31 August, 2016

Of Darkness and Light

That post about the supernatural beings in space. It's lingering...

I'm thinking I'll need to exorcise it soon, even if only with a minimalist rule set...Perhaps a pair of pocketmods. But with a chunk of In Nomine inspiration thrown into the World of Darkness.

Characters portray grey characters between the darkness of the Vampiric immortals and the blinding light of the Technocrats. But they choose a rule set to work with, either light or dark. A crew might be (and most likely is) made up of both. The light gain powers of high tech gear and psychic powers bordering on reality manipulating magick, the dark gain disciplines that circumvent reality through an eternal dark curse. Characters may ascend in power, but doing so draws them out of the grey world where they can play both sides against each other, and instead deeper into the Machiavellian politics of one side or the other.

Naturally even though one side is light and the other side is darkness, they're both just as evil as each other. The light breeds like rabbits, constantly sending troopers to their deaths against the nightmarish immortals. The immortals feed on the masses, and sometimes turn useful soldiers to their own side with gifts of darkness and blood. Between them all, the freebooters (who are the characters) try to remain neutral, but inevitably get caught in the crossfire.

I'm thinking of reverting to FUBAR as the core system for this, maybe generating a bunch of pocketmod playbooks to work as character records (each of which have a range of base powers determined by the character's specific factional allegiance or cultural background).

#RPGaDay 30 and 31

Day 30 - Describe the ideal room if the budget were unlimited.

Digital projectors, huge space, miniatures, terrain, props... I've done all these over the years and seen that they each have their advantages and disadvantages. It's all a case of having the right things for the game...but these are all secondary to having the right people for the game. If I had to average out my optimum room for the most number of games, it would simply be somewhere with minimal distractions from the outside world, where I could complete a session without getting interrupted, and immerse in the moment of the game narrative for as long as it lasted.

Day 31 - Best advice you were ever given for your game of choice.

For almost any game, mindfulness.

Don't get hooked up on the rules, the outside world, the events beyond your control. Just play the game.

30 August, 2016

#RPGaDay 28 and 29

Day 28 - The thing you be most surprised a friend had not seen or read?

Unless this friend were blind, I think I'd be most surprised if a friend had not seen their own shadow...

But let's keep it RPG related. So, that means gamer friends, and what they have in common.

The obvious answer is "a D&D book", but I've got plenty of gamer friends who don't read rule books at all (they just remember how things have played out for other players on the table), I've also got a fair number of gamer friends who've neber played D&D...then venn diagram of these groups has a big overlap.

Perhaps among most of my friends, and particularly among my gamer friends, I'd be most surprised if they'd never seen a Monty Python sketch.

Day 29 - You can game anywhere on Earth, where do you choose?

Hmmm... tricky.

If I'm going to game somewhere special, I want it to be linked to the game we are playing in some way. Maybe if we were doing something cyberpunk, my old flatmate's office in the middle of Sydney's CBD, because it was the floor above where they filmed the scene in the Matrix where Neo had to escape his office.

Maybe on the Great Wall of China if I were playing an L5R game focused on the Crab clan.

Maybe in the massive courtyard before St. Paul's Cathedral in the Vatican if it were a game of In Nomine, or Demon: the Fallen.

If I'm going to make the effort to go somewhere, it would want to be an appropriate game.

29 August, 2016

Deep Space Supernaturals

I always wanted to do a vampire game set on the outer planets...where the damage of the sun was reduced to occasional minimal amounts of regular damage. And where immortal beings sat in icy palaces on the dead plains of Pluto, or in drifting cloud castles above the storms of Neptune and Uranus, only occasionally crossing paths once the orbits of these planets brought one another near. Dark rusted hulks, ploughing through the shadowed skies, waging an eternal war in the twilight. Glistening titanium and crystal ships of the Technocracy wage war against these entities and their ghoul armies, but the mayfly lifespans of the space-faring technocrats are nothing compared to the ancient powers of the shadow. The eldritch kindred are sustained by the lifeblood of those who come in an endless horde, the "heroes" hoping to take down a god become nothing more than the god's next meal. Sometimes the ghoul captains of the rusted kindred vessels venture in as far as the asteroid belt, or even Mars, to raid entire cities of the living to feed their bloodthirsty masters in the outer darkness when the shadow war escalates.

...then I get distracted by something shiny, and want to play something else.

28 August, 2016

#RPGaDay 26 and 27

Day 26 - What hobbies go well with RPGs?

My succinct answer...What hobbies don't go well with RPGs?

Drawing goes great with RPGs, drawing characters, drawing maps, drawing equipment, drawing strange symbols. In that whole field we can probably include calligraphy for writing in-character letters, or painting if more elaborate portaiture is required.

Reading goes great with RPGs because it can be used to find ideas to add into a story, or information to verify events that may occur during the course of play.

Sports and fitness pursuits go great with RPGs, especially LARP even if only for the physical fitness side of things. But at a wider level, having an intimate understanding of what the body can actually handle is good for allowing us to understand where character limits might lie, or might help us understand how alien our characters really are.

Amateur theatre goes great with RPGs, not only LARP where play acting the character activities is a part of play, but also on the tabletop where a bit of ad-lib can take things up a notch.

Woodwork and Leatherwork can be integrated well in the realm of prop making for games. (so can metalwork if you're that way inclined).

Sitting on a couch watching football probably doesn't go well with RPGs.

Day 27 - Most unusual circumstance or location in which you've gamed?

13 years ago, my wedding was one hell of a LARP.

But another great location was when we LARPed in a theme park, because half of the park's security team were gamers and in on the action. 50 players amongst 5,000 non-gamers, playing a subversive game where they weren't allowed to fight, but had to gain control of territories by placing markers and answering scavenger hunt styled questions throughout the day. This was in the late 90s, so well and truly before Ingress or anything like that which would now be considered "augmented reality" gaming.

27 August, 2016

#RPGaDay 24 and 25

Day 24 - What is the game you are most likely to give to others?

My own game FUBAR... that reminds me, I need to get printed copies of that game organised. So far I just keep directing people to the free download at RPGNow.

It's been a fun game with a wide range of players over the years at conventions, it's handled short form campaigns too. I just haven't had a whole lot of feedback from other people playing it (despite it   Being downloaded 5000 times, or more).

Day 25 - What makes for a good character?

5 things.
  1. A name. Something evocative, something that alludes to a past or a connection to a culture.
  2. A goal. something that the character wants now, or has wanted for a long time. This is great for hooking medium and long term stories to, and for learning how the character wants to affect the wider world.
  3. A hindrance. Something that is preventing the character from achieving their goal. This is great for hooking short term events to, a way to get to know the characters and how they have been affected by the world.
  4. A strength. This is the way the charcter finds it easiest to manipulate the world around them, it might be a special skill set, a supernatural power, an association of allies, it could be anything. It explains how the character has dealt with the world so far, but there is probably something about the hindrance that prevents the strength from being used to attain the goal.
  5. A weakness. This a regular thing that prevents the character from achiving their goals, it's more general than the specific hindrance (which is typically associated with a specific goal). It could be a supernatural mineral, a significant companion, a phobia, anything that's possible to come up multiple times ov the course of a story.

Everything else is just dressing, and falling short of these five things often makes a character seem aimless or incomplete.

#RPGaDay 22 and 23

Day 22 - Supposedly randomly game events that keep recurring?

I don't know that I've played any game long enough for this to occur. Similarly, as indicated previously in this year's questions I know a group of gamers who tend to play the player, rather than the scenario. I don't see random things happening, instead I see the same players riffing off against one another in the same ways, in different settings and genres, and under different sets of game mechanisms.

I really don't think this question is valid to my gaming experience.

Day 23 - Share one of your best "worst luck" stories.

In the classic "World of Darkness", werewolves would spontaneously throw up if they ever ingested vampire blood...unless they failed some kind of roll (it might have been Stamina or Gnosis), if they botched the roll they'd die. I understand that this was a mechanism put in place to stop certain types of players gaining access to a range of powers from both the Vampire and the Werewolf rule sets. If a werewolf were ever killed with Vampire blood in their veins (because they'd failed the earlier roll), there was a chance they'd become an "Abomination", a vampiric werewolf using their spiritual Gnosis to hold the bloodthirsty beast at bay rather than their humanity. Then there was the book "Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand", where the Vampiric discipline of "Vicissitude" was an infection that could be transmitted via the blood of the Tzimisce clan of Vampires, again if you failed the roll you'd become susceptible to the disease even if you normally shouldn't have.

This all goes back to +Klaus Teufel again. I didn't know much about this stuff at the time, when I was playing my first LARP werewolf character. I was playing a naive innocent in a dangerous world, and only really read the books in detail when I figured my character would be aware of what was happening. I kept failing my character's rolls, watching him falling further from innocence with each one. First to become a ghoul to a vampire, only to find that he was a "Sabbat infiltrator of the Camarilla", then to discover that he was a Tzimisce, not a Ventrue. Failing further rolls, my Werewolf (with natural shapeshifting potential) contracted the "Vicissitude infection" which made his form even more mutable. With the capability of generating massive combat stats in Crinos (half-man/half-beast) form, and eventually the capability of generating similar massive stats in the "Horrid Form" of Vicissitude, I remember asking if I could combine the two to become a savage creature of outright destruction. It was decided by certain members of the GM staff that if my spiritual side lost control, then this might be feasible, if my character's "horrid form" looked like Alien, then his "Horrid-Crinos-Hybrid-Form" was the Alien Queen.

I failed the roll and lost spiritual control. I don't remember if anyone in the local vicinity survived.

#RPGaDay 20 and 21

Day 20 - Most challenging but rewarding system you have learned?

Most challenging system that I never quite learned would have to be Rolemaster, but that would only be an answer if you include "learning" the system to mean memorising all of the tables off by heart. It's a savage beast, with incredibly complexity. But actually, everything in it is pretty formulaic. These days I'd love to program the tables into a webpage or app that would take care of all the page turning and referencing behind the scenes, just giving the interesting and quirky outcomes. If someone's already done that, a link would be much appreciated.

A challenging system in another way entirely is Rifts, I did learn that basically inside out back in the day, but gained most of my rewards in play by ignoring the vast majority of the game system as written. Strangely, reports about official games run by Kevin S at Palladium HQ indicate that he did the same thing... He seems to have written the game as a AD&D heartbreaker, but run it as a loose freeform, only occasionally referencing the rules when it suited him.

In the years since then, I've tended to become more attracted to systems that aren't challenging to get into. Such games have a barrier of entry that just doesn't do it for me... I can handle a game where layers of complexity can be added into the experience when needed, but I've made my disdain for ad-hoc complications and hodge-podge systems pretty clear on a few occasions here at the blog.

I'm told "Burning Wheel" can be tricky to master, but has a lot to offer... I might get into that some time in the future. But my uni studies prevent me getting to engrossed in new game sustems at the moment.

Day 21 - Funniest misinterpretation of a rule in your group?

I know there have been some absolute doozies over the years, but when it comes to specifics, my mind is at a blank for the moment.

#RPGaDay 18 and 19

Day 18 - What innovation could RPG groups most benefit from?

Finally, a question that doesn't assume gaming groups are insular entities, and instead poses the notion that players might be aware of their own gaming group(s) and other gaming groups. But this question suddenly assumes that all gaming groups have the same issues and that specific forms of innovation are uniformed adopted by the entire community. So, needless to say, I think this is a flawed question too.

There are heaps of innovations in the community, with some groups adopting them and others preferring their "traditional approach". In my time I've seen the innovation of narrative driven games, minimalist rule sets, dice rolling apps, diceless roleplaying, roleplaying over live internet feed (first by text, through to current video chat feeds).

In some cases, I think the innovation is just gimmicky, in some cases it actually seems to contribute something positive to the experience.

(Having written this a few days ago, I've actually come up with an innovation across gaming that I'd like to see. I don't specifically know how it would manifest, but I'd love to see the technologies behind "Pokemon Go" utilised in a fantasy RPG overlaying our reality. Perhaps hunting creatures, gathering treasures, fighting other heroes...something like that.)

Day 19 - Best way to learn a new game

Honestly, the best way has to be playing it.

I understand that some people don't feel confident jumping right in, and in this case an observation of a session in play might be a good substitute, but I'd consider this a preliminary step toward playing it for themselves. It's only through direct experience that you feel the full nuances of the rules and how you can use them to interact with the unfolding stories.

20 August, 2016

#RPGaDay 16 and 17

Day 16 - Historical person you'd like in your group? What game?

This is a lot like the "Dream Team" of past players. It's a case of chicken and egg. Do you pick the game first, then find a historical person to match that game? Do you pick a historical person first, and then find a game to match them?

I'd love to play a historical miniatures battlegame against Napoleon or Genghis Khan. I'd love to engage in an elaborate costume LARP with Lord Byron (or even someone taken from us more recently, like Alan Rickman), or maybe a boffer LARP with Errol Flynn. I'd love to see how HP Lovecraft would see the way his mythos is portrayed in modern day RPGs.

There are so many possible answers to this question.

The way most of my groups tend to play, I could easily see someone like the comedian Robin Williams easily fitting into the loosely reined chaos, and I would be interested to see how far the envelope would be pushed, and whether it would end up breaking. I'd imagine we'd play something like HoL.  

Day 17 - What fictional character would best fit in your group?

This is also a lot like the "Dream Team" of past players. So again, there's no easy answer.

Perhaps the Librarian from the Unseen University (Discworld), especially if we were playing something that involved lots of tables and referencing, like Rolemaster.

Maybe, Inigo Montoya (The Princess Bride) in a swashbuckling Boffer LARP, because it would be awesome to improve the group's collective swordplay skills, and witty banter is always a plus.

If I was running a game with investigation in it, I want someone like the world greatest detective Bruce Wayne / Batman added to the group (or possibly Sherlock Homes, but depending on the incarnation of Holmes it could be a odd fit), because the current mob can't even pick up on the most blatant trail of clues that I leave them.

19 August, 2016

#RPGaDay 14 and 15

Day 14 - Your dream team of people you used to game with

There are individual people who are absolutely awesome in their own ways...great sources of ad-lib story ideas, knowledgeable manipulators of rules, injectors of chaos, mediators...

The problem with awesome individuals is that sometimes they don't work well as a team. The US Olympic Basketball team might be filled with the best of the best, but they aren't trained to work together, and the sum is less than you'd expect from such premium parts. The same almost always works for the Prime Minister's 11 as a cricket team, awesome individuals used to getting the limelight and glory, sometimes rewsentful when they have to share it.

If I could pick a bunch of players, each specialists in their own type of gaming, contributing to a dream team, I'd have to tailor a few teams based on the type of game being played. I can think of a bunch of players who would be awesome at streamlining the crunch in a fiddly and complex game system, I can think of a completely different group of players who ad-lib really well and probably wouldn't open a game book at all through a short-run/six-session campaign. But I know full well that certain members of each "dream team" do not get on well with one another, and if I were to combine members from different dream teams, I know that the game would go downhill even quicker.

For me, the social aspect of roleplaying games is paramount. I enjoy diversity in games, and as I mentioned in an earlier question, I've learnt to instinctively play the player... I'm not necessarily proud of this, but I know how to react to most players I've dealt with in the past. That's why I like running games at conventions, and joining in games with other groups at conventions (where I might not kjnow everyone in the group). Thios means there are wildcards in the mix, new people to experience, new combinations of play that lead to new stories.

I try not to dwell in a past of "might have beens".  

Day 15 - Your best source of inspiration for RPGs

I love bad movies.

Actually, that's not completely accurate.

I love movies where there is clever worlbuilding, even if the major narrative and plot leaves a lot to be desired. Jupiter Ascending, Bounty Killer, Prometheus, the second and third Matrix movies ...a movie can be a great way to get everyone on the same page quickly with regard to a setting. You spend the first session a\watching it and coming up with character ideas while this happens, maybe even making the characters during the movie. Then you tell the stories of this world that didn't appear in the movie, perhaps using a specific scene as a launch point for the new story, perhaps simply encountering some of the places and lesser members of the cast. 

Movies are good because they're generally self contained, but if everyone is willing to sit down with a comic, or knows a particular historical period, the same idea can be applied. Use the common knowledge as a starting point and deviate the story on a tangent from there.   

#RPGaDay 12 and 13

It's time to play a bit more catch up.

Day 12 - What game is your group most likely to play next?

This is another of those questions that simple seems to assume that gamers only have a single group with whom they game. I see that this is not the case for a lot of individuals I know across the gaming sphere, because a lot of people seem to do "online hangout games" as well as "physical" games. Similarly, plenty of people I know (both online and locally), have home games as well as games that they are a part of in a gaming store.

I know (and have been a part of) gaming groups who have played the same campaign for decades, for whom the idea of a new game system is the ultimate heresy...conversely I know (and have been a part of) gaming groups who regularly shift games every few weeks to try a wide diversity of gaming experience.

In my experience, this seems like a really odd question. I can understand how certain gamers might look at this question and assume everyone has the same gaming experience, but my experience (and that of many people I know) doesn't really gel with it.

Since I tend to be the "default GM" in many of the groups I'm a part of, the simplest answer to this question might be... "Whatever game I decide to run next!". In this case, the game I'd most likely see in play next would be one of the games I've been working on that requires a new round of heavy playtesting. Probably "Familiar" or "Walkabout".

Day 13 - What makes a successful campaign?

I feel we've touched on this one earlier, especially with Day 9's question "Beyond the game, what's involved in an ideal session?".

Another perspective here might be useful.

I think a good campaign is defined by a good ending. This is one of the regular features that seems common among the games I remember fondly, while many of the other games I've been a part of have either fizzled out, or had a dramatically bad ending.

For these purposes, a good campaign needs to have reasonably complete story arcs for all the characters before winding up to a group climax, or winding down deliberately to allow the characters to go their separate ways once the intertwined narrative has reached it's conclusion. Yes, characters may die along the way, before their narrative is resolved...yes, new characters might come along, and might not get the chance to be explored and detailed as much as the others, but as long as everyone feels significant steps of growth as individuals, then I feel that has been a successful experience.

18 August, 2016

#RPGaDay 10 and 11

It's time to play a bit of catch up.

Day 10 - Biggest in game surprise

As I've said previously, I mostly GM, so the concept of experiencing a surprise in game is a novelty and it really hasn't happened too often.

My biggest in-game surprise is probably symptomatic of my cynicism, and that's finding someone else who is a good GM and storyteller rather than a good ajudicator of combat rules and random dice tables. 

For my biggest story surprise, again I'd have to go back to my LARPing days of the 1990s. To the events surrounding the big reveal in my character's connection to +Klaus Teufel, that was a hell of a thing (literally).

Otherwise there are lots of convention stories I could tell, but they'd probably bore you...often because they're the type of story requiring a lot of context and you only get the full impact if you were there. That's one of the quirky things about gaming anecdotes.

Day 11 - The gamer who influenced me most...

There's been a few over the years.

Samer Kassis - who taught me that regardless of the characters being portrayed, when you catch someone off guard they'll fall back on their instincts as a player, so even if someone is trying to portray something very different to their normal fare, do something erratic and then play the player.

Phil Armour - who taught me that in a miniatures game you should always strive to take out your opponent's most carefully painted figure. This has a good chance of demoralising them, and making the rest of your game easier. This applies to LARP by countering a favourite prop, or in tabletop by killing/neutralising a favoured NPC.

Richard Knott - who taught me that you can tell a great story with a group of people using no dice, no character sheets, and minimal interaction between the players in the group.

+Dave Chandraratnam - who catalysed with me for a few years as a great partner in crime at LARPs, conventions, and various brainstorms. He taught me that no game survives the players, and to just run with it.

Many others have influenced my gaming over the years, but these four have done the most.

14 August, 2016

3d6 in order, and then some.

I had an idea while I was driving today, and I decided that I needed to write it down as soon as I got home.

It's based generally on the Old School notion of rolling 3d6 in order for attributes, but pushes things even further.

We all know that it's typically better to roll an 18 for strength than a 3. A high strength means more damage dealt in combat, it means better modifiers when trying to do things where having innate physical force is advantageous. The same generally applies to most other stats too. A high roll means a greater capacity to influence the outcome of events when the appropriate attribute is brought to bear on the situation.

Over the course of six rolls for the attribute array, the law of averages said you're likely to get a couple of higher rolls and a couple of lower rolls. This isn't always the case, you might be unlucky and get all low rolls, on the other hand you might be lucky and get all high rolls. Typically, unless you're allowed to allocate the die rolls, it's unlikely that you'll get a specific type of character based off raw dice rolling.

What if we pushed things even further...instead of just attributes, we forced players to roll for other aspects of their character, then also made sure that mechanically these character elements had an impact on the ongoing story. High intelligence might give more skill proficiencies, or bonus languages, but now we also roll 3d6 to determine a character's social standing which has an impact on die rolls made in court settings.

Die rolls might determine race (3-5: Outcaste Race, 6-8: Wary Races from Afar, 9-10: Accepted Races from Afar, 11-12: Halfbreeds, 13-15: Impure Members of the Dominant Race, 16-18: Pure Members of the Dominant Race), where an inherent level of racism is fundamentally implied in the system, because those with high die rolls belong to the favoured races and correspondingly gain bonuses for simply belonging to such races.

Perhaps we're playing a typical misogynist setting where the impact of sexism is felt directly in the mechanisms of play (rather than just the flavour text or the misogyny of out-of-character interactions), but in this variant players are forced to randomly determine their character's gender (3-10: Female, 11-18: Male). You could go further and possibly incorporate sexuality as well as gender in some way.  

I'm not saying to throw these ideas in and then disregard them during the course of play. A lot of games already do things like that, often creating elaborate backstories and dollhousing the character concepts, but this is a deliberate means to play with these identifying traits of the characters.

I'm not sure where I'm specifically going with this, whether it's a good idea or bad. It's just something I had to get out.

11 August, 2016

RPGaDay Gap

Internet down at home, many assignments to complete for my Master of Teaching degree, wife in hospital, massive headache...

Hopefully I'll catch up the missing RPGaDay entries some time next week.

09 August, 2016

#RPGaDay 9: Beyond the game, what's involved in an ideal session?

This really depends on the game.

The simplest answer is... the right people. 

I can handle games with high or low preparation. I've really enjoyed high prep games with pre-defined background scores, elaborate miniatures and terrain, player hand-outs, and carefully pre-considered relationship maps... and I've really enjoyed low-prep/no-prep games spontaneously started at a moment's notice. 

I can handle high crunch or low crunch games. I've similarly played many games over snack food, with others held over elaborate multi-course dinners, and many with no food at all. Some games have been good, some games have been bad, but there is no specific correspondence between game quality and most other factors. It's the people who make it or break it in my experience, which may be a part of my belief that roleplaying is all about the social experiences and ethical dilemmas explored through the liminal space of the game (combat systems and magic basically just support those situations and give variant tools for exploration). If you trust the people you are with, your exploration can be deeper and more personal, and if the people around you are aligned with the game system being played, then it can be explored more deeply and interfaced with more closely.

The one game I really want to run, is a combined multi-form using LARP and miniature conventions. Elaborately planned and orchestrated with play unfolding across a goblin labyrinth between two or three distinct settlements. Play would be for control of objectives across the labyrinth, and it would be more political and socially oriented than combative, but there would be wandering monsters and other menaces scattered through the maze, along with treasures and rewards that would tip the game's balance one way or another. The whole thing would be an open sandbox format, with a loosely plotted timeline, but with outcomes very dependant on the players involved. This game would require a lot of work and a specific mindset of player to work in the way I envision.

08 August, 2016

#RPGaDay 8: Hardcover, Softcover, Digital? What's your preference?

I love the idea of beautiful tomes at the table. Pieces of art that feel like a part of the game world...

...but most games like that cost a small (or not-so-small) fortune. 

So with that in mind, I'm practicing bookbinding, and that means pdfs (or digital copies) that I can print out, then bind manually into pieces of my own art. It helps that pdfs and digital copies of games are cheaper, and I can keep a copy on tablet or laptop while the physical copy is being used by someone else. 

I still prefer the physicality of a book, but the versatility of a digital format gives it the edge. 

#RPGaDay 7: What aspect of RPGs has had the biggest effect on you?

I never had much in the way of social skills as a kid. I understood the rules of social interaction, because I had watched them and decoded them, but I had never intenalised them or instinctively intuited them. Tabletop RPGs providd a liminal space for me to experiment with social interaction in a safe space where ramifications could be left in the zone of the game. 

LARP was another step in the direction of internalising the concepts of social interaction.

I think the ultimate sign that RPGs dramatically affected my life is manifest in the fact that my wife of 13 years was met through a LARP.

06 August, 2016

#RPGaDay 6: Most amazing thing a game group did for their community?

Most of the groups I've been immefiately a part of have been selfish and/or haven't wanted to reveal their "behind-closed-doors" hobby to the outside world. Some of the group I've been loosly associated with have been more philanthropic.

I know of a few groups on the past who have taken board games to hospitals, often childrens wards, attending regularly on a fortnightly (or even weekly) basis, to give the patients something to do, a bit of escapism from their medical situations. At least one gamer I know has donated their boardgames to a hospital ward when they've found they simply don't play them much any more.

05 August, 2016

#RPGaDay 5: What story does your group of players tell about your character?

This question seems to imply that a gamer has only one group of players to whom they belong. But this doesn't match my experience at all. Over the years I've had dozens of groups, some tabletop, some LARP, some miniatures, some groups that covered multiple gaming formats, most groups sharing overlap between one another with myself and one or two others linking different circles of gamers.

Another issue I have with this question is the fact that over 25+ years of gaming, I've accumulated a lot of stories...and like most gamer anecdotes, they need a decent chunk of context before they make sense, and often setting the groundwork for that context can be monotonous and boring before the interesting bit if the story arises.

(Also note that I've spent most of my gaming time as a GM)

So, one of the best ways to answer this question might be to discuss the tales of my characters that have spread from one group to another, through sources other than me. These would be the stories where a character of mine from one game has their exploits related among a completely different circle of gamers by another player.

I could answer this question with "The Ballad of John Steel", a naive werewolf of the Glass Walker tribe who fell into a surreal existnce living with infernalist vampires and mages...which is also how I as a player met +Klaus Teufel. But I'm pretty sure I used this take of woe (or maybe "Tale of WHOA!!") as an answer to one of the RPGaDay questions last year, and the complete tale is something that only a few select people were privy to (in a LARP containing a hundred or so regular and irregular players).

I could answer it with the LARP game where I was asked a favour by local mages would would not, or could not, leave their wizardly towers. They had wanted a scrying amulet to be carried around for the day, so they could see what was going on. The amulet needed to be plainly visible, because it needed an unobstructed view of the outside world. Other players had agendas to destroy the amulets, or claim them for their secertive benefactors (perhaps to use against the mages). A few amulets were given out, most people wore them openly around their necks, they were all attacked for the amulets (seeing them melted down or sold to rival factions of mages). I was the only person to end the day with an amulet, in plain view all day, just not in the regular line of sight. I had strapped the amulet to my boot. Numerous people commented on the amulet but were often in the middle of doing something else, heading somewhere in a hurry, or generally distracted by other events in the game. A few commented that once they were done with their current task, they'd come to hunt me down. By the end of the day, none had followed up, and I returned the amulet to the mages. Everyone talked among each other, as I had seemingly pulled off an "impossible" task, none could dpubt that the amulet had been clearly on display.

Many were the stories of the dirty old men in the wizardly tower, all using their scrying amulet to peer up the skirts of female characters in the game. Those rumours didn't bother me, I walked away with the promised bounty for a job completed. 

The tales of the open faced bravado still come back to me every now and then from players of other LARPs..."you're the guy who did the amulet thing aren't you?"..."did you hear the story of the mages who used a ranger to look up skirts?"...

...and every time, I smile.

04 August, 2016

#RPGaDay 4: Most impressive thing another's character has done?

Day 4...

As I said in earlier installments, I tend to GM, so many of my stories from the tabletop will involve the characters of other players by default.

The most audatious move I can remember dates back to high school. The mid to early 90s, RIFTS was the go to game for a group of GMs including myself, because we could go over the top, and that was all expected as a part of the setting. The "Atlantis" sourcebook had just come out, and it had introduced a Marketplace where "anything could be found", and the concept of intelligent Rune Weapons. Of course there were players who instantly wanted one, and since we played in a group where different players might take on GMing duties for a day, and where various players might have had two or three characters, each of whom had been played for a half-dozen sessions (or more), there was a risk to introducing one of these weapons into the game and totally unbalancing things. None of the characters had the money to pay for one of these things, so that was good. 

We knew that if we handed out such a weapon as a prize for a quest, other players would start complaining about "playing favourites". If such a weapon were given to a weak character, they probably wouldn't be able to use it effectively (they'd be likely to miss attacks, before the impressive damage rate was triggered). So stronger characters would end up getting the weapon, and then prove totally unbalanced against the other players.

One player (one of my best friends at the time, and the person who would end up being the best man at my wedding), desperately wanted one of these weapons and he kept trying to convince other players to cut deals to get one. I discussed this with the other GMs, and offered a simple solution. A mysterious dealer with a wheel of fortune exists in the Altantean Market, no one knows who he is, his tent just seems to appear when its needed. Anyone may spin the wheel, either gaining a physical item of their choice, or losing their soul and "doing menial chores for satan" (this is the exact phrasing we used) for the rest of eternity. If the spin was negative, the character sheet would literally be torn up and burned on the spot, never to appear in the game again. If the roll was won, there was no guarantee that there wouldn't be strings attached, perhaps it was stolen and the rightful owners would want it back, perhaps it would be cursed in some way, either way it would push the story for the next few sessions.

The player decided to take the risk. Roll a d20 in plain view of everyone who regularly GM'd or participated in the game. Odds failure, evens success.

I can't remember what he specifically rolled, but he failed. It was a character with a year of play behind it, he was involved in so many stories and interconnected to so many other characters. Bang. Instant vacuum. Character sheet became a pile of ashes, scattered on the wind.

So it's not a tale of awesomely positive things that highlighted a character's abilities. It about a single moment when everything went sideways, though an event hinging on a single die roll that would change the course of destiny for another year or so until the game gradually wound its way down to nothing as everyone moved on from high school toward their adult lives.

The fact that his character is "doing menial chores for Satan" is something that's still mentioned in conversation more than 20 years after the event. It's moments like this that keep me attached to the hobby.

02 August, 2016

5e, OSR, other???

I'm starting to womder if I should just write a setting, or a hack that can be used with 5e, or with one of the many flavours of OSR, or one of the other syste,s that has some kind of open license.

Personally, I've always thought that this was a cop out... like sticking a new coat of paint over something that everyone else has already got. I wouldn't buy a product that was in this vein, but it looks like there are a lot of folks out there who would.

My artistic integrity says "no", my contemplation of monetary issues says "yes".

Artistic integrity is winning out at the moment.

01 August, 2016

#RPGaDay 3: Character Moment You Are Proudest Of?


I've spent three quarters of my roleplaying experience as a GM, so the moments I recall most readily are those where I've established scenes for my players to interact with (often built on the events previously assembled collaboratively through the actions of player characters and the preloaded triggers built for the sandbox environment), then I throw in a twist by pulling a concept that had generally been forgotten from a previous session...

...then watch the chaos.

I haven't found many tabletop GMs over the years who run stories in similar ways. Mostly just the types of GM who get a pre-written module (either published, or pre-written by themselves) then lead the players through and don't have a lot of scope for changes to their plans. So there haven't been many opportunities for player characters to shine. My style of play follows my style of GMing, I plant the seeds, I spend a few sessions nurturing the plants, and by the time the fruit is ripening, the plans have been set in place for too long for anyone to do anything about them. But the spontaneous twists are fun too, especially when running with other people's ideas...playing the player not the game...pulling in ideas that other players have seeded into the story in a spontaneous way, making them think it was a part of your plan all along.

A specific case in point for me once again goes back to LARP. Maybe 15 years ago, Vampire the Masquerade, specifically Camarilla, I typically played a Follower of Set but had been rounded up into a Giovanni group. For those who are unfamiliar with the setting, the Giovanni are a family of vampiric necromancers, they deal with ghosts and the spirit world through ancient traditions that date back millennia (stolen from a lost clan of necromancers), they are secretive and present a fa├žade of business-like/corporate honour. But everyone knows out of character that they have secrets.

This was a time when the supplement treadmill was in effect. Every month a new book or two would be released, offering new powers, new twists to the setting, updates to old power sets. Only the most fanatical players were completely up to date on everything, everyone else would focus on their group/faction/clan, and quite a few didn't even bother with that (if they didn't pick something up in game, they wouldn't know it as a character or as a player). They was always a grey area between what was "known", and what was simply implied in the game.

The specific scene in question saw a group of new players, and a couple of veterans. The veterans were the kind of players who played to the story rather than the rules. As Giovanni, we were on the outer, but willing to engage in deals with our skills, abilities, and status as politically neutral. We were due to approach the local court of vampires with an offer to help with a problem, but were intercepted by some vampiric young punks and anarchs. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife), was stroking a prop skull. That's when the idea came to me. I made motions of whispering into the skull and asked her to put it on the ground. Then took a step back. She took my cue, and so did the other two characters with us...we each took a step back, and looked at the skull. Our opponents had no idea what we were doing. I started a countdown, 5, 4, 3, 2... They ran as quickly as they could from our location, and we picked up the skull bfore proceeding on our way into the court.

No in game magic was used, it was all out-of-character psychology. But it went down in game history for years to come.

#RPGaDay 2: Best Game Session since August 2015?

I don't think I've played a tabletop session since August 2015, so this one will have to be a LARP experience. I think that's interesting in itself. I still consider myself a gamer of all types, LARP, tabletop, miniatures, boardgames... but the last time I played a board game was as a part of a playtest session for University, the last time I played a boardgame that I didn't design myself was Christmas last year... the last time I played a tabletop RPG was mid last year, where the game collapsed because the GM was just a prick and everyone suddenly realised that... the last time I played a miniatures game was probably 2 years ago, or more.

Actually, now that I think about it, I think +Ettin Con was around August last year, no maybe July and it just misses the cut off. That was a great session, using my game FUBAR, and it reignited my desire to get things happening on that front again...but let's focus on something that's definitely within the specified range.

December 2015, Clans of Elgardt LARP, the session name was "Rules of Engagement". Everything was immaculately planned behind the scenes, one of the founders of the game wanted to use the session to propose marriage to his girlfriend. The whole session was devised as a ruse to get the pair of them together in a duel at the top of the hill we used as a sacred holy site in game. Three hours of play unfolded, leading to the "duel". It was a great moment, and while she was aware that something was coming, she had no idea what was specifically in store.

That's one of those memories that will stick in my mind as a moment that makes the hobby something great.

#RPGaDay 1: Real Dice, Dice App, Diceless, How do you prefer to roll?

I'd have to start here by saying it really depends what I'm doing. That basically takes me back to the tactic I used for the RPGaDay questions last year, every question was analysed for it's ulterior motives, because they just didn't make a whole lot of sense as straight questions in my experience.

I've been doing more LARP than tabletop or online gaming lately. By the nature of live roleplaying, dice are a break of immersion and therefore considered anathema. At a table, I prefer to use dice, but only sparingly. If I can resolve a situation narratively, without needing to break out the dice, things seem to go quicker which lets us have more story in the allocated timeframe.

I only ever really use dice apps when I don't have the physical dice available, such as the special dice used by FFG in Star Wars: Edge of Empire.

Generally, I'm saying that there are different tools more suitable for different jobs. I prefer to use the right tool for the job rather than applying a single answer to every situation.

Accumulating References

Back in the day, Battletech was running with a storyline where there was great technology, but years of warfare lead to factories and research centres being bombed, new developments arising, and the cycle continuing again. Warhammer 40k has a similar premise in it's background.

All the weapons used at the time of play are shadows of awesome technologies, either cut down to make them more efficient and easier to repair on the battlefield, or simply degraded because no-one remembered how to create the awesomeness anymore. It's a common idea in post apocalyptic games and fiction (in Rifts, no one human can build a suit of armour that matches the glory of the Glitter Boy), it also appears across the sword and sorcery genre (where great weapons of the Atlanteansor other lost empires are powerful relics in a darkened age).

I'm thinking about the same thing for the game tentatively entitled The Carcosa Golem Shuffle.

When the war began, psychic technologies and mystically enchanted construction drones were adapted to battle. Such tools were awesome for their original tasks, but no so much for fighting...thus they were modified, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Over time, the original designs were lost, the workshops building the early models were destroyed in cataclysmic magical firefights (on some occasions as targets, and on other occasions as accidental collateral damage). A decade into the fighting, so much magical energy was sapped from the environment tht the great portals to the mythic homelands ceased to function. The mortal fighters we left cobbling together the bits on the streets, making ad hoc war golems from the normally incompatible parts from various empires. Generic jury rigged parts had the advantage that they could be attached to most other technologies, but the disadvantage tht they were no longer "pure" and lacked some of the refinements and subtle edges provided by original manufactured parts.

On rare occasions, a mastercrafter might have gained access to an original part, and might have managed to reverse engineer the enchantments...this finding a way to add them into one of their generic components. But more often than not, when this occurred there was an unexpected glitch in the end product.

As the last fanatics fight over the ruins of the city, the enchantments binding the golems become unstable. Every time a local power node is liberated from one band of warriors by another, sparks of power trigger the psychic neural matrixes empowering the golems with artificial intelligence. This may awaken free thinking golems (such as the player characters), or may reset originally programming, unleashing golems unthinkingly loyal to their original faction looking to enact the final mission they were assigned when they previously lost power.

This basically sets up the notion that the characters are all cobbled together golems. The game begins when a power node is reset, and they are awakened with consciousness. They may awaken to find a group has claimed their power node, but more likely both sides have wiped each other out in a deadly conflict of attrition. The battle would have drained the node, and only hours/days later would it have rebuilt enough charge to trigger the golems in it's vicinity. The characters would be surrounded by spare parts, with which they could construct the best possible versions of themselves. But there are probably better parts out there, in the ruins of the city, possibly guarded by similarly awakened golems, or by some of the last remaining mortals defending their strongholds and rebuilt workshops.

The Golems gain energy from the power nodes, but the mortals were draining the power nodes at a far greater rate for their battle. Now that the mortals are all but wiped out, the nodes are gradually rebuilding their charges. Things may still be conflicted now, but they are relatively peaceful compared to the new onslaught that will rain down apon the city when the ancient portals to the mortal homelands reactivate. Before that happens, the characters will need to choose a side with whom they can make a stand, or gain enough upgrades and power to make a stand of their own and declare the city a territory of their own.

This feels like it's heading somewhere fun, I'm not sure if I'm retreading ground that others have already explored. I hope there's enough of an interesting spin on it to give it a fresh outlook.