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From the prow of your ship you see the island come into view. At first it is nothing but a glint on the horizon, then a shining sphere.. a ...

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

So tell me what you want, what you really really want.

Hey this is my  300th post.. 
CELEBRATE....
ok
STOP!
No more celebrating.

Or I'll tell you what I want ... Whichever.

On with the  post.
The Thing I always appreciated about the Forge* early on was that ideas, good, bad, or indifferent all got thrown around, talked about, and chewed on. If someone posted there with an RPG idea and presented it that person was guaranteed fast feedback. If that feedback was, "I think that idea doesn't work" usually it was followed with a "here's why." If that feed back was "that's, good" it was usually followed with a "how about..."
I always found that incredibly interesting to read, even if I lacked the confidence to take part at the time.

I think I am a bit of a natural Lurker.


That kind of  exchange is what I'm looking for now. Does anyone know of an active group, forum, or other online resource that is dedicated to the open exchange of  RPG ideas?  Not the discussion of a single rpg product, rather the discussion of RPG's in general. I don't care if it's a story game type forum or an OSR group or whatever, those labels don't matter to me. I'm just looking to engage with more RPG people.
Any thoughts or suggestions?

Thanks for reading,
-Mark.

 *I know mentioning "The Forge" on an RPG blog these days is inviting a heated discussion. I'm not looking for that. I don't know at what date and  time our hobby developed the  tribalism that has marred the past few years. I don't care. I stay away from that kind of discussion here and elsewhere on the web. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

(D&D) Player Focused and World Focused. DM thoughts.

As a Gm/Dm I feel D&D and any other traditional Role playing game are a two sided coin.

One side is the Player centric side. I feel a great desire to listen to my players and try to tease out ideas that they might be interested in. If a player creates a proselytizing cleric, I will drop in people to preach to. Perhaps a town that needs some spiritual guidance.  For example my current party in the  long languishing Aleria campaign contains just such a priest. The town they are settling in  has a church, but it is a bit of a derelict building  left over from more  proserious times. The  player might want to set up shop there preaching his religion, I don't know if he will, but it's there.

The other side of the coin: The world focused game is imagined before the players arrive and  everything is in place. The players will make their opportunities in the world as they adventure. Naturally a GM has to adjust a bit with the world reacting to what the players do, but before the player's have a chance to do anything the world is there waiting for them. A good example of that in my game would be the ruins of Careth. A ruined city that has been sitting there for quite some time, with a few factions built in and some history behind it. Careth would have been Careth if the players never set foot in it. The  players wipping out some Nagga netsting in the  interior of the ruins and turning the place into a jungle made me adjust Careth to them, but I didn't build Careth (or the surrounding towns) for them.

It's the age old discussion between winging it, and preloading you game with  massive amounts of prep.

For  the record, and a bit counter to the things I sometimes post, I fall into the second category of GM's. When I'm running a campaign I like to have as much built out front as I can, so when things veer of off the page I have a framework that will at the very least keep things consistent.  Touchstones I can bring the game back to so elements tie together. Prep-work matters less to me if  I'm running a one shot because frankly one shots matter less to me. Not the experience of one shots, * but the idea that setting consistency is less important because the  group might never come back again.

I'm guessing every  GM preps and every  GM has to make things up on the  fly in different measures while running games. Not everyone is a good improviser, alternately not everyone has their world visualized down to the smallest detail. It's a blend.

So While I was running my D&D game on the regular I developed a bit of a trick to help me blend parts of my game more efficiently.

I have read my copy of the game Microscope, which I have never had a chance to play but love as a concept and as a tool. In particular I like the  idea of taking subjects from a game world and looking at them in stages from broad strokes down to details as if each subject is a slide of a cross section in the  greater whole. In microscope you the  great whole is a history with  people places and events.
In an RPG campaign the whole can be an area , and the slides can be  the groups, individuals and actions that take place within the area.

What I started doing as part of my game, was trying to write down places and more importantly concepts that the players showed interest in.

In the example form the second paragraph above, I already have the city of Careth out lined for the game. After the group's first adventure in the area I had a few more strings to  tie knots in.

here are some of the rumors the  group heard upon arriving at the ruins.
  1. The building rumored to be the location of the old thieves guild is currently occupied by humans with snake like torsos.
  2. During the  battle of Careth  "something" crashed into the city and exploded, something that just appeared in the sky.
  3. Careth was destroyed by a rampaging army lead by the  "Grey man." Who latter marched to Dairhouse.
  4. Surrounding towns avoid the ruins. Those who live near the ruins are looked upon with suspicion.
  5. There are strange shards of brass covered with gnomish runes sometimes found in the ruins. Careth never had a population of gnomes.
  6. The Skaven often raid the nearest villages, sometimes in packs and sometimes as loners, usually for food.
I took each of these pre existing rumors and the groups they  reference and did a microscope style drill down where I worked through what each of them would mean to Careth , then the  other factions in the area then the party. By the time I was done there was a pretty interesting web of  interacting forces developed.

This is not so different I suppose than what most GM's do. I think what made it click for me was the organisation of it all. With the area split into "slides" of information I was free to expand freely on any subject without regard to the subjects exact fit as related to other subjects.

There are Naga.


  • How did they end up in Careth?...
  • What are they doing?
  • What are their goals?
  • Do they reproduce?
  • Do they have  a leader?
  • What do they prize?



and so on for a few more questions, each  slice of the  area getting it's own  page of quick notes then one  master page where I tied (at least tried to) everything together.

Like this ...

  • Naga , enslave the Skaven
  • The Skaven are being forced to mine for the naga.
  • The skaven worship the  wrecked sky ship as a god, the Naga use it as a den.
  • The Skaven are scared to fight the  Naga despite the Scavens numeric superiority.
  • The sky ships still contains old  black ore rune stones containing magical energy, the  Naga want too use them to open a portal to their home.
  • The closest town has grown up around  providing goods and services to relic hunters who venture into the ruins. 
  • The Skaven often raid the town for food.
  • The skaven do not want to get to far with their food raids for fear the relic hunters will become skaven hunters.
  • The naga will be hostile to a player group because the  player group might see tier den as a good place to loot, and in fact they will.
  • the skaven might try to play a player group against the naga, if the group looks powerful enough, they did just this)


And so on for a page ...

Its' not having everything prepped years ahead, but it's also not winging it. It's a blend.

Look at each facet of the parties current surroundings as a slice of the world, detail that slice without regard to the other slices at first, then decide how those slices might interact.

Thanks for reading
-Mark.


* A while back I took some shit on this blog about my opinion of  campaign play being  the structure where RPGs really shine. This doesn't mean I think one shot RPG's are lesser in any way (I wrote one.) It's just my preference. This being the  internet however we are not allowed to have preferences of our own without having to defend them. As if  one guy's point of few on elf games really matters.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

A game that limits Game masters: An Open question.

Question?
Is a game where the Game master is also played like a character?

Not a GM less or shared GM game.

Rather a game where the Game master starts out with limits, earns a sort of experience, which grants levels, and in turn opens up new play options in the game.
I have seen this sort of thing in board games where the person running the game is limited in what they can put into play by points. That's not quite what I'm  thinking of however.

Has anything like that been done in the context of an actual RPG?

I have never seen a game written with that kind of subsystem. I also know my knowledge of all  the RPG's out there is far from encyclopedic.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

We just can't beat this monster...

I have a senario I have run a few times since I was in high school, usually for new players.
It's  ostensibly called the  Dirt Monster adventure. Some of my players might remember running it though to be honest it has been a long time.

The game is set up for low level Players.

A very simple, cliche set up.
Players are in a town , hear a rumour of a local who is having trouble with what little live stock he  keeps.
Livestock mostly pigs are showing up dead but uneaten, stocks of  bagged up  walnuts ransacked.

So here is the  backstory. 
These things can be found out by talking to the farmer.
The  farmer a year ago expanded his far to include new grazing lands. In doing so he cleared out some of his old and overgrown  walnut trees. The trees have always been there but are not as productive or as profitable as pigs, so down they came. What nutts he could harvest were bagged and put in the barns basement (which has a floor made of large flagstones) for sale at market latter in the month.
The only physical evidence around the dead pigs are shallow  3 foot wide and several feet long  furrows of  turned up earth.
The only evidence in the barn is a disturbed flagstone and  some dirt scattered around.

The farmer does not know the following things:
Unbeknownst to the farmer there is a creature that lives in the soil on this property. A lesser kind of earth elemental in fact. The elemental has always lived in the walnut grove perfectly happy eating walnuts and leaving everyone alone.

Now the  walnuts are gone and there are pigs rooting around in it's soil.
So it kills the pigs, sniffs out the stashed walnuts, pushes up a loose flagstone in the  barns floor, and eats some.

The monster:
I gave the thing all kinds of nasty but not deadly attacks. Knock back, rooting people in place, creating sinkholes, and  regenerating HP as long as it had contact to soil.  I let it's physical attack do enough damage to  be an obvious "I CAN KILL YOU" threat without it being a one shot = one player kill situation. I also made it easy enough to hit that players could see that their attacks were not getting the job done.

So what makes this adventure different?
The players can't beat the  earth elemental. Being low level and  not yet in possession of  abilities which might just babish the thing, they simply can't beat it in a fair fight. Further I never wrote anything about how to get rid of the bugger.

What have players done?
Normally  the wallnutt connection is made pretty quickly.
usually they also figure out quite quickly that something is coming out of the ground.*


  • Players have put bags of walnuts out in the field to lure it out for a fight, gotten knocked around and given that idea up.
  • Players have lured it to the  basement then slid the field stone floor back into place cutting it off from the ground and effectively dispelling it. ( I had the creature dry out in front of them, while they were fighting, in the  end an elemental wisp finally dissipated back to it's own plane.)
  • By far my favorite solution was the  group which lured the creature near a water tank. Doused the thing for a few rounds until it was just a wet slurry, collected it into a barrel, and relocated it to a new walnut grove.. AWESOME! ... LEVEL UP.


Why am I telling you this?
I am of the mind that new players or at least newer players should be given tasks where the solution is not  right in their face early and often. If D&D and RPG's in particular are set up so that combat seems the  best answer to any situation then new player may miss out on the nuances that make RPG's what they are.
I think that once it clicks in a new player that solutions to a problems in this type of game are up to them (the players) and not  necessarily defined by the setting, GM, or even the rules, you will have a player for life.

Thanks for reading
-Mark.


*(One time they assumed it was an Ankheg and  got very  nervous, raised a posse and never did figure out what was going on..In this case I suppose the farmer moved? Who knows. I put the  Ankheg in a different adventure latter on so their time was not 100% wasted.)


Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Sliding Scale: Reducing the math lag, round to round.



Back to Loot-Box A-Go-Go though this will likely be my last post on this subject (excluding  actual plays) for a while.

The comments on my last post  had me thinking about  math, the nature of our brains and what we choose to ignore or include when playing.

Prepare for a digression:
Source
On youtube there is a video I did awhile back for my friends introducing old school car wars. In that video I straight up FORGOT THE RANGE MODIFIER ON ATTACKS.
WHAT? that's so basic to the game?
Worse yet, I know that rule. I can quote that rule. I'm not Car wars expert or anything but I  played a good deal of it over the years. Even if it had been years since I had played it.

My point being  when playing a game, or in that case setting up a 20 year old game, trying to read the rules again, and getting a webcam to hang nicely from a chandelier. Things slip.



I decide what I wanted for Loot box is a way to  reduce that "slip."
A streamlined way to visually manage modifiers for combat. I'm not writing a simulation game, I want a game that is fast, wherein people blow things up and salvage the remains. IT's more like genre emulation.  This is not high concept stuff, it's get together with the  friends and enjoy some gaming stuff. Hence in my mind any fiddly bits should be hidden behind a design fig leaf*.

My as yet untested plan:


The Difficulty track: Not going to win any  competitions in the looks department.


The long and the  short of it:

  • The character's base skill roll target for combat actions  goes in the center box.
  • Any bonuses from gear are added to the Base skill roll target.
  • When combat crops up and player declares an action (usually an atack, but it could be anything.)
  • The player starts at +30. 
    •  Puss 30 is the perfect situation. You are standing still you took aim the target is not moving and there is a bird sitting on your shoulder tweeting ballistic info in to your ear. Mathematically it's the  same as getting a +6 bonus in D&D which is better but not vastly better than advantage in (5th ed). Or like a Coup de grace in older versions.
    • As I have said on the blog before I'm not a head over heals for balance guy. As long as everyone is using the same rules, and things stay consistent that's balance for me. I don't mind if the players hit  their targets more than they miss. 
  • The player looks at any  negative influence to their atack first.
  • For each negative influence they slide down the scale one place.
    • Were you shot at this round? .. -1 space on the scale.
    • Did you move before you fired? -1 Space on the scale
    • Did your target move before you fired? - 1 on the scale
    • Is your target in cover? -2 on the scale.
    • and so on.
  • The player then looks at any advantages they might have.
  • For each advantage the player  can identify they move up one square on the scale.
    • Did you  use more than one fire rate on one target? +1
    • Did you aim +1 per Ap used to aim
    • Do you have higher ground? +1
    • and so on.
  • Once the square is determined the modifier in your square is applied to the base skill roll target and the attack roll is made.
That's using too many words to say, "You  look at your in game situation get a modifier and then add or subtract 10, 20, or 30."

In my own testing, ( I ran a couple really brief combats last evening)  it went very fast. Of course I'm the  guy who  wrote it so there is no proof in that pudding. Also in what limited testing I did I ended up on the negative -10 square most often, the Skill Roll Target Square second, and finally the  +10  square third most frequently. I found achieving that +30 required that I got the drop on a target and aimed. How it should be. Again my little set ups last night were super brief and limited, not a complete sample.
I put the difficulty scale and the basic modifiers right on the character sheet so a player can easily track their difficulty action to action. And that same player can also easily change his or her skill roll target when they find new attachments or weapons.

My hope is in further testing it will prove to abstract some of the fiddly combat modifiers I was working with down to simple +10's / -10's. 

Next I have to go through all the Burn chain abilities and skills to make sure there are no 5% or 10% modifiers hanging out there anywhere that need to be nipped.

Some games need each and every little thing to be represented. Loot Box-A-Go-Go isn't that game. This is after all soft serve ice cream cone soft, soft science fiction. This sort of abstraction will not be  game breaking as long as it functions as I plan..... Of course I have had ideas blow up in my face a time or two.

Next time we play we will run with this and see how it goes.
I'll report on it then.

-Thanks for reading.
Mark.










(*Best metaphoric sentence I have ever written, proving once again what a horrible writer I am.)