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Friday, February 28, 2014

Game mechanics effect pacing, Your system choice depends on goals.

Been quiet around here lately.
I know ... Monday, Wednesday, Friday blog scheduled only lasted a short while.
Truth be told real life has been busy as of late and I have just not had the zest for blogging that I normally do.

Today I want to go on about my thoughts on mechanics, and games and how they interact. Specificity in terms of game pacing.

Currently I'm participating in three online games using the roll20 game client. One is a 4th edition D&D game run by a friend, the second is a Numenera game run by a different friend, and the third is an AD&D 2nd edition game that I am running.

I enjoy all three of the games, the ones I am playing in are both well run and I have characters I like. My 4th level fighter “Armed Sage Oka” in the 4th edition is starting to round out and become a useful part of the party. 
Like a Truck...

Benthree my “Charming Jack who fuses Steel and Flesh” just had what I felt was his breakout session in our Numenera game.
 The game I am running is moving along nicely, I'm a big fan of the sandbox concept of running games and giving as many characters as I can their own story thread that is about them and their interests. After a few games I am starting to get some of that rolling, I'm satisfied.

Using these three games I want to talk about mechanics determining pacing.
Our fourth edition game is a dungeon crawl, the DM has set it up as such and has picked one of the three “mega dungeons” or our campaign setting as his main venue. In other words he can add caverns and halls forever, and he's not stepping on anyone's toes setting wise.

Here are my observations. In fourth edition every character gets cool at will powers, cooler encounter powers and “Rock your world” daily powers. Some of them do damage over time, some of them Mark enemies, curse enemies and so on. When one figures in feats and bloodied states, there really is a lot to do in a typical fight.

The last game we played we fought ghouls, in a typical game of 2nd edition  four ghouls would be lawn mulch to a group of well equipped 4th level adventurers, but fourth edition is built so that the Players get to use and show off their powers. One of our players even said, paraphrasing a bit,“I have a skill that does damage over time, what good would it be if we offed the ghouls in one round?”
One round? Really?

The mechanics of the game automatically zoom in on the action, the combat action and “slow time“ by raising monsters Hit points, Armor class, and generally standardizing damage dealt by characters and monsters. The 4th ed of D&D caught heat in some circles for being a “table top MMO.” I admit I have said it my self a few times, but the more I have played the more I see that at its base design is clever in how it uses combat pacing to put the focus on what the characters can do. When Chris uses his Shard mind to move an enemy and give every one in the room an attack of opportunity, we all go “Kewl Power Chris, good job!” that sums up the design aesthetic of 4th ed perfectly.

With our second edition game we see a different approach. A ghoul in 2nd ed has up to 16 hit points, and AC of 6 and three attacks per round (claw, claw, bite.) An average fourth level fighter can take one down in round with a good set of rolls. However lets look at the combat options of a standard 2nd edition Fighter. Attack or not. No matter how much description goes into the attack, no matter how flowery the prose, it still comes down to “swing or not.” Spell casters get more choices, but again they are limited by the much loved or hated  D&D spell caster resource management mini game called “number of spells per day.”


As a product of its times (published 1989) the game was created with a different audience, set of external influences, and goals. With the fights taking up less of the game a system like AD&D2nd grants the players more space around the fight, but robs them of the laser focus on how cool they are.

At one time parties used to crawl down dungeon halls rolling check for traps every few feet, and opening every door with wooden poles. All that crap took time, time where unless you were a thief the cool stuff you could do was in the back ground. AD&D was more a game of how do we get there, how are we going to manage our resources (spells potions hit points) and why are we going? The focus was broader, but being broad that focus could at times be fuzzy. The Gm must crate the focus when he or she wants it. The game does not mechanically zoom in on combat like 4th ed does, the Gm has to do that work. This gives a GM a lot of room for Role Play, and more control of the dramatic pacing of the fiction, but it takes a deft touch.

From our Numenera game I see the results of the most modern of the game designs we are talking about.
From what I can grok as a player Numenera drops the pacing of a game right in the lap of the GM, while letting players grab focus when they want. Mechanically the Gm can control the “level” of an encounter which will control how many whacks with a stick that encounter will take to get through. You want a climatic battle, up the level, you want a blow through ghoul, lower the level. 

The Game mechanically and I think cleverly also packages the 4th edition idea of combat focus through Kewl powers in the cypher system. Every character can do cool stuff because they find cool stuff under every rock, and they are all quick hitter items with one use and a flashy effect. Perfect, if the player wants to show off how clever, effective or, just plain cool they can be, bust out that telleporter helmet cypher. The combat slows down the focus is mechanically zoomed in on that character for a few seconds and they get to shine in the spot light. Nice. 
Cyphers , You're doing it right.

Wherein D&D some GM's are stingy (me) because once you give out a “magic item” you are stuck dealing with it for a long time. In Numenera the dam dust in the air is likely an item of some kind. The genius is making cyphers limited use / limited carry items so player's don't hang onto them forever, fire and forget. Drop the cypher and find another. 

It's a reward cycle that is mechanically built into the game and it allows the Gm to determine pacing and the players to determine when they want to grab that combat spotlight. In my eyes it works very well. I have things I could complain about in Numenera, but the cypher system and how monsters are handled are a real winner.

So where am I going with this?
Game pacing is a matter of taste, I have determined I don't think I could ever run a game of 4th edition. Not that I don't like the game, I enjoy playing it, but the combat system and it's intricacies would drive me insane if I were on the other side of DM's screen.
I do run AD&D 2nd ed currently, I originally wanted to go back even further and use the basic D&D rules cyclopedia for our throw back game, but that was not to be. For my game, I want combat to be brief when I can and encounters with the big-bads be the fights that take some time. My game is more about what goes on around the fights than what goes on in the fights. Mechanically AD&D 2nd fits that bill. (so do a bunch of other things but that's for another wall of text at another time.)

As for Numenera, I think I could run it because the system is pretty straight forward. As far as pacing and where the focus of the game is centered, I feel that of the three games looked at today Numenera gives the GM the most tools to control ebb and flow of a session.

Another consideration is that theses three games are being viewed though the lens of relatively short Roll20 sessions, three to four hours max. In a full day session any games pace could change radically from start to finish, but again the pro's and cons of online gaming is a topic for latter.

What do you think?

Leave a comment.
As always thank you for reading.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Do you want to have Amazing Adventures? well, is it Old School?


Amazing adventurers incredible exploits!
Lets talk about it.


But lets back up a bit, I'm still working on “Shards of Thimbral” but to be completely honest, unless I am playing that game, I can't really move forward any further. Schedules and some of the worst weather I have seen in the Hudson Valley In the past few years, have conspired to keep our group away from the table.

In the meantime I started screwing around with a game that I quickly titled “Amazing adventurers incredible exploits!” What started out as a personal joke, got played and enjoyed.

Now it's over 100 pages of PDF and still growing a bit at a time. I'm thinking when it is done, if anything is ever really done, I might just give away the PDF to anyone who is interested. I'm not sure exactly how I would do that but that's where my head is at this morning.

So here is a quick description of what the game is about.
Your character is a baker, a guard, a candlestick maker, a wizards test subject, a “whatever” that has decided that going out and finding just one of those treasure buried under an old tomb someplace would be a faster way to pay the bills than whatever they are doing at the moment.

The characters are rolled in ten steps 100% randomly and can range from capable to horridly frail depending on the players luck.
After that the game is a standard RPG with a Gm setting the scene and the players playing in those scenes.
Some charts and tools will be written in for GM's to add more random elements, like monsters and magic items if they feel the need.

Some other points:
I think there is a bit of the D.C.C. Character funnel in the game, in that if a player's character makes it through the first game, I would hope that the player would get attached to the plucky little bastard. The idea that the game is driven by random dungeon crawls, the characters can be wildly flawed, and the limited abilities of the characters, survival alone is bound to breed some good stories.

Is this game part of the OSR?

Loaded question right? The answer is yes and no.
I am in my heart a namby-pammby, lily liver story gamer, sorry it's true. Story FIRST! And all that crap. This game is however not that. The game has a D20 die mechanic, all be it a tweaked one, crunchy characters and more it's a most wholly about smacking the shit out of monsters, taking their stuff, and joking about it in a random world based on charts and cruel, blind luck. So yes it has some old school elements. There are also some sneaky elements. Players narrate their successful attacks, Wizards roll random spells whose effects must be discussed and defined with the GM, The combat is all “theater of the mind” style (I hate that term,)  character advancement rules based on what your character does, and there are character personality kickers to get the players juices flowing concerning who their random creations are beyond the stat block. You get a bit of both worlds with this game.
In my view within the sphere of role playing games this whole Old school vs new school thing is bull-shit. At the end of the day we are all just a group of friends sitting around a table having some laughs, so don't worry about it relax and learn to love the d20 or 3d20 as the case may be. Punch a slug-goblin in the face, take it's stuff.




Any questions comments or thoughts?
Let fly in the comments section!

Meanwhile here is a character I rolled up just for the fun of it. (using Neal's Generator to save time)

Name: Finn Honeyfoot
Age: Young
Race: Halfling
Class: Priest

Brawn: 1
Athleticism: 5
Resolve: 2
Academics: 2
Knowledge: 4
Focus: 5
Leadership: 1
Attractiveness: 4
Mysticism: 2

Resolve Pool: 15/15
Focus Pool: 35/35
Mysticism Pool: 10/10

Armor type: Leather armor

Armor score: 10

Diety
You worship Otrina, The Summoner of the Void

Careers

Apiarist (beekeeper)
Skills
Animal lore

Connection Types

None
Connection
None

Weapon Skills

None
Weapons
Large dead fish

Personality quirks

You have seen a friend die so you live in fear
Ability:
Smite:
You ask your god to bless your weapon with holy power. Sometimes times the gods get carried away
  • Attribute: Knowledge
  • Difficulty 15
  • Costs: 1d6 myst pool
  • Common: add +1d6 damage to your next successful weapon attack.
  • Perk 1: stun perk added to next successful attack
  • Perk 2: -2 difficulty on next successful attack
  • Perk 3: +1d6 damage to the next two successful attacks
  • Critical: Earn 1 wild card die for the next attack
  • Fumble: You annoy your god with all these requests. Holy energy feeds back from your weapon you take 1d6 damage.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Cover doodle for Amazing adventurers incredible exploits!

So I was sitting at home the  other day , it had just snowed, it was cold and I just felt like sitting on teh couch doodling.
So I grabbed some pens and a sharpie and doodled this:


Scanned it as a grey scale, and  cranked up the contrast.   
I'm not a great artist but I think this has everything Amazing adventurers incredible exploits! is about. Tentacles, spikes, ax's, hitting tentacles with ax's.
So that's that, I think I will populate the game with doodles from my AD&D game. I already have them around and why the hell not right?
Try to stay warm in the Northeast!
Have a good one.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

At home Winter is here, In AD&D2ndED Winter is on the way!

a blog about cold.



The weather being what it is (going from bad to worse.) My Job has been busy this week, which has lead me to not feel like doing much after work, and a lull in my blog.


In this blog I want to touch on the weather, a popular talking point here in the Hudson Valley. For the Blog though I think I want to talk about the AD&D 2ed weather. In my attic book stash there might be a copy of the Wilderness Survival Guide, but I’m not sure. I will have to go check, because time is ticking in my AD@D2nded game and the party is about two months into a very short spring / summer.

I read a blog recently concerning weather, and cold, now naturally as I sit in my bed writing this I can’t find the original source.  If it was someone reading this let me know and I will add a link HERE.

My current campaign is taking place north, far north, almost tundra north.  Some of the characters are from the area some are not, but they all know it’s going to start getting cold. The area is most like Interior Alaska or Northern Canada.


So how am I going to handle this come the virtual winter?

I know some of my players drop in on this blog some of the time, so part of this posting is about them not being too surprised when the cold starts messing things up.






But that’s not all.
Animals that are not native to the area will be hard pressed to act as mounts or even survive a night when exposed to -50 degrees F
Mundane swords have flex forged into them that will lessen in extreme cold, making weapon breakage more or a real possibility.
Bow strings will freeze, Water skins will freeze, and crossbows will jam or break.
I am not sure that I will use mechanical modifiers to represent the cold, but when I do they will be in the form of increasing constitution penalties as the character spends out in the extreme stuff.  I don't think any rule additions need to be too fancy or hard to keep track of,  just a slow spiral towards a quiet cold death.
So what does this all mean?
I set up this campaigning in the North lands, because it is an arena of the map that has been ignored during most of our gaming time. I did so realizing that the outdoors is going to play a much bigger role in this game than it has in our more southern city based games. It means that the players will have to find something to settle into for the winter when travel becomes more difficult. Or brave the elements if they decide they really have to get somewhere. Perhaps they will stumble on a large dungeon or underground area that will keep them occupied, The might head south before winter sets in , with the  spirit of the north winds nipping at their heels, or they might find refuge and enough to keep them busy in the city. Regardless what they decide to do, after a few more adventures the weather and how the players approach it are going to be big factors.
THE QUESTIONING:

  • Do you use weather as a part of the campaign?
  • Is it a hazard an afterthought or a big part of what you’re doing?
  • What game do you think has the best rules for weather?
  • Let me know what you think!
  • Thank you for reading..
PS: More new about AIEE! The Quick RPG I have been kicking around: A character can now accidently turn his or herself inside out fumbling a spell. That is all.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

“Amazing adventurers incredible exploits!”

Last Saturday the gaming group and myself had the opportunity to play “Amazing adventurers incredible exploits!” the hundred percent random fantasy RPG that I wrote the weekend before and touched on in this post.
Keep reading this gets silly

We had four players
the characters they created randomly went like this:

Panster Tumblebelly, a halfling healer who has been left for dead once and is a good guy.
He is a thief with a rolling pin and leather armor
He rolled high on he thief ability chart and got to roll on the Fighter chart so he knows the warriors strike.

Hoarroar Moonshadow: young elf, head butler who saw a ghost and is now confident, wears plate mail armor and aspires to be a thief. He is armed with my rolling pin and due to a miss read my the GM (me) he ended up with the Grappling skill. Hoarroar really wants to be a real thief so he played the crap out of that trying to check for traps and unlock just about every thing.

Adokul Soulaxe, Dwarven Thief, former dart champion and maple syrup addict. He worships Yu-Thar, the Trickster Who Watches. He's searching for a true home. Yes another thief and another roll on the WARRIOR abilities chart.

I can explain this all three for theses players rolled almost exactly the same numbers on their d20 roll for class. As for the abilities I read the damn chart wrong, yeah my own chart, what can I say.

The fourth character was J (I am calling him that because the player never got back to me for this blog entry I thin the name might have been Jeramiah or some such.)

J ended up a wizard a necromancer in fact. His three random spells were “Furious seeds” which we decided was a hand full of actual seeds the character could throw that would explode on contact. “Talking irritant” a utility spell which we decided would cause a distracting mouth to grow on a target and scream and rant. Finally he rolled up rising torch which we decided would create a ghostly torch to rise fro the floor and shed light for all to enjoy.

So rather than go through he adventure step by step I am going list out the high points or “story points “ that earned players experience.

Even the adventure was random: 
The group was hired by the guild of the displacers to recover the bone altar from the dual mounds of the moth cult. I rolled this quickie using the Tomb of adventure design, and that blurb was enough to have us off and running.

Highlights:
The party journeyed into the woods, and were accosted on their first night by a group of Slug-goblins. These were shelled green-skinned, slimy eye stalked, rather stupid,  inept highwaymen.
This was the “lets get familiar with the die mechanics!” encounter. And here's what happened.

One of the slug-goblins got pinned to the back of one of the Player characters backs by a flurry of darts from Adokul.
Another slug-goblin got pinned to a tree with another flurry of darts
J the wizard fumbled a roll while casting and rolled a mutation, a pallid pink, sucker filled, tentacle, that sprouted from his shoulder to be exact. More on this latter.

One of the unlucky slug goblins was shucked, and it's shell used for a back pack by Pantster.
In the end the slug-goblins were dispatched.

The party arrived at the dual mounds:
For the first time and not the last time Hoarroar attempted to use twigs to pick the lock on the mounds front door, which as it turned out had no lock and was not locked to begin with.
The group gained entry after a few rounds of cajoling the stone door.

In the mound the party began sneaking about, mostly wearing plate mail and so clanking around alerting everyone to their presence.
J the wizard cast a spell to raise a torch and scored a critical success, not only raising a handy floating torch but also raising a skeleton.

They encountered a member of the moth cult, complete with paper moth wings:
Pantster managed to hide in the shadows, like a real thief, snuck up behind the guy and blasted him in the back of the head with a rolling pin, he surprised even himself.

The team moved on, another picked not locked door, a room full of giant moth larva were dispatched with some flames and a somersaulting attack by Hoarroar.

Finally the truth is reveled:
In a central chamber the members of the moth cult  were found worshiping a moth idol that was resting on top of the bone altar. The cultists are collecting sap and boiling it down into syrup.
This naturally throws Adokul over the edge, (him being a syrup addict and all)  he charges the barrels of syrup and starts drinking from the tap, exposing the whole party to the group of cultists.

A fray breaks out... I mean really a brawl two two the characters are armed with  rolling pins for god sake...

As the cultists descend on the party Adokul tries to blend in with them and turn the cultists on the rest of the party so that he could enjoy the sweet, sweet taste of maple syrup.

The group fight J the magic user rolls horridly but his tentacle does some work killing two cultists and disturbing the rest.

Panster duels his cultists to a stand still, and Hoarroar has similar success with his match up.

At about this time Adokul is interrupted in his syrup celebration by the sound of a giant moth looming above it had swooped in through a hole in the ceiling. Hoarroar immediately starts firing darts at the giant insect to little effect the  Moth made diving attacks  and attempts to snatch Pantster off the floor.

The fight wore on, Hoarroar grappled a cultist and suplexed him breaking his neck, while Panster landed some heavy blows on the moth and a cultist. J the wizard used furious seeds to score some damage, but mostly his tentacle was just wrecking shit. (it strangled one cultist then punched a hole through another cultists head. J. the wizard spent most of the round telling it to be nice, which I thought was quite funny)

In the end the giant moth was slowed by the darts and pansters rolling pin. Hoarroar rolled really well grappling it and ripping it's legs off, while Panster made off with the bone altar and Adokul stole a large drum of Maple syrup all his own.

So what did I learn?
This adventure was funny, we played it for laughs. Sure I went back and tweaked some of the casting system and added a bit of this or that, but generally it was not about system, it was just a fun romp.

Hoarrar's player really liked his character and played up the, “I'm an inexperienced thief that wants to be a real thief “ angel and wants to play that character again. I think that's great.

Adokuls player ran with the maple syrup addiction thing, and I feed into it, he provided a lot of laughs.

J the wizard loved being old, bumbling, and having no idea what the hell he was doing, in the best sense of the word. At the end as every one was leaving the mounds he asked “Why are we here again” and it was PERFECT.

The character who I was most impressed with was Pantster the halfling. He really was rolled as the least exciting, most standard character, In fact, in the game he was steady eddy, rolled well and played his ”nice guy” character kicker to the hilt. He was given the least by the game to work with but managed to do a lot with it.
It was really only in the last combat where he had some bad rolls in combat that he slowed down a bit.

 Even with that said I removed “Is a nice guy” form the random personality kickers part of the game, because it's to damn plain.

Well that’s my “play test report” of sorts.
Hope you enjoyed it.