This Blog 2019, Goals and Grommets

Inspired by the 2019 goals post over at Charles's Dragons Never Forget Blog, I figured I would do the same thing. 2018 right around ...

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Rebuilding systems in your game, the kiss of death? Magic system Redux

The kiss of death (1947)

I was looking at wizards in my home brew game “Amazing Adventurers and Incredible Exploits” (AIEE from here on.) I did not like what I saw and through our limited play testing wizards did not work at the table very well either. 

I once read, (I'm sorry help me I have no idea where,) that once you start wholesale ripping systems apart in a game you might as well start over. With that in my head I found myself on a rainy Sunday ripping the Arcane magic bits out of my current game project. 

Is this the kiss of death? If I remove a traditional spell list system and replace it with something more free form does it intrinsically spoil the happy go lucky chaos that is AIEE?

Lets take a look,

First My Very Scientific game design process:

  1. Identify the issues.
  2. Get frustrated
  3. Rip everything apart
  4. Take a shower and Brainstorm ( I have no idea why I get my best ideas in the shower..shrug..)
  5. Come up with ideas to fix issues.
  6. Start typing.
My problems with the system as it was were two fold.
Spells were clunky at during character generation. In a game where everything about your character is random, the character creation has to be smooth in order to be effective. What I want are people taking turns rolling things up about their character sand getting a laugh out of their odd ball luck or their neighbors odd ball luck, not one guy rolling 20 times to generate some spells. Random spells which I thought were a great idea at first, proved to be too cumbersome at the table.

The system while random (which is a big (HUGE) part of the game) was not very flexible.  The player would roll up his random spells, along with the Gm determine what the hell it is the spells do,  and then the player would be essentially stuck with those spells until next level. This is all fine and dandy, but it only embraces the creativity of the wizard player once and that’s at character generation.


I have a very strong opinion about arcane magic in role playing games. I feel wizards or whatever you like to call them, are special. Call it the “Ars Magica Effect.”  When I read Ars Magic the first time I could not help thinking “This is how magic users should be treated.” It seems in almost every setting powerful wizards are held up as people of great importance. Examples include Gandalf, Merlin, and Elminster, (Gramastus from my own campaigns) to name just a few. Even the humble hedge wizard would be considered an important figure within the scope of his own community. Magic users should be able to do things, use their abilities in the moment on the fly in a way that other character types can’t. I don’t want to hear about character balance, Linear Warriors VS Qudratic wizards  and all that bunk. I want wizards to shine when.

End Digression (why is there no HTML tag for digressions?)

Here is what I’m doing about the clunky character generation. I am reducing the rolls at initial character generation to, two rolls on a spell “keywords” table.  This change cuts the rolls for a first level wizard down substantially.  Now magic is fewer rolls than say rolling up a starting connection, or perhaps even starting weapons.

As far as the issue of embracing the players creativity and making wizards feel more improvisational and in the moment, key words help that as well. Key will be used by the wizard to create spells on the fly. Each key word used raises the difficulty of a spell by one level, and raises the costs associated with casting the spell.
For example if a starting wizard rolled the keywords “Hissing” and  “Bridge” when the character was made  that player might say  “I want to summon a hissing snake!”  The player would use 1 key word, cast a first level spell and all of the costs and difficulties would be based on that information.

Alternately the caster might say, “I want to summon a {bridge} of {hissing} anacondas to cross that ravine.” That contains 2 key words it is more difficult to cast and will cost more resources to accomplish.
How many ways can you use the term “hissing?” Off the top of my head I can think off, hissing steam, hissing snake, hissing the sound, and so on. How about “bridge” Bridge of the nose, the card game bridge, a ships bridge, a bridge between two locations.

“I want to stop this ship cold I cast a spell, Hissing Bridge to fill that captain’s bridge house with steam!”
Combine this with the multiple skills that allow wizards to cast spells in different ways in AIEE and suddenly a player can get very creative.

I was also thinking of letting players attempt spells in an effort to learn new Key words, this might need work, but my intent is if a caster tries a spell with a new key word the roll will be much more difficult but if the caster rolls well enough they get to keep that key word on their list. I’m going to have to test this heavily but if it works out I think it would encourage risk taking and system exploration by the players.
The notion of having a character find a rune that teaches a new key word as treasure is also pretty appealing to me.

 Some quick thoughts about possible cons with this magic redux:

This system is ripe for abuse! True, I’m unapologetic about it. How you and your players use the rules is up to you. I’m not a big fan of worrying if things being “easily abused” or “breakable” in Role playing games.   The Gm as final arbitrator of what fly’s and what doesn't, if a key word looks like it is going to be too difficult to deal with in your group, don’t allow that key word. If a player is being too fast and loose with Key  word definitions and uses, the GM would have to work with that player to tighten things up, that's how these games work sometimes.

Will this take extra abjuration by the GM? Damn straight. The GM will have to really think about what a player is asking for and what they are attempting to make this system work. To be honest however this is a game that makes the GM do all of the heavy lifting for things like modifiers and difficulties, I think this although it is one more thing, fits the mold of the game.

So those are my thoughts as I rebuild the AAEE magic system.

What are your thoughts on Magic systems in general?
what role do spell caster occupy in your game world?
How do you like to handle spells and spell casters?

As always thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

In my life, Role playing games were spared from near extinction.

OR: How my hobby was saved.
OR: Dr. Peabody and How I  learned to Relax and Love the internet.

This is my 100th blog post!

Roll for ... something...

I’m not sure if this is a mile stone or simply a distance marker, but in the light of my well known inability to focus on any one thing for more than a few days, one hundred posts is significant.

We make trade-offs every day. One way or another we balance our time between family, work, hobbies, sleep, and any number of other things.

Online gaming has saved my RPG hobby. I write this with zero sarcasm or exaggeration.

Let me explain. If it were not for the online role playing I don’t think that I would have maintained the RPG hobby these past few years. It’s not that I don’t enjoy role playing games, I have and I do.  
The issue is one of time, as we all get older and busier the days when we could all gather around the table because fewer and less often. Recently when we would manage to get together there began to be a very real drift towards board games over RPG’s.

Why?  With board games we don’t need the overhead of a campaign, or the frequency of play that it takes to get all the players invested in a a story or even to remember what’s going on from game to game. 

It seemed more and more we were playing board games,  Blood Bowl, and Dread Ball, and even our home brew table top death-fest affectionately known as “Blocks.” I was thinking the campaign role playing experience was a thing of the past, and honestly even I wasn't lamenting it. (I really like Dread Ball season 1 & 2, I was happy with that.)

These guys will F yo Couch.

Then we found Roll20
(The reason I mention roll20 is because we had tried some other online services and frankly they were not as intuitive. This is not an add for the site; it just happens to be what we are currently using.)

Through online gaming we started playing Role playing games again, and even more amazing we were playing at night, on weekdays. (Gasp!) We all started talking RPG’s again, we started suggesting RPG’s again. Significantly for me I started writing RPG’s again, started this blog. Online gaming re-booted my hobby.

Now we play three nights a week, with three different games. We have a Numenera night, a night that rotates between Ad&D 4th ed and our home brew (Phase~Abandon,) and a 2nd ed AD&D game on most Saturdays. Sometimes we even play short off schedule games for play testing or just for kicks.

Sounds great right so where are the trade offs?

While I credit online gaming for keeping me “in the game.” I also think those games are limited in a lot of ways.

First off is attention. I have the WHOLE internet behind my character sheet when I play online. If I said I never drifted, particularly during some of those long 4th edition combats, I would be lying. I do it and even without them saying so I know the other guys do sometimes as well.  It’s another level of distraction.

In my view, there is no replacement for being able to make eye contact with the group from a crossed the table, when you want to get a point a crossed. There is immediacy to gaming with a group that is irreplaceable, chemistry by having the whole group in a room. 
 In our last 2nded game the party fought a Rhemoraz in a mountain pass. The monster was, to say the least beyond them; on top of that they were fighting in front of a huge gate crossed a high mountain pass while it was being attacked by an orc war band.  
I knew they would come up with something, it was supposed to be a tough combat. While I ran the encounter I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out how to bring the big battle tension when all they had to work with is my voice over Skype. At the table I could gesture, make expressions there would be certain energy, a certain connection. I can’t seem to get to that point where I feel 100% comfortable GM’ing over the computer, it feels like I’m always short shilling the game.

 Run Willhelm RUN!

Lastly, it’s almost too easy to get a game, strange right? Look how the argument comes full circle.
We have been going along at a pretty good clip of three nights a week for a while now, and sometimes it puts me on the edge of burn out.  I have to skip games sometimes, for a variety of reasons. I have something to do around the house, my wife and I go out to dinner, I’m tired, whatever. Each time I hate it, I don’t like skipping out on something someone else has been working on, but it’s unavoidable.

I have entertained the idea of getting on G+ and joining the Roll20 RPG community and trying to get a few games of things that our group does not normally play, but really do I have time for another game? No. Just that I am entertaining the idea means the possibility of me overextending myself is very real.

I thank online role-playing game services for seemingly out of nowhere, saving my hobby. I also thank G+ for opening me up to several very smart very talented people and communities of similar people, who are willing to talk games and game design above the Facebook level. (Yeah I admit, shots fired. Facebook has become an intellectual wasteland, and if you are an exception I apologize for the generalization.)

Shame.. no fingers..

Even with the limitations of the online form I just don't see any other way our group could have maintained role playing games as a hobby without the convenience of the internet and the gaming services available.

Last bit:
Because this is my 100th post I'm going to openly stroke my own ego for a second and re-share some of my favorite posts from the beginning of this blog, in case you missed them.

Here are some other blogs I have found inspiring, enlightening and entertaining. Read them they are better than this one.
(All of these and many others are in my blog roll,check that out  as well)

  • Dyvers: Always entertaining. Always interesting. On top of that Charles has been nice enough to comment here a few times. 
  • Game Knight Reviews: These guys have re-shared me a bunch of times when I least expected it, and I very much appreciate it.
  • Playing D&D with Porn Stars: It's more than just a snappy name. This  Blog is written with one of the most unique voices in the  blog-o-dome. One of those blogs when you read it you  say "Damn I wish my game was that game!"
  • Mike Evans: DIY games ... Fuck Yeah , he is writing a campaign setting called Hubris which is looking Fantastic and I don't think he would give a flying squirrel shit if I thought other wise. All joking aside Mike's stuff is very very cool, and I for one would be happy (read: frightened) to have a Gm with his imagination.
  • The Tao OF D&D: Here lies some excellent writing. I enjoy this blog thoroughly even if I don't always agree with the points made.

And so many more.. any one who has read or commented or re-shared, or told me I am stupid, all of the past 100 posts has been a lot of fun

Hey thank you for reading !
Lets hope for 100 more posts.

Please leave questions and comments as you see fit!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Do we really have to drop Acid in Disney land?

Do we really have to drop Acid in Disney land?
Ok I admit that’s kind of fishing for clicks title, this is not about LSD or Disney, but it will make sense in a minute.

Lately I have been reading a lot of blogs and looking at what other people are doing and I have to admit, by comparison my campaign is bland as oatmeal.

I look at some of the sprawling mega-dudgeons that people have described on the net, the campaigns filled with dark and the nasty, and some downright strangeness, and I wonder am I missing something?
I like the aesthetics of some settings, like every fantasy Role playing game by games workshop for example, because huge armies of  every description with  just more spikes, skulls, fire belching war machines and banners a guy can count  are  cool as fuck. I like creeping monsters with dark tentacles that pop out of bento boxes and eat faces, also cool. I think however, for me, too much over the top is too much.
For example....Roll For Initiative...

Do not get me wrong if you are reading this and you want to run a campaign revolving entirely around steam punk dragons ridden by were-goat- zombies that shoot lasers from their eyes, have at it. There is no such thing as “WrongBadFun” in R.P.G.s . 

My thought here is this in a fantasy RPG we already live in Disney land. Depending on your setting there are elves, Dwarfs, Gnomes, (in 4th ed Big Crystal guys? Wait what? )
Most everyone has a blade, some people can cast magical spells, not the dinky, look I made a flower appear bullshit magic, but real look I just made an unseen servant carry my stuff, and then threw a lightning bolt kind of magic.

There are bad guys lurking in the woods, they are owl bears, and orcs, and giant ants and all kinds of crazy things. Underground things get worse, the deeper you delve the worse things get, because your character does not belong there.

Shit is amazing even in the most mundane fantasy setting.  Heck if I saw someone summon a familiar in real life I would shit myself, that person would become the single coolest person I know.
ME: “You talk to your cat? For real? Ask it why they all stare at walls so much.”

Fact is though, every monster isn't somehow first cousins to Cuthulu or working for the God of infinite pudding and skull humps.

When we overload our setting with too much strange and cool goodness we run the risk of that becoming mundane. The idea of an Orc creeping out of the darkness in a tunnel, holding a cruel knife, and leering at the party; should be terrifying, because the Orc is foreign non-human, feral, a killer, a hunter that’s smarter than a wolf and stronger than most men.  On the other side of that coin if your world has a demon prince as the local green grocer, or a purple worm that roams the streets cleaning up loose trash and vagrants, it’s going to be that much harder to engage the players when a threat comes around. Worse yet the Gm coudl fall into the  dreaded spiral of  Bad-ass-itude, wherein  every thing is so darn awesome, the Gm has to one up themselves in a never ending spiral of ever more over the top stuff. (yeah well this I know you have fought dragons before but this dragon breaths more dragons!) 

Think about a campaigning setting like a pointillist painting. All the little dots of information work together to form an image, but if all the dots are Orange, even though Orange is awesome, it will be damn impossible to see what the artist is trying to present. If every thing is  bad ass the really bad ass things the  GM wants to show off, run the risk of  just kind of fading into the background.
Thank Goodness Mr.Van Gogh  had more than just orange at his disposal.

When layering on the  cool stuff in a fantasy campaign sometimes it ‘s best to use a light hand especially at low levels so latter on when you want to awe your players, they are not already jaded from all of the bad ass shit running around.

The players already live in Disney land let them enjoy Space Mountain for what it is; a Gm does not always have to artificially enhance the setting, at least not yet anyway.

Hope you enjoyed reading.

Any questions and comments are welcome as always, 

Monday, April 14, 2014

How much can a game bend before it's not the same game anymore?

Let’s talk about rules in Role playing games.
Who uses all of them? 

I have heard of rules lawyers but I’m not sure I have ever actually met one. What I mean is I’m not sure I have ever met anyone who wants to use all of the rules found in many role playing games.  More to the point,   I’m not sure someone who wants to play by the letter of the rules manual would enjoy their time at the table when I am running a game.  I skip to much stuff.
I am going to assume that I am not alone in this practice of just leaving out things that I find extraneous or just annoying. So while I understand that “system does matter” to what degree does it matter that we hack the hell out of the games we play?

I have been running an AD&D 2nd ed game over roll 20 for a couple of months now. The players made characters; we have them embroiled in a few story lines everything is going swimmingly. First off There have been a few games where they have even rolled more than once or twice in a game. This comes down to the clod truth that I rarely use reaction rolls, intimidate of checks for things like social interactions. I know it’s in the rules, but I like to wing it and let the players Role play their way through social situations even tricky ones, before I fall back to rolling dice.  For example at one point a large group of Orcs showed up on the outskirts of their city asking for asylum as they were on the run from an Orc chieftain who was unifying the orc tribes in the mountains and killing off any group that resisted.

The party went to the Steward of the city, the chief if you will, and spoke on behalf of the fleeing orcs.
It was a heated conversation as the Steward was not happy about orcs at the gates, and the orc representative did not like being spoken down too. The player groups Druid handled things well and the  Steward struck a deal where the Orcs could sue some recently abandon farmland outside the gates, until they could move on.  No roles were needed we played it out. I must have ignored  a ton of chances for reaction checks, charisma rolls, and  skill checks.

In another instance the players dwarf fighter was fighting a troll and the troll was getting the best of him.  The troll rolled a natural 20 which in my game means something bad happens, I ignore the 2nd ed critical rule whatever it may be, and natural 20’s are crits, either double damage or an extra attack or some other special effect.

I knew the fighter had been knocked around pretty well so I asked him to roll a saving throw Vs Penalization thinking when he failed the save The troll would pick him up by the face bang his head against a pipe for some extra damage and leave him stunned for the next round. Sounds cool right? Well none of that is in the rules. What occurred was the Dwarf’s player rolled a 20 of his own on the saving throw. I let him escape the Critical all together. Again not in the rules but hell he trumped the 20 with one of his own, why not right?
This is not really about how I run my games , I know that’s different from person to person, but how much of a game can be hacked around and or left out until it’s no longer the same game anymore?

Do I even say “we play ad&D 2nd edition on Saturday nights” if we really only play about half the rules?
When I play test the game is work on if we’re not using a function or a rule I take a look at it and if I can’t find any reason why I should keep it, I just hack it out, that’s part of the design process. However if I do that continuously to someone else’s game should I try a different game? Or just keep going because that’s how we do?

So To the good reader I put fourth these questions.
  • How much house ruling do you do?
  • How much of any particular game do you just leave out completely?
  • And finally, how much tinkering and editing can a game take in your opinion before it’s not the same game anymore?

Thanks for reading, and question comments or answers can be dropped into hermetically sealed mayo jars and left on the sunny side of the comments section to ripen.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Shards of Thimbral update, combined arms.

Those  of you who read this blog.. I’m talking to both of you… may have noticed it has been a kind of slow around here as of late.

I have to blame that on end of the winter blahs. I have a very strong desire to suck up some sunlight as soon as I can and get back on track.
I am SO pale.

With that in mind I want to talk about a change in direction.

Over the winter I worked on Shards of Thimbral, and play tested it a couple of times. I really like the game, everyone who played seemed to enjoy it.  
Here are some of those posts:

Post 1: Play test 2
Post 2: Stalled Progress

I appreciate all of the fed back from these, if any of you see this, thank you.

The feedback and comments, were not all positive, and I don’t think that’s because the people commenting would not enjoy the game if they played it. I think it’s as much if not more because I have had a hard time communicating my design goals. There is also the very real chance that it did suck and was broken, but to be very honest I have not played it enough with enough different people to be able to tell. With the very best of intentions I designed a “story game” type of mechanic that even though it seemed to work well at the table, was difficult to describe clearly, and to be honest lead to more confusion that it may be worth.  Never marry a game mechanic.

The truth via Mario

Let’s bounce subjects, please forgive the digression. In the middle of working on Shards I had a conversation with some friends about random things and charts in role playing games and how much we love them. Over the ensuing weekend, this thought became “Amazing Adventurers and Incredible Exploits.” (AIEE) It’s a game of the “B team” heroes of the world going off on very random adventures.  I wrote the game in a weekend and did not agonize over at all, it was a just for kicks process. We played it and everyone really dug the game, it was a ball to play. In short, the game easily passed my laugh meter test.

(The Laugh meter test is a very scientific affair,)
“We are laughing VS we are looking in the book for rules. 
Laughter > rules reference =  good 
Laughter < rules reference =  bad.

And this,  the laugh meter involves a bunch of this...

My change in direction is this, I’m going to merge the two projects. 

I will be keeping the base system and general insanity of the AIEE game (the 3d20 resolution system, character gen,  and so on)  and I’ll blend it with some of the core concepts (The party sheet, character  goals used as adventure kickers) and most importantly the setting from the Shards of Thinbral game. 

I was thinking what kind of setting could support A.I.E.E. which is designed to create pretty random scenarios and locations. Considering the name Grognardia was already taken, (who wouldn't want to play in a setting called that.. huh .. who's with me!?)
I did not want to place the game in the setting I normally use for Sword and sorcery style games, I was at a loss. 

It was one of those thoughts that just kind of fall into place.

I cannot tell you why it took me over a month to realize I was already working on a setting consisting of thousands of unexplored magical sky islands that could be anything. “Shards of Thimbral,” is perfect for a game of random madness simply because anything could be floating around out there.

So that’s where I am at with my game “projects" now "Project.”

As always thank you for reading!

Comment if you like.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Shards of Thimbral : In a perfect world.

Recognizing ones influences and giving them due credit is something I think is really important, so you get this post.

In a perfect world I would be working more on Shards of Thimbral right now, but alas for me I can't control my own motivation which is in truth why I am not a professional, and why not much is moving on Shards right now.

Also in a VERY perfect world I would be able to afford to licence art of Roger Dean for Shards of Thimbral.
His work is EXACTLY what I would like the game to look like, not close, not kinda , EXACTLY.

I believe I started thinking about Shards of Thimbral when I bought the "Yessongs" album back in Highschool and his art was on the cover, I just didn't know it.

I find his work inspiring every time I look at it.

My only issue is that as I sketch ideas for Shards I keep hearing in my head, "That was already done, and done MUCH better."

Here is an example, his site has a ton more.
Image by Roger Dean (I don't know the title)

Thank you for reading and have a great day!