Monday, December 29, 2014
On with the review!
The World of D&D Gaming!
Catchy title for the section, isn't it? What do we have here? Basically Mentzer marketing just about everything from TSR related to D&D, but be careful not to get the more complex and detailed AD&D stuff for this original D&D game...except for the miniatures and official D&D paints!
Yes folks, you heard it here. TSR had their own official paints for painting their own official miniatures for the official original D&D game. No wonder my generation and later gamers are often stuck on the idea of "official" products handed down from the almighty game company! "Why should we do any more of your imagining for you?" became "The other game systems do not use the same characters and monsters."
Alright, it's not all negative. The first section provides some useful information to new players on how to find groups to play with. Of course, there's the mandatory plug for the RPGA. But there's also advice to ask around at school, the local library, or the local hobby shop.
Also, the next section talks about the Expert, Companion and Master sets. Boy, did that get my imagination pumping for the stuff contained in these sets! It's been 30 years (and I should have done a "30 years of gaming" post on my birthday two and a half weeks ago...maybe I'll get around to it tomorrow) but I can still remember how the game opened my mind to the possibilities, and the hints of things to come made me hungry for more.
In addition to the sets, the modules for the various sets and AD&D are explained in brief. We also get sections explaining about other (official!) play aids such as character sheets, more dice, the above mentioned miniatures and paints, and of course the big-boy-pants AD&D game, which this is NOT.
Of these other things, I really wanted miniatures. I sometimes got TSR's "Mail Order Hobby Shop" catalog, and loved looking at the pictures and reading the descriptions of the figures, making wish lists of which ones might be good for my characters. It wasn't until I was in Japan in the early 2000's, with 3E fresh and new, that I finally started my minis collection.
From Alignment to Turn (undead), we get two full columns of basic game terminology explained. There are exactly 50 headwords in the glossary, and cover game mechanics and concepts. While none of the definitions appear especially noteworthy on their own, I may keep this section in mind in the future when debating minutia with others. There are some simple breakdowns of some game concepts that get over-analyzed (like alignment: The behavior of monsters and characters).
The final page of the book is a full-page ad for the B series modules B1 through B5 plus M1 (solo adventure), Geomorphs, Character sheets, and the Monster and Treasure Assortment. The page gives some brief descriptions of the modules. B1 and B2 are just marketed as helpful for beginning DMs, while the other modules give a taste of the adventure contained within. I find the latter to be better marketing, personally.
On the inside back cover, there are more ads for TSR stuff:
That sheet is responsible for one of the biggest mistakes we made as novice players. Because the "to hit" numbers are printed on the page, even after we got the Expert set, we still continued to use those numbers to hit opponents. Of course, it was only fair that we also used those numbers for monsters. This made our Fighters, Clerics and Demi-Humans quite durable as most had plate and shield. But even our Thieves were fairly sturdy in combat due to leather and Dex bonus. We had plenty of PCs die in those games, but many many more surely would have if we'd used the attack matrices properly.
And there it is, folks. The end of Part One of this series, on the Mentzer edited Red Box Basic Set's Players' Manual, cover to cover.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Monday, December 22, 2014
Now, I enjoyed the first two installments while watching them, but on reflection found them tedious, drawn out, and full of sound and fury signifying nothing for a large part of them. But then it's Peter Jackson's (and Weta Workshop's) vision of New Zealand-turned-Middle Earth, which is worth sitting through just for the amazing cinematography, IMO. Anyway, I wasn't exactly anticipating the final chapter, but I knew I couldn't miss it either. I'm that sort of completionist nerd.
And before we get to the interview proper, as always the title of the blog brings people wondering about swear (curse) words in films any time I do a review. Here it is: Dain, Lord of the Iron Hills (Billy Connoly) has a few mild swears. My son's favorite swear being "bastard," when Dain uttered it, he turns to me and laughs, "Did he just say 'bastard'? Ahahaha!" That's it. And if you know Billy Connoly, you'll know that's pretty mild for him.
Now, what did I think of The Hobbit Pt. 3? Well, as usual it was visually stunning in some parts, but the vast majority of the film happens on Erebor (The Lonely Mountain) which to be honest, looks really cool from far away but isn't that interesting up close.
The story was more focused (mostly the eponymous battle, plus a short bit where the White Council confronts the Necromancer at Dol Guldur which was surprisingly brief considering the bloat in the first two films). But that doens't mean it was necessarily better. For some reason, the movie felt a bit underwhelming. Where the first two were going out of their way to diverge from the book to "pump up the action" this one felt subdued in a sense. There's some over-the-top action in it, but it wasn't quite as heart-stopping as some of the action scenes in the first two installments.
Maybe I need to sleep on it a bit more to pin it down (thanks to the baby, I didnt' get much sleep last night). Something seemed off about the movie, though. It still had the PJ touches you'd expect (crazy decapitations - watch for Thranduil on his elk for a good example; modern cliches being mouthed by Middle Earth residents: "think of the children!" in this case; gratuitous fights with a video game feel to them).
Anyway, it was thankfully only a bit over two hours long, rather than three. And it was Middle Earth on film. If you enjoyed the other Hobbit movies, don't let this disuade you. It's alright. It just lacks the emotional oomph that The Return of the King had. It's a weak climax to an overdone film series, but it's not completely terrible, either. If you're on the fence about seeing it, though, I'd say you may want to wait for a cheaper option than a full ticket price.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
I've been working bit by bit on my Mutant Future house rules for char-gen in GamMarvel World. At first, for mutant plants and animals I figured I'd use what's in GW4. But I had second thoughts.
GW4 has about fifty animal types which can be used as is or as models for other types. Well, the ability score cap is lower in MF (a good thing IMO) so I adjusted all the scores. I was already not so fond of the fact that there are so many feline types in perticular on that list. So I started making up a more general one.
My new list has forty or so animal types, mostly pretty broad, with some sample specific species. So instead of having fox and wolf separate, there's one entry for Canine.
I still need to add specific animal abilities (senses, movement, etc). When I do that, some types will get a choice of special. So if you choose Snake, you might choose a poison bite or constriction attack. If you choose Marsupial you get a pouch, and can choose from jumping, climbing or prehensile tail (kangaroo, koala, possum). Something like that.
It may be more work than strictly necessary, but it is helping me consider just exactly what it means to be a mutant animal in the post-apoc future of the Marvel Universe. Some may be uplifted animals (Rocket Raccoon types) while others may have originally been descended from humans with animal-like mutations (The Beast, Wolvesbane, Squirrel Girl, etc.).
Mutant plants will be closer to the GW4 rules. "I am Groot!"
Monday, December 8, 2014
Usually, I'm sort of easy-going when it comes to players rolling their ability scores. I let them make PCs at home, so they essentially get unlimited mulligans when rolling stats. What the DM doesn't know won't hurt him, right?
But in this new campaign, I'm thinking of taking a hard line. Why? Well, because I actually want to give players a choice of how they roll their stats, and need to be able to enforce it. I'm going to give my players a choice of rolling 3d6 six times and arranging to taste, or rolling 4d6-L (or with slight differences depending on character type) but in order down the line. This choice becomes meaningless if they just ignore the first set rolled and do it again, or roll both methods and take the better set.
Anyway, I'm thinking of possibly going so far as to suggest they tell me what PC type they want to play and which method of rolling they prefer and rolling the numbers myself.
Will the players revolt against this power trip of mine? Possibly. And I'll be the big softy I am and let them do it how they want in the end, because playing it their way is better than not playing at all. Besides, who cares if you've got an 18 Strength when you're facing off against a cyborg tyrannosaurus?
Monday, December 1, 2014
30 YEARS after the fall of Palpatine and supposedly the Empire at the end of "Jedi." Why do they still have to be using clones of Jango Fett fifty years or so later?
If you've got problems with a black stormtrooper (to misquote Jeff Foxworthy), you may be a racist.
If somehow you've actually got quibbles about the actor's performance in the five to ten seconds we see him, rather than the color of his skin, then maybe you're not a racist. You may want to withhold judgment until you see more of his acting, though.
On the other hand, the soccer ball droid looks ridiculous. Feel free to bash on that.
Anyway, Jeremy's pitched this idea a few times in the past, so I know he's got this idea fairly well developed (or at least he appears to). I played Uwynn Glynddwr, a Psychic (sort of a Cleric with combination MU and Cleric spells), while Dean played Friar Little Sparrow (a Specialist, sort of LotFP style, devoted to scholarship, music and herbalism) and Justin played Storm (also a Specialist, devoted to scouting and ranged combat).
We are agents working for Jarl Knute in a post-apocalyptic fantasy realm where the various islands have been separated by a sea that is now part Astral, and haunted by weird psychic threats and mutation-inducing agents. We piloted a bathysphere to an allied island that we'd lost contact with, and commenced an investigation/salvage operation. [Hey, they may be allied, but if they've been wiped out, Jarl Knute could use whatever's left over!]
The beginning of the session involved me making a lot of piloting rolls of which the purpose/consequences were murky [constructive criticism to Jeremy, as I'm pretty sure you'll read this: too many rolls. Encounter/mishap rolls may be best done behind the screen rather than forcing them on the players. I didn't feel "empowered" by all that rolling, nor did I get a sense that the outcomes of my roll had much to do with my character's ability to pilot the craft].
OK, complaint finished. When we reached the island, things went more smoothly. The place was deserted, and plants were dead and brittle to the touch. A purplish tint colored everything in the place. Not a purplish light, everything's color had shifted towards purple. And there were moving objects watching us from the orchards that surrounded the 'castle.'
The castle itself was a reclaimed apartment complex, and the Jarl of this place had a penthouse suite as his throne room. We had to penetrate the orchard, make our way into the complex by defeating a raised drawbridge/moat. Luckily, Dean's character, the Friar Little Sparrow, had an artifact digging hand that gave him burrowing speed. He used it to dig our way past the barely seen entities in the orchard. Then, either Justin or Dean (Justin I think) had the idea that I could try to reverse my Hold Portal spell to open the drawbridge (yes, on the fly conversion of a L1 spell to a related L2 spell). Jeremy had me roll an Int check, which I passed, and the drawbridge came down.
Now, Justin was worried that we'd be trapped inside. I was worried that the things outside would try to come in. So our next order of business was to deal with the drawbridge. Justin wanted to jam the works so no one could close it behind us. I suggested we raise it to about a 20 degree angle first, then jam it. That would give us about a 30' drop, roughly 5' away from the normal far end of the drawbridge when we wanted to leave. Enough to keep baddies out, but allow us to climb down easily enough.
Getting there was the tough part. There were two towers flanking the drawbridge (apartment towers, not medieval style castle towers, remember). As we went up the first, the way was blocked by a large fleshy thing. It turned out to be some sort of six-limbed mutant bear, which was too tough for us to fight. After engaging it and getting sorta beat up, we retreated and tried the other tower. In the second, we ran into a mutant wolf thing (beat it), and some undead children (the things that had been lurking in the orchard). Luckily, my starting "artifact" was a mace with advantage vs. undead. Little Sparrow and Uwynn both took a fair amount of damage, but we managed to defeat them. Also, I forgot that the wolf thing had some sort of funky biomechanical bracelet, which Uwynn took and is hoping will give him an corrosive breath attack like the wolf mutant had.
We were pretty beat up, and hadn't fond the drawbridge mechanism, but needed to rest. We found an apartment inhabited by an old withered woman, a survivor, and after Justin managed to successfully negotiate with her, we were able to use her apartment to rest and recouperate.
It was a fun session, and Jeremy definitely has a gift for creating interesting weird-punk settings. I'm looking forward to playing more of this, and hopefully getting my GamMarvel World game going soon as well.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
First off, it's been 2 1/2 years since I released Flying Swordsmen RPG. Thanks to everyone who's downloaded it, checked it out, and offered comments or criticism. I've gotten more positive than negative feedback on it, which is nice, but I've appreciated the people who've taken the time to point out flaws and weaknesses, or even simply didn't find it to their liking.
Huge thanks also go to those who helped me putting the game together: Daxiong Guo, who generously granted permission to use the awesome cover art. Lee Barber who took time to arrange the layout on the cover AND create the character sheet, gratis. Matt Stater and David Brawley who took time to help me edit the manuscript. Dylan Hartwell who did the sample character portraits, again for free. And lots of readers, and members of the Dragonsfoot community, who offered suggestions and ideas all through the creation process. Thank you all!
Next, I'm thankful that I've found a fun RPG community (semi-)locally. We haven't been playing much lately, but I'm hoping to turn that around soon, since my final grad school semester is almost over. From the original Board Game Group to the current Saturday Night G+ crowd, I've had some great gaming over the 6+ years I've lived in Busan.
Finally, thanks to all of you reading and responding to things I write here on the blog. The comments, and even the anonymous G+ "+1s" aren't the reason I do this, but it does give me a boost to see that other people enjoy my writing or find it useful. Especially thanks to those, like Alexis, who I tend to disagree with. If no one's challenging my ideas, I'll never be able to improve them.
Friday, November 21, 2014
Some blogs I read* have been debating the merits of the point crawl, where instead of a hex map to laboriously trudge across, there are flowcharts superimposed on a map (not necessarily to scale) between points of interest.
Now, I already made a map for my GamMarvel World game (one of the first things I did), and I used a hex overlay filter on it (but still have the hexless version as well), so if I need some carefully measured overland travel, I've got it available.
But I'm thinking of doing a new map on my drawing pad, and using it as a point crawl. While I want exploration to be important in my game, skipping over the boring parts might not be a bad idea, either.
My recent Isle of Dread session spent a bit too much time counting hexes moved per day. When I was a kid, we had all afternoon (or sometimes all night) to play, so it was never a problem. Now, though, with limited time to game, I'm thinking a Point Crawl would be better. Skip all the walking to Mordor and all that. Plus, it's more like comics, which focus on action more than logistics.
Then again, part of me thinks logistics are an important part of play in a post-apoc game, where supplies are limited.
Well, we'll see.
I've made some notes on four Wizards for the game. Keep in mind that the idea of the Wizards comes from the old Thundarr the Barbarian cartoon, in which they were keepers of both super-science and sorcery. I've got more notes than what I'm sharing here, but here's a taste of what players might have heard about this fearsome foursome (not to imply that they work together, they're all staunch rivals, of course!)
Dr. Wyrd, Sorcerer Supreme (alternately, Dr. Dwimmerlaik, Sorcerer Supreme)
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
I took the long bus that loops around the upper Haeundae area after work this evening on my way to a private lesson. While on the bus, I took notes for seven different factions for my GamMarvel World game in planning.
One thing I really enjoyed about Justin's Vaults of Ur was encountering different groups and trying to befriend, oppose or outwit them to our own ends. So I figure I'll do the same in this sandbox setting. I didn't want to just use the Cryptic Alliances from the book though. I've used them before, and they build conflict into the setting.
The problem for me is that I want this game to start a bit less understood than previous GW games I've run. So I won't be posting the factions here. There may be some rumors of them given to the players when I start the game, but discovering them will be part of the exploration process.
Only two are based on stuff from comics. The rest are my mental babies.
The next step will probably be figuring out details of two or three Wizards. I may need to watch a bit of Thundarr and Masters of the Universe for inspiration.
Monday, November 17, 2014
Again, thinking about 5E spell casters.
Classes exist in the game to allow players to do different things. In OD&D, Fighters fight. MUs use magic. Clerics do a little of both. Yet even here, MU spells and Cleric spells are not the same. Cleric spells help us. MU spells hurt them. OK both have utility spells and some of the other's main type. But to break it down simply, the analogy works.
In 5E we get Bards, Clerics and Druids whose spells on the whole "help us" and Sorcerers, Warlocks and Wizards whose spells mostly "hurt them."
Do we really need this? Would 2 caster classes be enough?
Friday, November 14, 2014
I've gotten involved in a PbP 5E Arena game on RPOL.net. So far, we've gone through a short series of combat encounters as Level 1 characters, and now we're jumping to level 3, which is when every class now has a special subclass path available (a few classes get them earlier). I played a Halfling Barbarian, but now I'm thinking of switching to a Magic-User class (Wizard, Sorcerer, or Warlock).
There's not really a whole big difference between the three classes, since they all are focused spellcasters, and they have very similar spell lists. Mainly the differences are in the fluff associated with the classes, and the mechanics they use to gain/prepare/cast spells.
Wizards prepare spells from books, classic Vancian magic. They specialize into schools of magic, gaining greater proficiency when casting one school's spells, and some related abilities.
Following 3E, Sorcerers have innate magical ability. They only know a handful of spells, but can use a special reserve of magic points to cast more spells, or modify their spells with metamagic effects (greater effect, greater range, silent/still spells, quick spells, etc.). They can either gain some "draconic" heritage traits, or be "wild mages" (yeah, old school style random effects going off!).
I'm planning to rebuild the character as a Half-Elf Wizard, and I think even with the less than optimal racial ability score adjustments, he'll be more powerful (and for an Arena game, there's no reason not to Min-Max).
When 3E came out, I immediately liked the concept of the Sorcerer. They had the same spells as the Wizard, but could cast MORE spells per day, although they had a more limited repertoire to draw from. The weakness of the class design was that they were otherwise identical to the Wizard, so suffered from poor skills (Wizards got 2 from the class itself, but since Int was their primary ability, they were guaranteed to have plenty, whereas Sorcerers use Cha to cast, so Int was a dump stat and they only got the 2 from class, for example), poor hit points, poor armor class, etc.
Wizards got versatility from being able to fill up spellbooks with as many spells as they could buy, beg, borrow or steal. Their limits came from having to select their spells in advance to fill their more limited spell slots. They also got bonus feats for metamagic or item creation feats.
Now, in 5E, it's sort of been switched around. Sorcerers get easy access to metamagic, and still cast at will, but instead of having higher numbers of spells per day, they have the same number as the Wizard. And the Wizard actually comes out ahead, because they have an ability that lets them get a few spells back with every short rest! Also, they can prepare a fairly good number of spells, and cast them as needed with their spell slots, giving them greater versatility.
So the Wizard now has more spells per day and greater flexibility with casting. The Sorcerer gets metamagic. That's it, really. I think the Sorcerer either needs the same "regain some spell slots on a short rest" ability as the Wizard, or else needs more of their special sorcery points to make them more viable.
Still not sure about the Warlock (or the Bard, which is also now a 9-levels worth of spells arcane caster class). Maybe I'll analyze those two a bit more later.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Why not use the old TSR Marvel RPG (or the 4C clone of it) for the game?
I've played the Marvel RPG a bit. You remember it, right? The FASERIP system with the color-coded resolution chart? Yep, that one. I've played as a player in it a few times, but not extensively. And I've never run the game before. So I'd have some learning curve issues. Maybe not extensive, but in order to run with that system, I'd at least need to read all the rules and get a better feel for them than what I have now.
In answer to Jeremy, I also said that I think that the game wouldn't be the best fit for what I want the game to do. What do I want the game to do? I want the game to be about neo-primitive tribesmen venturing out into the scary, dangerous, irradiated (and worse!) ruined world in search of the fabled ancient technology of the Ones Before, and running into mutated creatures and robots and such, and a lot of the robots and leftover tech would resonate with comic book readers. Not everything in the world would be "Marvel" stuff, but there would be Sentinels and Doom Bots, you might find a wrist-mounted device that shoots webbing, or find a damnation van with a red octo-skull emblem on it, or a red and gold metal glove that shoots blasts of force, along with all the badders and orlen and spider-goats of normal Gamma World/Mutant Future play.
Marvel RPG is suited for a heroic action game, where villains are up to no good and you the heroes need to stop them. And the Karma system (both XP and hero points, not to be confused with Ron Edwards's "karma" resolution mechanic, see below) as written enforces a Comics Code Authority style of play in order to advance and improve characters. Now that could be modified, but then we fall into the trap that Ron Edwards discussed in his (in)famous article, "System Does Matter."
How much work will it be fore me to adapt FASERIP to what I want to run? What benefit is there to using a super hero RPG to run a semi-supers game in a post-apocalypse version of a super hero universe?
Would it be easier for me to use Mutant Future, which I know well enough by proxy (Labyrinth Lord/Classic D&D are no sweat to run, and I'm plenty familiar with Gamma World)? Definitely. Would Mutant Future give me the style of game I want to run? Definitely. Would there be some work for me to adapt the game to have more "Marvel Comics" stuff in it? A little, but it would be less than trying to learn and adapt a less well-known game system.
I agree with Edwards's article to a point. I think he started off from a mistaken ontological stance regarding RPGs. The three themes he outlines are there, but there's a lot more crossover in actual gaming and in actual gaming styles than he conceived of 10 years ago. I'm not sure how strongly he believes in that now, so I won't put words in his mouth, but I think he was off-base a decade ago. Also, he seems to believe that the system should do all of the heavy lifting for the GM and players. This may be nice, but it ignores one thing -- all those anecdotal accounts of good GMs who can make any type of game work with their system of choice. It assumes a priori that the work load of the GMs to make their game of choice "work" must be burdensome, and that they'd have more time to make the game awesome if they had a system in which the heavy lifting had been done.
But then look at my situation right now. Look at the d20 boom of 15 years ago. Look at the OSR, coming out with untold variations of D&D in all sorts of niches over the past five years. Is D&D the best framework to run a space opera game, or a steampunk mystery game, or a post-apocalyptic survival game, or a cowboy gunslinger game, or a wandering hero wuxia game? No. There are other games that are tailor made to those genres, and I'm sure many of them do the tropes and settings well.
But D&D, and its variations, have a big leg up on any of those systems. Familiarity. Most gamers, although not all, began with D&D in one form or another, or have at least experienced it if it wan't their first game. It's comfortable. It's flexible. It's well-known. And it can easily be shifted without much effort to a gamist (3E), narrativist (2E) or simulationist (1E) stance while retaining a core of familiar rules and mechanics.
I'd argue that someone who had played and run lots of FASERIP games could easily use it to run this idea of mine, and make it work beautifully. Not me, however.
System design matters, but it isn't the only factor in the "good gaming" equation. How familiar everyone, especially the GM, is with the rules counts just as much, or maybe more.
Saturday, November 8, 2014
Now, if the players know that this is the future of Marvel Earth, here are a few of the things I think I'll need to do to pull off a game like this:
- No traces of anything "Marvel" in the post-apoc society where the PCs start, with the possible exception of religious figures or tales of legendary heroes of old
- Ruins, on the other hand, will typically have a theme based on some organization or power-center in the comics. So S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarriers half buried in the silt of the river delta, Friends of Humanity fallout shelters, Oscorp research and development centers overrun with badders and obs, etc.
- I'll use artifacts from the book, re-skinned to match stuff in the comics when possible, and make up other stuff from the comics. I'm not sure if I'll definitely figure out just what the "apocalypse" was, but it will probably be post "Marvel 2099" so there would be other high tech stuff than whatever Dr. Doom, Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Hydra, etc. had developed, and more common as well.
- Magic exists. Does this mean I'll bolt on Labyrinth Lord classes to the PCs? Probably not, but the Thundarr-esque "Wizards" and "Sorcerers" won't all just be relying on recovered tech and Clarke's Law. There will be spells and magic items.
I may make an exception to the "no combat XP" rule if the players get involved with the machinations of the Wizards, and decide to take one (or all) down.
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
First of all, considering the audience (likely to be primarily experienced RPG gamers), I think the introduction will have even LESS "what is an RPG?/How do you play?" stuff than Flying Swordsmen did, and I cut a lot of that out of FS. Instead, I'm probably going to go straight to the heart of the style of game and the goals of play (as I see it).
The goals (what the game is about in Story RPG terms) is two-fold. First of all, the game lets you emulate Medieval Japanese hero tropes battling against traditional creatures from Japanese folklore (and/or Medieval Japanese villains). That's the surface level game. Secondly, the game is about exploring social bonds, duty, responsibility, and reciprocity. This is the deeper game.
Chanbara can be played at a "beer and pretzels" surface level, and hopefully will be fun. "I'm Hattori Hanzo, you're Abe-no-Seimei, together we fight Orochi."** Killing monsters and taking their stuff, D&D in funny hats, katana and sorcery pulp action, call it what you will.
But with the Allegiance system, every character will have a family bond, a patron or lord, and possibly another group or professional organization (trade guild, religious affiliation, etc.). This replaces alignment in the game, and is heavily influenced by the Allegiance system in d20 Modern, but not identical. Characters will earn XP for defeating monsters and overcoming challenges. They can also earn XP for treasure acquired IF they donate it to one of their lieges***. And this is where the deeper game can come into play.
Each family/organization/master will have different goals and desires, threats they must overcome, etc. They can easily provide adventure hooks to players. Also, when players donate treasure to them, they can advance their goals, and there should be rewards in it for the characters. However, it's hard to serve two masters. Donate all of your wealth to your daimyo, and the head of your family clan may turn against you. The master of your shinobi clan's goals may contradict those of the trade guild you also serve. This is built in conflict, and that's a good thing! Not only does it give the GM and player something to use to spur adventures, it is something players can negotiate with the GM to make the game more fun.
Players that wish to explore the deeper game will hopefully get an experience closer to a lot of the fiction I'm drawing on as inspiration. Players will go on adventures (sometimes of their own choosing, sometimes at the behest of a patron/liege. When they're successful, they then have to make choices about which patrons/lieges to support, if any! After all, in order to build up their own social/political power, they'd want to keep as much treasure for themselves as possible. Duty, responsibility, loyalty, honor -- some of the main tropes of Japanese fiction right there, folks.
Or at least that's the goal. We'll see if I can pull it off.
*I kid. The Ph.D course has been great, actually. I've learned a lot and actually enjoy learning more about teaching English to non-native speakers. Even if I never get a position as a professor, it's been worthwhile.
**Hattori Hanzo - famous ninja (historical)/Abe-no-Seimei - famous onmyoji (historical)/Orochi - 8-headed serpent (mythical)
***Thinking of changing the name to Patron as it's an easier term to use, but that's not an exact fit.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
Jeremy sent me a few links to potential products I might want to use when running a Gamma World game, and suggested I try Swords & Wizardry with a .pdf of random mutation tables. And really, I didn't even consider it enough to look at the .pdf (which may be cool, if it has mutations beyond the GW/MF lists) because of how saving throws are handled in S&W.
I really don't like the single save. If you're going to have saving throws, IMO (and JB gives some good reasons why you might want to ditch them -- link to final post in series, with internal links to all the posts), I feel having different saves versus different types of situations is preferable.
As I mentioned in this post which inspired JB's series, saves can be evocative and help focus players' imaginations on what's going on in the shared fiction of the game. The categories are random and not necessarily well thought out. They may not even make sense.
|This is a Save vs. Wands. There is a different Save vs. Spells. That does not make sense.|
S&W loses me because while I suppose you can say "Save vs. death ray" while playing, there's no need (unless one class has a bonus against death rays, but I don't remember seeing that). You can just say, "Make a saving throw."
WotC's versions of the game also lose me with saves because (as I mentioned in the post linked above from last month) they focus on the PC and how you resist whatever effect it is, rather than on the effect. I know a lot of gamers like that, and maybe it's because I'm not so egotistical, but I don't need the focus to be on me when I'm hit by a special attack. That makes it a not-so-special attack if it's all about me, right?
Old school D&D sets the target number by my class/level, so I'm still in the equation although the focus is on the source of the attack, but newer D&D versions reverse that. The special attack's source sets the target number (and can then be forgotten unless you fail the save), and then the focus is on me and how quick/tough/resilient I am as the dice are rolled. This is not necessarily terrible, but the math screws it up.
|3E/5E D&D isn't so bad, when the saves aren't screwing it up.|
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the old school five saves with arbitrary categories are the only way to do it, or that I'll only play a game with those types of saves. But if I have a choice (say, between the Labyrinth Lord-based Mutant Future and Swords & Wizardry with mutations bolted on), I'll choose the variety of save types. Because they may not make sense, they may be arbitrary, but they add flavor (and the math works).
Saturday, October 25, 2014
But since GW4 has a nice long list of animal types, and a short but adequate list of plant types already sorted out for this GM, I'll continue to use those. [If and when I ever run this game, that is...]
One thing I especially like about the animal types is that for physical stats, instead of rolling 3d6 (or 4d6-L), they have a base number for Strength, Dexterity and Constitution, and roll 2d4 to add to that roll. This way, a mutant gorilla, for instance, is likely to have above average strength.
More so than the ability scores, though, is the fact that certain abilities possessed by the actual animals are listed out as bonus mutations.
Also, the list covers 45 animal types or so, which provide plenty of guidance if someone wants to play Perry the Platypus or a chinchilla or something not on the list.
There is an urge to simplify the animal types a bit. The list presented has too many great cats, for example. Mutant tigers, lions, cheetahs and cougars may not all need separate stat types. But since the work's already been done, I don't mind sticking with it.
One last thing I may keep is that Pure Strain Humans get to roll 4d6-L for all their abilities, with Int, Con and Cha each getting a +3 bonus. Mutated humans and plants roll straight 3d6 for each. Mutated animals roll 2d4+set bonus for physical abilities, and straight 3d6 for mental abilities.
So, to sum up, I'll likely go with GW 4th for determining character type and ability score, but straight up Mutant Future for everything else.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Instead of working on ideas for a Castlevania themed Retro Phaze game (something I do plan to do eventually), between researching a paper I'm thinking about that Gamma World game I posted about last time.
I finished up a map this morning using GIMP, but I won't post it here yet. Too many of my potential players read the blog and I want the map to be a mystery. When I get a players' map done, I'll post that.
I'm also thinking about the sorts of dangers and opponents that players may face. Of course, GW (and Mutant Future, which I will probably use actually) have plenty of mutant beasts and robots to throw at players. And it's not too hard to reskin D&D or other games' creatures for the setting. Game stats are easy. I'm thinking about flavor.
In Light on Quest's Mountain, one of the encounters you can have is with a gardening robot. The unspoken assumption is that if there had been a mutant plant character in the party, the robot would have tried to prune, weed or transplant the mutant against its will. But the protagonist is a Pure Strain Human, and his companions are a lizard mutant and monkey mutant. Anyway, I like the idea of robots that may help the party, except for that one guy over there...
And so, in this game, there will be
Once I decided on this, though, I got to thinking. Was the cataclysm the Days of Future Past timeline events? Or the Age of Apocalypse? Do I want to set a Gamma World/Mutant Future game in the far dystopian future of the Marvel Universe? It would sort of explain where all these beneficial mutations PCs tend to have come from.
And that power armor the PSH characters are after?
So, I don't know if my game will be in the Marvel Universe's future, but I may take some inspiration for "artifacts" from them.
Monday, October 20, 2014
However, after meeting with my adviser today, I had some time to kill and started jotting down some notes for a Gamma World campaign.
My first introduction to GW was through the Endless Quest book Light on Quest's Mountain. I was aware of Mad Max and some other post-apoc stuff, but Thundarr the Barbarian was the show that really made me want to run a game. When I picked up the '91 Fourth Edition of GW, I was sort of surprised that the assumed culture of the PCs was a Renaissance tech level in those rules. Of course, flintlock and matchlock weapons are fun, as are random mutations, so I just went with it. But the semi-Stone Age village in Light on Quest's Mountain, and the "barbarian" aspects of Thundarr have always left me wanting something a bit more savage from Gamma World.
Anyway, the setting notes I jotted down would be more LoQM/Thundarr. It would be a sandbox game. The map would draw inspiration from LoQM. There would be a variety of terrain types, with some "clean", some "dirty", and some "wastelands." The starting village would be in the center, in a "dirty" area to encourage adventure. Sprinkled around the wilderness would be other settlements, ruins, and strongholds of Sorcerers (a la Thundarr). In a way, it sounds like bog standard D&D sandbox, just with mutants and leftover tech instead of magic items. Well, so be it.
|I may have to use some of these ideas, too...|
If I ever get to run this, I'll work in lots of rumors. Some of the ruins will be known (as will some lairs of creatures or robots), some will be rumored. Others will be unknown at first, but clues to their existence will be scattered around the lands. Or if the PCs just manage to wander in the right direction, they may find them by chance.
I'm enamored of the idea of the PCs starting out at a semi-Stone Age tech level and working their way up to the high tech stuff while their home base is still neolithic.
Maybe in a year or two, after the dissertation...
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Monday, October 13, 2014
Chanbara is coming along more smoothly, although more slowly thanks to all of my grad school work. In fact, I should be writing up a reflection to a chapter in one of the books right now, but I'm blogging instead.
For one thing, I'm much more familiar with Japanese jidai-geki (period piece) and chanbara (samurai/ninja action) film/TV. A decade in Japan can do that. The tropes come to me much more easily than wuxia. Don't get me wrong, I've watched plenty of Chinese fantasy action movies and read some of the books. I know it well. I just know samurai/ninja stuff better.
The other thing is that Chanbara is really lending itself to more D&D style play. It won't play exactly like D&D, but since the conceit is "fighting monsters to take their stuff and give it to your lord" it plays similarly to standard D&D. Without the treasure hunting element, Flying Swordsmen has the potential to bog down unless the players are active in seeking their own adventure, or the DM has a good system of hooks/events/complications to use to draw the players in.
A couple of weeks ago or so, I read some good things from the dreaded two-some of RPG Pundit and Zak S. (yeah, the "5E consultants from Hell," cue ominous music!) via G+. Pundit pulled a quote from one of Zak's art history posts that really resonated with me. Something along the lines of "don't let your inexperience with a genre hinder you, just take what elements of it you enjoy and rock them hard." [Sorry, I find G+ too ephemeral to track town the actual quote from Pundit. Zak's post is here.] Zak was discussing art. Pundit was discussing his RPG, Arrows of Indra.
That's one of the things that inspired me to write my last post. Flying Swordsmen has enough in it for someone like me to take it, identify the things about wuxia that I think are cool, and play the hell out of them.
Today, Dariel at Hari Ragat posted something relevant. So did Bedrock Games about their upcoming wuxia game, Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate.
I used to worry about the people who don't like OA/Al Qadim/whatever non-Middle-Earth/Hyboria/Westeros mashup because they think it's "D&D in Funny Hats." As a player or DM, I wanted to get more into the setting/characters/tropes that make these settings distinct. Then I got over it.
But as a game designer, I was still worrying about that. I wanted FS to be more than that. I still want Chanbara to be more than that. And Dariel's post is spot on about that. Use what works in the D&D system, if that's what you're basing your game on, but find some mechanics that will reinforce the setting tropes. I think I fell short in Flying Swordsmen on that account, but I've got it covered in Chanbara.
But like Pundit said and Bedrock Games also, so what if Flying Swordsmen is really just D&D in Funny Hats? No, it's not the best system for emulating the personal drama that is key to wuxia. But it gets the surface details right, IMO, and with the right group of players and right GM they can run it with all the character drama necessary for a satisfying wuxia campaign. It's not baked into the rules, but in a way that can be a good thing. People who don't know the genre except in a more surface manner can find things they like in it, and use them in their own way.
I thought this was going to be a short post. Getting rather long, wouldn't you say? So I'll just wrap things up.
There are no RPG police. There are no genre police. Yes, I hope that eventually I'll get around to revising Flying Swordsmen, and add a few genre specific mechanics to better emulate wuxia fiction. But until then, I do have to say I'm happy with how it came out, warts and all.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
But did you play it? Probably not.
Did you make a Flying Swordsmen PC and run it through a FLAILSNAILS game? Never heard of anyone doing that, and I was pretty much too busy with grad school stuff and our local games to do it myself (although I wanted to).
Did you at least throw one or two of the monsters into your megadungeon just to mess with the expectations of your players who are jaded from years and years of the same old Monster Manual listings (which they know by heart because hey, they're often DMs too)? Why the hell not?
Anyway, the point of this post isn't me trying to guilt trip you into trying to actually play my game. There are lots of pdfs of games and supplements and adventures that I've downloaded, maybe looked at and thought it was neat, and there it sits on my hard drive collecting virtual dust. It's actually sort of the opposite.
I've tried to run it several times, and while in theory it should be a lot of fun, something about the game just doesn't work the way it's intended.
Flying Swordsmen is about emulating all of the awesome wire work/CGI stunts you see in Hong Kong martial arts fantasy action movies. Dancing over the helmets of a troop of warriors. Fighting across a crowded inn while balancing a tray of dim sum on your head. Standing on a swaying bamboo branch and fencing with a master who outclasses you.
But what happened when I ran the game? "I roll to hit." [clatter clatter] "I roll for damage." [clatter clattter].
The problem wasn't that the system didn't support the desired actions. Flying Swordsmen, and Dragon Fist before it, both do. The problem is that neither game rewards such play.
If a player is fighting a villain, they can make a risk-reward analysis each round of combat. Should they attempt something flashy just because it's cool? Or should they just make an attack to whittle down the villain's hit points? In my experience running the game, they choose the latter. And why not? The only thing going for the first one reward-wise is bragging rights.
Sunday, October 5, 2014
First is something I picked up on in the Basic Rules .pdf (or maybe it was in the final playtest stuff even), and just read again in the PHB yesterday. In the section describing spell levels, we get this fluffy text:
Every spell has a level from 0 to 9. A spell’s level is aEmphasis added.
general indicator of how powerful it is, with the lowly
(but still impressive) magic missile at 1st level and
the incredible time stop at 9th. Cantrips—simple but
powerful spells that characters can cast almost by rote—
are level 0. The higher a spell’s level, the higher level a
spellcaster must be to use that spell.
(from Basic Rules pdf page 78, but it's the same in the PHB)
Looks like someone has a bit of a problem deciding how to describe spells to new players. Us old hands know what levels of spells are all about, so this is for the new player. What does this tell us? A 1st level spell is both lowly and impressive? Oxymoron alert. And 0 level cantrips are simple and powerful. While linguistically inoffensive unlike the magic missile description, I'm not sure if I like the idea of cantrips being powerful.
Anyway, whoever wrote that passage must have been thinking something along the lines of: "I need to describe how higher level spells have greater effect than low level ones, but we can't let players of spellcasters feel like they're weak and ineffective at low levels. It might hurt their feelings."
Another annoyance is how it describes movement as if it's some accounting procedure (or maybe that Common Core Math I keep hearing about?).
Every foot of movement in difficult terrain costs 1Is it so hard to say that movement through difficult terrain is at half speed? I just said it. See, that was easy. There are a few other lingering "tactical board game" phrases like that in the rules that sort of bug me, especially since this edition is making a determined effort to show that "theater of the mind" play is appropriate and encouraged.
extra foot. This rule is true even if multiple things in
a space count as difficult terrain.
(from Basic Rules pdf page 70)
At least it does lead to some interesting effects, like a double penalty reducing speed by 2/3 rather than 3/4.
So, nothing wrong with the rules per se, more the presentation that I don't like.
Saturday, September 27, 2014
My son and I just finished up putting the first coat of paint on his Predator costume. We'll touch up some areas and do some detail work later.
Probably none of the kindergarten kids will have a clue what he's supposed to be. But he's so excited about it!
Thursday, September 25, 2014
When I get back to a point in my life where I can DM full time again, I'll still likely run Classic D&D/Labyrinth Lord, but I'd be really happy playing in someone else's game of 5E.
Some random observations of things I appreciate, in no particular order:
- The Paladin's "detect evil" ability has been changed to only allow them to detect the presence of certain monster types (celestials, infernals, undead), plus hallowed or unhallowed grounds and holy/unholy magic items. I mentioned this one in my G+ feed a couple of days ago. No more worrying about the Pally trying to determine every NPC's alignment and smacking them down simply because they're evil.
- I'd actually consider playing an Abjuration specialist Wizard for the first time ever!* While I still haven't tackled the 90 or so pages of spells, the special abilities that Wizards get for specializing all seem interesting.
- Creation of additional or specialized subraces looks quite easy to do. Ditto for Backgrounds.
- I could see allowing certain class specialization paths to be used by different classes. They might not fit exactly, but why not let a Barbarian or Ranger take the Eldritch Knight specialization, or allow a Sorcerer to have a pact with Cthulhu instead of draconic heritage?
- The art of the edition pleases me more than the video game/anime inspired Dungeonpunk look of 3E/Pathfinder. And diverse. The art actually looks (despite the insistence of the troglodyte comment in the link there) like it comes from a fully fleshed out, consistent world rather than a Star Wars single-ecology planet. Except for that Halfling with the bobble-head and bound feet. God, that's a terrible picture.
- The actual rules needed to play/run the game only take up about 30 pages or so of the rulebook. Most of the book is options for character creation.
- The list of "monster" stats in the back aren't really intended for use as a stop-gap until the MM's released, they are the stats players might need for animal companions/wild shape/familiar/animate dead. Useful to have them here instead of having to look through the monster book for them.
- Every PC is assumed to be competent. They got the Skill system right, I think. Everyone can try any of the skills simply by rolling an ability check. Proficiency grants a set bonus to the roll depending on level, but no one is excluded from trying to climb the wall or disarm the trap or decipher the runes or look for the clues to who murdered the bishop on the landing.
- Continuing with the Skill system, careful (or careless) play trumps the die roll. If the description of what you're doing would lead to "success" there's no need to roll. Conversely, if you don't describe what you're doing properly (reference to the Perception skill for searching), it doesn't matter if you roll a natural 20, you aren't finding the loose brick in the fireplace if you say you're examining the ceiling.
- There is a focus on doing stuff besides simply fighting monsters (although that's still a big part of the game).
*In the past, I've played two Enchanters, a Conjurer, a Transmuter and an Illusionist as specialist mages, but never in my life considered specializing in Abjuration. Until now.