Friday, December 31, 2010

Starting Races and options for GASP gamesday

Since the matter was brought up here are the starting options for my Gamesday game ideas that Ive come up with.

Regardless of the game the group picks there are some basic rules I will be following anyways.
  • You must have at least some sort of minimal goal that is not completable in one session. It can be as nebulous as "become the best gunslinger around" or something highly specific
  • Once all the characters have been generated you must write down how your character knows the character of the person to your left. You dont have know them well or even like them, but you CAN NOT be pure strangers. Connections to additional characters will earn additional style points. This includes coming up with a random NPC everyone has in common.
  1. Lamentations of the Flame Princess - "Bridgeport Blues" - 
    1. Humans are by and far the most common people in Bridgeport, making up over 75% of the town and over 90% of powerful. In general most tensions between humans are social class or guild/gang related, with city dwellers taking advantage of gullible countryfolk a far third.
    2. Dwarves are the next most common race in Bridgeport after humans and by the far the best established. Dwarves are known for their craftsmanship and goods, temper when someone attempts to gain those goods by less then honest means and ability to hold grudges, so many of the ruffians of the city tend to give dwarves a wide berth for the obvious occupational hazards. Rulewise they are identical with LoFPs dwarves mechanically, though instead of not being interested in reproducing they instead have strict courtship rules that involve crafting precious goods or accumulation of large amounts of wealth.
    3. Ratmen are not quite a creation of mine, being heavily influenced by the Skaven of Warhammer Fantasy and the Ratmen of Glen Cooks Garret P.I. series. Ratmen are quite literally humanoid rats that roughly fill the role of halflings, with several twists. Thought in general to be about as intelligent as a smart dog or a dumb child, ratmen usually can only hold menial jobs, and are ignored even more so than most servants. Even if they are educated or intelligent, most ratmen have learned through cruel experience to play dumb, though the majority really are below the human average. Mechanically ratmen use LoFP halfling rules but swapping the dice for exterior hiding and urban hiding, to handle that they hide better in the alleys and back rooms then any sort of trees. Another change is the penalty to Education but they tend to be ignored in the city unless obviously acting in an unusual manner.
    4. Lizardfolk are the remainders of a great civilization of ages past, decayed into shadows of their past. Using the LoFP rules for Elves as a guideline this is the race that is most open to player interpretation, as the only hard and fast notes I have is magical ability and members of a lost civilization.
  2. Savage Worlds Fallout - I see two major options and if someone can come up with another I'll toss it out to the group for a vote.
    1. All Vault born, much like Fallout 1 or Fallout 3 the game will start in a Vault that is slowly wearing out. All the players would be humans and youd have the greatest starting access to advanced tech. This is also the easiest for me to run as I have to come up with the least info to give the players, as thier character will really not know whats outside the Vault.
    2. The other obvious option is to start the game in one of the towns of the Wastelands. This would allow Vaultborn humans, Wastelanders, Ghouls and low level mutants easily. Im not automatically opposed to players playing as something more unusual like a Supermutant or a robot, but I will expect them to bring more to the game, especially what they are doing in the town, why no one has killed them, and why they'd join a party. Provide that and all thats left is negotiating abilities and flaws.
  3. Dark Heresy - "Hive Bound" - of course you are a human, but anyone playing a character not from the Hive will have to come up with a good reason for thier character to have been brought there.
  4. Savage Worlds - "Ashes of London" - you are again Human, this time of victorian persuasion, though where the game takes place is open to group vote as well. If you are not a native of the location, again I need a reason your there.
  5. In changes there are three kinds of characters, borrowing from the RPG Witchcraft, and they are all human. The most simple is the straight up badass, in the vein of John McClain or the crew of NCIS, your just a regular human who is really good at whatever your skilled in but nothing beyond that. The second are people who believe that they have some sort of special or unusual ability and have pour time and effort into "improving them". You will have bonus points made available the more unusual your ability, or the more subtle the use is or you can even opt to have someone who has completely made up thier powers and are convinced they are real (I will give you special bonuses as fit how you roleplay that, i.e. the pious fraud or a con man, etc.). And finally there are the people who just have strange things happen to them, and basically you will build a character with a certain amount of points held in reserve for when a story element triggers them. Now the upside is I will increase the points I use to build your powers, the down side being your powers will be created by me based on how youve been roleplaying your characters (so someone who is angry and lashes out will gain a power that feeds on and fufills that, think like how it worked for Liz in Hellboy the Movie)
Questions, clarifications, ideas? Just post them

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Review and test example, Random Esoteric Creature Generator

My gift to myself is turning out pretty handy, a long reach stapler (yes its not really all that special, but its useful) and one of the first pdfs I have that I printed out in booklet form is James Raggi's Random Esoteric Creature Generator from RPGnow. Ever since handling the copy of Lamentations of the Flame Princess I've finally really understood the appeal of the booklet form factor, especially for old school games. Anyways onto the review..

I skipped printing out the cover and back page this time as I wanted to focus on just getting the game material printed out, but they are rather pretty. The forward from Mr. Raggi is, in my opinion, both a very apt analysis of traditional gaming and a battle-cry to bring back what is best in any game, the sense of wonder. I admit I've only been playing for about 11 years, and not even that has been continuous but recently my girlfriend's nephew has been desperately trying to break into tabletop gaming and the wonder, confusion and exploration as he explores a new world reminds me of something Ive lost in so many genres and games. I'm so used to certain things to be a certain way that Ive become jaded to them and the Random Esoteric Creature Generator (or RECG) is the perfect antidote for that, as long as you remember that in general all it creates are creatures as opposed to sentient races. Creation starts from a base template, fixes the basic body shape, the basic characteristics, size, movement type, attack methods, then the stars of the book, the distinctive features and special abilities. These are really the core of the book, and are followed by how it delivers its special ability/attack, combat strategy and motivations.

As an example I'm crafting a creature for my "Bridgeport Blues" idea.
Body shape: Quadraped
Basic Characteristics: mammalian, vaguely dog like
Size: Human Sized
Movement method: Standard
Attack Methods: Multiple
                          Spikes/Horns, Bite
Distinctive Features: Multiple Features
                               Pulsating Body, Oozing Sores
Special Abilities: Glowing eyes
Delivery of Special Attacks: none
Combat strategy: Attack Closest
Motivation: Fear

Now first of all I'll admit rerolling the special abilities as I rolled up "only hit by cold iron" and ideas were already starting to form before I got to that, especially since I re-watched Predators recently. So my mind brought up the dog beasts from the movie, but the pulsating bodies and oozing sores call up images of something darker and less natural. The multiple attack methods abilities all stack so on a hit its biting you for a respectable 2d8 damage, so its already capable of killing a 1st level player with an average die roll. So I have a mysterious hound analogue that is grotesque to look at, will rip your face off and feeds on fear. I'm definitely going to need to play up the nasty nature that even as you look at it, its body ripples and rents appear in its skin that ooze pus. The big question is, is it a minion of a dark good or some horribly warped canine? Im already envisioning a heavy rottweiler head, kinda like my dogs but wreathed with horns that are set in this moving flesh, maybe with a hand or face pressing outward from inside. And its definitely an ambush predator as it is still sitting around with decreased chance to surprise in the dark and the AC of an unarmored man, so Im also thinking some sort of hunting pack.

Toss in a possible location.. the Beasts of the Wilderheath or a name - the Hounds of Gunuck and I have enough of a beast to put into a game world, just need a reason for the PCs to encounter them.

Over all the RECG is definitely a good buy, though I admit I would prefer a soft bound booklet size over my current home printed version

Some random seeds for ideas;

This vicious swamp country was noted for its advanced brewing. It was destroyed by social breakdown caused by interest in forbidden things, leaving behind only treasures.

This educated mountain country was noted for its advanced astronomy and medicine. It was destroyed by the underworld because of the people's extreme interest in forbidden things, leaving behind only its language and treasures.

This cruel grassland imperium was noted for its advanced ground travel. It was destroyed by a drought, leaving behind only records and ruins.

This bigoted underground imperium was noted for its advanced brewing and herbology. It was destroyed by religious conflict caused by perversion, leaving behind only its relics.

This militant arctic theocracy was noted for its advanced forestry and mercantile skills. It was destroyed by an earthquake, leaving behind only its language.

This materialistic mountain theocracy was noted for its advanced metallurgy and forestry. It was destroyed by social breakdown, leaving behind only trade routes and superstitions.

This secretive swamp theocracy was noted for its advanced art and canal-building. It was destroyed by a plague, leaving behind only tombs.

This uncreative swamp kingdom was noted for its advanced astrology and astronomy. It was destroyed by bizarre experiments, leaving behind only superstitions and its religion.

Ascended Credit
Obsidian Bit
Runed Dime
Confederate Shekel
Glorified Bit
Meteoric Nickel

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sandbox games, and why I love them

Of all the campaign types Ive ever played in or run my favorite have always been Sandbox games. The concept is best known in popular conversation due to the (in)famous Grand Theft Auto games. Rather than having a chain of "must do" quests that limit or prevent you from advancing the plot like in games like Dragonlance or Okami, where the player does have a choice to make (however limited), a sandbox game doesn't have a plot line to follow. And that's because the plot is the tale of the adventurer's exploits. And there in lies the single thing I like most about this style of game - I'm not telling a story that the players dance to like well dressed monkey'. In all honesty if I wanted that why wouldn't I just write a story? Rather than trying to out guess or predict peoples actions I can focus on crafting a rich world for them to interact with. I am far more interested in who my players decide to latch onto and interact with than any amount of slaying the big baddy of the week, because if I want tactical combat I run Classic Battletech; Total Warfare most Saturdays for a few hours. And no matter how much tactical play is in an RPG, a wargame with over 25 years pedigree does that better (and with giant robots and massive explosions..)

Anyways, in my list of games to run at GASP I listed my top five ideas, so to give examples of characteristics of Sandbox games I really like, I'll flesh some out for some of the ideas. And to give credit where credits due this whole blog post was spawned by the wonderful gamemaster chapter in Stars Without Number, an OSR sci-fi rpg I picked up on

  1. Lamentations of the Flame Princess "Bridgeport Blues" - The nasty seedy city of Bridgeport (named rather unimaginatively due to the massive and ancient "bridges" around and over the sheltered bay the port grew up around) is a paradise for a sandbox. I want this to be a blend of Ankh-Morpork (Terry Pratchet), TunFaire (Glen Cook), and Lankhmar (Fritz Leiber). What that means, for those who dont know these literary towns, they are a hive of scum and villainy, filled with individuals of most of the major sentient races in the game world, though many of the less powerful are shoved into ghettos, there are corrupt or ineffectual civic leadership and a thriving criminal underworld at least on part with Prohibition era major cities. What all this means to players is there are plot hooks everywhere you look, go, eat at or fall down. In a sandbox game the players are the driving force in the plot, they have to at least make some effort to head out and look for something to do, or have a goal they are working towards. And a city where everyone has an angle, a sob story or something the players can help with there should be NO reason for a lull or dead space, but that all relies on the players being active.
  2. Dark Heresy "Hiveward Bound" - Dark Heresy is a wonderful example of another facet of sandboxes, you have to find out what youre up against before you charge through that door. The "disturbance" that brought your characters out might be some griping old workers trying to set up a strike or a cell of genestealer cultist who will slice an unprepared party to shreds under thier horrifically warped claws. Unlike more modern games with tight storylines, where the encounters a party finds are carefully scaled and balanced, sandbox games (especially those with any sort of OSR roots, like Dark Heresy's pedigree from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay) dont have artificial limits like that, because the encounters are usually location based. So when the commoner tells the players about the "weird beast that lives out in the ruins" it does NOT mean go fight it. It means find out more about whats there. Just like in real life, in sandbox games "there's a time to hold'em and a time to fold'em". Its completely acceptable to run AWAY from something. This places an emphasis on investigation and interaction over combat that I prefer, like I said I get all the tactical combat I want from Battletech.
  3. Alternity "Changes" - The Changes campaign show cases the final major thing with sandbox games I enjoy, consequences. Unlike infamous "wagon train" stories like Star Trek: The Original Series where the characters can come down, topple a working system of government, bed the attractive whats-her-name, and then fly off, the whole living world idea means the player character actions will have results that ripple through the world and over time. No longer will the villager say nothing but "Sigh, times are tough" ,no matter anything you do in the world. This is actually the hardest to manage for me, mostly for a matter of keeping things straight as the ripples fly out.
Thats enough for now, I still have both Savage worlds games that I can touch on as things come up

    Thursday, December 23, 2010

    GASP games day rpg ideas ver 2

    With a little feedback from some of the guys of GASP Im starting to narrow down the options for the RPG I'll run at GASP.

    1. Lamentations of the Flame Princess - "Bridgeport Blues" - a city centered game that will heavily draw on Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar. So forget Gandalf and think of adventures through slums and noble houses, political manipulation through force, and traditional wine and wenches. This would be the perfect game to use my thought experiment for, I already have new names for the stats written up. Thanks to the wonderful blogger at Beyond the Black Gate I have some awesome random tables to mine for ideas.
    2. Dark Heresy - "Hiveward Bound" - I had success running a game of this in 2008 so maybe its time to bring the system back out. This time around I think the location will be a little more nailed down and limited so I can spend more effort detailing the setting and npcs, so think 2000 A.D. more than Star Trek, with most of the characters never having seen the real sky. The monstrous hive cities of the Imperium are literally big enough for me to run just about any remotely enclosed environment I can think of. Re-watching Metropolis, Escape from New York, The Fifth Element, and any other dystopian movies I can think of would be in order to get the right feel. Actually Metropolis would be just about perfect for a noble born hero...
    3. Savage Worlds - "Fallout" - because what gamer doesnt like playing in the post-apocalyptic land that Black Isle gave us years and years ago?
    4. Savage Worlds - "Ashes of London" - Victorian Sci-Fi in the vein of The Peshawar Lancers by S.M. Stirling, H.G. Wells The War of the Worlds, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Wild Wild West all mashed up against the back drop of an alien invasion. Steam power, cannons and weird science vs amazing tech as subjugated peoples use the chaos caused by the aliens to try and forge their own course in the world.
    5. Alternity - "Changes" - Alternity is the poor redheaded sci-fi stepchild of TSR's products. One of the final lines to come out of TSR before the WOTC purchase, Alternity is a skill based game that as written works best for Victorian to far future settings. Using a die mechanic I think is one of the more interesting roll under mechanics Ive encountered. Changes is a game where a group of people who have all encountered something "weird" being gathered together. Everyone has either encountered something that "should not be", knows something that should not be known or can do things that shouldnt be possible. Im intentionally being vague because the characters are intended to be much like Will Smith's character at the beginning of Men in Black, he's good and skilled, but he finds himself so in over his head its kinda funny.
    Still gotta narrow some stuff down and start scribbling down seeds and name lists for all the ideas, but January 11th is coming soon...

    Tuesday, December 21, 2010

    just a quick little gem

    Just found this post - - Im going to have to watch this blog

    Thursday, December 16, 2010

    Thoughts on a thought experiment

    I was catching up on Jeff Reints blog when I found this post. The difference in the character images that pop to my mind when I just change the names of stats is pretty profound, at least to a geek like me. This begs a whole other question - how much can you change a game by changing the names of things in it. Its a long time DM trick to rename or re-describe a monster to throw off a player and try to snatch back a little of that "newbie wonder" in your games. What about doing that with a mechanic or a game trope? Would players be so quick to get in a fight where they are losing "blood" instead of just HPs?

    While admittedly the stats would shift a the style of play a bit, as something like having a fighter with a high "Brutishness" score conjures a different image than a fighter with a high Strength score. Ones Mr. Universe and one is a tough customer with a crooked nose and scars. Or maybe its just me...

    Wednesday, December 8, 2010


    Not exactly a proper blog post but hopefully something I can get feedback on.

    My job is very repetitious and mind numbing, ending up with my listening to a LOT of podcasts to get through my shift. So here's what I listen to with commentary, and Im always looking for more.

    The Naked Scientists - Active - a wonderful British science 'cast that rates very highly in my book
    A History of the World in 100 Objects - Ended- this fascinating podcast has sadly finished, I really need to try and see if mp3s of it will fit on a cd for car rides
    All Things Medieval - Podfade? - the podcast looks to have faded, but was highly useful for what was there
    Astronomy Cast - Active - a good fact based podcast, the tangents are fairly amusing
    Celtic Myth Podcast - In Limbo - stories (especially legends), songs and talk about Celtic people - currently on hiatus due to major health issues with one of the hosts
    British History 101 - Inactive - an interesting analysis of British Historical events, either podfaded or on hiatus
    Dan Carlin's Hardcore History - Active - Im still catching up on this podcast, the episodes Ive listened to are fairly thought provoking
    Digital Planet - Active - more radio podcasts from the BBC covering modern technology with a much more global take than any American radio show Ive heard
    Dragons Landing - In Limbo - I dont know what has happened with this podcast. The original hosts have been gone for months and the secondary hosts they had covering, while excellent and some of my favorite, have not been consistent in releases at all
    Fear the Boot - Active - probably my favorite rpg podcast with a blend of hosts that suit all my tastes in games. If you haven't listened, look through their back catalog and try an episode on a topic you enjoy.
    The Game's the Thing - active but slow - while it bills itself as a podcast on tabletop games, this is essentially a Savage Worlds podcast, atleast in the last year or two
    Material World - active - fairly deep podcast on science topics from the BBC
    Medieval Podcast - podfade - I had high hopes for this podcast but it looks to be dead
    Naked Archaeology - active - a wonderful archeology podcast from the crew behind Naked Scientists, single complaint is its monthly release schedule
    NPR: Science Friday - active - I really dislike the way the podcasts are released (each topic is a separate file) and fact checking has been somewhat suspect, but the prestige of the program and its host has allowed them to get some great guests on
    Postcards from the Dungeon - active - a good podcast about mining various media for inspiration and tropes in RPGs
    Roll for Initiative - active - focusing on 1st edition AD&D this podcast has some very nice focus and is useful for OSR games
    RPG Circus - active - this podcast can be a bit hit or miss for me as it spends too much time on industry news (there are only a very small handful of in print games I care about and I can keep an eye on them myself, and I couldnt care less about 4e DnD) and the rpg blogosphere but there have been some excellent discussions to balance that out
    Save or Die - active - a nicely focused podcast on Classic D&D (from Little Brown Books to Rules Cyclopedia) that is very useful to me, the only problem is sound quality and volume on bumpers as they can get painfully loud
    Science in Action - active - more science from BBC
    The Secrets Podcast for Writers - inactive - a solid podcast from Michael Stackpole, it almost makes up for his exploding fusion reactors....
    Skeptics Guide to the Universe - active - a skeptics podcast that can teach some wonderful lessons in critical thinking and logic, at the cost of whatever part of you didnt think people are worthless, lying fools
    Smiling Jacks Bar and Grill - active - from the Game's the Thing crew, this is admittedly Savage Worlds centric but  good, other than a quarterly release schedule
    Spoken Lore - inactive? - Reading the Eddas and the Sagas out loud, this podcast would be great, if the audio setup was consistent
    Stone Pages Archaeo News - active - a charming archaeology podcast with a Scottish host, very informative and hilarious to listen to him try to pronounce Middle Eastern location names
    That's How We Roll - inactive? - Evil Hat's podcast, looks to be inactive, but Fred Hicks is a smart gamer
    TrapCast - inactive? - the only podcast with someone on it Ive gamed with, this bizarre little podcast has gone quiet for longer than advertised

    So if there are any Old School or science podcasts Im missing out on, Id be interested to know

    Sunday, December 5, 2010

    how serious should we be?

    After a recent string of posts on a forum thread I have to ask myself how serious should an rpg game world be taken?

    Since the thread was about Gamma World ill use that as my first example. First of all GW can be run as a very campy humorous game, since you have monsters as whacked as the Yexil who feed on fabric and really love an all synthetic outfit like a 70s leisure suit. Keep in mind that physically the critter looks like a sphinx in a lot of ways. So we have a creature whose composed of bat wings on a lion body with a human head, who can be bribed with a leisure suit right out of Saturday Night Fever. But is that any more ridiculous than a peryton, a creature of actual mythology that has a deer's head with antlers, on a bird body, that casts the shadow of a human being and eats just hearts? With GW you can at least use the excuse of genetic engineering or nanites from before the Fall.

    But it still begs the question that when you get down to it, how can you really take any non real world element in any game of any genre seriously? Isn't the Force just as ridiculous as a flumph or a screamer? What makes a +5 sword of blending any more believable than a laser rifle or a lazy hyena headed humanoid?

    If we even just accept things like other sentient races and magic, how many times do real world elements like slavery and discrimination rear their head in a game? Human beings have slaughtered untold millions because of differences in belief and skin color, and somehow we are supposed to believe that they open their arms to genuinely alien looking and acting races like dwarves and elves. I find it far more believable that the mutated humanoid badger was to beat the crap out of the party, take their stuff and sell them into slavery far far more than I can believe that halflings are a peaceful, pastoral and free people that just kinda while their lives away farming. The only real record of different cultures interact that we have to work with paints a much grimmer story of war, subjugation or extinction.

    But do we really want that in our games?

    Friday, December 3, 2010

    Wither Weirdness

    While pondering things at work to keep from going nuts I realized something, I like my rpgs to have a major element of weirdness, something that twists tropes.

         Dark Heresy is a wonderful example. The setting just drips weird, with the mix of science fiction and the dark Gothic nature of Edgar Allan Poe and other authors. Gone is all the shiny joy and hope for the future that franchises like Star Trek have in spades. Instead a witchfinder or inquisitor right out of the middle ages is leading a party made up of a WW2 esque soldier, a Wild West style card shark con man, and 1980s movie or A Clockwork Orange style gangbanger. This mismatch of archetypes appeals to me more than the traditional D&D party. Since the game focuses, predominately, on investigative adventures over combat this mix gives a pool of skills to draw on. Remember, this is Dark Heresy, your character is only a step above the masses of common people, so having a variety of skills to chose from gives you that little extra chance to survive a universe that really just doesnt care about you.

    On the fantasy side my current favorite James Raggi's Lamentations of the Flame Princess. This is obviously an Old School Renaissance game (it is me after all) but with a twist. More than a few changes have been made to Classic D&D to change the feel of the game. Rather than the more high fantasy, almost anime feel of modern 4th Edition D&D, LoFP has a darker, low fantasy feel of the original Stories of Conan and other Robert Howard stories. The game is not intended for happy stories of dragon riding knights saving the maiden in distress, but rather the motley gang of loons that are looking for their next big score, slinking through some tomb or ruins. So its Fritz Leiber rather than Traci Hickman or Mercedes Lackey. Another way to view it is Dungeons and Dragons written so you could play in the Cthulhu mythos. Rather than being able to wade into combat against anything you encounter, each battle is a potential total party kill, because your facing creatures rather than monsters. I call them creatures because there are not traditional monsters like you'd find in a Monster Manual, each one is intended to be tinkered with in play.

    Ill be adding to this as I think of things