Monday, January 9, 2023

Gaming in the Abstract

I was thinking about a more general, abstract way to describe play in RPGs the other day, and I'm still sort of working through these ideas, but wanted to get down here what I've been considering so far. Partly so that I don't forget, and partly to get feedback from the community. 

I'm thinking of how a DM/GM/Referee and players interact during a game, at the encounter level. Obviously, the "logistics" phase of the session, where players get set up, check character sheets, add/subtract equipment or various scores, update things, wrap things up, level up, and all that would have separate moves than these. This is a start at describing the "moves" of an RPG. Other than Initial Description, there is no set order for these, and they are of course recursive until the encounter is completed. Also, these should be able to apply from any sort of situation from entering a simple dungeon room to traveling through other planes of existence.

The Encounter

Initial Description: GM move. GM gives an initial description of the encounter.

Question: Player move. Players request more details about initial description or information gained from other moves.

Examine: Player move. Characters look for more specific detail about one element of the encounter.

Interact: Player move. Characters manipulate one element of the encounter (including talking to NPCs/monsters).

Search: Player move. Characters attempt to find possible hidden elements of encounter.

Travel: Player move. Characters move from current location to another.

Engage: Player move. Characters initiate some sort of conflict, or react to NPCs/monsters engagement.

Avoid: Player move. Characters refuse to interact with encounter.

Explain: GM move. GM provides more information in reply to player moves above.

Stipulate: GM move. GM explains pertinent rules or obvious consequences of proposed player moves so that players understand the stakes.

Adjudicate: GM move. GM engages in game mechanics (or calls on players to engage in game mechanics) to find the results of a player or NPC/monster move.

Resolve: GM move. GM explains results of moves taken by players and/or NPCs/monsters, or of game mechanics adjudicated.

Updated Description: GM move. GM provides pertinent details of changes to the encounter after relevant moves have been completed.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Chicken Littles

Much angst in the RPG online spaces these days. Much spleen being spilled about the new OGL 1.1 document leaks. Many predictions of the end of all but WotC product for D&D. 

Bullshit. 

While I'm not a lawyer, it has been clearly established that game mechanics cannot be copyrighted. Write your own presentation of a set of rules, and there's not much that a big giant corporation trying to squeeze every penny out of the player base can do. Sure, a few smaller companies and individual people may refrain from publishing for "OneD&D" after the release (assuming the text of the new OGL doesn't change between now and release), but if they really want to get their material out, they can find ways to do it. 

Besides, all these games already exist. They will continue to exist after the OGL 1.1 comes out. Some may become harder to find, but they'll still be out there. And you can still play them.

It may be scarier for small publishers to put out their stuff. And while little guys like me have no chance of battling WotC in court, I can see a class action suit from places like Drivethru and the smaller publishers, plus people like you and me, having a chance to defend the legality of OGL 1.0 and 1.0(a) products in court. If that never happens, or it fails, that will suck for a lot of small publishers. But we can still make our works and put them out for free, or try to make a bit of money under the radar.

Gygax's words from way back in the 70s (at the end of the Greyhawk supplement? I forget where he said it) still ring true. Once the game has been released, YOU do not need a game company. The game company needs you! Why should you let them do any more of your imagining for you?

Saturday, December 31, 2022

End of the Year

So it's New Years Eve. We're watching the annual Japanese NYE performance show Kouhaku on NHK, as we usually do. We had sushi for lunch today with my mother-in-law. Did a bit of shopping (new shirts for me and Flynn, books & stationary for Hanna and Steven). Not a bad way to end the year. 

As for the new year, I will NOT be taking part in the Dungeon23 challenge. Not that I've got anything against it. I've just about completed a 300 encounter area 3 level dungeon for my TS&R Jade game. I have about 20 rooms left to key. I don't need another dungeon of similar size in that campaign. 

I will be striving to finalize the GM advice/running the game book for TS&R in the new year. It's the book I really don't need as a reference when running the game, and it's the closest to a rehash of BX/BECMI, or your favorite retroclone anyway, so it's been a struggle to keep interest in it. Also my waffling between making it a bare bones "here are the procedures for dungeons, wilderness, urban, and dominion adventures" and full on "hey, you're new to running RPGs, so here's how to do it" levels of detail. 

A couple of months back I read through what I'd written as GM advice in both Flying Swordsmen and Chanbara. I think there's some solid advice in there. And it seems like there has been some need for something to explain not just basic procedural play, but a bit of game design philosophy for people either new to RPGs or coming to the OSR after having started with newer editions or other games. So I'd like to write the more detailed, full on book, but that's obviously more of a challenge. 

And who am I? That's a big mental stumbling block for me. 

But when I did a test of a bare bones book, it seemed so incomplete. 

Obviously, it will end up somewhere in the middle. 

I just need more free time. Actually, I have the time. I just need more "spoons" to get this done. Seems like work and family duties sap most of my mental resources these days. Not sure if this is some sort of long covid funk, or just that I'm getting older and under a bit more pressure than before. Anyway, for the handful of people waiting for me to release TS&R, the system is working well in play. I just need to get that GM book together and I'll have a complete game. Well, sort of two, since I've got "Western" and "Eastern" books for player characters and for monsters. The GM book, however I write it, will be usable with both sets of player/monster books.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Motivating the Players

The assumption of traditional D&D play is that the PCs are after treasure. The assumption of more modern D&D is that the PCs are going on a heroic quest. Now, these two objectives can be merged, but it's not easy. The object of a quest can easily be a piece of treasure. Just look at any Indiana Jones movie for an example. The problem is that, if the treasure is the end goal, why collect all this incidental treasure along the way? Why give up searching for the MacGuffin to haul a load of coins back to town? Or if simply making that One Big Score is the goal, why keep adventuring once it's been achieved? 

In my current D&D game, the TS&R Jade campaign, I have a feeling that the players are waiting for me to drop a plot on their heads. That there will be a Big Bad Evil Guy to defeat, or a grand quest for the Great Googly Moogly MacGuffin, or some big Earth-Shattering Apocalypse to thwart. But I've just got a local area with towns, castles, caves, ruins, and factions waiting for them to explore it.

The game has been on hiatus due to various events and the holidays, but when we start it up again in January, I want to make a few small shifts in the game to hopefully bridge this gap. 

1. Give the players the DM map. No, not the dungeon maps and keys, but the overland map that has all the dungeons they could have found if they'd gone out to explore the wilderness. West Marches was all about going out to explore the unknown, and I started this new campaign still in that mindset. But the players aren't in a "go out and see what's over that hill" mindset. So best to pull back the curtain and show them the places near town where they can find adventure and treasure. 

2. Ask the players to provide their motivations. I got this idea from the Bandit's Keep YouTube channel. He suggests, after setting up an adventure, just asking the players directly what their motivations would be to actually engage with this, whether it's a dungeon, an event, a faction, or a quest. Get them involved. So when we start up again, I'm going to ask the players to answer these questions: 

  • Why does your character need to find treasure?
  • What would your character like to find?
  • What would your character like to achieve?
  • What is the party's current goal?

Hopefully, answering these questions will help get the players in the mood to treasure hunt, and also to feel more engaged with the world. When they can't answer a question, that's when I can provide them with some setting information to help them find an answer and get a better sense of the world. Or point them to a location on the map and let them know that they might get their answers there. Also, I can use their answers to tailor some of the locations that I haven't fleshed out yet to their desires.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Serendipitous Afternoon

I had my first free afternoon in quite a while. Classes are finished, grading is finished, papers are at the journals. Plus, this morning, we made food to take to my son's school for "international lunch" (we made Kraft mac-n-cheese, plus homemade taco salad). So I didn't go into the office. 

Instead, I decided to sit down and work on my TS&R Jade campaign notes, fleshing out a few more areas to explore. At the same time, my wife decided to watch a show she'd heard good reviews of on Netflix...and I ended up watching it, too! 

I did get some work done on the campaign. Fleshed out the locations and residents of a yokai village near the home town, complete with a threat that the PCs may choose to deal with if they visit that village. Also rolled up a few more random henchmen to replace the ones slain by the evil Coiled Serpent martial arts acolyte the party faced last session.

But mostly, I was watching the show. The English title is Alchemy of Souls (환혼 in Korean). It's a pure fantasy, set in a fictional kingdom of Daeho (Great Lake), where four families of mages run things, although there is also a king. 

In the prologue, the king is sick, and asks one of the mages if he could transfer his soul to a healthy, younger body. The mage is reluctant, but agrees. Somehow, the king ends up stealing the mage's body, and then when the mage's son is born soon after, puts a spell on him to keep him from using magic, and forbidding anyone to teach his son magic. 

20 years later, the son is grown up and on his 12th magic teacher, but still failing (because they won't actually teach him). At the same time, an assassin is trying to kill the (evil king) mage father. She fails, and escapes, but is wounded. She transfers her soul into a blind girl who is about to be sold to a brothel. The mage gets her body (and sword). 

Although she possessed a blind girl, the assassin can see in the new body. She escapes and runs into the son. Somehow, he helps her escape the brothel, by claiming she's his new servant. They go back to the fortress of the mage, but it is attacked by the people who hired Naksu (the assassin) and they steal her body and sword, which she needs as the blind girl's body (her name is Mu-deok) is too weak to perform magic. 

Anyway, that's a brief synopsis of episode 1. We watched part of the second episode as well. I haven't seen a lot of Korean fantasy works before, so this is pretty fun for me. The show uses CGI for the magical effects. Besides soul swapping, there are magical blasts from swords, ice arrows, swirling wind/water attacks, a summoned dog spirit that can sniff out evil spirits, petrification, and some other cool stuff. 

It's a Korean drama, so of course there's also the soap opera melodrama. The four mage houses each have a young heir, each representing one season. The "spring" heir is female, and formerly engaged to the "winter" heir, the son whose magic ability was blocked. The "summer" heir is the winter heir's best friend and seems like a bit of a goofball. The "fall" heir seems to have had some relationship with the assassin Naksu before she went bad...but since her soul is in a different body, he doesn't recognize her. 

And "winter" wants the assassin to unlock his magical abilities since no one else will. So there's the comedy aspect of her playing as his servant when others are around, but him being her underling when they're in private. Maybe a bit of romance brewing between them, as well. 

I have no idea if it's available on Netflix outside of Korea, but if it is, and you're looking for some Asian fantasy inspiration, I can recommend the first 1.5 episodes at least! Season 1 has 20 episodes, and season 2 is broadcasting now on Korean TV.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Christmas Swag

My younger son, Stevie, got me this set of 30-siders for Christmas. It's funny that it took this long for me to finally get some d30s, especially since the heyday of d30 tables was 10 years ago or so. But anyway, next time I come across a blog post with a neat little d30 table, I'll be able to roll on it with a single die, instead of the d10/d6 combo roll.

Other than the dice, I got a nice bottle of rum from my older son (Bacardi, purchased by my wife on his behalf) and a set of two bottles of tequila (Cuervo). 

I also used my birthday money (and a bit of my own) to order the 2023 Tolkien calendar and the official D&D miniatures sets with the old villains and heroes of the 80s D&D toys (Strongheart, Warduke, Elkhorn, Zarak, Kellek, etc.). They will be arriving in the next week or two. 

My older son told me he wanted to order me an RPG book. He'd found one, but it would have taken too long to get here, so he didn't. When I asked about it, it was Pathfinder. Not sure if it was the original or 2E. I'd have been happy if he'd gotten it for me, but honestly, I probably wouldn't play it. But maybe he'd want to try running a game with it? Might be something to think about for his birthday, coming up in March. 

I hope all my readers had/are having/will have a great holiday season, whatever holidays you celebrate!

Saturday, December 24, 2022

If I were redesigning Star Wars d6

JB's comments in my previous post, discussing differences between WEG's 1st and 2nd editions of d6 Star Wars were part of the impetus of this post, but the core idea is something I'd actually thought of before that and just had been letting tumble around in the old brain for a while. 

My SW game is, as I mentioned, a slight mishmash of the editions. We started out with the fan-edited REUP (Revised, Expanded, & Updated) rules, this massive poorly organized PDF that contains game elements from the original and prequel series movies, plus some stuff from novels or comics, I assume. It doesn't have anything from the sequel trilogy or more recent Disney+ shows, though. 

While it's a great resource if I need stats on a certain alien species or type of vehicle, as I mentioned it's a bit hard to find the rules you need when you need them, even with PDF search functionality. The rules are mashed together with background information, advice for running games, and sample adventures. 

So when I saw that the 1st edition reprints were available, I scooped it up. And found that I like some of the simpler systems in 1E better than 2E. But since we'd already been playing 2E, we have a sort of mash-up game now. At the moment, I'm pretty much only using the space combat system from 1E, and not allowing PCs to improve their ability scores, only their skills. Oh, and I took this house rule from someone running a PbP game: There are no melee parry, brawling parry, etc. skills. Just use melee combat or brawling for those. Oh, one more thing I I changed is that I went through the REUP list of Force Powers (compiled from various supplements) and eliminated some that were clunky, overpowered, weird, or extraneous (two different Force-assisted Astrogation powers? Why?).

If I were to start over, I'd probably hew closer to the 1E rules. Especially the Force rules. 

In 2E, Jedi (and other Force Users) have to select various Force Powers that they've mastered as they improve their Force Skills. In 1E, there are no "Force Powers" but there are examples of doing things that were done in the original trilogy movies to suggest which Force Skill(s) would be needed and provide them with target numbers for difficulty to help the GM adjudicate the Force. If you have skill dice in Sense, Alter or Control, though, you can attempt to do whatever with those skills that makes sense. 

Or in other words, in 1E if you have trained in Sense, you can try to sense someone's presence, heighten your own hearing, discover something hidden, feel how strong someone else is with the Force, etc. No need to learn those as separate "powers." 

So what would I do different if I were redesigning the game? 

I'd make The Force into a seventh Ability that governs the three Force Skills. 

In the movies, there's a lot of talk of Yoda's species, Skywalkers, and Palpatines being innately stronger in the Force than everyone else. I think it would make more sense to emulate this with this change. Characters who are not Force Sensitive would not get this ability. Those with Force Sensitivity would get 1D. Various Force-user templates would get 2D. Especially strong NPCs would get 3 to 4D. Skywalkers get 5D. 

Yeah, that would necessitate reshuffling some dice from other abilities for non-Force users depending on if they're Force Sensitive or not. But that's not so hard.