Polyhedral dice are the essential physical components of our hobby, as well as the symbols of the RPG. Do a Google image search for 'roleplaying games' and you'll get hundreds of images with dice like this one:
Monday, November 23, 2020
Sunday, September 20, 2020
So anyway, I am in a Facebook group called I'm Begging You To Play Another RPG. Basically, it is for people with 5E or general D&D fatigue, spurred on by the difficulty of finding groups to play indie or other games, as well as the despair of seeing 5E versions of IPs not really suited for it. If you feel the same at times, give it a look.
One of the other Beggars offered to get an online group of Ironsworn up and running. Ironsworn is a Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) game inspired by Norse myths, where the PCs are either wardens or other travelers adventuring in the Ironlands, trying to fulfill various oaths they have sworn. There is a defined progression and endgame, and how well characters fulfill their promises determines how they live out their days, in honor or ignominy.
The pre-session our GM ran on ZOOM and Roll20 involved world building by choosing the different of the setting, then starting character generation.
I have never had more fun in my life in a pre-game session.
We decided the following about our version of the Ironlands:
1) THE TRUTH - Strange metal pillars litter the land
2) BEASTS - Monsters stalk the wastelands
3) COMMUNITIES - The Havens is a central hub, connected by caravan trails to smaller settlements
4) DEFENSE - Wardens range the countryside slaying beasts and saving folk
5) CREATURES - The ancient firstborn races live in isolation, protecting their lands fiercely
6) HORRORS - Undead stalk the night
7) LEADERS - The chiefs of the Havens squabble incessantly, factions vying for control
8) LEGACIES - Antediluvian ruins pepper the land
9) MYSTICISM - Rare and dangerous, magic is wielded by a gifted few at great cost
10) RELIGION - Prayers to gods old and new comfort the folk
11) OLD WORLD - A sickness drove us from there
As someone who HATES canon and dreads the droning info dump of most pre-sessions, the convivial atmosphere of cooperation, where we all discussed and decided on the outlines of the imaginary world we would share, was a great relief and loads of fun. Each choice also came with story hooks which we could hang our PCs' hats on.
We only dipped out toes in character generation before calling it a day, but so far we have the following characters sketched out:
A skald (bard) searching for a lost city!
His companion, a merchant always looking for trinkets!
A monster hunter searching for his disappeared mentor!
A warden haunted by dreams of apocalypse, looking to find the truth behind her nightmares!
In short, the mechanics lead to evocative characters, while the choice of Assets (basically gear or talents) is both rich and devilishly difficult.
I can't wait to see what we all bring to the table next session.
Also, as Beggars with a shared desire to try new game systems, everyone was very open and supportive of each other. The GM was patient, knowledgeable, and flexible, all of which bodes well for the campaign.
The only downside is that I have a new rule set to read just as the new semester and funding application season starts.
Sigh. I guess change is as good as a rest and I'll sleep when I'm dead.
The game is available as a free download HERE. There is also a dungeon-exploration variant called DELVE. If you're looking for an alternative to D&D with emergent world building and character generation, give it some love.
Friday, July 10, 2020
There is a princess who doesn't want to be rescued, who wants to do everything a knight can.
I love it. Good for her!
It has inspired the following Random Table (staple of the old OSR)
About that princess in the tower, she's actually... (roll d10)
1 A hag, transformed into a princess but looking for a meal. Claw claw bite while looking gorgeous!
2 A wizardess just wanting to be left alone to research spells. Bug off or its magic missile time...
3 Seven dwarves, the princess is long gone. They could use some help clearing out their diamond mines, though.
4 Six petrified knights, the princess is long gone with lucky number seven. Find a way to unfreeze them and there might be a great reward, or big adventure.
5 A giant mimic in the shape of a tower, eats anyone who tries to enter. Use the stats of a big monster (purple worm?) and start rolling dice...
6 A real princess, but there's a one in a million chance one of you murder hoboes can wake her. Roll 7d10 ONCE, if they are all 1 then one of you is the lucky stiff. Wake her up and marry her and you're a king!
7 A hag, but with a heart of gold and looking for love. She'll play along until the wedding night, then confess her true form. She'll be a loyal NPC if loved, an adversary if scorned.
8 A princess, but she just wants to adventure and rescue people. Could she tag along and learn the ropes?
9 A prince, but wouldn't mind one of you handsome adventurers putting him over your shoulder!
10 An alien princess in silvery dress. When awoken, the exits shut, the tower rocks, spews smoke outside, then blasts off. Next stop, her planet! Time to start Googling Spelljammer...
Two more weeks of online teaching then I suppose I'll be shooting out at a decent speed again.
Saturday, June 27, 2020
Basically, the OP was appalled that a PbtA gamemaster defused a player's stated intent to 'Kick Ass' by making them choose between fighting a monster OR getting to their vehicle. The cited problematic exchange is as follows:
Alan, the Keeper: “The flayed one is racing you to the car,and it looks like it’s going to get to you before you can close the door. So Mark, what do you do now?”Mary, playing her hunter Mark: “I kick some ass*!”Alan: “What are you doing?”Mary: “I’m going to smash it out the way with my baseballbat so I can get in the car.”Alan: “That sounds like you’re not really getting into afight: what’s most important? Killing the flayed one or gettingto the car?”Mary: “Oh, yeah, killing it I guess. I’ll stop running andjust start smashing it on the head.”
To me, 'Kick Ass' just means attack, and I wouldn't have asked 'What are you doing?,' which prompts the player to split their intent between 'smashing' the monster and 'get into the car'.
The OP states their problem with the exchange as follows:
"Why can't the PC try to bash the monster out of his way and get into the car? Is their some in-story reason for this? Doesn't sound like it - it just sounds like the game master is forcing the player into an action to keep to the structure of the rules. This is what I mean when I refer to structure getting in the way of story."
A few things here.
First, the very idea of 'moves' in RPGs is problematic. On the one hand, the use of conjunctions by the player (smash SO I can get to my car) and the OP (bash the monster AND get to their car) imply that TWO moves are happening here, so the GM's response by making the player choose has its own logic. On the other hand, as a person who did karate in Japan for years, there is no such thing as 'clean' one for one moves in combat. Fighting for your life is messy, and you can end up on the winning (or losing) side and have little recollection of the flurry of moments that got you there.
Second, I don't see much difference between PbtA's moves and D&D Feats. Both use pseudo-narrative set moves to simulate and create a vibe at the expense of player choice.
The OP continues, "So, in the name of abiding by the simplification of player action down to a set of "moves" (as they're called in Powered by the Apocalypse games) the rules - through the above text, if nowhere else - advise the game master to force a player to change his character's action?"
I dunno, this sounds exactly like 3e on D&D Feats in the few 4e games I played, which were a limited selection of 'kewl powers' that did the same amount of damage as everyone else's powers, but stifled how I could use my character. This stood in big contrast to the D&D and CoC games I played in the 80's and 90's, where the sky was the limit for action choice, but you had to abide by how much you could reasonably do in a round, and also accept the chance of failure if your intended action was complex.
This difference implies that the way a game system structures combat shows different ways of managing a move, a difference reflected in the OP's suggested solution to the problem, which is as follows:
"In Call of Cthulhu for example, the Keeper could just tell the player: "You'll have to make an attack with the baseball bat - if it hits, it won't do any damage but the path to get into your car will be clear. If not, you'll be stopped and stuck fighting the creature." The decisions are all up to the player at this point - instead of forcing her into a situation where she had to revise her action to stick to the structure of the rules, the game (by way of the Keeper) has given her the options and let her decide on the course of action."
This solution simply exchanges the unfavored choice (fight OR get to car) their own favored choice (hit to escape OR failing that have to fight), but doesn't do away for the logical necessity for choice. The fact that the OP has switched to a system (CoC) that has neither moves like PbtA or Feats like D&D also implies that system is not the problem.
This brings us to the real issue here: the different way games are designed to handle action, and how this impacts on player and GM expectations for combat.
This difference in expectation (as inculcated by the system you're used to) was brought to my attention when I GMed Swords of the Serpentine, a Gumshoe fantasy RPG and story game last year. One player was an inveterate D&D DM, and had made a bog standard D&D thief in a game that doesn't reward that type of character (ie there is no money in the system, or link between XP and gold). The PC was hanging over the side of a boat sneaking up on pirates,when the player stated "I want to swing up, land on deck, throw a few shrikes, draw my sword and jump into battle."
"Ummm, no" I replied. Half the players were incensed I was blocking the player's (very D&D) kewl moves in a supposedly empowering story game, while the other (older) half were on my side that the chain of actions was preposterous considering the situation.
First, we have the 'Pathetic aesthetic' of old school games vs the rule of cool of newer games. When I played OD&D back in the 80's and 90's, it was one move a round, a very literary way to represent action, and understandable considering the literary inspiration (Tolkien, Moorcock, etc) most of us based our imaginings on.
Later D&D editions switched to cinematic mode of action, with multiple actions and feats, which I surmise reflected the growing popularity of and exposure to video games. My little 4e experience was like playing a CRPG on paper, and as frustrating for a grognard like me as it was fun for the twenty somethings sitting at the table with me.
So just as both story games like PbtA and traditional RPGs like D&D can have shorthand moves or feats that limit choice, both new and old games can either allow multiple cool actions or limit to one based on whether they are emulating modern sources such as video games, or older inspirations such as pulp fantasy novels.
Regardless of system, players and GMs need to agree on the mode of action (literary or cinematic) and either choose systems to match this or tweak their system to do what they feel is right.
Sunday, June 7, 2020
It is brilliantly done. The art alone makes it worth the price of admission - kind of like those old Ralph Mcquarrie concept art books for Star Wars that made you wish the films had looked that badass.
I had an idea of making my own Alien RPG on an OSR chassis, but alas it has been a busy first 2 years as prof. My concept was as follows:
1) An Alien RPG needs easy chargen and lethality
2) It needs story elements that subvert or short circuit the cruelty of the dice
3) It needs a great take on the setting, which I called 'Corporate Space'
Free League has accomplished it all, and much better than I could have.
Although I'm not near finished reading the tome (it is my cool down read between work and child rearing), here are some of my thoughts, good and bad:
Whereas in other story games like GUMSHOE extra die pools empower PCs, as befitting the horror genre, this empowerment comes at an awful price in Alien. If things keep getting worse, this can lead to Panic, or loss of autonomy. Losing control is a hated fate in RPGs, and so leveraging this meta-fear for a horror game is very apt.
CANON TYRANNY VS BALANCE
If there is one complaint, it is that Free League have followed the canon too closely in some places, but missed useful tropes in others. Here are a few suggestions to spice the game up. Please note that I haven't finished reading the game as I mentioned, so they may have patched these up later.
Starbeast or Starbeasts?The inclusion of Starbeast, a tell-all about the events of Alien 3 (ewww) that has become a banned book spreading stories across the frontier, is brilliant. However, I'd change it to Starbeasts, with stories of all kinds of aliens covered up by the corporate states, and have anyone caught reading it dismissed as a conspiracy nut, or else threatened with legal action or dismissal from contract. On the other hand, the book might allow a small bonus to Observation rolls about xenomorphs.
Androids don't use guns
I haven't gotten to the android rules yet, but if there is one rule they need to follow, it is their inability to use firearms. From Ash to David, to the chrome heads of Alien: Isolation, synthetics are scary enough without firearms. Add to this they are often overlooked as mere servants and, like David from Prometheus, and are in control of the ship, its life support systems, as well as able to beat down the average human, then androids are powerful enough, so should stick to this rule. Unless you need some badass synth killers for the Weyland-Yutani security teams.
Throw in a twist
As much as I love Alien and Aliens, in terms of horror and terror, the franchise is an example of diminishing returns. The producers of its sequels seem to think making the alien bigger and badder each time works to keep it 'fresh'.
What works in horror is surprise, and the sudden powerlessness this instills in those who must face it.
For example, the sequels and prequels have hammered home that the xenomorph doesn't speak, but is just an animal, a perfect organism. However, in the original Alien script, after Ripley dies and the titular monster took over the controls of the lifeboat, it then speaks into the communication system at the end, calling out for other ships to rescue it.
Throwing in a twist like this means throwing out canon, but is the best way to keep players interested and on their toes.
Just imagine if a bunch of PCs is marooned on a mining asteroid with huge amoebas oozing from the walls and picking them off. Then a voice over the PA or commlink starts giving them directions where to go and how to get to safety. They follow the instructions and breathe a sigh of relief as they enter the airlock of a rescue ship only to see the talking alien behind the controls.
Fade to black.
Throw the players some surprises. Chuck in the Predator, the Thing, Silent Running, whatever, but make changes that are both unsettling and threatening.
A FREEBIE RANDOM TABLE
Alien and Aliens are known for their unforgettable characters, from Ripley and Ash to Hudson and Vasquez. What follows is a table that gives suggestions for unique characteristics for characters. Since the system uses only D6, that is all you need for this table.
What makes your character unique?
1 Baseball hat 2 Sombrero 3 Hawaiian shirt 4 Cowboy boots 5 Dashiki 6 Kimono
1 Optimist 2 Pessimist 3 Realist 4 Dreamer 5 Schemer 6 Cocksure
1 Contracts 2 Getting home 3 Gear 4 Survival 5 Promotions 6 Solving mysteries
4 WORK ETHIC
1 Get it done 2 Avoid it 3 Do it right 4 Get someone to do it 5 Has to be done 6 We're in this together
1 Bald or bushy hair 2 Moustache or make up 3 Glasses 4 Tattoos or piercings 5 Scar or birthmark 6 Unique body type (1 fat 2 thin 3 tall 4 short 5 mixed race 6 albino)
6 NEVER GOES ANYWHERE WITHOUT
1 Pet 2 Picture 3 Weapon 4 Fiend 5 Tool 6 Toy
Friday, April 17, 2020
Just watched Moana with my son. The idea of having a god or demigod mingle with the PCs has always been an alluring one since Deities and Demigods came out way back when. However, in practice it often turns out to be the most boring Mary Sue situation.
Moana shows that by giving the deity a strong personality, encounters with demigods can be entertaining and enlightening. Simple roll on the table below and roll with the results. Expand and modify as need be.
GOD'S PERSONALITYHere is a short list of personalities for deities. Never come out and say "Oh he's a conniver" - let the personality emerge by your roleplaying.
2 Smug Know-It-All
4 Master Planner
5 Wise Watcher
7 Average Joe
8 Out of Touch
Megalomaniac - Typical supervillain. The most boring result on this list, either reroll or hope the PCs realize they are better off running far away or even opposing this figure.
Smug Know-It-All / Narcissist - Maui from Moana. They find mortals cute, expect adoration, and get petulant (and deadly) of they don't get it, but can be flattered into great deeds.
Conniver - Hades from Hercules, Loki from the MCU. They'll always seem to help, but somehow end up smelling like a rose with the PCs serving as manure.
Master Planner - Think Odin in the Marvel movies, or Gandalf to a lesser extent. Helpful, but may seem to let terrible things happen to the PCs only to reappear and show how it was all for the greater good.
Wise Watcher - Thank Galadriel from Lord of the Rings. Usually stuck to one locale, gives wise counsel that just confirms what PCs already know.
Riddler - Think Dungeon Master from the old cartoons. Is partial towards the PCs, but never gives a straight answer, disappears and reappears without warning.
Average Joe - Think Thor from the MCU. Has awesome powers, but finds grabbing a pint or some ass just as important as saving the world.
BONUS - Some other personalities you might add are Horn Dog, Adrenalin Junkie, Goth, Amnesiac, and Cosmic Stoner. Feel free to post details of these or others in the comments.
SPECIAL POWERS1. Never Surprised or Seduced - Deity can't be charmed or surprised, sees through all human tricks.
2. What the DM Needs - Deity can produce what the DM needs to get to the players.
3. Can Trip - Deity can do any sort of minor magic, light candles by snapping fingers, open doors by telepathy, wonders why you can't.
4. Musical Vision - The deity can reveal a major plot or adventure point, but has to be sung and danced. Use this as an opportunity to bust out the ukulele and make your RPG into a LARP.
5. Protagonist Throw - Deity can grab a PC and throw them at any time, no rolls needed. Better not piss them off! You could be hurled out a window, or through a portal.
Thursday, February 27, 2020
In my old age, the thought comes to me to remake it, to storify it.
I suppose the best thing would be to change it to some story game such as Gumshoe's Swords of the Serpentine. Kevin Kulp's play reports sound like something out of a Moorcock novel.
I still love the bones of the old Chaosium system. So here is a stab at Storified Stormbringer.
First and foremost, how can we give narrative agency to players?
The underused Power attribute seems a good bet. Not only are high POW characters likely to be sorcerers with access to world changing magic, all players now can use POW points to influence the story and game world. This also means that these story game rule additions can be easily ported to other literary inspired Chaosium games (ie Call fo Cthulhu, Ringwolrd, or Elfquest) with little work.
STORY RULE 1 - USING POWPlayers can choose to use their pool of POW points to invoke Minor or Major Boons. Minor Boons are small advantages to rolls, and POW points used in this way can be regained fairly easily. Major Boons can change something about the scene, the story, or the entire game world, and replenishing POW points used in this way becomes a major undertaking.
POW thus becomes also a pool of points that can be used for various story effects, giving agency to the player much like other story mechanics.
MINOR BOONSMinor boons are simply bonuses to rolls. Players should declare they are invoking a Minor Boon, then narrate how the bonus is justified - do they have special knowledge, or are they motivated to make a greater effect? Don't just say "I want +1 to damage," instead, narrate the event, "I remember my slain friends' faces and slash hard into the Duke of Hell! Can I get +1 to damage?"
Per 1 POW point spent+5% to a d100 roll
+1 to a damage roof
-1 to damage taken
-5% to an opponent's d100% roll
Remember, these bonuses are available if the player declares they are spending points BEFORE the roll. If the player wants to invoke a Minor Boon AFTER the roll has already been made, they must pay DOUBLE (ie 2 POW points per plus or minus 5% or 1 damage). This lets players strategically decide to take a risk at low cost declaring before, or pay a higher price to change fate after the die have been cast.
1) Players may only invoke Minor Boons for their own character - they may not use POW points to alter rolls for other PCs.
2) POW used for Minor Boons reduces the POW score for magic purposes, so any summoning should wait until POW points are replenished as outlined below.
3) Each character can invoke one Minor Boon per session.
Major Boons don't give mechanical bonuses or penalties, rather they change the narrative flow of events in myriad tangible and intangible ways. Only one Major Boon per session is allowed, and the GM should keep scrupulous track of its repercussions.
Change the scene = 1 POW point
Change the story (scenario or adventure) = 2 POW points
Change the game world = 3 POW points
Major Boons should be narrated eloquently, matching the tone of the game and the theme of the story. They shouldn't be game breaking non-sequitur Get Out of Jail Cards. The GM is free to deny any Boons, minor or major, that make no sense in the world or story.
Major Boons can be deployed before or after events, within reason.
ExamplesScene Change - If players are fighting on a ship's deck, a player character can ask that a rogue wave comes and either reduces the number of foes or gives the PCs time to escape.
Story Change - Players can turn an NPC jailer into an ally because they were childhood friends or fall in love at first sight, or find a clue to the MacGuffin from an old beggar man, or stumble onto a magic weapon while running from ghouls in a forgotten tomb.
World Change - A PC can suddenly remember that Melniboneans are scared of cats, or that Isle of Purple Town ships all carry rum that can be turned into fiery cocktails to repel pirates.
1) Players may invoke Major Boons for any character - they may use POW points to alter circumstances for other PCs, if it is well thought out and entertainingly narrated.
2) POW used for Major Boons does not reduce the POW score for magic purposes, but does reduce it in terms of Boons, Minor as well as Major, that can be used in future. Basically, this models a character's luck running out as they call in favours from fate. You should start keeping track of POW for magic and POW for Boons separately. A minor inconvenience, but worth the effort.
3) Only one character can invoke a Major Boon per session, period. Major Boons are to be used sparingly and only in times of great need.
REGAINING POWPOW points used in Minor Boons are all replenished after a short scenario or part of a longer adventure. Basically, if the PC has some downtime, POW is regained at a rate of 1 per day not adventuring.
For POW lost in Major Boons, the PC must do something that furthers the story, at the guidance of the GM. This could either be something in the PCs backstory (ie return to their ancestral village and face down the enemy tribe that harangue them), or the larger story of the adventure (ie sneak into the harem of the Pan Tang emperor to free the winged folk princess kept there).
STORY RULE 2 - CRITICAL HITS
When I ran Stormbringer back in the day, the biggest complaint from my D&D players was the high chance of critical attacks and, more alarmingly, the high change of a devastating roll on the Wounding & Maiming tables. Here is a way to give agency back to players and increase tension when criticals are rolled.
When a critical (1/10th of weapon skill) is rolled and not parried or dodged, there are three options:
1 Roll double damage. If this does over half HP damage, roll on the Critical Damage chart.
2 Roll normal damage, ignore armour. If this does over half HP damage, roll on the Critical Damage chart.
3 Roll no damage, instead roll on the Critical Damage chart.
(Note: A critical attack can only be completely avoided by a critical defence. If a critical attack is met with a successful parry, damage is halved, and major wounds are only temporary, healing are 1d6+1 days of rest)
When fighting NPCs, the player gets to choose which effect whenever they hit or are hit with a critical attack. This gives them some advantage both to end fights quickly and survive an unlucky roll.
When PCs are fighting each other, both the attacker and defender secretly write their preferred number on a slip of paper, then at the GM's sign, show their choice. If both have written the same number, that effect is applied and play continues. If attacker and defender have written different numbers, they then play Scissors Paper Rock, with the winner's preferred number effect being applied.
Seems like a bit of a laugh, can't wait to test it!
OTHER BIBS AND BOBS
You could also steal my Call of Cthulhu encumbrance and reaction rules HERE.
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Which got me thinking about a The Boys (or The Girls) roleplaying game. Use whatever ruleset you prefer and try these setting conventions.
TWO TYPES OF POWER LEVELThe comic and TV versions operate on two different levels of power. This will result in two different types of game.
1) SUPER POWERED (COMIC VERSION)If you want to emulate the gonzo action of the comics, this is the way to go. There are a few precepts:
- All supes start with super toughness and strength. They can heal quickly, shrug off bullets.
- Supes and the Boys know about Compound V
- All Supe killers have taken Compound V and have super toughness and strength.
2) GRITTY STREET POWERED (TV VERSION)If you prefer the TV version, try this.
- Supers still start with super toughness and strength, but can be taken out with enough bullets or explosives.
- Compound V is still unknown
- Supe killers start out with normal human limitations, but can acquire the Compound. This might be a good adventure seed.
SUPER KINKAll supers have a kink, a pervision that would wreck their career if found out, and which they feel compelled to do. Also, any kink involving physical damage gives them immunity to it.
THE BOYS TRAUMA
THIS BLOG & GAMING
Wednesday, February 12, 2020
The other day, I read the blogpost 'Why Mechas?' on Monsters and Manuals (available HERE). The blogger ascribes it to elite pride, like the retention of calvary for so long after they were made redundant.
Yesterday, a new anime series called Obsolete popped up in my YouTube feed HERE. Although the CG art makes for somewhat wooden performances, action scenes are stellar. There are jungle fights, underwater conflicts, and mech ski chases in the Himalayas, with a pounding soundtrack by Skillrex.
|'OBSOLETE - We cannot resist'|
All in all, it was an inspiring new setting for anyone interested in RPGs such as Mekton, Mechwarrior, or Heavy Gear.
The premise is that mysterious aliens called 'Peddlars' have shown up and started selling mech exoskeletons to humans for rockbottom prices. Poor peoples buy them en masse to give their workforces much needed boosts in productivity.
It is this cheap alien sources (more machina ex deus than deus ex machina) that allows for the popularity of mechs, and their ultimate weaponization.
In the 2nd episode, we see a UN peacekeeping tank brigade driving around an African country, supposedly peacekeeping. Two crewmen are discussing geopolitics, one musing on whether the mechs (called 'exoframes') will be used in war, the other laughing it off because, unlike the gas guzzling, multimillion dollar kickback machine tank they are riding, there is no money in it. Within minutes, guerrillas riding agricultural mechs, using RPGs (the other kind) to take out the tank-riding NATO troops.
Over the series we see the escalation of mech warfare, from mercenary companies to Palestinian-inspired kid soldiers and suicide bombers. We also get hints of the nefarious plans behind this sweeping change, when a scientists remarks that the expos are pitted with damage from previous use, and muses how many other planets they have been used to destroy.
All in all, a great sci-fi with social commentary, kick ass action, and tons of sealable ideas for RPGS.
The trailer for Part II is HERE.