Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Chess Anxiety and RP Themes


Edie Cossaboom (not their real name) is a friend of mine, and posted this on FB today. It resonates with something I've been considering about RPGs for a while now, especially those of the more narrative bent. But trying to put into words twice now and being unsatisfied with how I'm explaining my thoughts, I think it might be better if I just post this here and let the reader interpret it as they like.

Monday, June 17, 2024

Cathartic Play in Action: The Despair System

Yesterday, I was introduced to Shane, a game designer living nearby, who is working on a narrative (Forge style) role playing game that he calls The Despair System. As you would guess from the name, it's about putting your characters through Hell to see how long they can hold out against creeping doom and hopelessness. 

I don't want to give away too much about the system, as he's still play testing, and things are subject to change due to our feedback. But I do want to talk a bit about the experience. 

I addition to Shane and myself, Dustie and Scott who I have played with extensively online over the past few years, and Keith, who I met for the first time, were the other players. I only met Dustie face to face for the first time at Richard's last Call of Cthulhu game, and this was the first time for me to meet Scott face to face. It was still comfortable for me, since I have played with these two quite a bit, and Shane and Keith were both friendly and easy to get along with. 

For the game itself, it started off by making characters and getting some rules explained as we did that. One interesting bit is that Shane had told us to bring pens, not pencils. In this game, once something goes on your sheet, it might get crossed out, but it never changes. Things get added through play. 

The system is setting neutral, and I mentioned in my previous post that Shane had us vote on what sort of setting we wanted, and it was Vikings. We'd had time to consider what sort of character we wanted to play. I think I had given it the shallowest thought. Or maybe Scott. Dustie and Keith had much more detail in mind when we came to the character creation portion. 

My pre-planning, knowing only that it was "Vikings making one of the earliest voyages West" was that my character, Wehostan the Wanderer, had been to Gardariki (Russia) before with his uncles, and that his father was an iron miner (brothers, too) and didn't want his son heading out on expeditions, but mining was the last place Wehostan wanted to be. 

Shane gave us character sheets with six lines, each with a d6 die face, arranged from high to low, and told us the six attributes he was using for this game. The attributes might be different for other genres. In a previous play test with Scott, they had done a Wild West themed game, and the attributes were not the same. So you can customize it to fit the theme, genre, and mood. Players can arrange their six attributes as they like, putting one next to each die face. Each had a bonus of +2 (the six, four and two faces), +1 (the five and three faces), or 0 (the 1 face).

After that, each character got to select a pair of traits, one positive and one negative. My positive was Wanderlust, and my negative was Superstitious. These were each connected to one of the attributes, and if a roll on that attribute would be affected by it, it resulted in getting to reroll a die of your choice if positive, and the highest die if negative. 

The mechanics were a bit convoluted for this sort of story game. Not that any particular mechanic was difficult, but there are a lot of different types of checks (all checks are rolled with 4d6, and those +1 or +2 bonuses can be used to modify one single die that was rolled). The "game" part of this is basically bargaining your creeping Despair, which is signified by filling in pips on the die faces and the bonuses for attributes. The Referee is working to put the characters into situations where they are challenged, and have the potential to earn Despair points. The more Despair you earn, the easier it is to gain more Despair, so the game is basically build around the idea of the death spiral. Even if you succeed on a check, you might still earn points of Despair while doing so. There are a few ways to mitigate how much despair you earn, but no way to remove Despair once it's on your sheet. If a die face has all pips colored in (and the one face starts filled in), then any result of that number gives you a point of Despair. If you fail a roll, the difference in your highest number rolled and the target number is the amount of Despair you gain (in addition to any from "dead" dice). So the more Despair, the more dice will give you Despair.

The specific mechanics aren't so important to my analysis right now, though. What I found was that while the game itself is leveraging the various mechanics of your roll (or bargain to avoid a roll), the creeping death spiral of Despair is actually more effective than my recent experiences of Call of Cthulhu. Don't get me wrong, I'm having fun in our CoC game. And maybe Richard has been going easy on us. But we haven't had that much Sanity loss, and I don't think we've suffered a character death at all so far. The Despair System is designed to force Despair points on you, so that you can't escape falling victim to it if you play long enough. 

Narrative games like this aren't really my style of game, but as a one-off (or maybe two, Shane asked if we'd be interested in giving it another try), it was kind of fun. Because he was play testing, Shane skipped us through a lot of things. He would put us into certain situations, and not give us full freedom, but he did say that in a regular game there would be more player input and choice in the story, and more back and forth role play time. 

While it was a little off-putting at first to have him just dictating scenes and then making us roll (or test our abilities in other ways), after a few scenes I got used to it, and it actually made more sense. He needed us to test the mechanics, but also, the whole point of the game is to experience mounting despair in your character, as things that were easy to do at the beginning of the session get progressively harder and harder to accomplish, or at least harder to accomplish without adding more Despair points. We only made it half-way through the story line Shane had prepared, and none of us topped out our Despair, but I was pretty far gone, having lost the two, three, and four die faces, having taken on a second negative trait, and having crossed out two of my abilities (crossed out abilities could still have checks made, but at a penalty of removing the highest value die rolled on that check). Wehostan was not in good shape. 

It was an unusual experience, and I'd like to try this game again in a non-playtest mode before I make any final judgments on it, but it seems to me like Shane has put a lot of thought into how to make this game so that it provides the experience he would like for it to. Some more traditional, old school, or new school players may be put off by the game, but if you go into it knowing what it is, it can be a fun experience. And it was definitely more coherent in form and function than some other story games I've played in the past.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Escapist Play vs Cathartic Play in RPGs

On Sunday, I've been invited to take part in a play test session for a local guy (I've never met him before) who is working on his own game. Of course I said yes. 

He sent us a message a week or so ago with a few options for a setting for the play test. 

  • American Western
  • Late Middle Ages
  • Modern Day
  • Warhammer 40k
  • Near-Future Sci-fi
  • Viking Age

Viking Age ended up the winner, which is good. It was my #1 choice out of those (WH40K being bottom of the barrel for me).

I don't know much about the system yet (I was told "Bring 4d6 and a pen, not a pencil"), but from a few clues, and from a message he sent yesterday with some of his expectations for the game (not just vikings, but 8th Century horror set in Northern Europe at the dawn of the Viking Age), it was pretty obvious to me that he's working on a Forge style Story Game, rather than an old school or new school style Adventure Game. 

I'm not the biggest fan of the story games side of the hobby. I haven't had the best experience with them, because I find that either the mechanics support a GAME, in which case it takes a lot of force to make the right sort of story emerge, or else the mechanics support a STORY, in which case there's not really a lot of relevant game play to keep things interesting. 

I'll post my thoughts on the session, his game system, and everything next week, of course. For now, though, preparing for this game has got me thinking about that dichotomy. 

JB at BX Blackrazor has started calling his games Fantasy Adventure Games (FAGs... yeah, he knows) rather than RPGs. I think he may be on to something. Whether it's OD&D, Gamma World, 5E D&D, Traveller, any of the myriad of Palladium system games, various licensed property games like any edition of a Star Wars RPG, they all have one thing in common. They're primarily escapist. 

You get to create a character and go on adventures. Maybe you become a great hero or villain, maybe you get slain by a kobold or shot by the first stormtrooper to cross your path. It's exciting, it's fun, it's a way to get away from all the stress of your daily life. 

It's like going to see the latest MCU movie in the theater. A fun afternoon. Or it's supposed to be, anyway.

Sometimes, that silly popcorn movie of a game impacts you deeply in some way. And when it does, it makes us love the game all the more. But we're not expecting the game to change us in a deep way every session. It's part of the game, actually. Whether the session will be exciting or boring, pedestrian or deeply moving...that's all up to chance. It's unexpected. 

Story Games in the mold of The Forge, however, are typically designed to emulate fiction. They want that Three Act, or Five Act, structure that movies have. They also tend to try and explore some theme, linked to emotion and trying to get into the head of someone going through some shit. In that sense, they are a lot closer to the origins of Role Play as a psychotherapy. You're there to explore emotional impacts, traumas, and hard moral decisions in the game. And if the game is well designed, you'll also create an interesting narrative out of the experience. 

It's like going to see an art film at a film festival. It's cathartic. Or is supposed to be, anyway. 

Sometimes, though, that deeply moving, lovingly crafted art film is just a boring dud. You come away from it feeling like you just wasted a few hours of your life, because you couldn't connect to the characters, and the story was purposefully vague or anti-climactic to make some sort of statement. Maybe you kind of get what they were going for, but you still didn't really enjoy the experience. 

And I think for me, one of the reasons this always seems to happen to me when I play more narrative-focused Forge style games, is that I know how the sausage is made. I've studied creative writing and screenwriting. I've been a DM for 4 decades now. I've got insider knowledge on both ends. 

Being able to see how the game mechanics are supposed to craft a five act structure, or manipulate you into feeling just this sort of way about the events in the game...well, I see through it. 

It turns what should be an entertaining, if challenging, art film experience (or literary novel read, take your pick) and turns it into one of those poorly made films where you see every "twist" coming a mile away. Or at least it seems like that for me. 

Still, I'm looking forward to seeing what this guy has done. I may not be the target audience for his game, but that may make me more valuable to him as a play tester. And maybe, fingers crossed, this will change my experience of story games. I'll let y'all know soon.

Saturday, June 8, 2024

The Planes, Boss, The Planes!

I've got the draft of the TS&R Game Master Guidebook edited and formatted. I've sent a segment to a friend who's never run a game to review. If he says the initial advice on how to run a game is good and easy to understand, I'll release the book. If he says it's confusing, I'll spend a bit more time revising. 

Today, I'd like to share an excerpt here. I've taken a different approach to the Outer Planes than Gygax. No Great Wheel in my games. My conception is a lot closer to Mentzer's in the Masters and Immortals sets, which is probably no surprise, but unlike Frank, I really don't care how many square miles or how many planets are in an Outer Plane. I'm not trying to quantify things for Immortals level play. Outer Planes in my conception have always been a mix of mythological afterlife realms and dreamscapes. The ones I've listed here are primarily from myths and legends, a few from more recent fictional works, and a few just from my own imagination. Of course, even the ones from myths and legends have my own takes on what those places might be like. 

Example Outer Planes

The following are examples drawn from myths, fiction, and the author’s imagination. These are not fully fleshed out ideas, merely springboards for each GM to get started creating their own Outer Planes.

Avalon: This plane appears to be a mist-shrouded island, or island chain, with plentiful apple trees. It may be a small plane, or one that is recursive; explorers are not yet sure. Time flows 100 times more slowly on Avalon than on the Prime. It is ruled over by a trio of Enchantress Powers, and they seek to gather great heroes from the Prime, and send them back later when they are needed to deal with a great threat.

Battle World: This plane consists of a single planet in a vast empty void. The planet is made up of a patchwork of bits and pieces from various Prime and Alternate Prime worlds. It is a place of constant battle, with creatures from the various worlds that make up the Battle World, and planar creatures from all over the multiverse constantly engaged in conflict. It is ruled over by a distant and mysterious Power known only as One Beyond All Others. Legends claim that if one faction ever gains complete victory, the faction’s leader will be able to overthrow One Beyond All Others.

Dawn Lands: This plane consists of a variety of planets, each mirroring a prehistoric era. Some planets may contain an anachronistic mix of prehistoric eras. Pre-Cambrian sea creatures, dinosaurs, and Pleistocene beasts roam the various worlds, along with neanderthals and other primitive humanoids. A pantheon of Powers called the Lords of Time rule.

Divine Path: The Divine Path consists of three interconnected planes. Each is an afterlife realm, where spirits of the dead gather, and planar beings serve the Powers of each plane. From the Astral, travelers must first enter Inferno, then travel through Purgatorio, before begin allowed access to Paradiso, if worthy.

Inferno: This lower plane is a huge subterranean cavern of eight concentric rings descending to the central circle. On each circle, the souls of those who failed to live up to their religious obligations are punished by devils. It is ruled over by the Chaotic Power Luferno, who is frozen in the bottom circle.

Purgatorio: This gray and dismal plane is a series of seven mountains, each taller than the last. On each mountain, souls of those who were indifferent to their religious duties toil and struggle to purify themselves, lorded over by yugoloths. The plane is ruled by the Neutral Power Beatria, who washes away memories of the souls after their penance is served.

Paradiso: This bright, cloud-skirted mountain rises high to a glowing sun-like light at its peak, and is divided into seven levels. On each level, angels tend to the souls of those who performed religious duties faithfully. The upper plane is ruled by the Lawful Power Trinity, who resides atop the mountain.

Dragon Mountain: In the midst of a vast, endless sea, a great mountain rises up so high, it can be seen from anywhere within the sea. In fact, boats that turn toward the mountain always find it within a day’s sail, no matter how many days they have sailed away from it. The mountain consists of a variety of biomes, each corresponding to those preferred by various dragons. Gold and bronze dragons live along the coast, blue and brass in the dry plains that slope up from the coast, green and black in the forests and swamps on the far side of the arid slopes, copper and silver on the lower slopes, and white and red on the highest peaks. The planar dragons are the Powers, with Tiamat (Chromatic) and Bahamut (Platinum) ruling over the mountain, while Demodragon rules over caves deep within the great mountain.

Halls of the Ancestors: This is the afterlife realm of a shamanistic religion. It appears as a land of wild forests and hills, rocky coasts and narrow seas. The world contains scattered settlements of primitive design, populated by the spirits of deceased ancestors living in harmony with various celestial animals and spirit creatures. Around one in one hundred settlements contains a pyramid, temple complex, or great feast hall made of stone. The Neutral Power that rules the plane is the Great Spirit, a being that is an amalgam of ancestral spirits from long ago. Each spirit residing on the plane hopes to one day join with the Great Spirit.

Heavenly Palace of the Jade Emperor: Numerous rounded mountain peaks arise from a sea of cloud on this upper plane, which may stretch on to infinity. Those that fall into the cloud ocean may end up in a lower plane. The highest, “central” peak contains the Palace, where the Power August Jade Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi rules over the workings of the universe. A host of celestials, immortals, and powerful spirits serve as the emperor’s bureaucrats and army. Each lesser peak hosts a bureau or division of the Celestial Bureaucracy, overseeing some facet of nature or civilization on the Prime. Messenger spirits constantly flit form peak to peak on cloud chariots. This Lawful plane is highly organized, and efficiency is prized.

Land of Milk and Honey: Within a landscape of arid hills and plains, a large, lush, fertile valley containing a huge lake sits surrounded by rugged cliffs. Natural springs, both hot and cold, feed the lake. The water is always pure and sweet, and each dawn bread appears on the ground and can be collected by the residents. The trees and plants are always bearing ripe fruit, and the bees that flit constantly here and there never sting. This ideal land of plenty is ruled over by a Lawful Power residing in a nearby volcano named Iam. Iam does not allow any spells that cause damage to function on the plane, and all weapons brought to the plane are transformed into innocuous tools or other items until they are taken away from the plane. Time does not pass on this plane in comparison to the Prime or other planes, no matter how long one stays.

Lands of Nowhere and All: This Chaotic plane is constantly in flux, and no two regions are the same. In fact, no region stays the same for very long. Some mortals on the Prime believe that this plane is just a dream, as the sensation of impermanence on the plane mirrors that of many dreams. The Power that rules this plane is often called Dream Master, but the real name and real form of the Power is a mystery. Demons and other lower planar creatures abound on this plane, but there are other creatures, even some upper planar ones, to be found amid the eternal flux.

Mt. Sumeru: This great world-mountain is made up of ninety-nine levels, rising to an upper planar paradise of oneness with the multiverse known as Nirvana. It is unknown whether Nirvana is sentient or not, but it seems to be the Power of the level, or else the hidden Power resides as part of Nirvana. Each level is populated by an assortment of angels, devas, immortals, and sacred spirits. The levels all have various characteristics that are intended to reward the just, but also to prepare souls for reincarnation and rebirth. It is a fantastic land, gaining in oddness and beauty as one ascends the levels of the mountain.

Naraka: Known as the Ten-Thousand Hells, this lower planar region is a place of torment and suffering, but one that is designed to purify souls of the deceased so that they may be reincarnated and live again. Whether or not there are actually 10,000 levels to this plane is left to each GM, but it is vast, with each level devoted to a different type of punishment for different types of sins or crimes. Souls of different races have their own levels of punishment within Naraka. Each level has its own Power, with each known as a Yama (Hell King).

Olympia: Three outer plane levels form an afterlife realm ruled by a pantheon of Powers called the Olympians. Their palace sits atop the great mountain Olympos, on a continent of cloud above the levels.

Elysium: Residing “above” the other levels, this idyllic grassland is the Lawful realm where great heroes’ spirits reside after their death. While none of the natives of Elysium are hostile, creatures from the other realms appear from time to time, and the hero spirits dust off their arms and face them, or allow visiting mortals to take care of the deeds so they may rest.

Oceanus: Residing “between” the other levels, this vast ocean is a Chaotic realm of deep seas and small islands. Most of the plane’s residents are found beneath the surface, in great palaces and cities. Monsters abound on this level, both beneath the waves and on the islands.

Hades: Residing “below” the other levels, this great cavernous realm is a Neutral realm of the dead. Those who were wicked in life are punished with poetic justice, while those who simply lived their lives exist as shades with only faint memories of their former lives. The realm is a vast storehouse of treasure, but monsters and lower planar creatures abound.

Pits of Tartarus: The cosmic prison, a truly bottomless pit where overthrown Powers are chained and bound, or forced into eternal slumber, is a colossal tunnel digging deep down a twisting path into jagged rock faces. Ledges and caves dot the walls of the endless drop. This dark lower plane is ruled by the Lawful Power Cronus, who manipulates time itself to keep other Powers incarcerated in the Pits. Because of Cronus’ temporal powers, visitors may find time passing extremely slowly or quickly compared to time on the Prime. This makes visits to Tartarus risky affairs.

Realm of the Thirteenth Night: This lower plane is an endless void of howling winds and dark storm clouds pierced with pinkish-purple lightning. There is no ground, and those without flying or levitation ability will be tossed about at random by the winds. Winged demons, shadow creatures, and other horrors stalk this vast plane, which is ruled over by a Chaotic Power known as The Witch of Storms.

Sheol: This afterlife lower plane is the location where all souls without another place to go end up after death. It is a dark and hopeless domain, and nothing can break the constant silence. While most souls that end up in Sheol are simply bound here for eternity, the Neutral Power Tan-Golath who rules the plane will punish those that were particularly evil or who try to escape by throwing them into the Lake of Fire.

The Bottomless Dungeon: This entire plane is a seemingly endless dungeon. Some sections are worked dungeon, others seem to be natural caverns, but there is no exit and no bottom. Within the dungeon are settlements and shops, lairs and tombs, and everything else one might expect from the ultimate mega-dungeon. There are creatures, traps, oddities, and of course treasures strewn throughout the depths, but often no rhyme or reason for the contents of this bizarre plane. A Neutral Power known only as the Master rules over the expansive dungeon universe. GMs wanting to use this plane should develop many random tables to fill sections of the plane as it is explored. Standard dungeon stocking takes too long.

The Cosmic Ocean: This plane is a hollow sphere consisting of an ocean surrounding a crystal that glows like the sun for 12 hours then like the moon for 12 hours each day. The plane is 10,000 miles in diameter, with gravity pushing outward from the central crystal. Weather varies from region to region, with “sunny” weather in one area and raging typhoons in another. The ocean surface has many small islands, floating raft towns, and the like, as well as many vessels of all ages and descriptions sailing it. The undersea realm is also active, with multiple nations of mermen, sahuagin, and other undersea beings. Creatures from the Prime oceans as well as the Plane of Water and upper planar creatures of aquatic type can be encountered on this plane. The Chaotic Power Nautolus rules this maritime upper plane, and Nautolus can be vengeful if angered or not given due respect from residents and visitors.

The Cyclopean Forests: Everything native to this endless primeval forest plane is scaled twelve times larger than on the Prime, so visitors to the plane act as if under the effects of a potion of diminution. This also includes astral projections that visit the plane. The GM should populate the plane with gargantuan versions of normal creatures, but with normal numbers appearing for the creature type. A trio of Powers rule this land: Arda, Lawful ruler of the land, Urda, Chaotic ruler of the waters, and Erda, Neutral ruler of the skies.

The Grey Wastes: This Chaotic lower plane is a dull, sterile, dusty wasteland, where only sparse, wilted plants and twisted dead trees occasionally dot the landscape. Jagged slivers of rock protrude from the broken ground, and dust constantly blows through the gray skies. Demons and devils of all sorts may be found here, ruled over by the Power Agransh the Witch-Queen, a powerful demon lord.

Tir-na-nOg: The Land of Youth is an upper plane paradise, a land of eternal youth, vigor, and plenty. It is a land of low, rolling hills, vast forests, and flowery meadows ruled over by a pantheon of Powers known as the Tuatha De Danann. The number three is sacred in this plane, and things often appear in trios. Visits to this plane invariably last three hours, three days, three years, or three centuries, although time here is not connected to time on the Prime. Travelers here may face many adventures. While this is an upper plane, it is one where many monsters may roam. Druidic magic works normally on this plane, but clerical magic may not function or may misfire when spells are cast.

This plane may be divided into levels if the GM likes, but the borders are hazy and it is easy to slip from one to another. Some of the regions that may be considered levels include Tir fo Thuinn (the Land Under the Wave), the Island of Lir, Mag Mel (the Plains of Delight), and Idathach (the Place of Colors). Each region or level will have its own alignment, but Tir-na-nOg overall has a Neutral, bordering on Chaotic, alignment. The magical horses of Manannan Mac Lir allow mortals to cross physically into this plane.

Yggdrasil: The cosmic World Tree of Yggdrasil is a set of ten interconnected outer planes. The cosmic tree itself forms the initial level of the planar group, with other planes accessed from its roots, trunk, or branches. The Norns, three sisters of fate, are the Powers of Yggdrasil. The Tree is the home of many monsters and several unique creatures, and residents of the other levels traverse it often.

The roots of Yggdrasil connect to:

Niflheim: The cold, misty abode of the Power Hel. This is the land of the dead who die from disease or old age, and Hel’s fortress is said to hold vast treasures. Demonic giants called thurs and goblinoids are common in this realm.

Svartalfheim: This is the cosmic underground realm of dwarves and goblins, ruled over by the Power Ivaldi. It is also known as Nidavellir. The residents of the plane are famous as craftsmen of magic items, but fierce dragons also inhabit the realm.

Ginnungagap: A great void, a plane of dark nothingness from which magic springs. The Power that rules over this realm is unknown.

The middle branches of Yggdrasil connect to:

Jotunheim: The cold, mountainous plane of frost giants, ruled over by the Power Mimir, a secretive being of vast knowledge.

Midgard: A realm similar to the Prime in appearance, with many fjord-carved islands, dark forest, and rugged mountains. It is ruled over by the Powers Jord (goddess of the land), Sol (goddess of the sun), and Mani (god of the moon).

Muspelheim: A fiery realm of fire giants and red dragons, ruled over by the Power Surt. This is the home of many monsters and giants who want to conquer and destroy the other realms of Yggdrasil.

The upper branches of Yggdrasil connect to:

Asgard: A realm of gold and beauty, ruled over by a pantheon of Powers known as the Aesir. This realm includes the Hall of Valhalla, where those slain in battle await the final conflict with the giants of Muspelheim and Jotunheim, and the monsters of Niflheim.

Ljosalfheim: The cosmic forested realm of the elves is ruled over by the Powers Erlking and Erlqueen. The elves of this realm are magical craftsmen, and rivals to the dwarves of Svartalfheim.

Vanaheim: A land of wild, untamed nature, ruled over by the pantheon of Powers known as the Vanir. This lush land appears as an idealized counterpart to the Prime, and many wild creatures live there.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

My Star Wars d6

The longer I play my side campaign of WEG d6 Star Wars, the more I tinker with the rules. It's a pretty flexible system, after all. Recently, I've been codifying my rules changes for the benefit of my players, especially since there are a few new people in the group. 

When I started the game, I had only the fan-edited Revised, Updated, and Expanded rules document. I've mentioned before what a beast of a PDF this thing is. It's not the most intuitively edited document, but it does cover a lot of material that was never officially in WEG products, which is handy. I've been supplementing that with material from Wookieepedia and sites like, and reading what other referees have done with the game. The Star Wars EU Timeline has a treasure trove of WEG sourcebooks, adventures, and whatnot as well.

One of the changes I made early on was to eliminate the "parry" skills and just use the attack skill for both action and reaction. So you only need Melee Combat skill, not Melee Combat and Melee Parry. Not many players were putting dice into Melee or Brawling anyway, so it hasn't been a balance problem. 

I haven't outlawed specializing, but I haven't promoted those rules, either. If a player read about it, and wanted to do that, I'd allow it, but it's a bit easier to just have them put full dice in a general skill. 

That said, the recommended starting 7 skill dice is too paltry. I've doubled it to 14 for starting characters, but still with the limit of no more than 2 dice per skill. And 10 CP on character creation, not 5. No need to be so stingy. My players spend them on rolls all the time!

Since I got the 30th Anniversary reprint of the original rules, I've adopted some of those systems over the ones in the REUP/2nd edition. 

For one, I use abstract ranges (short, medium, long) for starship combat, rather than tracking individual speeds and distances. Much easier. We haven't had a ton of starship combat in my game over the years. It's primarily been planet-side adventure. 

Another thing I've only recently introduced is the 1st edition method of using the Force. Instead of making Jedi characters slowly gain skill dice and slowly add to their power list like selecting feats in 3E D&D, I have a general list of Force power difficulties, and if they try something unusual with the Force, I'll improvise. Right now, there is only one Force-user in the group, my son Steven's PC. And he rarely uses his Force powers, as he's more interested in buying gadgets and droids to help him out (and previous players with Jedi/Force Users drew the attention of Sith Inquisitors...). 

Finally, I've decided that Abilities can't be improved. The rules in 2nd Edition for that are kinda wonky, and are the sort of thing that might lead to player dissatisfaction. I know I wouldn't be happy if I gave up skill improvements or spending CP for a better chance to succeed on rolls to save up for an Ability improvement, then because of poor rolls I waste half of the points I saved and don't get the improvement, I'd be upset. Anyway, it's easier to just keep abilities where they are on the template, and have players improve individual skills. 

I've made some handy reference sheets for my players, and put them in our group Discord server. These are all updated with my most recent additions and changes. 

d6 Basic Rules This covers basic actions and resolution mechanics.

Force Skills Simplified This gives players guidance on how to Use the Force.

Starship Combat Rules Simplified My version of starship combat, trying to make it as simple and easy as possible for the players. 

Star Wars Gear Lists A collection of official and fan-made (some by myself) standard gear to keep from having to scroll through the huge PDF all the time when characters go shopping. Of course, they often ask for things not on this list, so back to the PDF (or to we go...

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Progress Continues on TS&R

The revision/editing of my Treasures, Serpents, & Ruins Game Master Guide is going well. I'm about 2/3 through the draft. Last Friday, I made a copy of the file in order to pare it down to a table reference book. That will include all the useful charts and procedures (how to manage an exploration turn, combat round, etc.) and that includes stuff from the players books and monster books, too. 

The GMG is targeted at GMs who are new to RPGs or at least new to OSR style game play. It's got lots of explanations of how to run things, why to run them that way, and examples. Honestly, it could probably use more examples, but I've been working on it long enough. It's not perfect, but it should be good enough. 

The companion book, which I think will be called Treasures, Serpents, & Ruins Rules and Procedures, will be for the experienced GM. I plan to make it as short as possible, but a useful reference while preparing dungeons/adventures, and also while running things at the table. Experienced DMs don't need to leaf through pages of explanations and examples at the table. They need just the facts, Ma'am. 

I'm around 2/3 through the GMG draft, so if things keep up, I should be done with it soon, and ready to format the book for release. The R&P book should be a pretty quick thing to slap together, since it's just a collection of the useful charts, tables, and rules for play. 

I've been putting off a few blog post ideas I've got the past two weeks. For one thing, my mother is in the hospital and it was pretty serious, but she's recovering, so that's one load off. There's been a bit of work-related frustration as well. Not quite drama, but just annoying bureaucratic BS that we need to deal with. But I think that's mostly blown over as well. And we're rolling up on the end of the semester, so that's just generally busy. Oh, and despite all of the above, I've actually been gaming a bit too much. We played CoC last Friday evening, and I just ran my Jade campaign this afternoon. S&S board gaming on this upcoming Thursday holiday or possibly delayed until next Sunday, which is also when Dustie wants to resume her Monster of the Week (a PbtA X-Files/Stranger Things type game). And a friend of a friend has a brand new home-brew game they want to play test in two weeks. 

I also still haven't play tested my mass combat rules for TS&R with actual other people yet, so I should probably do that soon. I'd like to give them a run through with some other people. Even though they're just modifications to Mentzer's Companion Set War Machine rules, I want to make sure I haven't screwed anything up with them in my tinkering. 

Plus, it might be fun to just stage a little war game scenario for the group. I just need to find the time!

Sunday, May 26, 2024


My Star Wars game yesterday went really well. I had not only Richard (who runs Call of Cthulhu and recently started playing in my Jade game) and Randy (new to tabletop RPGs), but Philip who plays the Brash Pilot Satt Orin returned to the campaign after a hiatus. With Denis, Charles, and my son Steven, that made for six players. 

Even though two were new to the system (one new to doing this not mediated by a computer RPG system), it was easy to get them up to speed and into the game. 

The adventure was to break into a rich merchant's house on Tatooine and steal a data cube on Boonta Eve, the day of the big pod race. Twist: Jabba the Hutt has just been killed by that Rebellion leader Leia Organa and her friends. Twist 2: It's Jabba's townhouse in Mos Eisley that they're breaking into. Twist 3: Gardulla the Hutt has also sent a team to steal the cube, which has incriminating evidence on various Hutt rivals. 

It played out really well, and everyone had a blast. Things didn't go as planned, but they worked out in the end. And some player input created some fun complications that I hadn't thought of in advance.

After the game, Steven was really pumped up. He had a lot of fun in the session, saying that it felt like they were actually in a Star Wars movie during this one. We had a discussion about it, and he's conflicted about whether he likes D&D or Star Wars d6 better. He's full of plans to spend the large amount of cash that the party received for the mission. 

Texting with both Randy and Richard last night, they also both had a lot of fun with the game. Richard played through the solo adventure in the rulebook by himself that evening...but says he came to an untimely demise pretty quickly in it. He's considering possibly doing more with the d6 system, although it might be hard to pry him away from CoC. 

Randy had a lot of questions about my methods as a game master. Since he had only played computer RPGs before, he was really curious about how I came up with the scenario and how I managed all the details. How much was planned, how much was improv? Things like that. His mom was one of those Satanic Panic moms, so he never got to play as a kid, but now regrets that he didn't get to try RPGs until his 40s. We talked about my D&D game, too, and I sent him the TS&R Jade book to see what sorts of characters he might be interested in playing if he joins. 

I haven't heard feedback from Philip, Denis, or Charles other than a bit of post game chatting, but they said they enjoyed it a lot. 

All in all, a successful game. And I've definitely got my motivation to keep running Star Wars, when a couple months ago I was thinking I was done with it.

Friday, May 24, 2024

d6-y Time

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the release of Star Wars (what the kids today know as Episode 4: A New Hope) in theaters back in 1977. And yes, I'm running another session of my Star Wars d6 game. The players from my May the Fourth game are returning, and two more players are showing up. Richard is our Call of Cthulhu Keeper, and recently joined my TS&R Jade game. Randy is a friend who's been interested in getting into RPGs, but had a new baby late last year so hasn't had much time for gaming until recently. 

The d6 system, in its more generic form, was on my mind recently. I actually woke up from a dream yesterday in which I was modifying the system to create a Mabinogion/Irish Myth based fantasy game. I've never played, or even read, the official d6 Fantasy game that came out 20-some years ago, but in my dream I was coming up with a list of skills for magic: enchantments, transmutations, illusions, etc.

Then I come across Tim Brannan talking about Star Wars d20 and mentioning how he prefers those rules to WEG d6, and also Weregrognard talking about WEG d6 Star Wars and the d6 System in general. So it seems to be a bit of a mini-topic these days. 

About 10 years ago or so, when Jeremy Hart and I were gaming together more actively than we are these days, he often talked about wanting to run something with Mini Six, the slimmed down d6 System game. But then he'd run something else, home brewed or Black Hack, or something interesting he'd found and wanted to try. So we never got that Mini Six game going. But at that time, it did get me to download Open d6 and I did really like what I saw in it. 

In fact, I've considered making a 2nd edition of Flying Swordsmen using Open d6! I had fun playing Dragon Fist for a bit when it came out nearly 25 years ago, and had fun with FS for a while, but honestly, it's not the best fit for a long term wuxia style game. With the bell curve results of a totaled die pool, the flexibility to determine what attributes and skills are in the game, and the lesser focus on tactical placement and more on descriptive engagement with encounters, I honestly think it would be a better fit. OSR style mechanics are great for a game where exploration and acquisition, plus combat, are the key drivers of play. Good wuxia stories are about exploring relationships and social norms as much as they are about the martial arts combat. I think d6 would be a better fit, honestly. 

Finally, yesterday this YouTube video on various die rolling methods was recommended by the Almighty Algorithm. Now, before you click on it -- I am not the intended audience, and you, my reader, are most likely not as well. It seems to be pitched towards teens/tweens who are just getting into RPGs, based on the guy's content and his delivery. Why I mention it is that while he mentions the White Wolf style # of successes die pool system, he doesn't mention the WEG d6 die pool vs target number system. There are lots of other die systems he also I said, the target audience seems to be kids just getting into gaming, not us old fogies. 

While I didn't learn anything from that video, it did get me thinking about the way that certain systems seem to promote different aspects of play. I'm currently involved in games using d20 for combat (TS&R, although it's got percentages, x/d6, and 2d6 roll mechanics as well, and Gamma World 4E), exclusively d% (Call of Cthulhu), and dice pool (WEG Star Wars) systems. 

The swingy d20 and d% systems are geared around exploration. TS&R (D&D) and Gamma World are about exploration of the setting. CoC is about exploration of mysteries. 

Dice pool systems like WEG (and what little I've played of WW d10 dice pool games) are more focused on telling an interesting story, or at least entertaining the players and allowing them a structure to immerse themselves in their character. I've used some dungeon crawling and wilderness hex-ploration in my Star Wars game from time to time, but for the most part the challenges I set up are situational, with a lot of if/then triggers, rather than site-based. The d6 Star Wars game was designed with this sort of play in mind, and I think it works really well to encourage that. 

Also, the way that the probabilities work out with a dice pool means that characters are a bit more consistent in performance than those using a flat distribution mechanic like d20/d%, although things like the Wild Die, losing dice for multiple actions, and opposed rolls do keep things interesting. 

I'd been thinking that after I finish revising/editing/formatting the TS&R Game Master Guidebook and editing it down to a Rules & Procedures table reference, I'd try my hand at another setting/genre set of players' book/monster book. Middle Eastern/Arabian Nights style gaming, or retro Sci Fi rockets & rayguns, maybe. Now, though, I'm wondering if maybe that Celtic Myth fantasy game or a revision of Flying Swordsmen, both with the Open d6 system, might catch my interest more.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

First Draft Complete

I've finished the first draft of my Treasures, Serpents, & Ruins Game Master Guidebook. Well, not technically the first draft, but the first completed draft. I made three or four abandoned starts at it before I got the book I wanted. And I've still got to write the Afterword. But pedantics (yeah, I know that's not a word) aside, the first complete draft is done. I've got all the explanations of game play, advice to the new (or new to OS game style) GM, game systems for dungeons, wilderness exploration, town adventures, domain administration including warfare, planar exploration, and high level epic quests. I've also got a fairly lengthy section on alternate or optional rules and suggestions for limitations or allowances to make the game fit the GM's campaign world and preferred style of exploration-focused play. 

I've got to get my notes organized for the next Star Wars game coming up in a week and a half, but after that's done, my game time will be devoted to reading carefully through this whole 128 page document and revising/editing. Then I'll format it, and I should have it up on DriveThru some time this summer. 

Once it's up, I'll also make a condensed Rules Reference book, with just the rules and system guidelines that can be easily used at the table, without all the explanations for new GMs. Experienced DMs who aren't curious about my gaming philosophy and don't want to bother with yet another explanation of how to play the game, but just want something to use to check the rules, this will be the book for you.

 I also want to do a few updates to both the Ruby and Jade players' books, based on play at my game table and also a few mistakes I've found here and there. And that will make TS&R complete...until I decide to add a Middle Eastern/African fantasy supplement, or a pulp sci-fantasy supplement, or a Pre-Columbian Americas supplement, or an Australian/Oceanian supplement. Potentially. I'm not as well versed in the myths, legends, or history of some of these other areas as I am with European and Easter/Southeastern/Central Asian myths, legends, and history. 

Anyway, it will be a complete fantasy heartbreaker soon.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

More Star Wars (and other gaming) Coming

My May the 4th game went well, but I'd still like to try and get a few more people interested in the campaign. So I'm gonna try again. May 25th is the anniversary of the release of A New Hope, and it's also a Saturday. Perfect timing. 

I've got a very busy gaming schedule at the moment. Tomorrow evening, Richard is running his Call of Cthulhu game. Taking a cue from me, he'll be running it face-to-face instead of online. 

Sunday is my regular TS&R Jade game. For the past two sessions, the party has been trying to reach some dimension door portals in the Pits of Lao (the micro-mega-dungeon) to restore companions who were bitten by spectral hounds. They finally achieved that, and there are seven portals in that room, and they only know the destinations of two of them. There's also a lot more dungeon to be explored. But some players mentioned that they want to return to the 18 Chambers of Lotus Fist temple to continue clearing it out (that's where there met the hounds). So I have no idea how this session might play out! 

Wednesday next week is a public holiday (Buddha's Birthday), so I'll be heading down to my friend Adam's house to continue the Swords & Sorcery board game campaign. 

And then there will be Star Wars on the 25th. The 26th should be my next Jade game, too, but we'll see if my wife will allow me to spend that much time gaming on a weekend. Hopefully, she'll be busy with her badminton club! 

 As Wayne and Garth famously said, "Party on, Wayne!" "Party on, Garth!"


In other news, I was watching a Bob Worldbuilder video on YouTube where he was praising the 5 Room Dungeon. For D&D, I find the format a bit too stiff, because it's purposefully made to mimic the rising/falling tension of a movie's five act structure. If you don't use the encounters in that order, you don't get that rising/falling tension, so why not just create a small dungeon as you like? And if you do the dungeon rooms in that order, it's railroady.

For Star Wars, however, I think it might work a bit better. The d6 game is designed to be "cinematic" and the modules I've looked at so far seem to be saying "Choo Choo, Motherfuckers!"

I may not go full on railroad with these adventures (my game the other day was set up as presenting the challenges, but not expecting any particular attempts at solutions), but the idea of an initial "guardian" encounter, followed by an unexpected complication, then a trap/setback/lateral thinking challenge, then a confrontation, and finally a reward or twist seem reasonable for a cinematic style game. 

Of course, I won't force the plot on the characters, and I'll give them plenty of opportunity to flip the script or make an end run to skip stuff, but for my notes, having a chain of encounters set up for the most passive play style seems handy. I can riff off of that when the players go "off script."

Alright, time to decide what exactly the next adventure should be about! I've got an idea involving the death of Jabba the Hutt. The campaign started shortly before the Battle of Hoth, and it's probably been going on long enough that they're coming up on the Battle of Endor (not that the players have ever had much interest in joining the Rebellion).

Sunday, May 5, 2024

SWD Game: Thoughts and Player Reactions

My May the Fourth d6 Star Wars game was a success from a player standpoint, and from a referee standpoint. From a "get new people into the game" standpoint it was a little disappointing, but part of that is my own fault.

First of all, I prepped an adventure that was designed to bring various characters together. I borrowed the opening of the official module Starfall. The PCs are prisoners of the Empire, but a Rebel agent droid helps them escape. Only instead of setting it on an ISD, I put them on a moon base prison mining colony (borrowing thematically from Andor) with the map of the detention block taken from Starfall, but the upper levels of the base taken from the Hideouts & Strongholds supplement. The modules I've looked at are a bit too railroady, but I found it pretty easy to take a few ideas from them and turn them into challenging scenarios rather than storylines to play through.

The basic idea of my adventure is that the PCs are all new prisoners, held for only a week or so, and the Rebel droid infiltrator has identified them and a few other prisoners as not yet broken by Imperial slavery, and wanting to escape. This allowed the PCs some NPC assistance with overpowering the guards, but also a means of recruiting a replacement character mid-adventure if someone's PC died (none did though). 

The general goal was escape, bringing the captured and out of commission Rebel spy Walex with them for a reward beyond freedom. I gave each player a personal additional goal, which they were free to share or keep secret, as they liked, just to add a bit of potential complication. 

The part that was disappointing was that only three players showed up, and they're all in my D&D game. Everyone else was busy or uninterested. And as I said above, several friends who are not in the D&D game told me it was a cool idea, but that they didn't have free time. It's my own fault for coming up with this idea on the spur of the moment. Next year, I'll give people more notice. 

The players who did show up, and their characters, were: 

Steven (my son), playing his new Tech-warrior (modified from the Loyal Retainer template) Jim Bumass.

Denis (long time player), playing his Smuggler Nito.

Charles (first time playing d6, he's only been playing TS&R for a month or so) selected from my pregens the Twilek Gearhead (modified from the Tongue-tied Engineer template), and named him Conan (after O'Brien, not the Barbarian). Conan had an R5 astromech. 

I won't go into full detail of the play-by-play, but the PCs and the rowdy prisoner NPCs used Brawling until they secured weapons from defeated guards, borrowed uniforms, made good Con rolls to convince staff that they were the guards transporting other prisoners, recovered their gear, got intel on the mining operation, and rigged a the station's power generator to blow with a thermal detonator before hijacking the supply ship and evading the station's tractor beam to escape by an appropriate use of a Force Point by Nito. 

They managed, through clever ideas and lucky die rolls, to complete each player's secret objective and didn't trip any alarms along the way. They also avoided fights with a squad of 4 fully armed stormtroopers and the station commandant's security droids. Everyone had a blast playing through it. 

Afterwards, Charles was really enthused by how much tension the Wild Die added to every roll. Even when his Gearhead was using his 6D Computer skill, he was nervous about rolling that 1 on the die. He also liked how I had set up a variety of challenges, and he said he was trying to anticipate problems and think around the corners to come up with solutions. 

Denis felt similarly about the challenges faced, and that there were multiple ways the session could have gone. 

Steven told me, before bed last night, that he liked Star Wars more than D&D...but liked D&D more than Star Wars. He meant he really liked both, but they're different so hard to compare. He did really enjoy the fact that I broke out the minis for this game. The tactile play with the figures themselves, and the tactical use of them minis on a board, kept him a bit more interested in the session.

Our heroes (L to R): Nito the Smuggler*, Jim Bumass the Tech-Warrior, Conan the Gearhead with R5 droid. 

*Nito is human, but Denis told Steven to pick a mini for him and he picked Plo Koon. 

I collected these figures back when the Prequels were coming out, when I was living in Japan. Pepsi gave them away as freebies with every 500ml bottle of soda, and despite preferring Coke, I drank a LOT of Pepsi back then. I also visited the local resale shop often and picked up a lot more figures there. 

The figures are 54mm (green army man scale), so you can see I've mixed in a few Kamen Rider and Gundam figures I also got at the resale shop, and a few of the classic SW knock-off Galaxy Laser Team as well. I've been thinking of trying to add to my SW mini collection, but the table top games use 28mm or 35mm scale figures, so they'll look dinky next to these guys. If I ever want to expand the collection, I'll probably need to find some scalable STL files and have a friend with a 3D printer custom build them for me. I've realistically got enough minis...but there's a part of me that can never have enough minis.

So to wrap up, the game went well, but it would have been nice for me if I could have gotten a few more people out to try it. I'm re-energized about the SW campaign, though, so I'll be running it again soon, and maybe running both online and offline if I can find a few more offline players. It may cut into my D&D/TS&R time, but like Steven said, they're both good games that scratch different itches.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

I'm Doing a Thing

As this coming Saturday is May the Fourth (Star Wars Day), everyone's favorite unofficial holiday...or second favorite, behind Talk Like a Pirate Day...I'm gonna run an open table game of WEG d6 Star Wars. 

Flynn is in America, so he won't be able to join unless he can stay up real late and video conference in. Not sure if my phone battery would last that long or how feasible that would actually be. I'm going to be using my tablet for referee stuff so that's not an option. He's probably going to have to miss it. 

Steven, however, is excited. A few other players in my TS&R Jade game also plan to attend. Denis plays Nito the Smuggler in my SW campaign. Charles is new to TTRPGs. A few other friends have shown interest, and I may get some walk-ins. I made this poster to advertise: 

I just completed a set of 14 pre-gen characters. Some were standard templates, and I just had to select the starting skills and add a bit more gear. Others I had to modify templates, but in general that was pretty easy to do. You can download it here if you want to take a look.

I have a few house rules for skills (parry skills don't exist in my game) and at least for this open game session, I'm going with the 1E rules for the Force. If you're trained in the skill, you can attempt any related Force power, without having to select powers like feats in 3E.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

When to Hang Up the Hat

One of the best play-by-post DMs I've played under, old school forum-goers will know him as "Jeffery St. Clair" (DMJSC), announced yesterday that he's got to shut down his games. He's been running his AD&D game over 17 years now, and I've been playing in it for exactly 13 years (my request to join was April 26, 2011, and today is April 25th, 2024). 

He's also shutting down a much shorter lived Mazes & Minotaurs game that I was in, that never quite found its footing. He also, over the years, ran a great Star Frontiers game until we ran out of his prepared adventures, and for a short time he ran a high level AD&D game. 

His main game, called Mines of Nemrac, was actually two campaigns, as he ran an Oriental Adventures game on the other side of his campaign world (there were connections/portals between the two game zones, but they were rare to stumble upon). This is the one I was in for 13 years, and I had four characters in it, two in each zone. 

Wehostan, Son of Bardolph (Halfling Fighter 4/Thief 6) was my main and longest running PC. He had some great adventures over the years and got to do many of the things players dream of when playing D&D. He helped slay a dragon, battled an evil wizard while his party was paralyzed, got the snot knocked out of him by an ogre-sized bullywug, and lots of other fun stuff. 

Gwire (Human Cleric 7) was my attempt to run a cleric not as a holy crusader but as a Van Helsing/Solomon Kane/Simon Belmont type monster hunter (which was the original impetus of the class in Arneson's campaign), and he also had a lot of great adventures over the years. Starting out penniless, his first two forays earned him no treasure, but in the end, he was slaying demons and whatnot. He amassed a huge pile of treasure and magic items. 

Chie Enokido (Human Kensei 5) was my main character in Pingbo Lake. She was the daughter of a disgraced landholding family, and specialized in naginata. She was racking up fame and honor in the campaign, and was trying to avenge her honor on an ogre-mage (or full oni?) who pretended to be a kensei but wasn't. She was very upset about that. 

Five Dragons Xiong (Human Sohei) was a fairly new addition, still first level. He managed to help his party overcome some bandits, and that was his career. 

I'm actually sad that I won't be able to continue the careers of these characters. Well, not so much Xiong, who I was just starting to get a feel for. But the other three were well developed and fun to play. And sure, I could maybe take these characters to another campaign if there's an opening, or remake then in a new campaign some day, but it won't be the same. A lot of the fun of the characters were the way they interacted with their parties. Especially for Wehostan, as his group, known as Gang Green after the green dragon they slew, were just the most rowdy, scruffy-looking scoundrels you could ever find, and a blast to game with. Especially in the OOC, when certain other players would get seemingly very offended that we were pretending to run a protection racket for new players in the game. 

Nemrac players, if any of you read this blog, feel free to memorialize your PCs in the comments!

And to get back to DMJSC, he's had some family issues, and some health problems recently, but he says he's actually in a good place these days. In fact, he's just too busy to keep the game up. And I don't blame him. Nemrac has 75 PCs (yes, 4 of those are mine, and other players also run multiple PCs, but not all!). I'm not sure how many players, exactly, there are. It's a lot to manage. It's impressive that he kept it going for so long and managed to grow the game as large as he did. Most of my attempts at PbP have ended abruptly in failure. [Fingers crossed, my current Gamma World game will keep going.]

To thanks to Jeffery St. Clair/DMJSC, for all the years of gaming. And to all the players in the game as well!

Monday, April 22, 2024

Movie Review: Rebel Moon (Part 2)

Yeah, I said I probably wasn't going to watch this after watching Part 1, but I did. So how was it? 

First of all, there was a bit of swearing, but not much. PG-13 level. 1 f-bomb, a few other swears. Not a lot. So parents searching for "curse" words, you've been warned, but it's not bad. 

This was more of the same. 

There were some cool visuals and action sequences, but not as many as in Part 1. 

There were ham-fisted attempts at characterization. Sorry, this is a bit spoilery, but it's at the beginning so I'm not spoiling much. They literally go around the table with each "hero" telling their sad tragic backstory with flashback. And no, they don't actually make me feel more invested in each hero. Except Kora, the main character. She had an additional flashback during a love scene (didn't they do that in part 1 as well? I think so...). During the group therapy session, she clams up. 

King Kong had better character development in Godzilla x Kong (which I saw just before leaving for the USA, and enjoyed, I should write about it). 

The villains are cartoonishly bad. They should be menacing, but they're just kind of pathetic. Why isn't the Resistance mopping them up across the galaxy?

So many plot holes. 

So many predictable developments. I was literally thinking, "Oh, this should happen next" and it does, quite a few times. 

They took the basic framework of 7 Samurai, but other adaptations ranging from The Magnificent Seven to Battle Beyond the Stars have made you at least feel invested in the seven heroes. I don't need to know what it was that Robert Vaughn's character did to feel an attachment to a guy trying to redeem himself. I just need to know that he did some shit and now this is his last chance to make up for it. 

Part 1 at least had some interesting visuals and action scenes to just sit back and enjoy the eye candy. Part 2 felt pretty flat, although the conclusion was done in a way that makes you feel the triumph of their victory (yeah, spoiler, but you knew they were gonna win)...until something happens that seems like it should be a reversal...and then predictable deus ex machina saves the day after all. 

And of course, there's set-up for a sequel. 

I really wouldn't waste your time on this. I had two hours to kill Saturday morning, but even if you are in a similar position, find something else to watch. It's disappointing.

Friday, April 19, 2024

OD&D As a DM Instruction Manual

I've never really read through the OD&D books thoroughly. I only have them in PDF, and I've mostly just looked at sections here or there as a reference. I've referenced Men & Magic and Monsters & Treasure a lot more than I have The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. So today, I went through that fabled 3rd volume and took some notes on what it covers, and how. This is in regard to my previous post, suggesting that I take a look at how well each edition acts as an instructional guide for new DMs. 


Dungeon Design -- notes on how to create your megadungeon, including lots of examples of ways to screw over players and make it a true labyrinth. 

Distributing Monsters & Treasure -- fairly similar to later editions, with notes on how to restock/expand/modify your megadungeon to keep things fresh.

Movement -- The exploration rules: movement and resting, finding secret doors, dealing with regular doors, traps, listening, and vision/light. 

Underworld Monsters -- rules for encounters: distance, surprise, wandering monsters, avoiding encounters (most monsters usually attack, but reaction rolls for intelligent ones).

Example of Dungeon Play

Wilderness -- the map needs castles, ruins, the Dungeon, a home town. Town adventures briefly mentioned.

Outdoor Survival -- explanation of how to use that map for unplanned/impromptu wilderness adventures, Castle Encounters explained in much more detail than in BX/BECMI/RC.

Referee's Map -- explanation that you can make your own map (but no advice on how), which can be useful for domain game play, and rules for hex-crawling and filling in a blank player map while exploring.

Movement -- all movement rates by hex (later listed as assumed 5 miles vertex to vertex!) per day, terrain penalties from Outdoor Survival. 

Wilderness Monsters -- rules for encounter distance, surprise, getting lost (a bit out of place), wandering monsters. Name level NPC wandering monsters are given more detail than in BX/BECMI. 

Evasion -- pretty similar to what's in BX/BECMI

Castle Construction -- not so different from BX/BECMI, but there is a note suggesting adventures defending a stronghold from incursions by monsters/enemies. 

Specialist NPCs -- what you'd expect, types, job descriptions, prices

Rumors, Information, Legends -- suggestions for developing rumors, and rules for players paying to find more information

PC Upkeep -- 1% of XP (per month I assume) needs to be spent on daily living. 

Baronies -- No more upkeep, now you get income. It suggests 2-8 villages within 20 mile radius of stronghold. There are notes on making improvements that may bring in more income/population, but no rules on how to manage that. 

Angry Villagers Rule -- because torches and pitchforks are fun!

Other Worlds -- go crazy with the campaign world

Land Combat -- AKA mass combat, use Chainmail

Aerial Combat -- use counters/minis on map, modified Chainmail rules, pretty extensive!

Naval Combat -- while this also has Chainmail suggested for man-to-man action, the ship combat rules in BX/BECMI derived from this, but this is more extensive. Includes swimming/drowning rules, water monsters, etc.

Healing Wounds -- natural healing at 1 hp per day, but not on the 1st day of rest!

Time -- keeping time for the campaign: assume 1 week per dungeon delve (including prep/recovery time), 1 day per turn wilderness exploring, 1 week real time is 1 week game time for 'downtime activities' or inactive PCs. 

Instructional Value: 

While I did learn a few things, and get some ideas for incorporating a bit more complexity to TS&R by reading through this (something I should have done years ago!), I don't know how well this booklet does at explaining how to run a game. It does give plenty of details for preparing the dungeon (less so for preparing the wilderness or town/city adventures, and even less for high level domain play). It explains some systems in detail, others are just glossed over or hinted as possible. 

There isn't much philosophy or explanation of the Why of game play, just a focus on the How. There is also zero guidance on actually putting together a group to play, dealing with problem players, etc. Maybe Gygax assumed experienced wargamers didn't need this sort of advice. 

My take is that if I had been given this box set as a kid, with the preparation to game I'd gotten from things like Choose Your Own Adventure books and things like the D&D cartoon, I could have made some decent dungeon adventures. But without Chainmail and Outdoor Survival, much of the rest would have been fairly useless to me. 

Still, it's not as obtuse as many people claim it to be. Most of the rules confusion I think comes from various vagaries in Men & Magic, or incomplete notes in Monsters & Treasure that again assume you have Chainmail. I found The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures to cover most of what's needed, if explanation is a bit short in many areas, and the organization is pretty good overall. 

I can definitely see why TSR thought that the various Classic D&D box sets and AD&D were needed to help explain the game better, though. The rules as written assume experienced wargamers, not newbies. As such, it's a decent rule reference but not a great instructional text.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Game Mastering: Theory and Practice

I am back from my trip to the U.S. My son is really happy to be attending an American high school rather than a Korean one. I had a good visit with my parents and got to meet some old family friends, and just get a little refresher of Midwest life. But I'm happy to be back in Korea. And without further ado, on to gaming discussion. 

Recently, discussion on BX Blackrazor and The Tao of D&D has focused on how to teach someone to be a good Dungeon Master. I've been to busy with non-gaming stuff to get in on the conversation, but I'm definitely interested, since I'm nearing completion of the first draft of my TS&R GM book. 

Before I left for the states, I was thinking that it might be a good idea to do a comparison of several different editions/games, including what I'm doing with my TS&R book. I had started to look through the advice in the 5E book, and in my opinion, it may be fine for experienced DMs moving to 5E from another edition or other RPG, but for a novice, it's got the organization of the information all wrong. It starts off with all of these big picture campaign setting discussions, like what sorts of deities exist in the world. Definitely NOT where a new DM should begin. 

The writers obviously expect that the "game play mechanics" should be obvious from the PHB, so all the DM needs to do is create a campaign world. But even then, I wouldn't start with that sort of stuff. I think it's better to teach the new DM about how to run the game, why certain things are done the way they are, and how to manage the group. 

Back in grad school, one of my professors titled every single class she taught as [Insert Course Content Here]: Theory into Practice. While I found it amusing at the time, it's not a bad strategy for teaching. Start by explaining the basic theory of how the game (ideally) works and why certain mechanics are the way they are. Then move on to the concrete details of how to craft interesting encounters, dungeons, game worlds, multiverses, etc. and solid advice about how to run the table and manage the game group. After that, if necessary, deeper theory could be discussed. 

If I have some free time, I'll maybe take a closer look at how different DMGs are organized and the information presented, from the lens of an instructional manual for the game. I expect Mentzer and 2E AD&D likely are better at this than others, but that's just my gut instinct.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Problems, Annoyances, and Misconceptions

I watched this YouTube video titled "5 Things in D&D that Make No Sense" [Of course referring to 5E specifically], and I found it interesting that she found these specific things to be annoying: 

1. Falling damage in 5E caps at 20d6 (200' fall). She rightly points out that most mid-level 5E PCs will survive that. 

Of course, they are also going to survive around six or seven sword stabs or axe slashes at that level, and be fully healed after a good night's rest. So I don't know why this particular break from real world physics bothers her so much. I do wonder if the 20 dice cap is related to the 20 dice cap for high level magic users in BECMI/RC D&D? It is a fairly arbitrary number to place the cap upon. 

2. Shields. 5E treats all shields the same. Buckler or kite, round or tower, they all give a +2 bonus. 

Growing up playing BECMI, this was just a given (although only a -1 bonus to AC), and the reasoning was addressed in the rulebook. Smaller, lighter shields are easier to maneuver into place to block an attack, while large shields provide more cover. Again, it's an artificial simplification that aids gameplay, even if that leads to a loss of realism. 

And you could always go the AD&D route, where all shields give that -1 bonus, but only to specific attacks from specific directions, or a specific number of attacks in the round. 

3. Religion in D&D. Pantheistic religions don't work the way they do in D&D, where everyone is devoted to a singular deity within the pantheon. Also, how can there be atheists in a word where the gods actually sometimes walk the Earth?

Again, starting playing with BECMI, and even in AD&D, this isn't really a thing. Maybe it started to develop in the 2E days, but it wasn't until 3E hit the shelves that I noticed this about how gods/religions work in D&D. And yes, it is odd, and shows the likely monotheistic cultural bias of the setting designers. But this isn't really something that's hard-coded into the rules, really. It's more of how things are presented, and how many players role-play the situations. So long answer short: don't like it, change it for your table.

4. The Find Traps spell. This is the one that really made me want to write a post about this video. Apparently, in 5E, this spell doesn't actually find the traps for you, it just lets you know that there are traps in the area that you can roll skill checks to locate. 

OK, that is pretty lame. 

But once more, coming from an older edition background (particularly editions where the find traps spell actually DOES find the traps for you), this is one of my big beefs with 5E magic. Everyone thinks that 5E magic is much more powerful than old school spellcasting classes because of at-will cantrips, more spells per day (at low levels anyway), and all the special abilities involved. 

BUT... So many 5E spells are completely nerfed compared to how they worked in older editions. I can see why this spell in particular bugged the YouTuber, because it doesn't do what the name says it does, and it's fairly useless to cast this version of the spell. 

So why is it named this? Continuity of spell names across editions of the game. As mentioned, the spell used to do exactly what the name promises. It's not a problem with the spell name, it's a problem with lazy game designers who think that they need to reword the spells in every edition to take away their usefulness, and in particular with 5E, to make everything into something that requires a d20 roll against some arbitrary difficulty number. 

It's interesting to me that the YouTuber is mystified by this. And she probably doesn't even realize just how crappy so many 5E spells actually are. Anything that used to be an encounter winner spell in older editions has been depowered so that players won't get The Feels when NPCs or monsters use it against them. Or there are so many caveats on the use of the spell that interesting utility functions that creative players thought up over the years are now explicitly prohibited by the spell text. The only spells worth taking are just the boring "deal more damage" spells. Yawn. 

5. Advantage and Disadvantage. Her problem is not with the mechanic itself (which is handy), but with how different situations that grant advantage and disadvantage always just cancel out to zero. You could be trying to make a ranged attack while prone, tied up, blind, in a wind storm, and cursed (all giving disadvantage), but your buddy using the Help action grants advantage, so all those negatives are cancelled. Roll normally. 

Yeah, that is dumb. But if a DM really wanted to total up all the positive and negative factors in a situation, and make a rule that, say, 2 more advantage factors than disadvantage factors grants net advantage (and the reverse), who's stopping her? I don't think WotC can send Pinkertons to her door for that. Not yet, anyway. 

It's not something I need to worry about anymore, so whatever on this last one. 


Next week, I'm flying back to the U.S. with Flynn, so unless I get the itch to blog over the coming weekend, I probably won't have any content up here for a couple of weeks. As Arnold says, though, "Ahl be bahk."

Monday, March 18, 2024

Emergent Characters vs. Bespoke Characters

When people create an RPG character these days, I'd say it's most common for folks to come up with their character concept first, then roll dice & arrange, or assign a standard array, or do point buy to try and 'build' that character. But back in the day, we mostly rolled ability scores first, then figured out what sort of character this one would be. Both have their place, and this post will discuss the merits of both methods.

Last Friday, when I logged on to Discord for our CoC "session 0" (third round), I had a bit of interesting discussion with Richard (the Keeper). Although he's decided CoC is his game that he wants to stick with for most of his gaming, he was reading up on Original D&D, and was curious about some of the methods and the rationale behind the methods in those rules. We will, schedule permitting, get together and just chat about that hopefully some day soon. 

One of the things we did talk about last Friday was relevant to the task at hand. We were generating characters. Richard prefers rolling dice to see what you get, and then crafting a character based on those rolls. I'm partial to that method myself, so we all did that. In the first adventure Richard ran, he just had us use standard array since that speeds up the process and we players were mostly new to the system. My previous Cthulhu experience was under the 3E d20 rules (which didn't really fit the bill). When that adventure was complete, one of the players, Brady, took a turn as Keeper, so we had to make new PCs. Some of the players used the standard array, but Richard and I rolled the dice. This time, Richard is back as Keeper, and everyone tried die rolling. 

Even though we rolled randomly for our abilities, the other three players all had ideas for their character that they modified slightly to the rolls they received. Mostly, though, since CoC is so heavily skill based, the background chosen was more important to their character concept than what abilities they rolled. 

My case was different. I rolled without any real preconception of what the character would be. I had briefly considered trying to remake my old d20 CoC character, a young seminarian convinced that all the eldritch horror was the work of The Devil, but had changed my mind on that before I started rolling. I looked at my scores (pretty poor ones for the most part), and decided that this would be a desk-jockey type analyst for the FBI-like government agency we would be working for on this adventure. He's the stereotypical nerd. Very poor physical stats and appearance (and luck, and power). Lots of 35s. But Education is very good (75 from the roll, bumped up to 84 by lucky die rolls for being in my early 30s), and Dexterity and Intelligence are both around 50. So a weakling, but full of useful skills. I think he'll be fun to play. 

And so, Richard and I spent part of the session discussing the merits of rolling first then crafting the character's class/role and description/personality around those rolls. I'm calling this an Emergent Character. This works best when rolling in order, of course. Any sort of adjustment, including the OD&D through RC version of trading for Prime Requisite, or the BECMI suggestion to swap the highest die roll for the desired PR, move the process closer to the Bespoke Character, where the player comes up with the concept first, then tries to fit the concept around the game rules. 

Honestly, as a veteran gamer, I understand well the allure of the Bespoke PC. Players with experience know what they like, or know what might be a fun new novel challenge for them, and like to come up with concepts first. I often do that myself. Especially in systems where there are point buy abilities, or even point buy skills, this makes sense. If you have to select all of your skills/abilities from a big old list of possibilities (like in WEG d6, GURPS or Palladium games), it speeds things up immensely to have an idea of what you want to play. Yeah, Palladium is technically a class & level system, but with so many sourcebooks and so many skills on top of the copious number of classes to choose from (some with just very minor differences...looking at you, Ninjas & Superspies), it might as well be a carte blanche skill purchase system. 

Class & Level games obviously lend themselves better to a roll-first Emergent Character creation process. And the funny thing is, this method is both better for beginner players who don't really know much about the system, and for experienced veterans who are in for a challenge. The Emergent PC needs to be created on the spot, to reflect the rolls. This makes it easy for a new player. You have them roll, then you can advise them on the best class options for that set of rolls. Granted, sometimes the rolls might be best for a difficult class to play as a newbie, but often jumping into the fire feet first can be a good initiation to the game. And as I mentioned, for the jaded veteran who's tried it all, being able to roll randomly and THEN figure out who this weirdo adventurer is can be both fun and challenging. 

Quite often, when I try to join a new game on, the GM wants players to submit their character concept in advance. This can be hard for me, as I don't always have a concept...or rather, I probably have many potential concepts that I'd like to play. For example, I've been hoping to join a d6 Star Wars game. But if I'm accepted, I'm not sure if I'd like to play a "wandering space cowboy" or a "Jawa scavenger" or a "Guardian of the Whills" type character. All three sound fun to me. Of course, in d6 Star Wars, you don't roll for stats so I could pick any of these that I like. So it makes sense for the GM to vett players by their concept(s) before they're added to the game. Bespoke is the way to go.

In a D&D game, though, most DMs still require potential players to pitch their character before they're allowed to roll the dice. There are a few DMs I play under who will allow a change if the die rolls don't go the way you wanted, but mostly they want you to stick with your concept, even if the rolls don't really allow for that (of course, many want players to use a standard array, or point buy, so you can get your Bespoke PC). Sometimes, the dice fail to cooperate. I pitched an idea for a human paladin Champion of Kord, a consummate athlete turned adventurer. Then the my highest die roll for ability scores was a 14. My other scores were 12, 11, 9, 9, 9. Since this is 5E, I used variant human, and got the 11 up to a 12 and one of the 9s to a 10 so there wouldn't be a penalty, and snagged a feat. So my "amazing athlete" character had a middling Strength (14), just slightly above average Constitution (12), and an average Dexterity (10, because the other 12 went to Charisma), and below average Int and Wis. Not at all the character I'd pitched. 

So I had to rework the idea into a young up-and-coming teen devoted to Kord, hoping to become that amazing athlete some day, rather than having that as the backstory to his adventuring. Honestly, I can't imagine the character giving up adventuring for sports, but that was what the rolls gave me. 

While there is that down-side to Emergent PC creation, Bespoke PCs of course tend to fall prey to either the cookie-cutter effect, or the twinked-out CharOpBoards effect. System mastery tends to suggest certain builds for certain types of characters, and if you have full control (or nearly so) of the character's mechanics, it's easy to just go for the basic builds, and every PC trying to fill a certain niche will look pretty similar to the others in the same niche. And at the extreme end, you get the players trying to find the exploits in the system, designing the "ultimate" PC for whatever purpose, or the game breaking Pun-Pun the Kobold build. 

Both Emergent and Bespoke PCs have their merits and their drawbacks. I tend to prefer the challenge of rolling the dice first and then fitting a character to the rolls. It's annoying to have to come up with all that first, just to have to rework it like my Champion of Kord. But I do also enjoy the dedicated Bespoke PC options in games from time to time. That is also a sort of challenge, trying to create a certain archetype or idea out of the elements allowed for that game.