Friday, November 28, 2008

Need some d20

For some reason, I'm having this really strong urge to play D&D 3rd Edition. The only thing I can think of is that I want to play 3rd edition rather than run 3rd edition. Playing 3rd is fine, I actually have a lot of fun with it and enjoy the experience. Running it, however, is an entirely different story. And all in all, they did quite a good job with Bards - especially with some of the supplements (Heroes of Horror and Complete Adventurer), which I appreciate. I'm thinking about trying to get into a game here in Watertown once things settle down, I'd love to play again - running games constantly is getting a little old, and I've felt for a long time that I need more play experience in order to be a more effective GM. Seeing how other GM's run games is an invaluable experience. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Insidiae is a book I may have talked about on my previous blog, but I'm going to give it some more thorough love here. Written by Dan Cross and published by Troll Lord Games, it is "The Brainstormers Guide to Adventure Writing". And that it is. Basically, it's a big book of random charts, hooks, and ideas to help get any GM started with developing ideas for a campaign or adventure. You start by selecting (or rolling randomly) a Milieu Event, then Story Roles (NPC's) and Characteristics, Goals & Motivations, Plot, Story Function/Elements and Objective. Once you have all your elements chosen, you start piecing all the details together. 

I tried this yesterday and had the makings of a fairly epic-sized campaign done by the time I had gotten past choosing the Milieu Event. I can imagine that once you finish actually developing the major players in your game, you'd have a very well fleshed-out story, wanting only for players to jump in.  So here's how my own example worked out:

Instead of choosing, I decided to randomly roll, just to see how the charts work out. For my first roll (Milieu Events) I got "War". On the "War" sub-table I rolled "Sub-continental". On the Motivations Table I rolled "Occupation" and I decided to roll on the Unusual Assailants sub-table, on which I rolled "Ancient Evil". So I took those things and parsed them as such: we have one country invading another country for the purpose of taking over said country. I think the reason they've invaded is to gain a vital resource that is lacking in their own country.  Meanwhile, and elsewhere, an Ancient Evil is arising and gaining in power. I'm thinking something along the lines of The Others in George R. R. Martin's The Song of Fire and Ice series (which I happen to currently be reading, so that's why my head is there). 

Moving on, I rolled to determine my first Story Role. I rolled a "Wild Card". I had no idea where that fit in, so I went to the entry for "Wild Card" and read in the Hook section where they list several choices: Anonymous Plea, Dream Message, Enigmatic Stranger, Mistaken Identity, Sudden Attack. I latched onto Enigmatic Stranger, and I think I like the idea of tying this Stranger to the "Ancient Evil". This Stranger either knows how to defeat the Evil, or is the cause of the evil (but not controlling them; he or she unwittingly unleashed the Evil onto the world). Delving deeper into this NPC, I rolled for (how about ) her motivations. Actually, I was going to just pick "Love" but I ended up rolling "Curiosity" which is just as good. Actually, I like "Love" better - it leads to the PC's having a more sympathetic reaction, which is what I would go for with this scenario. She's done something very wrong, but her intentions were pure and now she wanders the land running/hiding from her mistake. But she holds the key to stopping and destroying the Evil, but she's too ashamed to admit her mistake. Damn this book is good.  

In the back are some Appendices including Ready-made Plots, NPC Character features, and a Sample Adventure. After doing only this much, I'm very much excited about using this book much more often. The plot I've rolled up would fit perfect in my Aeonia setting, so I'm thinking about tying it into that setting in some way. I may even use it for my new gaming group to give them something to sink their teeth into. 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A second failed beginning

I'm currently in the process of teaching some old friends of mine Castles & Crusades. It's not going very well. I think I made too many assumptions: 

  • That they would not enjoy the game
  • That they wouldn't "get" it 
  • That this particular group would be a hack-n-slash group
Now I'm still unsure as to the third one on that list, actually I'm unsure on all of them, but I think I'm having the most trouble with number 3. One in the group is pretty much a hack-n-slasher and doesn't really take it seriously (not that I've given him any reason to). But the other two are still on the fence. So I think I'm not going to bring my stuff over next time I go for game night (I'm itching for a game of Killer Bunnies anyway) and just talk to them about what they would like to get out of this game. Is it just a simple distraction for them? Do they just want to kill things and take their stuff? Do they want to focus on character development? I really needed to ask these questions BEFORE we started playing, but I think we're early enough along that I can retcon anything I need to into it. 

Being only the second time I've taught a group how to play roleplaying games, I should really give myself some lee-way and not go so hard on myself, but I can't help it. I think a large part of the problem is that I still have a huge stigma with talking about gaming to non-gamers. I wish I could feel more comfortable with it, but feeling uncomfortable about this is a reflex reaction at this point and it's going to take some time to work through that. So I'll try to talk with them a little bit about roleplaying and what they'd like to get out of it and go from their. Maybe help them flesh out their characters a bit and see what they think. 

Friday, November 21, 2008

Alternate Magic

This is a magic system I've been toying around with for a while now; this particular iteration is specific to Castles & Crusades and applies to all spellcasting classes:

You gain your normal number of spells whenever you are supposed to, Clerics and Druids still have access to all spells and must spend time each morning praying for spells. Wizards and Illusionists still can learn spells from scrolls. Instead of being "fire and forget" as standard C&C/D&D is, you now can cast any spell, any number of times. Your spell always goes off, but after each spell is cast you must make a Saving Throw using your relevant spellcasting ability (INT for Wizards and Illusionists, WIS for Clerics and Druids, etc.) base obstacle being 12 + level of spell, + the HD of creatures you affect. You roll 1d20 + ability modifier + level. If you succeed, continue as you were, if you fail, you take -2 Constitution damage (no HP damage, let's not make this more harmful or more complicated than it needs to be). If you lose all your CON this way, you die. You regain CON back at a rate of +2 per 8 hours of rest, so +6 per day. This damage cannot be alleviated via spells. 

How to deal with Death

I'm starting a new campaign with some old friends of mine here in NY. Most of them have had no experience with any kind of roleplaying before and I'm not sure about one guy, he may or may not have had previous experience. It's great to be in a group again, even if they do take things less serious than my previous group. I'm taking a different tactic with this group, however: I'm going with the goofiness instead of trying to corral it. Hence I think Encounter Critical would go over really well. As it stands I'm breaking them in with Castles & Crusades - it's fun, it's easy and it's not D&D. 

But I want to be ready for the inevitable death and here's what I got. I'm taking a page from Burning Wheel, and when death is unavoidable, I'll give them a choice: you can die, roll up a new character while the rest of the party finishes the scene and jump in at the next scene; or you can have Fate step in and save you, regain 1/4 hit points back, but the situation gets worse - much worse. The very important MacGuffin you were carrying? It fell in the river of lava you were crossing. Killed by an orc axe to the face? The orcs rally and gather more orcs for the fighting. You get the picture. If you live, it should come with a major sacrifice. Hell even losing a coveted magic item would be sufficient. 

Reputation Score

I haven't figured out a way to implement this in a totally effective way, but here it is, just so I can come back to it: 

Regardless of whether we make the jump to 4th edition or not, I’d be interested in adding a new score to the mix aptly named the Reputation score. Basically, this is a number (probably a modifier) which will give the players a way to track how well perceived they are in any given area. Their characters would have a Reputation score at any new area they visited and assuming I use modifiers, would start out anywhere from -10 to 0. This modifier would be applied to any kind of social skill when in that area. You can raise your Reputation score for that particular area in various ways: helping out around the area, becoming a more permanent, stable member of the community (buying a house, or staying in the area for a long period of time, for example), making friends and contacts, etc. This could either be done in the same way as leveling: doing certain tasks earns you a certain amount of XP towards your Reputation score. Or as just straight points added to your score: buying a house in an area earns you 2-3 Rep points, for example. I want to jump on the XP version at first, but that’s more paperwork, and I tend to try to avoid that kind of stuff, so maybe a straight point gain system would be best.

Note: the characters will have a separate Rep score for each area they visit. The GM will be responsible for determining how far one areas Reputation score extends.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A new home

Since my wife had had it with Wordpress, she decided to switch to Blogger for our mutual blog, archive the past posts and call an end to This pretty  much means an end to my former gaming blog, but that's cool, now I can switch to Blogger too. But, I would like to transfer some of my older posts over to here so that I can keep those handy. Here's an old favorite: 

This weekend we had the second session of our Ravenloft/Gestalt mini-campaign and something occurred which really blind-sided me - the way in which I use the rules, influences how my players set about solving problems. I’m running a module called The Created in which a small town is taken over by a puppet maker and his marionette minions. In the module, the PC’s are quite likely to be taken over and turned into marionettes themselves, which in fact happened in our game. At some point after this, the PC’s have an encounter with a stray dog, which is two size categories larger than them at this point. This is a pretty tough encounter, since because of their small size, even if the PC’s had weapons (they were unarmed after being turned) the only weapons they could carry would do minimal damage at best. So the best way to handle this situation? Drop to the ground and go limp - basically, be a doll. The dog sniffs for a few moments and then wanders off. It’s a simple solution that requires no rolling, just a little bit of thought. However, my players attempted to run away, which failed, and then tried to fight the dog off, which wasn’t going too well.

Is this a failure on my players part? No. My players are intelligent people and can think on their feet - the problem is the rules (d20 in this case - my eternal whipping boy) which support a certain style of play, namely, if you run into a problem, look on your character sheet until you find a skill that you can roll to get you out of the situation. This is where skill-based systems run into problems. They encourage players to think only in terms of what’s on their character sheets and distract them from solving the problem at hand.

d20 is not fully to blame in this situation because the rules are simply a tool. Like any tool, if used poorly, for the wrong task, the results can be, and usually are, slipshod. So I am also to blame for the way my players react to situations. By including skill roll after skill roll, eventually anybody is going to “trained” to work only with what is given to them. This is the importance of including riddles, tricks, traps, etc. with no obvious solution (i.e. no associated skill roll) so that the players are forced, at least every now and then, to think past an encounter, rather than roll past it.

That's going to be it for now. I'll be adding more old posts periodically as well as adding new posts semi-regularly. 

Edit: I'm already having problems posting, apparently it's too hard to add quotes on Blogger. This does not bode well.