Links & Resources

Prison pictures


These images are based on a group of about two hundred 3×4″ identification photographs made between 1914 and 1937 that I found in a drawer in the Arkansas penitentiary in the summer of 1975. The photographs of the men were loose in the drawer; the photographs of the women — all of them white — were in a small brown envelope. Most of the photographs of the men were taken inside, against a wall or a cloth; most of the photographs of the women were taken outside, near a fence, in a wicker chair.

I don’t know what I’m going to use these for… but I’m going to do something.

Actual Play

Heroquest, Spring Fountain: 1

On Friday, the group for whom I normally GM DnD got together to play Heroquest. I’ve been nudging at the group to try something other than d20, and I’ve had a good responses from individual players in the past (with one exception, everyone in the game has played at least one session of what I’ll lazily term “forge games” — four have played InSpectres (but not together), four have played Sorcerer (though, again, not together, and not the same four), et cetera — but this would be the first time that the gaming group as a group would be trying out a more narrative (if not specifically narrativist) system.
This came about largely because one of the players couldn’t make the regular game (out of town for the holidays), and we’re coming close to the end of that campaign, and no one wants anyone to miss anything, so there was an opening. We ran almost 100 percent of (list method) character generation using a player-briefing that I posted to my wiki followed by lots of emails. Lots. The character briefing and character sheets are viewable here.
Between the basic setup and the characters that were presented, I’m half-expecting things to devolve into a Blood Opera, but I’m okay with that. 🙂
Anyway, here’s summary of what went down.

Links & Resources


Well, for those of you interested in such things, you’ll remember me discussing “Forge terminology” off and on here; like a “Crunchy” game system or whatever.
Well, if you’d ever wondered what the hell I was talking about, but didn’t want to read a bunch of Forge Theory, check this out: RandomWiki – TheoryTopics.

This is a collection of theory topics, concepts, and glossary ideas in role-playing theory — in particular ideas and terminology from The Forge. You can browse by the first letter of the term using the links above.
The idea is for this to be like an encyclopedia with references. Pick a term or topic from browsing or add in a new one. Then add in links to important Forge threads relevant to that topic by putting them in the “References” list.

A glossary of all the Forgeite terms terminology from all over the intarnetweb and RPG theory, including Robin Laws’ stuff and so forth, which IMO makes it even more useful as a reference, complete with definitions and links back to the articles or discussions that coined them.
It’s awesome. What’s even more awesome is that, while it’s on RandomWiki (ostensibly ‘my’ wiki), it wasn’t my work. John Kim, having gotten a green light from me, went ahead and created the whole thing.
In one night.

Links & Resources

FATE scores a cool deal.

The guys with the FATE RPG just sealed the deal to write a The Dresden Files RPG.
Mucho congrats.

Links & Resources

Mythic Space Opera

I’ve played a lot of Star Wars. Let’s get that fact out of the way right now. I played the d6 version starting from back in the heyday when WestEndGames was on the way up and still had it’s best source books and scenarios in front of it.
I’ve played the d20 version, because, like sex, even bad Star Wars is still Star Wars, baby. (Note: much of the new trilogy redefines ‘bad Star Wars’, but I digress).
Let’s just say that that I love Star Wars, and I love playing Star Wars rpgs — the only problem being when the system just gets in the way and makes things… not good — in my case, it led to burnout on the d20 system.
It’s a fantastic, mythic backdrop when done right. (Cue another snark about the recent movies.)
Now… I’ve also, much more recently, become quite familiar with the Heroquest rules, which allows for some great, character-oriented play with a mythic focus.
So I want to take those two facts together — I’ve seen a lot of Star Wars RPG material, and I know how HQ generally plays.
Now, may I present:

Table Top


Prep for the Heroquest game has generated 105 emails in ten days, between me and five players.
Upside: very damn good characters, almost all of which are 100% ready to go before we sit down on Friday.

Actual Play

Heroquest, the test run

Well, it was a slow weekend around the casa, so when Randy called up to see what we were doing yesterday, I proposed getting together to playtest Heroquest. He agreed, my wife agree, and we called Stan (who had been discussing HQ vs. d20 with me for the last couple weeks and had voiced an interest in trying out the system).
Now, I have a really bad habit of running games like this: call everyone, rush over on a Sunday afternoon around 3pm, start making characters… finish that by six, six-thirty, then run about half a scenario before everyone has to get home and crash, because tomorrow’s Monday.
That’s… basically exactly how this started… except, for a wonder, we actually finished the scenario!



You know what’s cool?
What’s cool is when you get a new game in the mail, especially when it’s something really badass like The Shadow of Yesterday, which I’ve been dying to get my sweaty little hands on.
You know what’s cooler than that?
When, that same day, the author of the game emails you and says:

Would you mind if I started a Shadow of Yesterday wiki on your wiki site? I like the idea of one big wiki for all these indie games, and would start one of my own, but yours already pretty much rules the school.

Would I mind?
Of course not.
It’s cool that what started out as me, taking notes on the games I was playing so I could understand them better, has evolved into a place where such things have been collected for a LOT of indie games.

Links & Resources

Toys. Cheap.

RPG Shop: Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures
Painted, plastic miniatures. Usually very cheap. Just the thing for picking up a dozen generic barbarian or orc warriors for which you don’t have to worry about chipping the paint. I’ve picked up a couple of these so far and the paint job is more than adequat without showing up your own personally painted work 🙂


More HQ d20 rambling

One of the things I’m looking forward to in the HQ game with the d20 group is fights and conflicts.
Specifically, fights that they lose. Also, conflicts that aren’t fights that still *matter* and command screen time during the game.
What do I mean?
When, in d20 combat (and remember that I said “combat” here, not “fights”) if you lose, there’s really only one way (95% of the time) that will end — you’re dead. Granted, the players might win and decide to save one -5 npc to question, but NPCs taking prisoners? Doesn’t happen — feels like a GM cop-out, or the NPCs only have time to take out one guy before they die, so it doesn’t come up.
With HQ, actual flat-out “you’re dead” consequences (and note I said that and not “results”) only come out of a fight about 5% of the time — beyond that, you’ve got lots of nuances… you can, as a player, lose a fight and still be cool… fail in the battle, but win the war.
On the of the main reasons for this is because you set the Goal for the fight, and it’s the GOAL you can lose, and the CONSEQUENCES that hurt you (or not). In d20 combat system, the GOAL is always “live”, and ‘reward’ is what we’d call the Goal in HQ, so if you lose the GOAL, you’re dead.
HQ does it like so:
You’re fighting orcs at the gate of a keep. The Goal of the fight is to get inside. You have a marginal failure. You do not get your goal. Period. Marginal failure indicates that you don’t get it and you’ve got a minor (-1) penalty on a limited set of tasks for some time. That’s it. You might have killed 40 of the damn things and looked good doing it… but there were just… too… many.
How DnD does it:
You want to get inside the gate. There are orcs in the way. You initiate the combat system against the orcs. You lose. You’re dead.
Which one sounds more like something that happens to the heroes at Helm’s Deep? I’m just sayin’.
As for Conflict that aren’t fighting? Let’s consider.


What to do with that empty seat?

Lunchtime Poll #3: Imperfect Attendance

How do you cope with the absence of a player, either in a single session or repeated absences?

My response to this varies, depending on the game — each system and genre can lend itself to different solutions — at least, I’ve employed different solutions, so I want to discuss them.


In Recent Events #3

“I fear that we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve.”
— Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Empire of Japan, December 7th, 1941
Blog, Jvstin Style: IRE #3: Pearl Harbor

The third IRE is going to be about the day that lives in infamy, the Japanese attack on the naval base of Pearl Harbor, Dec 7. 1941.


More d20 -> HQ thoughts

Another thought from the same thread on the Forge, this one having to do with the idea that characters in HQ can fail in maybe one contest ever session and still be cool, and how to voice that to the players:

Anything in particular I could try to ease the group over into a new mindset about success/failure and fun/unfun?

First, have a frank discussion about something. How many times did you fudge the dice in D&D so that they’d win? I’m going to guess that it was a bunch. Or have to retreat in the final scene to heal up and come back later to take a second stab at it. Where’s the story in that? So you over-ride the rules in order to ensure that the story is better. Why? Because you’re one of those conscientious GMs who wants to insure that the “story” part of the game happens. D&D does little to support the creation of drama itself.

Guilty. Oh so very, very guilty. People in that game like to joke that all I want to do is kill off the group and end the game, but ladies and gentlemen, if that were true the game would have been over in November of 02. I’m just sayin’.

Then ask them if they were aware of your fudging. When they say yes, and that it bothered them in some ways, then ask them if they’d like it if you’d never have to fudge again.
When they say yes (yes I’m making a hell of a lot of assumptions here), then ask them if they trust you to make sure that their characters are cool.

See, that is a very good question — do you trust me to respect your character and the coolness therein? If yes, we’re gold. If no, then why the hell are you playing with my untrustworthy self?

Because, after all, this is what the fudging was about in the other system, where only success is cool. If they trust you, then they have to understand that you, as GM in HQ, have the power to assure that, when they fail, they fail with aplomb.
Without altering the system at all.

Yeah, something I’ve been talking about for a year now is how to be cool even when your fail. Hell, looking good while you’re failing. When you lose a fight, is it because he fought badly? No, the ability level of a character does not change in a contest, the only variable is the die roll. The character always does as well as his ability level would indicate – failure is (usually, not always) the result of the randomness of situation that occurs. I fail to seduce the chick not because I’m not cool – the character sheet says I’m good at this – usually, I’m cool. No, it’s because some stupid waiter spilled soup on me at an inorpportune moment – that’s me blowing the roll.

So, if the players trust you to let the dice fall where they may, and to make their character’s look cool when they fail, then what’s next? Here’s an interesting thing. Ask them if they thought it was realistic that all of their opponents were always tailored to their ability level? That is, why is it that they only met orcs when they were first level, and ogres when they were fourth? Why didn’t they meet up with any Ogres at first level?

Man, if I had a buck every time I’ve heard people bitch about this.
Oh, more often, get annoyed when I mention it. No one wants to be reminded that, in the Big Fight, the main fighter needs exactly the same rolls to hit and takes exactly the same percentage of his hit points in damage from the Big Bad, per round, as he did at 1st level.
The only thing that changes is (a) the names (b) the special effects (c) the painful extension to the length of each fight.


d20 to HQ gaming conversion

I’ve got an opportunity coming up to demo Heroquest for the d20 playgroup that’s been running since… oh… pretty much since this blog started back in 2001. (A campaign I think I started posting about wanting to wrap up somewhere in early 2002, but there you go.)
In preparation for this, I’ve been poking around the Forge and looking at situations where a group moved from d20 to Heroquest and what kind of challenges cropped up. Here’s one such:

Player #2 said he missed the “tactical” dimension of d20 and was a bit bored by the first fight.
We talked after the game, and it turned out that by “tactics” he means the whole d20 rules shebang. How many squares on the battle grid for that Fireball? How many rounds will this Stoneskin last before our fighters will have to beat the retreat? Who’s getting the last two potions of Blur and when do we drink them to ensure the effect doesn’t run out during the fight?
All this is rules, stuff that “happens” on the battle grid and can be counted out and displayed using minis. It’s got little to nothing to do what actually happens in PLAY before, during and after a fight. What about using the terrain and light/darkness to your advantage? What about staging a distraction? What about playing on the enemy’s emotion to shake/enrage/move them? Heroquest does all of that, and that’s not even going to the more exotic examples such as reciting heroic poetry to stop someone lobbing their axe at your head.
DnD supports the first sort of tactics but not the second: tactical rules play, yes. Tactics that matter in an in-character way? No. Combat is abstracted to what goes on on the battle grid and in computing the effect of the numerous combat and magic rules subsets. It can be fun, yup, I enjoy it sometimes.

The drawback for that can arise after playing/running DnD for too long is you lose awareness of the other dimensions of a scene, and the way I observed it, that’s true of everyone in our group. The instant there’s potential for violence, we go into combat mode. The GM above mentioned that in their playtest session it meant that they all drop out of the “play” and into a rules mindset.
I’m of two minds on this topic:
One is that yes, this can be a problem. I haven’t GM’d Heroquest yet, but I’ve been doing combat in other similar types of games (Sorcerer and Fate spring to mind), and it can be difficult for folks who’ve done a lot of d20 to do anything other than stare blankly at their sheet and wonder what to do next… they’re used to seeing a list of feats… buttons to push… whatever, and trying to think in terms of the PLACE in the game and the SPACE their characters are moving in and how they can use that in the game can be a stumper. It’s less difficult to overcome this in HQ than Sorcerer, I think.
The other side of this is that I’ve snuck HQ into the d20 game in two instances — one was in a mass combat with one of the more knowledgeable of the d20 players, and he took to the descriptive, tactical nature of play that HQ encourages like a fish to water. In the second example, the players didn’t even notice I’d used an HQ extended contest to resolve the conflict… they just played.
So I think this is doable. I think it will work. I’ve got two weeks before the game. I’ll post more up here as thoughts arise.

Actual Play

Sorcerer, Grimm Therapy, Session Six

Holy Cow! The anticipated final session actually ended up being the REAL final session! Wow!
Okay, I should have done this earlier, but I didn’t have time.
(All the campaign stuff is here.)

Links & Resources

Type. Print. Play.

Sparks: Paper Miniatures as a Font
From the same guy who brought you Risus and other cool stuff. How did I not notice this before?

Paper miniatures have always been popular. They’re light, inexpensive, and easy to use . . . but they’re fragile. If you mess up while cutting them out, you’re out of luck. And after the game is over, they’re difficult to store safely. And what if you need two dozen of a single kind? It’s no good buying two dozen sets to get it . . . And what if you want to game in a variety of scales?
Sparks are the ultimate paper miniatures: miniatures in the form of a TrueType font! You can make up your own “sheets,” with any composition you want, in any scale you want, any time you want, using no software more complicated than WordPad! Burn them, mark them, spill Coke on them, throw them away when you’re done, because you can always make more.

Links & Resources

Child’s play

The Forge: Suprise (sic) gaming with a seven-year-old:

“I cut off its head,” she said, after making a swipe with her sword.
“It has two,” I replied. “Goblins always carry an extra head. He’s putting it on.”

As one poster commented, I am so stealing that.


Writing-Gaming Connection

[Wow. Tough to figure out what blog to post this on. I think it goes here by virtue of the GNS reference that I don’t want to have to re-explain anywhere else.]
Thread on the forge about how literature refuses gaming, precipitated from a comment from a published writer about how he’s consciously worked to keep his books from being viable settings for roleplay.
The conversation gets on track after a bit, and there’s a few snippets of conversation in which folks basically say “well, authors are essentially focused on story as the raison d’etre, while most traditional games focus on ‘what would it be like to live in this place in this way’, so I can see where that would not appeal to them.”
Then someone points out that a narrativist-style game like My Life with Master might be the sort of game that’s more in line with the storytelling agenda of an author.
This is an interesting bit:

I’d say the only significant difference (other than the medium of the output) in the process of the writer and the Narrativist roleplayer is that the writer is roleplaying Solataire while the roleplayer is relying on the collective input of the other players. The same awareness of how a characters words and actions ripple throughout the setting and effect other characters is required. And the same judgement as to whether any particular set of ripples is desireable or not is required. Both the writer and the narrativist player will have a character perform an action in large part because of the statement made.

Emphasis mine.
Narr player vs. writer = group effort vs. solitaire versions of the same effort. Hmm. I consider myself a Narr player (at least part of the time — actually, a Narr GM and a Gamist player, maybe), so in a sense I’m used to the idea of creating a story about … whatever… with a lot of creative input from other people.
“Straight” writers tend to not do that during their initial process — that’s what editors and second-draft readers are for.
It occurs to me that this might be why I’m much more comfortable with someone reading my stuff as soon as I finish typing it, while I’ve already moved forward to the next couple pages. As I understand it from other folks who write (established professionals or people who aren’t yet but will be), this sort of interaction would drive them bat-shit crazy.
Doesn’t bother me. I think that’s a good thing. Not ‘better’, per se, just good.

Links & Resources

update on the Dibs that is Kringle in Time

A Kringle in Time contains a lot of misbehaving and adult themes and is inappropriate for family gaming unless you have a much cooler family than most. You should see some of the stuff I left out, is all I’m saying. My god I’m a bad boy. Spank me! SPANK ME!

pwned. I’ll be running this v. v. soon.

Links & Resources


A Kringle in Time.
Dibs. Player or GM, I don’t care, but dibs.

Actual Play

Sorcerer, Grimm Therapy, Session 5

When we last left our heroes…
Kermit, Jason, and Nicky were in a knock-down, drag-out brawl with the Big Man in an abaondoned factory.

Links & Resources

Via the Forge…

“Idea” photos for DitV games.
Also… just good photos.


Generic Heroquest

Issaries has already comissioned a “generic” rpg game using the core HeroQuest rules and to be published with several sample genres of example worlds to play.
The Table of Contents has been approved and the author is now hard at work. We do not yet have a publication date.
We thank the fans for their interest in this fine project, and beg patience from everyone while the author completes the project.
Greg Stafford
President, Issaries, Inc.


Links & Resources


Using PmWiki 1.x as a blogging tool
, via a few minor WikiCalendar hacks. Hmm.

Actual Play

Sorcerer, Grimm Therapy, Session 4

When we last left our heroes…
Kermit and Nicky decided to go and poke around the old Factory where “Nicky’s Ghost” seems to be tethered.


How to play Dogs when you don’t want to play Dogs

Based on the back-cover copy for DitV and incorporating a suggested alternative setting from the GM’s section:

Dogs in the Junkyard is about the Mob’s enforcers, young men and women called on to keep the Family together and keep the business running — not necessarily in that order. From their home in Chicago, they’ll travel from burg to isolated burg, carrying news and instructions that can’t be trusted to phones or the mail, taking care of the Family and “taking care” of the disloyal.
The setting is a fiction inspired by any number of mob movies and television shows. The air is dirty, the suits are spotless, the guns are loud, and Silence is Golden.
Picture the Family, facing jailtime and prosecution from the Law, murder and betrayal from their competitors (and sometimes their allies). They?re running a business based on graft and violence, founded on family loyalty and respect. They?ve been around for years, but they’re still in danger on all sides — times keep changing, after all. The business has to be subtle and agile these days and it’s vulnerable to attack from within (betrayal, either purposeful or unthinking) and without. Under that kind of pressure, pride becomes resentment, resentment becomes hate, hate becomes violence… and everyone and their cousin is waiting for someone to make a big mistake.
You’re there to hold it all together.

…not that I’m remotely qualified to run this; I don’t have the media exposure I’d need at all.
Execution of the ‘towns’ would be essentially the same — a big mass of people, at least some of which have family ties to each other — in which Pride leads to Injustice leads to “sin” — strictly speaking, activities which weaken the strength of the Family in the area and allow either internal or external forces that will eventually tear the place apart.
Reading through all that blurb, it strikes me as a good… “something” for someone turned off by the default DitV setting, which in turn would probably be less interesting for the folks who already like the concept as is. It also nicely supports a “yah can’t just kill everyone, every time” idea — it’s bad for business. 🙂

Links & Resources

Toys for Dogs

Resources, Tools, and Ephemera for DitV: Worth it for the mocked-up book covers alone.

Actual Play

Dogs in the Vineyard, first group chargen

Justin and I have been messing around with Dogs in the Vineyard a bit. I really like this game.
Anyway, last Sunday while Jackie and Justin were out of town, I was hanging out at the Consortium and several possible activities were proposed (many of them chargenish, since that seems to be the mode we’re into right now). What we settled on was working up PCs for Dogs in the Vineyard.
Margie worked out Destiny.
Randy designed Eli.
Dave created Suzannah Paulson.
The links are to wiki pages for the characters (some of which need a few things filled in by their respective players (*coff*Randy*coff*), but all of which are quite entertaining.

Links & Resources

Dogs in the Vineyard, the long intro

K, I don’t know how on earth folks have missed my references to Dogs in the Vineyard up to this point, but let me fix this right now.

Actual Play

Solo DitV with the Boy: Chargen

Every other Saturday, Jackie attends a game that I’m not involved in, leaving me and Justin to bang around the house for about six or seven hours. Lately, he’s gotten into the habit of requesting that we play some kind of RPG. Paladin was his first request, and following that I pitched the idea of Dogs in the Vineyard, since there’s a bit of a thematic similarity (at least on the surface).