Hello, Clarice

I’ve got some catching up to do… Monday Mashup #13: Silence of the Lambs
I’m combining this with Nobilis.
Lecter is a captured excrucian, gone from cannibal to destroyer-of-bits-of-creation. Because he has been captured by the PC’s and they have no proof that he’s actually done any harm, they’re stuck with either keeping him under lock and key or releasing him, and they aren’t going to release him.
He therefore becomes a source of information — insight into the other monsters out there in the world whose motivations are beyond the understanding of normal folks but which are completely understandable to him.
In the stories, Lecter’s motivations were alienation and aesthetics; he only killed the most stupid, annoying, and distasteful. Playing around with this, you get a pretty archetypal Excrucian — they are truly alien by nature (coming from beyond Creation), and aestetically motivated, as they try to ‘collect’ all the portions of creation within themselves… perhaps not strictly cannibalistic, but close enough. Our little captured excrucian never expects anyone to understand him… who in Creation could.
Until he begins to sense that he might have an ally (or at least willing dupe) in the form of one of the PCs: someone particularly bright, particularly ruthless, notably pragmatic…
Hmm. This is an idea I might have to use.

Changing the world

WISH 73: Player-Driven Shifts

What’s the biggest PC-driven shift you’ve ever experienced in a campaign? If you were a player, what made you feel like you could successfully change the GM’s world? If you were a GM, was this planned or something the PCs surprised you with?

I’d probably have to give the golden screw aware to Scott Herndon’s affect on my TiHE campaign, in which he presented positive proof that the universe had 10 primary points of power within it, when I was firmly convinced that it was eight. His reasoning for this was so good that I actually went looking for the other two myself and, upon finding them, realized a great deal more about the story than I had previously.

The life of the NPC

WISH 71: Unwritten NPCs

For GMs : when you plan or play your NPCs, do you intentionally leave out some of the story for each? Do you hold something back and let the Players imagine the rest or do you present NPCs from the core of who they are?

What I generally try to do with NPCs is present them based off of a core idea of their character, with all the contradictions and oddities that that generally entrails, but at the same time I’m listening to what the players are doing with that character, how they read them, what they think is going on with them, and incorporate the best of those ideas as well.
This has worked particularly well lately within the Nobilis game, most notable where ***Dave has picked up on a tremendous amount of the hidden stuff within Haley, the Power of Imagination, and run with it. Good stuff.

For Players : Do you rely on the NPC as presented, or are you usually looking ?between the lines? to figure the elements that are hold-backs?

I’m naturally inclined to be narcissistic in real life, so thinking about NPC motivations isn’t my strongest suit. Since I write up stuff on my own, I tend to come up with involved reasons for NPC actions that, while amusing to the GM, are nowhere near the real deal.

Do you care that the NPCs might have as many conflicted qualities as the PCs?

Only if it’s somehow relevant.

Should a game really revolve around the PCs in every respect, including a certain ?artificial? quality to the secondary cast? Or are you happier if the NPCs are ?sticky??

I prefer NPCs who seem to have lives going on beyond what’s going on with my character — that makes them more interesting tome and shakes me out of my natually PC-centric POV.

Butterfinger, we barely knew yah…

WISH 72: Character Interruptus

Talk about a few characters you had to stop playing before their stories felt finished. Where do you think they would have gone?

Sara Parker, a.k.a. Bombshell, was a pretty cool Supers character. A leader who didn’t want the job, a secret identity, a second-layer of secret identity, a dark secret, and more character hooks than you could shake a stick at.
Where might she have gone? Well, I think Dave would have been missing at least a few lovely opportunities if Sarah hadn’t at the very least (1) been kicked out of the group as a spy, (2) been kicked out of the group (again) as a traitor, and (3) run into her ‘dead’ parents, apparently working for the bad guys.

Pondering the flow

So, we’ve had a few players cross-over from one Nobilis game group to the other now, and someone asked one of the ‘crossers’ which one of the groups stayed on track better.
His answer, to say the least, surprised me a bit, so I set about the Saturday session with the goal of getting the thing in focus a bit better. The result (as summarized elsewhere):

Nobilis seemed to be focused and on track and yet somehow ?off?.

That’s just how it seemed to me, at any rate. Wasn’t really sure if anyone else saw it that way.
Dave chimed in:

Re Nobilis, I thought the session went well, too, but I agree that it was “off.” May be because folks are scattered here and there, and not necessarily pulling toward a common goal. Or maybe not.

There’s a magic formula there, somewhere, with the Nobilis stuff. People are all addressing the story but…
Hmm… I’m not feeling like everyone’s gears are engaged? Everyone’s addressing the problems at hand but not always involved at the same time.
Case in point: as much as I liked the scene with the Wyrd sisters from from last game, the scene where everything really felt ‘right’ was Sian visiting Meon.
Could this be because it was a personal project… er… rather, a personally-devised solution to a problem? I think maybe so — it felt much more player-determined, which is a point at which a game like Nobilis or Amber really seems to start to hum, I think… when the players have their own projects to work on, or are coming up with their own solutions and actions.
The scenes that have, thus far, worked really well, since the split of the group into two (in no particular order):
– Lust and Crime disposing of the Excrucian weapons.
– Sian and Justice in general.
– Sian and Meon in general.
– Death traveling back in time (by Gating along the ‘path’ of his own lifeline) to collect his former ‘tribe’ as warriors.
– Donner and Cities making a private arrangement of mutual benefit.
Things that haven’t really clicked:
– Most anything where someone said ‘I need you to do this’, especially when the ‘how to do it’ part is defined at all… giving them leeway to solve the problem in whatever way they feel like always seems to work better (though that still comes in second place to the scenes that are completely self-determined.
So I’m not sure that ‘common goals’ are really what’s missing… just need to get to that point where everyone’s engaged in their private idaho’s, I guess. This isn’t new ground or discovery for me (or anyone else reading this, I suspect) — it’s just something I need to remind myself of from time to time.


Halloween tomorrow night — some folks are coming over and I think I’ll run a one-shot for something or other. I’m concidering using
(1) Genre Division’s Ghost Stories. Very cool game and nice easy rules to learn.

Short version of the rules: Roll 2d6. Try to roll low. Let me know if you roll a 2 or 12. Compare against your skill+attribute for the attempt and tell me if you went under it or over it, and by how much. Or just tell me the roll and I’ll figure it out. If you don’t have a skill, roll anyway.

(2) Unknown Armies: should be fun just to make up a character, but that might be more work than folks want to do (though it really isn’t much). The advantage I have with Ghost Stories is that I already about 12 pregen characters to choose from.

Short version of the rules: Roll percentile dice. Try to roll under your target number, but as close to it as you can. Let me know if you roll under 01’s or double anything (11’s, 22’s, 33’s, etc), whether the number makes the roll or not. If you don’t have the needed skill, roll anyway.

We’ll see. We’ll see.

I’m never want to run a game where I can’t use this story somehow

A one-year-old boy has been bitten 30 times by a group of more than a dozen other babies at a nursery in Croatia.
Frane Simic was covered in a series of deep bite wounds all over his body, including his face, attacked after the class nanny stepped out of the room to change another baby’s nappy.

Dr Sime Vuckov, head of the hospital in Rijeka which treated the boy, was found later in an abandoned parking lot nearby, staring into the middle distance. “Biting between young children is not uncommon,” he said, possibly taking a deep, deep pull from a bottle of unlabeled Chechnyan vodka and wiping beads of sweat from his forehead. “But I’ve just… I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Police have launched an inquiry into the biting frenzy but admit they are clueless as to the babies’ reasons for attacking.
“Right now, we’ve narrowed it down to two basic possibilities,” said Olga Shevchenko, Senior Officer of Demonic Infant Activities, in a prepared statement. “One,” she said, extending an index finger that had been partially bitten off during an investigation in late 2001, “the child is some kind of living dimensional vortex who will eventually mature into his native power and destroy the majority of the coastal countries along the Aegean Sea in a bid for power – the other children were merely acting instinctively to destroy the evil they intuitively sensed, or Two: the child was the newest inductee into a secretive toddler cabal and was proving his loyalty to the group. We see that sort of thing all the time.”
“I don’t know,” one caregiver at the school commented, holding a hand-rolled cigarette to his lips with a shaking hand, “you expect this kind of thing in… Herzegovina or Montenegro, you know? Not here.” He shook his head, as though trying to will the memory of the incident away. “Not in Croatia.”

Updated shedule

Current schedule, through November
Oct 25, Saturday: Chrysalis C (Presuming Dave and Margie can get away in the later afternoon.)
Oct 27, Monday: Chrysalis A
Oct 31, Friday: Halloween
Nov 1, Saturday: Cry Havoc
Nov 2, Sunday: OA
Nov 3, Monday: OA
Nov 7, Friday: DnD
Nov 8, Saturday: Chrysalis C
Nov 9, OA
Nov 10, Monday: Chrysalis A
Nov 14, Friday: OA Ends (?!?)
Nov 15, Saturday: Cry Havoc
Nov 16, Sunday: Spycraft
Nov 21, Friday: DnD? (don’t know if Robert and Lori can make it. Margie can’t)
Nov 22, Saturday: Chrysalis C
Nov 24, Monday: Chrysalis A
Nov 27, Thursday: Thanksgiving

Book Sale

Okay, I’ve added more stuff to my “sell” list. The complete list of game books is below:
[Normally I wouldn’t list the prices I’m asking, but some folks said they wanted first dibs, so if you’re reading this and you want something listed below, email me and I’ll take it off Amazon and send it to you some other way. You get the ‘blog reader’ discount of the 15% I’d have given to Amazon anyway :)]

Continue reading “Book Sale”

Spring Summer Fall cleaning

I’ve been dumping some of my unused RPG books on Amazon in the last week or so.
I’ve still got Creature Collection, Relics & Rituals, Hunter: The Reckoning, Revised Core Rulebook (Star Wars), and The Transporter DVD out there, but things have moved off the shelf pretty well, which I’m pleased about: I’ve sent off copies of Mage, d6 Star Wars 2nd Edition, Deadlands, and Kingdoms of Kalamar to (presumably) happy buyers. Silver Age Sentinels d20 is heading out the door today.
Next up on the block? There’s more than a few video tapes and DVDs I’m interested in getting rid of (here’s a clue: I’ve had Good Morning Vietnam for five years and it’s still in the shrinkwrap), and a few more game books that are crying out for new owners (Aberrant, Tales of the Jedi, Deadlands: Quick and the Dead, et cetera) — I need to take a notebook down to the bookshelves and make a serious list.
I’m never going to get those eight shelves (two columns of four) reduced to merely four, but at least I won’t have 30 books down there that I read once and never used.
Somebody else will 🙂


Arrowflight‘s magic system is…
Well, it reminds me of something.

I attempt to create a Wall of Earth spell from the Elementalist “Wall” template. To make it a literal wall, I have to add at least an Armor Value of 1. That adds 1 to the base difficulty of 2. But that’s only an AV of 1 — no tougher than heavy cloth. If I want my wall to be as hard as, say, plate mail, I’ll need an AV of 9. Each level of AV increases the difficulty by 1, so now I’m at a difficulty of 11 — that’s not going to work. So, I add a requirement for a two-handed motion (rather than the default single hand motion) for -2 difficulty, a short incantation (rather than the default single word) for another -2 difficulty, and a rare focus item — let’s say, the heart of an earth elemental — for a -3 difficulty. Now my spell has a difficulty of 4?

Dunno. It is a LOT like the spell-creation system I designed for Hocus Pocus, Mumbo Jumbo. Dunno.
Maybe that’s what I get for writing stuff like that out and then posting it for free.

Weeknight relaxation.

Ran the ‘Chrysalis A’ group last night (the first time with the full group), and got things rolling with the patented “throw sixteen problems at them at once and let them sort that out… by the time they do, the group dynamic will have gelled.”
One notable quote from the game last night that I want to make sure to mention related to a task set them by the Boss. During the events a few sessions ago, a big cave complex under the town collapsed, killing quite a number of town inhabitants in sinkholes and the like — they are supposed to replenish the population by bringing in 30,000 new people from… well, wherever, so long as they aren’t simply ‘made’.
The comment, following about ten minutes of theorizing about ‘How’ (involving everything from kidnapping to disaster recovery to time-travel), was this: “Let’s back up and decide who we want to get. We know we can get whoever we want once we decide who that is, so let’s not worry about that part.”
That’s one of the great Nobilis secrets: it’s not the how that matters, it’s the why and the who. I’m really pleased that this fact was spontaneously voiced by the players. Yay.
There is a great deal of good to be said for scheduling a regular game on a weeknight. It encourages people to focus (in theory – in practice, I seem to be immune), it feels a bit more intimate, and (for me, anyway) it refreshes you and seems to shorten up the week somehow (since you get a chance for a little playtime in the middle of work, basically).
The downsides are mostly having to figure out where everything you need the next morning ended up during the game session the night before.

Kinda Cool

Grey Ghost Press is going to use the Fatigue Rules I wrote up for Fudge (and Swift) a few years ago — incorporating it as part of the magic system in their upcoming Deryni RPG.
I’m pleased about this — I’m not a big Fudge-gamer (through I’ve picked at it off and on for years — since ’93, actually), but I have tremendous respect for the author of the original rules and I remember many Saturday afternoons in high school spent reading the Deryni books — I loved the juxtaposition of the weird, almost psionic-type ‘magic’ and the strictly orthodox religion, (although I’m much less enamored with the writing now than I once was).
Anyway, I always liked the way the author worked mental fatigue into the stories as the real limiter on the power of the Deryni, and I’m tickled that that element of the story will be represented by a system I came up with.

Weekend review 3

Sunday: Finished up the second serial in Dave’s In Deo Confidemus :: Spycraft campaign in a blaze of gunfire (mostly not ours, surprise surprise) and a couple of fine moments for [self-centered] my own character[/self-centered], the most married man in the entire intelligence community, ever.
(Crap, Dylan still needs to call his wife.)

Weekend review 2

Saturday: First half of the second session of the second story-arc in Nobilis (which of course would be designated Session 8C… don’t ask). Four players who have never gamed with each other as a gestalt (or, in some cases, at all), so I’m really still working on getting the group to gel and build some momentum. Folks are still finding their sea-legs, I think. I hope.
To aid this, I’ve hit on the simple solution of taking two fairly complicated plots (1. political wrangling over key ‘geographic spiritual resources’ and 2. a plot to frame the familia for treason) and starting them up simultaneously while the familia is still making introductions. Not satisfied with stopping there, I’ve also introduced a few key NPCs that should loom large in the story for some time and made notes about the far-reaching consequences of some player actions.
Things are coming along well, mostly: I’m a little unhappy with my own ability to keep gametime even (it *felt* about right to me, but I’m not sure if it did to everyone else), but I’m pleased with the group and the dynamics that are being introduced. I’m looking forward to these initial plots (esp. the frame-job) concluding and where some of the loose threads might lead — also, I have some characters who are really designed to tell a strongly internal, personal story and I’m looking forward to exploring that some more.
Favorite bit: Jurai of the Cammora’s introduction and explaining his desire to meet everyone ‘just say Hellooooo.’
Also… tumescence in it’s creepiest form EVER. Bwuuahh ha haaa.

Weekend review 1

Friday: DnD. Talked about what we might like to do as a sequel game with a smaller group of players. Beat the crap out of everyone (killed the party thief, in fact), for which they earned a measely 2k in xp. To get big xp at that level of power, you have to pull out the world-shattering stuff.

Making the lower levels not matter

While talking about something else, Bryant mentioned something called the “No Myth meme”, which sounds vaguely interesting, especially when combined with task resolution:

The No Myth meme rejects preplotting altogether; a No Myth GM doesn?t know anything about the world other than what the players have seen; a failed task resolution check doesn?t mean the players have failed, it means there?s an additional obstacle in the way of reaching whatever objective the players have chosen. And that?s a reasonable approach.

This gives me something of an insight into how one would logically be able to run certain kinds of games in d20, even with low-level characters: if failure (one a skill check, for instance) actually just results in the situation become one level more complicated, then you have a framework in which a 1st level character can play in any sort of game at all — some situations may be (or become) too complex to be worth the effort of resolving, but you don’t have to worry about a situation where simple low-level skill scores make it impossible to succeed at certain tasks.
GM: “The door’s locked.”
Player: “I pick the lock. I did that last time I was through here.”
GM: “Let’s have a roll.”
Player: [rolls] “Ulp… umm… how about a 5? Total.”
GM: “Well, it was easy enough the last time you worked this door, but this time you get over-eager and snap the lockpicks off in the lock. How will you approach the problem now?”
Granted, I’m not sure this can apply in ‘opposed’ situations (sneaking versus someone else’s listen, or, more obviously, combat), but in most other cases it should be pretty doable.
I can certainly see applications for this in some genres. Pulp is a good example, as is any sort of fantasy setting with lots of intrigue, and of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that it works really well in a Spycraft campaign. I can think of any number of situations in, say, Alias where, by failing, the protagonist simply causes the situation to become more complicated.
Sneak in and steal something.
Snag fingerprint to get into door.
> Take too long in the lab (blew the first search roll).
>> Have to talk your way past guard who, since you took so long, noticed you leaving the area.
Eventually, you get to a point where, if you’ve screwed up quite a bit, you find yourself strapped to a chair and getting dosed on sodium pentathol, but really that’s just another level of complication to deal with.
(Or, in a 1st-level Amber campaign, Corwin just built up so many complications in his first assault on Amber that he ended up blinded and stuck in a dungeon cell. 🙂