“I don’t want training, I want to know about the Death Star.”

Hitherby Dragons: Applied Theology

She’s my lady. The first one in my heart. Oh, sure. She’s a wretched hive of scum and villainy. You walk in, you walk out, you’ll get blood on your shoes. Blood. Ichor. Probably weirder things than that. But it’s the place to go if you want to find out the truth. So I went to her. Mos Eisley.
“Always there are three.”
There’s a shriveled green kid. He’s standing on the bar. He’s got ears like starter flags. There’s little tufts of hair in them. He’s ranting to anyone who’ll listen. Right now, that’s me. “Always there are three,” he says. “A Father. A Son. And a Holy Ghost.”

“How could they cut the power?!?”

Via BoingBoing, Doom board game in the works.

The game itself is set to be largely modeled after id’s upcoming entry in the franchise, Doom 3, and will feature sculpted plastic miniatures of the game’s characters, board pieces for players to create their own custom maps, specialized oversized dice, and a number of different weapon types.

Sounds a heck of alot like SpaceHulk, which is probably one of my favorite games of all time.

‘Scuse me while I gush

In the history of Nobilis, the first 20th century was different.
So were the 400 wondrous years after that, but that is all gone now.
One day, it was the year 2400 and space-ships plied the Aetheric Currents between earth and the colony worlds. Then (about one hundred years ago) a rogue imperator conspired, an immortal Queen/Empress died, and human history/memory was reset back en masse.
The next day it was 1900 again, and the world, the history books and mortal memory had been changed so that it seemed normal for it to be 1900.
The crew at OceanWiki is putting together a Lexicon to tell us about everything we lost from those amazing five-hundred years.
It’s a shorter project than the former Lexicon, but it’s tighter, faster, and dare-I-say already better than the first effort… and we’re only on the A-C entries.
Amazing, terrific stuff: all the ‘lost futures’ of all your favorite sci-fi, brought into one place — Jules Verne and Space 1889 and Castle Falkenstein and Robert Heinlein and Buckaroo Banzai and Doc Savage and John Carter.
From “Ben Faulk, the First One to do Something Else” to the Pan African Teleostean Hegemony… this is really good stuff.
Go. Read.

d20 skill-check hack

As noted here:
Where d20 breaks down is when it shifts to non-combat rolls where the entire task (skill) is handled with a single, linear-odds roll.
Here’s how to fix that.
There’s a little known optional combat rule that states that people can choose to ‘roll’ their AC every round. Basically, you don’t have a Base 10 AC… figure out whatever you’ve got over 10, call that your “AC Bonus”, and add that to a d20 roll every time you’re attacked.
I doubt anyone does that — hell, I doubt anyone knows it’s there — but look in the DMG.
ANYWAY: while I don’t recommend it for combat necessarily, I think it would be useful for Skill Checks. Many of these are Opposed Rolls anyway — this little house-rule would make all Skill checks opposed.
Find the current DC for a skill. Subtract 10. Whatever’s left over is the DC Bonus. When someone tries to do something to overcome that challenge, the GM rolls a d20 and adds that DC bonus.
What does this do? Two main things.
1. Creates a pyamidal instead of linear success curve. In the case of a Thief with Open Locks +15 vs. a Lock with a DC bonus of +15 (formerly a DC 25 lock):
00.25% You Crit succeed, it crit fails.
02.50% You Crit, it fails
49.5% You succeed, it fails (or, you tie each other)
44.75% You fail, it succeeds.
02.50% You fail, it crit succeeds
00.25% You crit fail, it crit succeeds
00.25% Mutual Fumble
It’s a pyramid curve, but it’s a curve.
2. Removes instances of “Ugh… I got a 19… I know that d20 modules always set the DC’s in five-point increments on everything, so I’ll spend an Action Dice to give me a boost… worse case scenario, I get to a 20, and maybe I’ll get to the 25 break point.” (Particularly annoying on Gather Information charts, when adding the AD will almost certainly glean more info)… If the DC’s are d20+5, d20+10, d20+15, et cetera instead of 15, 20, 25… there wouldn’t be those artifical ‘rungs’ in the DCs to shoot for… that d20+5 DC might be, on your try, a net DC 6 all the way up to a net DC 25… every NPC you talk to is talkative in different ways, after all.

Trollbabe, 2

Played a little Trollbabe tonight, because I feel like I understand the conflict system better than I did during the first abortive attempt to run it… so we had… another abortive attempt to run it (we started too late, which was the problem the last time, as I recall).
Somewhere in the near future, I need to establish the rule that the games with small rulebooks to not get commensurately smaller time-blocks in which to run them. Then I put that reminder up where *I* can see it clearly. Oh well.

Continue reading “Trollbabe, 2”

d20 vs. the Dice Pool… or is it?

Overheard on The Forge :: d20 vs. 3d6, regarding “linear curves”.

D20 combat is really a die pool system (rolling multiple dice and counting sucessess) in disguise. You roll so many to-hits on single d20s in any given combat that, over the course of a battle, you get a reasonable normal distribution of expected results. Where d20 breaks down is when it shifts to non combat where the entire task is handled with a single roll, and you don’t get this faux pool effect. This is why Take 10 and Take 20 were invented [and, Doyce would add, rolling to Assist…] to patch the weakness of using linear single-rolls for everything other than combat […] increasing the likelihood of getting the expected result.

And… they’re right. One of the things I’ve realized that I really like about the games that I’m currently looking over is that they’re ALL either (a) dice pool mechanics or (b) single-dice mechanics with a means of earning re-rolls or (c) both.
I’ve always liked dice pools — ever since Shadowrun 1 came out. (Roll and add: not so much.) Really negates the chance of Being Good and Sucking Anyway — if you’re good at something, you’re adding not only to your skill, but actually affecting the odds of rolling good numbers.

Thinking outside the Toybox

There’s this thing in gaming that really doesn’t work: adding new optional things to a system that the players are very familiar with.

This could be talking to the players and ask them to try to use some different method of play or an optional rule, adding in a few cool rules from another game that matches the goal of the GM, or just trying to encourage the new thing in play as GM.

These are all situations where the new thing was ‘optional’. I’ve never seen it work.

The reasons are simple. Typically, players feel that they’re supposed to do what they were doing before, plus some other things that just add to the level of complexity.

The most common thing that happens is… nothing. The players still see the original game’s system and they don’t adjust in any way to the new stuff.

Alternately, players alter their mode a little but then feel they’re being made to do things that are uncomfortable, boring, or just not what they expect out of that game. Canalized players know what they want, and even when they’re presented with something that’s potentially fun, they might not see where it’s fun. Especially if it happens to conflict with what they normally consider fun.

Put another way, if they can play the same old way, they will play the same old way.

Let me give two examples from two different system/settings: d20 and Amber.

D20: I’m currently playing in a Spycraft game. Tremendous amount of fun. One of the things that’s different about the game versus standard d20 is the concept of action dice. I’ve been reading all this Narrative-game theory and checking out games like Trollbabe and Paladin and stuff and I think “Holy crap, this is a way to give Player’s some narrative control over the situation.” so I burn these things like water — I’m invariably out of the damn things about an hour into each session. Loosely stated, they give you the option to give yourself bumps to your rolls that you’d really like to succeed at, the option to call in favors and so forth from home base, and they also must be traded in to convert a d20 ‘threat’ into a ‘critical’ — it’s the only way it can happen.

Anyone want to take any guess as to where 90% of all action dice get spent?

Yup. On the thing that you have to spend it on. I’ve seen players at the game sit there and potentially accept failure in lieu of spending AD’s during the game — and I don’t think it’susually because anyone’s waiting to see if they get a crit later that they can use them on — they just don’t *think* of it. (Not to take too much credit for anything, but when the other players spend have spent AD’s on bonuses to skill checks, it’s usually because I badger suggest it to them.)

Why? Cuz the optional things get pushed out by the d20 mindset. Crits you know — crits require this mechanic. That’s what they get used for.

Amber: It won’t surprise anyone when I point out that I’m not in love with the ADRPG’s resolution mechanic — the “static karma, plus drama’ systems just don’t work for me — whether via dice or some sort of resource pool, some dynamism is just something I think the system needs. YMMV.

I sat, astonished, when I started to grasp the elegance of the Nobilis diceless system, because with the Miracle Point pools it did what I didn’t think a truly diceless, fortuneless (no dice, no cards) system could do.

A few days ago, I ran across a saved copy of Mike Sullivan’s Amber system for his New Mutiny game. Reading through it (about one page), I was stunned to notice that it had a ‘resource pool’ mechanic right there –granted, it’s more like 7th Sea or HeroQuest’s Hero Points than Nobilis in that it uses the same pool of points that you used to raise your stats with, but it was there, and I’d seen it almost two years before Nobilis.

Why didn’t I remember it? Because I saw the whole thing as an Amber system, and that ‘optional’ rule for pushing up your score was immediately fnorded out by me — I simply didn’t see it — all I saw were the ‘mandatory’ rules variations he’d set up for defining attributes (themselves a good thing), not the optional ‘pushing’ rules.

There’s a simple solution to this: just play a game that strongly supports the change you’re looking for from the ground up — either do this to try out the feel of such a thing, or do more long-term to get the kind of play you like without modifying the old system. The biggest advantage is that these games have the ‘thing you want to try’ built in at some integral level, and they’re largely new ground for the players who, lacking any preconceptions about the gameplay, will try out the new rules.

Here’s a quick example: In the ADRPG, in the section on combat, Wuj points out that the player’s got a lot of leeway with combat scenes — if you’re in a hallway in Castle Amber and you need a weapon, you can just use the logic of the setting and say “I grab a sword off the wall from where it’s behind one of those heraldic shields.” It’s one of the coolest bits of advice I’d ever read at that point in my gaming life, and that kind of player control just blew my mind.

No one does this. No one. I’ve played over two-hundred sessions of Amber and I’ve never seen a player do this. (They might ask if there’s a sword there, but they never just put one there themselves.) Why? It’s optional.

Then there’s Trollbabe, wherein, if you miss a roll, one of the (five or six) ways that you can earn a reroll is by introducing ‘a new object’ into the scene.

Time elapsed in actual game play before someone used the logic of the setting to introduce a handy improvised weapon? About ten minutes. It was, in fact, the first thing anyone used to earn a reroll.

Why? It’s built into the system.

Maybe something that might work for a game like Spycraft would be to play a session of Wushu or even Sorcerer (hmm… Spy-genre Donjon… hmmm) — everything cool you describe gets you more dice and you will, quite frankly, get your kung-fu ass HANDED to you if you don’t set up those cool actions.

Then take that play experience and try to translate that kind of feel back to the pre-existing mechanic Spycraft — the players are maybe doing more stuff with the dice, doing more things that would *earn* them the dice in the game, and the GM is letting them flow more freely, like Force Points in Star Wars (wasn’t really cool: it’s gone; used it to do something cool: you’ll get it back; used it to do something cool at the perfect time or this resulted in a dramatic scene or something; get it back and have another — all this in addition to the other reasons they give for distributing them in the game itself.)

Conversely, I think to really see the strength of Mike’s New Mutiny system design, you take the system out of Amber entirely and run something else with it… hell, Ancient Chinese Sorcery wire-fu works as well as anything else and lets you “push” appropriately — then take it back into the game it was meant to.

But, the bottom line: if you want to break a habit, make a clean break first.

If you want the players to exercise more control on the story in the game, you drop them into InSpectres. Period. They don’t really have any choice but take control or the game just stops.

To paraphrase Mike Holmes: It’s the reason why Everyway cards work in Everyway/Amberway and can’t just be dropped into a standard ADRPG-system game game with real success: if changing the system alone were enough to change mode, then those nifty alterations would work. The cards get ignored, though, so that people can focus on the ‘actual system’, even if they might save their butt. Where in “what would my character do?” does the player consider when to play “Unlooked-for Ally”? He doesn’t.

I’ve mentioned that I’m wrapping up my DnD game soon. After that happens, my plan (providing my players don’t run screaming from the table at the idea, which is a possibility) is to do some short-run games (1-5 sessions each) in systems that players haven’t played before — the genre will probably remain fantasy for most of it, but I’m looking at stuff like Donjon, Burning Wheel, HeroQuest, Sorcerer & Sword, Paladin, and another thing I’ve been playing around with — what they all have in common is that they would work in the same setting we’ve been using and introduce new concepts to game play as an integral part of the game.

Integral. Cannot be ignored. Et cetera. That’s where you get outside the box.


One of the things I said in the comments on this post regarded the way that d20 (or some other ‘classic’ games) de-protagonize the player character though those instances where you’ve got this great character that blows stuff he’s supposed to be good at.
Eventually, that’s the character they become, and they aren’t the guy you wanted to play anymore.
There’s the other side to that: the situtation where you absolutely nail something you’re really not that good at. One of the examples from a recent game was in Dave’s spycraft game a few sessions back — my character was trying to occupy the guards at the front gate while the rest of the team engaged in a firefight in the back of the house. My plan (very impromptu) was to keep them tied down by pulling up in front of the gate and engaging in a firefight.
Three rounds (and three 20’s) later, I had all three guys disarmed or unconcious and was busy shackling them to the gate.
Now, I’ll give Spycraft this much: you have some control on when and how you’re going to suck and rock — I got the 20’s but I had to spend… Karma, for all intents and purposes, to really capitalize on the luck of the roll.
I didn’t have to do that… I could have left them as normal hits and saved the karma dice to spend on something I’m supposed to be good at, either to capitalize on good rolls or alleviate bad ones.
But damn, we needed break right about then — and I got greedy — so now I’m reconciling smooth-talking, psych-degree, professional profiler Agent McEvitt with “Shotgun Dylan”. Something I can deal with, yes… but noteworthy in that it is something that needs to be dealt with.
Just sayin’.
“Uncharacteristic Success” wasn’t something that it had occured to me as something that could blow your concept as well.

The Plot Point

A few weeks ago, Dave commented that we’ve been at this Nobilis thing for ‘about a year’.
I believe my immediate reaction to this was something like “you’re completely crackers”, but it turns out he’s right: the first Nobilis session was… well, I posted about it around the last week of April of 2003, so I suppose that’s pretty close to the first little half-session we did.
Looking back, I’m both pleased and annoyed, but generally far more of the former than the latter.

Continue reading “The Plot Point”

Roleplaying with your kids

Prydain, the Hobbit, Pendragon…
Good stuff. Personally, I’ve been angling to do some Paladin and/or Dead Inside with Justin, but I might do some stuff with Universalis, the Pool, or Donjon as well, just to stretch his imagination a bit.
That said, the quick little thing the guy writes up for his kids struck me as pretty playable as well. See it in all its scribbled glory at the Adventures of the Good Knights (and Other Stories).
This is the same guy that wrote Kill Puppies for Satan — which is definitely a different sort of game 🙂


There’s a game I’d like to write up in full that I never will. Two reasons:
One is simply that almost all of the mechanics of the thing are based off of a great indie game called Trollbabe. While the author might be (in fact, probably is) down with people riffing off his game, to do him justice I should be charging for it and making sure he gets his due. This conflicts with the second thing; making money off of it would be illegal, in that setting a game in Amber is the right of someone else in the gaming world. (Not that they’re doing anything with that right, but there it is.)
So, the only way I could do it as a complete rules set for Amber would be to make it free, which screws the original game’s author, which I won’t do.
So this is best I can do: kind of an OGL “You must own this book to use these rules” type of deal — go buy Trollbabe, by Ron Edwards. Just do it. It’s ten damn dollars and probably the best money you’ll spend, per dollar, on any game. If you disagree I’ll pay you back.
Jesus, still hedging?
Well, you can go read the review here, which should give you enough rough understanding of the rules to get you though the rest of the post, but really you should just cough up the tenner.
For those of you who’ve got Trollbabe, but don’t know about the setting of Amber, go buy the five books of Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber series and read them, or just ignore this post.
Now then, you’ve bought. You’ve read.
Everyone on the same page? Good. Let’s try out a game called Amberite.

Continue reading “Amberite”


The sweetest phrase I’ve typed in awhile: This is a Z entry in the Lexicon Of The Second Age. 🙂
I want to publically thank Jere for the opportunity to work/play on this game/project; it opened my mind to a world of possibility in the Lexicon format, to Wikis in general (I didn’t have any when the Lexicon started — now I have two), and to Nobilis. Also, it exposed me to some great writing from other folks that really made me stretch my mind to match. It has been great.
It has also been hard. We started the “A” entries right around Christmas and just wrapped the “Z”‘s… well, technically it was supposed to be yesterday, but it was today for me.
Still, I may not have always been on time, but I never missed a letter: my personal list of contributions are here, or you can just look at this list:

Continue reading “Finito”

Games I might want to run: #6

Donjon (site), Donjon (review), Donjon example characters — player-driven dungeon crawling — it seems as though this could be either an InSpectres-level romp or a serious game. I’m intrigued.
Paladin (site). Probably for a small group… maybe 2, maybe three. Maybe good for Justin. Good mechanics at any rate.
Trollbabe. Review. Example of play here. Again, a smaller group. I’ve got a lot of hope that this game might be really good for some of my players.
Sorceror. I put off getting this for a very long time. I was wrong to do that. Great game. Great. Already looking around for Sorceror and Sword.

Character inspiration

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 85: Character Inspirations

What inspires you to create characters? Do you have partially-developed characters in mind for use when you get into a new campaign? Do you shop characters around, or do you come up with new characters when you get into a campaign? Why? If you GM, are you bothered by receiving a solicitation for a ?generic? character, or does it enthuse you to get a solid proposal even if it?s not closely tailored to your game?

I wonder how well this ties back into making the same character over and over.
Let’s look at the last few character’s I’ve made for games:
* Dylan isn’t a continuation of any ongoing riff I’ve been trying to play: as a general rule, he’s a ‘new’ character to me, especially when you take the complications of his home life into account. I got the basic idea from … I guess Alias and the character Jack on the show — at least the profiling bit, but that came on later — really I just think I’m better off playing a faceman — I tried an laconic character with Bob and it doesn’t really work for me. So, Alias, with some home-life stuff from… who knows. Some of the stuff I have in mind for him is based solely on my plans for the character, while other stuff is growing out of my interaction with the game.
* Japteth is something else entirely — conceived solely for the purpose of working within the setting and campaign, he doesn’t really work in another setting or story. Again, he’s sort of a faceman/leader type, but not in a charming way… in a bossy way. I wanted a guy who commands the legions of the dead because that’s his right… someone who can talk to gods without quailing because of the utter surety he has in his duty.
* Jacob, in CryHavoc, was a character I’ve been trying to play for several years in several different settings and systems. I finally had to a chance to play him, and now I’m pretty much over it.
* Gwydion, the smooth-talking scotsman bard was another I carried around for awhile (not nearly as long as Jacob) trying to get ‘right’. I think I did that in LGreyhawk (before it all went to hell), and while I would have liked to have done more with ‘Her Brilliancy’s Secret Service’, I think I got what I wanted out of the character, and I don’t need to play him again.
* Bob was a joke that turned into a character that turned into a joke. The campaign I was playing him in didn’t support that kind of player, but at the same time I have no desire to ‘try again’ with him at a later date.
And then there’s Kethos, the guy I keep trying to play in any number of games… Amber NPC, Living Arcanis demonkin… heck, even Grez’k in LJ is sort of a Kethos adaptation… or he became one. On the one hand, I’ve never really been able to finish playing this character… on the other, I think my friends are tired of seeing him at the table 🙂

Actual Play: InSpectres

So I got to run my first game of InSpectres on Friday when Jackie called off Necropolis (pleading no prep time due to imminent departure to France). Now, I didn’t prep either but with InSpectres it hardly matters — everything went like gangbusters — the group took to this style of play like veterans and made me want to cancel every regular game so we can to squeeze in Trollbabe, My Life with Master and HeroQuest alongside InSpectres. Terrific stuff.

Continue reading “Actual Play: InSpectres”

Hamlet, the Masquerade

Rather, Hitherby Dragons: Hamlet 2: The Arrows of Fate

“Eat of onions, but by no means garlic. Those slaves you have enthralled, and found to serve, bind them to your soul with hoops of steel; but do not hasten to enthrall each girl you meet. Beware the werewolves, and do not fight, but remember, if you must, that they as well fear thee. Taste every maiden’s blood, but give your blood to few; dress to impress, but not with glitzy fashions that in five years shall pall–for the fashions of the day are the zoot suits and stirrup pants of tomorrow, and the reputation that you lose for goldfish shoes is not easily regained upon the morrow. Neither a borrower nor a lender be, but borrow sunscreen if you must; and this above all: do not let Hamlet know the truth, for he has slain vampires more cunning and more terrible than thou.”