Saturday, February 4, 2023
Wednesday, February 1, 2023
I've been avoiding blogging the past week or so, because of the OGL whoop-de-doo. I said my peace earlier about it, and didn't really have more to add. And now, I've got my TS&R campaign started up again, and am working on notes for the next Star Wars d6 adventure (nearly done). My older boy and I also, at the invitation of a friend, started playing a campaign dungeon crawler board game called Swords & Sorcery: Ancient Chronicles.
I mentioned this game over on BX Blackrazor's comment section, and it spawned a whole post by JB. I may have some thoughts to add to his post later. For now, though, I want to talk about the game itself.
Like many of these campaign style games, it's fairly rules heavy. The basic mechanics are pretty simple and straightforward. There are red and blue dice (d10s). Red are better offense, blue are better defense. For any task, you roll the number of red and/or blue dice indicated, and try to get the right symbols to come up. When to roll, what to roll for, and how the cards (items, abilities, etc.) interact make it complex.
One really cool thing about the game is the way it runs monsters. After each player takes their turn, they turn over an Encounter card. This card will say to activate certain types of monsters. All monsters are colored by strength tier green - blue - red - purple, and given their primary attack method (Strength, Faith, Magic, Dexterity). The player characters also have these attack methods. So one card might say "Activate all red creatures -or- activate any two creatures." Any red creatures would then take an action, and if there are none, players decide which two creatures in play take actions instead. And each monster has a card with various if/then statements, combined with all their various attacks and defenses. So if a monster activates, we read its card to see which situation applies, and how they act.
For example, the first two dungeons had a lot of giant spiders. The spider cards (didn't get a picture of that, so going from memory here) have actions for the spiders if there is a hero in the same area, 1 or 2 areas away, or farther than that. And within those, there are if/then conditionals. If a character is in the same area, and it is slowed (webbed up), the spider uses a special attack. If not, it bites then moves 1 area away. If a hero is 1-2 areas away, it shoots a web. If no heroes are within 2 spaces, it moves closer.
The interaction between the Encounter cards and the various conditionals on the monster cards make the monster actions unpredictable, and emulate a DM running monsters in D&D fairly well. In fact, the monsters in this game are a lot more challenging and unpredictable than most monsters that I run in D&D... I do sometimes get into the bad habit of having monsters just rely on their main attacks once combat starts, unless I'd specifically prepared some interesting tactics for them beforehand.
Another thing the game does that mimics D&D or other RPGs is that it has a story book. Certain markers get placed on the board, and when characters move onto them, story events happen. It's also a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure style, in that some of the events are different depending on if we're playing the Lawful or Chaotic versions of the heroes (my hero, the Thief or Alchemist, is always Neutral, so can play with either party). Also, some of the events include actual choices like a CYOA book that we can make. It's not quite the same as playing a proper RPG, but I can see why Adam (the host) prefers this sort of game to an RPG.
The premise of the game is that the gods have awakened these five heroes from their immortal slumber to stop an evil threat. Being already dead, death in the game is not the end. You become a ghost, and can rejuvenate at a shrine. The players fail the dungeon if all four are ghosts at the same time. And of course there are soul points that need to be earned during play, which need to be spent to rejuvenate...but they're also needed to level up your character.
It's a bit of a learning curve, but we're getting better at it as we play. In the first session, we only managed to get through the introductory adventure and the first town phase (shopping, info gathering, gambling...we lost most of our cash there). The second dungeon took us two whole sessions (the picture above is where we stopped at the second session, halfway through the dungeon crawl. The third session, we managed to finish that dungeon. Each session has been 4 or 5 hours of play. It's a bit smoother, though, and probably our next session (next Monday) will go a bit faster than that.
After we get through the winter break, we'll only be able to play on weekends, though, so that will probably have some conflicts with my D&D game.
In other news, Pat of the original Busan Board Game group is finally leaving Korea soon. As he prepares to leave, he's getting rid of a lot of stuff. He contacted me the other day and asked if I wanted his RPG books. Of course I said yes. So yesterday, I drove over to his apartment and got them. He had the 2E DMG and Monstrous Compendium (original versions, I only had the black reprint versions until now), a few modules and the Ravenloft Masque of the Red Death box set.
Also, he gave my his 4E books. That collection includes the PHB, PHB2, DMG and MM, plus three modules and some modular dungeon tiles.
I'd mentioned to Adam that he might dig 4E more than other editions of D&D, so the books may end up with him in the end. For now though, I'm wondering if I'd like to give them another try, running the game more like this S&S board game than a proper RPG campaign. I think that's what 4E was really designed to do, after all. But I've also got my TS&R campaign, my Star Wars campaign, and I think I'm about ready to take the plunge with a PbP Gamma World game that I've got set up but haven't recruited players for yet. So probably no time for an experiment with 4E.
Monday, January 9, 2023
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.