Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Back to the Grind, Plus Gamma World and Call of Cthulhu!

I'm in the final week of summer vacation. As a professor, I get a nice long summer vacation, but I'm actually usually busier during the vacation than during the semester. So I'm looking forward to things slowing down a little. Not too much, though. I've got a couple of composition (academic writing) classes this semester, plus a study I'm hoping to finish up by October for fingers crossed publication in December. But despite that, my schedule, and my boys' schedules, will be regular, so gaming should be more or less back on track. 

My TS&R Jade game has been going well. Yesterday, my boys and Denis were the only players, and they followed up on a rumor that took them to a location just beyond their abilities (if other players had been there, it likely would have been fine). But with some good strategy, a bit of luck, and negotiation, they managed to complete their objective (rescuing 3 kidnapped children from monsters) and only lost one henchman in the process. 

I haven't run Star Wars in a while. Steven, my younger son, has been asking when I will. And with the new Ahsoka series on Disney+ now, I'll likely fire up those Star Wars creative neurons and get something worked out soon. I need to get on the players, though. I gave them a bunch of leads after the last session, but the only feedback I've gotten so far was one player saying, "Yeah, any of those look fine." Gonna have to pester them a bit more.

Richard, a friend who played in my West Marches game back when I first started it up (as a 5E game), and who I've played with a bit in some of Dean's games, is starting up a new Call of Cthulhu game. We had a session 0 last Friday, and the first game will be this coming Friday. I rolled up a rum runner with a boat and skill at driving a car, so I'll be the party's wheels. We've also got a prizefighting boxer, an Italian anti-mafia spy, and an investigative radio reporter as our party. Should be fun!

On the play-by-post website I use (RPOL.net), I made a Gamma World game last October, but it's just been sitting there unused. I made a few last minute updates and changes (I'm running 1992 4th edition, but with some house rules and mutations from other editions/games, including some of the house rules I used in GamMarvel World a few years back) and opened it up for players. So far, I've had five players ask to join. Two of them are already rolling up their characters: a mutant webspinner (an insect) and a mutant armadillo. I'm hoping to recruit around 10 or 12 players, since RPOL games have a high attrition rate.

Oh, and my boys are still working on their airplane simulator! They've been working on 3D models this past week. If you want to support their efforts, please check out their GoFundMe page! Thank  you!

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Airplane Simulation!

 This is not a typical post for the blog, and it's not about RPGs, but it is about gaming and building the gamer community. 

Last week, I was away for a few days at an academic conference (my presentation went over time but better than anticipated, with lots of interesting questions from the audience after). While I was in Daejeon, my sons realized that my older boy's computer isn't quite good enough to suit the ambitions he has to create his own free-to-play yet high quality airplane simulator. So, they decided to start a GoFundMe! 

Here's the link. You can listen to Flynn & Steven explaining why they're doing this in their video, and read the description for even more details. 

Why am I posting it here? Well, obviously, I'm hoping some of my readers may be interested in airplane simulators, and/or interested in helping support the next generation of game designers. They've got an ambitious project, but they aren't asking for a crazy amount of money. Their goal is $5000 which they'll use to upgrade Flynn's computer and then spend a bit to pay for some assistance with coding and 3D modeling so they don't have to do it all themselves. 

It's not an RPG, but they are hoping to make an open world style game, where people can role play as pilots of commercial, cargo, private, military, and eventually historical aircraft. And if they manage to pull this off, they've also got ideas for more open world style games, possibly fantasy or sci fi themed, which would probably be of more interest to my blog audience. But I still bet there are plenty of aircraft aficionados reading this.

So, if you've got a few minutes, please click on the link and check out their pitch, and if you feel interested, pitch in a few dollars! Thanks!

Monday, August 7, 2023

Operationalizing Honor

Last week, noisms of Yoon Suin fame wrote a blog post about a "single class paladin campaign" except he's not really talking about a single class paladin game, he's talking about how to operationalize honor for RPGs in a way that will facilitate and motivate a game built around honorable heroes doing honorable things. He admits that various character classes could be used in such a game, as long as the game revolves around matters of honor and correct, heroic behavior, rather than typical D&D "adventuring" or "murder-hoboing" or what have you. Instead of everyone being the Paladin class, they all are behaving by a code of conduct and in service to some greater power.

I was definitely interested in what he had to say, as it's something I've had to deal with with only limited success in Flying Swordsmen and Chanbara. Yes, FSRPG includes notes about the xia code, and what is expected of a wandering martial hero in Chinese stories/movies. But that's it. The XP system is still revolving around defeating enemies (of any type) to gain XP, and doesn't stipulate that the combats need to be won honorably. And granted, there are anti-heroes or those that skirt the line in wuxia fiction, and they don't necessarily need to be penalized. 

I think I got a step closer with Chanbara. I re-conceptualized the carousing rules from Arneson's original campaign. But instead of saying you're spending your hard earned treasure on drunken debauchery and flashy displays of wealth until you're broke and need to go adventure again, it's explained as donating that hard earned treasure to your various lords, patrons, and clan to aid them in their endeavors. That's a step up from "hey, just role play it!" but I admit it still leaves something to be desired. Collecting the treasure is still a necessary step in play. If we're really wanting to make our campaign seem like the legends of King Arthur and Charlemagne, or of honorable samurai loyal to their lords and so on, "getting the treasure" seems out of place.

So, what sorts of rewards could we offer in a game that would encourage players to play Captain America instead of The Punisher? Galahad and Percival instead of Fafhrd and the Mouser? That's not an easy question to answer. 

So what's been done before? Marvel Super Heroes, the old 4 color resolution chart game from TSR, had a huge list of dos-and-don'ts that could earn you Karma points, or take them away. The 1E OA book also had a big long list of "honorable and dishonorable" actions, which earned or reduced honor points. 

I'm not a big fan of this method. For one, it's fiddly and arbitrary. It also requires everyone to be paying attention to a level of detail in the game that can hurt immersion. Finally, it polices play, rather than encourages it. XP for gold and fighting monsters encourages play. It tells players what the goal is, but not how to go about achieving the goal. Lists of "Thou shalt not..." doesn't give you a goal, it just mediates your choices in game. And giving a goal of "be honorable" doesn't spur action the way "get gold" does. 

I don't have a lot of history with the Palladium or White Wolf systems, but from what I remember, Palladium has a lot of strictures for keeping your alignment a la the MSH Karma and OA Honor systems, but I don't remember if that had an effect on XP or not. It's been a while since I've done anything with that system. 

For White Wolf, I haven't played Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, or Changeling. I've played Trinity and Street Fighter. In both of these games, at the end of a session (and the end of an adventure that takes place over multiple sessions), certain criteria are given or questions asked, and determine how much XP each character earns. This, I think, may be a better way to handle XP for the sort of "all paladin" game noisms wants to run. 

For those that don't know, players get 1 xp just for taking part in the session, and then additional points if they can demonstrate that their character learned or matured in some way, a point for good role play, a point for sticking to the character concept well, a point for heroism (at least in Street Fighter, which I have). If I remember, for Trinity there was one criteria for using your powers to aid the mission. 

This seems like the way to go to quantify honorable behavior to me. Make a list of criteria. The Chivalric Code. Bushido. The Way of the Jiang Hu. The Cowboy Code. Klingon Batlh. Probably best to keep it to under six tenets (the Cowboy Code as often shared on the internet these days has lots of pithy sayings that basically boil down to the same few concepts). At the end of a game session, go through each tenet and ask each player how they felt they upheld that tenet. Award chunks of XP for each tenet they upheld. 

Of course, WW games use XP as a spendable currency to develop skills and abilities, rather than a measure of progress in class level, but that can be adjusted. If someone wants to keep the D&D class & level paradigm, either adjust XP values needed to level up down (divide by 100, maybe?) or tie the amount of XP awarded by the criteria to the level of the character.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Summer Camp Board Games

So the summer camps I'm teaching are for elementary students, and I'm teaching a "listening" lesson using board games. The kids need to listen well to the rules so we can play. Parents like the academic facade, students like to play the games! 

I'm using five different games this camp, with a slightly different line-up than I used last summer and winter camps. My games are: Bang!, The Keeyp, Dungeon!, Dominion, and King of Tokyo

Most of these games need to be simplified, because a) I'm teaching them to Korean speaking elementary kids with [mostly] rudimentary English, b) we've got 50 minutes for a class...if we don't get interrupted by snacks or other things, so explaining in 10~15 minutes then playing for 35~40 is ideal, and c) with 8 to 13 kids in a class, I need to have the kids play in teams.

Here are how I'm modifying the rules for each game for the camp. Anyone else wanting to use these games in lessons, or play with really young kids, these may be of interest to you. 

Bang!: First of all, I'm not using the various cowboy/gunslinger characters that give special abilities. Too complicated, and takes too long to explain. Everyone starts with 4 bullets, except the sheriff who starts with 5. I've pared down the deck to cards that can be easily used: bang, miss, beer, Cat Balou, panic, Gatling, Indians, Wells Fargo, stagecoach, Volcanic and Schofield. Everything else just complicates or prolongs the game. 

All the other rules stand. Roles besides Sheriff are secret (it helps that there is a "mafia game" Korean kids love that I can compare this to). Sheriff plays first. Draw two cards on your turn, play all you can/want except only one Bang card (unless you have the Volcanic). Discard if you end the turn with more cards than bullets. 

I give teams stickers when their team is eliminated, and the winning team(s) gets 2 stickers each. Kids love it. With these rule changes, most of the time we are able to finish a game within the class period.

The Keeyp: This game is so simple and easy that I really don't need to modify anything about it. I do keep track of the Keeplings' hit points and special ability use on the white board instead of using the dice for hit points, just so there's one less thing on the desks. Some kids just can't resist playing with everything in front of them, so they'd never keep their hit points straight otherwise! Or remember how many times they've used a special ability. 

We maybe finish the game half the time. The randomness of  when the key and gate get drawn, plus how well the kids figure out combat, seems to vary the time for this game a lot. Again, 2 stickers for winners, 1 sticker to everyone else.

Dungeon!: I made the mistake the first time I played this last week of letting the kids keep their treasure cards on their desks. One kid mangled a card (see above), since I don't have card sleeves small enough for the dungeon cards. Luckily or unluckily, this is the new version of the game I got for my son a few years ago. Luckily that they didn't mangle one of my old cards from the 80s, unlucky that my son will not be happy when he sees that. 

As for rule changes, there are a few. The gold each character needs to win I kept the same last week, but this week I think I'll reduce them by 1/2. Only one team got more than 1/2 their necessary treasure last week. Second, Wizard characters just get 7 spells: 3 fireball, 3 lightning, 1 teleport (I may give them 8, with 2 teleports, this week). I allow teleports from any Chamber to any other Chamber. Chambers only have one monster, but also have a treasure. If players face a monster and fail their roll, they don't roll for the monster, they just move back outside the room and can try again next time (with a random monster). 

Finally, as I said, I'm not letting the kids draw the monster and treasure cards anymore. I draw the monster, show it to them, and let them roll the dice. If they win, I draw the treasure card, show it to them, and add the value on the board. Then the treasure card goes at the bottom of the pile. 

So I played this once with only some of the variations, and twice with, and it went a lot smoother with all the variants, except as mentioned above, no one got close to their score threshold. So I'll try them with the values cut in half on Thursday and see how it goes. 

If we get a winner, it will be 2 stickers to them, 1 to everyone else. Without winners, it's just 1 sticker each as compensation prizes.

Dominion: This is a game I didn't use last summer or winter, so I was curious how it would go. The first time I played it last week, we played it straight, using the 10 action cards suggested by the rules for a "first game." The kids understood the basics of turn taking (action card, buy, clean-up), but they really had trouble with the concepts of cards in their deck, cards in discard, and cards in their hand. They kept mixing them up, shuffling when they shouldn't, etc. Also, 10 action cards (plus victory and treasure cards) to choose from when buying was a lot. And a few of the action cards were difficult to explain, in particular Workshop and Mines, which require players to "trash" (remove from game) a card and replace it with a more valuable card. 

So after the first go through, I cut the action cards in half. Five is much better. I kept Cellar, Village, Woodcutter, Smithy, and Market, plus the 3 treasure and 3 victory cards. 

Because Militia (which 'attacks' other players) and Moat (which protects from 'attacks') were removed, that allowed me to make a variation that helps with the deck/discard pile/hand confusion. The deck is on the desk in front of each group. They don't touch it until I tell them. On their turns, they draw 5 cards and play, then discard all the hand and purchased cards (as normal). They don't immediately draw new cards. They wait until their next turn to do that. This really helps avoid the confusion. 

We haven't had a game yet where a supply (pile of cards that can be bought) has been exhausted, but we play until just before the end of class, then I have the teams sort out victory cards and add up their points to see who wins. It works pretty well that way. 

Stickers as above.

King of Tokyo: I realized early on that the monster standees were going to need monitoring, as well as the dials on the monster boards. Even knowing this, last summer one of the standees got damaged, so I show it off at the beginning of my instruction to warn the kids not to do the same. That's worked so far. 

The big variant that I use with these students is to not use the cards. They are random, many are complex, and they slow things down. Instead of buying cards, I let teams buy Stars or Hearts with their energy cubes. Last summer, I had the price set at 5, but soon dropped it to 4. I'm considering dropping it to 3 next time. Using energy is the only way to gain Hearts while In Tokyo. 

Other than that, die rolling (roll and keep, up to 3 rolls per turn) is the same. Combat is the same. Healing is the same. Earning Stars is the same. 

I actually like playing the game this way. The cards are fun, but the simple beat-em-up nature of playing without them has its charms. 

Most of the time, we finish the game, with one team reaching 20 Stars before time is up. If we don't, at the end of class the winner is simply the team that earned the most Stars. One sticker for every kid, two stickers for the winners as usual. 


The kids seem to have the most fun with Bang!, and it's probably the game I get asked to play again the most. King of Tokyo is a hit, as well. Gotta love kaiju battles! The kids have had fun with the other games, too, but Bang! and KoT are the favorites.