, “wounded”, “They all are out to get me!” or “nervous”.

The end

Game master gathers character sheets and the list. They are persistent from session to session. Any detail generated about the game world should likewise be recorded somewhere, because emergent fantasy setting are fun and useful.

A note on design

This is very much bricolage-style design; that is, building from old parts, mixing them together and hoping they interact in good ways. The purpose is to create a game that I can play with, well, anyone, even if the groups of people change, there is irregular attendance, or otherwise separate groups are brought together in, say, Ropecon. Episodic gaming, pretty much.

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